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Steve Harris Interview
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This is a short interview with the Iron Maiden bassist Steve 'Harry' Harris about the forthcoming album, tour and ..... life ! It is not as in depth as some of you would like but as the Internet is now such an 'immediate' medium, it was felt it would be foolhardy to release too much information too early. We felt if we did it would spoil thousands, nay millions, of fans enjoyment of hearing about the album, tracks and songs nearer to release. The following interview conducted at the end of December 1999 and beginning of January 2000 is a very open interview as Steve tackles some of the questions you, the fans, have been asking.
Johnny B : Harry, thanks for tackling the fans questions before you leave the studio. How is the recording going ?
Steve : "It is going great, it is on schedule and I personally think it is some of the best stuff we have ever done. Everybody has really grafted since we have come off tour and we are all extremely pleased with the results. We have near enough finished recording but we still have a lot of work left to do as far as mixing, mastering etc. goes".
JB : When did you start working on the new album ?
Steve : "November 99 ..... we have been writing and recording since the end of the Ed Hunter Tour".
JB : Why so soon after the tour, I thought you would of all wanted a break ?
Steve : "Well .... we always planned to go in and do an album anyway and the tour was just a bit of a taster for the fans, of us getting back together. There was always a plan to do a new album .... as we kept telling people whilst on tour ..... so it was just best to get on and do it".
JB : After the success of working at Barnyard studios for the last few albums why did you decide to work at a different studio ?
Steve : "Well, it was because back in the 80's we did three albums at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas and then we went to Germany and did an album there. We have done the last three albums at Barnyard studios and we just felt it was time for a change. We are working with a different guy, (different producer) in a different studio, in a different environment and sometimes it can just be a really positive thing".
JB : Is it harder getting started in a really different environment than what you are used to?
Steve : "No not really, we have all worked in many different studios over the years but it is just when you have done three different albums at the same place .... it is just good timing to go and do something somewhere else".
JB : Why did you chose Kevin Shirley to produce?
Steve : "I had really liked the stuff he has done before and then when we had a meeting with him it was just the vibe and the way he does things and the way he talks about stuff ... it was great. Obviously you all have to get on with the guy and we got on well with him when we met him so that was great as well. We have liked the work he has done before like Silverchair and the album for them. He has worked on albums for loads of different bands and more importantly different types of bands, mainly still within the broad spectrum of rock and we just thought he would be the right bloke for the job. I think we have made the right choice as working with him has been really great".
JB : Has he given a different edge and sound to this album?
Steve : "There was always gonna be a different edge to a certain degree anyway with the fact we have three lead guitarists. That in itself I would of thought was not going to be an easy thing to handle but he handled it brilliantly. Yeah, I do think he has given us an edge because it is just working with someone new and someone who is very positive ..... and he has a great vibe about him. He is a pleasure to work with .... in fact he is great fun to work with. When you are recording that is what it should be about ..... fun ! You should be enjoying recording. I know it will seem a weird thing to say as this is our 12th studio album but although I enjoy it, the studio is not my favourite place to be I would rather be on stage so ..... to be able to say I enjoyed it is important and to work with the right people is important".
JB : You proved it worked well on stage with the Ed Hunter tour but everyone wants to know how it worked out with Adrian and Bruce back again in the studio ?
Steve : "Yeah it is working great. It is working as .... it's always worked. There is no big deal really. There was no deja vu and everyone has made a big deal out of the formation or reformation or whatever you wanna call it apart from us. We are all big enough and ugly enough to get into this and do this without there being any problems. If there were gonna be any problems then ...."
JB: You wouldn't have got this far !
Steve: "Quite right .... not only wouldn't we have got this far but none of us would have been interested in it. I suppose everyone was a bit wary of each other to start with because it's been a while but ..... once we knuckled down and got into it and started doing the tour and even more so writing songs together .... it just all clicked again as if there had never been any kind of change. Hopefully people will stop asking that sort of question now ...... STOP ASKING, WE'RE FINE".
JB: Do you work through the songs in order until they are finished or do you work on bits of different songs on different days ?
Steve: "In the past we have worked in all kinds of different ways. You try all sorts of different things to see how you are working and which way feels good to work. However .... Kevin Shirley, our producer, has got a particular way of working and it works very well. His way is to go in and do songs one by one rather than going through and doing, say for example, rhythm guitars for all the songs bit by bit or song by song. We also do some vocals and bits and bobs of that particular song".
JB: I should imagine that helps enthusiasm when you get to the stage where one song is nearly finished.
Steve: "It's not finished but you actually get to the point where you have a good semblance of the song quite early on so you can go onto the next one. You have a really good picture of what is happening pretty early on .... which is a good way of working".
JB: How did the song writing go coming off the back of a tiring tour ?
Steve : "Any type of song writing is never particularly easy. Just coming up with new ideas and new material and everything is always quite a lot of pressure".
JB: Do you build that up over a period of time ?
Steve: "Well the thing is, the pressure is what I think makes the material come out good anyway so we've always worked under pressure and Rod ensures that we keep on track all the time. We have always allowed ourselves particular periods of time for writing and the such. The only thing I can liken it to for people who don't write songs is like cramming for exams ..... but probably a bit more pleasant than that".
JB: Who wrote the lyrics for this album ?
Steve: "It's pretty well split really .... I can't really say how many songs there are or who the songs writers are as this is going on the web isn't it ? The problem is that this is the sort of thing people really don't want to hear about too early and will want to know about nearer to release time than hear about it now and lose track of the information as it is so far from release. The web is instant and that's the problem. Within a hour of it being put on the web the whole world knows and as different countries have different release dates you can really spoil peoples enjoyment. It is like the album name, artwork etc. Of course we have a few ideas .... we need to at this stage but .... none of us have agreed a name, artwork or whatever and even if we had I won't be telling anyone for a long while yet".
JB: Do you have a song title before or after you start writing a song ? It is rumoured that you think of a song title and write a song with that in mind.
Steve: "After ... definitely after ... 9 out of 10 times it would be after. Very rarely you have a title where you write the song around the title. We always believe that a song is a short story and then you pick something from within the lyric that describes the song. Lyrics are important .... though not the most important thing. I would say the music and the melodies of the vocal lines are the most important. However having said that the lyrics shouldn't just be a load of old crap. That is why we have always tried to make them mean something so people can read into them whatever they want. Having said that though they still need to mean something to us and that's why the melody lines have to be really, really strong. This is a question that we've been asked before because sometimes, just sometimes, you do land up compromising slightly with lyrics because if you have a specific strong melody and there are some words you wanna use. I have had it before where you can't use what you want to use because for example I write to the syllable ..... So if there is a particular word I want to use which doesn't fit because it might have 3 syllables instead of 2 .... I then have to go and find another word, which means the same thing, with 2 syllables and that's when it becomes difficult because you can't always find the word which means exactly what you want to say. It does become a problem sometimes .... it is not just like writing some poetry. When you are writing to a melody it has got to fit. If you then compromise the melody that's not always on because if it is such a strong melody then it's very important to keep that melody intact. That should have sent people to sleep !
JB: Far from it ...this is a good insight into studio working and why you cannot produce a good
album in a week. Are all the song titles linked to an album concept ?
Steve: "The artwork and what people regard as a concept and what fans regard as a concept. We get asked many, many times 'Is this a concept album?'. Truth is that the only concept album we ever did was Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son and we had sat down and talked about that before hand. The main reason it was agreed was because it was a really strong idea. Whereas a lot of people thought that quite a few of the albums were concept album because they had strong imagery and a strong link between some of the songs. The best example was Fear Of The Dark where quite a few of the songs had a theme about fear. It was totally coincidence. Whether it was a subconscious thing that we all had fears at the time I don't know it was just the way it was. We don't tend to analyse too much of what we are doing we just write the songs .... the best songs we can and then we try and get the best imagery etc. that we can to go with them. The rest like the stage shows etc. are then developed from that".
JB: How do you feel that these new songs will adapt for a live show then ?
Steve: "You do get a pretty good indication of what songs you think will work live. Nine times out of ten as we write, we may think that a certain song is a great album track but it wouldn't necessarily work live, then usually that is the case. There are exceptions of course and there are exceptions when you think this is gonna be a great live song .... you play it but .... you don't feel quite right with it but I must say that is pretty rare. I will say though that most of the songs on this new album will be great to play live. There is also a couple that we think are great songs but they might not necessarily be particularly great live songs".
JB: Do you try and write 'Live' songs then ?
Steve: "Well ..... yeah I guess we do. Most of the time we do try and write for the live stage because that is what we feel we are ... a LIVE BAND ! We always want to try and perform the new songs. You are happy and proud about the new songs, as you should be, you're into them and you go out there and play a lot of new material. Saying that .... the last tour, The Ed Hunter thing, was a completely different thing for us, It was also a new thing for us, promoting a PC game and there wasn't new material for it. It was the first time we have ever done anything like that. It was a totally different way of looking at things. All the album tours that we do are totally based on going out playing, being totally confident and having the conviction of playing your new material. We never go out and play just one or two new songs, we normally play six or seven. Whereas I think a lot of bands just play it safe because they just tend to always play a greatest hits set and throw in one or two new songs. We have never been like that. We just always go out and play what we thought was right, in other words what we feel is right to us. We do still play old stuff but it is still stuff that we want to do. We are always getting asked to do particular songs but we normally do what we wanna do, pretty much. I think it HAS to be that way because otherwise you end up being like a cabaret act".
JB: Where do you get the ideas for the songs ?
Steve: "Haha .... the six million dollar question ....... the one that everybody wants to know. I have been asked that many, many times (Nice unique questions then JB) but I can honestly say I don't know the answer. If I did know the answer to that I would bottle it".
JB: Is it things or events that happen in your life or things that you watch or see, weird experiences ?
Steve: "It is all of them. I try and grab inspiration from wherever I can ... thank you very much. I grab it with both hands. Obviously you do get ideas at funny times and you just have to write them down. Sometimes it can be weird as you can put down an idea and then when you look back at it a few weeks later you think it is not as good as you thought it was, or other ideas then seem better than you originally thought they were. Usually however when you have got a strong one you have a gut feeling on it but it is always a worry as to whether it as good as you think. I think it is the biggest pressure of all as it is a personal thing. Coming up with new material is always the most stressful thing and the biggest worry. You have standards both yours and others that you want to meet and yet you don't want to repeat yourself because what's the point of that. I think some bands do try and repeat themselves and do try and recreate the success that they had from one particular album ..... we don't do that, we have never tried to do that. If anything we tried to do stuff that we have never created before. We wanna do stuff that is different, new and refreshing for us and not for what other people think. We are without doubt stubborn and selfish with that attitude .... because we are convinced it is right".
JB: The band doesn't seem to have fallen into the trap that some bands have where you try to be so new and refreshing that you alienate your original fan base ?
Steve: "That is exactly it. We don't try and analyse what we do to the extent it rots your creative track. We don't try and veer away from it we don't try and be too close to it, we don't try and do anything in particular. We just try and write the best songs that we can and we try and be natural to the way we are feeling at that time. So, if it is different then so be it and if it is not different enough for some peoples' taste ....then so be it as well ! At the end of the day you can't worry about that sort of thing, you just have to concentrate on writing the best song that you can. Actually it is fair to say that if we feel something is too similar to something we have done before we bin it ... honest ! We don't like repeating ourselves but it has to be right and we have to feel right with it. It is the MOST important thing".
JB: Are there any bands that still influence you ?
Steve: "I don't think so. It is always a worry that you come up with something that sounds familiar to something by someone else but if someone goes 'Oh that so and so song sounds like something else' then as long as you did it unintentionally then it's okay. If you did it intentionally then that's not very good but I suppose anything is possible when you are writing new stuff. EVERYBODY is affected by what you hear and see ... otherwise you're dead !"
JB: Is it more difficult working away from home or is it more focused ?
Steve: "Awkward question really. For me personally sometimes it is a positive thing because you have no distractions as far as normal family stuff goes. On the other hand I love working at home because I am settled and I am in the midst of my family and stuff. Being settled is okay but being at home can also be problematical because there is so much going on that it can be difficult to focus and get on with what you need to do. On the other side of the coin being away from home can cause you to be more out of focus on stuff because you're trying to guess and work out what is going on at home. You can also sometimes be out of focus because you're a bit miserable because you are not with your family. It really is 'swings and roundabouts'. I just think personally a different environment every now and again is really a positive thing. I do find it tough these days, more than ever before, being away from the family. We all do. We have all talked about it and we do find it very difficult but ..... it is what we do, it is what we have always done and it is what our families have grown up knowing what we do and understanding what we do. We record an album ... we go on tour that's our lives. It is an enjoyable life but it is tough being away from your families. It is the hardest thing to deal with when they're young".
JB: Do you think with the massive leaps in modern technology that you will all work from home more
but still as a group ?
Steve: "Yeah. With ISDN, digital this and that, satellite links and stuff it all helps and adds to the things you can do from a home base that you couldn't do before. However, at the end of the day you still have to all go in and do the album in the way we make albums you have to go in and do it in a studio. You still have to go in there and concentrate for a certain amount of hours a day whether you are at home or away. Once you are in the studio it doesn't matter. It can be snowing outside or brilliant sunshine ... you don't know as you have your head down in the studio".
JB: Is it an equal time for writing and recording ?
Steve: "Sometimes. When the writing stage is done personally so much of the pressure is off for me. If you know you have really, really strong songs okay you know that then you have to go in and record them and get great performances but in a way it is academic." "I don't mean that lightly but I mean it is academic in the sense that we KNOW we can go in and do that. You know it will be hard work but you know you can do it. You can never know though that you can come up with great songs before you start recording and that is for me personally the most stressful thing. I have said many, many times that songs are the life blood of a band. If you have a bunch of great songs then you have half a chance of making it. If you believe you have great songs then it is irrelevant what others say and it shouldn't phase you. For example, you could have ten people in a pub choosing their greatest maiden tracks but they will probably come up with a different ten than the pub down the road with a group of people trying to chose the same thing. Writing is the most important time".
JB: How do you see Eddie developing in the next millennium.
Steve: "I don't see him developing at all he will probably go backwards because we're all going forward. I don't really know. I thought he would get more haggard but he seems to be getting better all the time. The good thing with Eddie is that he is timeless. He will hopefully mature with age. Who knows what he will get up to next .... surely that is half the fun".
JB: Are the band aware how massive an icon he is to the fans ?
Steve: "Yeah, very much so. We are very aware of it and we use it to the max where we can. It is not something that we planned though. Yeah, you can think up imagery once you have an album, single or whatever but it is not something that we thought of in the early days. We didn't sit around and think 'Right now we need an icon'. It sounds like designing a computer, imagine that designing a computer and Eddie comes up ... he'd be the ultimate millennium bug !".
JB: Will we see him chasing around a hot female version of Eddie ?
Steve: "I must admit it is something we have thought and talked about but more in jokey fashion than anything else. You could come up with some morbid imagery and stuff. Who knows nothing is impossible in his world".
JB: How do you deal with the 'Metal is Dead' cynics ?
Steve: "We had a few idiot journos saying that last tour. I don't take any notice really. I don't care whether they say Metal is alive or dead really. I don't care because I don't care what people call us. We have been called all sorts of things. I don't even care if it is called Metal in the new millennium. I don't really care and I don't think the others do. I suppose people regard us as a metal band. I suppose that's what we are. If that's what they see us as fine. I don't really see us as anything in particular, I suppose that sounds a bit Spinal Tap but I really don't care what they call us".
JB: Do you see yourself in any genre ?
Steve: "Yeah very much. I saw us when we first started off as a 'Heavy band', a heavy rock band of sorts but it then became known as 'Heavy Metal', then it was just Metal. Now you have all sorts Death Metal, Black Metal and such. I think as long as we don't turn to Rust they can call us whatever metal they like".
JB: If the album is out around spring time then when can the fans expect to see you on tour ?
Steve: "The summer".
JB: Big Tour ?
Steve: "By our standards it will probably be a short-ish tour but a short-ish tour for us it at least 6 month but who knows what is being planned. If we go everywhere we want to it could be 12 months".
JB: You have a large young family .... How do you deal with being away so long ?
Steve: "It's not something new and they have grown up with me being on tour. I obviously take them on the road whenever I can. Obviously many of them are at school so that's the difficult part so I can only take them out on the road with me on holidays and weekends. Obviously it would be difficult to get them out for the weekend if we are playing in LA or whatever".
JB: Do your kids like the Rock 'N' Roll lifestyle ?
Steve: "Yeah they do. They definitely enjoy being on tour and stuff. If anything like me and everyone else they get a little fed up with the travelling but that's not unusual. If anyone did as much travelling as we did they would get a bit fed up with it. They love seeing all the new places though."
JB: Will they follow you into a Rock N Roll career ?
Steve: "Don't know. One of them is very keen on learning the piano. If he does crack it he'll be one up on me for sure. One of them is really into singing and stuff ..... again they'd be one up on me ! I don't mind what they do really as long as it makes them happy."
JB: You're rich, successful What makes you still do it after 20 years ?
Steve: "We enjoy it. It is a weird thing really. If you go on a tour you can't go on a tour for say .... a month like some bands do. We are successful all over the world and we have been for a long, long time. There are still countries that we would really, really like to go to but we don't get a chance to go to them as often as we like. Even when we do a years tour, like the next one, we still won't get everywhere where we want to get to. It is insane really. It is one of those things that stitches you up with your own success. However, it's a nice problem to have and we're very grateful for it. We seem to have to go on long tour to get round everywhere and I guarantee you that when we get back we will still get email from fans asking why we missed them out. It was like that with the Ed Hunter tour but saying that we had only just finished a year long world tour last December. It is so important to get round and play as many places as you can. I love playing live and that's what drags me on all the time. Youneed an album to go on tour. When you finish the tour you wanna go again so another album."
JB: A lot of your songs seem influenced by films and movies. Are you a bit of a film buff ?
Steve: "No, not really. I love watching films obviously but I'm not that knowledgeable on films. I don't collect film serial numbers or anything".
JB: Do you have an interest in new technologies .... Internet, DVD, MP3 etc. ?
Steve: "Yeah very much so. I love all that. I find it really interesting. Obviously being on the road as much as we are the Internet has been a Godsend for us really. Being able to keep in contact, sort out your travel arrangements from your hotel room etc. I find it just brilliant. You just don't feel cut off. The satellite is great. Being abroad and thanks to satellite TV you can still watch the football and sport whilst away. Sometimes you might find yourself racing around a few foreign pubs until you find one showing it but at least you do. You used to go on tour and you could ONLY watch the local TV stations and had no real idea what was going on at home unless you spent a king's ransom on phone calls. I think it is important. You don't feel isolated."
JB: What do you think about the MP3 debate which is so prevalent in the news at the moment ?
Steve: "Well ... I reckon it is like when CDs first came out. The record companies were very worried about the quality of CDs and minidiscs and stuff like that. They were worried that people would copy them and not buy them but it has already been proved totally wrong. It is now the same thing with DVD or VHS when they first came out, okay the quality of VHS has never been that good I'll give you that but it didn't stop people going to the movies ..... crap, out of date cinemas did that. It actually brought back a cinema interest. I actually believe it may go the other way with MP3 etc. I think it might actually make more people go and see live bands. We will see. You can hear the live show on a CD but you cannot see the spectacular excitement that a really good live show like ours brings to the crowd. You have to experience that live and in person. I don't have any problem with new technology and I would be hypocritical if I did."
JB: The band show a very active interest in their web site. Do you think this is the way the information should go ?
Steve: "Yeah I think the Internet is fantastic and I think it is important to keep up to date with stuff but the only problem with it is I think at times people should be kept from themselves. What I mean is that most people on the Internet crave information all the time and want the info before everyone else but it is not always the best thing. I can only say I think it is like telling someone the end of a story or end of a film before they have seen or read it. Personally I don't think people really want that."
JB: I think it can also lead to a jaded view. I know a few people who saw the biggest film of the year on a dodgy video because they could ... before everyone else. They then slagged the film off but they had never seen it in proper resolution, with the proper sound or proper ambience.
Steve: "Exactly, I think the Internet's a bit like that. Everything can be so diluted before you get the final product that it can spoil it. I don't think people really want that. I think they would rather see the film, read the book or hear the album for the first time when it comes out and think WOW and be surprised or not in their own way. The immediacy of the net can sometimes be a great thing but it can also take away some of the excitement of certain products. Like the film people try and keep the details of a film quiet so they build up the excitement of it. It is the same with an album. You try and build it up so when people buy it and listen to it, it is an exciting new thing. That is pretty difficult when someone has plastered the lyrics or sound bites all over the net. If they have managed to get hold of these things in some underhand sort of a way then it shouldn't be legitimised by being put on the net. We have had to look at things in a different way now and that is all down to the Internet."
JB: Fun question. You can bury one of your songs in a time capsule, which one ?
Steve: "'Fear of the Time Capsule' and if we haven't written that yet then Fear of the Dark LIVE. I think for future generations it would be great because it sums up the audience participation well and the vibe on it is great as well. It's the whole thing the time changes and the light and shading of the song. I think it is good stuff."
JB: Thanks Steve. Up the Irons !