(by Jon Thibault e Bob Nalbandian, Hard Rock online)
In 1990 my buddy Mike and I would spend long hours playing drums and listening to music, contrasting different players, passing the time as young wanna-be musicians do. When the Chick Corea, Queensryche, and King Crimson CDs became tiresome, one of us would inevitably spark up Iron Maiden's "Live After Death" and we'd abandon any semblance of critical praise or analysis; we'd lose the unemotional objectivity necessary to really listen and compute, opting instead to spaz out with the juvenile writhing of zitty teenagers with too much testosterone, spilling the booze pilfered from Mike's dad's liqueur cabinet, banging our heads while screaming at the top of our lungs until one of us became too tired to continue or threw up...
So I'm in the Black Lodge on Sunset, idly sipping a pricey well drink, watching scantily clad women trying their best to look sexy on stage while a geriatric hack photographer clicks away at them. "I think they're competing for some kind of prize," a leggy babe offers, but that seems too simple, too goddamn logical and trite for the infamous Black Lodge, especially considering who tonight's guest DJ is.
Bruce Dickinson is lost somewhere deep in the weirdness of Venice--which is not a particularly good place to be when you're from England and not used to midgets with no arms or legs dancing with hellish glee for the spare change of unfazed tourists--Jesus, it probably reminds him of Ireland. But it's late at night so, ironically, perhaps he's safe from LA's most disturbing sideshows. Earlier the club sent out two of the best to rescue the migrant rock star, but that was hours ago and perhaps they-a 6'6" bouncer and a huge, bald Swede appropriately named Torbjorn Evil-scared him away forever. If I were him right now, surrounded by freaks of every size and defect, all screaming at me for money, and suddenly two big lugs jumped out of a car, reeking of tequila, numbly trying to explain that they've been sent to escort me to a place called the "Black Lodge," I'd pepper spray them both and jump into the ocean.
But I'm a quiet young Republican from New Hampshire, and Bruce Dickinson is a big rock star from England. So when he strolls into the Black Lodge, past the cashier-so nonchalantly that she doesn't even notice him-and starts mingling with two friends, explaining that, as he was walking down the streets of Venice, a couple of teenagers ran up to him and said, "Hey, you're Bruce Dickinson!" and gave him a ride all the way to Hollywood-it is I who suffers from culture shock, because Bruce Dickinson is not what I expected. And later that night, as I drive home with "Piece of Mind" spinning in the Alpine, I still have trouble making the connection between the quiet Brit who meandered-short, alone, unrecognized-into the Black Lodge and the quintessential heavy metal voice of one of the most popular heavy metal bands of all time.
The following Saturday, Bob Nalbandian and I cruise to the apartment complex in Marina del Ray where Bruce and Adrian Smith have called home for the past week while rehearsing for the tour for "Ed Hunter," Iron Maiden's soon to be released double CD/video game combo, featuring everyone's favorite album cover dead guy.
My theory that Venice is weird on an international scale doesn't jibe with the slightly hung-over Smith. "I love it here," he says. "I know Venice Beach is kind of crazy. I haven't been down there (the boardwalk) in years. I like the coast because the air's good down here. The Valley and Hollywood..." He makes that "yuck" face that only looks cool when British people do it.
We want to save the good questions for both of them, so when Bruce excuses himself and scours the complex for bottled water, Bob and I jabber about what the weather's like in England right now and how Adrian likes the weather here and what the weather is like in Rio, for which they leave tomorrow. To his credit, Adrian does an admirable job of humoring us, even as I frantically beckon and wave to a hot piece of ass that strolls by our table-a hot piece of ass that returns and is introduced as Adrian's wife. Thank the Christ, Bruce finally comes back with his goddamn water.
Dickinson is gregarious and funny. He and Smith sit across from us at a poolside table. They both refuse cans of beer when offered. Adrian Smith sits there looking contemplative; he is (forgive me-the analogy is irresistible) Derek Smalls to Dickinson's Nigel Tufnel.
Q: So you guys (ie: Bruce Dickinson's solo band) are going to Rio tomorrow?
Bruce Dickinson: Sao Paulo, a place called Curitiba, then back to Sao Paulo for another show that's kind of out in the 'burbs-it's a couple of hours just outside Sao Paulo-a town I can't pronounce.
Q: And you'll be recording a live album?
BD: Yeah. We'll be recording three shows-three out of Sao Paulo and the one that's near Sao Paulo.
Q: Is that going to come out in the states on CMC?
BD: Nope. They will definitely not come out on CMC. I think CMC will keep selling "Chemical Wedding" and "Accident Of Birth" (Bruce's last two solo records) and that's it, really. They don't have any of the Maiden stuff either. CMC only had "Virtual XI", but they don't even have that one now.
Q: Who's going to release the new Maiden?
BD: (Sighs Comically) Hmmm... Well...It's not going to be Nuclear Blast. It's not going to be any of those type of labels. At the moment, one of the things we're trying to do is figure out who's going to release the video game over here, because again it was going to go through Castle, but in the light of circumstances a few more offers came in so we're going to try and tie together the whole thing so that we go with a big distributor that will also help us out with the record. There's a lot of interest and it's real major-it's real high quality, headline grabbing stuff.
Q: You've been working on the video game for a while...I remember when I interviewed Blaze and Steve last year, they were saying that "Ed Hunter" was going to be released last September.
BD: Originally it was going to be called "Melt." I actually have a "Best of the Beast" album and the slip case is stickered "Soon, the 3D Adventure Game, 'Melt'! Featuring Eddie!" and they scrapped that whole game because it, um, sucked, basically. And it wasn't anything like the level of graphics and detail that they had been led to believe was going to be the case. So they fired the company that developed it and went back to square one. But this other company came in, Synthetic Dimensions, based in England, and they're really cool guys. They did a great job on it. It came out May 17 in Europe and it's going to be for PC's, then going to Playstation probably three or four months later. We're trying to keep it really in the mid-price for PC games, so it's going to go out for about forty bucks. But that will include an extra double CD inside-the "best of" as voted for by Iron Maiden fans, the top twenty tracks. And that will be the set which we'll be playing this summer. The stage show will be based largely around the video game, which is a great excuse, because the video game is based on the album covers.
Q: We're talkin' the whole catalog, right?
BD: Absolutely. We're going to be playing "Futureal" and "The Clansman," we're gonna be doing "Phantom of the Opera" and "Wrathchild" and "Number of the Beast," "Hallowed," "Stranger in a Strange Land," "Wasted Years"...
Q: Anything from "Chemical Wedding," or will you keep your solo work separate?
BD: No, no, no. We field those questions quite a lot. Even if it was the sort of thing that people wanted, I actually wouldn't want it. I want to keep the things separate. I'm gonna keep the solo thing. Obviously, I love working with Adrian, and I love working with the guys, so I'm going to try and keep the same guys. When I organized this, I was very aware that I didn't want the solo thing to develop in the way that some situations have. For example, when I had the "Skunkworks" band, everybody was on the wage, and I thought, "Oh, we'll make it nice. Everybody will all be earning the same money and we'll all be democratic and blah, blah, blah." Well that's great, but unfortunately one person's version of commitment is different from another person's version of commitment, and what I discovered...
If you organize it on the basis that you treat each tour and each album and everything else as its own little entity, and you say, "Hey, guys, we're doing a European tour, do you wanna do it?" and everybody says, "Yeah, we'll do it. Cool." So you tell everybody what they're gonna get paid and you figure it all out from the start, then everybody goes in knowing exactly the start date, the finish date, what they're gonna get paid, what the deal is. Same thing with the albums, and that way nobody goes, "You promised me a living for life!" And when it falls apart, like it did because CMC didn't come up with any tour support or radio backup for the American tour this year... We had an eight week tour booked, and we went down the wire with CMC and it was just like, "What is the point of going on this masochistic tour? There's no f**king support." And this is even as we were planning the Maiden reunion tour.
So in those situations, when the guys have, like, blocked out two months, you know, taken two months off work, reorganized their lives and everything, you can't sort of go, "Oh, sorry, guys... You know that money you were going to get? You're not going to get it now. You don't mind, do you?" If you're fair to people down the line and you honor your commitments, then people treat you okay back. And that's how it works with us.
Q: So, in September the European tour starts?
BD: September 9, 1999. Then talk shows, and that's it. Starts in Paris, finishes in Greece, if they don't invade it. Couple in Germany, couple in Scandinavia, Italy, Couple in Spain, one in France, one in Holland, and that's it. This is not going to be the most extensive Iron Maiden tour-we didn't intend it to be. This is not another one of those big reunion things, we want to make it totally different from the way those are conducted. This is not sort of a nostalgia trip. Even though we'll be playing old songs, we do actually have something completely new to promote, which is the video game.
We're going to have a fantastic stage show, a five truck tour. Nobody will have seen anything this spectacular from Maiden in a long, long time. And just when everybody wants to go see it, you know what? You can't! (Laughs) Because, you know what? Next year is going to be the time to do the huge tour because we're going to have a new album-not a new live album-a new studio album with a top-line producer and a top-line studio, sparing no expense in getting it right, and that's how to put Maiden back to number one in terms of metal.
Adrian Smith: I think this short tour is a good way to get us reacquainted again, as well. Getting on stage, playing the older stuff, and transfer that energy into a new record. I think it's going to be a great tour and a lot of fun. That's where the serious business starts. Like he said, we're lining up top producers to do it-we really want to do a good album, a great album.
Q: Talk to Martin Birch?
AS: We did discuss Martin.
BD: His name's come up. We haven't excluded anybody. We have a short list of about four producers.
Q: Can you mention the four?
BD: No. (Laughs) We're talking to them and just getting a vibe off them. It shouldn't be too long before we make a decision, because we have to book studios and everything before the end of the year. With Martin... I mean, I love Martin, but since he stopped working with Maiden he hasn't made a single record, and I think he just, you know, wants to go fishing. I mean, he's done with, you know, knocking his brains out.
AS: He knocked his brains out for a long time with Purple and Sabbath. He went from one thing to another. Yes, we did a lot with Martin, and it's nice to do other things. This whole thing's about going forward, as well. We want to try something new.
The conversation moves to digital versus analog recording:
BD: People's ears have gotten so degraded because a CD is only sixteen bits. Most people don't understand what "sixteen bits" means-they think sixteen bit is good. Every molecule of iron oxide that moves is a bit. Until you've got, you know, three hundred thousand bit sampling.
AS: They have all kinds of modules you can hook up to your digital stuff to make it sound like analog, but...
BD: It will never sound like analog because it doesn't have the information. If you record it digitally, you will never have it; you're f**ked. In other words, when they bring in sixty-four bit CD's or DVD's, the Beatles records are going to sound unbelievable. People are going to go, "Wow, what did they do to the Beatles records?" Nothing. They always sounded like that, it's just that they sounded so lame on CD. And the fact is that vinyl, really good vinyl on an amazing system, kicks the shit out of the best CD on the planet. Whatever poor fools have recorded and mastered their albums thinking, "Hey, I recorded it on Sony 24 bit..." Hey, that's as good as it is ever going to sound, only 24 bit. So that's the end of my tirade against digital recording. What was the question?
AS: Like I said, it's about going forward and doing something different, not just about rehashing.
Q: Janick Gers will also be joining you on this tour. So, you'll have three guitarists in the band...Is that difficult from a mixing and compositional standpoint?
BD: Not our problem. (Laughs).
AS: Live, yeah, it'll be interesting. Although I did hear rumors about our sound- guy wondering how he was going to put it all together.
BD: Fire him! (Laughs).
AS: The cool thing is, David (Murray) and I grew up together, we now get to work together. And I know Janick. We're not three guys trying to totally out-do each other. There's some healthy competition, but we're a band, working together for the song.
Q: So the direction of the new material-is it going to be in the vein of, say, "Number of the Beast"?...It's definitely going to be a metal record, right?
BD: Oh, shit, yeah! The Maiden sound is not broken.
AS: I think what we want to do is sort of tweak the sound on record and tape and make it sonically heavier. I think we've all kind of agreed on that.
BD: I think the Maiden sound needs to be not reinvented, but re-presented to people, so they go, "Wow, it's Maiden. Dang! That sounds really good." And I don't think people really have been doing that the last few albums.
Q: What do you think your staying power is? A Maiden fan will always be a Maiden fan.
AS: I think because the band's always been quite uncompromising in its attitudes toward the business really. And the fact that we played a lot of shows, we did get radio play, we kind of built up a following over a long period of time. I think there's more longevity in that. Bands kind of stay with you because you know they care about what they're doing. So all the hard work we did in the eighties, it pays off, because those people stay with you. You're playing for the fans-it's like a direct link. In a lot of ways, we kind of bypassed the business. The management's very uncompromising, very passionate about the band. They don't let any of the business bullshit stand in the way.
Smith apologetically leaves to, among other things, "get some socks out of the dryer," and we bombard him with photos. Dickinson sticks around.
Q: Maybe you've been asked this a thousand times, but when it comes to writing songs like "Mariner" and "Icarus," songs based on literature, where does the motivation come from?
BD: Good stories. That's it. I mean, what's a song? It's a story. Simple as that. "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner" was Steve's thing and "Flight of Icarus" was my thing, and we sort of flipped it on its head and messed with it a little bit, which may not mean a lot to people who don't know the story in the first place. Some people don't really listen to the lyrics very much at all, and that's fine. It's not mandatory or anything, but just as a singer I like to have some kind of story in my head when I'm singing a song.
Q: You wrote a couple of books, didn't you? Humor books, weren't they?
BD: Pornography. (Laughs). I was thinking about doing a short, pornographic history of the USA. I don't really read much fiction, I read sort of nerdy kinds of books. I just finished The History of the Making of the Atom Bomb. It's, like, eight hundred pages of Pulitzer Prize stuff.
Q: Did that influence "Chemical Wedding" at all?
BD: "Chemical Wedding" was William Blake. I sort of go through phases where I'll read fiction, like paper back sort of fiction. Anybody that can write can actually write that stuff. It's stamina. A friend of mine writes horror paperbacks-Shawn Hudson. A lot of it, like Jackie Collins, is just stamina. Talking to Shawn, I think writing a novel-the largest part is perspiration. I did it and it sold thirty thousand copies in England and it's still on sale in Germany and in Poland. Poland... I mean, what's Polish for "anal intruder?" (Laughs). I got a paperback deal as a result of it. I signed a three book deal. They wanted another one by March that had to be at least two-hundred and fifty pages. I was, like, "Wow, I'm getting paid money, I've got a deadline... This is like work!"
Dickinson soon has to split as well, so we take more pictures and cruise to some bar in Hermosa Beach, then to a luau where they had roasted a giant pig in the sand, and everyone complained about the sandy pork. I don't remember much after that.
Later that week I'm driving to my corporate-weasel, yes-man job with Live After Death blasting through the car, wondering what my commission check is going to be this month and what I'm doing there and why that guy Mike always walks around with no shoes on, and I'm so close to just losing it and turning around. But suddenly I hear myself screaming two words over and over: the exuberant echoes from years long past, the same and only words I wrote in my note pad while interviewing Adrian Smith and Bruce Dickinson, and suddenly I don't feel so glum and slimy; I feel like that capricious seventeen-year-old jerk I miss being so much, and any rock band that can do that deserves to be number one on my list and the world's.