Unbuttoning The Mind Of BRUCE DICKINSON - “It’s Not Like I'm Going To Do A Solo Record And Jump Ship Or Anything Like That”
December 15, 2017, a year ago
As Paul McCartney once wrote, it’s a long and winding road. For some, it’s filled with wide-eyed adventure and dreams envisioned coming true. Undoubtedly, Bruce Dickinson’s eyes were opened grand-canyon wide when the world was introduced to the “Air Raid Siren” on The Number Of The Beast. For Dickinson and the band, it was rare musical magic that catapulted them into distant lands and seas of horn-waving faces. The epic parade would end for Dickinson shortly after his first solo record, Tattooed Millionaire, and you knew that Steve Harris’ ego was most certainly taken aback when the likes of Balls To Picasso and more importantly, Accident Of Birth along with Chemical Wedding appeared appeasing Maiden fans across the globe. Purists believed that Dickinson’s solo work cast a dark shadow over his former bandmates as they plodded along struggling with the unlikely fit of Blaze Bayley. Years later the planets would align for Maiden on the triumphant reunion album, Brave New World.
Fast forward to the present, the Maiden juggernaut is gearing up for another massive tour promoting their latest epic success story, The Book Of Souls. But that is merely one piece of the Dickinson resume, who has victoriously spearheaded Trooper beer and of course his soaring aviation career. And it’s all outlined in his latest book - a “novel” as he puts it below - What Does This Button Do? So we joyfully get a peek into the unbuttoned mind of one of heavy metal’s treasured souls as he digs deep into his personal past.
So after a wee plane delay in Finland, BraveWords caught up with the multi-faceted singer in Copenhagen as he continues to chin-wag to media and fans about the words he’s written.
BraveWords: To say that you’ve always been a busy man is the understatement of the year.
Dickinson: “I know, its crazy isn’t it. I should slow down, but I don't think I can."
BraveWords: I wanted to thank you for sharing your life with us. It's certainly not the follow up to Lord Iffy Boat Race correct?
Dickinson: “Funnily enough, during this mini book tour, people did ask if there was any advantage in doing previous novels, and did it transfer to this particular episode. Not really to be honest. All I knew before I started writing this was that it was going to take a while, because you just have to physically put the words down on paper. I didn't bother with a ghost writer, so it was down to me.”
BraveWords: It just seems that everything you touch has turned to gold in your life. It's very inspiring.
Dickinson: “(Laughs) Thank you for that. I take it that means that you quite like the book.”
BraveWords: Absolutely, it was a great learning experience peeking into the head of the Air Raid Siren. I can picture you scribbling on little notes for years. It always blows my mind when people create these tell-all, life experience tales. Like, how the hell can you remember and recall all this? So it must have been a work in progress for a long time.
Dickinson: “Bizarrely enough, no. I didn't start writing it until the middle of February of this year. I don't keep a diary. One that would contain my thoughts, opinions and things like that. I just keep a desk diary of weekly things I need to remember and then half the time it's not very accurate. Most of it was just recall. I used to go the pub and have a couple of beers and I'd sit down and sort of talk to myself. But instead of talking to myself, I'd be writing it down on physical paper."
BraveWords: Any mingling at the pub with people that would reminisce with you?
Dickinson: “No, no, not at all. I had a little note book that I would write ideas down. And it was bizarre, because sometimes I'd be sitting there writing in my notebook - I hand wrote everything on an A4 pad. Effectively, I had seven or eight A4 pads filled. One hundred sheets of paper each one. But before I got to that stage, I'd be writing things down in a notebook. I would sit there until quite late in the evening basically daydreaming in my own little world. It is amazing the number of people that came up to me and asked what I was writing. And I would answer ‘nothing in particular, you wouldn't care. It's for a book.’ ‘What sort of book’ somebody would ask. ‘I don't know, I haven't written it yet. Really, I'm just coming up with ideas.’ Honestly, it was really weird. It was like I had a big flag on my head - come over and talk to me because I'm doing something strange. If I would've sat there with my laptop, nobody would've cared. But because I was actually writing on a piece of paper and looking like I was in some other world, people were really obsessive about what I was doing. And it made me think about the power of imagination you know. It's attractive to people.”
BraveWords: Are you saying this book wrote itself then?
Dickinson: “It kind of wrote itself, yeah. I mean I write far too much. I wrote 40,000 words more than I needed, or more than the publisher needed. He said, ‘the crucial entry of it is around 400 pages, give or take a few.’ So we set about editing out a big chunk of what I had written. And not because it was bad, but I had to tighten the whole thing up. The editor that has the fantastic name of Jack Fog, he had this view; because the stories are basically pretty much self contained, he wanted the thing to read almost like a novel. So that's the way we edited it. So a lot of really good stories went by the wayside, simply because we didn’t need four additional stories, all about the early days of Samson for example. We only needed one or two.”
BraveWords: I was really curious about your life with your parents and the support of lack thereof. What did the nut learn from the tree?
Dickinson: “It's inevitable that you always look for something good. Because with your parents, you always look for something good. You look for the positives, because after all, you are their kids and they try. Although, I know some people are unbelievably close with their parents, but I wasn’t, not emotionally anyway. But that's just the way life is. It wasn't like it was abusive or horrid - they didn't tie me up and leave me in the basement and feed me rats. I had other kids that I absolutely adored their parents, and they had great relationships with them. They were like best friends. My parents just weren't like that. You just deal with it and say ‘what other good things do you get?’ One of the good things that I learned from my dad was that you had to work really hard, never give up and stuff. So those are good things to learn.”
BraveWords: So when you finally gravitate towards the arts and started singing, was their support present? Or was it like, ‘you really don't want to be a rock 'n' roll star or an actor do you?’
Dickinson: “No, I had a complete double life. I had a cover story, and I probably would've made a pretty good spy. I had a cover story where I was going to go to university and study history or go into to the army. So I was going to do all these things, but in reality I was thinking about something else. I actually went quite a bit down the route of joining the army, but in truth and underneath, what I really wanted to be was a performer, but I couldn't ever tell them that, so I didn’t. So I went into university in London and it was this far away from the Sheffield that I could possibly get, on the basis that I had to get to London. If you wanted to be a performer, that was where you were going to find out life and where everything in the universe revolved around."
BraveWords: So you had to leave a smaller city and go for the big leagues?
Dickinson: “Yeah, everybody does. You could be the best guitar player in the world and sit in the middle of the Sahara desert and you'll never be Jimi Hendrix.”
BraveWords: Speaking of finding fame in London…
Dickinson: “Yes, exactly.”
BraveWords: Now, with Iron Maiden, we always knew about the power struggles between you and Steve Harris, but truly when you entered the band, the spotlight and focus kind of shifted.
Dickinson: “Yeah, the focus has been shifting a little bit over the years to be honest with you. Obviously there are little negotiations behind the scenes that take place. In groups of people there always are, but really, we’ve come to a comfortable place now, where we all agree that the most important thing is the universal mothership which is Iron Maiden. That is the mother that gave birth to all of us. That is the reason why we have any kind of relationship between all the guys in the band. It's entirely because of Iron Maiden. I would never have met Steve Harris if it wasn't for Iron Maiden. I would've never met Adrian (Smith), Nicko (McBrain) would’ve never have met Steve Harris. None of us would never have met up if it wasn't for Iron Maiden. And when I rejoined the band, that really became clear. Up until then I don't think we really addressed it. We started to believe our press releases. Rod (Smallwood) had the thing that we were all working class lads who had met up for some sort of common cause. It was a democracy, and Steve wasn't really the boss. Of course Steve was the boss in the early days, and he is still the boss to an extent right now. But we have a much more collaborative relationship now between everybody in the band you know. Because we all agree on a common purpose. We all agree on our common ancestry if you like. In the beginning when we were all thrown into this melting pot, it wasn't quite like that. We all came from different backgrounds, different bands. There were elements where people were uncomfortable with things. I talk about Adrian, but he would never have been happy buying into all this mythology, but he did because there really wasn't anywhere else he could go. And in the end he left. But everybody coming back was a whole different ballgame. And Steve - and I may be putting words into his mouth - when we all did get back together, it became the utility of burying the hatchet and making it much more collaborative. Of course, he might have the final say in some instances, but the nickname that everybody used to have back in the day was the Ayatollah. That’s why people used to call him outside of the band. A little bit unfair to be honest with you; it says something about the relationships. But that's no longer the case. I don't believe to be the case anyway. So we are in a pretty good space now.”
BraveWords: You are intent on building the Bruce Dickinson brand, whether it be beer or planes. What drives you?
Dickinson: “Well, let's start with the beer thing. For starters, I drive it, with all the guys in Maiden. I mean, we split everything in six ways, it's not like it's my brand. I'm quite happy with that. Like Steve does his headphones (ED-PH0N3S) and we split that six ways, but obviously the beer is pretty successful. But we all stand or fall together in a lot of things really. Yeah, the aviation thing is a separate entity. It's something that I've done for myself. Obviously working full-time as an airline pilot for ten years, it's kind of an unusual thing to do given my circumstances. But it's lead to great things with the band. We wouldn't have done and Ed-Force One five times around the world I think it is now, if it hadn't been for my aviation. That alone has done really well for Maiden. It's been very interesting for me and something I'm really passionate about and something I love. I’ve probably spent far too much money starting three aviation businesses. Again, its something that I believe in and something that I think will really work. I'm employing about 250 people right now and looking for a major investor to come in with many millions of dollars. I see the entire organization ramping up and employing more people, doing a lot of great work. And that will be wonderful, because it will be a vindication of something. I'm not really interested in making huge sums of money, playing on bitcoins or the stock exchange. I’m interested in having fun and doing things with people.”
BraveWords: As you know, I'm a big fan of your solo material and not that you really fast forwarded through that in the book, it seemed to be one of those topics that your editor said ‘we need to chop this down a bit?’
Dickinson: “It's interesting that you say that, because I thought I gave my solo career a fair amount of air time in the book. Not withstanding the fact that it's not actually over with. I've certainly been hugely inspired by people's reaction to the book. I mean, I've been doing a lot of appearances and signing things, and probably one person in three or four ask me when I'm going to do another solo record. The truth of the matter is I've already done half of the solo album, except the fact that purloined for the opening track of The Book Of Souls album. ‘If Eternity Should Fail’ was the title track for a new solo album. But it was obvious that there was no way I was going to finish the album and get it out. So rather than having the track just sitting around I said ‘hey we may as well let it see the light of day and get it out there.’ We made a couple of modifications to it, but by and large it's pretty close to the original that I recorded with Roy (Z). My intention is, over the course of the next 18 months or whatever, is to use some time and go over and do some more writing. Focus on the process without being in an unseemly hurry to get it out and put it together properly at some point. I wish I could be more specific, but obviously I have a tour coming up with Maiden which I love. We been planning this tour for like a year now and it's going to be very spectacular. I'm 100% involved. It’s not like I'm going to do a solo record and jump ship or anything like that. Whatever I do is being totally complementary.”
BraveWords: And you are working with Roy Z.
Dickinson: “Yes, that’s the idea. I've worked with Roy to date on stuff nearly three years ago now. It sounds great you know. I want to go back and experiment a bit more with that. I've got some ideas. If we get stuck in a room together, we tend to write fairly intensively and we can put stuff down relatively quickly. In seven to ten days we can do a huge amount. Once we get all of the skeleton put down, putting the meat on the bone and actually doing the finished product, that can take a little bit longer. Actually, the way we did it on an album like Tyranny Of Souls, where I actually didn't have a band as such, we just used people on in an ad hoc basis to do the drums and the bass. We put it together bit by bit. The end result on Tyranny Of Souls was astonishing, it was a great sounding record. And I thought this was kind of a nice way to work. It was relaxed and I often think that you get some of your best results when you're like that and you have no pressure of time. You only have the pressure of ‘is this really good, is this really cool?’ Not working against a deadline - ‘I must release this, the record company cannot afford to eat or something.’”
(All Bruce Dickinson publicity photos by John McMurtrie)