Dave Mustaine + Brian Tatler: The Diamond Head + Metallica Connection – Exclusive Interview
Over the decades, "Am I Evil" has been a staple of Metallica's concerts; as of this writing, it's their 16th most frequently played song (per Setlist.fm). It could qualify as one of the legendary thrash band's greatest hits, but many fans may not be aware that it's a cover of Diamond Head, a somewhat lesser known band who were part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the late '70s and early '80s.
Metallica would go on to cover three more Diamond Head songs: "Helpless," "The Prince" and "It's Electric," the latter of which provided the name of Lars Ulrich's radio show. They've also influenced most of the other thrash bands of the '80s, including Megadeth, whose Dave Mustaine is among their most adamant supporters. He's been linked with the band (Tatler and Sean Harris, more specifically) throughout the decades and the two sides are now partnered as Mustaine's management company, Thrashville (which he operates with his son, Justis), signed the group in 2017.
Diamond Head, on the heels of 2016's self-titled album (they say there's another one on the horizon), are set to play the Rocklahoma Festival on May 26 and also have a number of club dates in the United States lined up (see stops here) as well as an exhaustive European trek. We spoke with both Brian Tatler and Dave Mustaine ahead of this run to discuss the group's influence, early days and, of course, a bit of Metallica.
Diamond Head are said to have written over 100 songs before the release of the debut. How did you manage to make it as a band playing mostly original material when clubs regularly featured (and demanded) more covers-based acts?
Brian Tatler: The club scene in the UK was open to original bands playing original music years before tribute bands were ever invented so I was only interested in making new music rather copying other artists. Also, it took a long time to make it if you can define it as "making it." Within 8 years the band stopped for a while and we hadn’t really conquered many territories or sold a million records, but we kept it going nevertheless.
Dave, what was it about Diamond Head that first hooked you and how did they affect your playing and writing style?
Dave Mustaine: It was really simple. It was Brian Tatler’s guitar riffage and Sean Harris’ voice. They were really raw and exciting. It pretty much turned my songwriting upside down, because I liked what I was doing up to that point, but after I heard Diamond Head, I realized I wanted to chuck everything and start over.
Brian, take us back to the first time you heard Metallica cover “Am I Evil?” - what was your initial reaction? What stood out the most from the original?
BT: I first heard it in 1984 on the B-side of the "Creeping Death" 12" single when they were still signed to Music For Nations in Europe. I was very flattered that Metallica had covered one of my songs and was very impressed with how accurate they had worked out the song and arrangement even in the guitar solo. It was a very faithful cover, but tougher sounding and a more aggressive vocal. It's since been featured on 18 different Metallica releases.
The band struggled with identity issues early on, changing style from album to album. On 2016’s self-titled album, you decided to return to the sound of Lightning to the Nations. Was there a sense of catharsis with this album to finally truly build off what was laid down on that debut?
BT: You could say that. Over the many years of playing songs from the early albums live I appreciated that Diamond Head had a style and sound. So when Rasmus [singer Rasmus Bom Andersen] joined in 2014 and we discussed writing an album we both agreed that if we were going to do this it had to connect back to the roots of what made Diamond Head great. Lightning To The Nations and Borrowed Time were the blueprints that we looked to for writing the album while nodding to other parts of the legacy that we knew the fans liked. We referred to this as 'The Diamond Head brief.' The recipe for Diamond Head and also the law that decided if the songs would make it on the 2016 release. We’ve stayed true to this as well for the upcoming album and we hope the fans will hear this.
Dave, what’s the most overlooked aspect about Diamond Head?
DM: That they wrote "Am I Evil" and not Metallica, and also how much they truly influenced Metallica and bands like Megadeth and more.
A lot of fans got into the band through Metallica’s four covers. With the upcoming Rocklahoma show, where fans know more Diamond Head songs than they may realize, how does that impact the set list? Obviously, you want to showcase the band’s best outside of these tracks, but they’re also massive weapons for a live setting like this.
BT: Thats a good way to put it. Usually, on festivals, we try to stick to the big guns for the fans. We obviously want to play the new songs and throw in something unexpected from time to time, but we don’t always have the time onstage. For Rocklahoma we only have a thirty-minute slot so we will hit them hard and fast. I still love playing "Am I Evil?" and it always goes down a storm and never leaves the set.
There’s been a resurgence in NWOBHM-inspired music over the last decade and it seems like Diamond Head are getting their due with the new generation of musicians. With that and a handful of U.S. tours and some upcoming festival dates with Megadeth, has this been the best point of the band’s career?
BT: Its certainly up there. The lineup we have now is the strongest its been in a long time and we’ve certainly seen a lot of new doors opening over the last few years which is very uplifting. We are now being managed by Thrashville which will undoubtedly lead to bigger and better opportunities for Diamond Head. I have some wonderful memories and I’m very proud of what Diamond Head has achieved through the years thus far.
Dave, your connection with Diamond Head pre-dates the band linking up with Thrashville [managed by Justis Mustaine, Dave's son]. Sean Harris helped write lyrics to Countdown to Extinction bonus track “Crown of Worms” around the same time you were featured on “Truckin'” off Diamond Head's Death and Progress. How far back does this relationship go and what led to these two events unfolding?
DM: Not as far back as Lars Ulrich's relationship with Diamond Head goes, but it does go back quite far. Probably in the early 1980's. What led to it was I had talked with Brian Tatler about doing a side project - many, many times - but it didn't materialize. I had also wanted to work with Sean Harris and it didn't seem like that one wasn’t going to come through either, but at the last minute I received some lyrics from Sean Harris that I arranged to fit the song and I ended up finishing the lyric in time to try to sing "Crown Of Worms" in the studio.
Diamond Head 2018 Tour Dates
May 24 — Austin, Texas @ Lost Well
May 26 — Oklahoma, Okla. @ Rocklahoma
May 29 — Westland, Mich. @ The Token Lounge
May 30 — Warrendale, Penn. @ Jergel's Rhythm Grille
June 01 — Ringle, Wis. @ Q&Z Expo Center
June 02 — Joliet, Ill. @ Forge
July 23 — Tolmin, Slovenia @ Metal Days
Aug. 05 — Heraklion, Greece @ Over The Wall
Sept. 21 — Les Pennes-Mirabeau, France @ South Troopers Festival
Sept. 28 — Haugesund, Norway @ Heavy Nights Vol.3 at Flytten Pub
Oct. 05 — London, United Kingdom @ New Cross Inn
Oct. 06 — Bilston, United Kingdom @ The Robin
Oct. 07 — London, United Kingdom @ New Cross Inn
Oct. 12 — Aberdeen, United Kingdom @ Krakatoa
Oct. 25 — Tilburg, Netherlands @ Little Devil
Oct. 26 — Zaandam, Netherlands @ Podium de Flux
Oct. 27 — Flensburg, Germany @ Roxy Concerts
Oct. 28 — Hamburg, Germany @ Bambi Galore
Oct. 29 — Bochum, Germany @ Matrix Bochum
Oct. 31 — Diest, Belgium @ Moonlight Music Hall
Nov. 01 — Postdam, Germany @ Lindenpark
Nov. 01 — Kwadrat Cracow, Poland @ Klub Studencki
Nov. 03 — Warsaw, Poland @ Klub Hydrozagadka
Nov. 04 — Poznań, Poland @ Klub u Bazyla
Nov. 06 — Budapest, Hungary @ Dürer Kert
Nov. 08 — Wien, Austria @ Viper Room
Nov. 09 — Prato, Italy @ Exenzia Rock Club
Nov. 10 — Paderno Dugnano, Italy @ Slaughter Club
Nov. 11 — Rome, Italy @ Evol Club
Nov. 14 — Barcelona, Spain @ Sala Bóveda
Nov. 15 — Madrid, Spain @ Sound Stage
Nov. 16 — Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain @ Urban Rock Concept
Nov. 17 — Oviedo, Spain @ Sala Sir Laurens
Nov. 18 — Zaragoza, Spain @ C.C. Valdefierro
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