IRON MAIDEN Bassist: SHARON OSBOURNE Has An Ego The Size Of California

The Spanish edition of Metal Hammer magazine recently conducted an interview with IRON MAIDEN bassist Steve Harris. What follows is the English translation of the interview, courtesy of the IRON MAIDEN fan site

Q: It is quite sure that the fans might frown and not like the album on the first listen Why is it so dark?

Steve: "Everybody has a different way of seeing things. We have been doing interviews the whole week and some of us went to Japan to do promo last week and everybody has a different idea of what they think this album means. Right now I have been interviewed by three Spanish journalists and all of you have found it a ark one. Previously just two journalists have mentioned it. However, it really goes on well with the opening track. 'Different World' talks about the different perspectives that people see things with. I think that the record has more hope than darkness, with a huge progressive feel. It's quite epic. We have more long songs than ever and don't ask me why, as we never plan these things. I usually call the guys…"

Q: … and you tell them that you have a lot of songs completely written.

Steve: "Well, I tell them that I will go to see them on the following week (laughs). I tell them that we have to get together to start working on the new album. I think that most of the stuff was written with Adrian on the first day we got together. It's quite spontaneous and inspired. Then I met Dave and Janick. Bruce wrote the lyrics over my melodies. However, there isn't a master plan behind each album…

Q: As a writer, do you have fun making people have opposite views on your work? Do you laugh at them, thinking "you losers?"

Steve: "(Laughs) Nothing further from the truth than that. Everybody has a different opinion. It is like reading a book: everybody reads different things, although the book is still the same."

Q: It is certainly a progressive album, although I think it seems intentional, due to the number of repetitions featured in the songs or certain parts of them. Some of them have reminded me to "The Angel and the Gambler" from "Virtual XI". The song was pretty good, but the chorus repetition was painful. I have found songs on "A Matter of Life and Death" were made longer for the sake of making a long song. Don't you think that songs two minutes shorter would have been better?

Steve: "You are the first one to mention this. It is a matter of opinion. When we write something, we think it is correct the way it is, we do not stop to think is the song is longer or shorter. We have not written long songs in the album for the sake of having long songs."

Q: Do you think that MAIDEN music can just head into the progressive direction? Why not a change towards something more extreme? To name just a possible example, that is.

Steve: "No, because we did not grow up with death metal. Hence, it can not influence us. Our musical influences come from the '70s and that is what you can hear in our music. Death metal is out there, but it doesn't say anything to us when we are writing tunes, as we did not grow up listening to that music."

Q: I was referring to if the progressive path is the only one to follow in your evolution.

Steve: "But we don't think about it. We don't think about evolving to one place or another. That's the reason why the album has songs much more epic, because we haven't even thought about it."

Q: A great bunch of the album was written with Adrian. I think that five songs out of ten have been co-written with him. In the hypothetical situation where he would leave the band again, how do you think it will affect the sound of the band?

Steve: "I don't think he'll leave again, because he did it once and had the chance to come back (laughs). I don't think he'll leave for a second time, although you never know! I don't think it will happen so I don't see it as a possible problem. I think that in this album, more than in any other, Adrian's influence is bigger. For the next record I will go first to Janick's house or Dave's place (laughs) and so there will be more songs by them in the album. This way round things have worked like I said. We are not a band that writes 20 songs and chooses 10 for the album. We stop when we think we have enough songs to have a new album."

Q: METALLICA have worked for a long time with Bob Rock and he became an important part of the band. You have been working with Kevin Shirley in your last three albums. Do you think that a change in the production department would benefit the band?

Steve: "No, because we have found what we were looking for. In this album we sound better than we have ever done with Kevin. We feel comfortable with him and we work quite fast. Why change the combination if it works? It would be something to take into consideration if it wasn't working…"

Q: If it ain't broke don't fix it.

Steve: Exactly.

Q: The band sounds much more organic than other bands from nowadays. Were you trying to find that sound or do you think that it is the definite MAIDEN sound?

Steve: "The only thing we have changed in purpose on this occasion is the bass sound. On the last two albums I think that I went away from my classical bass sound, due to the presence of thre guitars. So, we looked back and listened to our early stuff to recover the bass sound of our first four albums. I told this to Kevin and I think it now sounds much better, with more space for the drums. I think that's the only thing we wanted to intentionally change, the rest came naturally. And I agree that the album sounds much more organic. We do what we do and that's the result of it. Kevin is really settled now. This is his third album with us. He knows how we all work and knows how to get the best possible sound from this band."

Q: The recording was done mostly live. Am I right?

Steve: "The initial backing tracks were done real fast. The way we have changed things this time is that we have worked with a very lively feel. We worked in the backing tracks of one song, we added all the extra stuff, we mixed it and then off we went to the next song. It was a great way to work."

Q: I read Kevin's diaries and I have noticed that the album was done really quick, in just two months.

Steve: "That's because it's Kevin's third album and it accelerates many things. The writing was done quite fast, so we could work much more time with Nicko. Thus, he knew the songs much better when we entered the studio and we could record the basic tracks quite fast. Moreover, we worked tune by tune. It has not been lethargic. If you spend too much time in the studio you get fed up with everything and the tension and discussions arise. This time we focused on each song and once it was finished, it was time to do another song."

Q: I think that Bruce's voice sounded a bit hidden in some songs, mostly in "Different World". Is it some kind of punishment for not behaving properly in last years Ozzfest?

Steve: "(Laughs) No, nothing like that. It depends on the song. Sometimes the voice needs to be up in the mix and sometimes needs to be mixed slightly hidden. If you put the voice up you lose that big and fat sound that you want to achieve. That's the reason why his voice might seem hidden in a few songs. But it was done on purpose."

Q: His melody lines are reminiscent of past works in some cases. Especially when he holds the notes at the end of the verses (Harris nods). In the past there have been songs with faster and convoluted vocal lines, like "Hallowed be Thy Name".

Steve: "Well, it depends on what the songs needs. In a way it depends on me, not on Bruce, because I wrote the melody lines for this album and the previous one. If you have to blame somebody, I'm the one (laughs). I try to have things sounding in a certain way and I have my own style of writing. Some people like it and some don't, but what can I do? It's my style. I don't analyze it too much. If you listen to an album and analyze it, you can have an opinion different to that of another listener."

Q: Without analyzing it deeply, do you think that a casual MAIDEN teenage fan will find this album easy to listen? It is difficult to digest.

Steve: "I don't think in that. If I wanted to catch the attention of teenagers I would write material in vein of BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE, with vocal lines more focused to what [is currently popular], but we don't give a fuck what [is currently popular]. We want the young fans, because that's what makes a band evolve, but we also want the other fans, we want all the fans, old, new and all in between. We don't write what people want to hear and we have never done it, because people do not know what they want to hear."

Q: Why do you think MAIDEN have lasted this long? Are you the reason, the other band members or is it everything together?

Steve: "The main reason is what you have mentioned before: we do what we want. If we tried to write for teenagers… First of all, we could not do it, as we are not teenagers anymore. And if we did, we would upset the fans in their thirties. You can't write what people want to hear. We do what we do and then they have to decide if they like it or not. If they like it, great. If they don't, tough. That is our attitude and that is why we keep on being relevant. If it wasn't that way we should do surveys: 'OK, what kind of sound do you want for the next album? What songs do we have to write?' (Laughs)."

Q: And then give them an ice cream at the end of the survey.

Steve: "That's it (Laughs)."

Q: Now I am going to ask you about another subject, although I do not want to [spend much time] on it: last year's Ozzfest. You have always been a professional band that has kept the shit under the carpet and has not discussed their issues in the press. However, it seemed that there were some problems [between] Bruce and the rest of the band.

Steve: "We are professional musicians and we acted like that. They would have preferred it if we had gone away from the stage, I'm sure, but we didn't. The great thing is that the audience was with us and when the PA sound was cut, they supported us. That made me feel proud and actually gave me goose bumps. It was incredible what happened. It's not that they threw shit to us, as our own road crew has done too when we ended other tours (laughs), but it's sad to see people acting that way when they have a problem. If you have a problem, why can't you be… I was going to say a man, but I'm sure that if a man was involved things would have been different. The issues would have been discussed and that's it. Done and dusted. But it wasn't a man who did it, so the [actions were] completely different and I won't even try to understand it."

Q: I thought that there was some problem with Bruce, as he was especially vocal in his displeasure with the fat fans sitting in the first rows in the USA.

Steve: "Whenever we go to the USA, Bruce is very vocal in those things because there are things completely wrong in that country. The fans are great and loyal and I feel sorry they understand the message in a wrong way and think that we do not enjoy playing in the USA. The problem is with the venues. They sell the front-row tickets to people that do not even care for the band. The real fans are in the 20th row and the people from the front rows have been invited or have the money to get those seats and sit there eating fucking fried chicken. Imagine playing in front of those people. You get really upset!

"The problem is that, when you are in the 20th row you can't always see the reason why we are so pissed, because you don't see what happens in the front rows. In the future we must play in other places. There are other venues, but not always available. Sometimes you have to play in the venues where these things happen, but we'll try to get the real fans to the front rows. When we headline in Denver, for example, we play in the same venues Ozzfest [plays] and the problem is exactly the same. There are assholes in the front rows that do not care for what you are doing. Seriously, it seems that if they had a remote control they would change the TV channel (Laughs). Why do they go to the show? Why are they there? That's the kind of people that should be at the back. They have their right to be at the show, they have bought their ticket, but I don't think they should be sitting in the front rows.

"We get the feedback from the fans in the first rows more than any other band. We need that contact to enjoy the show. We can be professional players and get on playing, but it shouldn't be that way. The real fans should be in the front rows."

Q: The problem is that most venues are owned by Clear Channel and one cannot fight against the elements.

Steve: "One can, and we will. We will see what happens."

Q: People do not see what happens in the front rows and think that Bruce is having one of his tantrums. Perhaps due to his reputation, although he's more mature than 20 years ago.

Steve: "But Bruce has always complained about what happens in the USA, because the problem is not new. If Bruce can't stand something, he has to say it and I feel the same way, although I would say it in a different way. When Bruce complains about MTV, he is right, and I'm not referring to 'The Osbournes'. It's not a show as big as they think it is. I like 'The Osbournes', I think it's an amusing show. The problem is that MTV just has reality TV shows and things like that, they don't care about music. That's what Bruce is complaining about. They think that when we criticize MTV and all that shit we are criticizing 'The Osbournes'. It's a problem of their ego."

Q: But she [Sharon Osbourne] thought it was personal.

Steve: "Why? Because she has an ego the size of fucking California!"

Q: I don't know Steve, it seems that Sharon Osbourne is a peculiar woman. Those of you who have worked with her might know it better than me.

Steve: "I met her several times over the years and I haven't had any problem with her before, but what she did wasn't professional. If she had a problem with somebody, she should have talked with Rod or directly with Bruce. Why did she wait until the end of the tour and did she act that way? If she didn't like something, she should have stopped it way before. I'll tell you something. It wasn't just that. We played a great show on the first night of the tour in Boston and she did not say anything. But on the second show, we went onstage and we had no sound. Nothing was coming from the PA during the first song. I think that it's highly unprofessional."

Q: Do you think that a possible reason is that in IRON MAIDEN the singer still sings, instead of stutter or babble?

Steve: "No idea, I don't know what made her act that way. It's shit… We would not do it again. We have headlined in the USA since fucking 1983 and we did Ozzfest to try to reach a new generation of fans. It's difficult to get to them in another way and I think it worked. However, look what happened in the end…"

Q: How was to play an extended set because Ozzy could not perform in certain nights?

Steve: "We knew it would happen. We knew he would not be able to do two shows in a row. We knew it could happen."

Q: So it wasn't a surprise then.

Steve: "No, we were ready for it. We did not have any problem with Ozzy. One of the nights he could not perform, Bruce said some kind words from the stage, wishing him a fast recovery and all the best. Apparently his wife wasn't listening…"

Q: Ozzy is not the problem, his wife is.

Steve: "Oh, I haven't said anything. I have said too much (Laughs)."

Q: Back to the album. There are two songs that have surprised me: "For the Greater Good of God" and "The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg". Those are the tunes I find more similar to the material from "Dance of Death". Are they leftovers from the recording sessions of the previous album?

Steve: "No, everything in this album is new. There is just a part of a song where I have used a bass idea from a previous song, but it doesn't have anything to do with 'Dance of Death'."

Q: I think that sometimes you try to make room for three guitars when the song hasn't got enough space for three guitar solos or multiple harmonies. Do you think the three guitars are overused in the band?

Steve: "Not really. In the past we have done twin harmonies with a third rhythm guitar. The three guitars are not the reason behind the length of the songs."

Q: What is the plan for the future? Some years ago you said you were going to tour less, recording albums in the winter and touring in the summer.

Steve: "To be fair, we do not want to do nine- or 10-month tours. We can't do them physically. If we did those tours, we would risk ourselves to be burnt out and then have some years off. The last tour was four months long and when we finished it we were still wanting more, something that it's really good (laughs)! It means we could return to work faster, instead of touring for 10 months and then have a year off. The only problem is that we can't do more than a date in Spain and that we don't play in Portugal, Greece or Belgium, places where we should play."

Q: But you don't do seven dates in the same country, like it happened before in Spain.

Steve: "We are not 20 years old anymore. The problem is that the band gets bigger every year, but we cannot be on tour for nine months, because then…"

Q: ... You feel old.

Steve: "It's not that we would feel old; it's a matter of quality over quantity. It's better to do things well. We have to be realistic."

Q: There have been many rumours in the press about the end of MAIDEN.

Steve: "We can't go on forever. Now we feel strong. The only reason why we keep going is because nowadays we plan things in a better way. If we kept on doing things like in the old days, we would realize that we could not keep playing."

Q: Don't get me wrong, I don't want MAIDEN to end!

Steve: "Of course, but it's a typical thing to speculate about. We have to plan things well and then we could keep the band alive longer."

Q: I believe you would do this album tour. Then, another retrospective tour with songs from "Powerslave", "Somewhere in Time" and so on will follow and, finally, a last album and a tour before retirement.

Steve: "We don't know it yet. We would like to do many things. We would love to do another studio album and we will probably record one. Or perhaps we won't. We have to be passionate about what we do."

Q: If it wasn't for the private jets, would you have continued touring?

Steve: "When touring becomes a problem you realize that you don't want to do it. Now we enjoy touring. Due to our popularity, we should be playing much more shows, but we can't anymore. Now we play in certain cities one year and in different cities the following. Perhaps people would have to travel to see us live…"

Q: It's what many classical artists do: tours with just 15-20 dates. People go to see them instead of them going to play to wherever the people are.

Steve: "Well, we have been one of the hardest touring bands ever and we have earned our right to tour less. What do people prefer? A nine-month tour and then the band breaking up because we could not keep on doing this? I think that's not the best possible solution…"

Q: People should check the World Slavery tour schedule.

Steve: "Unfortunately this is a problem for our younger fans that haven't seen us live many times. But we can't do anything about it. We can't do long tours. Nowadays flights are cheaper and a fan has more chances to catch a plane to see us. I know it's a problem, but we can't do anything about it if we want to keep going."

Q: In this way you also avoid to be seen live too many times, as it has happened with SAXON, who play in every European festival year after year.

Steve: "You are completely right. We are going to get loads of shit for not playing in Portugal — especially myself, as I have my second home there — or in Belgium, Greece, Australia and all those other countries. But what can you do? You can't please everybody."


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