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Blaze Bayley & Dave Murray Interview
Terrorizer interviews Blaze & Dave, March '98
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Terrorizer Intro: Really, it was only a matter of time before Iron Maiden came up with the sort of concept upon which their new album 'Virtual XI' is based. Since the beginning, Maiden bassist/group leader Steve Harris has openly professed his love for football and his unflinching devotion to London's West Ham United Football Club (he was actually in West Ham's youth system before quitting to pursue music full time) while playing in countless charity matches and hiring road crew members for their ability to play football while touring, even if their crew skills needed improvement. So in the tradition of all who dream football dreams and think thoughts like, 'Oh, what if I had so-and-so on my team?', Harris did the same, but owing to Maiden's popularity he got six professional footballers to come join the five band members for a fantasy team - a virtual eleven. This will be the official band photo shot on the new album. Who are they? Oh, how about Paul Gascoigne (Middlesborough & England), Stuart Pearce (Newcastle United & ex England captain), Ian Wright (Arsenal & England), Patrick Viera (Arsenal & France), Mark Overmars (Arsenal & Holland), and Faustino Asprilla (Parma & Colombia)? Imagine boosting your Sunday league side with players like that. However, it's unlikely that this lineup will ever play a match together, as the professionals' respective employers are more likely to let them go on week-long crack binges that let them play in friendlies with the guys in Iron Maiden during the Premiership season. But Maiden went and came up with another brilliant idea: 'Hey, instead of doing a press tour for 'Virtual XI', why don't we get a bunch of former national team members and some friends of ours to go around Europe playing serious football matches instead? And we'll get the record company to underwrite it, too!' So now this month Maiden take to the pitch aided by Tony Woodcock, Terry Butcher, Neil Webb, Paul Walsh, Archie Gemmill (reimmortalised in 'Trainspotting' two years ago), Frank Worthington and Paul Mariner. They'll be playing matches in Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Stockholm and Milan, against squad consisting of bands and local ex-Internationals. Considering that iron Maiden are getting paid to do this, the words 'total scam' and 'serious jealousy' leap to mind. However, nothing overshadows the fact that Iron Maiden are doing all of this to gain publicity for 'Virtual XI', their eleventh studio album and the latest chapter in one of the longest and most storied bands in all of Rock, let alone Heavy Metal. Steve Harris, originally from Leytonstone in East London, formed Iron Maiden in 1975 when he was still in his teens. They became a fixture in the local pubs, earning residencies at Stratford's Cart and Horses and later at East Ham's Ruskin Arms, now a pilgrimage site for Maiden fans visiting England. (It hasn't changed much.) The band's high-energy shows attracted a dedicated following as well as attention from record labels, one of whom told the band they would be signed if they cut their hair and knuckled under to the Punk trends that were dominating the agenda then. Undaunted, the band told the record company where to go and recorded a demo, 'The Soundhouse Tapes', which got exposure through heavy play at the Neal Kay's Soundhouse Roadshow (a Heavy Metal club night in London's Canons Park). They also had 5,000 copies pressed into 7" singles which quickly sold out, attracting the attention of EMI Records, who signed them and release their self-titled debut album in 1980. Iron Maiden have sold more than 42 million albums worldwide since then. This isn't to say that there haven't been a few changes along the way The lineup that released 'Iron Maiden' (vocalist Paul Di'Anno, guitarists Dave Murray and Dennis Stratton, bassist Steve Harris and drummer Clive Burr) only lasted for one album, with Urchin guitarist Adrian Smith replacing the ousted Stratton for 1981's 'Killers'. Di'Anno departed after the 'Maiden Japan' EP for 1982's 'The Number of the Beast', which was their commercial beakthrough. 'The Number of the Beast' did, however, simultaneously get them into trouble with religious groups convinced the band were Satanists. (They weren't, and aren't). Then Burr departed and former Trust drummer Nicko McBrain was recruited, and 1983's 'Piece of Mind' saw the band graduate to coliseum-headlining status. Maiden remained on top of the world for more than six years, with 1984's Powerslave', the 1985 live album from that tour 'Live After Death', 1986's 'Somewhere in Time', and 1988 concept album 'Seventh Son of a Seventh Son' all reaching multiplatiunum status worldwide, crowned by their headline appearance at England's Donington festival in 1988 in front of a record crowd of 107,000. The band then took a year off, but when they reconvened in 1990 Smith decided to leave for a solo career but was quickly replaced by former Gillan and White Spirit guitarist Janick Gers. This lineup completed two studio albums, 1990's 'No Prayer for the Dying' and 1992's 'Fear of the Dark', neither of which achieved the lofty heights of their 80s predecessors. An unhappy Bruce Dickinson left the band following a final pay-per-view performance in 1993, and after going through more than 1,000 audition tapes Wolfsbane vocalist Blaze Bayley was chose as the third man to pick up the microphone for Iron Maiden. Amid much anticipation, 'The X Factor' was released in autumn 1995, but this was a radically different Iron Maiden. After the initial challenge for fans of hearing anyone other than Bruce Dickinson sing for Iron Maiden, there was the production, handled by Harris with Nigel Green. It was Harris' first time as producer, and while the overall sound was pristine there was a compressed, muted tone to the record, made all the more apparent by songs that were darker, slower and critically introspective. Needless to say, a sizeable percentage of fans were left scratching their heads and wondering what had happened, though everyone still showed up to see them live in the same large numbers with the exception of the United States, where arenas were supplanted by 3,000 and 1,500 seat clubs. Now 'Virtual XI' is here, along with several other things: the football angle (a smart move in a World Cup year or what?), an Iron Maiden-designed computer game due in September (the various levels are based upon Maiden's now-legendary album cover artwork), and a return to the escapism and music that sealed their reputation as one of the all-time greats. Dave Murray and Blaze Bayley are ensconced in a booth in a West London pub near the EMI offices, and both are enjoying their last couple weeks of relative peace and quiet before the football promo tour and the world tour (their tenth) start up. I'm coming straight there from an EMI conference room, where I was left with Blaze's own copy of 'Virtual XI', as the promo copies have yet to return from the CD plant. The album runs 53 minutes and has eight tracks, so not much has changed there. But several things do set it apart from 'The X Factor': Blaze's vocals have improved considerably, with increased power and range. The guitars are back at the forefront of the mix, while Steve's bass is a bit further back. And remember those galloping rhythms and long sections of the guitarists trading solos? They've returned too, along with a renewed vitality and esprit de corps.
Terrorizer: This album really has a vibrant, more full sound.
Blaze: Yeah, I think it was recorded in a different way to 'The X Factor'. This is a much more confident album. At the start of 'The X Factor', this lineup of the band hadn't toured together, and there were a whole lot of expectations surrounding it. Now with the start of 'Virtual XI', we've done a world tour together, we have a very successful album behind us, and we released 'Best of the Beast' as well. Everybody's looking forward to the future and feeling confident, and I think that's a big part of the sound. This album is a lot more spontaneous from the recording point of view because we had much less rehearsal, and we attempted to get the songs onto tape a lot earlier than we did on 'The X Factor'. Because back then we were all kind of wondering where we were, feeling our way around the songs. But I think that, mixed with the confidence we have now, we're like, 'Yeah, we're a really good band.' I think that made the difference.
Terrorizer: Your voice is much stronger as well.
Blaze: For me as a vocalist the pleasure of working with Steve is that he writes in a totally natural way. When he gets this whole thing together, he uses a part of my voice, just by coincidence maybe, that I would never use if I was writing, and I get the opportunity to sing in different ranges and different keys that I would never do on my own. And it's far more satisfying, because I get to use different registers I'd never touched previously. So my voice, consequently, has grown.
Dave: And I think this album has a particular kind of mid-Eighties vibe to it, like 'Seventh Son of a Seventh Son' or 'Somewhere in Time', that type of vibe. But it's not a case of regressing. I mean, sometimes it's good to regress, because you're actually kind of going back to your roots and finding where you came from and bringing out all the good things. But it's that and the maturity, because you've had that experience. It's a very Nineties album, but it's got the flavour of Maiden in the mid-Eighties.
Terrorizer: Another reason for that would be the overall similarities in sound. 'Virtual XI' is a bit closer to the sound that Martin Birch (who produced 'Killers' through 'Fear of the Dark') consistently got from you.
Blaze: I think the approach on this album, it's an evolution as well, for Steve as a producer. I think the sound is a lot more guitar-orientated, in the way that the guitars are forward a lot more. But the bass is still there. But I think maybe from a production side of view, Steve has pieced this together and made the sound reflective of a different kind of vibe, really.
Dave: Yeah, we kept a lot of the original bass and guitar tracks, and some of the vocals that we actually put down originally. We didn't wipe the slate clean after the drums were put down. We did some rebuilding, and Steve kept a lot of his bass, and it was just a case of patching up things and then laying on the guitar melodies and the harmonies and then the vocals. But there's a lot of colour, if you like, in the sound there. It's got a depth to it, where you can play it over and over and hear something new each time. But I think 'Virtual XI' is superior to 'The X Factor' and its sort of feel. But 'The X Factor' was Steve's first go as a producer, and Blaze had just joined the band as well. So it was all new, and there was a big chunk of Maiden where...
Blaze: The whole thing was a first. We had a lot of firsts on tour, a lot of new countries, and a lot of firsts in recording.
Dave: But I feel good about listening to 'The X Factor'. I still feel good about that album. But you know, this time I think it has a bit of magic, this album. There's magic there.
Terrorizer: Another welcome return from the Eighties Maiden days are the themes of escapism that permeate 'Virtual XI'. Previously, you could go from World War II aerial dogfights (Aces High), to ancient Egypt (Powerslave) to Frank Herbert's 'Dune' environs (To Tame a Land) with the band serving as travel guides. In addition, the band have consistently used films as a fertile source of song material (Where Eagles Dare, Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Duellists, right up through 'Man on the Edge, based on 'Falling Down').
Dave: Uh huh, I think that's true
Terrorizer: On 'Virtual XI', the album's unofficial centrepiece is 'The Clansman', a 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner'-type epic based on 'Braveheart' and 'Rob Roy'.
Dave: But he never mentioned those films when he was doing it. I think he was just vibing on a feeling when he was doing that, and I think the song has very emotional lyrics, to be honest. And for the layout of the song I made a few suggestions, and we all contributed slightly to the arrangements and everything. I think it's going to be a great song, you know. The imagery on 'The Clansman', when you listen to it, it makes you feel... it's a 'wind in your hair' sort of vibe, and I think Steve's captured that within the song. It'll actually take you to that place. Say you're reading a book - the imagery that you can get from reading, in this instance the music really works and it takes you there. And the way Blaze sings it...
Blaze: Vocally, it's a brilliant opportunity. And it was good doing it in the studio, because there was a lot of banter around that track. When we were coming up with it and making suggestions and different things, it was a real group effort.
Dave: It will be an epic, and it will be a centrepiece of the live show.
Terrorizer: Are you going to go all out with the stage show on this tour? It seems as if there are limitless possibilities with all the football, the virtual reality, the computer game and 'The Clansman'.
Dave: Yeah, this stage show will be bigger than the last one, and there are some good ideas going into it. We don't want to give too much away, but it's going to look the business. It's going to look great.
Terrorizer: That's the sort of thing that is really missed, because aside from AC/DC, Metallica and Kiss, no one in Metal has the pulling power to justify a huge touring show. There used to be about one big arena show per month ten years ago and a lot of younger fans have been deprived of that in the Nineties.
Blaze: Well, I see a resurgence in, more or less, acceptance of rock music. That's the way I look at it.
Dave: It's always been around. I mean, you can go back to the Seventies scene where there were bands like Scorpions, UFO, Sabbath and Deep Purple that were playing in these similar venues, you know. And then the Punk scene came in and kind of pushed it all down. But it's always been popular, it's always been around, but there are peaks and valleys. And you can equate that into anything, you can apply it to anything in life. Like in sports, soccer players can't just keep going up. And I think it makes you appreciate, really, what you have. It gives us all perspective. You make the album and make the best music you can, put on a stage show and go on tour, and obviously try and do as many gigs as possible. But basically it's in the fate of the gods, haha!
Blaze: Everything is melody. And Glam metal in the 80s, I think that was the culprit. Because people look back and still sort of go, 'A melody means commercial pop.' It doesn't. It's the music, it's integrated with the music. Because if you took some of the melodies out of Maiden, if you just took the vocals of a lot of Maiden songs through the 80s and now, you'd listen to a lot of really interesting melodies. But they're not pop and they're not commercial, and I think that's the distinction that you have to draw. And a great thing about Maiden is that I get an opportunity to be melodic, and real strength and power is in that melody.
Dave: And the music's still evolving all the time. To me, it's almost come full circle again, that mid-Eighties vibe is happening, it's actually coming back. Because sometimes people need to grab something solid musically, and I think there was a period in the last few years where there's been a real gaping hole, and...
Terrorizer: Dave has stopped speaking, as the song playing in the pub has caught his ear. It's 'Ride Like The Wind' by Christopher Cross.
Dave: What track is this?
Terrorizer: 'Ride Like the Wind'
Blaze: By Saxon!
Terrorizer: Saxon are back. Did you know they're playing London in a couple of weeks?
Dave: Are they?!
Blaze: The last time I saw them was at Hammersmith and they were fucking brilliant! It was years and years ago. But they didn't do this as a cover, they did all the old stuff from when they were breaking, and it was great!
Dave: We toured with Saxon!
Terrorizer: Oh yes. The 'Piece of Mind' tour in 1983.
Dave: And it was great. I like Saxon. And (former guitarist) Graham Oliver as well, we were mutual Hendrix fans. We used to send each other videos and stuff. But I'm glad they're back. And Judas Priest are back. And UFO are back. Which is great. It's a resurgence.
Terrorizer: That seems like an apt description of Iron Maiden right now as well. It seems like 1998 has brought somewhat of a resurgence for you - 'Virtual XI' is more positive and an improvement over 'The X Factor', largely because everyone was more relaxed, comfortable and familiar with one another?
Blaze: Yes, I think that's a good judgement. I mean, we've been through a lot haven't we, Dave? We've done a whole album, we've done a whole world tour. And I survived. I didn't even know if I could do it. I survived the whole lot apart for five show in the States (due to laryngitis) which were very sad to cancel, because they were all cities I wanted to go to. But we survived. And we came back from that tour, and we had a big presentation from our record company for 'Best of the Beast' - a celebration of Iron Maiden selling 42 million albums world-wide. And that's where we are now. And that's not to say what we're going to do in the future, but really, that's got to give you confidence.