By Andrew Catania
Lyricist, composer, music producer and expert par excellence when it comes to playing the whammy bars, Anders Allhage aka Andy LaRocque is known for his enduring affiliation with King Diamond and his soulful songs and harmonious melodies.
Having kick-started his music métier with Swedish Beauty, the favorite Swedish hard rock band that later changed its name to Swedish Erotica, Andy LaRocque then paired up with the former members of Mercyful Fate, for ‘Individual Death Pattern’ by Death and ‘Evilution’ by IllWill.
Since then to date, he has been a part of many critically acclaimed albums and musical feats that bagged tremendous applause and numerous awards from music maestros across the globe.
Andy LaRocque possesses immense knowledge about the most fundamental and the most intricate music conventions. But, rather than following the cotemporary rigging trends of his era, he utilized the treasure trove of his knowledge to blend, complement and evolve his signature style that speaks for the most excellent aesthetics and skillful improvisation.
Andy LaRocque’s style of playing the guitar is an exquisite amalgam of neoclassical elements, harmonized with a tinge of modern blue scales and melodic minors, with slight traces of metal and rock and thus creating one masterpiece of style that is a positive depiction of his sheer brilliance and mastery to a core.
However, despite following his unique style, he admits having drawn inspiration and influence from Michael Schenker, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Randy Rhoads.
Currently, he has his hands well set on the Seymour Duncan Pickups, for regular practices and tuning, Line 6 HD 100 MK II for live amps, and a pair of old classic, vintage 4×12 cabs with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers for cabs. He can be found experimenting with instruments and chords in his studio named ‘Los Angered Recordings‘ which he established in Angered Sweden, in 1995. Andy moved the studio to Varberg and renamed the studio to ‘Sonic Train Studios’ where he produces bands as of this date.
We recently caught him up for an interview, right in the midst of his busy round-the-clock routine, where he revealed his upcoming ventures and projects in the pipeline.
Andy, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. What are you up to these days? Are you making any King Diamond music or are you producing?
I’m sitting in the studio right now actually, and I’m listening to all the potential recorded concerts that we did last fall in the U.S. Just getting ready and preparing for the upcoming DVD for the live shows with King Diamond. That’s what I am doing right now. We recorded all the shows during the Abigail tour in October, November, and December last year and I’m just going through everything to check how they sound. It’s going to take me a while because there are a lot of concerts actually to go through. The release date I do not know yet, but it’s, of course, a lot of work just listening to everything first. That’s what I am doing right now together I’m working with some other European bands in the studio on and off. That is pretty much what I am going to do all this fall.
That was a highly anticipated tour here last fall. I was hoping I was going to be able to catch the whole Abigail album in its entirety and that was one thing that did not come around here.
Florida? Yes, I know. People often think that “why don’t you play in Florida; why don’t you play here”? It’s a matter of finding the right promoter together with the proper venue where we can adequately present the show. We would love to play in Florida again of course because you know it’s been a long time since we’ve played there and we are aware we have a lot of fans down there so hopefully next time around.
You guys have a lot of fans around here you wouldn’t believe the King Diamond shirts I see around here.
That’s cool man!!
Just going back to earlier in your career, how did you start playing guitar? As a child? Or did you pick it up as.?
I think I was around 12 or 13 years old when I was impressed by the bands that were happening at that time back in the mid 70’s like Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, you know all the bands that were around that time even some glam bands like Sweet and Slade, Marc Bolan, Alice Cooper of course and all that. I got influenced by them to pick up the guitar. I think I was about 12 or 13 years old you know when I first picked up the guitar.
What was your first guitar?
Acoustic, Some crap guitar and I can’t even remember the name. Then Ibanez and then moved on to Gibson, and you know. I think I was 14 years old when I got my first Gibson Guitar.
Did you take lessons or are you self-taught?
Yes, that’s why sometimes it doesn’t sound the way it should, no limits by theory! (laugh) But I’ve always been the kind of guy that I’m listening to a part where I’m supposed to play solo to and just constructing a song because I don’t know that much theory with scales and such, you know? I know the notes but scales and such, I just play what sounds right, and I don’t think about it that much. Make the guitar sing, and that’s pretty much it.
Did you play any other instruments when you started to pick up the guitar?
No guitar has always been my primary tool, I did a few vocals back in the 80’s you know and also a tiny, little bit of keyboards you know, but that’s it. I still can get around a little bit with keyboards you know I mean playing single notes here and there on albums and stuff that I’m producing in the studio if necessary, but the guitar is my primary instrument for sure.
You mentioned some of your influences. Who were some of your significant influences before playing? You said Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath.
I think back in the 70’s it was Black Sabbath, Status Quo, a British band, Thin Lizzy and if we go back to the first bands I listened to Status Quo, Slade, Sweet, what else? Black Sabbath of course you know, Blue Oyster Cult, oh man, so many bands and then when I actually started to focus on the guitar it was bands like Rainbow, Michael Schenker, UFO, Ozzy Osbourne with Randy Rhoads, Randy Rhoads was excellent you know still one of my all-time favorite guitarists and groups too, so you know there’s been a lot of influences throughout the years that’s for sure.
When you were still in your teenage years how did you break into the music industry?
I guess I just fooled around with local bands you know and we practiced and rehearsed like 6 or 7 days or nights a week just to get right and I think I had a good network of friends and people around me in the local music stores around Gothenburg Sweden where I was raised and with that knowing a lot of people I got finally into King Diamond and all the bands prior to that too. So an excellent network at that time was essential to be able to get somewhere. Nowadays you can sit in front of a computer and have a vast system on the computer with Facebook and everything, but that did not exist at that time, so you had to be up to date with friends, and whatever was around at that time like music stores and other communities you know.
Days of the music stores and I miss them very much.
I know man, its crazy!
It is! It is crazy.
How did you end up joining with King Diamond? How did you guys meet?
It’s a really long story but to make it short me and Mikkey we played in a local band in Sweden before he actually moved down to Copenhagen from Sweden and he hung out with the Mercyful Fate guys, Michael Denner, Timmy and then when King broke up from Mercyful Fate he wanted to start something new, Michael Denner, guitarist and Timmy Hansen, the bass player for Mercyful Fate joined King with his new project only called King Diamond and they were looking for a drummer and they asked Mikkey and they also for a while had another Swedish guitarist that did not work out in the studio, so Mikkey called me just after like a week in the studio and said it doesn’t really work out with this guy we have now so do you want to come down and check this out? Mikkey knew me from before, and he trusted me you know and thought I was going to do good with King Diamond, so I quit my job. I worked in a music store and quit my job the same day he called me and I took my guitar and my Marshall 50-watt amplifier and I took the train down to Copenhagen and I did an audition in the studio and recorded a solo for Dressed in White which is on the first album Fatal Portraits and after a couple of hours he said, “you’re welcome in the band, you’re in the band”!
Yes, and that’s to make it a short story you know – Very tense, you know, I was 22 years’ old
With each album that he does, what King does is based on a story. When you first started with him on this story did you have any input on it? Does he write the lyrics? You write the music? How did you guys start?
Initially, he usually comes up with riffs that he’s puzzling together along with the storylines he has in mind to create the right atmosphere, the same thing with the songs I write, it all has to be in the right spot on the album. It’s a big job putting everything together to make it fit in a story too, and he writes, of course, all the lyrics and comes up with the story, and I write maybe I would 35-40% of the music or something like that
Ok so you usually start creating a riff for the new songs with Diamond is that often how it starts? Are you guys throwing around ideas?
Yes and he’s composing on guitar too and sometimes even on keyboards you know, so he creates different pieces that he later put together in the right sequence to make it fit in a story.
Yes, that was going to bring me to my next question. I’ve read Abigail was one of your favorites. Is that true?
Yes, I think the whole album has an excellent atmosphere. We have a perfect time in the studio, and we’ve been out for a few tours you know before we started recording that album. So we got to know each other very good, and I think in general it’s an excellent album put together in the right way. You can tell that the band is very tight, creative and we just had a really good time recording that album.
How do you and King share ideas you know with you in Sweden and the other guys in Dallas?
Well it’s mostly me and King that shares the ideas, we send thoughts to each other but usually let’s say I have a few songs you know and I send them entirely with drum machine and two rhythmic guitars and maybe a bass line and the same with him, he sends it to me and if something needs to be changed we just sit down and talk about it and do some rearrangements but that’s pretty much it because usually when he writes a song that’s the way it’s going to be in the end same for me it’s tiny details that generally needs to be changed.
You’ve got a little bit of neo-classical influencing in your playing would you agree with that?
I think I was more into that when I was younger I believe, inspired by some stuff from Schenker but also Yngwie, he’s a great guitarist of course, and he influenced a lot of guitarists and of course Richie Blackmore with his kind of classical touch, so I guess I was influenced by that too.
How would you describe your tone? You try to get?? In the studio and??
I hope that people would see me as, like a very emotional player you know, I played faster when I was younger of course because your adrenaline is high all the time, but I think nowadays I play with more emotion than I did when I was younger for sure. I think it’s really important with melodies than just fast runs and I still see myself as a rhythm guitar player more than a lead guitarist that’s for sure
what kind of gear, pickups, and amps are you using?
Ok I’m using Dean electric guitars
Are you endorsed by them?
Yes, I am. Live I am using Yamaha Acoustic Guitars which sounds good. On the Dean Guitars, I’m using all Seymour Duncan which I think is incredible pickups and I’m using them since I guess the mid-80’s. Different kinds of pickups but right now most of my guitars I’m using the Trembuck 11, and it’s a Custom Custom I think it’s called, and I’m using the 59 pickups for neck position that’s pretty much what I’m using right now. I’ve been trying all kinds of pickups, and I still have some guitars with EMGS and other pickups, but you know seems like I’m always returning to the Seymour Duncan’s because they’re so alive you know and very dynamic, and I think they’re just great. For other equipment I’m using Marshall Cabinets, and Line 6 POD HD Pro X, rack mounted with a Line 6 pedal board and I’m using two power amps with that and two Marshall Cabinets live and that’s actually the same for the other guitarist in the band Mike Wead, he’s using the same set up, and it’s very versatile because I mean you get a really nice tone and people are really surprised when I say I’m using that because they think, “oh really that sounds that good” because you pretty much can get any tone you want from it, we got a few presets with clean sound, solo sound, and rhythm sound and it’s so easy to work with and just an Ethernet cord between the unit itself and the floorboard and you have all your presets right there on the floor you know so I’m thrilled with that. Very easy set up indeed.
Back in 2012, I think it was 2012 when you guys took a hiatus when King was recovering from his health issues I read that you spent most if not all the monies you guy’s made on some festivals I guess in the production upon his return. Is that accurate?
When we got back after King’s health issues which lasted from 2007 five or six years, we did not do anything at all because of his health. Then we got back and got some offers from some festivals, and we thought OK it’s going to be now or never. We spent a lot of money actually on making a big production to get out and play festivals that would blow people away, they would see something that they never saw before with us you know, so we built a massive stage with a lot of stage props and lovely backdrops and spent a lot of money on the light designs and all kinds of stuff and just make sure we had great people around like sound guys and light designers and you know stage designers and everything. We came up with something that people haven’t seen in our camp before. We played bigger stages, and just a great show that we haven’t been able to present before 2012. So I think it was an excellent move to do that, we had to do something spectacular. We’re still this day using a lot of the same things playing around on some huge festivals all over the world actually, so yes very good.
When Give Me Your Soul came out you guys did not tour in support of that because of health issues?
Yes. That’s correct because first of all, King had his back problems. That happened while we mixed Give Me Your Soul album and then two years later he has his heart issues, so it took some time to recover from that but he recovered quickly I would say and now he’s better than ever, he’s in excellent condition.
That is awesome
you guys played festivals in Europe with 10,000 of fans and in the US you have to play smaller venues do you think that metal is more popular in Europe than the US? If so, what do you say, why?
It’s tough to say, but it depends on where we play, it seems like the festival thing is really happening over in Europe, I mean there are so many festivals over in Europe and it gathers a lot of people while in the US there are just a few festivals so I would say that’s the big difference. The places we played in the states were indoor venues, and we did three tours in one and a half years in the states, and I think all of them were very successful. It’s just different venues you know, but the metal fans are still there that’s for sure.
Do you think that metal scene has weakened in America because they follow fads or trends?
I don’t know man, I mean when we were out on tour we were doing good so nothing I have noticed, to be honest with you.
You guys usually sell out everywhere you guys went.
Pretty much yes. I mean the last couple of tours have been successful for us in the US that’s for sure
With your producing you’ve worked with many death metal bands have you produced any other origins of music in your studios?
Any other type of music you mean?
I produced some pop stuff too you know all kinds of stuff, but 99% has been metal, heavy metal, hard rock or black metal. So that’s the main thing, seems like people think I am the right guy to do that kind of stuff. That’s just the thing that has been happening.
How do you consider producing bands do they send tapes? How do they get to you?
I think mostly they hear other productions that I’ve done and they think it sounds good and they get in touch with me. That’s still the main thing you know from mouth to mouth kind of connection sort of stuff, or they see the studio name on an album so if it sounds good they get in touch with me or maybe recommendations by other bands who’ve been in the studio
Do you let groups use your studio? How does that work? Do they rent it out? Do they have you producing it?
Yes, usually they have me producing it but I have a few other guys here in the studio too that can help, when there’s a lot of things to do here in the studio I call them in, and they can assist in tracking and all that but usually the bands come here because they want to work with me.
During the hiatus that you guys had where are you producing any bands at that time?
Yes. That is what I do here all the time. Unless we are not doing anything significant with King Diamond, I pretty much have the studio booked here pretty much all the time, so that’s what I do when we are not out touring with King Diamond, King Diamond is, of course, my top priority. That’s what I like to do, a right combination of working with King Diamond out and touring and in the studio, I enjoy that for sure. Its two different worlds but still working with music.
Would you consider doing a guitar solo album like some of a lot of the other guys are
I’ve been thinking of that for many years, but I don’t know you know. I’m so busy doing other things that I think are more interesting than just putting out a solo album so we’ll see man, I’m not going to say never, but right now, I don’t know probably not
Just a couple more questions
Yes man sure
The YouTube issue with them is not compensating artists fairly. It seems like everybody is putting albums up in their entirety and YouTube is not enforcing their policies. Do you have an opinion about the YouTube issue that’s being brought up by other artists?
Of course, it’s, wrong, you know, artists should get paid for their work, unless it’s pure promotion.
You said you’re doing the King Diamond DVD live album. Do you guys foresee a studio album coming out shortly?
As soon as we’re done with this live thing, and I don’t know when it’s going to be, but we’re talking about starting to compose here later on this fall you know or maybe around New Year’s but it’s impossible to say when it’s going to happen, but of course we want to make a new album. It’s about time too; the last album we released was in 2007, so it’s definitely about time to do that.
My last question is are there any guitarists that catch your eye
Let me see here well you know the last guitar I bought here in the studio as a tool more than anything else was a VGS guitar. I’m not sure if you heard about that. It’s a Les Paul type guitar you know made in Germany with EverTune Bridge. I’m not sure if you know about that?
The VGS yes I have
EverTune Bridge, you tune it once, and it stays in tune forever. That together with a genuine temperament fretboard makes it just a fantastic studio tool. The right personality is the crazy looking frets you know but it’s perfect in tone on all the frets, and the intonation is excellent. You can take chords that you didn’t think was possible and it sounds so clean. I would say that’s one of the best studio tools I ever had.
That’s one thing, except for that, I don’t know. I was actually in a music store the other day, and I saw a Gibson Rudolf Schenker V. I’m not sure if you’ve seen that. It was close to the Vee-guitar that Gibson made in the 70’s you know,
You know, it’s alright.
What musicians are you following these days?
Oh man! What am I listening to? Oh, that’s a tricky question, man! (laughing) Anything that comes up on the radio. It’s not like I’m looking for new musicians and stuff. It’s going to be people who ask me have you listened to this and that you know. But I usually just listen to the whole band instead of individual musicians I think, and I can’t give you an example. Whatever people tell me to hear to you know, I’ll check it out and take a listen, but I’m not actively following or hunting for new musicians.
Follow Andy at http://sonictrainstudios.com/sts/
King Diamond at http://www.kingdiamondcoven.com/site/