This interview took place in March 1st 2012, about 15 months after King Diamond had his open heart triple bypass surgery. We spoke for 80 minutes, so it was a looooong interview with great answers about his surgical operation, recovery, haunted boots, cigarette butts, the radio friendly Abigail songs and the famous nun picture.
You played live with Metallica in December 2011, and you looked really happy!
– Yes, it was great to get back on stage, and it was a big test so to speak [link here]. I had not sung since the heart surgery, well, I had had a test at a local place called House of Blues here nearby. I went there to meet a band which members I know, some of them. I went there to say hi in the afternoon, and during their sound check I went up on stage to see what it felt like. And my old chest was rattling, I had to get the hell out of there, it was very, very uncomfortable! And right now I have a pretty thick metal string all the way down my chest, inside under the skin, that ties together the whole chest, all the bones. They sawed my chest, they pretty much open your chest up like a double door.
– It has to grow back together that is why I have it there. So when I came up to the Metallica show, I did not know if I would feel the same bad things as I felt in Dallas, and when they turned up the sound I thought ”Oh my god, either I should just head home or it will work again”. And then the sound came up and I did not feel anything. It was like it had grown together really well. And I had been at the surgeons just three weeks before just to know everything was really good, he had done an x-ray and told me it was growing together really well.
– But that was just singing, then comes the second part. I have stopped smoking, and changed all of my habits. No smoking for over a year. And I can feel that on my voice, it really changes a lot. It has become so much crispier, it is much easier to sing all of those difficult high things. You can imagine – I have never been a singer and not been a smoker. This is the first time I feel what my voice is like without smoking. And it is a big difference, I can tell you. It’s easier, it’s like a brand new voice. But this new one is much better than the old one ever was. I’m really looking forward to do the other stuff.
– I had actually one more test, because San Francisco was like a test. Also the breathing, because when they do the operation they collapse your lungs. And you have to work hard to get your capacity back to normal. There was a showcase here in Dallas [in January 2012] where bands were battling for prizes, and there I got the chance to sing three songs. No one knew about it, I was just there as a presenter. But we did three songs and I picked those songs particularly for a test: The Family Ghost, old King Diamond from Abigail with lots of difficult high voices – it has never been that easy to sing it before. And Burn from the Eye, which… it is very difficult to catch a breath here and there. Such long lines to be sung. It was to test the breathing. And that worked fine too. And then we did Evil in the end, simply as a safety if I got out of breath or something. Often, the people that are there, the fans will sing every line in the first two verses. But I did not need that, afterwards I was not out of breath, I have never felt that good about singing… I think that was the best I’ve ever sung, that I did here two months ago.
– So I’m looking forward to get everything up. It’s a big process for us of course because we have not done anything for five years, because I had a disc-problem earlier you know. But this might be a good thing, in the end, if everything goes well you might feel much younger than you really are. That is what the surgeon says. And I stick to a new diet and exercise every day. I go to an athletic center, things I did not do before. And the fact that I’m eating healthier and no cigarettes, I can feel it you know.
Did I understand correctly, do you still have this metal thread?
– Yeah, yeah. It will be there forever, it has grown in to the bone. I can feel it through the skin. So now I got real metal in my chest!
You mentioned your voice is much better – before this better voice of yours, were you ever afraid to lose your ability to hit those high notes?
– No, that I have never felt. Through the years I have felt that it has grown slightly stronger and stronger and stronger. But other things play a role – it has to do with the overall, not that I have never lacked confidence in being on stage, it is the whole surrounding, you have more professional crew through the years, and I know on stage, I know that they have got everything right when they put everything up, including monitor sound. I have hade the same line up for a long time now and it is the best one I’ve played with ever in my life. I know exactly what they are doing. Something has to go really wrong, a broken string or something, for anything to be different. So it is a lot of confidence on stage, we have much more space and time for enjoying the whole procedure, having fun with the people who are there. Much more of that now.
– In the old days, when we came to like the end of Black Horsemen, there is an extremely high note, and those places in the old days were scary to get to, because if the monitor sound is not the best possible, you push harder, and then your voice gets a bit scratchy on top.
– But if you have the perfect great sound on stage, then you relax. You don’t put any more pressure on the vocal chords than is needed to take the notes. So there is a big difference there. But now – there is so much more of a difference. I felt some of that with Metallica, but I knew that I could not quite judge that because Metallica detunes very, very slightly. So that meant that those Mercy-songs that were detuned, they would have been easier for me to sing.
– But the stuff we did here in Dallas. Our drummer was here and three other guys, super musicians, actually one of them is the guy who produce and records all my vocals for my albums, he is a multi musician, he can play all kinds of instruments. We rehearsed the three songs two times and that was it, but it was in normal tune so it would have been as hard as it has always been, but it was only pleasure. And I felt something that I had never felt before – that I sang perfectly. And those who were there they could certainly hear it too. That’s what they said.
You sound eager to get on tour to do it live.
– Yeah, yeah, we are building a new production now and there is so much stuff to do. We are in some ways starting from scratch, working on a new record deal. We got a new booking agent. We are working on a new Internet shop where the fans can finally be able to get some genuine King Diamond merchandise, official stuff. For the first time in our career we are finally coming out and actually doing things the right way, the way we should have done from the beginning. But you never get too old to learn.
– Sweden Rock and then Hellfest one week later – it’s not a test, but it is a test. It will be the first full show we do since that happened. But I can’t see what would go wrong. I’ve already tested things that I needed tested for myself.
You had a break that lasted a whole year – what did you do?
– Well, we did keep up with people. A lot. We started a thing where… it’s a Skype-website where people will sign up. And now and then I will call up fans and we talk. We have done that several times. We will call up three fans through that way, ”King Diamond is calling you” and it could be one from Puerto Rico, one from Sweden, one from Scotland. We pick them randomly, but not the same person twice. Then we sit and talk for an hour. They can ask anything. They usually have a lot of question that are the same as the fans ask in the fan club, the Coven. So we get a lot of info out that way, and we upload it so other can listen to it. We are certainly in touch with our fans.
During that year, 2011 – you did not start writing your autobiography?
– No. One day it would be nice because I have tons of cool stories. But it has to be the right time. Now everything is concentrated on getting set for the festivals. We might do something in the US this year, I’m not sure. Not right now. We are getting everything right, the right contracts, than next year we will be touring, and start writing new material, probably already this year. We have a lot to do. And I am a million percent sure that a lot of those experiences which happened at the hospital will be in the lyrics for the next album. I have things that I have to get out of my system.
So… there will be new music in 2013?
– That is absolutely the plan. Something has to go totally wrong for us not to do that. We will write material this fall. Hopefully during the autumn, we might do something here in the US, after the festivals. But we will not be doing a long tour, it is still a test, we will see what happens. We do not want to take stupid chances, it has to be done properly. And we have a lot to do still, but things are looking good.
But King, did you not play any guitar during 2011, like sort of, ”Wow, I just made a new song.”
– I write some ideas on notepads, rhymes, some notes I want to memorize. I have probably basic material for three different stories right now. It is just stored in a little box here. That is how it happens… for instance, when we did the Puppet Master, I can tell you that the main ideas came when Mercyful Fate was out playing with Metallica in the festivals in Europe. We had a day off and took a walk in the old Budapest. When we got into narrow streets we came to an area where all the puppet stores were. It was a Sunday, everything was closed and there was no light, so we had to get close to the window to see anything. Man, it was creepy!
– Walking further, there was this open gate to a backyard, and there it says The National Puppet Theatre. I started getting stories immediately. ”What will it be like in there?” It was a full size theatre! ”How big is it? It must take a lot of capacity, 1000 people? How can they see the tiny puppets? They must be huge! The puppeteer must be walking on the walkway in the ceiling?!” That is what they do, said my wife. So I hit it right. Everything was correct except for that they don’t make puppets out of human beings.
– I went home and started writing on the hotel’s notepad paper, which I still have just for souvenir you know, all those things, the names, the theatre, what would happen – all these different things. I looked through a phone book to find typical Hungarian names, actually, Laszlo, I borrowed that name from my wife’s dad. He created an amazing handwork for me, a scalpel with inlaid silver, like the one on the cover. All these things, these notes, they go down… this happened in 1999, and the album did not come until years later. We did one or two albums in between, I looked at my notes but they did not appeal to me. So I have several things in there that I might use, but I could also do something new, I told Andy abut it just days ago, the things that happened to me, things I saw, how I saw them after I came to after the operation… Oh, the horror I experienced was just fucking… It’s a long story. It will be in the next album for sure, some way or the other.
You are still in the US, although you are married to a European woman – right? Are you coming back to Europe?
– No, it’s really good here. My wife has taken the citizenship test, she passed it, and I am myself both a Danish and a US citizen. To be precise, I am one quarter Swedish.
That’s in your blood – not in your passport…
– Ha ha ha! No, they don’t write that. It’s definitely in the bloodline!
Do you have the set list ready for the festivals?
– No, I have a lot of songs to choose between but I won’t read the list to you. There are so many songs. Where do we begin?!
Sounds like a nice problem though, picking songs?
– It is! It really is. ”Oh, how can we fill this out? Should we play two songs twice?” That we actually did back in the days with Mercyful Fate, at Dynamo Club in Eindhoven. We went out of songs. We had released some demos, which songs would later be on the Melissa album. They wanted more, and we told them that we didn’t have anymore. ”We can play some of the songs again?”
But for Sweden Rock and Hellfest you have the other side of the problem – too many songs.
– Waaaaaaaaay to many! But it is not the last time we will play. But there will be songs that we have never played before. I’m sure of it. There is one song here on the list, I’m starring at it right now, that I am sure that we have never ever played before. An older one, stuff we have not played since Conspiracy. It will be really cool.
Mastodon will be playing at Sweden Rock – I once interviewed their drummer, who had a King Diamond t-shirt. I asked him about it, and he said: ”King Diamond gave me so much as a young teenager, and I want to give him back.”
– Awesome to hear! That is great!
…and then there is sort of a New Wave of Swedish Heavy Metal going on right now, and they are all mentioning Mercyful Fate as their biggest inspiration.
– I know about… ehhh… It’s great to hear! It’s an honor to be mentioned… I had the same thing for me. People ask me what made me want to start playing, and I say it was the guitar sound from Jimmy Page on the first… the second album. When I heard that, I had to get a guitar. So I saved allowance for a long time, many years, and I was so inexperienced, that when I finally bought one, I did not understand why I did not get any sound. What was wrong? Then someone told me I had to have an amp and speakers and stuff. Ha ha! I was just a teenager: ”What the hell is this…?” Some person helped me build my first amp and my first stack. Two twelve in each. And that homebuilt amp was silver all over, a red button that turned it on and off, and a black button, and when you pushed that in, it was like…yes! That’s the shit!
– Influence, lyrical or performance or sound, that is cool. Not copying, you want your own style. It’s great that they mention us. Metallica mentions us, Megadeth does it. It is great to meet so many people that tell us what we have meant to them. Certainly not only Mercyful Fate, King Diamond as well, things like, stuff that has helped them in hard times. I hear that all the time. The fans mention that the music ”helped me when I had this horrible experience”, or ”during these hard times”. There was a soldier, he’s wife wrote me and asked if I could sign anything, because our music helped him get better in the hospital. One soldier had his birthday in Afghanistan, and he’s wife asked me to sign something that she sent to him during his birthday there, together with his battalion. It made his birthday better.
Let’s talk about your history – have your record company ever asked you to make a hit?
– They have. A long time ago they asked us, or told us – I hate it when people tell me what to do – back when we were about to do Abigail. They said: ”Hey, you need to do more radio friendly songs, at least three or four.”
– I answered: ”Don’t worry, you don’t have to send anyone up here, we realize that ourselves after the last album. We have about at least three songs like that already, we can do one more, no problem. But of course we did not do any of that. We finished the album and sent it to them. And the same day they received it the boss Cees Wessels was on the phone.
This was Roadrunner?
– Yes. He is a guy I have always had so much respect of. He’s taught me so much. I owe him a lot. Back then he was on the phone and asked: ”Where are those radio friendly songs?” I just mentioned four songs, it did not matter which to me, ”Oh they are Black Horsemen, 7:th Day Of July…” and he said: ”Okay, you got me. The album absolutely works, I just wanted to hear you explain where the hell they were.” But that was the only time, I’ve made sure that the record companies don’t come and say what we should or should not do. ”Then sign another band!” We have full control. And our fans know this and respect this.
– That is why many records [by other bands] have so different styles, a lot of bands are forced to change because the producer is forced to change the band. Often bands do not recognize themselves when they hear the final product. It must suck to go through that. We have been lucky. We have great respect from the record company. They trust us, and do not hear anything until the album is done.
What about within the band – have band members ever told you to do more radio friendly songs?
– No, never. We all play from the heart. It goes for everybody. We play for the songs, not for our egos.
Do you remember the day you tried the falsetto, and it worked? Was it…?
– Yes I remember! It was the first audition for a band called Black Rose. I was in a band called Brainstorm before, but only played guitar. Three musicians were looking for a singer. They had put up a note in a grocery store: ”Band looking for singer.” I had my Gibson guitar and a Marshall amp. So I sneaked in as a singer/guitarist. No, no, no, they did not want any more guitarists. They played Rainbow and Deep Purple. We played Space Truckin’ and I tried to get up there, but I couldn’t, I tried so I screamed. I had no voice when I came home from rehearsal. But my voice could come up there.
– During those rehearsals it started. And during softer places in the song, I could not scream, so I tried something differently, more powerful without screaming. That was how it developed. And then it helped a lot when I realized that, hey, when I sing these parts I really move my stomach muscles differently. And then I realized that the way I move my stomach muscles control, that is how much pressure I put on my vocal chords. Aha – I understood the system.
– If you listen to Black Rose, our own songs, there you can here the beginning of the falsetto. It was during one of the Black Rose’s shows that a fan came forward and said: ”You should do more of those falsetto. It sounds great when you do it.” I had to ask him what he meant by that, because I had never heard that word. Falsetto? ”When you sing high.” Okay, I’ll try.
Please tell me about the famous nun picture…
Ahhh, yeah. I’m kind of feeling my way around her.
Could you tell me the story of how that picture came about?
– It was taken in my apartment. That was a last minute thing. I called her and said, ”Hey, could you come up” I think they actually brought that [nun] dress, Malcolm Dome I think it was, and Ray Palmer, photographer for Kerrang. They came to visit and to do an interview at my haunted apartment in Denmark. And then I called my friend and asked her if she wanted to do a photo session, be a part of it, yeah sure, no problem. We said: ”Okay, cool. Do you mind doing this or that?” Okay. Great. So we got that shot.
– They slept on the floor in my living room, and I slept in my bedroom. The next morning, they spent the night there actually. They had to catch a plane, but in the morning, around nine, Ray Palmer went to the bathroom – and a lot of sick things have happened in that apartment, things you cannot explain, other people have seen and felt things – and he came out, white as a sheet. ”I’m gonna leave for the airport right now.” I said ”No no, we have hours left, you leave at noon.” ”I have to leave now”. I said ”Did something growl at you?” ”How do you know that” – ”It is not the first time. There are things that live here, and you just have to accept and respect that, and then there is no problem.” He said: ”We are leaving now!” He packed his stuff and left, took Malcolm Dome with him. So much happened at that apartment.
So who is living there right now?
– I’m sure they are still there. Living with someone else.
– Last time we were in Copenhagen. My brother took me and my wife there. It felt like in the movie the Exorcist, when the priest is looking up at the light. I felt like that even though it was daylight. I saw the window to the bathroom, where all those things went in and out that way. The next window is the kitchen, where the bottles were taken and moved around in my apartment. It was so weird knowing that all that stuff still probably was there.
– We have some of that even in this house. Not as much. Andy was smacked over the head when he was recording Give me Your Soul here. I had to change one of the lines so that he never forgets it. It is in Black of Night, one of Andy’s songs. It’s a line where I say ”Something hit me on the head.” He was recording and I was watching TV without the sound, he sat there and I thought that he had an electric spike from the earphones. ”No, something hit me in the head.” “Well”, I said, ”then you have to play better.” Hal had the same experience during the recording of the Puppet Master.
– So there are things that happen here. I got a Christmas present – My father-in-law knows that I am interested in the Second World War. My dad was a freedom fighter, he did so much, he was part of the sabotage group during the war. I have his outfit from his Danish brigade. Anyway – I am interested in the Second World War and Livia’s father had found a pair of Nazi boots which he bought from a farmer in a small village next to a village where he has his summerhouse.
– He knew the story, when the Russians came and ”liberated” Hungary, took it over, the Germans tried to get away, to blend in with the population. So this officer went to this farmer to try to get civilian clothes, and the story goes that this farmer killed the German officer. He says: ”No, no, I just got his clothes in exchange.” But the story goes that the officer died in those boots. And now they stand next to my fireplace. I tested them, they fitted perfectly, but there was something weird about them, they have a stamp inside that says ”Made by Dr Klöckner [?]” and when I put them on I felt superior, it’s psychological you know, I almost started ordering around my father-in-law: ”Give me a cup of coffee – now!” Some day I will try to track down the faith of this person, where he was stationed.
– Anyway, when I got these boots, during the night, I heard a gigantic noise in the living room. It was not the cat, I saw the cat, but everything above the fireplace had been taken down, it was a gigantic noise. We thought it was a break in, I got my gun out, I was ready to blow them to hell. Livia’s sister was here, and her parents, spending the Christmas here, I told them to get down, turned on the lights strategically, so that I could see them but they could not see me, but there was no one there! Nothing! It was snow outside, we do get it here you know, and no footprints left. I was shining the light up on the roof. Nothing. I looked in the attic. Nothing. Not a single thing had moved. It was like he had shown his presence here, so, okay.
You got your gun out? You are becoming a true American now?!
– I’ve had it since I came here. A police officer I know in San Antonio got it for me. We went out shooting together. He gave me two Winchester guns as well, they are the most powerful Winchester, kicks like a mule. I have one of the last ones ever made, smaller category. It was one of my big wishes when I got here, a Winchester rifle. My gun is a semi automatic that they have in Los Angeles, the highway patrol. There are actually a lot of policemen and soldiers that are into King Diamond. I have the biggest respect for them as well. As well as hospital staff!
You mentioned smoking earlier. You played with Metallica in 1987 in Gothenburg, my friend met you backstage, and he collected your cigarette butts as a souvenir.
– Wow! Does he still have them?
No, he smoked them as a ritual thing. He was young…
– Ha ha! They are worth a lot now, because there won’t be any more of those. Nope. Never.
That is true. They are long gone.
– I really enjoyed smoking. The taste, the feel, but there is no room for that anymore. It is that simple for me.
It is gone. And your voice is better.
– I mean singing – it was really amazing to feel, moving up and down in different ranges.
You should’ve quit years ago!
– I know. But this is the time in most singers career that if they do sing a lot of high register stuff, they soften a little, and when they play live they detune a little bit. We have never ever done that. But I have heard of other bands doing that. It is a natural thing when the voice gets older. But I’m having the opposite – my voice is better than ever.
– I mean, the results you get, when you get tested by the doctor, to see what your cholesterol is and what’s this and what’s that – those results are mind blowing. And they just get better and better because we keep improving our diet and exercising, finding more new things that are even healthier. And I’m not sacrificing anything. And the smoking, my wife also used to smoke, we both stopped, cold turkey. I’m not even missing the smoking, I used to long for a certain cigarette – it’s not there anymore. I don’t care. If I ever want to smoke, I trick my mind: There is no thing called a cigarette. Just like there is no car that can drive you around town on its own. It does not exist. Forget dreaming about it.
And now – do you appreciate life and the so-called little things?
– I have a lot of stories to tell you that happened after the surgery. I’ve not changed as a person. But now I suddenly can smell nature. I pay more attention. And I do not take anything for granted. Yes, I appreciate life more, it is a bit different, but it is not a personality change.
– I was out of the hospital after ten days. My wife had to help me out of the chair and change all bandages. For two weeks I had to sleep in a chair. But the doctors told me I had to walk: “After the second week, we want you to walk a mile.” Seriously? ”Yeah!” Ten days after, I was outside walking. I even walked during the stay at the hospital. I slept one hour, had a nightmare, than I went up walking. Just like the lyrics from the Graveyard. From one nurse station to the next: ”Oh, Mr. Petersen you must sleep, not walking.
– One strange thing at the beginning, it happens even today but is much more rare, I would literally ask my wife: “Do you see me? Can you feel when I do this?” I had serious doubts if I was here in another form. During the operation I died for a little over five hours. And then you are not in this world. Did I bring something back? I had these thoughts, and they come and go. I felt that, wow, I could seriously not be here.
I’m curious, how often do you speak to Anders Allhage?
– Several times a week! We are on Skype constantly, meeting, things for the show, decisions for what we should buy, working with actors, to find the right outfits, we talk a lot. It never stops!
In English or Scandinavian?
– He speaks Swedish and I speak Danish.
I’ve made bad research – I do not know where from you got ”king diamond”.
– Well, neither do I. You are not alone! I honsetly do not remember how I came up with that name. It was during the time with Brainstorm, around -76, -77, and the reason was that we felt that we were such great musicians and would become huge stars in no time. We were confident. So we needed artist names otherwise they could not pronounce our Danish names in the US or England or other countries. Our drummer named himself Jesse James. Kim Bendix Petersen? I became King Diamond and I have no clue why or how. I keep saying that it is because diamonds last forever. And I’m still here.
Who created the King Diamond logo with the bat?
– I came up with that, I draw it on a piece of paper, I have it somewhere here, I draw it with a ballpoint pen. So it is actually blue on a white piece of paper that has all these squares on it. They had to get the squares away later when they copied the logo, they cleaned it. And the bat, well, it fits: bats, Dracula, darkness.
Abigail was inspired by a photograph of a grave, is that true?
– Yeah, you might say that. There was a girl from Seattle who sent me some photos. The date was on there, the 7th day of July 1777.
Have you ever visited this tombstone?
– No. I think it was two different tombstones. The date was on another tombstone. The thing that was so weird was that it came back to nine. The 7th day, that is one seven. July is the second seven. 1777, there you have five sevens altogether. That adds up to 35. Plus 1 [as in 1777]. That is 35 + 1, that is 36. Three and six that is nine. It all comes back full circle. That was the reason to have that, cause later in the album ”eighteen is actually nine” you know. But the name, Abigail, wow, once I saw that on the tombstone I fell for it.
Yes, I’ve read that your fans name their daughters Abigail.
– Yes! That journalist from Sweden Rock Magazine, his daughter’s middle name is Abigail.
I guess all journalists that speak to you have been fans for a long time. And they all say, ”it has been an honor to speak to you” – and they mean it.
– It is always nice. It is also cool because we talk about other things. It’s not only one question, one answer, next question, next answer.
Well, welcome to Europe and the festivals, it has been an honor to speak to you. Truly! Have a nice evening!
– It’s been my pleasure. Have a nice evening you too. Bye bye!