The Interview With Bruce Dickinson / April, 2000
DGI: Was this (rock-N-roll stardom, your legendary status) your dream or something you picked up along the side of the road?
Bruce Dickinson: Yes, um, I think when I was a kid I use to sit in my bed at night and draw pictures of big stages and draw big big stacks of equipment on the sides and drummers and things and imagine this whole big thing and think, "Wow, yeah, I'd really like to have shit that looked like that." Yeah, I guess I was always into the idea of a big show, and read about these guys that, like, had a swimming pool in the back of their airplane or something crazy and shit. I'd think, "Yeah, that'd be kind of cool, you know?" But at the same time the only thing that justified that was being an artist as well, but just being a rock star, when I found out their were things like, ah, publicists and people hanging out with other stars, you know, I was like, "Why are they stars? They don't do shit. They're not musicians. They don't matter." I mean, the musicians are the people that , that are... There are these other people that are these hangers-on. I've never understood these hangers-on and how they got famous, like groupies. Why are they famous? They just fuck people. Why does that make them any good? The only reason you should be famous is because you're an artist not because you are famous. And so that always stayed with me and because we actually did end up being famous I realized that being famous is no big deal, actually. Like anybody can be famous. Really. You just have to go do something really dumb and your famous. In fact, America's full of people who get famous all the time.[laughs]
DGI: Like our presidential concubine for one.
BD: Yeah, you know, so I was thinking being famous is not necessarily what I want to be. And increasingly as music has progressed, year after year after year, I've realized I'd be quite happy not being famous. Ahh, if I didn't have to be. As long as all those people still showed up and I could make records, then being famous is no big deal.
DGI: Keeping in mind the idea of fame, the solo career, was that to try to get away from Iron Maiden, to try to create on your own? What are the advantages and disadvantages of Maiden vs. Solo work, and how does each fulfill you?
BD: When I started with a solo career I had no massively clear idea what exactly it was I was trying to do. In a funny sort of way that's why I did it. Um, if you say "why'd you leave?" I'd say, "Well, I was a little bit bored and stale, and I want to do something different," and I say, "Oh what?" I say, "Well, I don't know that's why I left to find out what it is." [laughs] And people find that verrry hard to deal with. The idea that you'd actually take a big leap into the dark and say, "Oh, I wonder what is going to happen next?" It's along the lines of a quote from Henry Miller that made me feel that way. Well if he says it's okay it must be all right to do then. "All growth is just an unpremeditated leap in the dark with no idea of where you are landing," said Henry Miller. I thought, "Wow, yeah, he was cool." However, I've been around. During the process, the process of doing my solo thing, actually, by a turn, I suppose I came to an initial period when I was still coming down from being part of the whole Maiden thing, and when other people were interested in talking with me primarily because I had just left the Maiden thing, then their was a next period, of like a back lash, for me, when I got really angry that everybody just defined everything I did in terms of what I did when I was with Maiden. So I thought, "That's it. I'm just going to be nothing to do with it." And I'd just take that little effigy that was me and I'd burn it. There you are.
DGI: Like a wickerman?
BD: [laughs] Kind of, yeah. And I really got so angry at that side of me that had been successful all those years and everything. And I was like, if being that person means that I'm locked in a prison like this then I'm going to destroy that person. So I set out to destroy myself. [pauses] Now, that's maybe not a very healthy scenario here, you know, you can see what's building up. In the process I did a really cool record which a lot of metal heads really didn't like. Which of course, they weren't supposed to because I was really trying to destroy myself. There's a strange internal logic going here, but it's actually a fucking good record, "Skunk Works," but it also didn't have the desired affect of everybody suddenly going, "Ahh, yes! We get it. You're trying to destroy everything and at the same time do something new." And that's basically what people didn't want to know. So that's when I was fairly close to... I came verrry close to just quitting completely. And by now I had convinced myself there was nothing worthwhile, worth doing anymore. The metal scene was onto the whole Fear Factory thing, and I was like, "I guess I'm just one of these sad old has-been vocalists. Yeah, I can sing a bit but it's all old stuff and it's all nostalgia and I'm not into nostalgia at all. So, I'll probably make one more record and then that'll be it. I'll quit" So I started preparing myself mentally for that and then Roy Z. called up and played me a track which became "Accidents of Birth." I went out to L.A., and I thought, "You know what? If this is the last record I ever make, then I'm just going to have some fun." And then you know what? I'm really enjoying this. This again. This is metal, right? With this album I'm not breaking any desperately new ground. Do I care? No. I'm having fun. On "Accidents of Birth," I rediscovered that it was fun doing this stuff. I'd come clear out the other side of the tunnel. When I did it because it was fun, because it was enjoyable, because it was a great vibe on the record everybody picked up on it. Everybody went, "God this is great. This is really cool stuff. why, you should do more of it." And then all of a sudden I started thinking of things that I could do. New things that I could do. New directions I could go within metal. It was a bit like having a period of... I'm not a depressive person, but I think it was like having a real period of, like, a musical depression, and coming out of the whole thing. And so, what I got out of all that, out of my solo stuff, was a realization that I could experiment within the genre, that I was a decent fucking singer, that I did have something to say and that my musical life was not worthless. In other words, I got my self image back and I got my pride back and I got myself respect back. That's what my solo stuff has given me. And, then clutching my self respect and pride and all my credentials in one hand, along came the offer to rejoin Iron Maiden. And I thought, "You know, if we did get back together, then what could I contribute that's going to make this really fucking excellent? Because if it's not excellent, then it's not worth doing it. Because I've just spent seven years of my life shoving shit up hill for most of it, and gotten out the other end of it with quite a respectable global cottage industry of my solo career in which I'm free. Okay, so the hotels are cheesy. Okay, so it's pizzas after the show and not nice bottles of wine and all that bullshit, but you know what? I'm my own guy. I'm free to do what I want, and I've got a great audience that loves what I do. So for me to go into the avalanche of publicity and everything that's going to be Maiden, which will probably eclipse my solo career, if not for good then certainly for a good year or so, year and a half. If I'm going to do that, I better be pretty sure it's worth doing because otherwise, bang goes my self respect again and no way do I want to lose that again ever because it was a horrible time of my life. So what I get out of Maiden is the pleasure of rediscovering my past, and reinterpreting it again and projecting it to a new audience with pride and with respect. Also I get a chance to completely reanimate us, this band and project to where it really rightfully belongs. Right at the top of the pile again. And that is something I thought's really worthwhile doing.
DGI: Yes, and now there is whole new generation, practically, of kids who have never been able to experience Maiden live with you with them.
BD: Yeah, this is another interesting thing. In the eighties when Maiden was formerly big we were the hardest thing around. We were like Fear Factory and Tool all rolled into one. It was the day of triple platinum big-hair bands, and Maiden would go out and people would be like, "Oh, that Maiden, Th-they're really heavy." But now, first bit of a new century and Maiden are still heavy, but Coal Chamber and all this kind of stuff in some ways with the atonal guitars and the kind of yelling and the screaming vocal stuff, like, "I'm Really Angry!!!" That stuff, in it's way is heavier in some senses, but Maiden, still, is incredibly powerful. And I think with the new record it's going to surprise a lot of people how powerful the band is without resorting to those kind of techniques. Without having to fuck with our sound that much. What we've done is just be ourselves on this record and it's the power of the musicianship and the songs and the personalities in the band. It's a dimensional power. With Maiden there's a depth I don't always here with some other bands. Some bands have scary wall paper, but it's only a thin sheet of paper. With Maiden it's the whole fucking twelve inches of wall behind it. You delve deep and there's no cracks.
DGI: And Maiden has been angry. You go way back and you've had songs dealing with the exploitation of indigenous peoples. It wasn't necessarily political ground but you made bold statements in their time.
BD: Absolutely. We've had all our fair share of statements most of which have been roundly ignored. Although had we been Bono, no doubt we've had been made the patron saint of somebody or other by now. We don't do songs for the benefit of gossip columns, we do songs because we think they sound cool. Because we really believe in them.
DGI: Jumping topic, I've heard you were an avid fencer and was wondering if that was a meditative form that helped you focus on music or performing?
BD: Yes, it is actually. In it's own way it does get you into a nice state of mind, albeit you are fighting somebody. And it is intense. It really opens your head up inside like playing really fast chess.
DGI: And what is it that you find to be the greater payoff, the process of writing /creating or the thrill of performing?
BD: [pauses] Writing. I really, I think, ultimately everything for me exists, the world exists in your own mind or your soul or somewhere like that. And the way I see the world is totally unique to the way somebody else sees the world. I have no idea how they see the world unless they present it to me in the form of art or pictures or music or words for a kind of a look between one mind or soul and another. Because of that, the moment of creation, the moment you create a song it's like the moment a little light bulb goes on. you've got the essence of something or the spark of something. You really see a picture of the whole thing. That moment is priceless and that to me... The thing is it's priceless but it's also exhausting in some way. It's a bit like shelling a very very very annoying nut. You spend fucking ages picking away at this little thing and then suddenly right at the middle is this horrible little nut. You think holding it, "I did all that work just for that?" But at the same time you think, "Wow! It's great finding it in the end. So at the same time it's satisfying and frustrating. It's like me. You work very hard but basically have the desire to be very lazy. [laughs] Yeah, people say, "Oh you must be a work-aholic?" Yeah, but I want to be lazy. I really really really want to be lazy. But some days I can't be lazy. There's really no way around it when you begin creativity, if you want to create something that's really cool. In life a lot of your decisions are made for you and there's other people to sweep you along, you can be swept up by the audience and everything but your creativity, it's your own creation. Or maybe you borrowed it from somebody else for awhile. Can I put it this way? Creativity is everywhere. It's just your job to observe it, and use it. And that, the ability to observe is very rewarding.
DGI: I see. What do you do for yourself when you want to treat yourself good?
BD: [pauses] I'd go and get some fiendish shiatzu, accupressure or whatever it was, person to come and jump on all my bones and straighten them all out to such an extent that I'd be walking into walls for the rest of the day in a complete hypnotic daze. And after that I'd go down to the sushi bar. Eat lots of raw fish, and drink huge amounts of beer. [laughs]
DGI: What do you feel you and Iron Maiden have stood for over the years? What's kept it all together?
BD: What it comes down to is the initial vision that Steve had because he pretty much started it because he had a vision of a band which could be dramatic and blood thirsty and also melodic, like melodic piracy. And when I joined the band, the dimension that you get these big dramatic overviews of space, man, civilization, songs about classic novels, that kind of stuff. I think that's still the inspiration for the band to have the ability to do more than cheesy rock songs and actually tell great stories and myths. That's what the band is to me. With Maiden you have a vehicle that has it's own sounds and its own characteristics. Which is nice, [Bruce's cell phone rings] O, shit. [pause for phone] Okay, I was talking about the fact that the Maiden sound is very characteristic and that from one point of view could be construed to be rather like a strait jacket, and it really depends on what mood you're in that day. Is the glass half full or half empty? And certainly for me on this new record the Maiden thing is definitely an optimistic portion of it. I went into it thinking it's going to be challenging, but it's going to be fun to write songs within certain parameters. You can squeak the parameters out a teeny bit. It never bothered the Rolling Stones having that whole R&B thing they stuck with the whole time. Nobody ever came up to them saying, "We wish the Rolling Stones would sound like Trent Reznor." It's sometimes harder but hopefully more satisfying to reinvent yourself even though you don't lose your identity. The art of all this is avoiding both extremes. The basic belief we have in the band is that Maiden is such a worthwhile concept and we do our stuff so well and we have worthwhile things to say and we don't have to go down on the bended knee to other styles of music. We don't need to change what we do, we merely need to do it more effectively and hit people over the head with it even harder. So they get it even quicker. And frankly we're not scared of anybody.
DGI: Excellent. It looks like they want to bring this to a close so I'll ask the last question which is a simple one: If you're gonna die, how'd you wanna die if you're gonna die? And you're gonna die.
BD: Oh, yes! With your boots on most definitely! Most certainly.