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Blaze Bayley & Steve Harris Interview
Steve: We got asked 10 years ago if we were still relevant. What kind of question is that? We think we're relevant. Why shouldn't we be? People say music is more open-minded now. If that's true, why can't we be part of that? It sounds like I'm always on the defensive. It's like I have to justify what I'm doing.
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Kerrang!: Steve Harris is pissed off. He sits on the edge of a sofa in an office at EMI Records' Hammersmith base, chewing gum. There are a few things that he wants to put straight. Eastender/bassist/chief songwriter, Harris has led Iron Maiden through a distinguished 20-year career highlighted by Number One albums, two headlining appearances at Donington, and even a chart-topping single. Iron Maiden stand alongside Black Sabbath and Judas Priest as one of the greatest heavy metal bands these islands have ever produced, but while the reunited Sabbath and Led Zeppelin duo Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are still revered, Maiden find themselves derided as useless old farts. It's a bitter pill that Steve Harris refuses to swallow.
Steve: We're not cool. There's other new things going on. The only time we were trendy was in '83, '84. We're not cool cos we've been around so long, but I'm proud of our new album. There's no compromise, as usual. We still do what we do. I'm proud of that.
Kerrang!: Iron Maiden, stubborn fuckers to a man, are perhaps the ultimate no-compromise, no-bullshit rock band. As Kerrang! Editor Phil Alexander commented in his review of the new Maiden album 'Virtual XI', the band's agenda could not be simpler: "Steve Harris steers the Maiden ship by making music he likes". And the music Steve Harris likes is solid, gutsy, melodramatic heavy metal. Even when they were arguably the biggest metal band on the planet in the mid '80s, before Metallica took their crown, Maiden were never really cool. They just made great heavy metal records. The consensus among rock critics is that Maiden have not released a truly great album since the heavyweight double-live set 'Live after Death'. Steve Harris disagrees vehemently, of course. He reckons that 'Virtual XI' is up there with the best albums that Iron Maiden have made. Moreover, he believes that the band's resolve is strengthened every time they are written off by the rock press.
Steve: We've always been made to feel like outsiders, and it still feels like it's us against the world. It made me laugh when we were doing the book (Run to the Hills, by Mick Wall). We looked back on all the singles reviews right from the year dot, and every one of them's crap. So what's new? It's almost like we'd get worried if we got a good review! My daughter's homework reports are better than our reviews. I suppose at times you feel like you're up against everything. Every time we do an album we have to prove ourselves again. But in a weird way that works for you, because you fight even harder to show people you can still cut it. It gives you an edge. It's funny. You don't tend to remember the good reviews, but the bad ones you do. It's the bad ones that fire you up and make you think, 'Fuck them, we'll show 'em'. It gives you a bit of an attitude again. It's a challenge. Luckily enough, we've never had to worry about the media too much because we have a hardcore following behind us. It's not as big a following as we had in the mid '80s, but the fans have always made up their own minds rather than believe everything they read about us.
Kerrang!: Steve Harris is not a bitter man. He just wants a little respect for his band. Steve is as decent a bloke as you could meet, but even so, there is only so much piss-taking a man can tolerate. Steve's patience snapped one day in the summer of 1995, when he saw a copy of Kerrang! In which Chris Watts, a former K! critic, branded Iron Maiden's 'The X Factor' album a comedy record. Steve showed up at the Kerrang! Office looking for Watts. He was fuming and full of the nervous edginess of a man about to punch someone's lights out. Watts was not be found and Steve eventually cooled off after a pint in Kerrang!'s local. Looking back at the incident, Steve is relieved that it didn't come to blows.
Steve: When I came in I was really wound up. I'd just spent a year of my life working silly hours doing this album - which I still love and I don't give a fuck what anyone says - and some wanker has completely dismissed it in one sentence. I felt like he was having a joke at our expense. Another time I might have laughed at it, but I thought it was out of order. I wanted to see if he'd say it to my face. He could have been built like a brick shithouse and beat me to a pulp, but I had to have a word, it just ain't right. You know me, that ain't my style. I felt bad afterwards. I thought, fuck, I'm glad he wasn't there, cos I probably would have fucking whacked him, or at least got him against a wall or done something stupid, and that gets you nowhere. I'm not a violent person but I was wound up. I'd been through a divorce as well. I was going through hell anyway.
Kerrang!: A bad review won't stop diehard fans buying a new Iron Maiden album.
Steve: Yeah, but I've got to be honest - it still annoys you. Constructive criticism's okay, it's just when it gets personal. You feel like giving them a slap but you can't.
Kerrang!: Blaze Bayley knows Steve Harris as well as anybody. Ex-Wolfsbane man Blaze became Iron Maiden's singer in 1994, replacing Bruce Dickinson. Blaze and Steve are better mates than Bruce and Steve ever were. In an interview earlier in the day, Blaze acknowledged the determination and hard work ethic in Steve Harris that drives Iron Maiden.
Blaze: It's difficult to describe someone you work so close with because he's a friend really. But it's been a real thrill for me to work and write songs with Steve. He's one of those people that doesn't give up easily, whether his music or on the football field. In my previous band I was forced to make so many compromises and I see now how naive I was. With Iron Maiden, we're fighting exactly the same battles but Steve has the courage to say, 'No, fuck you, I'm not doing it'.
Kerrang!: Blaze believes that Iron Maiden are perceived differently outside the UK. Only in Britain, he says would Maiden be dismissed as has-beens.
Blaze: Around the world, people think of Iron Maiden as a very important band, both now and historically. People don't think, 'Oh, Iron Maiden are out of fashion, they don't matter'. Living in the UK, you'd never understand the significance and importance of the band around the world. That makes me wonder. This band is all about music, not image. We get lots of new, younger fans coming to the shows just as much as there are people over 30 coming. For younger fans, it's almost as if Iron Maiden is the alternative to alternative. If you don't want suicidal alternative music, if you want something that's positive, that looks forward, a show that involves you, then Iron Maiden is as interactive as it gets. That's what this band is about.
Kerrang!: As if to emphasise the theme of interaction, Blaze has written a song on the new album inspired by the people he met when the band played in South America on Maiden's last world tour. The song's title is 'Como Estais Amigos'.
Blaze: I was in Buenos Aires and I saw the memorial for the soldiers who died in the Falklands War. It seemed unreal. How could you possibly have a war with these people? They're so generous. It just reminded me that it's politicians who start wars, not ordinary people. I found it very moving. If I wasn't in a band I can't imagine how I would have had the opportunity to be in Argentina looking at that memorial. A guy I went to school with died in that war, too. It's not a political song. It's about me and my feelings. It's about people.
Steve: I like to say that we're honest. What we do is from the heart. 'The X Factor' did a million worldwide. That's great, I'll have that. But to me, it's a qualified success because I really like it. When you get Marilyn Manson saying he loves the 'Powerslave' album, it's a big compliment. But there was a period where people were into the band but were afraid to say so. That's how uncool we were. And yet with 'The X Factor' we still managed to sell one million copies of the most uncool album ever, which is amazing. Will we ever be cool again? Well, Zeppelin have always been cool, but there was a period when Sabbath couldn't get arrested. I've always loved Sabbath. I've bought all their albums, even 'Born Again'. Now, it's cool for everyone to say that they're Sabbath influenced, so who knows? Maybe our time will come again.
Kerrang!: Steve Harris knows that Iron Maiden are too old to be fashionable, but if Kerrang! readers thought his band were cool because they have integrity, that would make him a happy man. Like Led Zeppelin before them and Metallica after them, Iron Maiden are a band who took on the music industry and won.
Steve: We've always been bombastic and done what we wanted to do. We banned the record company from the studio in 1983 and they haven't been back since. They were worried about the single we wanted to release. But you have to have total belief. I remember saying, 'If they don't like the single they're not getting the fucking album'. We honestly would have done it. We've always been really stubborn. We're real honest in a business that's not renowned for that.
Kerrang!: And the future? What does that hold for Harris, Bayley, guitarists Janick Gers and Dave Murray, and drummer Nicko McBrain?
Steve: We're not looking years and years ahead. We're just taking each tour at a time. Which I know sounds a bit like a football analogy, take each game as it comes, but that's what we're doing. The future's looking bloody good as it goes. We've had a great reaction to the album and we really believe in it, so we've got a nice long world tour coming up again - nine months.
The hardest working men in showbusiness. The epitome of heavy metal. The band who did it their way. Respect is due.