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Blaze Bayley Interview
With over twenty years on the metal scene you would think that a band that has given so much to the genre would get a little respect now and then. Unfortunately for the mighty MAIDEN respect has been in particularly short supply over the last half decade. Personal and stylistic changes would seem to be at the root of all the fuss and with the decline of the metal market place you might think that these guys would chuck it all in. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
"VIRTUAL 11" has a revitalized MAIDEN returning to the formula that made them the metal legends that they are. Also back is the completely over the top stage production for MAIDEN's first tour in nearly three years. Just short of the scale that was used in the "golden era" of metal, this thing is impressive, to say the least. The beast is far from dead. Blaze Bayley, the groups current vocalist, gave us a ring recently and spoke to us of all things MAIDEN. A genuine sense of pride and accomplishment seemed to pervade the conversation and understandably so. The man is fronting one of the all time great metal bands and has just released a collection of tunes that will most assuredly become MAIDEN classics. We could go on singing his and the groups accolades but lets hear it from Blaze himself.
The very first question that I need to ask you is, now that you have been with IRON MAIDEN for a bit of time has the afterglow of the whole thing started to dim at all?
It's just getting better and better really. I think the "X-FACTOR" album and tour was a way to rest the ghost of the last singer but on this album and this tour it has just been getting better and better. I have been a lot more confident and a much better singer than I was before. I am enjoying my singing a lot more and live things have worked a lot better for us as well. I have got a new monitor system so I can move around the stage a lot more and am more confident on stage. I am enjoying the shows. It's been great for us and we have had great reaction everywhere we have been so far.
The last time through you didn't carry a very big production with you. Is that the case this time?
We have a few trucks out there this time which we didn't have last time. We are playing bigger stages and we can put a bigger production together. I am really looking forward to it really. It will be the first time that I have gone through and played proper venues in the States.
Does that change your attack on the music from a vocal standpoint?
Generally speaking, if you are playing in a venue where you have a larger stage and the production is more or less the same size every night, you can get a little more quality in your fold back. You can hear a lot more of yourself and a bit more of what is going on than if you are playing in smaller places or you are trying to change your production around a lot to fit into a certain size venue. It is difficult to get a kind of continuity going so, from that point of view, it will be a bit easier but from the point of view of the performance, we go out with the same attitude every night. We perform these songs as good as we can and really try and make that record come alive.
I have seen set lists and have noticed a wide range of songs from the bands entire career.
We are using a lot of songs from "VIRTUAL XI" and on the "X-FACTOR" tour we used quite a few from that one so, it is good that with each new album you are bringing out the new songs and showcasing the new stuff otherwise it all becomes cabaret. There are a couple of songs that will, probably, always be played. "Number of the Beast" and "Hallowed be thy Name" are great songs and there is no reason not to play them. The problem is that with eleven studio albums, how do you fit them all in? In Europe the set has been two hours and fifteen minutes in places. We have to cut that down a little bit for the U.S. tour. It's great really, to perform so many new songs and a lot of old songs. I get a big kick out of doing the old ones because they are classics that people know so well and get great audience reactions. The new songs I really love of course.
Were you much of a MAIDEN fan before having auditioned for the group?
Well, I was into the band but MAIDEN fans, generally, they have got everything by the band down to the dot! I had seen the band in concert a few times and had a few of the records but not absolutely everything. I was into the band and it was always a band that I respected and enjoyed and a band that I had always regarded as quality song writers so, from that point of view, yeah, I was into the band before I joined it.
There has always been a certain sense of, as you say, quality to the bands music and that seems to have continued with the latest record.
Yeah, I think that is important. The reason that I wanted to be in the band was that nothing compromises the music. It was one of the first things that I said to Steve Harris when I joined the band, "Is anyone else going to be involved in this and are we going to be forced to write hit singles or something like that?" And he said "No. It is just us in the band. No one says anything about this music apart from us. That is it! No one has any say or control over this." And I thought "Right. That suits me." It's just perfect. What you hear on the record is just what the band want you to hear. Nobody else's ideas. No one saying "Should you have and extra chord here?" Or "Should this be mid-tempo?" "There are too many quiet starts." somebody would say and then somebodyelse would say "There are too many fast bits." Once you start listening to people you go up your own ass! As far as we are concerned, just do what you want, do the music that you like and hopefully the fans will like it because you did what you felt was important to you.
This was done at Steve's home studio, right?
Yeah. It's Barnyard Studios in Harlow. The advantage of doing it that way is that there is nobody else around really. It is just about you and your band. Everybody that is there is working on the same project and that is good. It makes for a much more relaxed atmosphere but it is much more than that. It is focused because you are only there to do that one thing. We used a lot of new technology on this album as well. We recorded direct to hard drive using Virtual Tracks and a new system from Soundscape. Every time we had a bug in it they e-mailed us the solution and we downloaded it right from the Internet. It was great really. I remember doing an interview a few weeks ago with somebody and they said "We see you as a bit of a dinosaur band. You don't use new technology." And I said "No, that is Lenny Kravitz that you are talking about!"(laughs) He is the one who use all of the analog gear! That is great for him, if that is the sound he wants but, we use absolutely the cutting edge at the moment. I mean, we use the same instruments but to get the representation of the music that we want we use only the latest stuff.
There is definitely a theme of technology that surrounds the album but IRON MAIDEN would seem to have a very human heart remaining.
The way we look at writing songs is that technology is a tool and that is all that it is. It is not creative on its own. It comes from inside you really. Sometimes you can be inspired because you are playing a different guitar or you have found an interesting sound on an instrument or something but, the way that we write songs is by getting together and working things out. Chords and vocals and trying to get some interesting lyrics together. That is the human side of it. That and real drums and guitars and vocals. I think that is it really. Technology is a tool but it can just turn you around in circles if you start to rely on it.
You wrote a song with Janick Gers for this album.
Yeah, I wrote with Janick and Steve a lot on "X-FACTOR" and on this album I worked again with Janick and also had a chance to work with Dave Murray. We worked together on a song called "Two Worlds Collide" and that was absolutely great.
Does everyone sit down to write or is it just one member of the group phoning up another to say "Hey, I have an idea here and I think that you can help."?
Yeah, Dave came up to my house. We were talking about this idea on the last U.S. tour and I said "Dave, I have got this idea and we must work on it." Then when it came time for writing we got together and it did pan out. We had a couple of ideas which turned out really good but, that was the best one and we decided to record that and put it on the record.
I have read that everything that you did record went straight on the record. Is that the case?
Yeah it is. We had a couple of other ideas but we didn't take them any further. We just said "Well, we have eight really strong ideas so, let's just record these." So, that is what we did.
So, there won't be a lot of "B"-sides?
Any "B"-sides that we do will be live versions. We had some recordings from the last tour and when we listened back to them we were surprised. They sounded really, really good and really vibrant. I think that we will record a few more dates on this tour and put a few more "B"-sides out because there is not a lot of live stuff with me out there so, I think that would be interesting.
There is a tie in between World Cup Soccer and the albums artwork. I can't help but notice that there are no Americans on the "Dream Team".
We tried to get somebody from each continent really. The top teams and stuff like that. It was very difficult to organize because they are busy people. The whole thing is, we have hijacked the World Cup. Before there was so much soccer on TV and everyone had gotten sick of it we had already grabbed onto it. It has been great for us to let people know that there is a new album out and to get into magazines and different media that we wouldn't normally get into. It has just been a lot of fun.
Do you guys get to play much while you are out on the road.
We try to get games on our days off but it is difficult with such a tight schedule. We have overnight drives and stuff like that but it is nice when we do get the opportunity to play.
I admit that I am a bit biased when I say this but, I really like the record a lot. I have been a fan of the band for years and this record has really pleased me. With that said, I do notice that there is a definite division of opinion about the record. The press hates it and the kids who actually buy records seem to love it. Is there any accounting for the different reactions in your mind?
My only explanation for that, and I don't understand it any more than you do, is that people who buy their records really listen to them and people who get their records for free, generally, haven't got much interest in them. That's what I would say. If you are going to buy the record you are going to give it a chance but if you get it for free, maybe your editor gave it to you and you don't want to do it or whatever, then you have already got a whole load of baggage there that the record has to go through. To me the most important people are the people in the audience and the people who buy the records. It is great to have good reviews and interesting articles but it is the people that actually buy the records that keep this band on tour. If it wasn't for them we wouldn't be able to go on tour. It would be all over for us. The most interesting stuff that I have read is stuff that I have downloaded from the chat groups. They are reviews from people who have just seen the shows while we were on tour and that was the most positive feedback that I got. I could see that the people had no axe to grind at all and I could see what they really thought of me and about what I was doing. It was great because I could say "Wow, I would have never thought of that." They were not prejudice or biased or trying to suck up to me or put me down. They were just saying to other people who were into the band what they really thought.
Has that changed your approach to what you do on stage or even in the studio?
I think that it just reinforced my belief that you have to do what you feel is right. It gave me a lot of confidence to press ahead and get the tools that I needed to do this tour a lot better. I didn't have very good monitors on the last tour and I didn't know what I needed to do a two hour IRON MAIDEN set. I learned and I really pushed for a new monitor set and a new engineer for this tour. It has made it a lot better for me on this tour.
Was it a battle with the accountants to get the new stuff?
No. Not so much the accountants as it was that people just have a way of doing things. It's difficult. I was doing a lot smaller shows before and then headlining really big shows, you just need different things. You got to have a different monitor set-up and you need to be able to communicate with the engineer properly and stuff like that. The whole thing about this band is that the focus is on the music and singing well. If there is ever a compromise for me it is that I am not going to move around as much if I think that I am not going to be able to really blister that really important note that is coming up. Everything is about performing well and, I think, that it exactly what the fans expect. To come and hear and feel the music the best that it can be. Nobody is coming to see this band moshing about the stage. They are coming to hear some great music and these really epic songs. This time I have got the stuff to do that and it is working really well for me.
W.A.S.P. has been dropped from that bill in the U.S. and that leaves DIO and DIRTY DEEDS, which is a Steve project band, to open the show.
Yeah, but they're good. Everywhere that we have been they have had encores and great reactions live. It is difficult to get people in the business to get behind them and that is why he (Steve Harris) decided to put his own label together and get something moving for the band.
Were they friends of Steve's?
Yeah, he knows them.
DIO is also on the bill so there is like, three generations of hard rockers playing every night. How do you think it will all come off with the fans?
I think that it is just going to be brilliant. I think that it is just going to be a great tour. I think that DIO has been involved with some of the greatest bands in heavy rock and I am really looking forward to a quality show. I think that people will enjoy it.
I know that our time is getting short but I do have to ask you about having bumped into Bruce Dickinson at a radio show a little while back. Was that at all uncomfortable?
Well, I have known Bruce for years. The first time that I had met him we were in New York. We were doing one of the Foundation Forums and there were a lot of things in the British press at the time saying that we looked the same and things like that. He came and, the band I was in at the time was WOLFSBANE, and he bought us all a beer and we all had a good laugh about that. He wished me luck when I joined the band. He sent me a card saying "Good Luck!" so there is really no animosity at all between me and Bruce. I mean, he did such a great job I can't see why he would leave the band. I am just glad that he has left because I have the job I have always wanted playing in the band that I love and playing the music that I have always loved. It's great for me but I do feel a little bit sorry for him that he has left the band because it is such a brilliant band.
Have you heard his latest solo record?
Yeah, I have listened to all of his albums. My favorite one was TATTOOED MILLIONAIRE". I think that I would have liked him to continue on in that way really. Yeah, the last one I like a lot.
It is easily the most MAIDEN-esque of all of his solo work.
Yeah it is. With Adrian Smith, I suppose, that was the direction that he wanted to go in.
It just strikes me as funny that he was trying to get away from the whole MAIDEN thing and then ends up doing a record that sounded so much like a MAIDEN record.
Yes, but that is a whole other interview then isn't it?
I guess that it would be.(Both Laugh)
In closing, what are you future plans??
I suppose and album and a tour. That is what I am hoping for anyway. I am hoping that we get to go to China and India. I am hoping that the Millennium Bug doesn't cause too big of a recession, Japan and Asia are back on their feet and Hong Kong is all back together. I just hope that the global economy has settled down and we can start to play in different countries that we have not been to before. There are still a lot of interesting places to go and interesting things to do!
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