Today Iron Maiden unleashes their fifteenth studio album, the epic The Final Frontier, which is the group’s longest album to date (76 minutes) and features the average longest song of any Maiden release (roughly 7:40 per track). Of course, quantity does not always equal quality, but the new CD possesses that classic Maiden sound that fans know and love while still ripe with energy and, despite its massive running time and ambitious song structures, fresh ideas that show that this British ensemble still have plenty of steam left.
Last week I spoke with guitarist Janick Gers for a ShockHound feature about the new album, the group’s loyal fans and his philosophy on music and its power to question things. Our chat lasted a good half hour and gave us plenty of extra material for ADD, which follows here. Gers is a talkative fellow with plenty on his mind. He played on Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors, the fantastic first solo album by ex-Marillion vocalist Fish, and he discusses working on that classic release below.
Where are you right now?
I’m in Bergen, a beautiful place in Norway. We’re doing a concert tonight for about 25,000 people. It’s a very tiny place. I don’t know where they’re going to come from, but apparently all the tickets are sold. [laughs] They’ll be coming from all over Norway by the looks of it.
I heard there was really bad weather at your recent Finnish festival gig, and some bands canceled. What happened?
We did the Sonisphere gig in Stockholm, and it was torrential rain all day. The minute we went on, it stopped and the sun came out. Then we finished, and it thundered and lightninged again. It was unbelievable. Our crew were just drenched all day. When we landed in Finland the next day, there was a plane on its side on the runway. Our tour manager said, “Hey, I ordered a crew plane just like that!” Then we went, “Really?” Bruce [Dickinson] asked, “How many seats do you have?” The tour manager went, “30”. “That’s a 30-seater right there.” What had happened is a tornado or something similar came through, and it just literally ripped half the trees out and turned the crew’s plane over — luckily the crew weren’t on it. We went up to the stadium where there were two huge stages.
Motley Crue and Alice Cooper were playing there as well, and Motley Crue’s stage literally got bent in half. It was unbelievable; the scaffolding was just snapped in half. It all happened in ten minutes. Our gear was completely kaput; the tarpalin above the stage cracked and the water came down on the mixing desk. It was bedlam. Iggy Pop went on to do an acoustic set for a couple of numbers. Alice Cooper went on about an hour and a half late, then I think we went on about two hours late. We got the job done. There were a lot of kids there and canceling would not have been the thing to do. We went out with half the P.A. and half the lights and very little monitors on stage because the mixing desk was kaput. We did a great gig and had good fun.
I remember watching Flight 666 last year and noting that for many fans in certain countries who don’t get many tours coming through, such as certain South American countries, that a Maiden show is like a religious experience for them. The fans are really devout.
We’ve had tremendous support in South America for years and years now. Back in the ’90s we did all those big gigs, and even when Bruce left we used to play there a lot. We always try to go there because the kids are so supportive. We want to play to people, and there are people there who want to listen to us, so we’ll travel wherever. It’s always a thrill to go somewhere different because there may be some people that haven’t seen us before, and that’s part of the fun of being in a band. It’s very exciting to for us travel around. I love going to different places.
“There a lot of those folk elements.
I grew up with that stuff, and the rest of the band did, too.”
I feel like in America we’re spoiled because we get so many tours, whereas someone in Japan or South America doesn’t get to see some of these bands as often as we do, and therefore they are much more passionate in their support for bands.
I would assume that Japan has many, many tours. I had been there before Maiden with other bands. They have lots of tours there. South America is more difficult to tour. We took a plane on the last tour because it’s more difficult to carry the gear there. You have to hop around certain areas. With the gear in the plane we can go to places like Ecuador which we couldn’t go to before. It’s impossible to get the gear in through customs and get it out again. There’s a lot of paperwork involved. You can spend six months setting up a tour like that. The logistics are quite frightening really. I don’t even get involved in it, but we have people working on those tours like a year before. It is quite difficult to tour there, and you have to have a fanbase that is definitely going to come because the promoter has to risk his money putting a band on. If he puts the band on and nobody turns up, he’s in big trouble. You have to have a big following to start with. You can’t just go there and expect everybody to turn up.
The Final Frontier encompasses ten songs over 76 minutes, some of which you contributed to. You notably co-wrote the shortest song on the new album, “The Alchemist,” which reminds me of the Powerslave era.
It’s just a rock ‘n roll tune. I brought in about an hour’s worth of material, as everybody else does. They all bring loads of stuff in. That was a rock ‘n roller I brought in because I thought there might be a few long songs on, so I thought I’d bring a short, more straight ahead power rocker in. I had a few different things, probably a lot more progressive things in there, but that was just one that was on the side that everybody seemed to get off on. Steve [Harris] found a melody for it, Bruce wrote some lyrics and it just seemed to work.
Is it frustrating for each member to bring in a lot of material, knowing that there’s probably only going to be a couple of tracks that might make it?
I obviously end up with lots of songs and ideas sitting about, but the most important thing is that it all fits together and has a theme running through it. It works well musically, and sometimes something that’s really good doesn’t make this album, but it’s put on the back burner for perhaps something else. You never know.
During my favorite cut on the new album, “When The Wild Wind Blows,” it sounds like Bruce is singing an English folk melody. Is that the case?
There are a lot of Celtic melodies. One track off of Virtual XI, “The Clansman,” is [also] a very Celtic song. We did that with Bruce on one of the tours. The beginning of [the new song] “The Talisman” has a folkie Celtic approach to it, almost like a sea shanty song. “Dance Of Death” has a similar kind of feel to it. There a lot of those kind of Celtic folk elements [that come in]. Steve’s quite heavily influenced by Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson and people like that, as I am, too. I grew up with that stuff, and the rest of the band did, too, so there’s an element of that in our music. I grew up listening to a band called Lindisfarne who have a very folkie element, and I used to love their stuff. They were quite a big band in the early ’70s in England. Some of it
was really edgy stuff. Bruce and I were brought up
on that stuff. That’s all in there.
“We went on about two hours late. We got the job done. There were a lot of kids there and canceling would not have been the thing to do.”
You played on my favorite rock album of all time, Fish’s Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors. How did you meet him?
I was playing football with him, and he had a big fat tummy. I said, “You too could end up with a body like Fish.” He looked at me and said, “If you’re not careful.” He said he was doing a gig with Marillion in a couple of days at Wembley Arena [the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute in June 1988] and asked if I would like to come. He wanted me to play. So we rehearsed some stuff, and I went up there. I knew Bruce from the Gillan days because he used to come and watch us play, and I knew him from Samson. [At the Wembley gig] the singer from Spandau Ballet was going to sing an old Mott The Hoople song, “All The Young Dudes,” which I really like. Fish got me to play that one and a few other songs, and I ended up doing the whole half hour with him. The guy from Spandau couldn’t come, and Nicko was doing the drums on a couple of tracks and said Bruce was around. So Bruce got up and sang “All The Young Dudes”. Then [later] Fish asked me, when he left Marillion, if I would do this album with him. I wrote a song with him for that, and went down and did all the demos for the album with him, then Bruce rang me and asked if I would do something with him, which ended up being “All The Young Dudes” and a track for a Nightmare On Elm Street 5, which was “Bring Your Daughter…to the Slaughter”. We wrote that and then recorded “All The Young Dudes,” and then he decided he wanted to do an album. So we did Tattooed Millionaire, but in between that I did the thing with Fish.
Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors is a great album.
It was a good album, but [the demos] were actually heavier than that. I didn’t really hit it off with the producer that got involved, Jon Kelly, because I was too heavy for him. I felt Fish should have been a bit heavier. I felt some of the demos were better than the songs that were on the album. They went very jazzy and brought a lot of brass in, and I felt that the demos we had done were heavier and better. What I love so much about Marillion is that they could be very strong and powerful and have very quiet passages, but the powerful stuff was really edgy and heavy, and that’s what I wanted to do with that. But I ended up going with Bruce and we did Tattooed Millionaire. Then Maiden took the single that we had off of that, which was “Bring Your Daughter…to the Slaughter,” and put that on the next album [No Prayer For The Dying]. That’s when they asked if I would join, when Adrian left. It was all kind of incestuous.
Have you stayed in touch with Fish since?
I haven’t seen him recently. He came to a Maiden gig a while ago. I have a lot of time for Fish. I liked him a lot. In fact, when he said he was leaving Marillion, I told him not to. I thought it was the wrong move, and I still do. He had a go at me, and he said, “You’re the only person who’s told me that. Everybody else said that it’s great and that I should go.” I said, “I’m telling you you’re stupid, you should stay.” [laughs] He didn’t speak to me for about six months. I just thought he wrote good lyrics, and they wrote good music, and it fit together effortlessly. And I do like the guys from Marillion. I think they’re a great little band.
One thing that both Marillion and Maiden have in common, or at least did back in the day, were recognizable logos and mascots. Getting back to Maiden, it seems that the group makes as much money from the merchandise as the music. Is this the case?
I wouldn’t know. What we tend to do is cross collateralize any merchandise. It might take two million quid to set a tour up, so you need that money up front, and I don’t think any bank is going to lend you it. If you want to set a tour up, you need two million quid or whatever it costs to get the tour on the road and actually pay for it. When we’re out playing we cross collateralize stuff. I couldn’t tell you the figures. I haven’t got a clue, but to set up a tour of the magnitude that we do costs an arm and a leg. We’re constantly investing in what we use. We want the best lights. We’ve got eight trucks on the road. We’ve got to have the biggest stage possible. We take huge Eddies, and that stuff has to be carried from country to country. Either we use the plane, which has to be paid for, or we use eight, nine or 10 trucks. It all goes into making the band work.