Thursday, 31 January 2008
Bruce Dickinson [Iron Maiden]
I interviewed Bruce Dickinson by phone on the 26th of January, 2008. It was 3:00 am (25th of Jan.) in the UK and he had just finished a day of rehearsing for the "Somewhere Back In Time" world tour at the Pig Iron Studios. The interview lasted around 30 minutes, during which he namechecked this blog a record-breaking 68 times (see bold type) - Well done, Bruce!
CBL: Hello. Can I speak to Bruce Dickinson?
BD: Ah, yes, speaking.
CBL: Oh hi, this is Colin Liddell phoning from Japan.
BD: Oh, hi there. How are you?
CBL: Yeh, hi, I’m fine. I was supposed to speak to you yesterday, I think, and that didn’t work out, so I’ve got a few questions about your coming trip to Japan. Is that OK?
BD: Absolutely. Go ahead.
CBL: Right. So, first of all, you’re in the studio right now. What are you doing in there?
BD: Well, I mean at the moment, all we’re doing at the moment is rehearsing for the tour, and, in fact, we’ve been going all week, and we’ve pretty much just knocked off for the weekend, having a couple of days break, and then we just do one rehearsal Monday, and then that’s us all ready to go, y'know, we’re um… It’s all sounding pretty good actually, so we’re very pleased. Some of the songs we haven’t played for 23 years.
CBL: Yeh. So you’re having to relearn a lot of things?
BD: Well, we were, well, we were really surprised, um, the first day back into rehearsals, uh, we went through.. Well, actually, we went through… We managed to get through all the songs.
BD: So, I think everybody is so excited about this tour. We’ve… I think everybody’s been putting in a bit of work on the side. Eh, so everybody came pretty well prepared for stuff really. There was only the odd moment where we went ‘Oh hang on, how does that bit go?’ y’know, but it was really, really great, and it was very exciting. I mean some of the songs we hadn’t played together for a long time and, uh, y’know we’d really… y’know just… It’s one thing to think about it, um, uh, from a distance but actually to go and play those songs is so exciting.
CBL: How hard is it to kind of dredge up the old memories of the songs, the lyrics and everything and how they go?
BD: Ummm, well, I mean I, I got a couple of… I got a couple of CDs made up of the set that we were going do, and I just carried it around with me and played it, and sort of played it in the bath, played it in the shower, and then when everybody was out of the house, uh, I used to walk round the kitchen island and sing the set to myself. And just, y’know, remind myself of what the words were, because we don’t do any stuff like, er, these guys who use auto-cues or anything else like that, y’know. We actually remember the words – huh huh.
CBL: Yeh. So, your way of kind of bringing back the songs into your memory, it’s very similar to the way a lot of the fans would behave. I mean that’s the sort of thing they’d do. They’d listen to it in the bath. They’d sing it in the kitchen, whatever, as they’re going around their daily life.
BD: Well, yeh, and that’s exactly what you have to do, I mean, y’know, when you look down at the audience and everybody’s singing the words, erm, y’know you better make sure that you’re on the same page.
CBL: Hu hu, yeh. That would look back, yeh. Now I want to ask you why have you… Why has the band decided to, eh, focus on the 80s material again?
BD: Well, eh, one reason… About two or three years ago, uhm, we said we would, um… We had a very successful tour last year in which we played exclusively new material, start to finish, on one set. We played the whole of the new album, um, and, uh… What always worries us, certainly, is being lumped in with some of these other kind of nostalgia acts that go out there.
BD: And that’s, y’know, that would be absolute death for us. Em, y’know, we go out and we do these tours as, y’know, celebrations of stuff we’ve done, um, but in between times we do full-on album tours in which we play, by and large, almost exclusively new material, um, and what we find by doing that, by sandwiching the tours in that way, we actually increase our fan base and increase the excitement value of what we do.
BD: Constantly. We’re in a stage now where, ah… We have, well, in actual fact, we have never played to as many people as we have done, as we will be doing on this tour, um, in as few shows. And it’s just extraordinary what’s going on. I mean in terms of like, y’know, South America, we’re playing to 50,000-seats sold out stadiums. In Scandinavia we’ve got, we’ve sold quarter of a million tickets across six shows.
BD: Yeh. It’s amazing. We were never ever this big at any point in our careers at all.
CBL: Yeh, and so this, this vast new audience that you’re accessing with this tour, they’re going to be getting all the 80s stuff, like, full frontal, so they might get the impression that Maiden are quintessentially an 80s band.
BD: Uh, well, no. Eheh, quite the opposite, because, in actual fact, none of these kids were born in the 80s.
BD: Um, most of these kids have become Maiden fans, um, with “Brave New World” and “Dance of Death,” and the last two or there studio albums that we’ve done, so they’ve grown up with the material, but they’ve also bought the back catalogue but they’ve never ever heard the band perform it.
BD: So for them this is legendary.
BD: Yeh. They haven’t… Y’know, they weren’t even born in the 80s most of these kids that are buying the tickets to see the band, so, for them to have the opportunity to come out and see us playing this stuff, for them is absolutely extraordinary. Um, and they know that this is probably a one time opportunity for that to occur, I mean, because we won’t be going out and playing a lot of these songs again ever.
CBL: Yeh. It is a one off thing? That’s for sure, yeh?
BD: Well, no. This is… Bringing back the Powerslave tour to all these various territories, yeh, this is a one off thing. We won’t go back to a lot of these places again with this show. I mean one or two places we are gonna have to go back. We’re already making plans to go back to South America because there have been riots in several countries because we’re not playing there.
BD: Um, in Venezuela they found out… The audience discovered the address of the local promoter and police, the riot police had to be called because they besieged his house…
CBL: What were they actually demanding? Demanding more shows or…?
BD: We didn’t do a show. We’re not doing a show in Venezuela.
CBL: Aha, alright. That’s why.
BD: They’re demanding to know why, why he doesn’t book a show in Venezuela.
CBL: Aha, so they have to go across the border or…
BD: I don’t know why he didn’t book a show in Venezuela but I’ve got a feeling we’re going to have to do one.
BD: In Mexico City we’ve booked a stadium, a 20,000-seat stadium, um, and, uh, two weeks ago they had to move it to a 48,000-seat stadium.
BD: We’ve sold that out now.
CBL: Yeh, it’s certainl,eh… This tour’s taking on gigantic proportions and the other thing…
BD: Yeh, this is not, y’know, this is not, y’know, like old men coming out of the woodwork to go and see the band.These are young kids, um, who have been brought up with the band, who’s experience of the band, y’know, is either anecdotal or it’s new material, by and large, and, um, this stuff is just taken hold. I mean, we we’ve hardly advertised this tour. I mean…
CBL: It’s sort of just … It’s done it by itself virally, or…
BD: Yeh. This is word of mouth. This is a million and a half people… This is like an uprising of a million and a half people round the World going to go and see Iron Maiden.
BD: A band that you can’t see on MTV or VH1 or TV Network or the X-Factor or hear on the radio or anything else like that.
CBL: Can I also ask you about… You’re taking your own airplane this time as well.
CBL: Um, it’s kind of interesting because you you’re actually flying it, right? But…
BD: Yeh, I’m flying some of it. When I’m not working with the band, I work for the airline, who we’re leasing the aircraft off. I work for the airline as an airline captain, yeh.
CBL: Uhuh. Yeh, I heard you took Rangers down to Israel for a football match. What was… Why did you, why did you… I heard you volunteered for that.
BD: No, I didn’t actually. I mean, I, it just happened to appear on my roster.
BD: I didn’t know it was Rangers. It was just… It was a three-day trip to Israel, so I thought ‘that sounds like fun.’
CBL: You’re not a fan of Rangers or anything like that, are you?
CBL: You’re not a fan of Rangers, are you?
BD: I’m not a fan of any football team. I’m a rugby fan.
CBL: The other, the other lads in the band are West Ham fans, aren’t they?
BD: Not all of them. Steve’s a big West Ham fan, um, but, uh, yeh, I don’t think anybody else is particularly. He just has his his, his thing, em, because he used to be a junior for West Ham, so it’s kind of… West Ham is kind of his religion, but I was never, I was never particularly into football when I was a kid, so I’m, eh, pretty neutral. I’m fairly immune to football. I thought the Rangers guys were great. They were, y’know, fun guys to have on board the aircraft, and we went to see the match and I discovered that I was wearing the wrong coloured hat [line interference] Hapoel Tel Aviv, yeh, Hapoel Tel Aviv, we were seated in their stands [line interference] with this bright blue hat on. [line interference] It was kind of amusing because all these people sat there in their red hats turning around sort of going ‘Are you a Rangers supporter?’ I went ‘Uhhh, no, not really, I’m just a supporter of humanity in general’
CBL: Yeh, football fans are really…yeh…
BD: [line interference] they couldn’t quite figure out that somebody at a football match that was just, uh, curiosity, but hey there you are, y’know.
CBL: I think it’s interesting you, em, you’re into different sports from Steve because, y’know, people often think there’s a bit of a tension there, or you have different philosophies about the music. I mean, one thing I saw on the DVD with “A Matter of Life and Death,” you’re talking about, eh, different approaches about writing the music. I mean, you’re obviously, because you’re a lyricist, you think the words should come first, and you were also talking about Steve’s view that the music is the most important thing because, y’know, a lot of the fans haven’t actually… A lot of the fans around the World don’t actually understand English well enough to get all the nuances.
BD: Yeh, I mean, and, and that’s just stuff you have to work through really. [line interference] I think you come to a series of compromises to make the stuff sound great, y’know, um, but if you’re writing songs in English, y’know, and things like that, it’s like, y’know, if you’re a playwright, you don’t worry about the fact that people who don’t understand English might not get what you’re writing about. You just go ahead and write and do what you do, um, so, yeh, I mean I think… Basically I think all the ingredients and all the various personalities that comprise Maiden over the years have come up with some very successful stuff, so, y’know, I just think like y’know, yeh, we all have differences, but all the differences combine to make us successful.
CBL: Yeh. I’m interested in, y’know, em, where you’re coming from as a songwriter, because you, you do start with the words and um… Words do suggest certain emotions and emotions lead into music and so that’s one way to write music. I think it’s a more organic and honest way to write music in a way, coz if you just start with an abstract piece of music…
BD: Well, I wouldn’t necessarily go that way. I think it just depends, y’know… Some of it depends to an extent how you, y’know, how your brain’s wired up as well, and different people have different strengths and different weaknesses, y’know, um, and I think the good thing to do is always to respect other people’s strengths and to know your own weaknesses.
CBL: Yeh. So it’s a case of you and Steve kind of complementing each other in a way by having different strengths.
BD: He’s good at a whole bunch of things that I really have no interest in.
BD: Yeh, um eh, I’m interested in the end result and I’m interested in, y’know, the emotional input and things like that, y’know, and Steve is absolutely fascinated by twiddling knobs and, y’know, the minutiae of everything. Y’know, I see that as being ‘Well, hey, y’know, OK, fine, I guess somebody has to do that job.’ I get really very bored with all that. He absolutely adores it, and so, y’know, between the two or three or four of us, y’know, whoever’s writing all the songs it all gets done, and that’s great, um, y’know. It is, it, it is complementary. We do work together as a team. We’ve been together now for God knows how many years. We all know our little foibles and, y’know, we all know when to, y’know, when to push and when to back off, y’know, in terms of getting our ideas across.
CBL: Umh. Yeh I’d like to ask you about the kind of inspirations behind your lyrics because just like, y’know, heavy metal lyrics, eh, of its very nature, it tends to go for the extremes and the kind of hyperbolic thing, the big impressive sounding imagery. It’s like a constant attempt to invoke the spirit of the sublime, y’know, in the original sense that Edmund Burke used it. Em, so you, you, y’know tend to write about the great themes and metaphysical things, rather than kind of mundane day-to-day kind of kitchen sink stuff. How does your sort of song-writing inspiration eh fit within that context?
BD: Um, yeh, I mean, I…ehhh… I mean, metal’s a pretty, y’know… Metal’s fairly melodramatic kind of stuff. Um, y’know, Metal is in many respects, if you were to take it and compare it to, uh, other forms of, y’know, other forms of performing, it would be at the very least musical theatre and it could be like really absurd opera, y’know. And all of those things tend to take a fairly broad brush approach to things. They want to make a bit impression.
BD: And metal is a bit like that, y’know. Um, although, y’know, and there are shades within it as well, y’know. Add all the Hollywood bands. And I don’t think they do necessarily do go and deal in, uh, timeless classic themes. They do deal in the minutiae. The trouble is it tends to be the minutiae of used condoms, um, so it’s a bit raggedy and y’know, it’s all about the sleazy sordid side of life in graphic detail. Maiden have never gone for that, y’know. We’ve figured that people want to go and explore that kind of stuff they can just… There’s plenty of places you can just go and do it on a Saturday night down the pub, y’know. We’ve always decided that we wanna tell stories…
BD: And they don’t necessa…y’know. And stories may just be kind of open ended. They might just be, uh, fairly non-judgmental retellings of adventure stories that you can set to music, or sometimes, y’know, yeh, they might a little… They might be something we’re trying to put across in the song, but by and large we tend to tell stories. They are, they are stories. They’re either stories and we either pinch them from legends or we pinch them from history, or we glue two bits of legends together, or we plunder a bit of Shakespeare and we turn it into something else. So, that’s what we do.
CBL: Is that very different from what you do as a solo songwriter with your solo albums, coz I, I believe they’re a lot more introspective, aren’t they?
BD: Yeh, they are, um, I, yeh. I suppose I, I still indulge in, y’know, the desire to go and tell stories, but I don’t necessarily have to tell stories with a plot.
BD: Y’know. You can tell stories of a journey.
CBL: It’s more stream of consciousness sort of thing?
BD: Yes. But you can tell the story of a soul’s journey, or something else like that, I mean, there, there’s… The album that I’m the most proud of, I suppose, is the one I did that was based on, partially based on, but mainly inspired by, um, the works of the poet William Blake.
BD: And that was called “The Chemical Wedding,” which was also an illusion to alchemy and the way the soul changes through the years, uh, and of course because Blake was himself was certainly an alchemist, was almost certainly an occultist, who would have had esoteric knowledge and it’s infused in his poetry, and, so, it was an attempt to just try and tap into bits of that imagery and bits… I mean I’m not claiming in any way, shape, or form that it’s fit to wipe Blake’s arse, most of it. It’s just my attempt at some kind of homage to Blake, because he’s an inspirational poet who I think embodies the soul of much of what is termed rock and roll now.
CBL: Yeh. Um, so it sounds like you got a lot more, kind of, artistic freedom when you’re working solo. And when you’re with Maiden, there’s other expectations that come into the equation. Is that how you see it? Is it a bit more of a tighter place artistically?
BD: But having the ability to just do what you want all the time with nobody else, with no checks and balances, isn’t always a way to make the most, um, y'know, successful pieces.
CBL: Yeh, it’s good to have something to push against sometimes.
BD: Yeh, absolutely. Y’know, some of the best things… I mean, I’m always reminded of, y’know, probably the most memorable bit that the composer Rossini ever wrote was the William Tell Overture. Um, but by the time he wrote that, he’d pissed up all the money, that he’d been paid. He’d been commissioned to write several pieces. He was an alcoholic and he spent it all on drink, so, em, his sponsor finally sent the heavy mob round, kidnapped him and locked him in a room and said you’re not getting out until you write something that’s any good, and miraculously the following morning, out popped the William Tell Overture.
CBL: Yeh, yeh, it’s just the pressure of… A lot of good things are written in prison, as they say.
BD: Yeh, absolutely. I always say, y’know, if you gave somebody… If you said, ‘Oh folks, listen, here’s, um, a limitless amount of money and we’re going to pay you loads and loads of money and all you have to do is just sit down and come up with something really, really brilliant, but we’ll just keep paying you money until you do. It’ll never happen.
BD: But if you say ‘Here’s a prize and the person who comes up with the most brilliant thing gets the prize,’ I’m sorry there’d be geniuses coming out of the woodwork.
CBL: Yeh, this kind of leads into an obvious line of questioning. Like, you’ve obviously with, sololy and with Maiden, you’ve already achieved a lot. You’ve got enough money, all your needs are taken care of. What keeps driving you, driving you back, to, y’know, keep on going, to keep producing stuff?
BD: I get bored.
CBL: So, it’s boredom mainly, yeh. That figures because you’re a bit of a Renaissance man. You seem to be going in a great many directions with, y’know, the various things like writing novels, sword fencing, em presenting the, eh, show on the BBC, etcetra.
BD: Yeh, I mean, life is, y’know, to me… I can’t understand why we’re put on the planet unless it’s to push against boundaries. Y’know. Otherwise what’s the point of being here?
CBL: Yeh, so it’s like…
BD: And, y’know, um, um, um, money and all the rest of it, y’know… As long as, y’know, as long as you’re not, y’know, panic-stricken about starvation or shelter and things like that, y’know. And I have a sort of pleasant enough life in the ‘burbs, y’know, em and, y’know, I can… It’s not like I spend vast amounts of money on stupid crap, y’know, but I do, y’know… I’ve got plenty of money to be comfortable, but money doesn’t make me comfortable. What makes me comfortable is ideas and having things to do, and creating things. That’s what makes me feel comfortable and fulfilled, um, and, y’know, that’s what excites me. When I get a new project or, y’know, a set of ideas or something to create, that’s what excites me.
CBL: So, it’s not the love of the crowd, like a lot of people suspect with performers?
[warning bleep that my phonecard’s credit is about to expire]
BD: No, it’s actually… No. It’s not, um, it’s not the love of attention from lots and lots of people. But it is a love of attention. It’s a love of attention from your peers, and it’s a love of attention from people who respect your ideas.
CBL: Right. I’ve got just one last question. Eh. Do you remember RIFF RAFF magazine from the 80s?
BD: Oh God, yeh, a long, long time ago. Great magazine!
CBL: You must have met our editor Mark Crampton…
BD: Oh, Mark, yeh sure. We did some great interviews. How is he?
CBL: Still rockin'. I'll tell him you were asking...Anyway, I've kept you too long. It's been nice talking to you and good luck with the tour and I hope to see you when you get here.