Terrorizer interviews Bruce, Sep '98


Terrorizer: "He's running a little late," Sanctuary Music's ever-friendly press officer informs me. "He'll be here in half an hour or so." Great. Another thirty minutes of sweaty palms and heart palpitations. Okay Whealen, calm down. Deep breaths. Relax, it's just another interview. Except I can't, and it's not! This is a Bruce Dickinson interview! Goddammit, I've had posters of this guy on my wall ever since I was a kid, foot on monitor, fist in air, dubious fringe plastered against forehead, mouth wide open in a frozen, crystal-shattering scream. This is the man who fronted the best Metal band of all time (Iron Maiden), the man who recorded one of the best Metal albums of 1997 (Accident of Birth)... the man who slept in this morning.

Bruce: Ello, mate. Sorry to keep you waiting. Didn't hear the alarm go off.

Terrorizer: So he's human after all! Bruce Dickinson bounds into the Sanctuary boardroom looking for all the world like he has just rolled out of bed. Several strong cups of coffee later, and he's bouncing off the walls, air-guitaring to the CD-R full of unreleased tracks he has brought in to show off to today's interviewers. He says he can't decide which three to put on the special bonus disc that is to be packaged with the first edition of his new album, but he's pretty sure that 'Wicker Man', the tune we are currently rocking to, will make it.

Bruce: This one is a total Deep Purple rip off, don't you think? I love it! Dur-nur-nur-duh-duh...

Terrorizer: This is going to be easier than I thought. Bruce is one of the nicest, most approachable "rock stars" I have ever met. Which considering the highs and highs of his nigh-on twenty-year career in Metal is a pleasant surprise.

Paul Bruce Dickinson was born on August 7, 1958 in a small town in Nottinghamshire. Brought up by his grandparents for most of his childhood, young Bruce (as he preferred to be called) was always something of a loner. When he started boarding school he didn't fit in with the other pupils, who all came from much wealthier backgounds, but it was here that he fell in love with rock music in genereal and Deep Purple in particular. He also discovered that he could sing. From then on, he was always looking to join bands, and when he went to Queen Mary's College in East London his musical career began to gather mementum. Before long, he scored a gig in Samson, who had alreadly released an album (Survivors) and been branded one of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal's brightest hopes along with Saxon, Angel Witch and Iron Maiden. Bruce Bruce (as he was affectionately know by his band-mates and fans) recorded two albums with Samson, 'Head On' (1980) and 'Shock Tactics' (1981) before disputes both intenal and external tore the band apart.

Bruce: I think 'Shock Tactics' was fantastic. It was so much more of a ballsier album than 'Head On' and it sounds great even to this day. The problem was, by that time the management had sued us, we'd sued the management and lost, the record company had gone bankrupt ['Shock Tactics' was originally intended to come out on Gem Records but was passed onto RCA after Gems collapse], and that was pretty much the end of that.

Terrorizer: Around the same time, Iron Maiden's relationship with Paul Di'Anno was deteriorating rapidly, and so when Samson played the Reading festival in 1981, Steve Harris and manager Rod Smallwood were watching Bruce's performance intently from the wings. A few weeks later, he was the new singer in Iron Maiden.

The rest, as they say, is history. Bruce made five brilliant records with Maiden during the Eighties and two more in the early Nineties, preceded by a solo album (Tattooed Millionaire) but he had never quite recovered from the gruelling World Slavey tour of 1984/5 (from whence 'Live after Death' was culled) and found it increasingly difficult to continue. In 1993, he announced his departure and declared his intentions to pursue his solo career.

Bruce: When I did leave finally, it was with no clear idea fo what I wanted to do. I just knew that I wanted to try and do something. I could have carried on in Maiden, doing the same stuff or variations on the theme, but the point was that I knew that it wasn't stretching me. So I said to myself, 'Either I can meander along here or I can take a flying leap and take a gamble on obscurity.' Which is what it was. Let's face it: leaving any big band with a track record like Iron Maiden, AC/DC or Judas Priest is like leaving Heinz beans and starting to make baked beans of your own variety. People come and look at the supermarket shelf and they always pick Heinz.

Terrorizer: Does it bother you that no matter what you do your name will always be inexorably linked with Iron Maiden?

Bruce: No, not at all. No more than it should bother Ozzy Osbourne that his name will always be linked with Black Sabbath. Middle of the eighties, Iron Maiden, biggest and probably best Metal band in the world. Not a bad thing to have your name linked with, is it?

Terrorizer: Indeed it is not, but by the same token you've had to work doubly hard to establish yourself as a solo artist, haven't you?

Bruce: I suppose I have, yeah. It was an uphill battle from the word go, and I didn't help matters by doing all my experimentation in public. Which to my twisted way of thinking was a virtue because I thought, 'Oh, people will like hearing mistakes on the record because it'll make it interesting.' I was probably thinking too much from the point of view of an artist or a musician, because I love hearing flawed records. I like hearing things that don't work, because they're almost more interesting than the things that do. But that's such an introverted type of thing. That's not for general consumption. Most people assume that they're going to buy a record that is clear and flawless.

Terrorizer: Bruce's first two solo albums following his departure from Iron Maiden, 'Balls to Picasso' and 'Skunkworks', were far from flawless. The former suffered from Too Many Cooks Spoil The Broth Syndrome, having been recorded thrice with three different backing bands and producers, and a rather flat procuction. 'Skunkworks', meanwhile was perhaps too ambitious for its own good, being as it was a well-meant but ill-received attempt to blend Classic Rock with Nineties Grunge. Last year's 'Accident of Birth', however, was an Unrepentant Metal Album, seen by many as a long-overdue return to form for the Air Raid Siren.

Bruce: I was happy to do Metal again by the time I got to 'Accident of Birth'. I just needed to go and do some different things first. I couldn't have made 'Accident of Birth' after leaving Maiden. After years and years and years of living in Maidenworld, it was hard to know what was good and what was bad anymore, which way was up. Particularly in Maidenworld, because Maidenworld has its own little bubble of West Ham United and football and buses and the same people surrounding you. It's a very insular existence. Maiden fans are very loyal, so you come back every year and you see the same people who are happy to see the same thing every year. Which is fantastic if you like eating baked beans on toast every day....

Terrorizer: But you wanted to try some more exotic dish.

Bruce: Yeah, exactly. So I dicked around and tried something different and I spat it out ever time: 'Eeeeuurgh! Don't like that!' When I finally came to do 'Accident' it joined up all the strands of everything I'd ever done, from the early Samson years to early Maiden, and the latter part of Maiden to some of the elements of the solo stuff I'd done that I really liked. So what you got was a very spontaneous outpouring. It was like 'WHACK!'

Terrorizer: Did you have fun making it?

Bruce: Oh yeah, it was great! As soon as I came back and played the stuff it was really clear. I played it to people and they went, 'WOW! Well done!'

Terrorizer: The general consensus - at least round the Terrorizer offices - was that 'Accident of Brith' was the best Iron Maiden album since 'Seventh Son of a Seventh Son'.


Terrorizer: How do you feel about that?

Bruce: I take it as a fucking compliment! Who wouldn't? That's fantastic.

Terrorizer: Were you surprised by the reaction to it?

Bruce: I was delighted that people understood it straight away. I though, wow, that's great! I think it touched just the right nerve.

Terrorizer: And it came out at just the right time. Everyone was saying that Metal was dead or dying, and yet here you come with a totally uncool, totally unhip M-E-T-A-L record.

Bruce: That's what I liked about it too. I hate being mediocre. And to come out with a Metal record at the time when I did... People were saying, 'How could you do such a thing?' and I was like 'GREAT!' Actually to be a maverick again felt really good.

Terrorizer: Obviously you knew that you'd hit the nail on the head with 'Accident of Birth', so you must have figured it'd be a pretty good idea to do another Unrepentant Metal Album.

Bruce: Yeah, Unrepentant Metal Album, but not repetitive. That was the thing. And that was the challenge. The last one was an Unrepentant Metal Album, but it still had one foot in the Eighties. And we thought, okay, let's keep the same vibe, but not in terms of sound. Because that Eighties sound can be a bit flat sometimes.. If you listen to Fear Factory, their guitars are so fucking brutal! But a whole album of that style of playing it gets a bit monotonous, so we had to figure out how to keep it heavy like that without becoming monotonous. That was the challenge.

Terrorizer: And 'The Chemical Wedding' is the result. Recorded little over a year after 'Accident of Birth' was released, it boasts the same stellar line-up of musicians (producer Roy Z and Bruce's old Maiden chum Adrian Smith on guitars, Eddi Casillias on bass and Dave Ingraham on drums), but as Bruce himself states in the accompanying biography, "There begins and ends all similarity."

Bruce: I'd already made the decision that there were to be no acoustic songs, no power ballads, no big, commercial, loads-of-lush-harmonies-type songs, nothing twee. I didn't want any of that on this record. I wanted to make a really heavy album, heavy in every sense. It thought it would just be a good thing to do, because I wanted to surprise people. If we did another 'Accident of Birth' I would be disappointed. It would be Heavy Metal-by-numbers again.

Terrorizer: Which is exactly why you left Maiden in the first place, right?

Bruce: Exactly. 'Accident of Birth' - been there, done that. It stated in no uncertain terms, 'This is how far I've come to this point. And yes, thank you very much, I can still do it. Be in no doubt!' But we needed to move on from that. I've never done an album this heavy. Ever. This is heavier than anything I've ever done with Maiden, and in many ways it's more of a Metal album than Maiden have ever made.

Terrorizer: Strong words indeed, but all it takes is one listen to the album's Godzilla-like opener 'King in Crimson' to see that Bruce is right. We're talking Obituary-heavy here, the opening riff scooping lumps of flesh out of everyone in earshot. Ask Bruce from whence Roy and Adrian managed to unearth that mother of all guitar sounds, and he'll simply utter an evil chuckle.

Bruce: Some of the songs on this album have what we call The Molossian Guitar. A Molossian is this ridiculous dog which weighs about two hundred pounds. It's a fucking monster! Our guitar tech got given one by a friend to look after, and it wrecked his car. It totally ruined the suspension because it was so big, then it ate half the car from the inside out. He moved out of his house in the end because his wife was going to divorce him over this dog! So when we came up with this guitar sound we called it The Molossian Guitar. We took the D sting off a bass guitar and put that as the E string on a normal guitar and started with that, tuning the other strings in proportion. this guitar was just a fucking monster! At first Roy and Adrian were getting terrible hand pains because the strings were so heavy, but the sound...! We put it through an old Laney valve amp or something and it blew the roof off! People would walk into our rehearsal studio going, 'What is that sound?!' That's how our guitar sounds, mate. 'Yeah, what pedal is it?' No pedals. Straight into the amp. 'WOW!' It was absolutley ridiculous. It has low end, it has everything, and it just expands the sound enormously.

Terrorizer: It's not just the guitar sound that has got heavier. Thematically, 'The Chemical Wedding' is easily as dark and dense as most of what passes for Black, Doom or Death Metal these days. Though it isn't an outright concept album, the lyrics all have a certain red thread running through them: the mystical art of alchemy and the weird and wonderful world of William Blake, whose paintings form the basis of the album's artwork.

Bruce: The album started off being about alchemy, mainly because the name sort of preceded the album. I thought that 'The Chemical Wedding' was a terrific name for films and all that kind of stuff, and it was about alchemy. That was something I'd been interested in when I was a kid. I started doing a bit of research into it, and as I was doing the research, digging through encyclopaedias of alchemy and occultism and things like that, William Blake kept cropping up, his paintings and bits of his poetry. And it was in the sense that he used a lot of imagery from the alchemists. He was familiar with what alchemy was. So the album started off being about alchemy and what it ended up being about was alchemy and also parts of the vision of Blake. Because I started reading some of Blake's really heavy duty poetry, really out-there stuff, and I was like, 'Wow!' It was almost as if I felt like a bit of a kindred spirit in a way. So that was where the inspiration for about 50% of the album came from. The rest of it just dropped into place.

Terrorizer: Blake was a strange fruit, wasn't he?

Bruce: Yes, he was pretty out there. Without the aid of anything hallucinogenic, he saw all kinds of things. The album cover, which is a painting called 'The Ghost of a Flea', was actually something he saw on the stairs one day. A bunch of other people were hanging around and he asked them if they had seen it too. They went, 'Seen what?' So he drew it for them. They were trying to figure out what it was, and he just decided that it was probably the ghost of a flea.

Terrorizer: As you do...

Bruce: He had very, very strong opinions on things. He wasn't in the slightest bit fearful of taking on the head of the Royal Academy of Art and telling him that all his paintings were crap. He was an engraver by trade and made most of his money that way, jobbing. But he didn't get a lot of work because people would ask him to engrave things and he'd say, 'You want that engraved? It's absolute crap, it's rubbish! Whatever do you want me to do that for?' He was very feisty, very driven, and obviously a very talented artist. But in many ways he was very unfashionable in his day. For some reason I see so many parallels between William Blake and people who make Metal music and say 'Stuff everything else! This is what we want to do!' But what I like about him is that he didn't just justify it on the basis of stubborness or bloody-mindedness. I mean, he was stubborn and he was bloody-minded, but he went way further. He would go deep, deep, deep into his own psyche and pull it all apart before your very eyes. It was almost like he was ripping his guts out and laying them down before you, but giving each one a character and making it into a story. Which is fantastic. That's the sort of artist that I like, because you're seeing the world in a completely different way. You're seeing it through someone else's eyes. You're seeing a vision which only this other guy could see. And to me that's great art.

Terrorizer: The lyrics on your past two albums seem less personal than those on 'Balls to Picasso' and 'Skunkworks'. More like stories.

Bruce: I don't think that when you make lytrics into stories you necessarily make them less personal. In many ways the lyrics on 'Chemical Wedding', while they're not obviously personal, still have a very personal element to them. 'The Alchemist', for example, is about the physical process of alchemy, but where I associated with it was when I started thinking about Blake in the chorus and put words into the mouth of the alchemist. I tried to think of him more as an artist than some miserable old chemist. This idea that he had this single-minded devotion to something and that he actually didn't care about the rotten world that he lived in. The whole point of the songs is that he's throwing everything back in the face of the world. He's got his experiments, he's got his quest, he's got this devotion to light and the truth, and whenever people try and do shitty things to him, he's just like, 'Oh, you're so small and what I'm trying to do is so big. You don't even know it and I don't even care!' I just love that attitude because it's so strong.

Terrorizer: And, at the end of the day, kind of similar to your own, don't you think?

Bruce: Exactly.