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Bruce Dickinson Interview
Date: 20th May, 2000
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Source: Classic Rock Magazine (UK)
AS Iron Maiden prepare to unveil their long-awaited Brave New World album, there are issues to be addressed. What does it sound like? Why are they not playing Donington? And how did inter-band relations survive in the studio?
Bruce Dickinson, mid-anecdote, is a formidable spectacle. With his eyes almost popping out of his head, he relives the moment for the listener in full Technicolor, getting up and doing the actions, making all the faces, doing the voices, the lot.
"...And he's already 30 foot in te fucking air right, with these 12 gallons of rubber cement going `I can't get the fucking tops off!`"
Bruce is relating the misadventures behind the scenes of the video shoot in Los Angeles recently for the new Iron Maiden single, the Wicker Man. This particular incident and the desire of the press to reopen old wounds seem to be the chief topics presently up for debate, and I haven't even managed to get my coat off yet.
"...And we can hear this guy, bashing in the tops of these cans with a screwdriver," he rattles on. "Pay peanuts-get monkeys! So Steve went and ate the Tandoori chicken or whatever it was for din-dins and promptly shit himself- he was in a terrible state. A French magazine was there writing things like ... "(he slips into a french accent), "`Steve just behaved like royalty, 'e waz very sharp wiz uz. 'E appeared not to speak to anybody.!` That's because he is on the bog shitting himself all the time, you stupid wankers!" Bruce laughs uproariously.
"On the other hand, it was howling with rain and three Celsius at four in the fucking morning," he continues apace. "Did he stand out front telling jokes and doing a tap dance? No, he went back to his caravan rather than talk to you lot, you fucking tossers.The fact that the singer reacted to the lunacy by standing out there and arsing around with the extras is purely due to the slight character differences, that's all- I am a fucking idiot you know?
"So then suddenly there is a whole piece about how, basically, the sun was shining out of my arse and it was eclipsed in Steve's arse. And I spent half the interviews yesterday getting..." ( he does the french accent again), " So you and Steve are doing different interviews ze same day-Why? Ees eet because you 'ate each other so much? I'm like `Noo-o-o-o. It's because you want all five of us to sit here in a row, at which point I would do 80 percent of the talking. Steve would do 10 percent, Janick would do 10 percent and the other two would fucking fall asleep. It's impossible, you can't do anything right, can you?"
All this with hardly a breath. But then 'ol Brucie seems unstoppable today. Paris in the springtime obviously agrees with him. Having survived the journey to the hotel at the mercy of not just an ordinary cab driver but one of the Parisian persuasion, yours truly is now ensconced with the Maiden singer in his spacious suite at the plush Le Parc hotel , just a croissant's throw from the Arc De Triomphe.
Seemingly undeterred from the Gallic grilling he's already been subjected to, Bruce is looking remarkably high in a rugby shirt and migraine-inducingly mad surfing trousers. By the end of the press campaign, he will have travelled around the globe. But if anyone can handle the slog, it's Maiden's very own Duracell battery. In independent continuous trials, scientists found he just went on and on and on....
It seems like an age has passed since a good old fashioned British heavy metal album has been awaited with such genuinely baited breath. With Bruce and guitarist Adrian Smith back in the fold together for the first time since 1988's Seventh Son of a Seventh son album, expectations surrounding the new Maiden album, `Brave New World`, are almost ridiculously high. Judging by the volume and the tone of the hundreds of e-mails and letters we have had at the Classic Rock office, it seems there is a lot of people counting on the band to pull off a miracle and actually save the face of British heavy metal; to-quite literally- turn eau into vino. Whether it is delivering some good old fashioned rock into the charts again or resurrecting the comatose Donington `Monsters of Rock` festival, many people are expecting great things from Maiden, Not least with the `Metal 2000 World Tour` imminent, which also included a throw in June at London's Earl Court Arena.
Bruce is aware of all this. But if he is feeling the pressure, he is not showing any signs of stress. And maybe rightly so. Maiden had their biggest hits with Bruce; his last album with the band, `Fear of the Dark in 1992`, was fittingly, their last no 1 album in the UK. Admittedly, the Blaze era was respectable enough, but everybody knows it's only with the classic line-up that Maiden can ever realistically hope to scale those stratospheric heights again. And if the tracks heard earlier at an exclusive playback of `Brave New world` at the band's Sanctuary management offices are anything to go by, these guys could just pull it off. the new album sees some creative departures from the normal Maiden template, but the overall vibe is that of a band experiencing something of a major rejuvenation. With five songwriters in the group, it was always a given that there would be too much material for one album. But given the creatively volatile relationship between Bruce and Steve, just how did the songwriting sessions shape up? Both Bruce and Steve in collaboration with any of the three guitarists ( dubbed the "Three amigos"), according to Bruce, could have written the whole thing, but the three month writing sting in Portugal last year appears to have gone without a single hitch.
The first thing that has to happen, which did happen, was everybody was pretty cool and laid back about getting their songs on or not getting their songs on", says Bruce. So everybody was aware that everybody had a bit of give and take. We were reading off the same script. And we also pretty much planned out the year so that we would peak, a little bit like athletes really. We thought the best time to do it would be to come straight off the road, hopefully feeling like a million dollars, then go and rehearse all the songs until they were really tight, then go in the studio and record them. And of course, when we did the songs in the studio, we did the entire album live."
Departed from the usual tried and tested method of writing for a few months, then going straight into the studio and recording the songs was, for Bruce, " A magical revelation". We all went away going, `Why the fuck haven't we done it like that before?"
The other major difference this time was-at Bruce's insistence- the use of a top-notch outside producer. During the Blaze era, Steve had overseen most of the production chores. This time though, fresh from working with Aerosmith, Dream theater and the black crowes, producer Kevin Shirley came in and suggested the band record the new songs live in the studio.
Nevertheless, for long time fans of the band, the absence of legendary Maiden producer Martin Birch-who, in a classic case of `fifth Beatle` syndrome, famously shaped their trademark studio around-will be puzzling. Surely having Birch back in the fold would have been just like the Magnificent Seven riding again?
" He's retired", says Bruce simply. "He does not make records anymore. He just does not do it."
But we all know that given the right persuasion anyone can be tempted.wouldn't the band have liked to lure him out of retirement in order to fully complete the picture?
"No, for the sake of it,no." Bruce's jokey demeanor evaporates for a moment as he begins to choose his words carefully." I mean this is quite a...this is quite a difficult thing to say because I love Martin and I have a huge amount of respect for him and he was my favorite producer bar none out of all my childhood, you know, growing up listening to records. But when you have been out of making records the way records are made nowadays and stuff like that, when you've not been involved, it can be very difficult to get back into it. And I am not sure Martin necessarily wants the stress that's involved. I think that was one of the major reasons he thought, `OK, enough's enough`.
"Martin's been making great records all his life," he adds." He would like to finish his life at a ripe old age rather than expire of a heart attack in some studio in LA. I also wouldn't like to go back with somebody just for the sake of nostalgia. You go with somebody because they are current and they are making great records like right now. What's the expression that SAS use? `Big boys games,Big boys rules`. There's people in this business who I love, but there's a point at which there is no room for sentimentality, when you're trying really to be the best."
`The best` is something even the most ardent Maiden fan will surely admit the band have not been since Adrian departed just before the ` no prayer for the dying album` in 1990.And even though they enjoyed their first no.1 single with `Bring your daughter...to the slaughter`, some would say that that album-in common with its successor `fear of the dark`-lacked the bite of Iron Maiden at their peak.Bruce is certainly offering no arguments...
"`No prayer..` was actually recorded using a antiquated, knackered recording truck-the Rolling Stones mobile-that needed a good refurbishment," he sniffs. " It was recorded in a barn,in winter with the mobile outside...and it was shit. It was a shit-sounding record and I wish we hadn't done it that way. At the time, I was as guilty as anyone else in going, `Oh great! Look, we are all covered in straw. What a larf!" (He pretends to start chucking straw around.)
"And the album after that, we still had the same barn but this time there was a studio upstairs in it.And there was a slight improvement because Martin came in and supervised the sound.But there were big limitations on that studio-simply because of its physical size,things like that"
But wasn't Steve adamant that Maiden should use that studio (his own)??
" I think there was an element of the emperor's new clothes about it," he says with a neat side step. " I think some people were a little bit uneasy about the idea of using the studio, but nobody really wanted to voice their unease because Martin was like, `No, it'll be fine`.And I think Martin was maybe unwilling to voice his unease as well. So `Fear...` actually ended up not that bad,but, you know, a little bit under par."
With such obvious shortcomings in the sonic department, it's funny how Maiden continued with this unsatisfactory situation for so long.
"Nothing to do with me. I'd left!" laughs Bruce. "I have no comment to make- I haven't listened to the records."
But Bruce does sing on the live versions of Blaze era material like `Futureal`, `Man on the edge`, and `the Clansman`, which appear on the B-side of the new Wicker Man single.
" I listened to two or three songs because I had to learn them-it did not take me very long", he adds with a straighter face.
But what did he actually think of the songs?
" I thought the songs were fine-I thought the `Clansman` was terrific. He pauses. "Anyhow, the Clansman will be available in a live version coming soon to a theatre near you.!"
Given the fact that Blaze's vocal range is quite different to Bruce's own, did he feel he could take a song like the `Clansman` and put his own personal stampon it?
"Not trying to do anybody else's efforts down or anything whatsoever, I took the song and thought, `This is a great little tune and a nice story`...and it was wonderful.I thought `Great, I can turn my hand to this song and do something good with it`If I thought I would do a shit job, I wouldn't sing it."
Clearly gung-ho for the new incarnation of Iron Maiden, Bruce's whole body language and infectious enthousiasm indicate a man who is totally into what he is doing. But there remains however, the spectre of the incident that was, he says, the beginning of the end for him-his complete exclusion from the writing credits on the band's 1986 album `Somewhere in time`. In the wake of the groundbreaking success of both `Powerslave (1984) and `Live after death`(1985), Maiden looked poised to become the biggest rock band on the planet. Bruce famously wrote a bunch of songs for the album using orchestral and acoustic touches he felt would stretch the band's sound and direction. Sadly, these were later dismissed out of hand by the rest of the band. So when he brought ideas forward in the writing process this time around, where any of his ideas rejected?
"No", he says with an unwavering look before bursting into laughter. But the point is clear that Bruce felt that Maiden had to do something to confound expectations in order to elevate the band to the status of the truly legendary.
"I think, possibly, after the Powerslave thing and the live after death thing, the album we have done now, would have fitted in really good right then" Although he's smiling he clearly feels the band took a wrong turn at that point." Except I probably wasn't particularly eloquent in the way that I presented it. But even had I presented it in a much more coherent form, the band didn't really want to know. Everything was still a hundred miles per hour, the 80s , you know, four nights at Long Beach Arena, big hair..."
And if they had recorded those songs? "Basically, it would have turned Maiden into the new Led Zeppelin. That was the analogy I used. I said, `We are at this point now, if we don't do something to freak people out we'll slip down the slippery slope and someone else will come up and knock us from off the top doing similar stuff to what we're doing at the moment `But we also have it in us anyway; Maiden does have all those elements as a subtext going on. We all have those influences-we could have fucking done that, but nobody wanted to"
To state the bleeding obvious, isn't that just what Metallica have been doing recently?
"Oh, don't talk to me about Metallica! That's the fucking bane of my life!" He throws his head back."If you get me onto Metallica, I'll be tempted to make bitchy comments. But yes, Metallica have, in effect, done several things like that." There's a big pause as he looks at the ceiling again, as though remembering past conversations, then comes back composed and measured, a little quiet even. "But anyway...next!" He clearly thinks it was a lost opportunity. " Yes, I do think it was a lost opportunity, but it was an opportunity the band didn't want to take. Nobody was prepared for it. Nobody was prepared and nobody had taken a long view of things and, indeed, it was difficult to take a long view of things in those days. And I think everybody was a little bit fried. I mean, I certainly was fried. I nearly lost my marbles on the Powerslave tour so, of course, when I came back with `Somewhere in time` they had just let me out of the fucking loony bin and I came up with this idea and people just looked at me and went `No,No,no,no,no, bless his pointy little head."!
Some salve on the wound would appear to be present on the new album where, in what seems to be a major departure creatively, `Blood brothers` has a definite folkey feel to it-not at all unlike early Jethro Tull.
"The whole Celtic, Jethro Tull type thing- I mean, that's where I was headed back then," he says." Both Steve and I are huge Jethro Tull fans and always have been, the only difference is that Steve's favorite album-probably one of his fave albums of all time- is `A passion of play`, whereas my fave is still `Aqualung`-just the most amazing combination of piss and vinegar. I mean, the lyrics are just scathing, so accurate. As a kid, listening to it, it was such a huge inspiration."
But we really want to know is:did Bruce sing it while standing on one leg?
"Well, I did actually! I think there's probably some footage of me standing on one leg hopping around playing the flute! But I fucking love it..."
Sounds bizarre, but it works in a way that is truly surprising.And if this more leftfield approach seems, at least for the time being, to have placated one ghost from the past, there is yet another that refuses to be exorcised. Indeed, its presence seems to be inescapably attached to the band: Castle Donington. They've headlined the classic festival twice, triumphantly, in 1988 and 1992. Bruce senses what my next question will be and jumps in with his answer before I have even managed to ask it.
"No, we're not doing it. Categorically."
But isn't it a trifle affair that the UK fans get only one show in London?
"Well, it might not be only Earls Court," he says . "We're discussing at the moment maybe finishing off the tour with maybe some more shows-you know, before Christmas. We're discussing that right now. The Earl's Court thing is sold out now and so it's obvious there's a huge amount of demand, and what a great opportunity to go around everywhere else, you know? go round the north a bit, go round the south a bit...I think there's a good chance they'll materialize"
Nevertheless, there is still the undeniable fact that many rock fans love Donington as an institution and feel Maiden are the one of the only bands that could convincingly resurrect it.
"Well, I think they may be right. But not this time around..."
Inevitably, it comes down to arses on seats.Or in the case of Donington, devoted fans standing knee-deep in slippery mud.
"Nothing less than a complete and utter sell-out is gonna look good," he admits. "I think we've got to go out and do a little bit of hearts-and-minds campaign first, because to do donington you've got to draw from the whole country.So we've got to do Earl's Court but also get out there and play, you know, and then maybe we'll see. But certainly, if we did do a festival-whether it was Donington or wherever-it wouldn't be for a couple of years at least.
" There was an offer on us to do Donington and the date was the Saturday after Earl's Court. It was the day England play Germany and that was that finally clinched it for us. It would be mad. We'll play Earl's Court the night before so that it can turn into basically a big wind up party for the match next day!". He laughs. "We'll be burning effigies of Helmut Kohl!!"
Presumably with Eddie wielding a blowtorch. And, speaking of the devil, what will the world's most famous metal mascot be up to this time?
"He'll be burning virgins," Bruce says matter-of-factly." There is a plot actually, to ask for volunteers to be vestal virgins, to be sacrificed inside the Wicker Man on stage. I'm not sure who is going to be doing the testing as to whether or not they are virgins before they start, but if the road crew have anything to do with it they certainly won't be by the time they finish..."
And the usual covers featuring the demonic cadaverous face of Eddie also seem to have undergone some kind of millennial renovation too. The desire to be the best has resulted in yet another familiar part of the old Maiden magic being substituted. Derek Riggs apparently did some artwork but his contributions may not be used. They haven't deviated from form though, have they? Presumably, it'll still be Eddie?
"Not necessarily", he smiles enigmatically. "Eddie remains in the frame, but not necessarily in such an obvious way. Think Pink Floyd."
Which immediately has me guessing. Surely not...Gerald Scarfe?
"I know Storm Thorngersen is involved in the frame somewhere," he says guardedly." But then he may just have bought somebody lunch.!"
Finally, any last words of solace for those fans who feel disgruntled at the absence of donington?. Not surprisingly, Bruce is well prepared with an answer. "Yes-the weather's much, much better inside Earl's Court.!"
He's not wrong. Bless his pointy little head...
BRUCE DICKINSON GIVES CLASSIC ROCK AN EXCLUSIVE TRACK-BY-TRACK RUN DOWN ON THE NEW Iron Maiden ALBUM,`BRAVENEW WORLD`
THE WICKER MAN: "The Wicker Man" is called "The Wicker Man", because of one line in the song that mentions the wicker man as in The Wicker Man of cult 70s movie fame. And the song is, I think, the best Maiden single for donkeys years. It's a really rocking single. Basically, the feel of it is so up in terms of the vibe you could almost be listening to an Offspring track during one or two bits of it. As far as I was concerned, I was just thinking about when I stand up in front of thousands of people singing, just thinking about the buzz I used to get out of it [and] the buzz I used to get when I was a kid and I used to go to rock festivals. You really felt like you belonged to something bigger than yourself. You also felt that in some ways you could change the world a weeny bit that day because you're all in that field together. Hense the chorus: "Your time will come..." You feel you're part of everything.
GHOST OF THE NAVIGATOR : " I wrote the thing, the verse and the chous, with Jan and he came up with this riff, and I just got this thing in my head of, like, Vikings!. Like smashing through the seas, big boats and pioneers. Then I thought about navigation. So being a vaguely arty bloke on occasions it struck me as a metaphor for life, so suddenly I had a plot for the song. It was a great epic sea-faring journey and the journey was life and the navigator was us. As we were writing it, Steve said `that's a really cool middle bit, and we can have this bit in it too`, and I really liked it. I do not know if he was on the same wavelength as me but it sounds to me like a big storm. I've already got the navigator lashed to the helm so as not to be tempted by the sirens on the rocks trying to distract him, trying not to be distracted by all the ghosts of the other navigators, the ghosts of his subconscious, the ghosts of his failed aspirations, and also his own fears that it may all be pointless when he gets there. He does it because he must-that's the only real answer he can possibly give"
BRAVE NEW WORLD: `Dying swans with twisted wings, beauty not needed here`. I don't recall there being any dying swans in the book. But I wanted an image that represented tragedy and sadness, as Brave New World had done. `Dying swans, twisted wings`, you know, the agony, the death-`Brave New World doesn't want to see that, it has no use for either the life or the death, all it has use for is the image because in the book, if you want excitement you go to the viddies; it's Aldous Huxley's premonition of virtual reality...and I am taking that and throwing out there for discussion.
BLOOD BROTHERS: Blood brothers is a little masterpiece...That's Steve's song 100 percent. In singing it I can tell you what I think it is all about-it's about Steve's relationship with his father that died; it's a very personal song-about Steve and his father being blood brothers, like,forever. The lines go `Just for a second a glimpse of my father I see, and in a movement he beckons to me,and for a moment the memories are all that remain, and all the wounds are reopening again, we are blood brothers` .So it is kind of bittersweet and very loving and at the same time very melanchly. It's a lot of very, very mixed emotions. And musically there's a few Celtic nods.
MERCENARY: That's a good solid track.-not a huge amount to say except that they are mercenaries and they are generally a bad thing;they're generally cruel and heartless fiends who cynically kill people for money. Otherwise, a fairly conventional, tuneful Maiden rocker comparable to a sort of Die with your boots on-type thing
DREAM OF MIRRORS: I think it's a cracking song. It's pretty lengthy. The chorus is fucking blinding. One of the best choruses I think Steve ever has written, and one od the best lyrics he has ever written too. `i only dream in black and white`- I mean straight away, fucking great. Shit, who dreams in black and white? Wow, do I? is that weird? `I only dream in black and white, I only dream because I'm alive, I only dream in black and white, to save me from my self!` I was like, `Oh man, he's a tortured mother fucker!` Steve is sometimes, and he does have these dreams and deja-vu things and out-of-body things going on for him.
FALLEN ANGEL: "That one, I assume, is about sort of being chosen as a human sacrifice, so it's deep and dark. I think Steve was having a dark patch when he wrote the lyrics to that one. Steve's got a lot of dark patches on this record. Adrian wrote the basic song and it's got a pretty catchy little chorus. But I hope we don't have too many people flying out of windows if it's a single because the chorus is, `Could it be the end of the world,all the things that we cherish, there is nothing left,but to face this all on my own, cause I am the chosen one` Aaaarrghh!!! People chucking themselves out of windows!. Like in the Omen where there were people hurling themselves out of windows shouting, `Damiaa-a-a-n!"
NOMAD: "It's Carry On Follow That Camel is what `Nomad` is!. It is about the Bedouin, the warrior tribes of the desert. I don't think that there any great layers of hidden meaning to this other than what it's about. I mean, when Steve wrote songs about Alexander The Great they were basically about Alexander The Great and that's it. the lyrics are basically there to tell you about nomads and about how mysterious and strange they were, how they were pretty nifty and jolly fearful people and that's what it is. The big picture is the effect that the song has. Well, it's not really a song. It's a nine minute piece. So you don't view it in terms of a five-minute rock song..."
OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET :"That's a fairly straightforward romp through sci-fi territory and a sort of `Run to the Hills` revisited vibe, certainly by halfway through the song, cause I actually wanted to get into the old gallop bit from the get-go and Steve was like, `Let's not give it to 'em straight away`. It's based on the sci-fi classic the forbidden planet, which is monsters from the id-and this is basically monsters from the id again!. That was the inspiration for it anyway- a bunch of aliens who have destroyed their planet and now they have left their silent planet and are coming to get us..."
THIN LINE BETWEEN HATE AND LOVE:" Another Steve lyric, it almost sounds like a UFO track in places. It was quite an unusual thing we did on the vocal on this cos it's more of a hard rock rhythm going down and we actually put a harmony on the entire verse. So it's quite an unusual sound for Maiden. It's basically about Karma, in other words what goes around comes around and you reap what you sow... there's hope if you have done the right stuff, otherwise down you go to the pit of hell!!"