Date : 07.2000
Source : Ill Literature n° 19 (merci à Chris)
Interview de Tom Bejgrowicz

When a band as classic as Iron Maiden goes through a reformation like they have with the re-joining of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith, as well as a 1999 world tour and the recording of a brand new album, say the least, it’s no small undertaking. In fact, it’s quite massive and you just don’t attempt to do it “on the fly”, if you may. You have a plan. A plan to write, to create and to record an album that more than lives up to the name “Iron Maiden” and the status that that name holds. I sat down with Bruce at the Portrait/Columbia offices in Los Angeles back in March to discuss exclusively that very plan. The one that has brought forth their latest album, Brave New World.

When did the band first get together to write and create the album?

We had a gameplan for the record, as well as when we wanted it finished. We worked backwards seeing as how we had a tour in the middle of the whole process. What a great thing if we could sit down and get all the fundamentals of the songs down in the months before the tour. We all shacked up together in Portugal with all sorts of acoustic guitars and tape recorders. We hopped around to each other's houses and just wrote things and scribbled down ideas and lyrics. This was far more stuff than we could ever use. If we were to develop every idea to its fullest that we had come up with then we'd have three albums’ worth of material. We kept these ideas in a very raw state, but the ones we thought were very promising we started working up into real songs with lyrics and the whole nine yards. We then all set up in a room in a circle and basically did one song a day. Somebody would say, "it's your turn tomorrow," and you'd give it your shot. You'd bring your best party piece, play it to everybody and then we'd learn it. Someone would then go, "I've got a part for the middle section which sounds cool," and from there that's pretty much how all the songs came together. We got to the point where we had a "master cassette" version, nothing fancy mind you, this is a 20 year-old cassette player with a little mic on the front of it and we simply put it in the middle of the room. I think Adrian brought in an ADAT at one point and by the time he'd set up all the wires we were all bored! The key to songwriting is to keep the spontaneity because that's all there is really. After a while of this we went off and did the Ed Hunter tour and never played or listened to those songs again until after the tour.

You stepped back from them basically?

Exactly. We had them all on tape, they all existed somewhere and I had scratch lyrics for them as well. After the tour we ended up in a huge rehearsal room and at this point we already knew we were going to record everything "live". "Live" as in there's nothing that's faked that's only going to be thrown away and replaced later on. Everything is the real deal and we'll only try to do it in one take.

So you recorded song by song and not instrument by instrument?

Song by song, 1-2-3-4-go! We rehearsed them to the point where you could basically go out and gig them. We got them so tight that we'd go in and bang them out twice a day, or when we got bored. It was to the point where we were ready to go into the studio in Paris. The first day [producer] Kevin Shirley, who never really heard the material, showed up was in the studio in Paris on the first day.

There weren't any pre-production sessions done?

No, none of that crap. We did what we wanted and always have. Well there's a lot of focus these days on "crafting" songs. This doesn't seem to fit into the Maiden plan. We've never done that! I've been quite fortunate as I've never had to do all that with any album, ever. The only exception was the Samson album Shock Tactics where the producer was like, "let's focus on what the bass drum is doing". Who fucking cares what it's doing! Does it rock?

In your case you don't want to over analyze it, right?

Absolutely. So Kevin came in on the first day and they were loading up the gear, getting tones and sounds and the next thing I find out is that they were all ready to track that very night! All the sounds and tones were set-up that quickly and we laid down "The Wicker Man" the very first day! The studio was great, Kevin's a great engineer too and things sounded incredible right off the bat.

Was there a short-list of producers the band and you were looking at?

We had about four guys who we were interested in. We talked to them one at a time. One turned us down and the others we had dinner with and talked about things. And then we went and saw Kevin and he was certainly the most earthy of them all. We quizzed him like, "On the spot then, how are you going to make Iron Maiden sound great?" He looked at us and said, "I saw you the other night in New York and you sounded fine to me. We plug you in live and that's what we do." We all sat there and thought that there must be something wrong here, this is too simple. He was absolutely right though and it was absurd for Maiden not to have worked this way in the past. But you have to have somebody who's worked like that in the past. He also had this monitoring system that he brings along for the whole band so that we all have 8-channel monitors in front of us. Fucking brilliant. No more bullshit about, "Can I have a bit more of him or him" and therefore each of us gets what we need, sound-wise.

How was all of this recorded?

The album is analog mainly because it sounds better. For all the tekkies out there who might think digital sounds great - it sucks! It's like a great oil painting or a watercolor next to a piece of art that's computer generated.

Why work so hard to emulate something when you have a great way to do it naturally already, right?

Exactly, it just sounds better. With having said that, digital is great for manipulating and moving around different pieces and everything. However, it all goes back to analog and mastered on 2" analog tape. That was the process. We worked in the studio from 12 - 8 p.m., 5 days a week with weekends off. No overkill or late night fingernail biting sessions or white knuckles or whatever. No bug eyes with that, "we've been in the STUDIO" look, like being in the studio's a bad thing!

Which studio were you in and how did you end up there?

It was a great studio in Paris. We looked at three before choosing William Tell. Effectively we wanted a studio which had a really huge live room with sufficient places where we can get sound separation as well as lots of glass so we could all have eye contact. William Tell is an old art-deco cinema converted to a studio and the drums went right in the middle of what once was the auditorium. The bass went into a cupboard, as usual! I had a little vocal room and I could look right at Nicko [McBrain-drums], and Steve [Harris-bass] stood to the right of the kit. All three guitarists were in the same room with some walling in between them. Even when one guy had to fix some guitars or do the occasional overdub, we had all three plug in and do the whole lot at the same time so you kept the live vibe and energy going strong. In terms of my vocals, everything went down live with only a few pieces beefed up here or there. We ended up doing four or five takes of each song that we'd keep and then I'd go in and say, “can I have one or two more passes at this one.” On those tracks we'd have six or seven vocal takes to choose from. I expected after they began to piece together the guitars with the bass and such all whilst building up the song's "bedrock", as it were, that they'd then call on me for the "lead vocals pain and suffering redo time", you know, bring your aspirins! But they simply said, "no, you're done." I couldn't believe it but I listened to it and what we all laid down so far sounded really good. One of the first things I noticed upon hearing the record is that's it's more "rock" and that it relies on emotion and playing, less on layering and effects. Absolutely! It's got a real attitude and that was the idea going in.

Is that a real string section on "Blood Brother"?

I cannot tell a lie! No, it wasn't. There's a guy in New York who we sent the music down an ISDN line from Paris. He twiddled around and sent it back to us through the ISDN again! In fact, I came in the studio one day and there was Steve talking into a little mic and I thought, "what the hell are you doing?" He was actually recording his suggestions and instructions onto a DAT to send down the ISDN line with the music to this guy. It was cool but I thought, god, this is soooo weird!

Which, if any, of the new songs proved to be difficult to bring to life?

"Blood Brothers" actually, that was quite tough. Steve has a very strange sense of time, it's almost a whim instead of a time. If you're into strict time keeping, it won't work. To get guitarists to feel what's in his head, if he doesn't get the feeling, we'll keep working on it until he does. Unless you can zone in on what exactly he's looking for, you'll be missing the whole vibe. "Blood Brothers" is Steve's track in its entirety and that had its tricky moments.

How many tracks will make it into the tour's live show?

My guess is five or six, at least. For sure "The Wicker Man", "Ghost Of The Navigator", "Brave New World" and "Blood Brothers".

How difficult is it, after all these albums, to create a set? At least on Ed Hunter the tracks were picked for you!

Yeah, exactly. On Ed Hunter the fans did all the thinking for us, thank you very much! We're going to have to sit down and have a think through all of this. It's NOT going to be easy.

You look at Piece Of Mind with "Flight Of Icarus"...

Oh yeah, and "Die With Your Boots On" and "Where Eagles Dare". Wow! And of ourse, what song do we open with? "Aces High" is great, but hell. Some people were thinking about dropping "The Trooper". I thought, oh my god, "The Trooper" has been there since day one. Nothing has been confirmed but at some point though, it's going to have to get brutal with some songs being cut that are considered by many to be classic or essential Maiden.

Any final plans for the stage show?

I bloody hope so, we're starting touring relatively soon! The stage show is going to be bigger than last year's tour, obviously. We knew we were going to tour this year so we held back a bit last time to make even a bigger impact this time around. Most likely you'll see some burning wicker men at the back of the stage, a walk-on Eddie, as well as other guest Eddie appearances. Even in the bath the other day I had an idea for the show during one of our new numbers that would be easy to do and turn people's heads a bit! We're going to have tons of pyrotechnics, as well. Fire regulations permitting, of course! You see half-hearted marketing-driven reunions with Sabbath and Kiss every year now. But Iron Maiden seem to be on a mission with this reformation. We're not into that shit. There are THOSE bands and then there is Iron Maiden.

So where does the burning desire come from?

We're just not like other bands. Other bands are proud to be part of the music industry or of the musical trends themselves. We try and exist outside all of it. Obviously we have to be part of it in some ways in order to get records out but we don't have to partake in its bullshit. We love music and we're purists in that sense. Getting back together, doing the tour and the album isn't anything less than the pursuit of excellence. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing properly! Otherwise don't do it at all. You see, I've got my little global cottage industry going with my solo career now and if I got back with Maiden and it sucked, it would totally obliterate all that I've worked for on my own as well as Maiden's name and reputation. So let's face it, this thing better be fucking great!