Sunday, 20 February 2011

Janick Gers [Iron Maiden]


In February, 2011, I interviewed Janick Gers, one of Iron Maiden's three guitarists. The band was in Singapore on their The Final Frontier World Tour. The telephone conversation lasted about 15 minutes with the Maiden axeman managing to get off 39 "y'knows," at a very respectable rate of 2.6 per minute.
Iron Maiden arrived in Japan on the same day as the Great Tohoku Earthquake, with the result that both their gigs were cancelled.


JG: Hi, Colin.

CBL: Hello Janick.

JG: How ya doing?

CBL: So, how’s the tour going?

JG: Tour's going great. We just started. Em, The Final Frontier tour started back in June before the album came out, so this is an extension since the album come out, setting off around the world so, yeh, we started in Moscow, which was about minus seventeen and now we're in Singapore for a gig tonight, but, yeh, it's going great.

CBL: So how does, em, switching from sort of sub arctic temperatures to kind of tropical climate affect the way you perform?

JG: Well, it doesn't effect the way you perform, it effects the way you… Well, obviously you're travelling – it took us about 15 hours to get here. There's a kind of… You've got to get yourself used to the jetlag and get yourself twisted round again, and obviously, y'know, if you're out walking in minus fifteen, and you're out walking in snow [garbled] near eighties or early nineties [Fahrenheit]. It is different but you've just got to get used to it. It doesn't really affect how you perform, which I think is we try and give best show that we can every night to whatever, wherever country we're in. We give the best we can.

CBL: Yeh, um, speaking of the, em, speaking of the long flights and time and everything, this is also, um, the longest Iron Maiden album ever.

JG: I think it is, yeh, I mean, we've got so many ideas. There's six writers in the band and we're all bringing ideas in, so we never run dry of ideas. And the stuff we left off, y'know, that we didn't record, I mean, I brought in an hour's worth of stuff and everybody brought lots of stuff in, and not all of it gets used, so there’s just so many ideas within the band, and, um, there's no… It's like a piece of string, there's no set length. You play until you feel you have a complete album there, and then you put it all together and see what you have, and we kind of write around the songs and put things in, and, y'know, it just came out like that, and I'm very proud of it. It was a great album. It went to number one in twenty-eight countries, which is the most successful Maiden album chartwise we ever…that we've had to date really so, um, we must be doing something right, y'know. Really happy with it!

CBL: Yeh? Yeh. It’s just it reminded me a little bit of the, y'know, Harry Potter books, y'know, because they started out quite short and they kept getting longer and longer…

JG: No, I think…

CBL: …so…

JG: …originally at the beginning, y'know, y-you couldn't put more than about forty minutes on an album anyhow.

CBL: Yeh.

JG: Um, if you look back to the Beatles, they probably have thirty minutes, sometimes only twenty. You were limited by the technology. Well, the technology's changed now. If you look at everybody's albums, you'll find, y'know, they're at leas…round about well over sixty minutes, wherever you go, so the technology's changed a lot and it enables you to do more music and to expand themes and, ur, try different tapestries within the framework of what we do.

CBL: One of the things about Maiden is there's a lot of, uh, creative input from you. You were just saying you brought along an hour of stuff and, em, only a couple of songs from you were used. What happens to all the stuff that you bring in that doesn't get onto the Maiden albums?

JG: It kind of goes in your room box, it, it, y'know, sometimes it's not full songs, it's just basic ideas, y'know, and everybody brings them in. Everybody brought loads of stuff in. Steve had boxes of stuff. Y'know, you bring ideas in and what works gets on it. Sometimes you think this is really good and it doesn't quite fit in with what we’re doing, y'know, it might be in a different strain. It doesn’t quite work.

CBL: Yeh.

JG: And so you have bits and pieces lying around all the time. You, you'll often have hundreds of ideas and songs kicking about, some of 'em complete – you might have twenty or thirty completed. Some of them in bits and bobs and you put them together, y'know, at various times in your career. That’s music, y'know, you're constantly… It, it's kind of organic. You're constantly having ideas and having… Eh, we do a lot of travelling, we travel to different countries, y'know, we go… We're coming to Japan. We're in Singapore now. You take all those cultures in and you regurgitate them in the music. You can't really help it. It effects how you play. It effects how you visualize your music, so all of those things help you play.

CBL: Well, that, that's very interesting. Could you maybe give me a bit of an example of, of how some of the cultural influences you pick up along the way, eh, feed into, eh, your music?

JG: I think it just does. Y'know, I'm a human being, y'know, everything I see and touch feeds me personally in some… And then I like, y'know, every book I read, every piece of information that I gleam from wherever I am in the World enabled me to write a certain way and it doesn't… You can't put a finger on it and say, like… I suppose you could. You could pick certain riffs out and say, "Well that’s got an Eastern flavour, that's got this flavour," um, but often you'll just have… It's a thought, y'know, you'll have a thought about something and you want… Say we go to Brasilia later on in the tour. We spent a good time in Brasilia last time we were there, and some of the archi-architectural stuff that's going on there, which was built between the fifties and sixties, is incredible. Y'know, just looking at that stuff makes you think in a different way and that, that kind of… You interpret things in the music. Even sometimes without knowing it. It's kind of poetic licence.

CBL: Yeh, that's kinda… Brasilia's very kind of modernist architecture, Le Corbusier, that sort of thing, isn’t it?

JG: Yeh, I mean it's incredible. Y'know, things like that are going to influence you musically, so that's just the kind of thing.

CBL: We're talking about the songs you've had the most input on, on this album, I mean, I was listening to The Talisman, which is a song I really like. Could you tell me a little bit about how that got going?

JG: It was one of the things I brought in [unclear] a real rock n' roll edge kind of song, and Steve came in with some ideas for vocals, for a story about the talisman and it just went on from there. These things build and build, and we ended up smoothing things around that didn't coming out. We've been doing it live for this part of the tour, so hopefully you'll get a chance to hear it.

CBL: Yeh. How has it changed live from what's on the album?

JG: It should be exactly the same. When we do the album, we tend to go in live and play together. Y'know, we don’t layer it off, like a lot of bands do.

CBL: Yeh.

JG: We actually go in and we play it together. We might overdub and put little bits on extra, and I might, y'know, have three guitars going at once in certain sections, but the, the actual immediate song as we play it is played live, so, when we come to play them live, they're not that much different really. In fact, I wouldn't have thought they'd be any different.

CBL: Yeh, from what you've said, though, it sounds like you define yourself essentially as a live band. Would that be right?

JG: Yeh, I do, and I think a lot of bands, they go in the studio and, y'know, and they use click tracks and they layer the things off, and what comes out isn't what the band sounds like. What comes out is what the producer makes the band sound like, so when they go out live they don't have the impact maybe that they have in the studio. I think it's quite the opposite with us. When we play live… We're a live band, and one of the…probably the most exciting live band it's possible to see. Got an incredible live show, and that involves lights and the things, and the various production things we bring with us too, but it also involves the six of us on stage, and we try to get that. That's what we're after when we do an album. We try to capture that live essence, and put that onto the digital domain, and that's a very hard thing to do. Not that many people can do it, and, um, I think what happens, when we go out and play live, the songs do change slightly, but because we played them live… On the album, y'know, they're probably a bit more laid back, but when we tend to play live they tend to be a little bit more, em, biting, probably because the crowd is there, and there's all these other things that are happening, which makes the song, sometime, take a different twist.

CBL: Yeh. Now, em, with, eh, with like three guitarists, eh, y'know, and a lot going on at the same time. Don’t you sometimes kinda tread on each other's toes? I mean, like, you might wanna play something and somebody else might wanna play something, and stuff like that, because most bands don't have three guitarists. That must throw up its own, eh, selection of problems from time to time.

JG: Well, firstly, y'know, I played with the Gillan band for many years and I was just the only guitarist, y'know, and I know I can play just by myself in any band, and I know that Adrian can do that too, and I know that Dave would fit into any band as the main guitarist, so the first thing you do is throw your ego away, and then you start looking at how can we make Iron Maiden sound bigger and better, and it's a case of being very subtle, a way of playing between ourselves, and being able to step back and let other people move forward, and having like, just creating tapestries within the songs and trying to make songs sound better for having the three guitarists, but on the other side of the coin as well, when I did stuff like Tattooed Millionaire with Bruce which is the solo album we did…

CBL: Yeh.

JG: …that very first track had eight guitars on it. Y'know, when you play, I'm playing highs and playing lows, and dropping themes in there, I'm playing, em, lots of different inversions of chords, and when you come to do it live and there's only you, you have to pick which one you're going to do and you can't create that sound you had on the album. You have to create a different sound, and, y'know, if you listen to Jimmy Page with the Zeppelin stuff, he did the same. He would have to look for, y'know, the harmony to use that would make the song sound right, but with us we have the three guitarists, so, as I said about Talisman, y'know, I put about six guitars on the middle section.

CBL: Yeh.

JG: There's plenty to choose from between us three which one plays what, and we never tread on anyone's toes because there's just room for all of us. We make the room by playing different themes and we all have such different styles, it makes the band sound bigger, it doesn't squash it, y'know. That’s the feeling we get on stage, whether that comes across in the mix is another thing. It depends on the guy on front.

CBL: Yeh.

JG: But, no, I never feel, y'know, squashed. I’m quite happy to take a step back and push other people forward to make the band sound better, and that’s the trick – it’s not guitar frenzy. We’re not trying to be the three best guitarists in the world. We’re trying to make Iron Maiden sound better than any other band.

CBL: So talking about this kind of idea of a collective and, like, throwing away your egos and, uh, a kind of talisman for the whole group…

JG: I never said we threw it away. It's still there…

CBL: Well, just push it to one side, yeh?

JG: Yeh.

CBL: But, em, to talk about a kind of collective thing and a talisman for the whole band, that, like, raises the issue of Eddie, and I’m quite looking for a bit of a Japanese angle here, and I was reading that he was inspired by a head hanging on the side of a Japanese tank, Is there…Well, would you be able to comment on that, or kind of fill in the details on his origins?

JG: No. All it was about a joke. I mean I wasn't hee…I've been with the band for twenty years now, but it…There was a joke going around about the guy having a big head, y'know. It was just about the joke and I think they used the joke as a head on stage. And then it became… It grew bigger and they used to throw stuff through his mouth onto the drummer, and Ed became bigger and bigger and took on its own identity really. And it's fantastic really, because we don’t have to be on the album covers. We can use Eddie, differently every time, and it means we can kinda get out and about and not be bothered too much by it and, em, it's a great thing to have. Y'know, we can change the imagery throughout the band with each album.

CBL: Yeh, but without losing the identity, yeh?

JG: Exactly, exactly, and also we, y'know, we don't have to stick our faces. We're not a cabaret band. We don't want our faces on the cover of everything, and it's a great way… It's an identity for the band. Y'know, it was brought about by a joke that was going around England at the time, way, way back. But you'd probably have to ask Steve or Dave. They might be able to be more informative.

CBL: Yeh, I was just…The thing I heard was about the, the illustrator, Derek Riggs, and he was inspired by a head he saw in a documentary, which was sort of hanging on the side of a Japanese tank.

JG: Well, you'd have to ask Derek about that.

CBL: Yeh, just wondered if you knew about that.

JG: I mean before he was involved, it was, y'know, the Eddie Head was used by the band.

CBL: Yeh.

JG: I think they used it way, way before they had an album out. It actually came from a joke about a head that was kicking about London at the time.

CBL: Yeh.

JG: Just [unclear] another thing.

MANAGEMENT: Hey Colin, I’m going have to ask you to wrap up.

CBL: Oh, OK, right. Eh, just one question?

MANAGEMENT: Yup. Do it.

CBL: Now the album title, Final Frontier, em, it's sort of got a kind of science fiction space connotation.

JG: Yeh, that's right.

CBL: Can you sort of tell me where you're aiming at with this concept?

JG: Well, no, it was just the title track, the first track on the album, y'know, the… There was that kind of space concept and it gave us the idea to use for the tour, and it just kind of fits in with the album. It felt good. It felt good with the, em, title. It gives us a lot of imagery. Um, it’s a great song. We're doing it on the tour and, y'know, it all came from there.

CBL: But going on tour is a bit like going on a tour across the universe, isn't it?

JG: Well, it certainly is. Yeh. [laughs] We're heading out for the final frontier! We're doing a lot of different dates on this tour. We're in Singapore now, which we've never done before. We're going to Jakarta, which we've never played before, and Bali.

CBL: Yeh, you're number one in India and places like that. It's just like all these new markets.

JG: Well, it's fantastic. And it's such a thrill to play to new people, so we're very, very excited and we're looking forward to coming to Japan.

CBL: yeh, I'm looking forward to it too. Thanks a lot, Janick.

JG: Thank you very much. Cheers.

1 comment:

Svensson said...

Funny how 50-60 yeard old rockers can live on and rock on with integrity undamaged. I surely didn't see that coming when I listened to 80's metal in the heydays.