INTERVIEW by JASON JESSEE
Here are two of the most eccentric personalities of music and skateboarding having a talk about life’s tribulations that, for those who dance in the darkness, make up the very fiber of their being. King Diamond has been the soundtrack for skateboarders worldwide since the ’80s with his hauntingly sinister, high-pitched metal voice, while Jason Jessee is one of skateboarding’s treasures and his personality is as unique as the way he approaches life. Here are two of the most revered artists of our time… King Diamond and Jason Jessee. – INTRO BY DAN LEVY
H i. My name is Jason Jessee. How are you?
I’m good. How are you doing?
Good. Awesome. Do you have a second to talk?
Yes. Yes. I’m done with my other stuff now. I was talking a little Danish to some of the partners over in Denmark. We had a two-hour meeting with the promoters in Germany and our booking agent for the shows for this summer. We have some big shows we’re going to play over there. There are always so many things to plan, like buses, drivers and hotels. We have to find insurance and pay so many fees. There is so much that has to be done before one can go and play and have fun. It has to be done. Otherwise, the fun doesn’t happen.
That’s so true. You have to be prepared.
We’ve been working on this for months now and we are still adding shows to the summer schedule. We have 13 now. Four are normal headline shows of our own and nine are going to be festivals where we are headlining our own stage. There is a lot of good stuff happening.
That’s incredible. How long will you be on the road?
The last date is in England on August 8th where Slayer will headline one day and Anthrax will headline one day, and we’ll headline the last day. Our stage production is so big that they had to expand the stage for our show.
Have you been constantly on tour for a long time?
No. Two years ago, I had some trouble with my heart. It was unexpected. It was hereditary. I didn’t know. It didn’t help that I smoked, but I don’t smoke anymore. I had to change my lifestyle. I had a triple bypass, so I had to come back from that. I’ve been opened up completely like a double door in the front.
[Laughs] Wow. Opened up like a double door.
Totally. They saw the whole thing off and open you up and then you have to learn to breathe again. They collapse your lungs so they have space to operate. It was a 7 1/2 hour operation. You don’t know if you’ll survive it when you go in there. There are lots of risks and it’s a hard way back. You have to learn to move your arms again because all the nerves down the front were cut so they have to find each other again. Now I have real metal in my chest. My rib cage is tied together with very heavy metal wire and the bone is growing back together around the metal. It’s sick. I couldn’t even believe that could happen and I barely have a scar. They glued me together instead of using stitches. They did a fantastic job. After rehab, we started back last summer with two shows. We headlined the B Stage at the Sweden Rock Festival, and there were 35,000 people there. Then we headlined Hellfest in France where Megadeth played right before us and there were 45,000 people there and everyone was singing along with our songs. It was nice to see. That was the test to see whether we could go back again after lying completely still for two years. It went well. I sang better. My voice is so much clearer now that I don’t smoke anymore. I have more air power now. It’s a new King Diamond that’s up and running now. Once we knew it was going to work out, we signed the new deal that had been lying in wait ready to be signed, so we’re doing three more records for Metal Blade Records and the world with Sony Distribution. We have a new website up for our fan club. We have our Internet merchandise shop up. We have a new booking agent. We started up from scratch almost and now we’re getting all these headlining jobs. The music has come full circle. We are setting up a tour for the U.S. in October, so we can hit Halloween there.
That would be cool. When was the last time you toured the U.S.?
I think it was 2005. It was a long time ago. I had an injury in my back. I had a herniated disc.
Did you get surgery?
No. I worked through it myself. I was able to do it, since I didn’t have to go sit at a desk every day, but I took the year off because I couldn’t even sit. I stood up to eat my dinner every day. I had these pain attacks that were so bad I can’t even describe them. There are no words for it.
Holy shit. Did you have a regiment you had to follow for rehab?
I did all the right things that they told me. I got a new Tempurpedic mattress to sleep on, and that helped me a lot. I could not sleep for more than two hours at a time and then I’d wake up in a gigantic pain attack.
It’s like you seized up, huh?
Yeah. It was difficult to walk. The pain would come in two specific spots on my thigh or on my shins. The shins felt like someone was standing there with a flamethrower on me. The pain in my thigh felt like some little boy running around me with a big hunting knife and I never knew when he would suddenly plunge it into my thigh. Suddenly, he would be there and twist the knife in for fifteen minutes and say, “How does this feel, man?”
I knew the pain came from my spine, so I would go to my room and try to hold myself up with just my arms to decompress my spine.
I never want to do that again. If someone said, “I’ll give you five million dollars to go through that again.” I would say nope. The herniated disc happened when we were mixing the last studio album Give Me Your Soul. I had to fight back from that, and after that got better, I was like, “Let’s start thinking about doing some shows.” Then my heart thing happened. Now we’re doing shows again, and my back got stronger from doing all the exercise I did for the heart. I walk 1.3 miles five times a week and it strengthened all the muscles in that area and it keeps the disc in place better, so it brought other good things with it. We have a healthier diet. We’re totally on the right track. I stopped the smoking cold turkey. I don’t even have a drag or feel like having a drag.
How long has it been since you smoked?
It was December 10th two years ago.
Were you in a really bad mood when you were quitting?
No. I said, “I don’t need this anymore. It’s part of the past.” I stopped having the urges. I always enjoyed smoking and I liked the taste of it. That’s just the way it was, but there’s no room for it now, so it’s not part of the deal. It’s gone.
That’s incredible. I’m really stoked. You did some stuff with Metallica at their 30 Year Anniversary shows at the Fillmore, right?
That was the first time I was actually on stage again after the operation. There is another band from Denmark, called Volbeat, and they were out touring with Metallica. They’re very big in Europe and they’ve been making big steps over here too. They’re good friends and they came to Dallas to play the House of Blues. This was about six months after the operation and I went down there to say hi and hang out with the crew and the band. When we went to sound check, I got up on stage to sing and there was this rattling in my chest. My chest hadn’t grown together properly at that time, so it rattled in my chest. It was the most uncomfortable I had ever felt. I had to get to the fuck out of there because I felt like I was going to die.
“I’m not inspired by anything but our own music. We always play straight from the heart.”
Your chest is probably stronger now with the metal in it.
It probably is. The first time I was able to get out there and sing was at the Metallica show. We had a rehearsal in the afternoon with the different guests at the Fillmore. I went up on the stage and I was like, “Oh, I hope it’s not the same. Please, man. Please. Come on.” Then the volume came up and it was perfect, so that test worked too. A few months later, there was a charity here in town that was having a benefit for children with cancer and I went down there for their battle of the bands. They had prizes and awards, so we signed some guitars and gave them away. They said I should come down there and announce the winners, so I rehearsed one time with a couple of other guys. Our drummer is from around here, so he participated, and it was three other friends from here in town that are very skilled musicians. We learned two King Diamond songs and a Mercyful Fate song. I picked the songs specifically for testing myself. One was “The Family Ghost” from Abigail that had a lot of really high stuff in it. The next was a song called “Burn” from an album called The Eye, which has very long lines. I wanted to see if I could breathe and sing through those long lines. The last one was “Evil” from Mercyful Fate where I knew I could let the audience sing every other verse and rest if I needed it.
That’s when it felt real. My voice now is better than ever. I’ve always driven a used car and for the first time I have a brand new car.
That’s funny. I was going to ask you if you had your driver’s license.
[Laughs] I couldn’t drive a car after the operation for a while. The surgeon told me to not drive the car until he had cleared me. I love driving so much, so I had to start before.
What car do you drive now?
We have one car that has been very therapeutic. Whenever things get rough, we just go out and take a drive, and it’s the best. It’s a 2012 Porsche Cayman R. There’s a Porsche Cayman S and a Porsche Cayman. The Porsche Cayman R is ready for the track, practically.
That is so bitchin’.
It has a mid-engine and a permanent wing on the back. It’s lowered and the suspension is really hard. It has white and black wheels and looks like a racecar. It goes from 0 to 60 in 4.4 so it is fast. It sounds incredible with the Porsche sport exhaust system. It sounds brutal. I had Corvettes before, but this one here, there is nothing like it. It’s like going into another world. The way it sits, it’s so low to the ground.
That’s the best shit ever. So you’ve lived in America for how long?
I’ve been here in Dallas since ‘92.
Do you have a U.S. passport?
Oh, that’s great. Is your wife from Denmark?
She is from Hungary, but she is also a U.S. citizen now.
You have dual citizenship, right?
Yes. I’m glad that I’m not in Denmark now. They have such long, horrendous winters. I will never forget them and I never want to go back to them. Our winters lasted for more than six months. It seems like the weather is always cold and nasty. You can’t get your key inside the lock to open your car door. The doors are frozen shut. You stand there with a lighter to warm up the key to get it into the lock. Aaah!
[Laughs] That’s a good trick.
Well, you had to do something if you wanted to go to work or school or whatever.
Have you heard of Rune Glifberg? He’s a professional skateboarder from Denmark.
No. I’m ignorant when it comes to that.
No, you’re not ignorant. You’re the King and that’s the best.
[Laughs] With a lot of music, I’m very ignorant. It’s not like I make an effort at it. It takes a lot of time to do what we do and I don’t keep up with the music scene and I don’t know what bands are hot at the moment. I have friends in Megadeth and Metallica and they tell me about stuff. I have people that I enjoy their music and I buy their music. I just don’t keep up with all the new music. When people ask me if I know about this band or that band, I’m sorry, no.
That’s so great.
I’m not inspired by anything but our own music. We always play straight from the heart. We have trust from the record label so they don’t send the A&R people to the studio to hear what we’re doing. We go in and do the next album and send it to them and say, “Here’s our new album.”
That’s the best deal. You stay focused and don’t get distracted by stuff that doesn’t even matter.
Exactly. We do what we feel inside. If we can’t do that, they can either fire us or find someone else. That’s always been our motto. If you don’t like what we do then find someone else that sounds like what you want. You’re not going to change us. It’s not going to happen. I’d rather stop playing music than change the fact that we do stuff from the heart. It’s either that way or no way.
It has to have passion or it doesn’t work.
Yes. There’s a lot of stuff that we do. We don’t have managers. We have Andy La Rocque, our guitarist, and there’s one guy named Ole Bang. We have a company in Denmark and we run everything through that. We have a booking agent, lawyers and the record company, but we don’t have management as such. We do all those things ourselves. I’m in charge of the budgets for the European tour. Nothing comes out in the shop merchandise that hasn’t been approved by me. We’re involved all the way. It’s so much work. I have to write music, produce it, master it and everything. When there’s time, we take a drive. [Laughs]
So you don’t leave the house much?
Well, I’m very busy every single day. Oftentimes, I work way into the night. Sometimes I’m talking to people in Europe, so that’s why I’m up at nine because it’s noon there already. We have to talk to the record company and do interviews, so there is a lot to do. You have to keep on top of it. I guess that we just don’t trust a manager to run our business for us. I’ve been like that since day one.
How long have you been playing in front of an audience?
I was in other bands before, but 1982 is when Mercyful Fate had their first release. We started in ‘81. Before that I sang in a band called Black Rose from ‘78 to ‘80. That was the first band I sang in. Before that I was the guitarist in a band called Brainstorm. We never recorded anything. That started in ‘76. Black Rose was looking for a singer and my other band had broken up, so I tried singing for them, but I was a guitarist. I had never tried singing in my life, so I pretended to be a singer. I was like, “Maybe you guys would want a singer/guitarist.” No. Their guitar player wanted to be the only guitarist. So I left my Marshall amp and Gibson guitar at home and I went and pretended to be a singer. They said, “We should play Deep Purple, “Space Truckin’” and really get him screaming and singing high. I was like, “Oh my God, what is this?” So I just started screaming. I would come home from rehearsals and not be able to talk. I did that until I learned to sing. I never had a lesson. I can’t read music. I write 75 percent of King Diamond’s music, but I can’t read music. I have no idea what I’m doing. I can move my fingers on a keyboard or a guitar and play it and then I can record it and then share it with Andy. I know E String and A String, but that’s where it stops for me. I just write it and they play it.
Did you come up with the name Mercyful Fate?
No, I did not. I had a good old friend named Ken Anthony. It was his girlfriend from 1981 that actually came up with the name, Mercyful Fate. Then we changed the spelling to Old English with the “Y” spelling instead of the “I”.
That’s the best. I love that.
I did the King Diamond logo myself. I drew that on a little piece of paper.
Do you still have the original drawing?
How great. I save everything too. Who came up with the name King Diamond?
I came up with it. Actually, that was already my name. I was called King Diamond in Brainstorm. We thought we were such a great band that we would become a huge success. We thought we were so great that we had to have artist names. [Laughs] They couldn’t pronounce our real names anyway. We were already that far ahead, but we were nowhere near that level.
You were going for it.
[Laughs] Yeah. The King Diamond name stuck and people just called me that. I was King Diamond in Black Rose and Mercyful Fate, too. It just stuck. People started to know that I was the crazy guy that paints his face.
After Black Rose, you went into Mercyful Fate?
Brainstorm was first, and then I sang in Black Rose. Right before the band was called Mercyful Fate, it was called Brats. They did one album for CBS in Denmark, and I became a singer for the band. It was only called Brats for a little while. Once I joined the band, I kind of changed their style. It was a funny thing. They had done an album and half of it was kind of heavy and the other half was punk music. Hank Shermann was the guitarist, who is also in Mercyful Fate. Michael Denner was the other guitarist for Brats. That album didn’t get great reviews. The bass player was also singing, so they were looking for a lead singer. This guy, Ken, his girlfriend came up with the name. He was working in this big music store in the center of Copenhagen, where I spent all my money at that time buying vinyl albums, and we got to know each other very well. He knew the Black Rose band. He had seen us play and we had a crazy show. I was working at a lab at the time that was developing paint for ships. I borrowed some of their oxidants and magnesium powder and I would mix it and create bombs that we used on stage.
“I respect whatever people believe as long as they respect the people that don’t. I respect what people do and whatever they have or need. I go by respect. I wish everyone would respect each other.”
We had no money, but we had a very impressive show with Black Rose. We were famous for that in Denmark. I would mix these powders and put them in these metal cylinders. I was so stupid. I would stand with a torch in my hand and then mix it and stick it in this metal pipe to make these bombs go off. It was absolutely stupid. It could have gone so wrong. We continued using that in the beginning of Mercyful Fate, because I still had some powder left over. This big magazine called Kerrang! in England called it, “Mercyful Fate and their Exploding Nun.” I was like, “Oh, come on, man.” We had a stake on stage and we had shaped a human out of wire on the stake and we put a cloak on it and it had a mask on it. It almost looked like a human being hanging on a stake. What people didn’t know was that we had this little pipe from a paper towel and we put this mixture in there and then we put tape on it. It had a fuse coming out of the end of it that ran all the way down to the floor. At the end of one of our shows in Holland, when we went off stage, there were two security guards that sat on the side of the stage through the whole set, and so I lit two fuses and we ran off stage. They were basically standing on the stage when the charges went off, and the concussion knocked them off the stage.
Holy shit. I’m so glad you ran.
[Laughs] Yeah. That was our “exploding nun.” Then I had a friend that worked in a big butcher factory. He could get pig heads and pig guts. We would put the pig guts in a plastic bag and then put them into this doll’s stomach. I would plunge a knife into the doll and blood would squirt out, and then I would reach into the stomach and pull the pig guts out and throw them into the audience. It was horrible.
[Laughs] That’s the best shit ever.
Well, we had no money, so we had to be inventive. Then there was the guy with the wheelchair. He would roll up in his white uniform and wheel me through the audience up to the stage. The band would start playing an instrumental, and he’d wheel me up through the crowd like, “Get out of the way!” Everyone was like, “What’s going on here?” Then I would be lifted up in the wheelchair during the first song. The microphone was sitting really low, and people were like, “What the hell?” The whole thing was done like that. We had quite a show, even though we had no money to do anything. It was our friends and borrowing things whenever we could. Then you get a little more money and try to refine things to make them a little safer. We have done so many things that are fun, but also a little bit frisky. We had a song called “Cremation” from the Conspiracy album. It’s an instrumental that was written for a magic trick we got from Franz Harary. He’s a pretty well known magician. He actually made the Space Shuttle disappear once. You may have seen him on TV. He had this trick that he sold to us and we might bring it out again for the next tour, even though there was a time when it went wrong and I almost exploded.
What? Oh, man.
Someone made a little mistake. It’s a very cool trick with a coffin being wheeled on stage. It’s a total magic trick. It’s one of those tricks, that when it’s done, you shake your head in disbelief. It seems impossible. They put me into this coffin and it’s done with a little mirror that they open up on the side of the audience. There are three characters: a priest, a doctor and a girl that portrays my mother in the story. They have given me a drug and they lay me down and slide me into the coffin. It made my arm fall out when the little door was open, so they put it back in to show that I’m in the coffin. They close up the coffin and now the coffin is on stage with me in it. Then the girl lights a torch. Now there is different kind of fire material that you can use indoors without getting a Fire Marshall, but back then it was different. It was real.
Don’t give up your secrets. I know it was real.
I won’t give away the secret, but I’ll tell you what went wrong. They had put some burning liquid into the coffin on the tray so it would burn. At this one show, the guy that normally does it, gave the job to someone else who got so scared right before we had to do it that he did it way too early. He was told to pour it in five minutes before the trick, not before. He put it in half an hour before, so when they put me into the coffin, it was saturated with fumes. I was breathing this stuff in. I knew if I had my mouth open and they came with the torch, it was going to burn me up from the inside, but I probably would have exploded before that because the whole coffin was saturated. I couldn’t even breathe. They tried to close the end of the coffin, and I was kicking for my life with my feet so they couldn’t close it. I was like, “Don’t close it. You’re killing me!” They couldn’t do the trick with the door open, so we had to abort the trick. Once I got out of there, I was like, “What are you doing? Are you trying to kill me?” I couldn’t breathe. The trick just didn’t work that time. Something went wrong, but the audience never knew. It was the last song in the set, so no one noticed.
What they would normally do is bring the torch over and stick it in and then the whole coffin catches fire. You see the flames coming up from the inside of it. It’s all coordinated with the music. At one point, they lit the sides and the end of the coffin. The weird thing is that you can see under the coffin the whole time. When they open up the coffin, there’s just this skeleton left, and it’s still burning.
That’s so great.
People are like, “No way is that possible. Where did it go?” We might put that back into the show after this tour. We just have to overhaul the coffin to make it safe.
You have to bring back the coffin. That is so cool.
We do everything we can to make it a great show. The set we have now is really impressive, I can tell you.