Iron Maiden Okay With Adding Things in Studio + Adjusting for Live Setting, Says Bruce Dickinson
Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. The singer discussed the band's 17th album, Senjutsu, which was recorded two years ago and kept under wraps as the band awaited the opportune time to release it amid an ongoing pandemic.
The first single to arrive was "The Writing on the Wall," which boasted a magnificent animated music video with a storyline conceptualized by Dickinson, who worked with a team of animators to resolve some critical issues related to the narrative.
It was a process he thoroughly enjoyed, especially as Maiden have not released a high-profile music video for a new song in quite a long time.
The singer also discussed overcoming a snapped achilles tendon prior to starting up another leg of the 'Legacy of the Beast' tour, which happened amid the end of the Senjutsu recording session. He also elaborated on the band's in-studio writing process and how they move about a bit more quickly than in the old days.
Read the full interview below.
There was quite a bit of intrigue leading up to the announcement of this record. What made being playful about the new album so much fun for you?
That kind of snuck up on us because the album was done in between two tours [before] all this pandemic stuff, so we had no clue it was going to end up coming out when it is [now].
At the same time, we had "The Writing on the Wall" and when the pandemic happened, we'd already made the decision that was going to be the first the first cut off the record. I said to my manager, Rod [Smallwood], that we actually kind of ended up [with this song being] kind of weirdly prophetic. I don't know, maybe that's actually the role of Bible — yes, it is actually full of prophecies. We tend to repeat all the Bible stories over and over again — we're just human beings.
We got a real shot at doing something interesting because it's not going to be a conventional world for a couple of years, at least. That's what provoked us to go out and do the animated video — it was mini movie, actually. That was really good, fun and super creative — great bunch of people to work with the ex-Pixar guys.
We're working on a couple of other ongoing projects actually, even now, so that's really opened up a whole new vista for us and, actually, possibilities that are in some ways even separate to an album. But, for now, this album is is front and center.
Iron Maiden, "The Writing on the Wall" Music Video
For me, it's a better album than The Book of Souls, which went down very well, but I think this has got more depth and breadth of songs on it. It's got just about everything that people would want from us, I think. It's got something a little different, like "The Writing on the Wall," which people were [wondering if] the whole album is going to sound like that. No, [laughs] there's four nine to 12-minute tracks on it.
There's some really great stuff on all of the record, even the long tracks. You're [either[ all into this record or not at all. You can go and pick out your bits on Spotify if you want, but we're an album band.
An album is a journey — it's a place in time where it's the work a bunch of musicians or acts create and it's designed to be listened to in its entirety. Then you can pick [the songs] apart, but that's why we end up doing albums the way we do them.
We still think in terms of 'Side One,' 'Side Two,' 'Side Three,' 'Side Four' because vinyl, funnily enough, made you think in terms of a story and drama and the way you put the songs together in terms of the order.
I don't know whether people even bother with doing that anymore with records now because people pick and choose where they they'll just pick up bits here, there, and everywhere.
We we don't subscribe to that, so we're going to make that difficult for people by doing all of these immensely long songs. We don't care [laughs].
Although the circumstances of making this album were different than the last one when you had cancer, this time, you were still recuperating from an injury. What changes about one's artistry when their health is afflicted?
I had just come off the 'Legacy of the Beast' tour through the previous summer. I've been working my voice pretty hard and, frankly, it was pretty good. So I wasn't worried about the voice in the slightest. It was like, let's really get stuck in — I already want to get wailing on this.
I had a couple of other injuries. I busted my achilles tendon and it properly snapped in half — a two inch break on one leg a couple of days before I finished the vocals. I finished the lead vocals and two tracks with my my leg in a boot, standing on crutches.
The American tour was just under four months away when I busted it, so my worry was not on finishing the album, but how the hell am I going to walk, followed by how the hell am I going to run around onstage?
We had a physiologist come to every single show. I got so much advice about my achilles tendon, or what was left of it, but you we got through the shows and nobody really noticed.
Now every time I see a footballer or somebody that has an injury like that, an achilles injury, I'm like, "Wow. It's a really nasty one." It doesn't hurt that much, to be honest with you, but it takes forever to rehab it.
We were talking about the video earlier and Pixar tends to prompt thoughts of Disney, not Iron Maiden and Eddie. What aspects of their ability made you sure they could bring to life your idea of "The Writing on the Wall" video?
It was a couple of guys that used to work at Pixar. Mark Andrews, who storyboarded the whole thing, did eight initial storyboards based on my story. I wrote the story, we took it to Mark and then they kind of acted as executive producers. They located the animation companies and we made a choice of which one we were going to go with to do the real hard grind of producing the animation. That was an English company called Blinking. They're extremely talented in their own right, but in terms of the supervision of the project and keeping the story straight, that was my role.
The thing about working for a company like Pixar [although the team was ex-Pixar], obviously they get very technically proficient, but the one thing that they are above technical proficiency and everything else is they are story driven.
Every song I write has a story, even if it's only in my head, and that enables me to animate when I sing it because I'm telling the story. They absolutely got that and they were really crucial at keeping the story on track.
We had lots of Zoom calls and we recorded all the Zoom calls, so what you have now is more or less a complete record of the creation of this video, complete with snafus.
You can see the process and we actually actually cut a documentary, which I think is going out in one of our packages. It's quite fascinating.
One of the early things when I did this storyboard — I had these four bikers of the apocalypse at the beginning and I couldn't quite figure out how to introduce them at the beginning of the video because they appeared about halfway through. It kind of pissed me off because they should be there at the beginning, but how the hell do we get them in?
It niggled me, but I submitted the storyline anyway. The first storyboard that I got back was to make the circling buzzards turn into a drop like a stone summoned by the Gandalf/Obi Wan [type character] and that's how they're in at the beginning of the video, because they should be in earlier.
I was like, "First of all, you spotted the gaping hole in the storyboard and then you fixed it, which means that you're thinking exactly the same way I think. I really like you guys because you fixed a deliberate — it wasn't exactly a deliberate mistake — but I didn't flag that and you picked it up straight away — great idea. A Lord of the Rings analogy — the circling vultures are like the Nazgul and then they come down and morph into bikers.
Iron Maiden, "The Writing on the Wall" Single Art
Senjutsu was actually recorded two years ago. Since then, what made you avoid the temptation to revisit and potentially reconfigure songs?
Oh, we didn't have access to it. Simple as that. None of us had a copy of the record because we knew we were going to have to sit on the record for awhile and we were so paranoid about security and the internet and people ripping it as soon as you let the record be heard by anybody you are at risk of of it leaking, you know? So basically apart from myself and Steve [Harris], nobody in the band heard it, cause they'd all gone home.
We mixed it, and I was in the studio when we finished the last track. And myself and Steve sat back and listened to the mix and then we listened to the mix again. And, and then that was it. And the next time I heard the album at all, was yeah, a couple of years later,
Had you wanted to listen at all during that time?
Oh yeah, of course. You're curious, because I'd just like to hear it, but nobody had a copy. Nobody. I mean, no, Steve, I think had a copy and one copy locked on some secure laptop somewhere. And when he was mixing the live album Nights of the Dead that we put out then I popped in while he was mixing it. And I said, 'Tell you what, while you're here, should we just spin up the album?' And he'd only listened to it once since. So we put it out there, we thought, 'You know what? This is pretty damn good.'
I had a copy. It was kind of a low-res copy of 'Writing on the Wall' that they shipped over to me because as I was doing this storyboard, I said, 'Okay, I know I wrote the words I said, but I can't remember every single note of all the bits that went in the middle. I actually do need a copy of the damn song if we're going to do a storyline or the storyboards for the video.' But yeah, it was, we were really, really tight on security for that.
Iron Maiden, "Stratego"
And like the last time, Senjutsu was written and rehearsed, then recorded one song at a time. How does that singular focus benefit your performances for the better?
That is that's a very good question. It's difficult to say whether it benefits it for the better or not, it's a different way of working. It enables you to create more complex songs and work, I suppose you work quicker. The old way of recording a record - we got four, nine minute, 10 minute tracks on this - so we would've been spending months in a rehearsal room learning every song and then we'd go into the studio and then we would have to relearn all the songs we've got, because the last thing we'd done was like an 11-minute epic, and there's another 90 minutes of stuff going as well before that. So you end up with a sort of frustrating vicious circle. If you insist that everything has to be rehearsed as if it was live in your studio, there's a lot of stuff we do in the studio that we take advantage of the fact that we're in a studio. We're creating things in a studio, but we don't do them live.
There are versions of me on the album where there's like layers of six or seven of me doing these sort of like etherial vocal harmonies. I have news for you. There's only one of me live, you know? So yeah, even when we did years ago 'Run to the Hills' you know, there's the multi-layered vocal harmonies there, but all of them are me, but there's only one of me onstage. So pretending that the studio is live and live is a studio for me is uh, you might as well just junk that concept.
Now, having said that, all of these songs are playable live. I mean, we're Maiden. We wouldn't do a song if it wasn't playable live. So when we come to play the songs live, as I hope we will, then it'll be a question of us learning around songs off the album, basically.
Double albums are beginning to become habit for Iron Maiden. How does that longer format allow you to better make a cohesive musical statement?
Well, we work until we run out of ideas and when we've run out of ideas that we think of as valid, then we stop. That's it, you know. There's no plan to it. No, we don't go, "Ah we're going to make a double album" any more than we go into a song and go, "Ah, yeah, this one is going to be four minutes. This one's going to be a five and a half." We just don't just don't think like that.
With some of the songs on the album, we go, "Wow, I thought that song was like six or seven minutes long," but turns out it was five. And then you've got the song that's like seven or eight minutes long and you think it was like five minutes, it's eight. "You're kidding me." You know?
Also, when you measure something with a stopwatch is not the way that you measure it with your brain. If you're excited about things the same way, when you go into a movie and you can get a 90-minute movie that you're looking at your watch after 45 minutes going, 'Huh really?' Then you get another one that could be two or two and a quarter hours, and you go, 'Oh, I haven't looked at my watch hardly once, wow." You know it just depends on the intensity and how interesting it is.
Bruce, such an honor to have you on the show. And I read about you being ill. And I just wanted to say, I hope that you feel better.
Honestly I'm feeling great. Everybody, it's really nice that everybody is so concerned, but I've been double vaccinated and I just picked up this bug along with thousands of other people every day. I still sit and watch daytime TV and, improve my pinball score and just get over it.
I'm just like, 'Okay, it's a pain in the butt that I can't go out and wander around.' Cause you might, you know. There's a few days when you might give it to somebody else and they might give it to somebody else and then somebody might get really sick. But honestly if you've had a double vaccination and you're pretty healthy, it's kind of like a mild case of the flu and relatively short-lived in my case, It's fine. But I would say that I'm really running out of reasons for anybody to go, 'I'm definitely not having the vaccine now.' I think if you get a chance to go and have a vaccine, which everybody does then just go do it, not just for your sake, but for everybody else. But that's a personal opinion. There you go.
Well, I'm glad you're okay. And catching up on all that daytime television. So thank you so much for doing this Bruce and good luck with this record and looking forward to when you guys will be out on the road again.
I cannot wait, cannot wait. I might be out seeing you. I'm going to be cryptic on this. I might be out sooner rather than later.
Thanks to Bruce Dickinson for the interview. Get your copy of 'Senjutsu' here and follow Iron Maiden on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Spotify. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.