PART 4: Adrian Smith
Adrian, let’s talk about the guitar sound on this album [Powerslave] – when I talked to Steve earlier, he said you’d spent quite a bit of time getting the guitar sound right, even before you went in to produce.
Adrian: Yeah, that’s right, we spent about a day or so just getting ready to record.
You wrote a couple of songs with Bruce this time, right?
Adrian: That’s right, yeah.
And you sing backup on one of them, too, don’t you? – “Aces High.”
Adrian: Well, I don’t sing on the album, but I sing background on it live. But he did most of the backup vocals, because he obviously blends well with his own voice. Obviously, he’s a great singer, but live I do most of those, and it’s not really necessary to sing most of them live. … But, actually I’ve sort of brushed up on it [singing] lately on me own songs …
Well … I think it would be difficult for just about anyone to sing in Bruce’s range. (laughs)
Adrian: Yeah, his voice is way up there, so it’s not easy on some of them.
But tell me how you and Dave split up the guitar parts on this album.
Adrian: Ah, it’s just the usual thing, really. We try to work it where we get one solo each on the songs on the album in a certain key, so that we don’t play the solos from the same couple of albums at the gig if you know what I mean – we hop around, and so we try to work it in based on what key we’re in on. But I’ve changed my style a bit though, I went for a more aggressive sound.
So it doesn’t matter who wrote which of the songs or whatever, or whether it’s a song you actually wrote the music for yourself? How does that actually play out, for example, which one of you did the bridge in “Powerslave”?
Adrian: Oh, the slow one?
Adrian: That was Dave – that’s really up Dave’s creek, you know? But stuff like “2 Minutes” – that was really me. But “Back in the Village” – that was Dave, that’s really his kind of song, and so I only do a little solo on that.
There’s a lot of places where a solo will go into a harmony bit, and where there’s two – or more – things going on a once. How did you work that out?
Adrian: That’s right, yeah. Well, I think that’s mainly on Steve’s songs that that happens on. He’ll be writing a bass line, and he’ll try to … Something like “Losfer Words” – I’ll put in little bits and ideas that I did as well, over it. It’s mostly in Steve’s songs – there’s sometimes three things going on a once. He’ll be playing a bass line, then Dave will be playing a harmony, and I might have something that comes in a few beats later, that’s what it is.
Yeah, Steve’s songs can be more intricate – especially ones like “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” … where the instruments seem to really fit the mood of the subject matter.
Adrian: Yeah, it’s a pretty moody kind of song.
Definitely … How did you get that sound on the middle part of the song where it’s slow, and floating?
Adrian: Well, mainly there’s a lot of harmonics and stuff, you know. He just needed a weird kind of melody to go over that slow bit.
Did he tell you what he wanted there?
Adrian: Yeah, he [Steve] sort of said “Play it really weird” – and I played it totally out of key. (laughs) And it seemed to fit, you know, it fit the mood. It’s weird, I think sometimes when we do it live, people don’t quite know what’s going on, but they just sit and listen, because it is a bit different for a band to play something like that.
It definitely is different, but you are one of those rare bands where you’re able to do something different, or even experimental, and people will give it a good listen – and like it.
We can get away with it, yeah. (laughs) I think that’s maybe because people already know now that we may not always do what’s expected. (laughs)
Were you familiar with that poem before?
Adrian: I’d heard of the poem, but I didn’t know it, if you know what I mean. I’d heard of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” … but it’d been a long time.
You used a lot of harmony bits with Dave on this album. I know you also did on the last album, too, but there seems to be more of it this time.
Adrian: Yeah, there were a couple of things that we’d already decided we weren’t going to do live anyway, so we sort of went to town a bit on the harmonies and overdubs and stuff. Some stuff I did on me own, and some stuff Dave did on his own. It was stuff like “The Duelist” and “Flash of the Blade.” On that one I did a lot of harmonies on me own, because we knew we wouldn’t play them live, and so we thought, well maybe we can put like three or four harmonies on there because it wouldn’t matter anyway, so we thought we’d go to town a bit! So we felt like we could experiment. As I say, some stuff I did on me own, and some stuff Dave did on his own.
Was that the kinds of things you worked out in Jersey [Channel Islands, UK]?
Adrian: A lot of it was just done in the studio, just sitting down and talking. But most of the stuff we were planning on doing live, we worked out the harmonies to make sure we could do it live as well as it was on record.
Well, that’s interesting, because I’m sure a lot of people, especially young musicians, wonder how that sort of thing gets worked out.
Adrian: Well, you just come up with a melody and just put a harmony to it, it’s as simple as that. I’ve always done it. Every band I’ve been in has always had two guitarists, so I’ve always done harmonies, when we started off doing Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash covers. I’ve always been into that sort of two guitar thing.
But doesn’t it help when the other guitarist is someone you’ve worked with for a long time, because obviously you and Dave do go way back.
Adrian: Oh yeah. It’ll be an automatic thing where you’ll play, and Dave will automatically put a harmony to what I’m doing, or vice-versa. Steve, the way he writes, he writes like that a lot – he has a lot of guitar harmonies and stuff anyway.
He says he just shows you guys what he wants on his bass?!
Adrian: Yeah … or he just sings it. Or whistles it – he whistles sometimes.
He whistles it? (laughs)
Adrian: Yeah, he just gives us the melody, and all the solos are what we’re hearing. But when it comes to the melodies, a melody’s a melody, whether you sing it or play it. It’s usually not that complicated, it’s fairly simple; it’s just forthright to sing it.
You did some writing with Bruce on this album too – how did that work?
Adrian: Well, with those two particular songs, I just put it down on tape, with a little drum machine and a guitar and a bass. And I just added like a rough song. I didn’t write the words, but just I thought I’d sing here and there, just to give him an idea, and the feel of it. And he’d just come in and get grip of it straight away because he’s just naturally like that. He’s a singer, obviously, and he has ideas. So he just came in, and he sat down, and we’d do it really quick.
You were a songwriter and singer yourself before – when you had your band Urchin before you joined Iron Maiden. Do you sometimes want to write even more songs?
Adrian: Well, I try to direct all me energies into writing for the band, but obviously there’s a few things that won’t work. You obviously get other ideas, but they won’t always work for the band … So I just keep the ideas in me head, and maybe someday I’ll use them again in some other form. But mostly what I try to do, is to just work on songs for the band.
Do you ever write any lyrics for your songs, too?
Adrian: I used to, yeah, but I haven’t written any for ages. I don’t have very much patience for lyrics, so I’ve focused more on the structure of the songs and stuff. But I suppose if I really sat down and tried, I could come up with something, but I haven’t in ages. The thing is, it’s easy to write average lyrics, but it’s quite hard to stuff that really means something or ones that really jump out after you.
A lot of times it’s the music that gets your attention first, and so sometimes it’s actually the music that makes people listen to the lyrics in the first place. I don’t think most people pay any attention to the lyrics initially unless they like the music first – unless it’s a folk singer or something like that …
Adrian: Yeah — like Bob Dylan, or something like that, that’s true.
Yes, and everyone I’ve talked to so far has been mentioning things about your gigs in Poland – how was that experience for you?
Adrian: Different! (laughs) I mean the people, they were lovely, really nice people. Obviously, they’ve got a very bad deal, and they’re very poor, and it’s a very poor country—we could see that straight away. But they were really something! I think they really appreciated the fact that we even bothered to come over there.
There’s a question I have to ask – when did everyone get all those tattoos?
Adrian: (laughs) When we were getting the album together, in Jersey. Everyone except me and Bruce got ‘em, and some of the road crew got ‘em too. A guy that was good at it – quite a well known tattoo artist, actually, came out and set up a little workshop. I was thinking about getting one, a little one, but I decided against it.
Well, it does take some nerves to get it done, doesn’t it?
Adrian: Yeah, sometimes you’ve just got to get drunk enough to do it. (laughs)
Have you done any videos for this album yet?
Adrian: We’ve done two videos, yeah. One for “2 Minutes to Midnight” – it’s got actors in it and stuff. It was released over here [England] as single, but it’s not really a “single, single” if you know what I mean. It’s not less than 3 ½ minutes!
Because this tour is going to be so long, do you expect you’ll take more time off between the next album and tour?
Adrian: Yeah, we’ll probably go to a health farm when it’s over!
A health farm? Oh that’s funny, but probably about the truth. … But do you think the touring is getting any easier now?
Adrian: You get used to it, so it’s much more comfortable now. When we first started out in America, we went from one bus, to two buses to seven buses … so things do become more comfortable. More comfortable than when we first toured the U.S. with Judas Priest in ’81! We don’t have to sleep on our luggage anymore. (laughs)
But is it as fun now?
Adrian: Yes, you can relax now, and there’s so many new things to see all at once, and now we can take the time to see them. … Actually, it’s a lot different now … ‘cause [I remember] the first gig we ever done in America was in Vegas – in a hotel! (laughs)
Have you had any time for other things in life with all the recent album-tour, album-tour grind?
Adrian: Well, it was really strange, but after the last tour I went home for a day to me mum and dad’s, and they had moved, and I forgot … and I went to the wrong house! A complete stranger answered the door and said, “Who are you?”
Well that was a bit embarrassing, I’m sure, but I guess it’s a sign of how often you get to go home these days, huh!?
Adrian: Exactly, yeah. But it was really nice to get to go home for a day.
You only had time to go home for a day?
Adrian: Well, I took a holiday – I went to Ireland. I went fishing and stuff. I went there for about two weeks, to County Clare. And I didn’t speak to anyone for days!
You didn’t speak to anyone for days!? Then you totally got away from the world?
Adrian: Exactly, yeah. I don’t speak Irish anyway. (laughs)
Oh, that’s right; sometimes in the country they still speak Celtic there …
So, you’re a Gypsy for sure, then?
Adrian: I’m a Gypsy, yeah. (laughs)
And you don’t really have a permanent home anymore?
Adrian: Not really, no … But I will do when I get back home. After this tour I might get a house now– a little one, and feed the cats …
Feed the cats!? (laughs) Oh, that’s so funny, but not at all in another respect because being on the road so much, sometimes it’s probably the little ordinary things you miss most … But, with all this touring, have you found there is there a favorite place you like play?
Adrian: Probably England, just because it’s the most familiar place. We go back, and it’s like going back in time really, we see the same people and nothing’s changed at all …
Up next Niko McBrain!