By Brian Clem
After building a following through constant touring,
including opening for bands such as Kiss and Judas Priest,
Iron Maiden changed the face of rock by unleashing a fusillade
of platinum albums in the ’80s, featuring heavy riffs and harmonized
solos by guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith.
When Smith left the band in 1990, they recruited Janick Gers
to take his place. To their credit, they kept Gers on when Smith
rejoined the fold and have rocked a three-guitar assault ever
since. Today Maiden (and their iconic zombie mascot Eddie)
charge headlong into the new decade with their 15th studio
album, the Kevin Shirley-produced The Final Frontier [EMI].
What was the process for creating the new album?
Murray: We decided it would be a good idea to go back to
the Bahamas again, where we recorded a few albums in the
’80s. The climate there is amazing, and the studio is familiar.
In fact, it’s so familiar, it hadn’t changed in 25 years! We recorded
the album in about six weeks. Kevin Shirley brought his electronic
magical things with him. Obviously, we wouldn’t sound
like 1985 again, but we were able to incorporate some of that
vibe. It’s the classic Maiden sound, but it’s also a very clean
recording. We spent about three weeks rehearsing, and then it
was a matter of doing a few takes and getting “the one.” You
need to keep things fresh.
What gear did you use on the new album? Was it your live rig, or did
Murray: I like using effects, but it’s nice to go straight into
the amp. We’d get the basics done live, and when I did use effects,
it was when we overdubbed solos or guitar melodies. Then I’d use a bit of chorus or a Uni-Vibe, which I used
on a couple of tracks. But if you plug straight
into a Marshall amp, you’re gonna get a pretty
great sound anyway.
Gers: I used Marshalls, plugged straight
in. I don’t like it when you’re playing and
you’ve got things ping-ponging around.
When you have a pure sound, it helps everything
stand apart, and that way everyone
doesn’t sound like a bumblebee in a jar.
Smith: I like to go straight into the amp
for the rhythm parts, and then when I do
solos and stuff I might use something like a
Tube Screamer to get a little more sustain.
I used my old goldtop Gibson Les Paul, a
Fender Stratocaster, and my signature Jackson
guitar, then straight into a Marshall DSL.
The band was all playing in the same room,
but our speaker cabinets would be in different
parts of the building, so that way we’d
have some separation.
Was the Uni-Vibe the actual pedal, or are you
referring to a digital plug-in?
Murray: The pedal. I’ve had one for a
while, but I’ve just started using it on some
tracks, and now I’m taking it out on the road.
It sounds great. It’s got a totally unique character.
I don’t use it all the time, but I’ve
always loved that sound.
How hard is it to play live with three distorted
guitars, and not have them clash or sound muddy?
Murray: We have three really distinctive
and different guitar sounds, so even when
we’re playing together in unison or in harmony,
it still sounds different because of our
playing styles. We’re a heavy rock band, but
we still have melodic clean parts. On this
album specifically, it’s not just straight
through heavy songs, there are also some
Smith: We all have a lot of differences in
our playing, our vibrato, and the ways we
approach the pick.
How do you determine who plays which parts
in the studio?
Murray: It depends on the song, and
whether it has harmony parts or not. We just
sit down and go over those kinds of details.
We look at it as a team effort, and everyone
gets a chance to express themselves. It’s not
hard. We don’t spend hours and hours working
at it. It just sort of naturally unfolds.
You said that you recorded a lot of the new
album live in the studio. Does that make it easier
to replicate the harmony parts live?
Murray: Absolutely. That’s the way we’ve
done it since day one. So when it comes to
playing it live, we’re already ahead of the
game. Some nights you get it down and
everything is perfect, and some nights you
do it and have a little mistake here or there,
but you have to realize it’s a show, and just
let it go.
Janick, with three guitars, what parts do you
play on the earlier stuff live?
Gers: If you listen to those early Maiden
albums, there are more than two guitars on
there, there are four or five. So it’s just a
matter of working out which part to do.
There is no need to be playing all the time.
I like to underplay. It’s all about making Iron
Maiden sound better. It’s not an ego thing.
When you are playing live, do you try to recreate
the tones from the previous records?
Smith: I don’t think that the actual gear is all that important as a player. I think if
you’ve got good equipment, it’s really about
your personality, because that’s what they
are going to hear. I was always searching for
the Holy Grail tone through the years, but
it just doesn’t exist.
Who were some of your influences?
Murray: Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy.
Smith: When I was a little kid, it was the
Beatles, of course. Then in my teen years, it
was Deep Purple, Cream, and Thin Lizzy. I
also listened to a lot of Jeff Beck and Pat
Travers. As far as the metal side of it, it was
Purple and Black Sabbath.
How would you say metal has evolved since
Iron Maiden started?
Smith: When I was growing up, it was
all just called heavy rock. Now there’s Euro
metal, there’s death metal. Maiden is known
as a metal band, but there is a lot of melody
in what we do, and there is also the blues
Murray: It has changed. There are a lot
more bands out there now, and some of them
are really heavy. A lot of bands have come out
that use lower tunings on everything, and
that’s something we’ve actually incorporated
into a couple of our songs. There is plenty of
space for all of them. I wish them well.
How did you get into lowered tunings?
Smith: There was one song that was originally
in E that we had to drop down because
it was too high for Bruce to sing. It’s a powerful,
low, heavy rock song, and it sounds
great in D. I’ve been trying to get everyone
to tune down for years to make it sound a
bit heavier, but no one was really interested
in doing it. I’ve been playing around with
dropped tunings for a long time.
Have you heard any players recently that you
think are playing at a high level?
Gers: Not really. I really have to go back
to the ones that I grew up listening to, like
Rory Gallagher and Paul Kossoff. My favorite
was Jeff Beck, who could just pull things
out of thin air. Those are the ones that give
me the shivers.
Murray: I like Joe Bonamassa, but basically
I listen to the guys I grew up with. They
tend to remaster that stuff from time to time,
so I just end up buying it over and over again.
I prefer to listen to a lot of the older stuff: B.B.
King, Albert Collins, and Django Reinhardt.
Smith: I like guys from the ’90s like Joe
Satriani and Steve Vai. You have to respect
those guys. Any more though, it seems that
the guitar is used as a battering ram, and you
don’t seem to hear a lot of melodic soloing.
It’s well known that radio and television haven’t
been particularly helpful to Maiden, yet you’ve sold
100 million albums. When you started, there was no
Internet or mp3s, so you had to do it the hard way.
Smith: It was a hard yard, a hard mile.
We toured a lot and we built up a solid following
around the world. If radio’s not going
to play us, then we’re going to go out and
play it for the people. We’re a bit different
than a lot of them now, because you come
to see us and it’s a big rock show. A lot of
kids come to see us, and they probably
haven’t seen anybody do quite what we’re
doing. I think those are the kind of bands
that stick with you. We can’t go on forever,
but we’re enjoying it and we’re not going to
stop anytime soon.