Pete Blakk might one of the most underrated figures in the King Diamond pantheon. One of the two halves of the iconic guitar duo that the singer had in the 80s, along with the great Andy LaRocque, who we had the pleasure of interviewing a while ago, Blakk was instrumental in the King Diamond sound and you can’t understand great albums like Them, Conspiracy or The Eye without the input of the Swedish guitarist.
So, as a King Diamond fan, it was great to interview Pete, get to know him a bit more, understand his origins and of course a lot of fun and interesting anecdotes of his time with the King. Hope you can enjoy it.
Music video for King Diamond’s Sleepless Nights
First and foremost, thank you for doing this interview, Pete. How are things going for you during this pandemic?
Not a problem. Living my life like I always do. There are no changes except for the travel restrictions, which makes life harder.
What are you working on these days?
Working on a really exciting project. Writing new material with better sounds than anything I have done before, so it will be a blast. But we want it to be secret until we have everything ready. And like I said, restrictions make everything harder.
Looking back at the start, how did you get into music when you were younger?
I have always played kind of naturally since I got my first guitar from my mother when I was 3. But what really got me going was a gig I saw at my school when was 7 and I was blown away with how cool it looked being a guitar player. There was a music store in the town I lived and they had orange amps and I was staring through the window, dreaming of having an amp one day and how awesome that would be.
Later at 12 I started playing drums but moved back to guitar since the drummer in my first band told me he was the drummer and he would never let me be the drummer, so I should play guitar instead (laughs). There was this kid in my class whose older brother had the (first) Black Sabbath record and some ten years after we used to listen to them when he wasn’t home. But like I said I had the interest in music from early years. Perhaps I was born with it?
What were the albums that really influenced you the most?
I think there is a record and musicians for every decade that really inspires you more than others. At least it has been so for me. There are guys like Jimmy Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore, Edward Van Halen or Yngwie Malmsteen that have taken it to a new level and get you thinking and inspire you to new heights.
But there are so many great musicians and bands that inspired me through the years. For me it was Deep purple, Uriah Heep, Sweet, UFO, Mountain and Kiss of course, among others. As a guitar player I listened a lot to ZZ Top, Billy Gibbons, Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker and Randy Rhoads. But when it comes to albums it’s definitely Deep Purple’s Machine Head, Van Halen’s Van Halen, KISS’ KISS Alive, and the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks that blew me away.
How would you describe your evolution as a guitar player?
Oh, I don’t know. I got an early tip from a local guitar hero in my town to get the basics down and work on my tone/vibrato has been there ever since. But since I was terrible and had a hard time copying other guitarists, I always had to come up with my own stuff. I think that has been a component in my playing.
Doing a bit of research for this interview, I noticed that you played guitar and sang for a band called Trazer in the late 70s and early 80s. What can you tell us about that experience?
Trazer was my first band. There weren’t many bands around playing real Metal in those days in Sweden. I would say we were part of the NWOBHM in a way. But we were young and not good enough, so I thought the little town I was in was too small so I moved to Gothenburg and joined the most famous band on the Metal scene in Scandinavia, EF Band. They were probably among the early NWOBHM and signed on a major label.
Sweden has become a very fruitful scene for Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. What do you remember of the scene back in the early 80s?
There were a couple of things that happened that opened up the Metal scene in Sweden. Because there weren’t many bands in the late 70’s early 80’s. There were a few good bands like Neon Rose, but then 2 things happen: Europe won a music contest that was televised on national TV and Yngwie got a column in Guitar player and later moved to LA. I think after that it blew up.
Any interesting anecdote of your career back in those years?
Not really. We just played, got drunk and had fun (laughs).
Pete Blakk, Mikkey Dee and Hal Patino.
Of course, most people know you from your time with King Diamond. How did you join that band?
Yes, this is how it happened. I was in EF Band and our rehearsal was in an old freezer house with many rooms with different bands in. I was down playing one day and I heard someone playing drums in a room, so I opened the door and there was this guy hammering away and he sounded good. It was Mikkey (Dee).
We started to hang out together and go out drinking and having fun. When this guy from Denmark showed up. It was a rumor in town that this Danish guy had a record deal and he was looking for musicians. Me and Mikkey decided to join forces with him. I was still in EF Band and we were just about to record an album, so I quit and we moved to Denmark to start rehearsals.
Music video for King Diamond’s Welcome Home.
We did a demo (Gangland Sector 21), which got a lot of interest and some major labels wanted to sign us. Since the metal scene was even smaller in Denmark, we started to hang out with the few that were around. Among them there was Mercyful Fate. And me and Michael Denner became friends.
Denner told me and Mikkey that Mercyful Fate had broken up and that they were forming a new band that was going to be called King Diamond and that King wanted me and Mikkey in the band. I regret it today but I said no thanks at the time. Mikkey was trying to talk me into it but I didn’t listen.
Mikkey joined and I actually got them a replacement for me, who was a friend of mine that was a guitarist and a Mercyful Fate fan, but he got fired after only two weeks later, so I told them about this guy that took over after me in EF band when I left and that he could probably do it. That was Andy (LaRocque). Mikkey knew Andy too from the Gothenburg scene. They asked me again after Denner quit. It was a bad timing for me since we just started to recording with Geisha so I said no again. Unfortunately.
Then I was attending a New Year’s Eve party after they got back from the Abigail tour I met King and told him I was ready to join the band. The rest is history.
Pete Blakk and Andy LaRocque
In King Diamond you shared guitar duties with your compatriot, Andy LaRocque, who we had here in 2020. How was playing with Andy and how would you describe your musical chemistry with him?
Andy and I had a chemistry that is rare. I think we had some of the best times writing together and we wrote and recorded some really great stuff that is classic. Our tradeoffs and guitar harmonies guitars is still holding up today.
How was the working methodology on King Diamond?
King wrote most of the stuff and we put it together and arranged it in rehearsal. Especially when Mikkey was in the band. After he left it was different. In my opinion, he was such a big part of the King Diamond sound. It was never the same after he left. A lot of the sound also came from me and Andy with guitar pieces that we wrote together and we complemented each other in a very special way, which is rare when chemistry like that happens.
Them is widely regarded as one of the best King Diamond albums of his entire career. What can you tell us about that album?
Them is such a great album. I must say I appreciate it more today than back then. King’s stories and lyrics are masterpieces. What he did on Them and Conspiracy is fucking genius. All the different voices and the story, how it all hang together from start to finish. Like I said, we had a lot of fun recording it and me and Andy had such a great chemistry. But it was a band, so we were all contributing. Mikkey was a big part of the sound as well as Hal Patino’s bass playing.
King Diamond’s A Visit from the Dead
What about the work you guys did at Conspiracy. What are the differences between the making of that album and Them?
Unfortunately, Mikkey was not in the band anymore, which made a big difference. We got him to record the album, which, looking back, was great for us. It was hard to find a replacement for him. But since me and Mikkey always hung out together, getting drunk and partying on the (Sunset) Strip in Hollywood, it was just to talk him into to do the album and it worked out great As for me and Andy, I think we did some pretty stellar stuff on that record. I still think Them and Conspiracy are the best King Diamond albums, with The Eye not far behind.
Which songs are your favorites of the King Diamond albums you worked on?
It’s so hard to single some out. But some of my favorites are TEA, Bye Bye Missy, Sleepless Nights and A Visit from the Dead. But they are all great songs on those albums.
Any interesting anecdote from your time working with those guys?
The acoustic part in the beginning is a fun story. I was stranded in Hollywood, passed out and woke up in the street with the morning sun in my face, extremely hangover. And I was supposed to record my acoustic parts. So I called to our crew and Dave Lee came and picked me up. We drove directly to the studio and I layed down those parts as well as my leads. I can’t hardly remember recording it (Laughs) .I was drinking a lot back then and I was a mess but I have to say I’m 32 years clean and sober today.
Why did you leave King Diamond?
Well, I regret leaving the band. But there was so many things going on in my life. I got sober and got some new perspectives on life in general. And we didn’t have a record deal and the music industry was a mess. The Metal scene was gone. I got a manager and he wanted me to go solo and form (Black) Totem. We had a deal with RCA going and it just evolved. Me and King had a fall out and I decided to quit.
King Diamond’s The Curse
In the 90s you played in a band called Black Totem with former King Diamond and Geisha bandmate Hal Patino. The band was short lived, but I’m interested to know how that project came to be?
Yes, Blakk Totem never got the chance it deserved. It was the time of Grunge and Metal was totally out. It’s a great album. It deserved better.
You did the mixing, producing, engineering and so on Black Totem’s The Secret Place. What can you tell us about that?
I wrote all the songs, except one that I co-wrote with my old bass player from Geisha, Joel Starander. Got a deal with Warner and it was released on CMC records.
King Diamond’s Twilight Symphony
What do you think are the biggest lessons you have learned in the business throughout the years?
Biggest lesson is that you should be prepared and know what you want and don’t compromise. No one is doing anything for you. You got to take charge of your own life because everyone is thinking for themselves only.
Favorite album you have ever done?
Hopefully I haven’t done that album yet. More to come…