Blaze Bayley Interview
Interview by Mark Dean
Welcome back to Belfast; a city that you have played several times before. Do you have any memories of the city?"
Blaze Bayley (BB) – I remember the first time that I came. I was in Wolfsbane, who were a huge band at the time, the reaction was unbelievable, it was crazy!
We supported Iron Maiden and that was an incredible experience. It was one of the loudest reactions you have ever heard in your life. It was around 10,000 people something like that and it was sold out. I think it was also the first time that Maiden had been over here when I was supporting with Wolfsbane. It was absolutely fantastic!
You are touring currently to promote the "King of Metal" release, how does it differ from previous releases?
BB – King of Metal’ is more simple and straight forward. Since I’ve started I’ve worked with different musicians and my sound has developed. On this one I felt like I wanted to take a step back really and do something very simple and very direct. I’ve had a lot of crap and bullshit in the last couple of years. My full-time band,well…I had to stop it.
This album really is a lot of me picking myself up, as I wanted to do something very simple and direct that spoke to people in that way. The production is very simple, its very old school as it’s an old-fashioned way of doing things its quite a bit different to my previous albums.
It sounds pretentious but as an artist I’ve got to follow my feelings.
A lot of times I write about subjects that interest me, movies and concepts, stories in books. That’s always been a part of what I do, what I’ve always done and its a part of metal.
On this album there is none of that, it’s all about me and my feelings. It’s about things that I have been through and how I’ve dealt with things. It’s me talking to myself a lot of it; lyrically that’s what I’ve done. I had a pile of lyrics and looked at them and they were all about this"
A bit of self-therapy then?
BB – Kind of,yes.
I’ve been in really bad shape with my mental health. I was lucky enough to get to see a psychiatrist and have a course of treatment, that really helped and I’ve been on medication and coping for nearly 9 months. I have had my moments but feeling that I am able to cope and the album reflects that. Theres one song that perhaps is different, thats about Dimebag Darrell. Its a story, his story.
Did you have any personal contact with him?
BB – Not personal contact, but he has indirectly influenced my first two albums.
My guitarist in the band at the time Steve Ray was a huge fan of Dimebag. We had often discussed his guitar sound and I had this idea shortly after his death and was working on it with somebody else. We never got to make an album or finish it and I had a couple of the key pieces which I never forgot. I always think that’s a sign of something really good that’s worth keeping.
Years later when I started working with Thomas (Zweijsen) on this album in January that was the first idea. I said that I had an idea and could we try to do something with it. It started to come together and I was really pleased and the lyrics took a while. I couldn’t have a handle on them or how to do it until one day I really forced myself to start it and it really came together and I smiled so much. That was the moment, this is how its supposed to happen.
I had this huge chorus and pre-chorus section and I was really happy with it .
We had more or less arranged the whole song before I got the finished lyrics. A few people have picked up that its so long after the death, that I’m not trying to exploit it. It’s a tribute to a great man and a great individual. It was an idea that came to me after the tragedy and years later perhaps its the right time. Nobody will get confused that its anything other than a tribute.
Your current touring band also played on the latest album, that’s unusual for you. Generally you tour with a different band?"
BB – I’ve managed this time to get the band together by a series of flukes and misfortune.
I’ve got a great band that we got together for the rehearsal and pre-production and record the album with me and they were all available for the tour. It’s great to be able to take out the songs from the album with the guys that recorded them. Top notch musicians but different from my full-time band and a great bunch of guys. It’s worked out well and it also makes a lot of sense to the fans as well as they buy the album and they can see the guys from the album play those songs live.
Taking you back to the start of your musical career; How did you come to reform Wolfsbane?
BB – It’s a story that really goes back to my late wife. Wolfsbane was something that she really liked the idea of getting back together and she got us all talking and then we did a guest thing. Then we got offered a support slot to get back together and we thought that we had enough ideas together to do an album which we did. "Wolfsbane saves the world" and its really good."
Several people have asked me to ask you when Wolfsbane will be returning to play Belfast?
BB – We are touring in October! I’m currently putting together my dates for next year, in the next few months. I would hope to be here, if its not in October, then I think it will be next year.
It’s something that the four of us in the band really want to do, because we have these great memories of touring over here. I think it would be really good.
Our first proper tour ,we did five-six shows all over and it was just crazy. It is something that we are constantly thinking of and we almost got it together this summer, but then something didn’t work out. It’s planning in advance really.
I’m busy with my own stuff and everybody else has different things. We are going to try to find a suitable time and hopefully there will be the interest from the promoters.
I saw you support Maiden in Belfast with Wolfsbane. As that personal connection already existed did it make it easier to integrate when you joined that band.?
BB – Well I still had to audition! It made it easier from the point of view that they knew what I was like. I think it was easier for me to get the audition than to send in a tape and a photo as they knew me and what I could do. It didn’t make the audition any easier as I still had to do the same as everybody else. It was a very different kind of band to what I was used to with Wolfsbane, with a totally different way of doing things.
Personally were you not petrified stepping into Bruce’s shoes and also into a band with huge commercial success. That must have been difficult for you?
BB – I tried to do it from my own perspective really as I am a fan as such I knew why I liked Iron Maiden and a lot of fans liked them for the same reasons, because it’s uncompromising. It’s music for its own sake ,that isn’t influenced by trends but influenced and developed by the people in the band. Perhaps you cant escape the influence of technology and different ways to record from when we started. Musically it’s about the people in the band, not about trying to be the next big thing or following a trend. As a fan that’s why I liked it and it was great for me to be in a band that didn’t want to do anything but heavy metal. There were no rules about the music. Steve Harris just said that it doesn’t matter who writes the bands songs, it just has to be great.
In one way years later I look back and I didn’t feel that confident at the time when I was in the band. It left me with a lot of confidence.
Man On The Edge was a big top ten hit and I wrote that with Janick Gers. Other songs that I wrote eg: Futureal with Steve Harris are popular with the fans.
My songs were selected to be on an album and in that way I’ve got a lot of confidence.
If my ideas and my writing wasn’t good enough it just wouldn’t have been included would it?! [Laughs]
I can link the fan perspective to that of Ricky Warwick joining Thin Lizzy a band that he too was a fan of?
BB – He’s doing really well, I haven’t managed to see him yet.
So looking back on your Maiden years, would you view them as a proud legacy or a milestone around your neck?
BB – For me, I’m a fan and it’s about the music. There’s a lot of dark uncomfortable feelings because of the way I left the band. For me there’s a great sense of pride and honour that I did something, accomplished something, and wrote songs of the highest standard with very successful musicians. My songs were considered good enough and most times also my performances. On a musical level I learnt so much, that I can’t regret one bit of it!"
You played a co-headline tour with Paul Dianno, how did that come about?
BB – It was great! I had put it off for years though as once before it had been suggested but it didn’t feel right at the time, also when I had my full-time band it was exclusive. No-one in the band could do anything else and that included me. There was a lot of things that I wanted to try, but I couldn’t do it as I was committed to staying with my full-time band.
This offer came up, and I had done a couple of festivals on the same bill as Paul and it was offered as a co-headliner not as a support, switching the headliner every night. Paul was also ok with that and it also wasn’t just all my Maiden stuff, it was a lot of my stuff from my own albums so I could choose my setlist to a certain degree and also include my popular Maiden material also. It felt good to do it and say yes!
It was also in Russia ,a very difficult place to get into. The fans are great but it’s very difficult to get in touch with them. Sometimes even to let them know that you are playing! I thought that it would be an opportunity for me but on my last trip there was poor promotion, I hardly played to anybody.
I thought this time it would be different as all the shows were full, reaction was great and I played to a lot of new people. These people knew about me from Iron Maiden but had never seen me live. I came away from the tour after playing to my target audience and new people who had never previously seen me live; it was really good, Paul and I both enjoyed it!
He’s a very funny guy with a dry sense of humour and we gave each other plenty of space, as we are both experienced with different opinions of Iron Maiden.
It worked well and we will do more dates together this November."
‘Silicone Messiah’ from your debut solo album deals with technology. What do you feel have been the major changes in the music industry since you started? Is technology an area that you personally take an interest in?
BB – It’s a huge change since I started. Now at home you can get reasonable results with a home studio, years ago that wasn’t possible. When I started there were no mobile phones, the average person couldn’t afford one and there was no internet, as it didn’t exist outside the military, there was no social networking at all so if you weren’t in a magazine people didn’t know about you. Now you don’t even have to be signed up, you can do your own thing!
I have my own label; I sell a lot of CDs at my shows, and I sell a lot of stuff on-line with my shop. I’m wondering if the days of being signed up are drawing to a close?! I can use social networking as self-promotion which works well for me as there is no waste of energy eg; arguing about artwork/layout etc. If you are the artist how could somebody else say what is right for you?
If you have a clear defined idea of what you want, isn’t that part of your personality, and the attraction of the artist? On the cover of my new album I’ve worked very closely with an artist from Sweden on-line which would have been impossible years ago. The artwork tells its own story outside of the album, which runs alongside. How can a record company then turn around and say "that’s not right" ?! Alot of people have criticised me for the title "King of Metal" and I’ve thought yeah they will. Its obvious who the ignorant self-important critics are, they are the ones who will say "Youre not the King of Metal" and I never said that I was! It’s a story, like a book, thats something that I know if I had a label it would have been very difficult for them to go with that."
Your life like so many others has been touched by personal tragedy. How do you find comfort and solitude in dark times?
BB – It’s rough but I am always aware that as I’ve had to go through the darkness (which you never choose) there are still many people worse off. Especially in your part of the world (N.Ireland)
I’m very aware of the dark times that people have suffered here and the tragedy that I have suffered I would say that it is all bad but people have suffered worse. My wife wasn’t murdered and many people have had that!
When I was in intensive care, she wasn’t the victim of a crime or anything like that and it would have been far worse because then you not only have the grief of losing someone, but there’s also the anger and hate. I feel lucky that I didn’t have to deal with any of that.
I find it difficult, as every day is a challenge and I do what I can, every day is different.
When I’m well I can put more energy into keeping the shadows away, when I fall and I’m in the shadows there’s nothing I can do about it. You are helpless, that is depression.
You can’t snap out of it and you can’t get yourself back, you can just about function and I drag myself through some days, just wanting to get to the end of it. As much as anybody suffers from depression or any form of mental illness in a way I’m lucky because of what I do. I do have fans and people that say the most wonderful things and I meet fans that have overcome the most incredible personal difficulties, that picks me up.
You do pay a lot of appreciation to your fans?
BB – They are the only reason that I do this! I love to sing and I love to write because I have that incredible support. When I had my full-time band we could be more flexible with our sets. We had a huge repertoire, with 30+songs of mine and Maiden.W e could change the set around nearly on a nightly basis.
What’s the best and worst things of being in a band?
BB – Being in a band, it’s great to play music and turn up at different places, meet different people meet new fans and have a validation if you’ve done well, that somebody will come up and praise you for that; you don’t get that working in a factory! Worse thing is probably the driving (Blaze and his band have no driver this tour and are sharing driving duties) Though to have a bigger bus would mean less shows! On this tour it’s really about seeing the fans and making it viable to go to as many places as possible. We have no crew on this tour either, as we are doing everything ourselves.
What’s the most important lesson ‘Rock & Roll’ has taught you?
BB – That’s a big question isn’t it?! There’s a cruelty and a darkness with the business and a romance and those things are linked. Without that romance sometimes it does seem cruel and harsh but it’s a way to function, and a way to get things done. That means you can survive and carry on singing. As a euphemism for singing you can say fighting, because a lot of the time that is what it is. If I look back now I regret how much I went to sleep! This tour is tough and yet I’ve had no more vocal problems than I’ve had on any other tour. When I think of the amount of time that I wasted on this romantic view of ‘Rock&Roll….There’s a kind of a complicit lie that if you can play guitar or sing a bit, that you’re somehow better or separate…well you’re not!!
If you have something that’s truly magical that provides people with a moment of escape from their life, then perhaps you have something. Even so, that does not make you any more important than any other individual in the room. That’s my opinion and I don’t think that it will be popular with a lot of musicians.
How do you spend your time relaxing? Do you listen to music in your spare time?
Either your own after recording or others?
BB – When I’ve recorded an album I will listen to it, as it’s about getting those tunes refreshed for a tour, then try to leave a long time after recording it.
Spare time? I listen to a lot of acoustic music like Gillian Walsh, is one of my favourites. I also like Seasick Steve as well; his style of blues is different, I like his voice, his singing style and his attitude. I first saw him by accident on that Jools Holland show that was supposed to have made him famous. I also listen to some film soundtracks. I only really listen to metal occasionally, as I find I need a break from it. I enjoy going to festivals and seeing all the different bands. People that I’ve never normally seen get in touch and recommend other bands, if it’s good.
In closing what is the favourite song that you have written?
BB – The song on "King of Metal" called "One more Step" for me at the moment; of where I’ve been and what I’ve done. We dont actually play it live its a deeply personal song and it’s just me and a piano at the moment. It’s just not practical on this tour to take a keyboard with us.
Thanks for chatting, and have a great show!
BB – Thank you!