BRUCE DICKINSON: "Where I Didn't Want To End Up Was On The Metal Or Rock Cabaret Circuit"
July 19, 2006, 12 years ago
X-Press Online (www.xpressmag.com.au) has issued the following report from Lars Hoffman:
To misquote THE MOODY BLUES, BRUCE DICKINSON is not just a singer in a heavy metal band…
First rising to prominence with UK outfit SAMSON in 1980, Dickinson joined heavy metal legends IRON MAIDEN in 1982 and went on to change the path of the genre on albums such as The Number Of The Beast, Piece Of Mind, Powerslave and Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son.
During his first tenure with the band, he also released a solo album, Tattooed Millionaire, which eventually inspired his departure in 1993.
From there Dickinson maintained a thriving solo career, releasing numerous albums and live videos. He has also written two books (1990's The Adventures Of Lord Iffy Boatrace and 1992's The Missionary Position), presented TV and radio shows, pursued his love of fencing to expert heights and flown Boeing 757 charter jets for the UK charter airline, Astraeus.
Dickinson rejoined Iron Maiden in 1999 and is a member to this day. This hasn't stopped him however, from recently releasing Anthology, a three-disc DVD package that contains Dive! Dive! Live! (1991), Skunkworks Live (1997) plus promo videos and early footage from his days in Samson.
This week's X-Press Interview finds Dickinson in fine and honest form, he smells the roses and counts the thorns at every turn.
Q: Let's begin by talking about Dive! Dive! Live!, which was filmed at the Town & Country Club in California during your first solo tour. Was it a humbling experience to be back in the clubs when you'd become so accustomed to arenas, or a refreshing change?
A: "The entire tour was really refreshing. We had a great time. It's a shame in a way that we didn't film Dive! Dive! Live! in Europe, because some of those shows were cool. It was an odd video to make, frankly. I thought we'd have lots of hand-held cameras, but what turned up were all these great big cranes and flying jibs. Half the audience was excluded to make room for the camera tracks. It was really unsatisfactory. The budget was obscene and if I'd controlled it I could've made about three videos for the same price."
Q: I believe the audience that night wasn't even allowed to drink?
A: "That's right! They weren't allowed to do anything. They were corralled in pens like cattle. It didn't belong anywhere near a rock 'n' roll show."
Q: Was it a typical arms-crossed, hard-to-impress LA audience?
A: "Yeah. But the crowd was made miserable by being dry as a bone and bossed about by all these self-important video idiots. Or vidiots, as I like to call them."
Q: Despite all these reservations, would you say Dive! Dive! Live! is a decent representation of your first solo tour?
A: "No. It's crap, but it's the only documentation of the tour. At the end of the show, I went into the truck, got the 24-track master audiotapes and threw them in the river. The bloke who was with me, Merck Mercuriadis, was actually on his hands and knees recovering the tapes. I was like 'let them drown you fucker'. These video wankers had come in and ruined what should have been a great night."
Q: While in California, did you experience much of the brain-dead rock star egomania that had inspired the song Tattooed Millionaire?
A: (Laughs) "I don't think you can avoid it. But fortunately MTV and VH1 televise it on a regular basis now. That Cribs show, I think, sums it all up."
Q: You've said many times since that becoming a full-time solo artist was not on your mind at that point. Did you lose count of the times that journalists asked you that question, and did it rile you?
A: "I wasn't counting, but I did expect it. How I reacted to it varied upon whether the journalist actually gave a shit or not. Some of them manifestly thought of it as a way to wind me up, but others were genuinely concerned; those that might have been Maiden fans. So the red mist of anger didn't always descend."
Q: But was there a particular point on that first tour where you smiled to yourself and thought, 'This is cool… I can do this on my own'?
A: "It was probably when we were doing shows in Europe that there seemed to be a little bit less pressure. We were in Helsinki in the frozen North (of Scandinavia) and I recall thinking, 'This is absolutely brilliant'. We were losing pounds of sweat and it was marvellous fun."
Q: Were there any nights when it didn't go to plan?
A: (Straight faced) "Yeah, the night that we recorded the video (laughs). There was also a night in Germany when I had a Ritchie Blackmore (tantrum) moment; a cup of water might have ended up in someone's camera. They just got a bit too close."
Q: By the time you started work on the Skunkworks album, was an element of doubt registering in your mind? It had taken three attempts to record the previous album, Balls To Picasso, and its experimental feel had been greeted by an air of bemusement…
A: "Yeah, the strange thing about Balls To Picasso was that we got talked into making the album less heavy than it should have been. With hindsight, Roy (Z, guitarist) and I both feel it should have been produced differently. In fact, Roy should have produced it himself. But at the time he was relatively unproven. So we went with the received wisdom of others. After the reception to Balls To Picasso, I threw the baby out with the bathwater with Skunkworks. I was trying to wipe the slate clean with a little artistic self-destruction. I was sure that one or two tracks on that album would wind up the purists, and they did. One guy in New York issued death threats, saying he'd stamped on the record and burned it with branding irons. That was a little extreme; it was only a record. But if people were reacting that strongly then I knew I had to be doing something right."
Q: You've said that Skunkworks was an attempt to "take a flamethrower" to your life. It was certainly brave to sever just about all ties with the past, hire Nirvana producer Jack Endino, of all people, and begin anew.
A: "You see, I love Jack's stuff. His secret life is that he's a massive RAINBOW and AC/DC fan. He used to say, 'You mustn't tell anyone I have these records in my collection or my credibility's completely blown'. That's what annoyed me about that era. So many quote/unquote grunge bands were simply trying something different to the LA, cocaine-up-the-nose cock rock thing. The bands they really wanted to pay homage to were the same ones that I grew up idolising - DEEP PURPLE, SABBATH and AC/DC with Bon Scott."
Q: Did you almost feel parental towards the young musos you'd pulled together for Skunkworks?
A: "Er, in a strange way, yeah (laughs). If being parental is closing the bedroom door and looking the other way. On occasions I'd visit the back of the bus and think, 'Don't go there. Or if you do, make sure you take a Kleenex'."
Q: While acknowledging the validity of this time in your career, do you now look back at it as some kind of mid-life crisis?
A: (Contemplates in silence for a moment) "Um, not really. I'd already had my mid-life crisis a bit earlier than that. I'd realised that if we didn't get some kind of life after I'd left Maiden, then there was no future as a singer or a musician. Where I didn't want to end up was on the metal or rock cabaret circuit. Plenty of bands do end up there, and I'm sure they have a laugh, but music's too much of a cathartic experience for me. It's too life changing."
Q: What do you recall of the two Skunkworks shows included here, filmed in Pamplona and Gerona in 1996?
A: "We were intercepted by a French Mirage jet fighter as I flew us into Spain, which was a little concerning. I'm staring out of the cockpit window at this jet, which is just hanging there. I was tempted to slow down, as the thing would've just fallen out of the sky, but that would have been like annoying a wasp. I called the flight controller who said (adopts Monty Pythonesque continental voice) 'He has come to take a look at you'. So we all waved at him, he gave us this Gallic daggers look and then dived away. When I called the controller back he said, 'you are very lucky' (laughs)."
Q: The Spanish footage was shot for a Japanese video EP, but what we get here is pretty much a full concert from the era. How did it make you feel to see it again?
A: "I thought it was pretty darned good, actually. The Skunkworks video was what Dive Dive Live should have been. It also reminded me that there was a crisis at the second show when somebody stole my trousers."
Q: Er… stole your trousers?!
A: "Yeah. And being on a bit of a budget I only had one pair. They were black fake leather snakeskin. Where in Pamplona am I supposed to find a pair of those on a Sunday morning? We finally found some women's disco diva shop that had a pair of stretchy PVC ones that I could just about get into. I noticed during the show that everyone down in the pit was staring anxiously up at me with a look of awe on their faces. I thought, 'well, we're going down well tonight'. Then I realised that my pair of hairy bollocks had released themselves and were swinging around. The trousers had split! So I walked manfully off the stage. We were only about three songs in, so we used black gaffa tape to cover me up. You've heard of the Brazilian wax, afterwards I had the Pamplona version. I suffer for my art!"
Q: The DVD's third live segment was shot in South America during the tour that 1999's Scream For Me Brazil would later document. By that point you'd been back together with Adrian Smith for two albums, and agreed to return to Iron Maiden after an absence of six years for you - longer still for Adrian. A dip in album sales had also been converted to a steady rise. How would you describe the mood on those dates?
A: "I was a little sad. We'd put together a great band with Roy [Z] and the Tribe Of Gypsies guys, and we'd found a sound that was unique. The Accident Of Birth album (1997) had made a big start, but I can look back on The Chemical Wedding (1998) and say that it was a really groundbreaking and influential album - not just for me, but metal in general. I'm still immensely proud of it. We had such a blast touring it - even some of the acoustic jams we did at radio stations, which we've been unable to release - but I'm so glad we were able to liberate all these tapes."
Q: What do you recall of the Sao Paolo show that was filmed?
A: "The concert was part of the Skull Rock series, and with us on the bill were The Scorpions and Jason Bonham, I think. On that particular night we went down an absolute storm, which The Scorpions were very gracious about actually, because a lot of the audience left after we finished."
Q: The footage presented here was originally a bootleg. What's the story of how you came to use it for your own purposes?
A: "It was a bootleg from the TV screens, but it was also filmed for TV. So we approached the TV company. The quality of some of the show wasn't good enough to be used, but the sound is untouched - it comes straight off the mixing desk."
Q: The devotion of the Brazilian fans is well known. Would you say that it's unique?
A: "Well, it's not just Brazil. Argentina and Chile, Mexico, the whole South American continent has always been big on metal. It's not just my solo stuff, it's the same with Maiden. We were one of the first bands to go there for the very first Rock In Rio (in 1985, a show that was reportedly seen by 200 million people throughout over 60 countries). Brazil has a unique musical culture because it's such a melting pot, and it has more people under the age of 21 than anywhere else in the world, so the potential is enormous. They're not stubborn about what they'll listen to, and they do so with great attention, so they're a joy to play for."
Q: Unless you happen to be a particular student of Bruce Dickinson's career, the role of guitarist/producer Roy Z might go unnoticed by some. Have you ever sat down and contemplated where you might be, for instance, had he not played you the riff to Accident Of Birth down the phone? And you'd not flown to LA the very next day to make that album together?
A: (Laughs) "I don't tend to dwell on things like that, but on such strange coincidences empires have been known to fall and rise. Small pebbles dropped in large ponds make big ripples."
Q: Roy Z has certainly been a big rock in your life.
A: "Yes he has indeed. And I think he believes to be in the lives of many others, if there's any justice in the world. As a producer and mentor, Roy is second to none."
Q: Do you have a 'no regrets' attitude to your career?
A: "Yeah. You have to look at decisions you've made and learn from them. I don't think you can go back re-vamping your past, or regretting it. Only if you've hurt others by what you've done. But as long as it's your own career that's been potentially damaged, it's all a learning experience."
Q: How do you feel about the release of Bruce Dickinson: Anthology?
A: "It's not before time. There's so much stuff on it that people will either be unaware of, or would like to have but didn't know where to get it. The Samson video, for example, has been changing hands for an absurd amount of money. Chopping it all together in one package, everyone's got access to it. We spent loads of time making the promos, yet the people that bought Skunkworks, Accident Of Birth and The Chemical Wedding would've had no real access to them because MTV didn't show them. Now everyone can see all the fun we had."
Q: With so many things going on in your life - making your own music and with Iron Maiden, plus deejaying for the BBC and being a qualified commercial pilot - how do you fit it all in?
A: (Shrugs) "I just get on with stuff. There are still one or two things that continue to loom, like a movie project that's almost been made, but they're in a continual state of suspended animation. They have been gathering dust for 15 years so I don't lose sleep about them anymore, I just get on with everything else."
Q: 2005's Tyranny Of Souls was your first solo album in seven years. Critically speaking and sales-wise, it received a great reaction. Schedule permitting, of course, is it safe to say that we will we be seeing plenty more solo action from you?
A: "Yeah. Roy and I have a very tentative schedule for another solo album. Obviously, there's a new Iron Maiden album and nothing will happen before the tour for that winds up next spring. There's no hurry. It took me seven years between The Chemical Wedding and Tyranny Of Souls, and there were only slight objections. People went, 'Oh, at last. And about time, too'. Chemical Wedding was such a good record, I actually did scare myself with it. So I was pretty relieved that Tyranny Of Souls went down so well. Now might be time to move things along, and experiment a bit more. We shall see."