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Interview Steve Harris (Iron Maiden)

I hate Punk

Steve Harris - founder and brain of Iron Maiden - talks about the old days, artrock and his role as a musician in a band that is still the biggest thing in Heavy Metal. Right before theyīve rocked the crowd at the Hamburg Sporthalle stalker got the opportunity to talk to a very friendly and smart Mr. Harris.

You founded Maiden in 75. Can you describe your life back then?

I was just struggling to find the right musicians for the music I want to play. That is never easy. I was in a band before and they donīt want to play the stuff I wanted to play. That was just bullshit. So the only way was to found my own band. It was all about finding the right player, but not just the right players, but the right persons. We had a lot of people in the band, but the got weird or something. This period was very boring. But when you find the right line-up that works itīs really exciting. You have to be dedicated and sometimes you got to get your head through the walls. Everyone gets though that period, I think.

There were people you just read something in the papers and wanted me to get on stage in a pink stripped suit and stuff like that. This people wasting their time and wasted my time. It was very strange and very hard.

Iīve heard you were a good football player. Are you still interested in football?

Someone else got to say, if I was that good. But I still play from time to time. I really love that.

What is your favourite team?

Westham United.

What was your motivation starting with music?

I donīt really know. Before I left school I got out to a friend and played a lot of Jazz really. He used to put albums on in the background but that took too much cause I was trying to concentrate on the Jazz going on. But someone said if you are interested in music you can borough some of his records. It was Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath, the early Genesis. So I started playing the albums and I though that was amazing. At that point I thought I would really like to try learning how to play. It inspired me to buy a guitar. And that was what I did. I started quite late. I started when I was 17 and inbetween 10 month I had my first gig. So I learned quite quickly.

You were an artrock fan?

Yea, I mean I think the Genesis album Foxtrot and especially Supperīs ready is the best thing I ever heard in my life. Itīs fantastic. As a piece of music itīs so far ahead of its time. Some might think the sound is dated. These are old albums, but to me this is great music. I love Jethro Tull, too. Thick as brick, Passion play and Aqualung are fantastic albums. A lot of thatīs been slacked off so badly in the British press, but to me Ian Anderson is a genius. I think itīs sad when people slack off stuff like his. He got so upset that he decided not to play the U.K. for a long time. I think thatīs a big mistake, cause itīs not the people, itīs the press.

Why have you picked the Bass?

Well everybody wanted to play the drums. But I thought it would be too crazy to play the drums. There are too many combinations in the brain going on and I think Iīm a bit too sensible for that. So I thought the next best thing is to play along with the drums. At least I can also play the guitar and write songs as well. Now I write songs for over than 20 years. So my choice was right.

The first two Maiden albums to me sound like a mixture of hard rock and punk.

Sorry, but I hate punk. I donīt know where you get that impression from. Itīs probably the aggression. It was really the flaming aggression of young guys that have energy and power. So the songs are rather fast. But we have never had any relation to punk. We absolutely hated that. Most of them couldnīt play but they got gigs and gigs at that time. It pissed us off cause we can play and they canīt play. It became fashionable, so we hated it.

You write a lot of Iron Maidenīs music, you are a very good bass player, you created your own bass sound and – with that - you have a great influence on following generations. Are you proud of your work as a musician?

Yeah, Iīm very proud. But Iīm more proud of the songs Iīve written than of the actual basslines. Itīs more important to have a great song. I always play the basslines in way I think they are right for the songs. Less is more sometimes. If you write the songs on your own you know about what is needed and what is not. I think if more drummers would write songs they would appreciate that more. Itīs because you need light and shade. Itīs the argument on every album we do. So our drummer has written his own stuff on the new album for the first time and I hope that he realises that a little more. Itīs weird. The drums on his song are very straight. I think he comes to that point.

Do you remember the first time youīve realised that you are doing something special?

I donīt think itīs something you really analyse. I just play what I feel. I donīt think about why I play what I play or what I write. Itīs just something thatīs have to be done. All I tried was to learn different styles. And you learn from different people. Thatīs important. If you do that you get your own special style naturally. When you start analysing stuff you are in trouble. 

As a part of Iron Maiden the people want you to play your role in a Heavy Metal Show. Is it easy for you to handle this pressure of expectations.

Oh no. Itīs just that we do what we do. Itīs not choreographed or something. Sometimes you used to move in a certain way. But the reason for that is that the sound on stage is better in a certain place. So you can hear yourself play. The rest is fun, you know. When we do a show the song has to mean something. We donīt use fire and light without reason. There has to be some kind of connection to what is happening in the song. We are trying to portrait that song. The lyrics become the artwork of the album and the artwork becomes the stage design.

If you look back on 20 years in rock business. What has changed?

Not a lot really. They still trying to create things that gonna sell. They still trying to get people the talent to do things they are not talented in. So they can sell. Which means to write hit singles. We donīt want that and weīve never done. Iīm proud of that. I was so lucky to grow up in the seventies. Because it was so free and so creative. People encouraged to be creative. There was nobody who said, Iīm not gonna sign for an album this year unless you create a top 40 single. This is bullshit. So the next thing today is the mp3 thing. I think itīs a positive thing. I hope it makes people stop making this horrible crap. Any kind of musicians can now do their own thing, do their own website, release their own material without being pushed around by some company.

What does the concept of good and evil mean to you?

Itīs there, itīs every day in you life and probably five percent of my songs are about that. Itīs the conflict in everybodyīs life. To me God represents good and the devil represents evil and thereīs always this thing going on. People are on both sides. Iīm not a religious person but I think thereīs good and evil everywhere. And I prefer to be on the good side.

Iron Maiden Covers have always been important for the fans. What do you think about them?

Itīs very important. The way the album covers are is an extension of the way you are understanding what you do. In the early days when I listened to the Genesis albums it was like a continuing thing you could look at. The artwork was just fantastic. It made you wanting it to put it on the back of your jacket or something. When Genesis changed they did different artwork and I was really disappointed. With Maiden weīre trying to do that thing. Through the changing seasons we tried to do different things. But itīs a constant trick on our way through. And it gives you power. Itīs really important. It gives you an identity. So we are trying to keep it strong.

Your new albumīs called “Dance of death”. Is that a political or a philosophical titel?

No, itīs not political. We donīt believe in writing political songs. Our music is more for fun and fantasy. Itīs just for breaking away from all this crap. Once in a while weīve got angry and depressed. But there are no rules and regulations we want to right. Thereīs nothing we want to right.

What will Iron Maiden be in 5 years?

Five years older and more grey. I really donīt know. I think weīll make another album and another tour.