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Bruce Dickinson Interview
Fredrik Hjelm: So, Bruce - who produced the forthcoming Iron Maiden live album "Rock In Rio", and who's going to produce the upcoming studio album?
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Bruce Dickinson: Kevin Shirley. We like Kevin, and he likes us!
FH: What about the re-issue of the re-issue (!) of the whole Iron Maiden catalog on Sony? It wasn't long ago the entire catalog was re-mastered and released on Raw Power/Castle Records, and here it comes again!? Is there anything different on this issue, beside the two bonus tracks on each CD?
BD: I don't think so. I think the reason is because it's been transferred to Sony and they want to issue their version of it. My personal take on it is; if you really want another copy of "The Number Of The Beast", go ahead, be my guest! If your old copy's still working for you and your happy with that, fine. You don't have to buy it!
FH: Speaking of "The Number Of The Beast" - I just watched the making of that record [part of the "Classic Album" series on Eagle Rock Entertainment], Martin Birch obviously produced that album and many more that followed. Can we expect further collaboration with this gentleman in the future?
BD: Martin!? No, Martin's retired, bless him! He plays golf and goes salmon fishing, and I think he deserves it! He made all my favorite records in the past, not only Maiden, but others, through the years.
FH: Can you tell us a little bit about the forthcoming "Rock In Rio" album and how it will differ from Maiden's other live albums...
BD: The "Rock In Rio" album I think is gonna turn into a Maiden classic because it is one show, no overdubs, and it sounds great! It sounds really, really strong. It was the last show of the "Brave New World" tour, it was in front of a quarter of a million people, it was broadcast live on TV to over 100 million people...it was a great place to do a live DVD and CD! So, that is why we decided to do the recording in Rio, and since it was only one show, we knew we had to do it right so there was a lot of pressure on stage, knowing we've only got one shot at this. Fortunately, we got it right!
FH: How many shows were recorded at the Long Beach Arena for the "Live After Death" record?
BD: That record was assembled from three nights at Long Beach, with different tracks being selected from different nights. It also was messed around with a bit. Some of the backing tracks were fine, but Adrian's guitar was way out of tune on one or two songs, so we went into a studio here in LA and did some guitar overdubs and I think I even did some vocal overdubs on "Run To The Hills" and some other bits. All these years I felt "Live After Death" as being the ultimate live Maiden record, that's why it's nice to have "Rock In Rio." This has a vocal performance on it in which I'm a lot more proud of than "Live After Death". It's shit-loads better singing-wise. Whether or not it will replace "Live After Death" in the affections of everybody is more difficult to say because a record like that is more a product of its time. The same goes for "Number Of The Beast"...it wouldn't matter if we did an album that was twice as good as that record tomorrow, it would still never be "Number Of The Beast."
FH: What about your position in Maiden today? Do you feel it's more influential than it used to be?
BD: Still "vertical" and that's all right! I really don't think about it that much, it is what it is, you know.
FH: Sometimes I felt as if part of why you wanted to pursue your own artistic ventures was to have more freedom and to be in charge...
BD: Well, in some aspects it's nice to be your own boss, I agree. Being in Maiden, though, has got a lot of other things going for it. You're in this really "big" environment and people really focus on you. It's always a big deal with a new Maiden album and it's really only a handful of bands that have a genuine identity. There really isn't anything like Maiden, anywhere else in the world.
FH: How do you feel about dropping all the solo material, going back to Maiden? Could we expect further Dickinson solo ventures?
BD: I hope so. I haven't really dropped any solo material at all.
FH: I'm rather referring to your current focus - Iron Maiden?
BD: Yeah, my focus is on Maiden right now, because Maiden's doing something! When Maiden stops doing something, my focus will be elsewhere, wherever that is. Not necessarily on solo stuff, since I do other things to. It's just about concentrating on what's going on at the moment.
FH: Do you think you have to adapt a lot, writing for Maiden, compared to writing as a solo artist?
BD: No, because Maiden has its own internal politics and its own way of writing and I'm used to that. What I'm aware of now is relying on that and I think the band has been guilty of that in the past. Because we have a very identifiable style and boundaries, don't expect the "Iron Maiden Rap Album" any time soon. [Writer's note: Thank God for that!] The point is that there are certain things that are absolutely out of the question for the band to do. Because of the way the band exists in a particular "space" it could be easy to end up re-assembling a number of clichés and to convince yourself that it's good, and that's where you have to worry. From that point of view, it can be more difficult to write for Maiden compared to a solo project. Both things, however, have their aspect of challenges. You just have got to be aware of the pit falls of both.
FH: Speaking of your writing - anymore Dickinson books on their way?
BD: No, because I'm just too lazy! It's just far too much hard work. I wouldn't mind, but it's a question of gearing up the "mental wheels" for four months, staring at a word processor for a number of hours every day.
FH: Do you ever get any influence from newer bands?
BD: (Pause) Not really. Mainly because what I can affect the most in the music is the singing, and that's kind of out of fashion these days!
FH: Did you set a time limit with Steve Harris when coming back to Maiden or are you going to go as long as possible?
BD: A time limit?!! Like what?! As if we'll explode or something at a certain point?? (Laughs)
FH: No, I'm rather referring to you being very diversified as an artist, and you possibly saving something up as a "Plan B", like renegotiating in three years or something like that?
BD: "Renegotiation in three years"? Jesus Christ, that's like buying a house isn't it? No, lawyers renegotiate, rock bands work in a different way. Rock bands stay together because they want to stay together, because everybody in the band wants to be in the group. It's a group thing on every level. Let's say I write five songs for next Iron Maiden album that I think are brilliant, and the other guys think only one of them is any good. Obviously, I'll be disappointed, but since it is a group, I'll go with what they say. The answer to the question is really that if anybody wants to take some time off from Maiden, all they have to do is say it. If one of the guys in the band says "my arm fell off - I need a break" or something like that, we're going to have to be mature and act like adults about it. I mean, come on, I'm the youngest in the band, and I'm 43. Nicko's pushing 50, and it is what it is. If anybody needs a break we deal with it in a mature way, even though we're nowhere near that stage. I'm probably fitter now than when I was 28.
FH: From your performance point-of-view, does a certain amount of acting come in handy on stage, or does the "scream for me" always come straight from the heart?
BD: It's not acting. That's why actors find it very hard to try to become rock performers. An actor is used to playing somebody else. Compared to other band members, the singer doesn't have anything to hide behind. The guitarist, the bass-player and the drummer all have something to "hide" behind when there's a momentum in a song when there's nothing much to do on-stage performance wise. As a guitarist, you can always play with the buttons on the guitar or something. What you actually have to do, particularly as a singer, is to communicate with the audience and something called "charisma" is crucial. I really think that's a strange thing, though. To me, somebody's charisma goes way back - all the way from their childhood. It could be about something that pissed you off or so that makes you crave the limelight. As an actor, you don't get noticed in the same way. You get noticed for portraying somebody else, not yourself. On the rock'n'roll stage - it's you up there, isn't it? People think it's you, whether it is or not, it's certainly a part of you for it to be real.
FH: So the character's name is "Bruce Dickinson"?
BD: Well it's not really a character. It's actually a chunk of me. Not all of it, I'd say. If it was, I'd be arrested every time I walk down the street. It's a piece of your personality, which exists, and which you can "inflate" to gigantic size, via the music. It will only exist at that size if the band is there, the crowd, the music...the event. Outside of that, it'll shrink back. All of us were also the awkward kids, sitting on the side of the school disco, we'd never get up to dance. Never in a million years I'd do that, and I still can't do it! Put me in front of 250,000 people playing Iron Maiden music or Deep Purple and I'll dance like a lunatic and I'll do all kinds of crazy stuff! Put me in a room with a bunch of girls, or even worse; a bunch of guys - and you wouldn't get me up for a million bucks...well, maybe for a million, actually! (Laughs)
FH: I've followed your career for over twenty years, looking back, I always wanted to ask you if you actually wanted to break out from Maiden back in '86-'87...due to possible burn-out from the extremely successful "World Slavery tour"?
BD: Yeah, I thought about it. After the "World Slavery tour" I contemplated actually giving up music all together. I was really fed up with it...not so much the music, but with this endless touring. It had just worn everybody out, and at the end we were feeling like we were going through the motions every night, which wasn't very satisfactory since none of us are people who like "going through the motions" or "faking it". And I did wonder whether or not...just for the sake of my mental health...to go off and do something else. Very ordinary things were really attractive at that particular moment in time. In fact, what everyone needed was just a bloody good rest, away from it all. We didn't get that much of a rest, we went straight on to the next tour. I was in a very strange place, if I was going to go off on the "treadmill" again, I wanted to do something different - something to freak people out. If you're feeling bad about something, it must be somebody's fault, so you look for scapegoats, somebody to blame. And in part, at least some of it is your own fault, for doing it in the first place. But that never occurs to you, does it?
FH: I recently saw a Maiden home-shot video from the recent "Brave New World" tour, and I reflected on how fabulous you still sound, after all these years of strain on your voice. How do you maintain your voice?
BD: I have a bizarre theory about voices, they're like motor car engines. You put so many miles on and that's it, so I don't see any reason why I should get up in the morning and go around yodeling, unless there's a really good reason for it. I know my neighbors don't appreciate it! So, I don't bother. I think once you've gotten to a certain point in singing, or playing any musical instrument for that matter, you can put it down for as long as you feel like it, and you can pick it back up again because it's part of you. For a guitarist, his fingers may be rusty, but his brain knows where to go, and it's the same thing with a singer.
FH: Last year Halford released a solo album and you appeared on the track "The One You Love To Hate," but you also performed that track with him on his "Live Insurrection" album. I wasn't aware you performed that song live onstage with Halford - what concert was that from?
BD: It was a show in England, I was onstage with Halford, and also Geoff Tate did that song as well. There was a project planned with myself, Halford, and Geoff Tate to be called the "Three Tremors," then we were going to name it "Trinity," because we figured they would sue our ass if we called it the "Three Tremors"! I actually came over to LA last February to do some writing for that album with Roy Z, we wrote about three songs but then realized it was going to take us a lot longer than three weeks to write a project with three singers that would work. We wanted to make each song designed to be sung by three different characters as an integral part of the song, not something like; "you sing the first verse, I'll sing the second verse, and he'll sing the chorus." That would be a crap way to do it. But it's a bloody difficult thing to do, to try to make a song with three different voices to get the full benefit out of it. And it takes longer than three weeks, and we didn't have longer than that to do it so I canned it in the end. It's a great idea, everybody loves the idea...we had marketing people salivating about the idea of the Trinity project. But the bottom line is, the thing that is gonna sink it is if the music sucks. So I thought we should can the idea for now since we don't have time to do it. Rob is in the studio doing his new album ("Crucible") and Geoff is writing a new Queensryche album so that was it. It is an interesting idea, and I'm sure the live show would be really interesting, so perhaps in the future it will see the light of day.
FH: Considering Judas Priest being the predecessors of the NWOBHM, how was it recording with the "Metal God"? Was it an honor to you, or were you humble about it considering your own success?
BD: Recording with Rob is fantastic. The thing is, I never see singers in the studio, especially with Rob's caliber.
FH: On his new record, he sounds better than ever...don't you think?
BD: Oh Christ! There are voices and there are "voices"! I mean, my voice is straight out of the box...I mean, I don't think there is anything freakish about my voice. But Rob...Rob's a freak!! He has this voice, and I don't know how it happens, at all. I've seen him in the studio so hoarse that his speaking voice sounds horrendous. I'm like, "go to bed, don't speak...save your voice". Then he goes into the studio and out comes this Bastille scream! And, it's like "where the f**k does that come from!!" I've never heard anything like it...really, really astonishing voice!
FH: What inspired you to be a singer in a rock band?
BD: I originally wanted to be a drummer. As a kid, I was always banging on the walls so I always thought I would end up playing drums. The first bands that I really got into, in my opinion, all had fabulous drummers...Ian Paice of Deep Purple, Bill Ward out of Sabbath, John Bonham, Keith Moon...I loved Mooney's personality, in fact, he was a front-man who played the drums. But I also loved Ian Paice's ability and his technique, so I often fanaticized about being Ian Paice and Keith Moon all rolled into one. But it was an absolutely hopeless case because there was no way I was ever gonna get a drum kit. I mean, I couldn't even drive a car so how would I transport the kit? I knew this kid who used to play all these B.B. King songs on acoustic guitar and I used to help him out on the singing, and that's how I started singing. So, in the back of my head I thought, "maybe I can do this." I've done a lot of amateur dramatics as a kid, both in and out of the classroom, and I loved being onstage, although I can never be an actor because it took everything far too seriously. The problem with acting is they always have to make such a big thing out of it...I could never hang out with these people! So the ideal thing of being a rock and roll singer is combining the two elements. So, I was in a private boarding school and got slung out when I was 17, and I went back to regular high school for about half a year. And within about a week of being there, I overhead this conversation at the back of my class, these guys were saying "who are we gonna get to sing at the rehearsal next weekend." And I said, I can do that! It was a garage band. They didn't even have a proper microphone, they had this cassette player mic that was taped to a jack plug - it was useless - nothing came out of it at all except this awful feedback! But they said to me, "wow, you're the best singer we ever had - you're in the band." And I said, "Great! When do we start gigging?" And they said, "Gigging?? We don't do gigs, we just rehearse in the garage once a week. And I said, "you mean you don't write your own material?" And they said, "God, no". So, I ended up being the driving force of the band, and we actually did do some gigs. But then I went to the University and formed a college band, and we did a few gigs here and there. We used to borrow the college mini-bus without them [the faculty] realizing it. We'd take the seats out and load our gear in, and then return it at 4 AM and bolt the seats back in! Then I answered an advert in the back of a music magazine called Melody Maker that read: "Singer wanted to complete recording project." And I thought, "I'm a student, I've got no money and this is free studio time!" So, I phoned up, and they told me to send them a tape, and I said, "I haven't got a tape." And they said, "Well, just send us anything you've got." So I placed a cassette recorder in the corner of the room and I stood on the other side of the room and yelled a bunch of notes, and I sent that off to them. I phoned them a week later and asked if they got the tape and they said, "Yeah, it was really musical and you were doing these really interesting scales and tunes." And I said, "Oh you noticed!" (Laughs) Most other people thought it sounded like a load of shit!
FH: Is that when the song "Dracula" came about?
BD: These were the people that already had the backing tracks for "Dracula." So I walked in and I mentioned Arthur Brown was one of my favorite performers. And they said, "We love Arthur Brown! That was what we loved about your voice, it had this Arthur Brown vibe about it." So we went into the studio, and I've never been in a studio before, so I was like, wow! So I recorded the song and double-tracked it and put harmonies on it. They said, "We have to form a band!" It was a bass player, a drummer and myself. So we found this guitar player who was like 33, I was like 19, so he seemed really old. And he was a professional guitar player in Australia. That was a band called Shots (?). We did some gigs and made a couple of demo tapes, including a record from a band called Xero. When this Australian guitar player left, we briefly had a fabulous guitar player, a guy named Bill Liesegang, who wrote a load of stuff for Nina Hagan. We did this one demo together, and subsequently, years later when "Run to the Hills" became a big hit, all of the sudden Xero releases an EP with this song featuring Bruce Dickinson on the B-side, it's quite a rare record which is now worth a few bucks. Anyway, this band Shots got me noticed by the guys in Samson. They were at the pub at our show and came up to me afterwards and said I was just the singer they were looking for. They told me they had a record deal and management and their own truck, so I thought cool! I had some final exams that next week so I asked if I could call them after I completed them. So, that's how I joined Samson.
FH: Tell us a little bit about your early career with Samson...
BD: Samson was an incredibly eccentric band! It was a miracle how it all held together. That band was largely fueled by various chemicals floating around, and everybody had their own separate chemical of choice. Paul (Samson, guitarist) was always completely surrounded in clouds of ganja smoke, the bass player (Chris Aylmer) would do a discrete line of speed every now and then, and the drummer, Thunderstick, who wore the black mask - his favorite bands were KISS and The Residents - he was very fond of dropping downers every now and again. And I was usually down at the pub. So, in rehearsal you would have somebody who's stoned, somebody who's drunk, somebody on downers and the other half of the rhythm section on speed! (Laughs) My first rehearsal with the band, I swear to God, I saw all this stuff was going on so I went out to have a few beers so I can deal with it, and when I came back, Thunderstick was banging away and he passed out while he was playing his drums! (Laughs) He didn't fall down, he was unconscious yet he was still playing! And most of the next two years were spent in various states of insanity and madness. We made almost every mistake you can possibly make in the music business, in a concentrated period of time - we were sued by our manager, we sued them, our record company went bust, we were arrested, our tour manager was arrested, we were driving around in stolen cars...The Samson stories just go on and on! It would be quite comical if it wasn't for the fact that there was actually a serious possibility at one point that the band might possibly do something. But the whole thing was strangled by the record company going belly-up. And then we tried to get rid of our management and they sued us and said that we owed them a half-million dollars. We thought, "how is this possible?" But, they one that case, so we did in fact owe them a half-million dollars, which was great, because none of us had any money at all. When I joined Iron Maiden, I think we paid them ,000 which paid for everybody in Samson to be free, so they could do other records and such. Samson made three studio albums, one of which I was not involved in at all, the first album, entitled "Survivors." They recorded that album, and then subsequently I joined the band. The album hadn't been released at this point so I went out try to get a 20 date together for the band, and suddenly the record company said, "now is the time to release this record." The only problem was, the band on the record was a three-piece, and now the band is a four-piece with a singer. So they quickly stuck a picture of me on the back and put "Bruce Bruce - Harmonica & Vocals." And the vocals were not me, it was Paul Samson singing. So we went on tour promoting this album playing mainly song from what was going to be our next album, "Head On," since we had already written the songs for that album. So, we went in the studio to record that record for Jem Records, which was the label that ended going belly-up a year and a half later. That album ended up in the top 30 UK album charts.
FH: Are there any new bands out there that you're scouting for your label Air-Raid Records?
BD: I have my arm twisted about selling Air-Raid back to Sanctuary. Sanctuary got way bigger overnight after they bought Castle and CMC. Suddenly from Air-Raid having a little cottage industry with a couple guys, those couple guys are suddenly running Halford, Megadeth and all these other artists for Sanctuary Records. So I felt Air-Raid would get shunted sideways unless it was part of this enormous thing, the label was originally a joint venture between me and Sanctuary anyway. What I really enjoyed doing was just listening to the music and maybe giving somebody a little nudge in the right direction, and I can still do that with Sanctuary. I'm still trying to get the English band Sack Trick (?) a deal. They're like a cross between Frank Zappa and KISS.
FH: Can you tell our readers a little bit about the Clive Burr Foundation and the benefit concerts you're doing for that.
BD: The only person in the band who had spoken to Clive in the last few months has been Steve. We found out about Clive's condition from the outtakes of the DVD that was recorded about the "Number Of The Beast" album. On the outtakes, Clive mentioned to the director that he had M.S. and that some of the answers to the questions his speech might be slurred on occasion. And that's how we found out, and we were pretty horrified, I mean, Clive is young, he's fit, and he was a drummer with great coordination and everything. So it was really tragic and we wanted to help him out. So, with his permission, we set up the Clive Burr foundation in order to help Clive. At the moment, we plan to raise as much money to help Clive, and if he wants to turn that into something else, to help others with M.S., than great. It started out as just one show we planned to do for Clive's benefit, but we realized one show wouldn't raise enough money, since there are a lot of costs for doing the show...obviously you have lights, P.A., road crew, stage hands, and people like that need to get paid. So, we ended up with three shows and seven days of rehearsals, which should hopefully get my pipes in working order. It will be basically the same shows we've done for the "Brave New World" tour.
FH: I know you have the "Eddy" action figure coming out soon through McFarlane...what was the band's involvement with that?
BD: We didn't have a huge amount of involvement apart from approval of the end result. We recognized that McFarlane was a fairly twisted individual in his own right, so we were very confident that we would come up with the goods. We're very delighted with it, I think it's great. I think the reason we never did it before is because years ago there were really no manufacturers that understood what it was about. You know, they would come up with this cheesy sort of Paul Stanley figure with stuck-on wig and stuck-on hairy chest, and we didn't want one of those (laughs!). The one thing that we never got with Maiden, that we really wanted to do, was the "Iron Maiden Pinball Machine." In the '80s, there was a pinball machine sort of craze and we would have done anything to have an Iron Maiden Pinball machine made just so each of us could own one!
FH: Last Question...Bruce Dickinson's Top 3 movies...
BD: Umm...I gotta pick one by Stanley Kubrick, which one will that be? (Long pause), God...this is a terrible question! "Prisoner Of Zenda," "North By Northwest"...and (long pause), still have to think which Kubrick film, let's have a look here...there's "2001: A Space Odyssey"...brilliant but, no. "Paths Of Glory"...that would be my first pick.