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Dave Murray and Steve Harris Interview
Raw: It's Thursday, it must be Hell.
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Rod Smallwood: We're shooting the next video in Hell today. It should look blooooody great!
Raw: Faced with Smallwood's ever rampant enthusiasm there's no way you can really disagree. Even if you haven't really got a clue what he's gabbling on about. Sitting at his desk in his Sanctuary Management office, he's a one-man hive of activity, overflowing with energy and verve for all the bands who happen to fall under the company's managerial umbrella. On this occasion neo-Indie types the Catherine Wheel, a band boasting the talents of Maiden screamer Bruce Dickinson's cousin, look poised to dent the charts with their second single. Smallwood finds it hard to contain himself when the news reaches his desk. On another front there's one of his fledgling acts Taste who are set to headline The Marquee for the second time and one which Rod is going ten-to-the-dozen as all good managers do. Then, of course, there's Maiden, the man's first love and probably his last. With their ninth studio album, 'Fear of the Dark', just completed the Maiden machine is getting ready to swing into action once again. For Rod that means a ton of phone calls to a million and one individuals regarding everything from the scheduling of a set of European promo trips, through to the running of the band's summertime jaunt as part of the Monsters of Rock package, which also of course includes a return to visit Castle Donington. Then there's the co-ordinating of the video shoot in Hell. A hardy task which Smallwood undertakes with all the enthusiasm of a hare-chasing whippet, as he dashes around his inner sanctum dressed casually in slacks, a grey jumper and trainers. Around him the phone lines are buzzing frenetically. On line three Maiden bass player Steve Harris, the band's prime mover since time immemorial, is running through the logistics of a forthcoming promo visit to Lisbon with Rod. It's a matter particularly close to Harris' heart bearing in mind that he lives in Portugal for a large chunk of the year. The fact that he still doesn't want to spend more time than he has to attending to Portugese record compay receptions and the like is, however, fairly understandable bearing in mind the band's forthcoming rigorous itinerary. After all, once the explanations about the ins and outs of 'Fear of the Dark' are over and the press are satiated, it'll be time to hit the road for something like four months, taking the band up to Christmas, by which time they'll not only have played all over Europe, but they'll also have completed a chunky South East Asian tour stopping at all points between Indonesia and India. Steve Harris, not surprisingly, therefore, is a man with time at a premium. The Potugese trip sorted out to his satisfaction, it's time to get down to brass tacks with Steve Harris. It's been a while, and since the last Maiden album, 'No Prayer for the Dying', hit the racks back in 1990 the odd gallon of lager's flowed down the old proverbial gullet. Consequently, there's a fair bit to quizz the affable bass chap about. Of course, there's the new album, recorded in Harris' own state-of-the-art, home studio and an opus that a number of Maiden fans may find rather startling due to its diversity and scope. Then, there's more personal elements, like band politics and the relationships within Iron Maiden. Plus, there's the fact that many might perceive Maiden's Donington appearance as a watershed as far as the band's touring career is concerned. Phrased differently: Could this be the end of the road for Maiden?Harris, a man who's probably been asked all these questions and more a hundred times, is an obliging interviewee, answering each query with a large element of self-analysis and occasional resignation, and with all the honesty that his reputation has afforded him. If anything, 'Fear of the Dark' could well be Maiden's most rounded album to date, not only in terms of its diversity, but, more significantly, in the songwriting stakes. Whereas Harris has always been the band's principal songwriter, this time there's contributions from nearly all concerned with the exception of chirpy sticksman Nicko McBrain.
Steve: I think it's great getting a load of help from all the others. I mean on the first two albums I wrote nearly all the material and it was the same on the next two. I've always been prolific I s'ppose, but really that put me under a lot of pressure and it's really nice now to have all the others contributing a load of stuff that's really good. It's meant that the pressure's relaxed a little and I've been able to concentrate on a few other things too like a bit of production.
Raw: As far as collaborations on 'Fear...' are concerned, there's a fresh seam of talent in the band in the ever-energetic form of guitarist Janick Gers, the man who was thrown in at the deep end on 'No Prayer...' when he replaced Adrian Smith only to find himself in the studio a week later with only a couple of celebratory days set aside down the pub! With 'Fear...' Gers has found the time to stretch out, co-writing three tracks with hyper-active frontman Bruce Dickinson, namely the current single 'Be Quck or Be Dead', 'Fear is the Key' and 'Wasting Love', all of which see the band moving away from historical or mythical lyrical themes and touching upon modern day issues such as corporate corruption and AIDS. Elsewhere, he's penned a couple of cuts with Harris in the shape of the tongue-in-cheek 'Weekend Warrior' and 'The Apparition'. Then there's a couple of cuts inked by Bruce and guitarist Dave Murray - who arrives at Sanctuary almost on cue as Harris and I begin talking about his involvement as a Maiden mainstay! - in the form of the anthemic 'Chains of Misery' and the swooping 'Judas My Guide'. The other tracks on the platter - the stomping 'From Here to Eternity', the epic 'Afraid to Shoot Strangers', the pensive 'Childhood's End', 'The Fugitive' and the title-cut - are all Harris' handy work. So what about this turn around in the songwriting department? How did it come about? And how do Maiden deal with people bringing songs into the band? Is there a large critical element on Harris' part or is it largely down to whoever comes up with the goods first?
Steve: The only thing that decides whether we use a song is whether it's a good song or not, that's the bottom line. I mean, Nicko's never written stuff before, but if he brought a song along that was good we'd use it, no problem. Also it depends on how the collaborations between albums work out 'cos on the last album I wrote a lot of stuff with Bruce but this time I didn't write with him at all. That's purely because he got together with Janick, then I got together with Janick and by then we had enough. There's no point having 15, 16 songs 'cos then four of them can't make the album. So what do you do then? You either use them as 'b'-sides, which is a shame if they're really good songs, or you hold them for the next album which means that they'll probably get shelved. Then again, you can never try to go out of your way to write a 'b'-side because then you're looking at a song that's not good enough all round which isn't on. That's why we tend to sod around on 'b'-sides and do sleazy Blues songs and stupid songs about Rod. It's better to have a laugh that way.
Raw: It's an unusual way of working and one which Harris clearly admits goes against the grain of most other outfits' self-indulgence.
Steve: One thing about Maiden is that we're not one of the bands who sit around writing 20 or 30 songs and then scratching our heads about which ones to put on the record. We take about six weeks to write an album and then we stop. I don't see the point of doing it any other way because if you give yourself six months then you'll use those six months and need more. We get on with it and when we've got enough songs we record the album. It always seems to work for us so I don't see why we should change that.
Raw: Chomping on what looks like a mid-morning currant bun, Dave Murray, a surprisingly softly-spoken individual with his familiar Cheshire cat grin in place, is quick to agree about the efficacious manner in which Maiden have approached recording and songwriting in the last decade or so.
Dave: Really, I think that there's no point in us spending years making an album because we've always trusted what we felt was spontaneous. Certainly with this album it's almost like it's all become really exciting again because as individuals we've just bonded a lot more. The five of us have really got to know each other better which I suppose is pretty strange when you think about how long we've been going. I think the other thing is that a few people in the band have had a few outside interests so that's meant that they've come back to Maiden feeling really fresh.
Raw: Perceived as 'The Quiet One' in Maiden, Murray, along with Harris, is the only other band member who's stuck with the Irons since their first, self-titled platter in 1980. Is the fact that he's written so little (his songwriting credits are slowly creeping towards double figures!) due to perhaps a different approach to the 'gallop and jump' approach that Maiden have made their own for over ten years?
Dave: Well, I haven't written as much stuff as Steve or Bruce because their songwriting's pretty powerful. When I have got some songs though I want to make sure that they're really going to suit the band. The real point though is that ever since I joined Maiden in '76 I've just had this huge springboard that Steve's songwriting has given me to do what I want as far as guitar playing's concerned. There's loads of room to expand and I've never had the feeling that I needed to go out and make a Jazz Funk album or anything. I love being in this band and playing the way we do allows me total freedom. I've got other stuff that I've written at home, but at the moment when I get time off I'd rather spend it with the family than go fiddling around with it. That's not to say that later I won't go doing something with it, but I'm happy with the way things are within the band. The only things I'm really concerned with at the moment though is getting my golf handicap against Rod down!
Raw: Golfing aside (!!!), Harris is equally level-headed and content about the state of Maiden's material.
Steve: I haven't really got a load of stuff lying around at home that's got me thinking 'Oh, I'm going to have to put this one on a solo album' or whatever. I just don't tend to write songs all the time. I've got tapes with a load of ideas on them but that's about it. I don't think that there's any time for that kind of stuff as far as I'm concerned because I couldn't hold it together. I'm not like Bruce who can do five things at once, I just concentrate on one because that just keeps me completely occupied . I think, apart from Bruce, it's the same with all of us. There's so much going on in the band and in the songs that we'd all collapse if we did anymore!
Raw: As far as 'Fear of the Dark' is concerned there's the aforementioned diversity, but conspicuous by its absence is the patented Maiden twin lead sound that the band have used to such effect in the past. Murray is quick to pick up on the point.
Dave: I guess we've used a lot of harmony parts in the past and everyone's got used to that. With this album though it wasn't that we tried to move away from that, it was just that they didn't fit. There's a classsic track on there called 'Afraid to Shoot Strangers' where there could've been harmony parts all over the place, but they just didn't seem right so we took 'em off. Sometimes that harmony stuff can just sweeten things too much and we felt that although we'd used keyboards to maybe add textures to songs, we didn't want the song to lose any of that power.
Raw: The song in question is in fact a seven minute mini-epic which rambels through a kind of Maiden-meets-Tull groove, a startling concept if ever there was one!
Steve: I definitely take that as a compliment! I'm really pleased with that song. From me own point of view and out of me own songs, it's definitely one of my favourites. I've always liked progressive stuff anyway. That's why I liked '...Seventh Son', because it had that real '70s progressive influence and this is a continuation of that.
Raw: For Maiden it's indicative of the fact that as a band who've so often been chided for remaining the same, they've begun to ring the changes in a number of departments, not least of all as far as their musical diversity is concerned.
Steve: It's weird, but a lot of people have talked about how varied this new album is, but we've always had songs on our records that weren't typical. Take 'To Tame a Land' from 'Piece of Mind'. Even as far back as the first album there's been songs like 'Remember Tomorrow' and 'Strange World' which haven't been out and out metal anyway. I don't think we worry about what's in vogue or what people think of us. If we did, on this album we'd be like a Funk Rap Thrash thing wouldn't we? Nah, it'd be Death Metal now wouldn't it?
Raw: On a more basic level there's further changes in the Maiden camp and they're apparent at face value, namely in the artwork for 'Fear...' which doesn't boast the usual band mascot Eddie as painted by longstanding Maiden artist Derek Riggs, but features a more sinister version of the same character spawned this time by Melvyn Grant.
Dave: It's really funny how people pay attention to Eddie. We just thought that since we'd changed so much on this album musically and we'd brought the production up into the '90s people take a double take. He looks even more evil, like he's had a few more hangovers!
Raw: If the face of Maiden may have changed slightly, a constant factor as far as their sound's concerned is the presence of long-time knob-twiddler Martin Birch. He's been with the band since their second album 'Killers' and this time around, assisted by Harris, he's once again done the honours. The question is, would Maiden ever consider using someone else?
Dave: I don't think so, Martin's like this psychologist to us! When you're working in a situation where say you're doing overdubs and stuff, you don't really get to see anyone else apart form Martin. He's the one who psyches you up and who tend to keep you in contact with the songs. Having said that Steve's always been pretty involved with the production side of things and this time he took on a lot more responsibility, although that wasn't anything to do with the fact that we'd recorded the album round his house!
Raw: With the album being recorded at Steve's newly finished Barnyard Studios, it's yielded a more relaxed album as Harris freely admits.
Steve: We've always really enjoyed making albums anyway and having the luxury of our own studio meant that we really didn't have any distractions. A lot of people said 'Oh yeah, but you'll have all your kids around' and stuff like that but we just got on with it.
Dave: Before when we'd recorded in London or wherever else you'd get a load of annoying little things happening that just burst the bubble a lot of the time. Things like a cleaner coming in in the middle of a solo or a cab driver looking for so-and-so. This time we shut ourselves off and it also meant that instead of leaving the studio and going straight to the bar without passing go, we could go home and relax. It made it a lot more enjoyable and relaxed.
Raw: Despite the relaxed atmosphere in the Maiden camp surely, in an atmosphere as tense as a studio wherever it may be, there must have been the odd bit of friction between band members....
Steve: Not in general, we get on really well. The only thing which does happen like that on every album is that Nicko and I have a bloody, great big row! When I say row, I don't mean a punch, just a lot of verbal. You can guarantee that he'll throw a wobbler at some point and I'll throw one straight back and after a couple of hours it'll all be sorted out.
Dave: There's the occasional flare up. It's like 'Put me down for a two minute argument' and it's like 'A five minute argument will cost extra, sir'! It's quite healthy and usually when anything needs to be decided it's very diplomatic. We tend to take a majority vote and it's decided.
Raw: Admissions of 'rows', 'flare-ups' and 'verbal' are one thing, but has there ever been any strong personality clashes in or out of the studio with Maiden? After all, they've been around long enough to have split up a few times and there's been occasions when certain areas of the media have speculated as much...
Steve: Since Nicko joined in 1983 it's all been very stable. We didn't come close to splitting when Paul left but we probably would've done if he hadn't. We've always felt that the fire and the spirit of the band has been there so there's never really been any question of it. If someone left now it would be a big blow, but if we felt that the spirit was still there we'd carry on. When Adrian left we were kind of aware that there might be something wrong. Before we recorded 'Seventh Son...' we asked him if he was into it and he said he was. On tour it was just obvious that he wasn't enjoying it. At the moment though there's no viciousness or anything like that in the Maiden camp and everyone's more into it now than ever before as far as I can tell because we've had a bit of time to relax. Some people tend to question Bruce simply because he's doing all these other things and they're all wondering whether he's going to leave. It's got nothing to do with it at all. He's just a very hyper person and that's all. He writes books on tour while the rest of us are sleeping or watching TV and he just gets involved with things. I'd like to think that if he felt any different about the Maiden thing he'd tell us, in fact, I know he would.
Raw: For Harris life without Maiden is, in his own words, "something I've never thought about, nothing could ever be as exciting again" and he's happy to clearly still be relishing every aspect of the band to the fullest. But how does it feel to be thought of as something of a British institution after over a decade in the saddle?
Steve: What?! I dunno. Nah, we prefer to be known as a living leg-end! Really though, we don't think about that because that's up to people like you in the press to analyse all this shit. If we did we'd end up disappearing up our own arse! It's something that's too close to us for us to be objective about. One thing I will say is that I'm amazed about the fact that we've kept a lot of our old fans while we've still got loads of new ones on every tour. I mean there's people who are like 12 coming to see us now. They weren't even born when we started going! That's amazing. It's brilliant and I hope it carries on as long as it can because we still enjoy what we do and we still give it some stick live.
Raw: Bearing that in mind, how lond do Maiden think it'll be before the 'stick-o-meter' shows signs of flagging? How long will it be before Steve decides to take his foot off that well-worn monitor? Would they ever be aware of the fact that they may have reaced their limit?
Steve: I think we'd know if we were losing our edge. Some people said as far back as a couple of tours ago that we were losing it or whatever. There's always a debatable argument. I'd like to think that we wouldn't go out there and just be plodding along because that's not the way we are. We'd like to think we'd know when to give up, but at the moment we're still going out there and going for it. There's no element of 'Fuck this, 'ere we are again', we just really enjoy it. It is different now from the way it was 12 years ago, of course it is, but I'm enjoying tours these days more than I've ever done. I think we're a better band now than we were then, but, like I said, there's always going to be a debatable argument.
Raw: With Maiden, of course, there's another deciding factor, namely that of nostalgia, of people swapping stories about 'the good old days at the Ruskin Arms, The Marquee or The Rainbow'.....
Steve: Yeah, the thing is that when a band does their first few albums people who were first into 'em have such fond memories of those early days. Really in a way it's better to ask some newer fans who're maybe seeing us for the second time and see what they think beccause they can't compare it to the old days. If they still think we're firing up and happening I'd rather listen to them because the older fans are going to have a different attitude because they've kind of grown up with the whole thing. It's like me being a fan of Jethro Tull and Golden Earring. I picked those two bands because they've been going along time, and a lot longer than we have, but I've been a fan of 'em for like almost 18 years or something and they're still going. To me I would still go and see 'em and enjoy 'em, but, having said that, obviously the first few albums mean more to me because I was into 'em at an early age. That's not to say that I'm not still a fan, it just means that I maybe don't go out and queue up to buy their new albums on the first day.
Raw: You'd be in a small queue of one when it came to Golden Earring though!
Steve: Oi, don't you be digging at one of my favourite bands, mate! They're still really big in Holland and Germany. Nah, I picked those two bands because I'm trying to liken it to the Maiden thing but I don't really even think that it's the same. I dunno.
Dave: I think when people ask us about how things have changed there's no way it's become safe because it hasn't all gone soft. We haven't made records that get played on the radio and when it comes to playing we're still out there fighting. It's in our blood, that feeling of adrenaline. I think we've worked harder to get that beause we've had the success that we've had. Maybe we haven't toured as much in the last few years, 'cos we haven't done any tours that have killed us or anything like that, but we just enjoy things so much more now because we've got a bit more time to.
Raw: Indeed as far as touring is concerned if the last few years have seen Maiden ease off slightly from relentless roadwork, the period between 'Killers' and their fifth album 'Powerslave' saw the outfit constantly on tour. Amazingly, looking back, they never succumbed to the excesses that seem to go hand in hand with such intensity.
Steve: All that's really down to how you look at things. You have to differentiate between the stage and your own life. I dunno, a lot of people seem to have a problem between switching off when they come off stage. A lot of American bands seem to be that way. They have to put on this act and they can't differentiate between the real world and being on the road. Not that being on the road is unreal, but it's a bit strange and you can get a bit stranger if you're not careful. I've always been able to switch off. If I've got something to do I go and do it, and an hour later I could be doing something completely different and be find doing that. That's where Bruce comes into his own too because he can switch from one thing to another a lot quicker than I can when he's on tour. Sometimes I'm amazed with the results he gets because they're always really good. You don't really think about it or analyse it too much until you do these interviews, though, so that's pretty strange! The weird thing is that some people meet us after having seen us on stage running around and they expect us to be the same, which is ridiculous. All I can say is that I've met some American bands, and one band in particular without mentioning any names, who I've had normal converstions with and next thing you know there's a bunch of punters come in and it's like 'All Change!'. This one bloke was biting this girl's tit and going completely over the top. Then when the punters had gone again he was completely back to normal. I dunno, but I just thought, 'That ain't well', you know what I mean! Very, very weird.
Raw: So what provides Steve in particular and Maiden in gerneral with this anchor to reality?
Steve: Being from England, I think! I dunno. I do feel strange after a tour sometimes, but that's only because you come home after a tour and it's hard to settle down, but not in the sense of being crazy or doing weird things, it's more like a time scale thing. It feels normal seeing me mates and stuff. What I mean by being anchored by the whole England thing is that if you come home with any airs and graces or you start acting a bit strange, you go down the pub and it'll be 'What the fuck's wrong with you? Fuck off back to LA!'. Not that we tend to act like that anyay, but they'd soon sort you out if you did that, which is great because who wants to be like that anyway?
Raw: Harris' English-ness is something that extends to his constant championing of British outfits. His American rambles have also given him a realistic perspective on the much-debated difference between Yankland outfits and their UK counterparts.
Steve: I think that any band that are really going to want to do it are going to have a real sense of conviction, but it might be a different sense of conviction if you come from the UK. A band from Britain will probably start off by thinking that they just want to play on stage and get on with their own stuff. In America though there's this different thing where bands can go out and make good money playing covers but over here you can't do that so you just have to go for it. In the States you get a lot of bands who are great players but are sitting around in clubs doing covers and who decide to stick there because they are making good money, but here people don't have that choice. I don't know what the right or the wrong way is, but there's certainly a massive difference in attitude as a result of these different situations and it's werid seeing it from up front.
Raw: Steve's own interest in the UK scene has also led to his involvement with a young London outfit by the name of British Lion. So what's the score on that front?
Steve: Well, the situation with them is that they're just changing a couple of members in the band and they've got to finish mixing this album that they've just done and they're finising off this video. All I've been doing is trying to help 'em out until they get management or a record deal. Basically, I just believe in the songs. They're not a metal band, they're a rock band really and they're really commercial, but I think they're really bloody good and they deserve a shot at it. It's like a lot of British bands. At least there's a few bands coming through now though. Wolfsbane, Gun, The Almighty and even Little Angels who are commercial but who are really good, so that's healthy 'cos there's a real bit of promise. Other than that though, bands playing around in pubs and clubs don't seem to be too exicting because they just don't seem to write good songs. That's strange. What amazes me is that a lot of the tapes of bands that I've heard actually sound kind of American. Then again, I suppose a lot of people could argue that British Lion sound a bit American because they're commercial, but to me they've still got this edge that the Americans haven't got. It's a bit of fire in there that makes a difference. The real key is getting out and playing though.
Raw: It's a key which Maiden have found has constantly worked for them and they're set to unlocking matters once again this summer and for the next 12 months. As yet, however, the Maiden camp's keeping schtum as to other possible guests - except about WASP who have been confirmed to appear - which might be on the bill. Their excitement at headlining the festival for a second time is clear, with both Murray and Harris still enthusing about their '88 performance.
Dave: It was just so incredible it's almost like I still don't believe it happened! It was like climbing a mountain and we'd finally reached the top. Everyone always goes on about how great it is to be playing abroad or in America but to us it's home that counts and Donington is the biggest festival we could ever play. I can't wait.
Raw: The real question is whether this might be Maiden's last stand?
Steve: Oh, no, not again! They asked us that in '88! They've been saying it for five years and it's strange because we're still here wondering what it's all about. We haven't announced anything saying that we're going to be knocking it on the head. There's none of this kind of farewell stuff shit to sell tickets and as far as I'm concerned we'll be back in Britain in February next year, I hope. I mean, you never know what might happen in the future as far as touring goes but this time we're really going for it. Like I said, there won't be any plodding!
Dave: Touring in general and playing Donington again is really like a dream come ture. I know it sounds ridiculous, but to me it's like everything I imagined when I used to watch T-Rex on TV or see Sweet on Top of the Pops as a kid! It still feels incredible. I'm still bloody excited! What more can I say?