PART 1: Bassist Steve Harris
How did you come up with the idea for “Rime of the Ancient Mariner?” It’s obviously derived from the Colderidge poem of the same name, and it’s just as obviously one of the most unusual songs you’ve ever done – or that I’ve ever heard!
< ?xml:namespace prefix = o />
Steve: Well, I read it in book called The Book of Melody of Verse. That was a book with poems by with poems by Keats and Robert Burns, and people like that, and it was just one of the books we had to learn about when I was at college, and it all stuck in me mind every since, really.
Well, that story’s got a pretty deep moral to it, too, doesn’t it?
Steve: Yeah! … It does.
And a lot people here [USA] would probably never have read that or known about it, because they don’t teach that in school here much anymore …
Steve: Well, perhaps they will now. (laughs)
I bet they will! Although I don’t know that many people here now would have the patience to sit down and try to understand it … and you did re-do it in a way that makes it much more accessible.
Steve: Yeah … Mind you, it’s interesting, I think if they read it, but it might take a little sussing out I suppose …
I’ve heard tell that Bruce was freaked out when he saw how long it was – was that true?
Steve: Yeah. (laughs) Well, see, originally I thought it was only eight minutes or something like that, but, when we actually timed it, it was nearly 14!
Did you do the lyrics first for that?
Steve: No, mainly I’d write the music, and already I knew what melody lines were there, so I had to fit the words in with all the melody lines afterwards, you know?
Um-humm. Well, you have told me in the past that you usually do things that way – try to fit the lyrics around the melodies. But I still wondered on that one because of the way the music and the lyrics fit in so well with all the various mood changes in the song. And the moods you evoke musically, fit in just precisely with the lyrical content, too …
Steve: Yeah …
You know, obviously that’s a dead serious song … And this whole album seems to be very serious on every song, really, which is a bit of a departure from your previous four albums in that those always tended to have a tracks here or there that had a rather humorous elements to them …
Steve: Yeah …Yeah. I mean, we have done tongue-in-cheek songs before, like “22 Acacia Avenue” but, with this album, it wasn’t a conscious effort to be serious or anything, but it just turned out that way.
To me, all the songs also seemed to have a common thread, too, which maybe wasn’t a deliberate thing either; I’m not sure …? But the one thing I noticed that they seemed to have in common is that every single one of those songs deal with death in some way.
Steve: Yeah! … Well, maybe it is … I never really thought of it like that …
Well, when I say death, I don’t mean they’re necessarily about death itself, but at least about confronting the possibility of it. … But, ironically, that actually makes it more about life and valuing life… Because, if you have to confront death, it tends to automatically make you think about the preciousness of life, you know?
Steve: Yeah! Life and death – yeah …
Yes! So, that actually wasn’t a conscious thing?
Steve: No, it wasn’t actually. But, when you point it out, I suppose – yeah! I never really thought of it before!
Well, I don’t usually tend to get that over-analytical, but it was something I couldn’t help but notice, because I always read over all the words … And that was on Bruce’s and Adrian’s songs, as well as your own…
Steve: Yeah, that’s just it, yeah! …Well, you know, sometimes it’s hard to be objective about your own stuff!
And I wanted to mention the sound on this album … all the instruments really sound out – you can hear every instrument really clearly on there …
Steve: Yeah, the production is really good. I think it’s the best production we’ve had from Martin [Birch].
And as far as I can tell, I think this is the best musicianship for everyone on this album so far, too. Would you agree or disagree?
Steve: Well, I think so, yeah.
Such as the drum sound, for instance – I’m especially thinking of “Two Minutes to Midnight” …
Steve: Martin is really responsible for the drum sound – that’s one of his specialties. Any band that he does, he gets a good drum sound. But it’s always different. You know, it’s not like “the Martin Birch drum sound.” He doesn’t make everybody sound the same, but he always gets a good drum sound for every individual that he does.
But the guitar sound was killer, too, don’t you think?
Steve: Oh, Yeah! He spent a lot of time gettin’ the guitar sound together actually. We spent more time than we have done in the past. But everyone’s really happy with it, you know.
Yeah … I can imagine, because I think it’s going to knock a few socks off, and raise a few eyebrows – in a good kind of way! (laughs)
Steve: What’s been the reaction from other people where you’re at – do you know?
Well, everyone I know who’s heard it has been raving – and immediately, too. Here [Chicago], from what I’ve heard, there were long lines at all the record stores on the day it was released. There was actually a big hubbub about it here, even press-wise, and I also talk to a lot of the younger kids – the teenagers, and they were all saying it was really great, and how knocked out they were and all that! I personally haven’t heard anything negative at all … But what have you been hearing?
Steve: Oh! Really good things, yeah! We’ve got good reviews over here as well, and all the fans seem to really like it, so … It went in at #2 on the British chart the first week, so I guess that can’t be bad!
Do you know how it’s selling? From what Rod [Smallwood] told me earlier, it sounds like it’s selling really well …
Steve: Yeah, I think it’s probably already gone Gold in America already.
Well, I think people were waiting with baited breath for this one. As you know, Maiden has been building up – kind of skyrocketing up – over here since your tours with and … But it seems to me that you may have had a little bit more of a delay between the time this one was done and when it was released than you had on the previous albums, so I think that may have built up the anticipation even more, you know?
Steve: Yeah, and that was because we didn’t want to release it too soon before the touring started. There’s no point in releasing it too much too soon, really … plus there was the fact that we had to get all the artwork and everything else together and ready. I think the artwork on this album is probably the best we’ve ever had as well.
Yes, definitely. It’s much more detailed with the imagery on all the components inside and out, and at the same time, it’s also more subtle … with muted, desert-toned colors and so forth … But as far as the anticipation for the album itself, I think people were getting all these bits and pieces of leaking information about when it would or wouldn’t be released, and that might’ve made them even more anxious – which isn’t actually a bad thing, either. But you won’t even be here in America to tour for it for several more months, will you?
Steve: Well, we start Canada in November, and in December it will be the States. Then apart from having Christmas off, we’ll be going straight through April, I think.
Well, good — I didn’t know you’d be over here that fast! … But, as far as the album is concerned, you certainly didn’t compromise this time either – which I knew you wouldn’t do anyway.
No, we never do … Or ever will!
It’s so funny to me, I guess … because an editor at one of the magazines I am using these interviews for gave me a couple of questions that he was insisting that I ask, and I think his objective behind that was to try and stir up some controversy of some kind. And so – though I don’t really want to do it, because I can just predict your answer! – he was telling me to ask you: “Why haven’t you ever been tempted to make your songs shorter, because a lot of heavy rock bands these days are making their songs a lot shorter?” and all that! (laughs)
Steve: Tell him I said “Bollocks!!” (laughs) You just tell him I said that, alright?!
Okay – I will! (laughs) The thing is, I already knew he was totally missing the point to even suggest that … because I just don’t think he understands …
Steve: No, he obviously doesn’t! (laughs) A couple of people have suggested that we edit certain songs … And you can tell him … well, you can imagine what we said!
Yeah! (laughs) Well, what I think people who understand, and really respect about the band – and really admire – is that you have been able to do things your own way – and still win in the end! And that really doesn’t happen very often at all in the music business. Even from the start, you’ve been able to do things the way you wanted to …
Steve: Well, we’re very strong-minded – even to the point of being stubborn! (laughs)
And, do think that might possibly be a reflection of your own personality in any way?
Steve: Possibly! (laughs)
Well, to be honest, I think it is in some respects. And I actually think that’s why you have been able to do it. There’s a certain kind of conviction that has the power to sway other people’s attitudes. When people like you have that level of conviction that shouts, “I will not be swayed!” – it tends to make people who would ordinarily frown turn around and say, “Hey, this could be right! Maybe it is alright to do things this way” …
Steve: I actually think people are finally beginning to understand what we’re all about. See, in Britain, it’s a lot easier to get that sort of thing across because there’s a lot more actual press as far as the papers, and the radio isn’t really so important. So you can get the personality of the band across a lot more because of interviews and features and all that, you know? Whereas, in America, the radio thing is so big and it’s very, very hard to get the personality of a band across from a radio station.
And that’s especially true when some of the hard-copy press you do get here, totally misses the point … To me it seems that Maiden actually has been getting quite a lot of press over here in the U.S. for the past two years, but, the thing about it is, a lot of it has focused on things that are very superficial, and almost irrelevant …
Steve: Oh, I agree, yeah, definitely. We get a bit annoyed sometimes. I mean, the stuff that gets in is not necessarily detrimental, but it’s not always quite true, and we don’t agree with it! You know what I mean?
Yes, I know exactly what you mean.
Steve: Well, we’d rather people know what’s going on properly, you know, rather than just trying to sensationalize on things that are not really that important.
Uh-humm … So, along those lines, you told me a couple of years ago or so that you were glad that you were self-taught as far as your bass-playing because that way you weren’t brainwashed with pre-conceived ideas about how the instrument should be played – which can be especially damaging when you’re real young …
And that you had encountered a lot of opposition in the beginning because of the way that you wrote your songs, especially with the “unorthodox” time changes and so forth …
Well, it’s ironic that those things that people criticized most are actually some of the band’s strongest points! So I guess it just goes to show that you couldn’t have been more right in sticking to your guns artistically, and going with your instincts, even back then. I’ve really got to hand it to you, for not letting anyone sway you! I don’t know too many people who would have the self-belief to stick to their guns like that in the face of heavy pressure.
Steve: Yeah, well it’s just having conviction I suppose.
Yes, and, along those lines, the band itself always kind of went “against the grain” in the way you built and established your career, in that you did things the “hard way” in some respects. But, don’t you think that has also kind of worked out in your favor in the end now, too? I mean, you didn’t have an overnight success by any means, but that probably helped prepare you better for the touring and the success – the fame and all that comes with it – more than might have been otherwise.
Steve: Yeah, it probably did in the end, but that’s obviously not the reason why we did things the way we did. We just do things because we think they’re right – you know? It’s really as simple as that. For some reason, a lot of people can’t understand that in America. That we play onstage the way we do because we enjoy it, and we play our songs the way we like to play ‘em because we enjoy playing ‘em that way! And we don’t put up with any bullshit, and people telling us to do edits and commercial songs. We just won’t have anything to do with it! We just play ‘em as we feel. It might sound corny, but that’s the way it is! …
Well, it’s not corny at all, actually …
Steve: Well, I mean certainly there’s been certain [U.S.] radio stations that have had the balls to play us and other bands like us, in the early days, and even from the first album. I mean, we know who they are, and they know who they are – and I think the kids know who they are as well! It matters in some ways, because obviously, we want people to notice our music more. And the good thing about it is, is that the people who have been getting into the new stuff, even from the last album, have been going out and buying the earlier albums as well, so they’re becoming actual fans, and not just people who are buying albums because of one song they heard on the radio. Which is great, you know. Actual fans are what we’re interested in. We’re not so much interested in the periphery people who don’t really give a shit until you come out with another song that they like the sound of on the radio sort of thing.
Yes, those are values like loyalty …
Steve: And it’s not just that. A lot of people who just listen to one song on the radio, chances are, if they go out and buy it, wouldn’t like the rest of the songs on the album anyway. The bands that come out with really commercial songs on the radio, well, the rest of the album might be totally different. So, I can’t really see the point!
People just need a way to become aware of what you’re doing in the first place though, and that is why radio is still important over here, unfortunately. It’s still the primary medium for musical “awareness” over here, as you noted earlier …
Steve: I know, that’s what I’m saying. Hopefully, if people become aware of this new album, hopefully they’ll go out and buy the other albums, and actually really get into the band as a band, rather than just one or two albums, or one or two songs, or whatever – you know?
Um-humm, I know what you’re saying. But, on another note, I’m told that on the English tour, you’re actually going back and playing some of the smaller venues again, aren’t you?
Steve: Put it this way: We’re playing more nights in the smaller venues, rather than one night in the bigger venues. I mean, in America, people are used to the bigger venues all the time, but in England, people are used to the smaller venues. And, when the band gets bigger, they usually go into the bigger venues, and to them, it’s like a really alien thing. It’s like an “ants on the horizon” sort of thing. (laughs) People at the back can’t really see you or whatever, and they’re just not used to that sort of thing. They much prefer to see a band in a smaller theatre. So we do two or three nights in the smaller places. In fact, we’re going to do that in New York this time, we’re going to do Radio City. Like four or five nights or something.
Oh, really?! That’ll be really nice! But, when you first started playing in England, the smaller places were the ones you played, and I suppose it would sort of turn them off and make them think you’d sold out if you always played only the huge places now. It looks like you are rewarding their loyalty for getting you to the place you’re at now.
Steve: Well, we’ve been to bigger places as punters ourselves, and none of us really enjoyed going there as a fan, so none of us think that we should play there as band our fans go through what we didn’t enjoy.
Well, I have also noticed – gauged on the English rock press – that there is sometimes some resentment when an English homegrown-heroes band goes on to become really big in other places, particularly America. But you really haven’t had that problem …
Steve: Well, I suppose it’s because the fans know that we haven’t really tried to sell out to anywhere, by releasing commercial songs or whatever, and really trying for another sort of market. We’ve just stuck to what we are, and I think they really appreciate that.
And they also pick up on the fact that you don’t forget them and leave them behind!
Steve: I mean our fans – our fans have been really been the most loyal rock fans in the world, I think! I’d say anywhere in the world, really. Our fans are so loyal it’s unbelievable! To the point of being frightening sometimes…
Yes, it is a very zealous dedication. Of all the bands I’ve covered in the past several years, I must say there haven’t been any as ardent – as passionate – as yours. It’s almost to the point of being a religion, you know?! It’s a big, important part of their life …
Steve: Well, I think the only other person who’s had that sort of dedication and fanatical following that I’ve seen, is Ozzy Osbourne. Right from the Sabbath days through to now, he’s the only other one I can think of, really, that’s got the hard core sort of following that we’ve got. And, in a way, it is a big responsibility. But it’s also great as well!
Well, they’re not the kind of fans that are going to abandon ship when the tide changes, and that’s the most moving thing about it, really. … Oh, I don’t know how much time you’ve got – and I don’t even know where you’re at right now. Are you at home or in a hotel?
But you still live in London right?
Steve: Well, I’ve got a house outside of London – about 10 or 12 miles from the East End.
Well, have you been able to be home very much with all this recording and touring?
Steve: No, not really … unfortunately…
Well, you told me before you’re a new dad now, with a new little baby girl! [Note: this “baby” is Lauren Harris, now touring with her dad’s band across the world.] So, Steve, are you a hands-on dad? – I guess that means have you changed any diapers yet?! (laughs)
Steve: I’ve done that, yeah I have, yeah! (laughs)
….But, back to business … (laughs) I know that a lot of English bands don’t live in England for long anyway, because of the tax laws there, or something like that …?
Steve: It’s not just that, anyway, for us. I mean, we started touring a month or two ago in Steve: Poland, and we’ve played some other parts of Europe, like Portugal and places like that, Italy. I mean, after this British tour, we’re going to be on the road right through to next August. . That’s throughout the States, and Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, all these sorts of places. And we might even go to India, apparently, as well.
Steve: Yeah! So, I mean, we’re playing all these different places, and to get around everywhere, you’ve got spend that amount of time on the road – which means I won’t be back to Britain until next September! We may do a festival or something there, you know.
Well, a couple of people were telling me after a certain period – like two months or 60 days – of actually spent living in England, a higher tax bracket kicks in…
Steve: Yeah, well, it makes sense to do that, because we’re touring so much anyway, that it makes sense to do that, rather than paying the taxman all the money. (laughs) And then we can put it back into the show or whatever! (laughs)
Well, I ask that, because I can’t imagine you living anywhere else but in England.
Steve: Oh, no, no, no! We’re not living anywhere else rather than in England! Not at all – I wouldn’t anyway, because I love England too much! It’s just a question of working a certain period out of the country, and then, after that, you can sort of break off and be at home for three of four months. After this tour we will be home for three or four months.
Well, I heard you were also going to record a live album there, too, right?
Steve: Yeah, we’re going to record all four nights at Hammersmith Odeon. And then we’ll just pick the best nights.
And that’s around the 8th of October – next month? I remember those dates, because that’s my birthday!
Steve: Yeah, it’s the 8th, 9th, 10th 12th, of October.
Yeah, but that won’t be released right away, will it?
Steve: Oh, no. We probably won’t even get it mixed or whatever until right next year.
Well, you haven’t had a live album before, except you did that live EP in Japan …
Steve: Oh, I don’t really count that, though, because it was only an EP.
Well, having a live album after this tour, you might not have to rush right away to put something else out …
Steve: Well, there is that as well. Maybe we’ll have a bit more time at home, and maybe a bit more time to work on songs and stuff. Whatever; I mean, this tour is like 13 months long, so we’re going to need some time off afterwards!
Steve: But, obviously, it’d be nice to have an album out right about that time, so that people don’t forget us!
Oh yes, but I don’t think they’ll forget you! (laughs) And the tours have been getting so long now, you’ve gotta have some kind of break …
Steve: Yeah, in a way, you sort of get penalized for your own success, because we’re doing pretty well everywhere now …and you’ve got to go out and play there, because you’ve got fans there. And you know, there’s not enough days in the year – that’s why the tour winds up being 13 months!
Yeah, that’s the biggest price you have to pay, isn’t it?
Steve: Oh, but it’s a nice price, though! (laughs) I mean, we enjoy touring, anyway, and it’s great to go to different countries and stuff. We’ve always felt that the time to worry was when people weren’t interested anymore.
And now, this is the first album you’ve got all the same guys in for two times in a row!
Steve: Yeah, that’s amazing, isn’t it!? (laughs)
Yeah! (laughs) And I’m sure that stability helps …
Steve: Yeah, I think we’ve finally got “THE lineup”!
Well, hopefully, because all the guys now – Dave, Adrian, Bruce, and Nicko – have kind of stood through the test, haven’t they?
Steve: Yeah … The band feels really good now! I know we’ve said that before, but I mean, this time, we have actually recorded two consecutive albums with the same lineup, so it is really working well.
You told me before that the changes before that you were forced to make had been for the better, and musicianship wise, it really seems that it has been for the better, if this album is any indication …
Steve: Yes, I definitely think that it’s been for the better. I mean, you’ve got some odd fans that were in from the word Go, I mean from the first album… And there’ll always be differences of opinion in bars, or whatever – that ‘he’s better than him” or whatever – but, basically, we all feel that the band is definitely at its best now, with this lineup. As much as we think of our audience, we’ve got to be satisfied and pleased with ourselves first, before we can go out into an audience and look them in the eye – and believe in what we’re doing. You know what I mean?
Definitely. Your own self-respect is the hardest thing to get – therefore, you have to please yourself first.
Steve: Yeah! You’ve got to be happy with yourself first. Then next comes your fans, of course, then next after that comes the critics, I’m afraid! (laughs)
Well, the fans should come first, because they are the people – the people who care and who go out and buy your records, and pay to go to your shows, so they should come ahead of critics, because they are the ones who make it possible for a band to endure and go on, you know? And Steve, I have other questions, but I know I’m supposed to be talking to the other guys in the band … and I think I’m supposed to talk to Bruce tonight, so I don’t want to lay it all on you.
Steve: Well, Bruce is supposed to call you a bit later …
Well, do you think there’s anything I didn’t ask you that you really wanted to talk about, or that I should’ve asked you, because I could be forgetting something …
Steve: Well, I can’t really think of anything … unless you wanted to ask about Poland.
Have there been many other bands that went to Poland before? … I didn’t think there were ..
Steve: There haven’t been many … I think UFO went there, and Nazareth and Budgie went there, but none of them took their own shows, or anything. I mean, we took the complete, formed stage show as what we have in Europe, and I don’t think they’ve seen anything like that, ever. Nobody’s been really able to take their own show over there before, I don’t think.
Well, that was big enough news that that even made the daily newspapers around here – about Iron Maiden playing in Communist Poland! And I didn’t think there’d been many others behind the Iron Curtain, and the couple that I have talked to before said you had to be very non-political to get past the red tape or whatever …
Steve: Yeah, I’m not so sure they knew some of the song contents, like “Two Minutes to Midnight” and “Running Free” … and stuff like that! (laughs)
Yeah, that was the first thing that popped in my mind, too! Because it’s not like your songs don’t touch on politics in any way at all, because, in a more general way, they do. (laughs)
Steve: Well, it’s not really political. But, actually, we were invited there!
Steve: Yeah! The promoter there, he invited us. He sort of got in contact with our agent or whatever … Basically, to be honest, we’re not really sure how it works out over there, because he said he were apparently the most popular heavy rock band there, and how they work that out, I don’t know! Because the fans can’t really buy our albums there, except on the Black Market, and it costs something like 50 dollars, and for there wages, especially for someone like an 18 year old, that works out to something like about a week and half’s wages.
And that’s a big sacrifice!
Steve: Yeah, really! So, I don’t know how they work out how popular we are, but there must have been something to it, because all the gigs were completely sold out, you know?! Even though they can’t properly buy a Maiden album, and there were quite a few fans there who had all the different Maiden stuff.
Well, then, they were probably left with their mouths open when they saw your show!
Steve: Yeah, they went really crazy, you know?! It was great to see, because there were even soldiers and stuff – military people or whatever – in the audience throwing their hats about and going crazy! It was just great to see!
At least you brought a little joy into their lives, you know? Probably like all the holidays of the year rolled into one…
Steve: Yeah! They really enjoyed themselves, you know. Let’s face it, rock ‘n roll is a universal thing, and think this sort of thing definitely proves that, you know? There’s no barriers for music.
Read on…Part 2 is the interview with Bruce Dickinson.
Official website: www.ironmaiden.com