In addition to being one of the founding members of groundbreaking metal band King Diamond — a role he’s held steadily since 1985 — guitarist Andy La Rocque is also a studio owner and engineer/producer. He recently joined his bandmate Mike Wead on the ESP artist roster.
Andy, welcome to ESP.
Do you remember when you first noticed ESP Guitars?
Yeah, that must have been about 30 years ago. I think I saw some photos. I can’t remember exactly, but it was probably in a magazine. I thought they looked cool, but back then I never had a chance to try them out.
How did you get to experience ESP for yourself, then?
It was a few years ago. I run a studio where I produce and record a lot of bands, and there have been quite a few guys with ESP guitars in the studio. I finally got a chance to try them out, and I was like, “Wow! What a good feeling guitar.” It was an Eclipse that I fell in love with a few years back.
Having a bandmate playing ESP probably was a good opportunity to check us out.
Yes. Mike Wead started using ESPs, and I’d pick them up and play with them. Right away, I was thinking, “This is the way a guitar should feel.”
Mike’s been an ESP guy for quite awhile.
Yeah, he’s been using ESP a long time. He got some new models two or three years ago. I checked them out and we were both excited about it. After that, I started to think about it, and started to get in touch with Chris Cannella (ESP artist relations manager). He started to hook me up with things.
So what ESPs are you using now?
I am very fond of the Horizon. I’m using the E-II Horizon-II. I got the guitar on the same day we had a show in Las Vegas.
Did you have to have it set up or anything before the show?
No. My tech made sure it was in tune and put the strap on. I gave it one strum and said, “That’s what I’m going to be using tonight.”
Are you also playing other ESP models?
Yes, I also have an E-II Horizon-III. It’s a great guitar. It has a Floyd Rose and Seymour Duncan pickups.
What the first thing you really notice when you’re considering a new guitar?
It’s probably the look of the guitar first of all. The look of the Horizon is perfectly of my taste. But then when you pick up the guitar, it has to be the right neck. I can say that I’ve never been closer to the perfect neck than on my ESP.
What makes a guitar feel right to you?
It’s hard to explain. You pick it up and play it, and like… wow! But it’s a combination of things. The look. The neck. Another thing that’s very important is the weight of the guitar. It also has to have good balance.
Is there a specific reason you prefer passive pickups?
Because I think they’re more dynamic than active pickups, in my opinion. Most of the Seymour Duncans I’ve tried are really nice. They never let you down. They’re really good for being used along with a Floyd. I like it when the pickups are a little thicker to even out the thin sound you can get from a guitar with a Floyd.
Let’s move to another topic: you’ve been in King Diamond for 32 years. A lot of people have trouble staying fresh and inspired in bands after five or six years. What’s your secret?
That’s a tricky question. For one thing, I’m working with a lot of different people in the studio, and you get inspired by other people in other bands. You get a chance to listen to a lot of different music. You get inspiration from those bands, and they let you know about other bands. “You gotta check this out.” You get inspired by other bands to listen to all kinds of different music.
And within the band itself?
I think the fact that we live on different continents is a big thing. We don’t see each other every day. When we do get to see each other and hang out, you get inspired. Me and the singer King, we’ll sit down and talk about a song, but not just about the music. We’ll discuss an idea for stage props and that kind of thing. We brainstorm and get good ideas.
You’ve done tons of live shows over the years, playing international tours. Is the reliability of your guitar an important factor to you?
Very, very important. You gotta trust your guitar. That’s your tool onstage. If that’s not dependable, the whole show can be at stake. When I got that E-II Horizon shipped to me that same day we had a show, and I was able to play it that night… that’s amazing!
Do you do anything special to help your guitars hold up on the road?
Not really. I just loosen the strings a little bit before I fly with it. I do change strings nearly every show we have. But mostly, I just keep an eye on the guitar to make sure it behaves the right way.
Can you find inspiration in playing or songwriting from beyond the world of metal?
Oh yeah, definitely. You can pick up things from everywhere. It can be chords, it can be vibes, or just atmospheres. But I play in a metal band, so I have to transfer that to what my band does.
What do you listen to when you’re not making music yourself?
When I listen to things back home, it can be anything from UFO to Thin Lizzy. Phil Lynott was really great.
Any bands you like that would surprise King Diamond fans?
I really like Journey! That was a really good band! I mean, they still are a band, but they were really great in their classic lineup. Steve Perry was a great singer!
How about your guitar influences? Who were the big ones when you got started?
The first guitarists that I was influenced by were the solo guitar players. Randy Roads, Michael Schenker. and Steve Vai to a certain extent. Back to the bands, one of the first was Black Sabbath, and then Blue Oyster Cult, Thin Lizzy, and AC/DC.
Here’s a question we ask all ESP players. We all go through the process of learning to play guitar, and then we get better to some extent, but then we all hit that plateau where it’s difficult to keep progressing as a player. What have you done to continually get better as a musician?
I think I’m still on that plateau! (laughs)
To me, there are other things that are more important than developing skills of playing solos. Things like writing new songs, checking out interesting chords, and much more. When I was like 20, all that mattered to me was playing solos. Everyone was competing with players like Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, and the like. But after a couple of years, I started focusing on more important things. I had to learn to play fewer notes with good feeling instead of just playing fast. The older you get, you realize that it’s more important to have great feel on that one note rather than just do ten notes fast.
What’s going on with King Diamond at the moment? What are you working on right now?
Right now, I’m working together with our live sound guy, mixing two King Diamond concerts. We don’t know exactly what’s going to be put out on DVD, but it’s going to be finished soon. The release date will probably be early next year.
We also still have one more show to do this year. October 29 in Chile.
Everyone tells us that Chile is completely crazy for metal.
I’ve never been to Chile! I’ve been to Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil. The audiences there are really enthusiastic. But some people say that Chile is the heaviest heavy metal country in the world.
Keep up with all things King Diamond at their web site.