Steve Harris of Iron Maiden Talks "British Lion", The Seventies, "The Lord of the Rings", and More
Mon, 08 Oct 2012 09:04:50
"We tend to do things by feel," reveals Steve Harris. "If it feels right, it is right."
British Lion, the solo debut from the legendary Iron Maiden bassist, certainly feels right. Channeling '70s rock with effusive grit and psychedelic panache, the record elegantly shows another side of the multi-faceted musician. It's as entrancing, enthralling, and enigmatic as anything Harris has done. Most importantly, it's a pure and powerful rock 'n' roll album that proves essential this year. This Lion roars louder than all.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Steve Harris of Iron Maiden discusses his brand new solo album, British Lion, the influence of the seventies, The Lord of the Rings, leaving a legacy, and so much more.
What's your take on British Lion as a whole?
It does feel very cohesive like an album. Yet, with the way it was put together over a long period of time through bits and pieces here and there, it's almost a wonder it feels like that. It was done at all different times. I'm really happy and pleased with it. It flows really well, and the tracklisting picked itself.
In terms of subject matter, what were some of the themes you wanted to cover with the album?
There are a lot of things going on. Obviously, Richard Taylor [vocalist] was involved with the words too as well as I was. He tends to wear his heart on his sleeve a little more than I do. I tend to disguise things a little bit more. I have those things are in there, but you have to delve a little bit deeper to get into them. With this stuff, it was a bit more open. It's a different direction.
The literary influence is definitely palpable. Do you read a lot while you're writing?
Yeah, I read a lot—even just daily newspapers. I make sure I watch the news, and I keep up with what's going on. I do like reading many books as well. Over the last few years, I haven't read as many books as I would like because I never seem to get enough time. I did get to a few though. I used to read loads more. Once you have kids, that changes [Laughs]. You don't have time to yourself to read. I read as much as I can though.
What were you reading during British Lion?
The thing is this album was done over a long time. It's a bit different from when we do an Iron Maiden album. We go in and record for two or three months, and that's it. This was done over a period of years. I can't pinpoint exactly what I was reading. I do keep up with the daily news. These days, I can get that on the iPad now, which is fantastic. A while ago, I couldn't do that. I'd end up watching the news channels. There are all different kinds of things going on so I can't be specific.
What's the story behind "A World Without Heaven"?
Musically, it's the most different song on the record. A lot is going on. It's a long song. That's actually quite an old song too. It goes back a long way too. A lot of the songs on the album are based around religion or the fact that people are either not paying attention to it anymore or they're paying too much attention to it. It's whatever way you view it. I'm not a particularly religious person. It causes so many problems around the world. Basically, "A World Without Heaven" is about that really. That's the loose end of it. The lyrics are really powerful in a different way than Maiden. Maybe Maiden's lyrics are a little more graphic in some ways. As you get older, you tend to think about what's happening in religion and what's happening in the world. I've always felt a bit like that. Songs of religion have been creeping in more and more over the years in Maiden as well as this.
Where did "The Lesson" come from?
Some people seem to learn from their mistakes, and other people never seem to learn from their mistakes. That's what it's about. It's got a simplistic theme, but it's quite important. It's a very powerful song. It makes sense as the album closer.
Was putting the album together, producing, writing, and playing almost like being a movie director? This is your vision entirely.
Well, I don't know about that, but it took longer than The Lord of the Rings [Laughs].
Did you get to try anything performance-wise you'd never done in the past?
I tried a few different things out. I suppose recording the album at different times gave me the luxury to do that. For example, I could let the strings go really dead if the song needed that. Or, I could grind it out a little longer to make an even more top-y sound than I usually get. The sound I've got for Maiden is the right sound. I've got to cut through three guitar players for that. It makes it even more important to have that top-end. The stuff tends to be a little faster, and I need to cut through. With some of these songs, I was able to experiment more with different guitars and sounds. Doing everything in bits and pieces is not the normal way I'd like to record. Everything in my whole life is dictated by what Maiden is doing [Laughs].
Was there a certain freedom to British Lion?
It's pretty diverse, but I don't think we thought of it that way. We approached it by writing whatever felt right. That's always the way we approach things with Maiden as well. We didn't sit down and say, "We want to go in this direction or that direction". We don't do that with Maiden either. We don't analyze what we're doing until afterwards. It's only when we speak to people afterwards that we analyze it.
When did you come up with the title British Lion?
I came up with that a long time ago. When I first these guys, I was producing, writing, managing, helping them out, and doing all kinds of things. Back in the day, I named the band British Lion. I thought it was a really strong name. When it imploded, I thought, "I'm going to use it myself one day". Now, I have.
What have you been listening to?
Lately, I haven't been listening to much of anything because I've been so busy with the tour and everything else. After the tour, I was doing editing and loads of other things. I suppose the last thing I was really listening to a few months ago was the new Nightwish album. I love them. The last couple of records in particular have been great. Dark Passion Play is just unbelievable. I think it's the best album I've heard in God knows how long. It's incredible.
British Lion evokes UFO and The Who, but it still sounds modern.
Yeah, without overanalyzing it, it's managed to capture that. I don't know how, but it has. It's a natural thing for it to come out like that. It's all '70s-influenced. To me, that was the most creative era ever really for the music I like. I grew up in that period when there was so much diverse stuff going on. It influences you in one way or another.
There was a boundlessness to that era.
To me, that's the way music should be. It's become too categorized over the years to the point where people are freaking out because I've done something so different. Why? I should be able to do whatever the hell I want. If people like it, they like it. If they don't, they don't. That's the way it should be. Some people get too bent on whether or not they should be liking something. To hell with all of that. I make the music that feels right. You can't be scared to do that.
Are you a big J.R.R. Tolkien fan?
Oh totally, yeah! I first read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings when I was about ten- or eleven-years-old. My younger kids are reading them now. It's fantastic stuff. Even Led Zeppelin wrote lyrics from Lord of the Rings [Laughs]. It's absolutely fantastic writing and storytelling. That's the massive difference between Lord of the Rings and many other things. The actual story is brilliant.
What's it like having so many people reference you as an influence?
It's amazing there are so many people who cite Iron Maiden as an influence. It's a fantastic compliment. It's brilliant really. I take that all day long. I think it's fantastic. You can't get a better compliment.
Have you begun writing more music already?
That just comes together when I'm working with the guys who are on the album. That's what happens. I work with ideas for whatever I'm focused on. As soon as I start working with someone like that outside of Maiden, then I know that material can be used in Maiden. That's it really.
Have you heard British Lion?
See our review of the album here!
Enter our British Lion contest here!
Photo: John McMurtrie