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Blaze Bayley & Steve Harris Interview
The whole sound of Iron Maiden seems to have undergone a radical change, much like it did when you released 'Number of The Beast'. Do you feel there's been a creative rebirth?
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Steve: "Yeah, for obvious reasons. You've got a key band member change - the lead singer and that, which is a big deal. We weren't conscious when we were writing that there was this big change going on. Blaze asked me what sort of direction we were going to go in, and I said there was no direction. We just sit down and write the songs. It was as simple as that. Obviously with a different person in the band, the pressure of this album is so big - new singer, we've been away from it for a while... The pressure is there. We always work well under pressure, and I guess it brings the best out of us. But I suppose you could equate the change with the feeling of excitement and aggression that there was when we went from 'Killers' to 'Number Of The Beast'. It's certainly the best sounding Iron Maiden album, I must admit, but then we have spent a long time on it. I would much rather work this way; maybe not spend quite so long. But at the end of the day it sounds like the best thing we've ever done."
How would you compare 'The X Factor' to 'No Prayer For The Dying' or 'Fear Of The Dark'?
Steve: "To me 'No Prayer For The Dying was really like a live album done in the studio. If we had stuck audience noise on it, most people would have thought it was a live album. Because that's the way we approached it, very raw, very fresh, did it real quick. That was the approach we wanted at the time. I suppose a lot of people wanted the production to be more like the previous album ('Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son'). They were a bit freaked out by it. But that's what we wanted at the time and I still stand by that. I suppose some of the material on it ain't that strong, and as an actual sounding album it didn't sound at all like the others. 'Fear Of The Dark', to me, was more of a follow on from 'Seventh Son...'. But maybe in retrospect, maybe if we'd have done them for this album then they'd have been B-sides. There's nothing like that on this album. Even the songs we are using for extra tracks I think are better than some songs that have been on earlier albums."
After 10 studio albums, how difficult is it for you to come up with new and different ideas?
Steve: "Well you don't hark back to any of the old days. That's the key. You don't write a 'Run To The Hills' part two, you just write the best set of songs at that time that you can. It's no good trying to think back or trying to think we should be doing stuff people expect. We've always been very stubborn about that sort of thing. We've written what we like and people can take it or leave it. Like I said, Blaze came in and asked what direction we are going in, and I said we just do what we do. He said he had some ideas he wasn't sure about, and I told him to just write them, and if they worked they worked. Luckily they did. In the end it fitted unbelievably. It really worked. It felt so right it was brilliant."
Can young kids relate to the dark lyrical themes you've employed on the album?
Steve: "It's dark, but I don't think it's depressing in a way. It's intense and I think that's a good thing, because it's gonna make people react in some way or other, so in that sense I think it's really good. But we didn't start thinking, 'Oh, we're going to be really dark,' It's just that Blaze'd been through what he'd been through and I'd just come through a divorce, so it was going to be dark in some ways."
Blaze: "In some ways it definitely reflects the darker side of the human spirit, and in some ways, metaphorically, the animal instincts that we've all got. I think maybe new and young fans can relate to that because you can fall in on yourself and become reflective, and you can some times live in those darker feelings, and I think people can relate to that."
Steve: "At the end of the day, I don't think we're trying to get people to relate to anything in particular, it's just that we do what we want to do. It's totally selfish."
Where does this new style come from?
Blaze: "In Wolfsbane we went through a lot of shit that always diluted what the band was about. When we toured with Iron Maiden, Steve said to me that the only people who should matter are the people in the band. And I really liked that attitude. I've been a singer for 10 years now and I've made five records, and I've been trying to find the emotion and depth and character of my voice..."
Steve: "Yeah, but you can hear it when you're talking."
Blaze: "But I couldn't bring it out. Steve started drawing that out of me and I've learnt more about myself. I feel that I've found my identity as a singer on this album."
Why back down from going with the 11 minute long 'Sign Of The Cross' as the first single?
Blaze: (Feigning mock anger) "Yes, Steve, why is that? Dave and I have been halfway around the world telling everybody that it's going to be a single!"
Steve: "First of all, we really felt the first single would be 'Lord Of The Flies'. It's strong and it's catchy and great with Blaze's voice. And then we'd think that maybe something else would be right, and eventually we thought 'Oh fuck it! Let's just go with 'Sign Of The Cross'.' It was just what people wouldn't expect. But then you get to thinking that they wouldn't play it in the clubs - you can't play an eleven and a half minute song and expect people to get into it, so we decided to go with 'Man On The Edge', which is a great song, and it's in your face and it shows off Blaze really well."
What's the idea behind the radical change in Eddie on the sleeve?
Steve: "We wanted something really different, and when we called up the guy who did it, he was like,'Oh, great, this is the call I've been waiting for for five years.' And straight away it was great, because there was someone who is really into it and wanted to do something different. I suppose Eddie, up until now, he's done lots of different things, but he's always been a bit cartoony, and I think we wanted to get away from that - have something sculptured or whatever. This guy went away and came back with stuff that was really amazing, and we thought we'd go with this new approach. Actually building an Eddie and having it photographed has made it more human."
Blaze: "He showed it to me, I was slightly hungover, and he said: 'Come and have a look at this. It might no be the finished thing, but I want your first reaction.' I was like, 'Fucking hell.' I'd wondered what was going to happen to Eddie, because it couldn't just be an illustration."
Do you agree with the view that the last two Maiden studio albums weren't the band at their best, perhaps because Bruce wasn't 100 per cent into the band, and that you should have parted ways after the success of 'Seventh Son...' and found a new singer then?
Blaze: "No because I wouldn't have got the gig (laughs). So everything's worked out just fine."
Steve: "Um... I dunno. At the time of 'No Prayer...', I felt it was more weird than 'Fear Of The Dark', because that's when he had his first solo album out. I thought if he was going to jump ship it would have been then. And I actually asked him then if he didn't want to be in the band anymore, and he said he really did. But I felt on 'No Prayer...' and the live performances that maybe he wasn't as into it as he had been. "On 'Fear Of The Dark', funnily enough, I felt like he was back into it a lot more. But then again it's all opinions. Get 10 punters, and half will say one thing and half another. 'No Prayer...' I wouldn't say is our strongest album, but then again I wouldn't say it's our weakest either."
What was your initial reaction to Bruce wanting to leave?
Steve: "I was shocked at the timing. I wasn't shocked that he was going, because I suppose for a couple of years I thought he might jump ship anyway. The fact that he seemed to be back into it at 'Fear Of The Dark', it was only when we had a six week break that something happened. I was mixing the live stuff, and we always knew that we'd go back out and release the live stuff at the end of the tour. Three weeks before the second part of the tour, he decided to go, so we changed our plans and brought out the live albums a lot earlier."
How difficult was it playing that final tour with a singer who was going to quit?
Steve: "Being honest, it was very difficult, because none of us really wanted to go and play on a tour with someone who didn't want to be there. But then the ticket sales were great and we didn't want to let the fans down, and we thought it was the best thing to do. He'd already said he'd go out with a bang. We knew it was going to be hard, we knew it wasn't going to be easy, but we said 'Fuck it, we'll just go out and try and enjoy it as best we can.'"
There have always been a lot of rumours that you and Bruce really didn't get on at all. Would you like to clarify the situation?
Steve: "No, it's not true. Both of us would admit that we weren't soul mates, but we always got on really well. The first year was the hardest with him, because I think he was trying to prove himself in the band, almost like some sort of power thing with what I did. I told him I thought the singer should be the frontman and the mouthpiece on and off the stage, and I didn't have a problem with that. After he'd settled down with the writing on '...The Beast' there wasn't a problem. Professionally we got on great, and as people we didn't really have any arguments either. The arguments have always been between me and Nicko. But then maybe that's healthier, I dunno. I would rather have a big argument with somebody, get it all out in the open and have done with it and that's it. Obviously there's a lot of stuff Bruce has said since, that he was really unhappy with this or that, and he never told us. How can you do anything about anything if you don't know about it? You can't compromise with each other if you don't know what those compromises are supposed to be."
Is it true that Blaze was always your immediate choice as vocalist?
Steve: "In my eyes I felt he would be the right man, but obviously we wanted to go through and have all the auditions and everything else because we had to get the right person. If Blaze was gonna get the job he was going to have to get it on merit; he couldn't just come in on the old pals act. That's worked before - when Nicko and Janick joined, we knew 'em and they came down and jammed and it was great. We could have done the same thing with Blaze, but we wanted to make sure we had the right person for the job. Not that we had any doubts about Blaze, but we had plenty of time and we had to make sure everyone was happy. And he got the job on merit."
Blaze: "I doubted myself at first, because it seemed like such a momentous thing. And if you think about what Bruce did - fantastic voice, incredible range, the songs that he sung - and about what Paul (Di'anno) did when he was in the band, trying to follow those two geezers... So I was glad I jumped through all the hoops, because I was then sure of myself and it made me feel better."
How weird was it having Blaze in the band instead of Bruce for those first couple of months?
Steve: "It wasn't odd at all. The worse time was when we didn't have a singer, when we were auditioning. It was weird, very strange. It wasn't a unit any more. Then when Blaze joined it was like we were a band again. Whenever we've had a changeover in the band it's been very quick and none too painful. This was different and weird. It took me back to when it was just me and Dave and Doug Sampson, and we had no singer and we were rehearsing."
Blaze: "It was weird for me, certainly the first couple of months..."
Steve: "Was it? You never told us (laughs)."
Blaze: "No, I mean we were getting on and that, but I'd been in a band for so long I'd kind of lost my identity. Because you had Bruce, ex-singer of Iron Maiden, Blaze, ex-singer of Wolfsbane, but not the new singer of Iron Maiden because I hadn't been in the band long enough to be accepted by the fans."
Steve: "It didn't feel like that for me."
Blaze: "Well you were still in the same band!"
Were you aware of the perceived similarities between Blaze and Bruce?
Steve: "Oh yeah, I mean even when he jammed on one song on the 'No Prayer...' tour - all the joking about them looking a bit alike and stuff. It was all good fun and banter. Yeah, we were aware of it but we weren't going to let that put us off, because I don't think he's that much like Bruce. But sound-wise and voice-wise, they're different."
What do you think of the state of Heavy Metal today?
Steve: "Umm, well I think it's obviously changing. There's a lot of alternative stuff and this and the other, grunge and everything else... But the more different things there are happening is, I think, healthy. The only thing I find is that some of it is more vogue-based, in a sense that it's become more of a fashion statement for bands, which I think is worrying. Rock music is about the music and not a fashion statement. I'm not going to go out wearing what people are wearing now, because it wouldn't feel right. It'd feel stupid."
What do you say to the accusation that Maiden are no longer relevant?
Blaze: "It's the same thing as when they started. Then it was punk and disco, and now it's Green Day and techno!"
Steve: "Apart from a two-year period around '83/'84, when maybe we were deemed as being cool, we've never been a cool, hip band, before or after that. We do what we do and you can take us or leave us."
Despite the sneering reaction of some of today's younger bands to the more established acts, J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr recently revealed that he's a Maiden fan, and when over here recently he wanted to go and see the band but no-one at his record company believed he wanted to. Is your influence on bands acknowledged enough?
Steve: "I think a lot of people are into the band or have been into the band, but because of the way things are with fashion and that, they're probably afraid to say so. Whatever, I don't really know if that's the case. What I find weird is we never had an attitude to older bands when we were young.It was never 'We're not gonna go on tour with them because they're not cool' or any of that bullshit, and yet there's a lot of that, and not just with us. And it's fucking bullshit."
How nervous are you of the reception 'The X Factor' will get, or don't you worry about things like that any more?
Steve: "I always worry about how people are going to react to our albums. Probably more so with this one than any of the others because it's so important. But I always worry, always will do. The time that you get that big-headed that you think 'Oh, we're gonna sell so many albums', well that's the time to give up, I suppose. You've always got to be worried. If someone writes some bullshit about you in the paper, slags your album off, which to be honest has never really happened to us, we've always been pretty lucky with the press, but nobody likes to be slagged off. You can say you don't care, but you really do. Obviously you want to be liked, and you spend a lot of time putting your heart and soul into an album and you want it to be appreciated. But then again you can't expect everyone out there to like Iron Maiden. If everybody liked the same thing it'd be boring, wouldn't it?"
You've obviously had a good run up to now, with plenty of critical and commercial success, but how long can Maiden go on?
Blaze: "It's a new start."
Steve: "I've said this time and time again: as long as we're still enjoying it and as long as the people are still there. Bruce once said he didn't want to play a gig at Guildford Civic Hall. Fuck it, I'll play Guildford Civic Hall. I'll even play a pub in Guildford, it doesn't bother me at all.As long as we're playing to people, then I'll play. Obviously the more people the better, but that'snot what really matters. It's whether you're really enjoying yourself. I mean, how bad? Touring around the world, having a great time, playing to loads of people. It's terrible, innit! Well, someone's gotta do it!"