Iron Maiden continue to naturally expand sound

Iron Maiden (L to R) Adrian Smith, Janick Gers, Bruce Dickinson, Steve Harris, Dave Murray and Nico McBrain. Photo by John McMurtrie

Iron Maiden (L to R) Adrian Smith, Janick Gers, Bruce Dickinson, Steve Harris, Dave Murray and Nico McBrain. Photo by John McMurtrie, courtesy of Iron Maiden publicity.

By Patrick Prince

Returning to the same Paris studio (Guillaume Tell Studios) used to record 2000’s “Brave New World,” Iron Maiden continue a long career of being heavy metal icons by finishing their 16th full-length studio album, “The Book of Souls.”

The release of “The Book of Souls” has been  delayed for months due to vocalist Bruce Dickinson’s cancer recovery (the vocalist was diagnosed with tongue cancer shortly after the album was completed). Thankfully, the singer is recovering quite nicely and the band is ready to launch the record along with a tour.

Goldmine spoke to Steve Harris about the process (among other things) that a veteran band has to go through to get everything right for the release of another powerful album.

GOLDMINE: Why did the band return to the recording studio in Paris? Were you trying to recapture the same vibe as “Brave New World”?

STEVE HARRIS: No, not at all. Basically, we knew it was a good studio. We felt comfortable there before. We knew the engineer there. We really like the sound in the room. And Bruce wanted to be someone that was close to the U.K. and that was the obvious choice. It had nothing to do with the vibe of an album. When we make a new album, it doesn’t matter where it is. Even if we recorded somewhere before, it makes no difference to a new album, really.

GM: You’ve claimed that the songwriting process was refreshing for this new album. Why is that?

SH: Normally we would go into rehearsal where we would write and rehearse it and then we’d go and record afterward somewhere else. But this time we did it all in one place, so it was good because we’d write and rehearse a song and then put it straight down. Which makes a lot more sense, really, in a lot of ways. I mean, we actually really enjoyed it like that. But I think most people know that studios are so ridiculously expensive that most bands would rehearse in a rehearsal room first and that was normal. This time around we decided to go straight in there, and partly because there was going to be another band rehearsing (in the rehearsal room). We thought, we can’t be somewhere where we’d write a new album and have someone else listening to what we were doing next door, you know (laughs). So we decided to go straight into the studio, which is more private. It worked great. I think when we do another album, we’ll do the same thing again.

GM: The opening track “If Eternity Should Fail” reminds the listener of the influence that classic prog rock has had on your songwriting. In later years, do you think Maiden pushes itself creatively like those progressive bands did in the past — no-holds-barred, expansive and open?

SH: Well, that’s always been the case, really. We’ve always done what we wanted to do right from the first album, so there’s no difference there. It’s just that we do have difficulty writing short songs these days. I don’t know why that is. It’s just the way it evolved. There’s no real reason besides the fact that we do have all kinds of influences. Some of them being prog kind of stuff. But we’re not trying specifically to be like anything other than just writing what the songs we feel are right at the time. You know, we never really know what we’re going to write next. Which is part of the excitement when we go in and do a new album. No battle plan, we just go in and do it and what comes out, comes out. It’s only afterward, when we do interviews, when we try to analyze it. We don’t analyze what we do. We just do it.

GM: That’s a good point. We’ll do the analyzing.

SH: Yeah, exactly. That’s your job, not ours (laughs).

GM: But has it come to the point where Maiden can finally say that they have expanded out of the metal genre that the band was initially put in?

SH: Again, I think it’s we are what we are. People can categorize us however they want but we don’t really label ourselves as anything. It is what it is.

GM: The lyrics that you pen … you’re a fan of classic stories and film. As a kid you turned me onto Poe’s “Murders In the Rue Morgue” and the film “Where Eagles Dare,” for instance.

SH: You need something to get your teeth into lyric-wise. You know, strong, powerful stories wherever they come from, whether they’re from books, movies or it could even be a piece from the newspaper. It can be anything that sparks you. You need something to create a mood and a feeling in a song. A lot of people tell me they use the song “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” to get them through their exams. So that’s a positive thing. 

GM: You’re still strong with young audiences. You see teenagers wearing Maiden and Eddie (the band’s mascot) T-shirts all the time.

SH: It’s very healthy to get young fans all the time. And usually at gigs the young ones are the ones going crazy and the audience gets older as it goes back. And that’s a normal thing. If I went to a gig, I’m not gonna go to the front and go crazy. I’d be standing in the back with my arms folded, but I’ll still be enjoying it. But it’s great. It’s amazing the generations of Maiden fans, and you get some whole families going — kids, parents and in some cases even grandparents. I think it’s unbelievable, really. I think we’re very lucky, that we do seem to grab audiences of such a wide range of age.

GM: And Eddie has the fantasy appeal for younger audiences.

SH: Yeah, I mean, he’s always been better looking than us anyway (laughs).

GM: Did you ever picture Iron Maiden having this kind of longevity? My guess is that you did, because you always had a vision. You always had a positive attitude that this band would last.

SH: Well, I always hoped. I’ve been quoted as saying that it wold be nice to do 15 studio albums. I remember saying that and we’ve done our 16th one, which is great. But, to be honest, we didn’t know our career would be this long, no. In the early days we were just trying to do what everybody else does, which is to play for as many people as possible and make records. And that’s all we can ask for, really. The fact that we’ve had such a long career is amazing, that we’re still doing it. I think we’re all very lucky to be able to say that we’re still out there doing it.

GM: There is some luck involved but every band has its leader, and you’ve always held that seize-the-day attitude.

SH: You know, we’ve always had a very positive attitude. Like Bruce’s situation … he’s very a positive person and felt he can get through this. And I think that attitude helps in all kinds of situations. It’s important.  GM

BTW, you can find Iron Maiden in the Goldmine Hall of Fame.

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• An excerpt from metal author Mick Wall’s biography on Metallica
• Two of Thin Lizzy’s guitarists are celebrated: Brian Robertson and Gary Moore
• David Coverdale and Whitesnake
• The former Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver bassist continues his solo project
• Wendy Dio talks about her legendary husband, Ronnie James
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About Patrick Prince

Patrick Prince is the Editor of Goldmine

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