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Steve Harris Interview
JOHN: Iron Maiden got its first real push forward with the song Prowler.
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STEVE: Prowler is a very special song for us. When we made the Soundhouse Tapes we took the actual tape to Neal Kay who was a d.j. in north London. He used to have a heavy metal chart which was compiled from record requests and printed in the music magazine "Sounds". Prowler got to be number one just from the requests for the demo tape. That's why we had the tape made into a record, because so many kids were asking us how they could get hold of the demo tapes.
JOHN: Is there a big difference between the version on the record and the original on the tape?
STEVE: Oh yeah, there's quite a difference. The Soundhouse Tapes were the very first thing we recorded. It was just a demo. It only cost us about 0 to make the whole thing. It really wasn't great quality.
JOHN: Was Prowler composed in pieces and put together?
STEVE: That's pretty much the style of a lot of our songs.
JOHN: Are parts conceived for a specific song or could you possibly switch sections with other songs?
STEVE: A lot of songs were written in different sections that could possibly have been used in other songs.
JOHN: Remember Tomorrow also has one of your favorite devices. I'm thinking of the slow start that builds up.
STEVE: That song is an old stage favorite. The crowd's used to really be into that one. Paul Di'anno wrote the lyrics to it. I wrote the music. Actually I played him the parts I had and he worked it out. There's a lot of feeling in that song. Mind you I think any song should be filled with feeling. But on the slow parts of this one I think there is that extra measure.
JOHN: Running Free also has a signature with the bass riff up front.
STEVE: I think the songs sound a bit different because they are written an the bass.
JOHN: Do you start with a melody and fill in with the chords?
STEVE: It depends on the song. Some I write with a main bass riff and work out the melody on top of it. Some songs begin with a strong melody line and I work out the music behind it. I pretty much work everything out on the bass, the actual riffs and the harmonies. Running Free came together when I put a riff to the main drum beat by Doug Sampson. He was the drummer on the Soundhouse Tapes.
JOHN: The harmony riffs sound very structured and almost classical.
STEVE: Sometimes maybe. Mainly they are little melodies which have harmonies put to them. The part in the middle I worked up from a bunch of bits I wrote.
JOHN: It's certainly not based on the blues.
STEVE: I was never really into the blues. Dave (Murray) is into the blues. I was into blues influenced bands like Free.
JOHN: There's no improv in this song.
STEVE: We thought we'd try and do something a bit different. Most songs have a guitar solo in the middle. We've always tried to do things a little differently. We thought instead of a guitar solo we'd have a guitar break which would consist of guitar runs and harmonies.
JOHN: Next up is Phantom of the Opera.
STEVE: That's a very long song that was done in sections. The middle part was totally separate but it fit in very well. It felt right to go from the slow part into the middle section.
STEVE: The initial idea on this one was to have Iyrics. It originally had a melody line for the vocal, but when we played it, it sounded so good as na instrumental that we never bothered to write lyrics for it.
JOHN: Strange World.
STEVE: It's one of the only sort of slow songs we've done. But it's got a lot of feeling. It used to be a stage favorite. Dave really enjoyed playing the solo in this one. We may bring it back in the future.
JOHN: Santuary is a straight ahead rock and roller.
STEVE: It was released as a single in England, but it wasn't on the British album. It was done at the same time as the first album, but we didn't release a single in the states, so we thought we'd add an extra track on the album. It's a rockin' number. We still play it.
JOHN: Next up is the famous Charlotte the Harlot.
STEVE: That's really Dave's song. I would have been proud to say that I'd written it. I like playing it live because it was something a bit different than I would write.
JOHN: Iron Maiden.
STEVE: As long as I can remember we've closed our set with this song. It's quite simple. The bass line is fairly straight forward as is the drumming. But the guitar is over the top with harmony, and the bass is descending behind it. I think this makes it pretty special.
JOHN: In parts it almost sounded like a Chris Squire line.
STEVE: I take that as a compliment because he's one of my favorite bass players.
JOHN: What would you point to as the highlights of the first album?
STEVE: I'd say Phantom of the Opera and Iron Maiden. Phantom is one of the best pieces I've ever written, and certainly one of the most enjoyable to play. It's got all of these intricate guitar lines which keep it interesting. Then there's that slow middle part which creates quite a good mood. It's also got the fast heavy parts which are really rockin'. And it's also got areas for crowd participation. It pretty much covers all the bases for the band. It was also a good example of what I wanted to get across.
JOHN: The second album, Killers, begins with the instrumental intro, Ides of March.
STEVE: We used to play that through the P.A. before we went on. Then we went right into Wrathchild. Wrathchild was originally recorded on an album called Metal for Muthas along with Sanctuary. That was before we had a record contract. The version on this record is pretty different. A lot of people asked us why we didn't put it on the first album. But we felt because it was on Metal for Muthas we didn't want to put it on the first album. By the time we did Killers we weren't happy with that version so we wanted to record it properly.
JOHN: That's the first song you've done with guitar fills around the vocals.
STEVE: That was from Adrian. Originally they weren't there, but when Adrian joined the band he decided to put them in.
JOHN: Murders in the Rue Morgue has some harmonics on the bass. That's a twist.
STEVE: That was a bit of an experiment. I'd never played harmonics on the bass much before that. But with the mood of the intro, it felt really natural to play those harmonics. We wanted to create a mood and then come in and hit people across the head with it. The vocal melody is pretty much the same as the riff. That's to give them both more power.
JOHN: Another Life.
STEVE: I really enjoy the harmony parts on this one, and the intro fills by Dave were really good.
JOHN: Genghis Khan is the second instrumental on Killers. The sharp break in the B section is like shifting gears without a clutch.
STEVE: That freaked out our producer as well. It was sort of a change at right angles. We really liked that element of surprise. This was another song where there could have been a vocal melody on top, but it felt good as an instrumental. A vocal would have cluttered it up. Originally it was written to depict the feeling and sound of Genghis Khan's army going into battle.
JOHN: Again there are no solos.
STEVE: It wasn't a conscious thing, but it worked out that way. It felt better not to have any guitar solos on this track.
JOHN: Innocent Exile has another one of those intros which have nothing to do with the body of the song.
STEVE: That was one of the very first Iron Maiden songs. It was an old stage favorite, but we haven't played it in a while. That opening bass riff was originally played on the guitar. It was written on the bass for the guitar. The bass was originally playing crashing chords behind it. Then we switched it around.
STEVE: That's a song we still do live. Now we bring it down to a beat and get crowd participation with a sing-a-long. We recorded it live as a B side for one of the British singles. The slow section in there is one of Dave's blues things. The different parts in this song really flowed together. It wasn't a song that was done in separate sections. On this one I pretty much knew what I wanted.
JOHN: Killers has a bass intro with a lot of dynamics. Then it breaks into heavy rock that pushes like a train.
STEVE: Paul wrote the Iyrics to that one. It felt really natural for him to scream at the start of the song. Some people may be wonder about this one if they have a copy of our video. We did a half hour video about three years ago, before the album came out. The lyrics on the video are totally different than what came out on the album. We weren't happy with them, but they exist in their original form on that video.
JOHN: Twilight Zone.
STEVE: That was a single in England that wasn't on the British album. We put it on as an extra track over here. Dave came up with the riff for this one. I wrote the melody line and the lyrics. But the main riff was Dave's.
STEVE: That 's quite an old song. In a slightly different form it was originally called Floating. Then we changed the lyrics and a couple of bits in the middle section.
JOHN: Do you have any bright moments on the Killers?
STEVE: The title cut and Murders in the Rue Morgue. The first album really sounded like a first album. With Killers we started to sound more like Maiden. It was the first album where we felt some satisfaction as far as the sound of the album. Those two songs stand out because they are great live favorites.
JOHN: That brings us to The Number of the Beast.
STEVE: Invaders felt like a great rock 'n' roll opener. Funny enough we've never played it live. This song was an extension of another song called Invasion, which was the B side of the single Women in Uniform. It's like an invasion of Britain. Children of the Damned is next on the album. It's based on the film of the same name. The mood was sort of like Remember Tomorrow.
JOHN: What's the story behind 22, Acacia Avenue?
STEVE: It's an extension of Charlotte the Harlot. This is where she's living in London's East End.
JOHN: Is there a real Charlotte?
STEVE: Sort of. We should have mentioned the Prisoner before 22. The opening for that song is from the actual Prisoner TV series with Patrick McGoohan. Adrian took the solo on that one and it's one of his favorites. It's a very strong live number, although we don't play it in the set now.
JOHN: Side two opens with the title track, inspired in part by the movie Omen II.
STEVE: Basically that song is about a dream. It's not about Devil worship.
JOHN: It builds nicely to a great scream.
STEVE: The idea was to get a blood curdling scream like the one on Won't Get Fooled Again. It worked quite well.
JOHN: Run to the Hills was a single wasn't it?
STEVE: In England. This song is about the American Indians. It's written from both sides of the picture. The first part is from the site of the Indians. The second part is from the side of the soldiers. I wanted to try and get the feeling of galloping horses. But when you play this one, be carefuI not to let it run away with you.
STEVE: That's by Adrian and Clive. The intro is very much a drum thing which Clive got together. It's probably a bit jazz influenced and a bit different than things we'd done before. But the basic riff is very much a rocker. It's a very good song, but one we've never done live.
JOHN: Hallowed be Thy Name.
STEVE: That's one of my favorite songs and still one we play live. We're trying to create a mood with the build up of the song. The classical guitar-like opening was Dave building the mood, with bells in the background. It's about someone with only a few hours left to live. In concert the end part of this one takes off. Dave takes the first solo and then Adrian.
JOHN: And highlights on The Number of the Beast?
STEVE: Hallowed be Thy Name, 22, Acacia Avenue and the title tune.
JOHN: The opening number on Piece of Mind is Where Eagles Dare. Was that taken from the movie title?
JOHN: There's an instrumental section in there that sounds like a machine gun.
STEVE: It's supposed to sound like a machine gun. It's not very loud in the mix, but we wanted it that way so people who listened to it a couple of times would say "what's that?" That song was done in two takes.
STEVE: That's Bruce's. To me it's sort of a heavy version of the Wishbone Ash feel.
JOHN: The end of the intro reminded me of Jethro Tull.
STEVE: Bruce and myself are very big Tull fans. We recorded Cross Eyed Mary as a B side for The Trooper single in England. Revelation comes together more live. That tends to be like that with us. Usually the numbers are better live than on record. That has to do with the feel of the songs. Most of them were written to be played on the stage. They're not really for the recording studio.
JOHN: At the same time you're not really thrilled with your live EP, Maiden Japan.
STEVE: It was okay for the
JOHN: Flight of Icarus.
STEVE: It's a really good song but we much prefer it live. We tend to play it a little bit faster live. Looking back on it now, we feel we could have played it at the faster speed on the album. This little extra touch gives it a bit more fire. If you're counting solos, this is Dave.
JOHN: Die with your Boots on.
STEVE: Adrian and Bruce came up with the main riff. Bruce came up with the Iyrics. I came up with the chord sequence behind the verse and the cross section that goes into the main chorus. This is another personal favorite of mine.
JOHN: And it has more chords than riffs.
STEVE: Which I suppose might make it strange as to why I really like it that much. It's a very powerful number live. I get off on the aggression of it.
JOHN: Which war is the Trooper based on?
STEVE: The Crimean War with the British against the Russians. The opening is meant to try and recreate the galloping horses in the charge of the light brigade. It's na atmospheric song.
JOHN: Can you tell me the backwards message that comes at the end of this song?
STEVE: We put it on so people could find out for themselves. I don't want to say what it says. Basically it's an answer to the religious freaks for giving us such a hard time on the Number of the Beast.
JOHN: What's the story behind Still Life?
STEVE: It's basically the story of a guy who is drawn like a magnet to a pool of water. He sees faces in the lake. He has nightmares about it and in the end he jumps in and takes his lady with him. It's a very enjoyable number to play because there's a lot going on. Again we're creating a mood and coming in with a very heavy guitar sound. Adrian takes the first solo. After his solo there is a really tight bass and drums staccato part which goes right across the top of the riff. I like that part a lot.
JOHN: Quest for Fire is obviously after the movie of the same name. Sun and Steel is a bit more obscure in its origin.
STEVE: Bruce wrote the lyrics to that. It's basically about a Japanese guy who builds himself up to peak fitness and wants to kill himself hari kari style. I think it would be a good live song but we have never plaved it on stage as of yet.
JOHN: To Tame a Land makes you out as a fan of the book Dune.
STEVE: Very much so. This is the best song I've ever written. I was really pleased with Phantom, but now I have to say this is the best.
JOHN: Aside from To Tame a Land what other songs stand out on Piece of Mind?
STEVE: The Trooper and Die with your Boots on. Both are very good live numbers, and in the case of the Trooper because we managed to capture the right mood for the song.