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Blaze Bayley & Steve Harris Interview
Metal Hammer interviews Steve & Blaze, November '98
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Metal Hammer: Let me tell you about Iron Maiden. Ten years ago I stood in a crowd of over 100,000 people in the pissing rain on the side of a hill near Donington village. We'd seen Guns N' Roses lay waste to the stage, a bombed-out Megadeth spit attitude into the fading afternoon, David Lee Roth and Kiss ham it up for all they were worth, but none of it had really mattered. We were waiting for the world's then loudest sound system to hum into action with the intro chords to 'Moonchild'. When it came, Donington went spastic. After three months in America 'The Seventh Son of a Seventh Son' tour was finally here, spread across a stage 200 ft wide. That night Bruce Dickinson, Adrian Smith, Steve Harris, Dave Murray and Nicko McBrain were gods. But that was ten years ago. Its a purely personal thing, but following the release in 1990 of what is easily their patchiest album, 'No Prayer for the Dying', the vocal histrionics of Bruce Dickinson, the widdly solos of Dave Murray and the galloping bass of Mr Harris had aged overnight. The lure of more dangerous bands like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails proved too great and we said our goodbyes, Maiden and I. For someone like me, then, loving Iron Maiden in 1998 is a very hard thing to do - I rember one line-up playing one way at the biggest gigs in the world. I reember over a period of five years laying out for almost £1000 worth of Maiden-associated goods - the rough equivalent, I'd say, to paying for a few rows of bricks in Steve Harris' barn studio. This alone, I consider, gives me enough of a right to ask some questions of the present Maiden camp which the faithful will find hard going. Iron Maiden bassist, founder and driving force Steve Harris understands this view. He understands but he doesn't agree, because Steve Harris, as we all know, lives, breathes, eats Iron Maiden and (probably) even shits little Eddie-shaped turds, too. So when I tell Steve in the band's tour bus en route to a gig in Hamburg, Germany, that, having listened to 'The X Factor' and 'Virtual XI' recently, I don't believe Iron Maiden to be as creative as they once were, I think you can picture his reaction...
Steve: Maybe you'd better get the boxing gloves on mate... Obviously I'm gonna disagree with that view, because if you believe that you're not making songs as creative as you once were, then you should give up. People such as yourself, who got into the band in the earlier stages, have just grown up and their lives have moved into different areas. Tastes change as you get older, people get jobs and have family commitments, and music doesn't matter as much as it once did. What I'd want someone like you to appreciate is that many young kids today are as much into Iron Maiden as you were ten years ago.
Metal Hammer: The thing is, 'someone like me' can appreciate the current members of Maiden FC. I know exactly what they enjoy about the band - the energy, the colour, the larger-than-life performance - but my point is that, compared to what Iron Maiden used to be, this current incarnation fails to light my fire. I no longer sense the excitement...
Steve: You can't argue or battle with someone's memories. If the first Iron Maiden album you got into was 'Number of the Beast' or 'Seventh Son...', then that's going to be your favourite Maiden record. You'll have memories associated with that time - the places that you went to, the girl you were seeing, the times you had... I can't compete with those sort of memories no matter how good Iron Maiden is now, so why try? It's great that you have those memories, only Iron Maiden still operate in the here and now and I believe that we're every bit as good today as we were back then. We have a great past, we know that, but we don't question any part of it or try to live up to it because we'd only re-do the same stuff over and over again.
Metal Hammer: But here's at thing, Steve. To my ears you've been doing exactly the same thing over and over again in recent years, only not as good as it used to be. You can't put 'The X Factor' in the same boat as 'Number of the Beast' or 'Somewhere in Time' even.
Steve: 'The X Factor' was roundly slagged off in the UK press and yet it sold over one million coopies worldwide. The real sign of its success, for me anyway is that three years on I still love it. Again, there's the problem that a person, such as yourself, probably wouldn't persevere with a recent Iron Maiden album, whereas when you were a hardcore fan you might have thought it wasn't as good as the last one but you wanted to like it so you made an effort to appreciate what was going on.
Metal Hammer: So what if I were to say that, like a lot of fans, I believe Iron Maiden should only be Bruce Dickinson, Steve Harris, Dave Murray, Nicko McBrain and Adrian Smith?
Steve: With someone as pigheaded as that then you've got no chance, have you? This isn't a new line-up now, is it? We've been hear five years. If you've come along and seen this line-up two or three times and still don't like it then fine, go somewhere else. If you don't enjoy us anymore then go see someone you do like instead.
Metal Hammer: And that's Steve Harris and Iron Maiden in a nutshell really - if you don't like it bog off and find something else instead. There have been some interesting developments in the world of Iron Maiden recently. Maybe it's the whole remastered back catalogue coming out that's brought home just how successful and important Maiden were, but one Bruce Dickinson of this parish seems to have been making noises in the press that he'd be open to re-join Iron Maiden some time in the future, whether its for a "summer of fun" or - one might interpret - on a semi-permanent basis. Talk like this from a man who has spent the last six years distancing himself from anything remotely Eddie-like can't have endeared him to the bosom of Steve Harris, a man more likely to walk barefoot over blazing coals with an anvil swinging from his bell-end than invite Bruce Dickinson back into Iron Maiden.
Steve: I have read that he wanted to get up and have a jam sometime, which is a bit daft to tell you the truth. Bruce left because he didn't want to be part of this anymore. He said he felt 'musically inhibited'. What annoys me to this day is that, when he did leave, he basically went to every magazine in the world and said bad things about Iron Maiden. He cited reasons for leaving that had never been discussed at band meeting and that got to me. Bruce was in the band for nearly 12 years and I don't think we deserved that kind of treatment from him.
Metal Hammer: One thing that struck me when I saw the band play Brixton Academy earlier this year was just how much new material Maiden were prepared to play. It was a point heavily criticised in most reviews of the show and Metal Hammer received several letters complaining about the lack of 'classic material'.
Steve: The first hour of the set, bar two songs, is all from the last two albums, so if you're not into those albums then you're not going to get as much out of it as someone who is. Unless you go out and do a 'Best Of' tour and advertise it as such, which is OK, then doing that type of set relegates you to cabaret status in my book. You're living on your pst and I won't do that. It would be really easy for Iron Maiden to go and do a 'Best Of' set, but to me there's absolutely no challenge in that. If you have no challenges left, then give up and go home. You can't please everyone all of the time. For a couple of albums after 'Number of the Beast' we had some fans and press saying that we shouldn't have got rid of Paul Di'Anno... in fact we still get some people who won't dop that one. After 17 years let's have a fuckin' exorcism for Christ's sake!
Metal Hammer: There's another angle here as well. What with Blaze replacing Bruce, Janick Gers taking Adrian's position and Steve remaining the constant lynchpin, I hear three very similar songwriting styles in Iron Maiden these days, whereas previously there were three sepatate directions and more variety.
Steve: I agree up to a point. Adrian definitely had a commercial edge, 'Wasted Years' being an example of that, but Janick has a strong songwriting ear, too, it's just different to Adrian's. A good song is a good song, no matter what it sounds like. Adrian was afraid to let me hear 'Wasted Years' because he thought that it was too different, and Bruce had 'Bring Your Daughter...' on 'Prayer', so I am open to different-sounding stuf... if it's any good. There were certain directions explored on 'Fear of the Dark' that I didn't feel were in the best interests of the band.
Metal Hammer: Now we head into the heart of the matter. Where do you draw the line between a band keeping its identity and the desire to move on? Production wise, for example, if it weren't for a change in vocalist it would be very hard to separate the sound of 'Fear of the Dark' from 'Virtual XI' or, for that matter, 'Prayer' from 'The X Factor'. Does anyone reading this feature really believe that were Steve Harris to be impressed by another band's producer he'd be willing to have another set of studio ears tackle Iron Maiden?
Steve: Who else but the band knows what the band should be? I appreciate that someone from outside of the band can see different things, but there has to be some form of internal control. If I heard something that I felt was vital to Iron Maiden, then I would be after that guy. But even then it would still have to be a co-production affair because I've always insisted upon that right from when we started working with Martin Birch on 'Killers'.
Metal Hammer: So how open is 'Sgt. Major' Harris to new ideas or suggestions from fans, critics or band members even? If looks could kill I think yours truly would be undergoing a rather unpleasant demise around now.
Steve: Despite what some 'ex-members' of the band would have you believe, I am open-minded. Fans have always been secondary - I don't mean that in a bad way - but if you don't put your own enjoyment and satisfaction first, they you'll end up re-writing 'Number of the Beast' ten times over because that's their favourite song. I'm up for doing most things song-wise, like 'Como Estais Amigos', but they have to be good ideas.
Metal Hammer: When you stop to consider Iron Maiden's longevity it really does take your breath away to know that they've been in the game for over 20 years. 'Iron Maiden' was released in 1980 and since then the band has gone on to sell over 42 million records worldwide, they've played to literally millions of people in that time, and right now they're enjoying their tenth successive world tour. It's not been plain sailing all the way - three diffferent lead vocalists are testament to that - but to someone who saw the band at their biggest, nowadays it definitely feels that, despite Steve's protestations to the contrary, the Maiden machine is winding down. Comparatively speaking, albums sales have dwindled to a trickle of what they once were in some territories and the band have had to scale down their ambitions on the live front from the arenas of old to the large halls and clubs of this year's autumn tour. Steve Harris remains nonplussed by the situation.
Steve: Every band has its up and downs. Whether it's commercial success or emotional, it's part of the deal of being in a band. How do you know what the highs are unless you have some lows? We've been lucky that we haven't had that many lows. Even now, where you could argue that we don't sell as many albums as we once did, we're still very strong in most countries. So if we lose a grip on one - like the States, for example, where things have gone very down - we're still strong in others. Iron Maiden is much more of a global thing.
Metal Hammer: There has been a suggestion floated that a 'Best of the Beast' type tour, with both current and ex-members of the band taking a spot, might kickstart a big-scale revival of the type recently enjoyed by the original Black Sabbath and Kiss.
Steve: I remember seeing Sabbath a few years back when Tony Martin was singing and they couldn't get arrested But then a few young bands who are cool like Pantera and Soundgarden say that Sabbath are an influence and suddenly they're it again, which I always thought they were anyway.
Metal Hammer: Can that happen to Iron Maiden?
Steve: I don't think we've ever been that low. We still play to seven or eight thousand people a night in most countries. I can't see Iron Maiden ever becoming massive again to the same degree as Sabbath and Kiss have become - we don't have an Ozzy or the make-up gimmick.
Metal Hammer: But there is something both those bands do which Maiden don't and that is to tour with younger, cooler bands who look up to the band's legacy but who also bring in new blood. Both those bands have had tribute albums, and both get cutting-edge acts on their support bills, whereas Maiden took out Helloween, Dio and Dirty Deeds (there were plans for WASP to be on the bill, too!)
Steve: To be totally honest, a couple fo the younger bands we asked to support us in the States said no cos they thought we weren't cool enough. So they then went out and played to 1,500 people a night instedad of doing our tour and getting five thousand. I mean, even if you don't like us, then you should try and steal our audience. It's what we did when we were supporting people.
Metal Hammer: All things considered it's just this sort of never-say-die spirit that still impresses me when I think of Iron Maiden. You can always list bands like Pantera and Machine Head as outfits who don't give a shit, but in Iron Maiden you really do have a band who don't give a flying one what you think about them.
Steve: We've always been put in a position that we've had to defend ourselves. Twelve years ago we took horrendous flak from some quarters for introducing guitar synths. In fact, with nearly every album we've done someone somewhere has had a pop at us for doing something wrong. That's not my paranoia either, and if anything, that winds me up to prove everyone wrong. If it pisses me off enough then it gives me a real edge. What I find personally satisfying, though, is that we can still go out and play every night and the fans are singing the lyrics to the new songs back at us. France, Greece, Spain, Poland - they're all into it. That lets me know that we're still doing the right thing.
Metal Hammer: Back when I was really into Iron Maiden Bruce Dickinson defined the entire band. His soaring vocals and rousing live performances were essential qualities for any self-respecting metal band. Sitting across from the wolfish Blaze Bayley, Dickinson's 1994 replacement, in full-on, post-gig wind down mode, I'm struck with just how comfortable he is in his surroundings and just how acutely aware he is of the band's considerable legacy.
Blaze: A lot of people care a hell of a lot about this band and I think the advantage I had when I joined Iron Maiden is that I understood that beforehad. I was famiiar with the depth of feeling surrounding Iron Maiden and I know why I have to justify my position being here. I was working three-week nightshifts in a row when I was in Wolfsbane, and throughout that time I'd be listening to Iron Maiden. 'Piece of Mind' was my favourite album, so I've got a stake in this too. Ths biggest favour that Bruce Dickinson ever did me was leaving Iron Maiden cos it gave me the opportunity to be part of something that goes in a focussed direction. It's something that you can commit your life to and the people that surround you won't trivialise it.
Metal Hammer: Out of anyone in the Maiden camp it's Blaze who will talk more freely about what it measns to love Iron Maiden in the late '90s.
Blaze: This band has transcended an image, it has transcended a label. More and more now when you look into the crowds the world over, irrespective of the language or religion, it's not about being cool, it's about loving the music. I think Bruce never understood the importance of the legacy. I understand why, because if you've been in something that big and helped get it there for 12 years, it would become easy to believe that it doesn't matter that much, and you take it for granted. I've been in this game myself for 15 years now at every level so I can understand that one day you might wake up and then realise that you once did have something special but you blew it. It hurt me to leave Wolfsbane because I had to admit that something I had worked and believed in for 21 years had failed, and that was horrible.
Metal Hammer: Bruce must sometimes kick himself for leaving Iron Maiden, don't you think?
Blaze: I met Bruce a few times. We're not big buddies but we get along. I've got my dream job and he went and did what he wanted. I've got total respect for Bruce. He is one of the vocalists that defines a particular genre of music in the '80s. Bruce's voice is '80s metal and I've got the greatest respect for that.
Metal Hammer: There have been harsh criticisms of Blaze fronting Iron Maiden. While no one denies that the former Tamworth terror has the personality to be the Iron Maiden frontman, there have been criticisms made of his vocal performances, particularly when it comes to the Dickinson-era material.
Blaze: All I can say is I'm not Burce and he's not the singer in Maiden anymore. My experiences have led my life in a different way and have made me approach songwriting in a different way as well. Every singer is looking for way to express themselves, so every singer will be different. You have to keep your own character intact. My favourite singer is Bon Scott and I'm a huge AC/DC fan, but I've still got the Brian Johnson albums because I love the band so much.
Metal Hammer: But when you see AC/DC don't you think it would be better to see Bon singing 'Whole Lotta Rosie'?
Blaze: I do, and I totally understand a section of the Maiden crowd wanting to hear Bruce singing 'Number of the Beast' but what can I say - it ain't gonna happen. You have those memories and you either accept changes and move on and grow like many, many people do in their lives or you can, like other people, stay exactly where you are in an artificial and very comfortable world which doesn't adapt. I find that, in order to get the most out of my life, I have to adapt, grow and change with circumstances.
Metal Hammer: As with many 'classic' bands, such as Sabbath, Kiss, Zeppelin, Aerosmith, etc, there's always the prevailing feeling that past differences will be put aside in favour of the lure of big money and huge shows, and that 'definitive' line-up will ineveitably come crawling out of the metalwork.
Blaze: When you replace a singer you replace what is the most identifiable aspect of a band. People were adamant that grunge had killed off metal bands like Maiden so we were condemned on that tour yet we prevailed. We went on tour for a year and sold a million copies of 'The X-Factor' and that very much united us in the face of adversity. I'm not keeping the seat warm for anyone in this band.
Metal Hammer: Has Bruce ever rung you up and said that he thought you were doing a good job?
Blaze: No, but he did send me a selection of real ales as a present when we played Brixton, which I really appreciated. I don't wish Bruce any animosity, in fact I hope that Bruce goes on to have an amazing solo career and 'The Chemical Wedding' sells huge amounts so that he never wants to get back in Iron Maiden because I love this job!
Metal Hammer: How about the idea of sharing the stage with Bruce on a 'Best of the Beast' tour?
Blaze: I have shared the stage with Bruce, when Wolfsbane supported Maiden in the early '90s, and it took me two weeks to get the fuckin' microphone out of his hand to sing a song cos he didn't want to give it to me. He was paranoid about people dicking around, but when we played the last gig at Hammersmith I did get if off him for the quiet bit in 'Bring your Daughter....' and there I was fronting Iron Maiden singing their Number One song!
Metal Hammer: Blaze quite obviously loves the job he's doing and, let's be honest, going from starving Tamworth musician to international acclaim is a pretty neat trick in anyone's book. I wonder, though, how he reacts to the tunnel vision of Steve Harris.
Blaze: Very well actually. He is tunnel visioned and it's damn important that he is, too. A determination to achieve what you consider important is vital to the sucess of achieving your goals. One of the reasons I think Wolfsbane failed was bacause I wasn't as focussed as Steve has been for 20 years. The only way to maintain your identity is to not pay lip-service to anything else.
Metal Hammer: While you could argue that, if nothing else, Blaze obviously has the party line written across his soul, it would be a total disservice to relegate him to the position of a hired hand. Blaze is totally Iron Maiden mental and, all things considered, the only man out there capable and willing to front the band with the enthusiasm and exuberance they require. Later on I catch Steve Harris to ask him something I've been dying to know the answer to for a long time. As the original member of Iron Maiden he's heard several singers sing the signature tune 'Iron Maiden', but what I'd like to know is who does he think did it the best?
Steve: If I'm totally honest, and I know this is going to upset one or two people, I'd have to say Paul Di'Anno. I think Paul made that song his own and though Bruce and Blaze both sing it well, Paul had a punk quality to his voice that really lent itself to that song.
Metal Hammer: Well, they do say only the memory remains....