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LIVE IN THE STUDIO WITH BRUCE DICKINSON

By R. Scott Bolton

August 1998


"He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star."
William Blake (1757-1827), English poet, painter, engraver.
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, plate 7,
"Proverbs of Hell" (1790-93).

Photographer Lou Moreau and I didn't really know what to expect. We were scheduled to meet former IRON MAIDEN frontman Bruce Dickinson at his recording studio in Burbank, California at 6:00PM. Bruce was hard at work on his new album, "Chemical Wedding," (due out September 15) and wanted to share with some of the rock press how it was coming along. We were lucky enough to receive an invitation.

We had received a four song advance from Bruce's publicist, the ever trustworthy Laura Kaufman. "And when you get to the studio," Laura told us, "Bruce will play some of the other new songs for you as well."

Again, Lou and I didn't know what to expect. We were meeting with the man who had been the lead vocalist and frontman for perhaps the most popular - and certainly one of the best - heavy metal bands of the '80s - IRON MAIDEN. Bruce had left the band several years before, forging a solo career that had produced five great albums (the latest being the outstanding "Accident of Birth," which went on to sell over 80,000 copies in the U.S.) and a loyal legion of fans that was comprised both of his MAIDEN followers and newer fans who had discovered his music through Bruce's solo career.

It wasn't that Lou and I hadn't done interviews before - we have, of course, several of which have appeared here on Rough Edge Online. However, we had had an incident with Bruce only a few months earlier at the House of Blues in Los Angeles. During a live performance to support "Accident of Birth," Bruce had doused Lou's camera with water after mistakenly thinking Lou had neglected to turn off the flash - something we had agreed, in writing, to do. (It was the flashes of the many smuggled personal fan cameras that were blinding Bruce. However, Bruce had been recovering from a bad case of the flu and Lou - being the biggest and most obvious photographer, flash or not - took the brunt of Bruce's anger.)

Was this interview going to be with an egotistical rock star with an chip on his shoulder? Or was it going to be one of those interviews that seems more like a conversation with an old friend.

Again - Lou and I didn't have a clue.

We drove past the Burbank studio once, wondering why the windows were taped over with masking tape and cardboard. Maybe Bruce was really pissed off about the Rough Edge column I wrote after the House of Blues fiasco and was luring us here to beat the snot out of us. I told Lou I didn't think that was the situation. After all, my previous Rough Edge article had ended thus: "Regardless, Bruce sounded great, his new band sounds great and, again, 'Accident of Birth' sounds great." Not exactly a damning finale!

Regardless, Lou and I agreed not to bring the House of Blues up.

We spun around and decided to take a quick drive through the back alley. Maybe the front of the studio was blocked off because they just plain didn't use it. Made sense. The entrance was probably in the rear.

As we cruised down the alley though, both Lou and I noticed something ahead of us at the same time. And our feelings of unease melted away.

It was Bruce Dickinson, wearing only a short pair of what looked like bicycle shorts - spread out like an X in a plastic chair, soaking up the last of the sun's warm rays. A pair of dogs - one a big black tailless thing, the other a "Yo Quiero Taco Bell" chihuahua, barked their canine warnings at us.

"Is that...?" I said.

"Oh, man," Lou replied, "I think I just got a whole new image of the guy."

We drove passed and Bruce looked up. I gave him a little wave and he nodded a greeting back.

Hey, maybe this wasn't going to be bad at all.

"Soaking up some rays, Bruce?" I said, after we had parked the truck and returned to the studio.

We introduced ourselves and Bruce shook our hands pleasantly. "Right through there," he said. And led us into the studio.

"Have you listened to the four tracks?" he asked, as we waded our way through equipment and people. Engineers, friends, Roy - the album's producer.

"Yes," I told him honestly. I'd been listening to it over and over since it arrived in my mail box the day before. Frigging killer; maybe even better than "Accident of Birth." Certainly heavier, certainly more impassioned. "It's excellent," I told him.

"Yeah," Bruce said humbly, "Wait until you hear some more."

Laura, Bruce's publicist, had told me that Bruce's new album was going to be heavier than "Accident of Birth." Frankly, that was a cause of concern at first. When you hear that a band's new album is going to be "heavier" than the last one, you start thinking about JUDAS PRIEST and "Jugulator" - a record I liked but still made me miss the old JUDAS PRIEST sound. I was hoping that Bruce hadn't made the mistake so many other bands seemed to be making - sacrificing good songwriting just to make the music seem heavier. Once I had received the tape, however, I knew that wasn't the case. All of the songs on the advance cassette were classic Bruce Dickinson. Sharp, heavy guitar and drum sounds with steady pounding rhythms, Bruce's trademark vocals (he's been called the Frank Sinatra of heavy metal) and lyrics that were more than intelligent - they were poetic.

We sat down in the studio and Bruce put on the DAT of the new album, which he subsequently told us would be called "Chemical Wedding." For the next thirty minutes or so, we just sat there, listening to what is easily going to be one of the best - if not THE best - hard rock recordings of the year.

"Chemical Wedding" is a perfect follow-up to Dickinson's powerful "Accident of Birth." But it's got more substance - both musically and lyrically - than the last album. With the same band that recorded "Accident," (including former MAIDEN bandmate Adrian Smith) Bruce has done what he always seems to do. He's taken his music to that next step without sacrificing any of its original power or freshness.

"No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings."
William Blake (1757-1827), English poet, painter, engraver.
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Plate 7,
"Proverbs of Hell," (1790-93).

Despite his excellent body of work with IRON MAIDEN, the power and originality of Bruce's music seems to have grown at an even faster rate with his solo career. Later, Bruce told us that one of the reasons he left IRON MAIDEN was that he was convinced their sound wasn't keeping up with the times. "I mean technically," he said, "I think the songwriting and performances were still good. But there was technology available that we just weren't using. I remember hearing this record by DREAM THEATER and I thought, 'that's fucking brilliant - that's how we should sound."

But IRON MAIDEN was - and is - Steve Harris' band. The fans know that, Bruce knows that. Eventually, Bruce found himself becoming more and more dissatisfied with the band and that's when he started thinking about leaving.

"I had a choice," Bruce said, "I could stay with the band and be unhappy with the direction we were going - or I could leave. So I thought, 'Well, what's the worse that can happen if I left?' And I realized that I could just fade away into obscurity. Would that be so bad? I mean, what's the worst that could happen? I'd sit around by myself all day and play guitar and sing for fun? That didn't sound so bad."

So one day, he finally went into the office of Rod Smallwood, the band's manager. "I told Rod, 'Well, I've got good news and bad news. The bad news is that I'm leaving the band. The good news is that now you'll have two killer bands instead of just one.'"

IRON MAIDEN was in the middle of a tour, and Bruce told Rod he would do whatever Rod wanted him to do. Cancel the tour, finish the tour, record one more album. Whatever Rod thought best. It was decided that the tour would be completed, even though word of Bruce's leaving had reached the fans.

"It was very strange," Bruce told us, "The first night I went out onstage after making the announcement, I thought: 'What are all these people going to think about me? If I run around and scream like a madman, they'll say, 'What's he so fucking happy about? He's leaving the band!' But if I just stand there and sing, they'll say that I don't really care anymore. I didn't know what to do. Finally, I decided, I'll just sing. That's really all I could do." Bruce laughs a little, almost sadly. "You know, Steve's still bent out of shape over those last shows," he says, "I've seen him say 'He (Bruce) didn't really try hard enough on those last shows.' But I was damned if I did and damned if I didn't."

"One thought fills immensity."
William Blake (1757-1827), English poet, painter, engraver.
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,
Plate 8 (1790-93).

Back to the present and "Chemical Wedding." Just after listening to the four track sample, it seemed that there was a thread - a theme - running through the songs. After hearing more in the studio, it seemed even more certain. "Is there a theme to this album?" we asked.

"Oh, yes," Bruce answered. "Alchemy."

"Alchemy?" Lou asked, his ears perking up. Alchemy is a favorite subject of Lou's. "What kind of alchemy?"

And here Bruce went on to explain William Blake, English poet, painter and engraver of the 18th century. "Blake said that everything was poetry," he explained, "And that God was the ultimate poet." He laughed again. "In fact, 50% of 'Jerusalem' (a song on the new album) is entirely Blake's words. No, more like 90%. And the album cover is a Blake painting."

Things got pretty complicated from this point on, with Lou and Bruce discussing everything from alchemy to the druids. I smiled and tried to look like I knew what they were talking about. I think I fooled them.

Finally, "Chemical Wedding" came up again. "I just wanted to make a great heavy metal record," Bruce says, earning my respect as one of the veteran metal musicians who isn't afraid to say the "HM" word. "I really liked what we did with "Accident of Birth" but I knew we could go further. And we did with this album. The last one was good, but this one's even better."

Bruce then played us the song that will be the bonus track on the Japanese release of "Chemical Wedding." It was by no means the usual "filler" one might have come to expect from a "bonus" track. Indeed, it was yet another extension of a fine album.

"I hate when somebody just tacks on an unplugged version of something," Lou said.

"Yeah," Bruce agreed, "That's bullshit."

I asked Bruce if the band would be touring to support "Chemical Wedding."

"That's really up to the record company," he said.

"How is it working with a relatively smaller record company as opposed to one of the big ones? Do you get more say-so? Is it easier?" I asked.

Bruce smiled. "They don't see anything until they get the finished record," he said. "But I can't wait to get this band out on the road. There's something about this band that just. . .just connects."

"Yeah, we caught your show at the House of Blues," I started. Lou kicked me under the table.

"Oh, you saw that show?" Bruce said.

"Yeah, great show," I told him. And meant it. Despite Lou's watery reception.

"Then you know," Bruce said.

"The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind."
William Blake (1757-1827), English poet, painter, engraver.
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, plates 17-20,
"A Memorable Fancy" (1790; repr. in Complete Writings,
ed. by Geoffrey Keynes, 1957).

And that was about the end of it. A pleasant evening talking with one of hard rock's brightest talents and listening to what's sure to be one of the year's best heavy records. And it proved to Lou and I that Bruce Dickinson wasn't the Eddie-like monster we thought he might be after our House of Blues experience. And, hopefully, it proved to Bruce that we weren't the kind of inconsiderate paparazzi who would blatantly ignore the requests of a performer and blind him with our camera flash.

But it was interesting - in a kind of poetic irony that William Blake might find amusing - that as the evening drew to a close I asked Bruce if we might get a picture. He agreed, and posed near the computer board where "Chemical Wedding" had been recorded.

Lou was in the other room, checking out the gold records on the wall, so I volunteered to take the picture. I put the camera to my eye, sighted the picture and pushed the button.

There was no flash.

There was no click, either.

The batteries were dead.

Oh, well. Maybe next time.


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Copyright 1999 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:10 -0400
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