David Lee Beowülf
Iron Maiden is definitely one of the most important and enduring heavy metal bands of all time. A continuous career spanning twenty years and always recording great, serious heavy metal that always stayed at the forefront of the genre is an incredible feat. No false metal here, ever. The history of this great, thoroughly British Heavy Metal band goes back to when bassist and founder (and semi-pro soccer player) Steve Harris decided he wanted to play in a band after completing his course as a professional architectural draftsman. I’m duly impressed. But what’s more impressive, and perhaps more meaningful to the millions upon millions of fans world-wide, is that Steve Harris has written great metal for all these years, keeping the band together for that long as well, though, now, three singers, a change in drummer, (Nicko McBrain’s been with the band fifteen years now) and guitarist (Janick Gers for seven years now, guitarist Dave Murray has been with the band from the beginning).
Watching Iron Maiden live, I came to the conclusion that this is a band that absolutely loves to perform. They play for two hours straight, bow graciously, take a quick breather and then it’s up for a couple of encores and more gracious bowing. It is a love affair with the heavy metal music and the fans. The key to Iron Maiden, I think, is their devotion to their fans. Metal, in general, seems to have taken a back seat in the 1990s, but you wouldn’t know it from a recent Iron Maiden show. They’re selling out the big venues time and again. People literally crawl out of the woodwork for this band. And the men of Iron Maiden know it and (my interpretation) they would probably rather be put in a real iron maiden than give anything less than 110% for their fans. And I don’t think they’d change their music, either. Why should they? It’s great metal! And great metal needs to be played! The metalheads from 20 years ago still listen to great metal, it must continue!
Ahem! While I’m sure the personalities flare up now and again, none of it seems to crop up in the performance, on the recordings or in countless interviews, except perhaps the surprise walkout of celebrated singer Bruce Dickinson — while on the Fear of the Dark tour no less. This was quite a shock to the rest of the band, as one could imagine, but they were able to find a new singer in fellow British metalhead, Blaze Bayley, who previously fronted Wolfsbane, who opened for Iron Maiden in 1990 and recorded two albums, songs from which were played a few times on Brainhammer!, too!
I wanted to speak with Blaze particularly (though I did meet the band behind the stage and they were all very nice and really looked forward to the show — playing live wasn’t a chore, it was life itself!) because he is credited with a lot of the writing on their last album, The X Factor. Since Steve Harris is the primary writer for Iron Maiden, I wanted to know how the two were able to collaborate and produce some great metal in the Iron Maiden tradition. Now, it is unfortunate that I (still) didn’t have a copy of their latest Virtual 11, because the new songs I heard them play are fantastic.
I caught the band back in February of 1996 with Fear Factory, you played to a sold-out crowd in a blizzard!
That was my big show in New York. You, know what I mean, really nerve-wracking experience, but it was just great. It was really cold in the daytime and then it started this really heavy blizzard and people were talking “ah, nobody would be at the gig” and it was completely packed! People were turned away at the door! It was absolutely brilliant and the reaction we got from the fans was absolutely fantastic, the support and encouragement were great.
The fans really were into you!
You know a lot of the European shows had been very much, people would just show up and “listen” to the first half of the set before forgetting themselves and realizing they were at an Iron Maiden concert. Well, I’m here to have a good time! In New York, they were with us from the start — it was just really great.
I consider Iron Maiden to fall in the metal sub-genre of “opera metal.” Whatever that means… Well, the songs have power, sustain, holding strength, etc.
Um, no, but I would say that I’d agree with you in some sense that you don’t have to subscribe to any set formula for the music, because it’s about creating a mood and putting over a feeling; you don’t have to go verse-chorus-verse-chorus, middle eight, chorus and, or anything like that. If you don’t even want to put a chorus into a song… which we didn’t on “The Edge of Darkness” on The X Factor. In that way, I suppose, like in some opera, it tells a story from start to finish. Our music isn’t about image, it’s about music. If you could play that in three minutes dead, and that’s all you’ve got to say, and it’s strong message, then great. Or you can have a full 12 minutes with “Sign of the Cross.”
Do you like opera? Have you studied opera?
I listen to some opera. I appreciate singing, I like to hear singing, great voices, and I’ve always got time for that.
Was Iron Maiden something you saw yourself doing before you came into the band?
Well, yeah, I was into the band. Wolfsbane did a tour with them way back, really and I’d seen Maiden a few times, heard just about every thing they’d recorded album-wise. This kind of music, this is what I’ve always been into. In my old band, which was more of a rock and roll band, but still heavy metal… so yeah, that was it for me: it was a chance for me, a chance to grow quite a lot as a musician, because it’s pushed me in areas. I’m on the same track that I’m playing and I’m not compromising on music. I’m searching for that deep energy that music has to bring you to life, but also, as a vocalist, I get to perform in so many different areas, use different parts of my voice, I get to use the soft edge to my voice, the spoken part, I get to use the really powerful, aggressive part of my voice, and I’ve been able to extend my range and I’m a much better singer now than I was before.
You wrote “Man on the Edge,” “Look for the Truth,” “The Aftermath,” “The Edge of Darkness,” and “2 AM” on the last album, The X Factor. What inspires you to write these great metal songs?
I think whatever is around at the time just strikes me. You know at the time we were writing I had lyrics and ideas for songs and that’s what came out. So if like when we were writing this albums, I got ideas for the next album! It’s really whatever’s around and sort of sparks my imagination.
“The Aftermath” is about World War One, where Great Britain lost an entire generation to war. “The Edge of Darkness” is also about war, or the war presented in the film “Apocalypse Now” but you took the title from Joseph Conrad’s book. Do you feel compelled to write about war? Do you have family heroes from previous wars?
My great-grandfather died just before the Armistice in the trenches during World War One, and I have a photo of him with a great big handlebar mustache. I think that the song, about the first world war that was about the poets in the war and it was trying to find truth, not from the journalist’s or the historian’s point of view but a real, inner, deeper truth from the poets describing the feelings war. There’s a real connection that poets can get to you that no amount of history books or documentaries can, and that’s what I was trying to capture with that song and whether it does is for you to decide.
“Man on the Edge” is about a 9-to-5’er going crazy, “Look for the Truth” is a bit puzzling, and “2 AM” is about the people who go to Heavy Metal concerts and get home late… Do you see the world going mad over the mundane, everyday lives the people lead?
I looked at the film Falling Down for that. When I first saw it I didn’t think that much of the film at first but I enjoyed it. It really didn’t strike me as a big film, but as the weeks went by, the months went by, I started feeling little connections back to the film. Like going into McDonalds and wanting a breakfast at five past ten thirty and “I’m sorry, sir, breakfast finishes at ten-thirty! But I only like the breakfast at McDonalds! I only like the McSausage and Egg Muffin!” You know, all of that stuff started coming to me and then I started remembering other things about the film, that a guy that pretended he still had a job, even though he got laid off for being redundant, and he was so ashamed that he lost he job, but it wasn’t his fault. So all these things started to come back to me and I got really interested in it. And the translation that they do for the Portuguese, the film is called “Day of Rage.”
I like that title much better!
It’s good, isn’t it? It tells you more about the film.
“2 am?” Well, that’s about me, isn’t it, really? My tragic little life as it was. Before with no hope of anything, wondering, being broke all the time I was in my old band, always dead, broke…
You had two albums, though!
Yeah, but you can make a good record but never see any money off it. That doesn’t matter. We didn’t sell that many albums, we never got support from the record company, we never signed a major deal, we went through everything that every other small band goes through. So we were permanently broke, and we were either getting welfare or working jobs as well, so that’s what that song’s about, the tragic hopelessness of the situation.
Did you find that your writing style clicked well with the music of Iron Maiden or were there some adjustments required? Do you mesh well with Steve Harris’ writing?
The great thing is that Steve writes the melodies and lyrics and he finds a part in my voice that I wouldn’t get to on my own. So that’s really exciting. Like some things that Steve writes, I mean, the way his mind works, he’ll bring something to rehearsals and it’s physically impossible to play, Well, it ends up being “Sign of the Cross”! It’s wild! But most things, if he sings it through a couple of times, I’ll click onto the phrase in a moment. There’s only a couple of things where we go “let’s try a different key on that” but most things I go straight away on. As far as songs like “Fear of the Dark” and other from that era go, well, I feel really comfortable singing most of his work.
What are you writing now?
I’m just having lyrical ideas, a few things tucked away for the next time we start writing. I’m hoping we won’t have such a big gap between this [Virtual 11] and the next album, I’ll have some time off, we have a heavy touring schedule, we’ll start writing a couple of months after the end of the tour.
Will you write about Vikings?
I don’t think so… I’ll leave that to Manowar, they do that very, very well!
As Beavis and Butthead would say, “Yes! Yes!”