Adrian Smith has praised late producer Martin Birch for his work with IRON MAIDEN, saying "he let us sound like we sounded."
The British music producer, whose nickname was Headmaster, died in August at the age of 71. He was perhaps best known for his 11-year stint with MAIDEN, serving as the producer and engineer of such classic albums as "Killers", "The Number Of The Beast", "Piece Of Mind" and "Somewhere In Time".
In a new interview with Rodrigo Altaf of Sonic Perspectives, Smith was asked how Birch helped shape the MAIDEN sound in the mid-1980s. The guitarist responded: "Well, it's interesting you say that about shaping the sound. Martin wasn't the sort of producer who would make you sound like you weren't, if you know what I mean. Some producers have their own sound. Martin let us sound like we sounded. He just captured what we were, and that was his strong point. His productions weren't bombastic and overproduced — they were very natural. To be quite honest, sometimes I had a problem with that. I thought we should sound a bit more bombastic and bigger sounding, but that's the way Martin did it, and that was his strength."
He continued: "Some of my favorite albums I've heard were [produced by] Martin. I think my favorite all-time album is probably [DEEP PURPLE's] 'Machine Head', and that's what got me into music. And that's just a very, very dry kind of — it sounds like the band. Another of Martin's strengths was man management, as I call it. It is very important for a producer, when you've got five personalities in the band, and you have to balance it and keep everybody happy and do the best for the overall outcome. So he was really good at that — getting a good performance out of you… He was a bit crazy as well. He worked very hard, but he used to play very hard as well. And there's a few stories in [my] book about that."
IRON MAIDEN albums produced by Martin Birch:
1981 - Killers
1982 - The Number Of The Beast
1983 - Piece Of Mind
1984 - Powerslave
1985 - Live After Death
1986 - Somewhere In Time
1988 - Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son
1990 - No Prayer For The Dying
1992 - Fear Of The Dark
1994 - Maiden England '88
A day after Birch's passing, MAIDEN bassist Steve Harris said in a statement: "He was just absolutely brilliant. He wasn't just a producer, he was a hands-on engineer too, so he knew how to get a great sound. He was also fantastic at motivating people; he just had a knack of getting the best out of you. He was also a really nice man, great fun with a terrific sense of humor and that made him easy to work with. We all got along with him really well and the whole band is very saddened by today's news."
Added singer Bruce Dickinson: "To me, Martin was a mentor who completely transformed my singing: he was a psychotherapist and, in his own words, a juggler who could mirror exactly what a band was. That was his special talent as a producer. He was not a puppeteer, he did not manipulate the sound of the band, he just reflected it in the best possible way. Apart from all of that, he was a wonderful, warm and funny human being.
"Martin and I shared a passion for martial arts — he for karate and me for fencing which gave us another bond too.
"I'm so very sad to hear this news. It's incredible that he has passed away at such a young age for a man who was so full of life."
Birch, who began his career in the late 1960s as an engineer, also worked on recordings for DEEP PURPLE ("In Rock", "Machine Head"), RAINBOW ("Rising", "Long Live Rock 'N' Roll"), WHITESNAKE ("Saints & Sinners") and BLACK SABBATH ("Heaven And Hell", "Mob Rules"). He retired in 1992.
Speaking with Classic Rock about "The Number Of The Beast", Birch said: "I had the same feeling on 'The Number Of The Beast' as when we did DEEP PURPLE's 'Machine Head'. It was the same kind of atmosphere, the same kind of feeling, like, something really good is happening here.
"I remember we spent ages getting the vocal intro to the title track right. We did it over and over and over until Bruce Dickinson said, 'My head is splitting. Can't we move on and do something else and come back to this?' But I wouldn't let him do anything else until he'd got it perfect. It drove him crazy."