by Clay Marshall

-Interview with Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden)
March 2000

Tuesday (May 30) saw the release of Iron Maiden's BRAVE NEW WORLD, the first album in eight years from the seminal British heavyweights with the legendary Bruce Dickinson on vocals. The highly anticipated recording has been winning the praises of metal heads worldwide, including Dickinson's own.

But he has a right to be excited about such a monster album. After all, the 41-year-old singer says below that the thought of making this record was what drove him to rejoin the band last year, when it released the greatest hits/video game package ED HUNTER and toured in front of sold-out audiences.

Short, fit, almost always smiling and frequently running his hands through his shaggy, shoulder-length dirty blond hair, Dickinson, wearing olive shorts and a black, short-sleeve V-neck t-shirt when I spoke with him in a gold- and platinum record-lined office at Sony Music's Santa Monica, Calif. headquarters, said the ED HUNTER tour was just training for BRAVE NEW WORLD, a feeling he hopes will come across on the album.

DETRITUS: Quite simply, congratulations.

BRUCE DICKINSON: It rocks. We've done it. If there was anybody out there who doubted that we were serious about this--and there still are a few; they didn't see the tour last year, or they saw the tour, and they said, "That's it; they'll just come back and do another one of those"--think again, dudes.

D: What do you think separates Maiden from other acts currently trying to cash in on past glory?

BD: I think we've done it better. I think that this is genuinely the best-sounding Maiden album there's ever been. All respect due to PIECE OF MIND, which is my previous favorite record and still sounds good, but this is just one level of brutality beyond that.

Maiden is the best heavy metal band in the world. The musicianship within the band is so scarily good. People don't even realize how good the players are in Maiden. That's why it's possible for us to do it. Also, in our hearts, none of us are satisfied with second-best. If something's worth doing, you've got to do it 100%. We're not sad old fuckers getting back together to go and make a few bucks. That's sad and cheesy, and not something I'm interested in. I would rather stack shelves. Not that I need to, having given up what I could describe as a very viable, global cottage industry--my solo career. Well, I haven't given it up, but as soon as I rejoined Maiden, this avalanche just appeared in my life, the whole world of metal suddenly descending around your ears going, "He's back in Maiden!"

I knew that would happen. Because I've worked so hard in my solo career and gotten respect and integrity out of it, and great times and [a] great audience--all this great stuff had come out of it. I thought, "You know, if I'm going to potentially put that at risk, then I better fucking make sure that this is all going to be really cool when it all comes out." We all feel that way, regardless of whether the other guys in the band have solo careers or not. We all feel that this is going to put Maiden back right at the top of the league, in terms of metal, on their own terms.

D: What are your expectations?

BD: I don't know whether this album is going to go multi-platinum. Hey, you know, it probably isn't, because no Maiden album ever has before in the States. I still think the band may be a little too quirky in its own way for the kind of triple-platinum type audience. In the '80s, we were too heavy, and all the hair bands went quintuple- platinum. We sold a million, and we did cool. Then, all of a sudden, everything's flipped around now, and now everything's really atonal, and yelling and screaming and everything, and people are wondering whether Maiden's heavy enough.

We actually transcend all that bullshit. The thing about Maiden is, as a band, it doesn't pay any attention whatsoever to the music business, which may sound strange. We actually genuinely don't care. If you asked most guys in Maiden, "What do you think about this band?", they'd say, "Who?" It's like, "What do they listen to?" A bit of Bob Marley, watch TV most of the time... Why do you need to listen to other people to create music? The band does exist in its own space, and there are very few other bands that have that sort of attitude or mentality.

D: I read somewhere that you viewed this album as a crusade to save us from some of today's popular music.

BD: All of these fucking bands are dreadful. Nobody gives a flying fuck what I think, because they're all making far too much money out of it. But it is crap. It is complete crap. I don't suppose we matter more than a boil on somebody in 'N*Sync's bottom, but I still don't fucking care. It's bullshit. But there you are--people like bullshit.

D: How did BRAVE NEW WORLD's first single, "The Wicker Man," come about?

BD: It started off being a riff with [guitarist] Adrian [Smith]. I thought it sounded very bouncy, and I started putting a catchy little melody to it. I thought, "This could be a real good single," so we started playing around with it. [Bassist] Steve [Harris] came in with some of the anthemic bits at the end. And there it was, four-and-a- half minutes long without even trying to get a single-length track. It was the song we wrote together--the first song the whole band actually rehearsed together.

What I was trying to get on the lyrics was a feeling, just this real positive vibe--the same vibe I get when I stand on stage in front of all these people, and they're all yelling at you, and chanting and singing with you. This huge, uplifting feeling [of] "It's just great to be alive," right at that moment in time. The song is totally in favor of promoting that attitude, that one day, something good is going to happen to you, and when that day happens, don't back away from it. If you get an opportunity, grab it by the balls with both hands and just do it. Hence, "Your time will come" [in the lyrics]. When the audience goes and sees Maiden, that's it--your time has come.

When I was writing the words to it, you start free-associating things. What happens to this kid? The first line in the song is, "The hand of fate is moving," and suddenly, the finger [pointing]--"OK, out of bed. You--your turn today." The idea of the finger of fate knocks you to your feet, says, "OK, what'cha gonna do about it?" The dumb kid at the back of the class, who's always too shy to speak, his tongue was frozen, all of a sudden he pipes up, he goes, "Hey, I think you all suck!" He's got something to say. This whole thing--fly from the gates of dawn, eternity calling you his way. In the song, he says goodbye to gravity, he says goodbye to death. Live for every moment. One of the lines in the song that just sums it up is, "Every second is a new spark to set the universe aflame." If you just take that attitude in your life--every second that's alive is another spark in eternity--it's great. It's a great, uplifting vibe.

D: What made you call the album BRAVE NEW WORLD?

BD: BRAVE NEW WORLD is my fault, the album title, really. I mentioned it as a possible title, and everybody seemed to like it. Within about a month of rejoining the band. Then I thought, I better write the song, "Brave New World," so I better re-read the book. I was very impressed, and the song is my take on the book, or my take on one of the characters from the book, Savage. The book's kind of a tragedy. Other songs, I start out generally with not necessarily books or films. "Wicker Man" is slightly strange; although the title is "Wicker Man," the song itself is nothing to do with that, other than there is this kind of mad, maypole dancing, pagan, "Hey, let's go and have a big, big orgy of feasting and drinking and making merry in the field"-type vibe to the song, with a big anthem at the end. And that's what sprang to mind--the shadow of the wicker man is rising up again, looming over everybody.

Once I got the feeling of that song, it was just a matter of free- associating. In the song, "say goodbye to gravity," we've conquered gravity, we've conquered death; "Hello to eternity," he's leaving forever; just all these ideas. "The ferryman wants his money," and you're not supposed to pay the ferryman, because then you've had it; he's got your number. In this case, the guy does the other thing--the ferryman wants his money, but you're not going to give it back. He steals money from the ferryman, and says, "Hey, you push your own fucking boat." So he's walking out of hell (laughs), this guy's doing everything. That was the idea--the whole uplifting, anthemic vibe. You can do what you want on one day, which is a very May Day sort of spring theme, renewal and everything. I had the whole Maiden thing in mind when I wrote the song as a context. It was like, "This is what we're doing. We're bringing this monster back to life, and we're breathing life back into everything that it touches, the audience, the album, everything." It was a good song to do first.

D: What about "Ghost Of The Navigator"?

BD: So many people have asked whether that song has to do with "Rime Of The Ancient Mariner." It never occurred to me in a million years. This is a riff that [guitarist] Janick [Gers] had, and when I listened to the riff, I just got the big picture of boats, storms, seas, a journey, a quest. I thought, "OK, that's good," and then I thought, "The quest. Vikings. Led Zeppelin. Weird, woopy vocal things with a little bit of flanging on." Sort of vaguely taking it in a Led Zeppelin direction. The drum [track] has got that big, smashing, Bonzo-type feel to it. So there's a bit of the Zep element coming in on that track.

I'm thinking, "Vikings...vikings...no. Vikings--a bit too...(sneers)." But big, epic sagas, some journey. What's the journey? The journey is life. Navigation--navigating through life. Well, cool. You see how I just assembled things--you're layering up this picture. Because I'm a pilot, I'm interested in navigation. One of the things about the fundamentals of navigation is a process called dead reckoning, which is short for deduced reckoning, the principle being, you never know where you are. You only know where you were, and you deduce where you think you are until you find out where you really are by physical landmark, or some way of absolutely determining where you are. Until that point in time, you're in the middle of the ocean. You have no fucking clue where you are, really. You just hope you are where you think you are. But deduced reckoning--hence the line in the song, "Where I go, I do not know / I only know the place I've been."

This idea that the guy is on a journey; he's gonna make it no matter what, even though he doesn't know exactly where it is he's supposed to be going but he knows the course he's got to steer; he's not going to be diverted by anything--not by storms, not by the sirens on the rocks saying, "Come on over here"; not by the ghosts of all the other navigators who haunt them in the dark nights. They all failed; is he gonna fail? And he doesn't even know why he's doing it, but he's got to do it--driven on by, like father like son, like whatever. Somehow, he's got to do it.

D: Where did you come up with "Out Of The Silent Planet"?

BD: "Forbidden Planet," the movie. "Monsters From The Id." Such a fabulous concept, that I just wrote a lyric about a society--in "Forbidden Planet," they discover a civilization long dead but run extremely efficiently by these vast machines. The society itself has long since perished, but the technical paraphernalia that they've constructed will last forever. I kind of thought, "Well, that's nice," but took it a few stages back, and thought, "If the society was dying--if it poisoned itself--would it seek to export its insanity elsewhere, out of the silent planet?" Hence the idea of a world which has poisoned itself with its own prosperity and its own gods. It created its own gods, and its own gods destroyed it.

That was what was in my head, but that all comes down to about two lines in the song. I try to create a life for each song, that makes sense to me. Then I'm happy about singing it.

D: A lot of the songs seem to have overlapping themes. Was that intentional?

BD: There's no theme to the album as a whole--it is a collection of songs. Steve's songs are pretty much on the dark side. Certainly some of the songs he's co-written with other people tend to be fairly lengthy, like eight-nine minutes, and almost quite prog-rocky in places as well. There's lots of atmospherics, "Rime Of The Ancient Mariner"-style stuff, but actually, in my opinion, much better than "Rime Of The Ancient Mariner." He's really developed his whole thing on this record, and he has written some fucking great lyrics. There's a song called "Dream Of Mirrors," and there's a lyric in that chorus-- huge chorus--and the lyric is, "I only dream in black and white / I only dream because I'm alive / I only dream in black and white / to save me from myself," which is like, "Whoa." He's getting pretty deep on some of this stuff. There's "The Mercenary"--it's about mercenaries. Generally, mercenaries are a bad thing. What can you say? There's all levels going on here. But "Dream Of Mirrors" is fantastic, and "Blood Brothers" I just think is a fucking masterpiece. It's the only song he's written on his own on this record.

D: What did producer Kevin Shirley bring to the album?

BD: The album was recorded completely live, which was the first time we've ever done it. Kevin made that possible, or suggested it. We went, "We'd love to, but it's technically very difficult." [But] he really facilitated it. He's a talented engineer, [and] got the sounds together for it. He actually has a whole set of equipment that he brings with him into the studio, which enables each individual member of the band to get exactly their own mix. We have our own little eight-channel mixer by the side of each guy. It just turns what is normally a nightmare into a little dream machine.

He also selected a great studio for us in Paris called William Tell, which enabled us to realize the idea of doing it live. [It had] a huge sounding drum room, [and] loads of glass so we could all get eye contact with each other while we were playing. At the same time, I could do my vocals completely live and just be separated from all the racket. We knew we were going to be doing it live, so we rehearsed all the songs up, having come off the back of the tour. We wrote the songs before going on tour; left them, not unfinished, but unrehearsed, certainly; and then came back to them after the tour with this whole touring head [mindset]; and then we rehearsed them as if we were gonna go and do a gig; and then we did a gig basically for each song, but in the studio.

D: What are Maiden's tour plans?

BD: [We] do two months in Europe; then we come straight to the States. Some time in August we'll be on the West Coast. [We're] starting on the east, we're going right away across, maybe 12 or 14 shows. That's the first time around. Then we go to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South America, and then we come to the States a second time around before Christmas.

It's going to be Iron Maiden with two or three other bands. We're thinking about maybe having Rob Halford come out with us.

D: You recently recorded a duet with him.

BD: "I'm The One You Love To Hate" is the name of the song. It's pretty cool. Rob's album is actually...scarily good. He's singing as good or better than he ever did in the best days of Priest. The album sounds so fucking good. Roy Z produced it. They've just finished mixing it. Label to be determined.

D: There were also rumors about Helloween joining you on tour.

BD: Roy is in the middle of doing Helloween's new album, or will be very shortly, so Helloween won't have an album finished in time, I don't think.

D: After SCREAM FOR ME BRAZIL, are you especially looking forward to returning to that country?

BD: Me plus Maiden in South America is going to be, oh, scary. [grinning] You can't believe it down there. It's unbelievable.

D: You've said that the band viewed the entire ED HUNTER tour as a warm-up for this album.

BD: We were kind of in training. From the moment we started the songwriting process, we saw the tour last summer as being just a small blip on the way to making this record. Something to cheer us up. The tour last year, in many ways, was the beginning of the campaign for this album. It started the ball rolling; it started winding people up. People realized, "If they can still do this live, can they still make a great record together?" It posed a question, and a great deal of discussion.

We deliberately stopped the tour. We could have kept on touring 'till the cows came home, but we kept the tour deliberately short. In fact, the promoter in New York was screaming for another show, and we said no. Next one will be at the Garden. (laughs)

D: You alluded to your solo career earlier on. How committed are you to Maiden at this moment? Of the 10 songs on this album, you had a hand in writing four.

BD: The trouble is, we've got five songwriters in the band. I'd be more than happy to write all 10 songs, but I think Steve might have something to say about that. (laughs) There's about five other songwriting ideas at least between me and [guitarist] Davey [Murray], and me and Adrian, and me and Jannick, that are all terrific ideas, that could all have been songs. But once we got 10 songs, it's like, "We're not going to develop this now," because then I'll be sick of it if it doesn't go on the record. Something won't be able to go on the record, and then it'll get used as a b-side, and it's too good for that. So, let's wait for the next album.

D: So you're thinking that far ahead? When will that be?

BD: Next year, after this tour, I should think there'll be a whole year minimum off for us. Then maybe looking at starting to write. But in effect, for the next couple of years after Christmas, there probably won't be any Maiden touring, or shouldn't be. But we may very well get another record together. The exciting part about this is after having done a record like this, I don't want to do another record like this with Iron Maiden. It would be nice to take the adventure a step further. That's gonna require sitting down and brainstorming and having a bit of time sitting back from it, waiting for the dust to settle. Everybody needs a battery recharge.

I'm really looking forward to the tour, but Steve's a bit fried, and he has been all year. He had a pretty hard time with the whole [ex-vocalist] Blaze [Bayley] issue, cause he was getting it in the neck full-on, and there was nobody else to carry the can. I think he was looking forward to having last year's time off, [but] he got cast straight back into the lion's den. He's really pleased with how it's going, but at the same time, he's really looking forward to having time off next year.

D: In that downtime, you'll have time to finish CATACOMBS, right?

BD: CATACOMBS is a rarities album. I was going to do it [in] September, but it's far too crazy putting it out same time as all this stuff. CATACOMBS is going to come out some time early-ish next year. Stuff like the original version of "Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter," right the way through to some of the unreleased stuff from the Keith Olson record, to a song called "Wicker Man," which is not the "Wicker Man" recorded by Maiden--it's what I did for ACCIDENT OF BIRTH, [a] completely unreleased track. Maybe some of the other rare b-sides, some of the extra tracks that made it to BRAZIL that didn't make it in the US. Things like that, Japanese tracks. Bring it all together on one album, and it seems to have caught the imagination of a few people. People think it's a pretty cool idea. I haven't heard anybody on the Web site going, "Oh, that sucks--it's a bad idea." Another reason for doing it next year, I will actually have time to sit there over Christmas and listen to the tapes and try to master it, re-master it perhaps, maybe do something a little special. It'd be nice to try and do a nice package.

-Still, BRAVE NEW WORLD obviously comes first for the genuinely enthused Dickinson. When I spoke with him, the album was still two months away from hitting stores, yet still very little was known about it. I asked about the cloak of secrecy.

"The Internet just blows all the drama," Dickinson said. "It's like a comedian--a comedian spends a lifetime getting all his jokes together, and goes on national TV, and suddenly everybody knows his jokes. The next day, he goes into the local theater, and everybody's throwing things at him, going, 'Tell us some new jokes--we heard all your shit last night!'

"My copy of the album, I keep it somewhere safe. I've heard people say that they would unquestionably steal it. People are nuts about this stuff, which is great." After listening to BRAVE NEW WORLD, we're reminded why.