Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris
Interviewed By Gueniviere on July 22, 2000
Before I get to the meat of the most recent interview I did with Steve Harris (the first of several others was done back in early ’82), perhaps a little background is in order…
You know, it has always been said that you never really forget your first impression. And, certainly, when it comes to Steve Harris, that statement rings true for me. To this day–nearly 19 years after I first met him (totally by accident) when he happened to stand in front of me at a rock club–I still have trouble thinking of him as a “rockstar”, or a heavy metal icon, though he is of course, in his role as the founder, mastermind, and uncapitulating general of–arguably–the most influential and successful heavy metal band of all time. (Certainly, Iron Maiden redefined and brought new–and lasting–life to heavy metal as the leaders of the onslaught of the NWOBHM, and have remained vital and immensely influential in the genre worldwide to this day.) Still, because I first met Steve at the very beginning of the band’s watershed Number of the Beast tour, I had no idea “who” he was when we wound up having a long chat about music we liked. (He didn’t ever make it clear that he was “in” Iron Maiden, and I didn’t know any of the names of the members of the band or what they looked like up close at the time.) All I knew was that this was a pretty interesting person who was a big music fan with diverse tastes, and liked to discuss and analyze it–just like me.
So, now–and ever since then–in my mind, when we talk, I always like to think of him as just that same “regular” guy–the Steve I first talked to back then. And, really, he is. Which is not to say that he’s just like any other guy you might run into on the street. An obviously intelligent, thoughtful and sensitive person, yet also a unmistakably strong personality (if often soft-spoken), Steve is the kind of guy that you would be glad to know even if he had never formed Iron Maiden and had, instead, remained in his original job as an architectural draftsman back on the East End of London. (Though a person with his kind of gumption and natural leadership traits certainly would have moved up the ladder in whatever vocation he was in.) Also funny, considerate, and down-to-earth–always—its no wonder that he and the rest of the band attract fans that have similar qualities. But, ultimately, that other Steve Harris, the one that is revered–almost worshipped–by every bonafide heavy metal fan I’ve ever talked to, still always seems like someone else to me. And I don’t think he’d want it any other way.
In any event, the following interview (sans chit-chat) via phone from Steve’s hotel room in Spain, just before the end of the current tour in Europe, is somewhat (frustratingly) abbreviated because the band’s interview schedule got all messed up that night. (The Sony call center in the US had the wrong hotel number!) Steve called me himself just before the interview was scheduled, urgently asking me to contact Sony to see if I could help get the matter straightened out. (More Stateside interviews before mine had already been missed, and the band had a gig to play in a couple of hours!) Finally, after some initial conversation where we tried to make sure the whole interview mishap was under control, I got to the heart of the matter (yet also tried to keep it brief out of consideration to others waiting their turn).
So, did you just get into the hotel room?
STEVE: “No, I’ve actually been here since this afternoon–I was the first one here. Bruce and Nicko got here about an hour ago, and Dave, Adrian, and Janick–they’re still on there way here, so they’re probably going to have to go straight to the show.”
You were all coming from different places to Spain?
STEVE: “Well, what it is is that we were all flying in from London–and there’s like four different London airports–and we all live near a different airport!” (laughs)
And didn’t you just have some dates that were cancelled (due to Janick Gers’ injuries in Mannheim, Germany). . .?
STEVE: “Well, we’ve resumed and played three more shows since Janick, you know, fell off the stage. But we actually did lose three shows, yeah. But that’s been almost a week ago.”
So you’ve been going home in between when you have a day off?
STEVE: “Yeah. We just played in San Sebastion and Madrid, then we had two days off, so we went home. And we’ve got tonight and tomorrow night, and then that’s it for the European tour. We’ve got like, six days off before we go to Canada.”
So, how’re ya doing now–how’re you feeling??!
STEVE: “I’m okay, Yeah!”
You had that unexpected break, though, so you’ve probably had time to recharge your batteries.
STEVE: “Yeah, I must admit, in a weird sort of way, it was a blessing. . .from a selfish point of view. But obviously, it was bad news for Jan–he got really badly hurt. And also, obviously, we lost three shows. . .I don’t know whether we’re going to be able to reschedule them for November, because the tour carries on until mid-November now.”
Yeah, you don’t have enough of a break to fit them back in right now.
STEVE: “No, it’s not possible to do that?So, the only chance is to do ‘em at the end, but whether we’ll do that or not, I don’t know. . .”
And those were pretty big shows. . .
STEVE: “Well, all three of ‘em–we were headlining festivals. So, the thing is, all of the places we were playing, they were all strong enough markets for us to headline on our own without anybody else anyway, so maybe we’ll just go back and do them on our own anyway. . . In Greece, for example, the album was #1 there–the last three albums have been #1 there–so we could play there on our own anyway. And also in Sofia, Bulgaria, it was the similar kind of thing. The album has been top 5 in Germany, also, so I don’t see a problem in going back and doin’ ‘em on our own. . .”
‘Cause they must have been pretty disappointed, I’m sure. . .
STEVE: “Yeah (softly), I’m sure, yeah. . . . .”
(Interruption from Sony call center–are they listening in?–to get the Dave/Adrian/Janick interview schedule sorted out.)
Well, I guess that’s taken care of! (laughs)
Well, where were we? (laughs)
STEVE: “Oh, we were talking about the shows. . .So, I mean, we’ve been on the road since the 2nd of June, and the tour’s been fantastic—I mean, it’s been like a summer festival tour. Obviously, the festivals have been on the weekends, and during the week we’ve been doing indoor arenas with just us and one or two other bands. It’s been kind of a mix of shows, really.”
Didn’t you also play at Roskilde. . .?
STEVE: “Yeah, we actually played there the night before it happened. . . and there were no problems when we were there the night before. . . I mean, we’ve played Roskilde before–we played there a few years ago–and it’s a very well organized festival–it’s like over 70,000 people. But it’s been like a traditional summer festival for years, like a Reading festival, or something. So, it’s kind of strange, really, you know. . .”
You’ve never really had anything like that happen, but does it kind of worry you sometimes??
STEVE: “Well, we’ve been touring for 20 years, as you know, and we’ve never really had any problems like that. . .So, I don’t know. . .maybe we’ve been lucky, but at the end of the day, it’s obviously just a terrible thing?I guess it could have been caused by a lot more bad weather overnight, a lot more rain and stuff.. . I don’t really know exactly what happened, to be honest, but it’s just a tragedy, you know. . “
Well, it did look weather-related, so it could happen to almost anyone I guess . . .
STEVE: “Well, the weather has been bad in Europe this year. At all of the festivals we’ve been doing, most of them have been in pretty shitty weather, really . . .”
But has it still been pretty exciting?
STEVE: “Oh, Yeah! Yeah! The tour’s going really well. You know, European fans are used to a bit of rain! (laughs) It’s not gonna put them off, you know. They’re not going to leave a festival because of that! But you know, we’ve done many festivals in the past where it’s been crap weather as well. So, it’s nothing new, and they just get on with it and enjoy it, you know. When we played the Dynamo Festival–it was the second show on the tour, actually–it was absolutely pissing down throughout the show, but the fans didn’t leave, and they were fantastic!”
Well, we don’t have too much time to go into all the detail I would like right now, so I’ll just get to the point–which songs are you playing live off the new record?
STEVE: “Well, we’re doing quite a lot of the new stuff. We’re doing “Brave New World,” obviously, “Wicker Man,” “Ghost of the Navigator,” “Blood Brothers,” “The Mercenary,” and “Dream of Mirrors.” Basically, the set is a couple of hours, and ‘alf of it is the old stuff, and ‘alf of it is new–or later–stuff, which might upset a few people over there . . . but so be it!
STEVE: “I mean, I think in the States–more than anywhere else–people tend to want to hear more of the old stuff, because they maybe haven’t kept up with what’s been goin’ on, really, with some of the later years of the band. I’m not saying that’s everybody–because obviously we’ve got a lot of hard core fans that have kept up with everything. But I still think there’s quite a lot of people who haven’t kept up with it . . .But then they should have done, shouldn’t they?”
What you’re saying is true, but my feeling is that they’re just gonna be happy with whatever you play!
STEVE: “Well, hopefully, yeah. . .but we’ll see!”
We don’t have time to go into detail on each of the songs on the album right now, but I must say my favorite is definitely “Blood Brothers.”
STEVE: “Most Maiden albums are like that in the sense that everybody seems to have a different favorite on each album, so that’s a good sign. But that song has been singled out quite a few times by various people. . .But its healthy because, as I said, everyone seems to have a different favorite.”
I think that may be because, although you obviously have a definite style and sound, there’s a lot of variations on that on all your records, and some people tend to like certain things more than others. . . For example, some people like the fast, driving ones. . .
STEVE: “Exactly, yeah. I mean, I know some people who sort of like ‘Mercenary’ and ‘Fallen Angel,’ and other people prefer stuff like ‘Blood Brothers’ and ‘Dream of Mirrors’. . .and things like that–the more technical ones?”
It’s not the first time, of course, that you’ve done songs that have the epic themes, or the soundtrack feel to them. . .. You’ve been doing that for quite a long while. Still, “Blood Brothers” is another one that especially sounds like something from a movie–in fact, I could envision a movie made from the lyrics and the mood of that one song alone. . .
STEVE: “Yeah. . . “
You must have thought about doing something like that?
STEVE: “Well a couple of people have mentioned things like that. . .I mean stuff like “The Sign of the Cross” and “The Clansman” from the last couple of albums. Also people have mentioned that it could be film themes, and that kind of stuff. But I mean. . . As you know, the way I write. . . is kind of influenced by film themes and stuff like that, which I love anyway. But we haven’t really been approached to do anything like that. . .So, I don’t know, it’s weird! The only one that was actually written for a film is “Bring Your Daughter;” you know. That was written for Nightmare on Elm Street, I think. But that’s the only one that was actually written for a purpose. . .”
I’ve seen a lot of movies where your music would have fit in really good. I mean, I know you’re obviously the creative type. . . have you ever thought about doing some kind of writing outside music, or having a script done from a song?
STEVE: “Well, it’s a time thing, really. Because we write the songs–or whatever–for the albums, and we don’t really write to order, so it’s kind of difficult. . . ‘Cause usually the film will want an exclusive track, or a track that hasn’t been out yet, so timing-wise it’s maybe difficult for that kind of thing. . .”
Yeah, because you’ve been busy enough as it is–you’ve got your hands about as full as they can get right now!
STEVE: “Exactly, yeah!”
I wanted to clarify something about the credits on the songs. . . I know Bruce wrote the lyrics on ‘”Ghost of the Navigator” and “Out of the Silent Planet” . . .
STEVE: “Yeah. . ”
But who wrote the lyrics on “Brave New World” and “Wicker Man?”
STEVE: “Bruce did, but . . .well (softly). . .I kind of. . . I wrote the choruses first . . .and he sort of based them around that. . . I mean, I wrote. . .whatever. . .Well–you know.”
An you probably wrote the lyrics for all the others. . .
STEVE: “Yeah, I wrote all the others, yeah.”
Some people have been calling the album “progressive metal.” You’ve heard that, I’m sure.
STEVE: “It is sort of ’70’s progressive influenced, as was Seventh Son and, also, X Factor as well. I think it’s probably got more in common with those two albums than any of the other Maiden albums, really. But I think musically, it’s an extension or a progression from the last two, definitely.”
I didn’t know whether you really cared what kind of label they put on it.
STEVE: “I don’t, really. . . But I think it’s fair to say there is a ’70’s
progressive influence, without a doubt, yeah. But a fair few songs over the years have been anyway.”
Well, yeah. . .I guess it would only be somebody who hasn’t tuned in for the last fifteen years that would think to the contrary . . .
STEVE: “Yeah, that’s right! . . . (pause). . . But there are a lot of people in the States who haven’t tuned into it for the last fifteen years, I’m sure of that. When we went over there for Ed Hunter thing . . . there were lots of people . . . and all they were talking about was Piece of Mind and Powerslave, and a lot of them didn’t even know the stuff from even Fear of the Dark, or Seventh Son, or whatever . . .”
I think that may have to do with a lot of different factors. But you know, they are playing the video for Wicker Man on VH1 now . . .Do you have any others?
STEVE: “No, not at the moment.”
Are you planning on doing any others?
STEVE: “We probably will do another one, but I’m not sure which one yet.”
Well, anyway, there was a period there when. . .Well, you still never get much radio play, really, even on some of the harder stations–so basically it’s a problem with exposure, really. And, as you know, we don’t have as many music papers and things like that. . .
STEVE: “It’s about time we started to get a fair bit of help, isn’t it, really?
STEVE: “I think we deserve a bit by now?”
Well, there certainly should be some RESPECT for the amount of time you’ve been around and going strong, and the major influence you’ve been! . . . But I think more people would have tuned in here over these past several albums if it had been available to them. I mean, okay, if you’re not hearing it on the radio, or the TV, and you’re not seeing it in the music magazines, it’s hard for most people to know its even out there, you know.
STEVE: “Yeah. . .”
But this one is getting more of a buzz about it, of course. I mean, you’re probably doing more media, aren’t you? [It should be noted that the band was only just beginning to do US press at this time, since they were still doing European press up until this time–so the amount of media demand in North America was still unknown to Steve when we spoke.]
STEVE: “Well, I suppose, yeah, probably a little bit more. Well, I mean, you know what it’s like in Europe. . .You know, it’s been pretty par for the course to do all that kind of stuff anyway. Even when Bruce wasn’t in the band–you know–we were still doing very well. But–yeah–with him back in the band, it has definitely gotten stronger. And I think in some other parts, it does make it stronger, without a doubt.”
Well, I know I’ve already been seeing more in the media here–even appearances on TV, interviews, news clips, or whatever–that I hadn’t been seeing for the last 10 years or so.
STEVE: “Well, that could possibly be down to the fact that we’re now signed to a company who really believe in us. We’ve had problems in the past where we’ve signed to a company [in the US] where shortly after we got signed to them, the people who signed us immediately left or got sacked, or whatever, then they bring in new people who don’t really give a shit about you. Whereas we’re with Sony now, we’ve got people who really believe in us and who are really behind us–and it makes a big difference! As you know, in the rest of the world we don’t really have that problem, because we’ve been with EMI since day one, and they totally believed in us anyway. . . And in Canada, we’ve been with Capitol the whole time. . . so it’s only been in the States, really, where we’ve had a major problem with that kind of thing.”
Well, you’re right, if people are really behind you, they are going to go that extra mile, there’s no doubt! But another thing is that–sociologically speaking–people in the States are often totally dependent–and their tastes are shaped by–the media . . . too much! I don’t think the radio and TV have ever been quite as influential on the metal scene in Europe and other places as it is here. . .That’s just my opinion, of course!
STEVE: “Well, yeah, that’s probably true, yeah?”
So, to skip around, you did the production with Kevin Shirley. . .and the production is really good in my opinion?.really a clear sound.
STEVE: “Yeah, it was really good. He was great to work with, you know. . . Totally the right choice. We just had a gut feeling about him, even before we met him. Then, when we met him and worked with him, he just proved us right, basically.”
Were you actually shopping for producers at the time when you got him?
STEVE: “Well, he was the guy I wanted to work with, just from other stuff he’d done, you know. So, basically, as I say, I think its proved right, really. When you always go by your gut instincts, you’re very rarely wrong, you know.”
Yeah, you are always better off going with your gut instincts. And it does sound great. . . But of course I’m always listening to it with the headphones on!
But it is the kind of album that you have to listen to quite a few times to really appreciate, ’cause you can’t take it in all at once, you know…
STEVE: “Yeah, I think most of our albums are like that anyway, though some more than others. But yeah, I think you have to listen to them quite a few times. . .”
So, what records are you listening to now?
STEVE: “To be honest with you, I haven’t had time to listen to hardly anything!”
Yeah, I kinda figured you were going to say that!
STEVE: “I really liked the last Type O Negative album. . . but there’s not very many albums I’ve really been listening to in their entirety, to be honest. Just odd songs here and there. I mean, I really haven’t had much time. . . because I don’t listen to stuff when we’re recording, and then we’ve been on the road solid since, and it’s been quite a heavy schedule. . .so I haven’t listened to much, really. You know, the radio’s total crap over here!”
I do know what that’s like; its weird when you really love music but you don’t have much time to listen because of other things you have to totally concentrate on at certain times. [Although, in Steve’s case, he’s involved with his own music on a daily basis!]
STEVE: “Exactly, that’s right. I mean, I bought a couple of albums . . .I bought The Ladder by Yes–like months ago–but I still haven’t played it!”
STEVE: “I just haven’t got around to listening to it yet! (laughs) I mean, I will do. . . But also, it means carrying more gear around with you. . .That’s one reason why, as well. . .half the time. Because we’ve been traveling with Bruce. . .and you tend to have to travel light a lot at the moment, so that’s one of the things that’s had to go!”
Oh, so you’ve jettisoned the CDs, have you?!!
So, how do you like flying with Bruce anyway? I was kind of surprised to see that you were doing that because I remember from years ago that you had a thing about heights, and didn’t care for flying, either!
STEVE: “Yeah, I wasn’t mad about flying. . . I’m still not a mad lover of it, but I must say I appreciate it a lot more now after flying with him. I’m not as worried about it as I used to be.”
Well, do take care!