Interviewed by Nelly Saupiquet Source: Hard Rock Magazine (France) – Numero 26
The sixth studio album of Iron Maiden is the third one with the latest line-up. Stable, efficient, and united, Iron Maiden carry on they travle with Somewhere In Time, a brilliant album that reminds us of the lack of class of the new bands, of their instability, and sometimes, of their mediocrity. Like many other colleagues, Hard Rock Magazine went to Germany, where the band were putting the finishing touches to the preparations of the upcoming tour that will visit France in November. In Frankfurt, we met Steve Harris, the band's main songwriter, and Dave Murray, the "guitar-killer". They showed us the results of their research in the... sixth dimension.
Frankfurt, on a grim August morning. Dear! This town is so dark and gloomy! It looks like November, and rain is threatening to pour down any minute. The sky doesn't deserve its name, it doesn't fit to this grey area that smothers us ever since we left Roissy, at an hour when only the milkmen are awake. Maybe Iron Maiden chose that place because they had a terrific offer, or simply because Frankfurt is the perfect town to make you feel depressed and push you to a search for perfection. I suppose that's what it is, as Steve Harris is known for his seriousness, "when it's business time".
To me, it is also business time. Since my last interview with Bruce Dickinson, the singer, many things have changed, and Somewhere In Time, the sixth album of the band, has been released to storm the charts of the planet.
The words of Dominique Piccoli, the adorable PR person from EMI, wake me up from my thoughts. 1 pm, it's time! Ahead of me, a long corridor leads to a door labelled "Canadian Suite" (Why "Canadian"? Good question!). Steve Harris and Dave Murray greet me with an enthusiasm full of reserve that gives them this typical British charm.
I'd hardly sat down on the comfortable settee that, already, both musicians asked the same question: "Have you hear the new album yet?" Honestly, I answer that the vinyl hasn't stopped spinning on my turntable ever since I got hold of it. But I refrain to tell them that this record seems to draw the listener in a very strange way. Does it contain subliminal messages? Or did Maiden find a way to force everyone into submission? Time, and mostly the future, seems to constitute the band's new attraction. Maybe they have made some interesting discoveries... We'll find out later... Let's get back to reality. They wear braod happy smiles and I wonder what's on their mind. Well, it doesn't matter, it's now my turn to ask questions!
Does the finished album correspond to your original aims?
Steve Harris: No, because, in Nassau, we only had a broader vision of the composition of the album and of the way is was going to sound. We recorded the bass and drum tracks over there, then we went to Holland to do the rest. When everything was done, it wasn't quite what we expected. The songs where longer than we thought, and there weren't so many of them. Somewhere In Time is a very long album, with almost 50 minutes of music. At least, the kids will get they money's worth! At first, we had many ideas and different musical themes, but, as we progressed, we didn't finish some songs, or we used some parts for other songs to reinforce them. When we got enough songs, we didn't look any further.
Not even for songs to use as B-sides for singles?
No. Those B-side tracks are not done anymore like we used to. We don't want to write a song especially for a B-side, because it won't be as good as the one on the A-side, and that just isn't the way we work. Now, we'd rather do a cover...
I noticed that Adrian wrote four songs, whereas, usually, you are the main song write. Where does this new inspiration from H come from?
Adrian is still not married, so he's got plenty of time to do a lot of things when Iron Maiden slumber. Besides, he can't stand to remain even a week without playing. This is why he set up this band, The Entire Population Of Hackney, with a bunch of mate. They're having fun and he plays his own compositions, which are not very different to what Maiden do. Once, he invited us to see him play at the Marquee, and we were surprised by the excellent quality of his songs, which is why they ended up on the new album.
In which state of mind did you enter the studio?
Dave Murray: Oh, the morale was excellent. After those six months of rest, we were ready and rearing to go.
Do you like being in the studio, or is it a chore to you?
We prefer to be on stage, of course. But we had plenty of time to prepare this album. So we were looking forward to entering the studio and working on our new compositions... On the other hand, when you have to go to the studio at the end of a tour, you're not so motivated.
Did you get the expected result?
Yes, and we're really proud of it, as much as any other of our albums. Of course, with hindsight, there are some songs we're not so happy with, but it's not the end of the world. Songs like 'Gangland' and 'Invaders' (The Number Of The Beast), or 'Quest For Fire' and 'Sun And Steel' (Piece Of Mind) are not as strong as the others. On Powerslave, 'Flash Of The Blade' could have sounded a bit better. But on Somewhere In Time, everything's perfect, I have no regret.
You don't have a favourite song?
No, not really. We like them all.
Yes, but maybe there is one that you particularly like...
Right now, I'd say 'Heaven Can Wait', but I'm sure I'll change my mind. We are still rehearsing. When we'll play before an audience, our appreciation will match that of the audience, and that's what's fantastic. A song that you chose to put at the beginning of the set, because you think it rocks, may not work out at all at that point. The audience decides.
However, when you attend an Iron Maiden show, you get this impression of precision and efficiency, and you think that everything has been closely set up. Are the Eastern countries some sort of experimental ground for you?
It's true in a way, because we always start the tours in those countries, and we modify the show according to the reaction of the fans during those first gigs. But it isn't a conscious thing. It would be the same if we started the tour in the States.
Will you visit new countries?
No, not really. We're only going to play in Gdansk, we couldn't play there last year because of some unrest... We have the same problem this year with Czechoslovakia, as the country's experiencing some tensions, and we can't go and play there in spite of our efforts...
Is the British youth concerned with the problems in Ireland?
Yes, of course, because the media always talk about it. We can't help but think about it, although we try to avoid the subject...
Although Adrian wrote many songs for this album, you remain the main song writer in Iron Maiden. How do you proceed?
I usually work alone. It's a habit. In the beginning, I had to do everything myself. It was some sort of routine. But I did write some songs with Dave and Adrian. For this album, Adrian worked on his side. This is why Bruce didn't write anything. He used to work with Adrian, but this time he found himself writing alone. Adrian even wrote all the lyrics by himself. What Bruce had written did quite suit what we'd done. So, we kept his songs for the next album. As for Dave, he only writes half a song once in a blue moon (laughs).
Yes, I noticed that there was only one song credited to Dave Murray/Steve Harris...
Our last collaboration was three years ago with the song 'Still Life'. Three years before, it was 'Twilight Zone', and again three years before, it was 'Charlotte The Harlot'.
Dave Murray: Yeah !
Steve Harris: Now, we'll have to wait another three years (laughs)...
Are you influenced by what you listen to?
Honestly... no. I'm not that crazy about music and, after the tour ended, I didn't listen to a lot of it. I focussed more on my wife.
And how about the lyrics?
The whole album deals with the notion of time. The basic idea is the following: someone sits next to you, he tells you he's invented a time-machine, and he asks you to join him in his travels. Would you go? Would you have the guts to follow him just like that, without telling anyone and without any luggage? Would you really go?
Dave Murray: Oh, I would!
This is as well the concept on the cover: Eddie in a futuristic world, turned into an android... He hotel entrance, the ships... It looks a bit like what you experience on tour...
Dave Murray: Yes, and on this cover, Eddie tries to tempt us. We just finished the tour and he goes, "Come on, let's play another gig..." (laughs).
You can't get rid of Eddie...
Dave Murray: Oh, no. He follows each of our footsteps! But he's great anyway. Whatever we do, he likes it. Wherever we go, he follows us. He's a lovable character, and he never complains...
Steve Harris: I'd like to get back to this notion of time. Now that I think of it, there's only one song, 'Sea Of Madness', that has nothing to do with time. All the other songs are somehow related to the idea of time. And that's only a coincidence!
Each new album is more melodic the previous one...
We continuously progree, and this album has many choruses. But it's hard to explain. It is very different to our first albums. At the time, we had songs we'd been playing for a while. In a way, any band's first albums are real "best of". They contain the best ideas, those that have been worked on for months before the first deal. In a first album, you really give your best. But it doesn't prevent our other albums to be excellent.
You're certainly going to release a new single...
Yes, it's a song written by Adrian. The basic idea is something like "could I have done it better?" Adrian must have spent the night in a pub to write such a song! It's also certain that Dave must have cheered him up with some lager (laughs).
Do you ever regret Iron Maiden's first heart beats?
You know, when you do what you think is right at the time, you shouldn't regret it afterwards (laughs). No, we are busy with the present and prepare the future, but we're proud of our past. Anyway, even if we had regrets, we couldn't change anything. So...
I meant, regret great times like signing with EMI...
Oh yes, of course, That was great! At the time, we didn't know what was going to happen, if we deserved any success, if we were going to be successful or not. Now, here we are, but it's still a big challenge. Each new album is a struggle...
Iron Maiden's life is still exciting, then...
Oh yes, of course and rightly so! If it wasn't, we'd quit!
With the exception of Adrian, all the musicians are married. Can it sometimes be a problem?
Oh, not at all! It doesn't change anything. We do what we like to do, and wifes do not come into it!
You separate well business private life...
You have to. But I must admit that being on the road is sometimes quite difficult for me. And it's going to be even worse, now that there's a second kid underway...
Congratulations;! (Remember that Steve is already the father of a little Lauren he had with his wife, Lorraine).
Thanks a lot! The readers of Hard Rock will be the first to know. Seriously, my wife never asks any questions anyway.
Dave Murray: If mine was to ask anything, I'd tell her where to go...
Do you feel any pressure from EMI?
No. We're very lucky, we're very free. If a single does well, it's just a matter of luck, because we don't work on singles, but on albums, unlike so many other bands. We're not a Pop band. It's terrible, some of these bands only have one or two decent songs on a whole album!
The worst thing is, they sell a lot because the one or two songs are hits single. With us, it's not possible: two bad songs and the fans complain... not mentioning the record company! Well, on this album, we have eight tracks, so when I say that there isn't any pressure...
But Bruce told me that you were worried that some tracks sounded "mainstream"...
Ah, the bastard! Here's the truth: when I started writing, I found a chorus, the one on 'Heaven Can Wait'. It's true that I thought it could sound "mainstream". Bruce listened to it and I told him about my worries... But I knew that, as soon as the others would start working on it, it'd be arranged in a very different way. And Bruce made a story of this! Then again, I'm not completely against mainstream stuff. It's just not my thing.
Can you imagine playing another kind of music than Iron Maiden's?
We could do it, of course, but we prefer what we write. As long as it remains so, there's no reason to change. We get on extraordinarily well on the professional level, but I think it's even better on the personal level. Iron Maiden is a very united band on all levels...
It's much better like this. The bands that have internal problems, but who still want to remain consistent on stage must be completely paranoid. We all try not to tread on each other's toes. When there's something wrong, we all discuss it together. And we don't have any drug problems, which is I think essential to keep a band together.
How far is Martin Birch involved in Iron Maiden?
Oh, a lot of producers are nothing but sound engineers. They sit at the mixing table and don't do anything more. I couldn't bear it. I'd go, "Are you alright, mate? Don't you wanna do even less?" Martin Birch, on the other hand, is a sound engineer, but not just any sound engineer. He's got Maiden's sound in him! He's fantastic, and there aren't so many like him. It would be terrible if we had to do without him, if he didn't have time for us. I perfectly well know that he'll always be available for us, but just thinking about it gives me the shivers.
How does it work when you prepare a new album?
We write, rehearse, and try to arrange the songs before we go into the studio. Then, Martin arrives, listens to the songs, forges an opinion, then offers a few ideas. We then go to the studio and work very closely with him. But, unlike some other producers, he doesn't try to turn the songs upside-down. Changing our producer wouldn't really be a new challenge. The sound wouldn't be the same, of course, but our music would still be the same.
You haven't played a gig in France in two years. In November, you'll play several, one of them being in Bercy. Why did you choose Bercy, whereas you said that you wanted to avoid large venues in Europe? In London, you still play the Hammersmith...
Well... Paris is a bit of a problem for us. The past couple of tours, we played under that tent (Note: the "Espace Balard"). The first time, everything went well, it was great. But the second time, we had all those problems with the electrics and everything was breaking down. This time, we had to find a decent place so the show could go on normally.
But there is the "Zenith"!
Dave Murray: What is it? A new concert place?
Not at all, it's an 8,000-seater that opened some three years ago...
Steve Harris: Yes, but there was a 9,000 crowd last time...
I wasn't sure, so I gave a lower number.
Why don't you play two nights at the "Zenith"?
We didn't know. How many can fit into Bercy?
15,000, I think. The Scorpions and Deep Purple played there...
The problem is not to know whether we'll fill such a venue or not. What matters is that the conditions should be good, and that we don't get the same problems as under the tent. In France, you have venues with 2,000, 3,000, 5,000 and 10,000 people, whereas the English theatres can only have 3,000. The next level is the Wembley Arena! There's nothing in between. I still have great memories from the last gig in Paris. In the dark, people would still carry on singing by themselves... You know, some English magazines asked me what was the best gig of the tour and I told them, "You won't like it, but it was the one in Paris".
It's true! The last French tours were great. Honestly, I got bored in England. I'd love to be able to tell the English that the Hammersmith gigs were the best, but this isn't true. Ah! Paris! All those lighters and the people singing... I think that the French fans really appreciate that Bruce communicates with them in their language.
That's right, many say so. Now, let's talk about the visual concept of the upcoming tour.
It's got nothing to do with Powerslave. It'll be more like Terminator and Blade Runner. But I'd rather not say more.
So, it'll be a surprise?
Dave Murray: Yeah, for us too!
I don't believe a word...
Steve Harris: We still haven't seen anything, honest, except Derek's sketches. We know the concept as a whole, but nothing of the details. Some large company is dealing with that.
As you're playing Bercy, will you be able to have the whole stage set like in the States?
That's a trick-question... Yes, we should be able to manage that. But it's pretty difficult. In the States, all the venues are massive, whereas in Europe, maybe only 50% can hold such a structure. We can't get the lorries on the road for nothing. Anyway, this year we have a stage and light show that can be easily reduced, so it should be alright.
You also shot a video?
Yes, last week, in the room where we currently rehearse. We'll be seen playing on stage.
Is that all? Don't you get this video "madness"?
Why should we spend so much money on it? If it's to be ignored by MTV, no thanks! Our video is aimed at the European market, because we know that many cable channels will air it.
Would you be ready to re-iterate your exploit at Top Of The Pops, playing live on a TV broadcast?
It wasn't a very conclusive experience. The sound was awful and the technicians even more so. We won't do that again!
Even if you were guaranteed a good equipment and the use of your own technicians?
I don't know... Why not, if we have the time... But we'll be touring from September until May.
We're going to have (in France) a great Metal programme on TV, it'll be a revolution...
Dave Murray: We'd need that too in the UK...
You've got some, haven't you? You still have great radio programmes anyway, like the Friday Rock Show, for instance!
Steve Harris: Yes, there was this programme airing new bands. Paul Di'Anno was in it, along with Thor. It was on Channel 4. But in general, the situation is the same as in France, if not worse! The programmes on the channels are not structured.
It's the same here. But you have many very good record shops... And clubs!
So many closed down!
Do you ever go back to the Ruskin Arms?
No, but there are still bands playing there. So it's not that bad. When we started, there were at least six pubs where we could play, only in the East End. We played them all. Now, there's only one left, the Ruskin Arms.
Yes, but it's a shame about the others. We used to play the Cart & Horses, the Harrow, the Bridge House, the Queen Elisabeth... Even the Music Machine closed down. We used to have many friends there...
There's still the Marquee...
Yes, but I think it won't last much longer.
To get back to the preparation of the tour, isn't it difficult to select the songs that you're going to play?
Yes, it's terrible to be forced to ditch some songs. At times, when we meet fans, they tell us about the songs they like. But if we were to listen to them, we'd be playing all the songs of our six albums...
Is this why you never play any covers?
Yes and no. We've got enough choice, that's true, but we don't want to play songs that everybody already knows by heart. We'd rather play more obscure tracks like we did with 'Cross Eyed Mary'. In the beginning, we used to play covers because our setlist was quite limited, but that's all history now! It's a real pain to see bands making money only playing covers.
The hour that I was supposed to spend with them was not quite over, and I still had many other questions coming to my mind, but I decided to keep them on the back-burner until our next meeting... in Bercy!
This Article is taken from The Iron Maiden Commentary