Harris Is Interested in Writing Good SongsThe last 'Legends of Rock Bass' issue of 'Bass Player Magazine' features an interview of Steve Harris.
The focus is mainly on his technique and influences. Read on:
At the heart of Iron Maiden’s sound is Steve Harris’ big bass. Whether it’s a low throb underneath the group’s intricate arrangements or a burst of galloping 16th-notes, Harris’ bass style has had a huge influence on a generation of metal maniacs.
Do you favor fingerstyle or pick technique?
I’ve always found it easier to play with my fingers; I never learned to play with a pick. I never thought about it as a “technique” – it was just the way I learned to play.
How do you develop your bass parts?
My parts are based around what the song needs, rather than around what the guitar players are doing. My playing has become a bit simpler and straighter on some songs, and I’m using more rhythmic bass chords.
Which bassists have been a big influence?
I started out listening to players like John Entwistle from the Who, Free’s Andy Fraser, Martin Turner from Wishbone Ash, Golden Earing’s Rinus Gerritsen, and Chris Squire from Yes – although he used a pick. But I never really focused on the bass playing. I liked these players, but only because I liked the bands they were in and the music they were playing. The songs make the playing exciting – not the other way around.
People can say what they like about my playing – I’m more interested in writing good songs. I’ve never been worried about being a great bass-player. I’ve always thought it’s important that whatever I do is within a song, not just going out on a limb and doing some big solo.
Is there any particular reason why you’ve never done bass solos onstage?
Because they’re bloody boring, that’s why. In all they years I’ve been seing bands, there have been only three bassists who played interesting solos: Billy Sheehan, Rinus Gerritsen of Earing, and Hellmut Hattler of the German cult band KRAAN. Billy Sheehan’s playing is outrageously different.
Why did you modify the tone control on you main bass?
When we played smaller places, the fans would lean forward and touch the controls. I’d be thinking, “Cor, where’s all me treble gone? They’ve bloody turned it down!” So we de-wired it. Now if I want to change the top end, I look at my bass tech and point to my shoulder, and I use a thumbs-up or thumbs-down sign. For bottom, I pat myself on the arse. I s’pose everybody does that sort of thing!
Do you have a good memory for bass parts when you’re out on tour?
Do I forget them, you mean? [Laughs.] You do tend to get mental blocks now and then, usually at the start of a tour, and quite often it can be during songs you’ve been playing for years. You might go running across the stage and forget where you are. But obviously it comes back, and you manage to blag your way out of it. If I were to stand in the corner and just watch what I was playing, I probably wouldn’t go wrong – but I’d be bored if I stood in one place.
There are quite a lot of changes and different sections in some of Maiden’s songs.
Oh yeah – that’s the influence coming in from Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, that sort of stuff. We wanted to incorporate those time changes, plus the heaviness of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple with a bit of Zeppelin thrown in, and the harmony guitars of Wishbone Ash as well. But when you’re playing, you get to the point where you don’t even have to think about it. When you start thinking about what you’re doing, that’s when you make mistakes. If you start thinking, Oh blimey – what’s that bit coming up next? then it’s already gone and you’ve buggered it. It’s all very well saying you’d like things perfect, but everyone makes mistakes.
Fender Precision Basses with Seymour Duncan Puckups, Badass II Bridges, and Rotosound Steve Harris Signature Flatwound Strings; Trace Elliot Preamp and C-Audio Power Amps, DBX 160 Compressor, Four Marshall 4X12 Cabinets
Tony Bacon & E.E. Bradman
Thanks to Harr Steevis of the IMBB for the scans and to myself for typing it… pfeew
well done Saint!
you should get an OCR program
you should get an OCR program
I have one... Just that I couldn't get it to read that scan. No matter how I tweaked it... I gave up and wrote it (I'm a fast typist, so it wasn't such a huge task )
As usual thanks for the info saint.
Ah, thanks Saint! That was a good read.
Thank you and up the Saint!
Great interview. Now I know why Steve doesn't play bass solos live nor records any on jams and stuff like that.
very good indeed but don´t you think the first question is a bit silly?