Iron Maiden: ‘It’s Tremendous We’ve Been Together This Long’
In an exclusive interview with Rolling Stone India, guitarist Janick Gers talks about the 40-year-old British heavy metal band hopping on a plane for a world tour, the making of their album ‘The Book of Souls’, and never ever running out of ideas for new material
You might have noticed the hype around UK heavy metal band Iron Maiden’s 16th studio album The Book of Souls [out on Sony BMG on September 4th] – whether it’s a listening party/tribute night in Mumbai or the band’s frontman [and pilot] Bruce Dickinson flying fans down to Paris in their specially crafted airplane for a listening session. But one listen of the mammoth 92-minute double album will tell you that it’s worth all the puff.
Guitarist Janick Gers, though, thinks it’s a bit much to call it the record a masterpiece. He takes a swipe at American metal bands – none in particular that he’d name – about calling their works “the best album ever” and indulging in other hyperbole. Says Gers over the phone from England, “You have a lot of American bands that come out and go, ‘Man, this is the best album you’re ever going to hear!’ I mean, you can’t really have that. You’ve gotta put it out and let them choose for themselves.” He admits he’s playing it down a bit, but does go to the extent of showing the sensible thing to say about an album. The guitarist says, “I think it’s the best album we’ve made at this possible time.”
What is the one thing you want to tell people before they hit the play button on The Book of Souls?
We’re really excited about it. We put in a lot of ideas in there. There’s lots of songs and it’s the longest we’ve ever done. There are so many melodies; you can end up singing a different melody from a different song every time. There’s a lot to pick from and the fans will enjoy it.
We’re really proud of it. We’ve been in different directions throughout our career but it’s always sounded like Maiden and it’s a similar thing here. It’s tremendous we’ve been together this long. Releasing an album is of course exciting. I think it’s very honest and very powerful so I’m really excited about it.
Steve [Harris, bassist] and Nicko [McBrain, drummer] have all mentioned the word “masterpiece” when it comes to talking about The Book Of Souls – what has brought the band to this level of self-confidence?
It’s quite difficult, when you put an album out. We’ve done a lot of albums and you can’t really go out and say ‘this is the best album we’ve ever done’. You can’t do that. You’ve done the best album that you can do at that specific time. A band grows, it’s organic. It grows, hopefully better and better.
I kinda play it down a bit, but I’m very proud of it [the album]. Well, I’m not sure it’s a masterpiece. It’s a fantastic album, and it’s easy to say it’s a masterpiece but I’d never go out and say that about any album I’d been involved in. I think we’ve got some fantastic songs on there and great melodies. I think it’s best album we’ve made at this possible time. We did it as live as possible, so we had as many live pieces as we could. We’re hoping to go out there and play it live and have a fantastic time.
Do you think it’s expected of heavy metal bands like Maiden to finally create something this epic and long as a double album?
We approached a different studio this time [Guillaume Tell Studios, Paris] and we actually went into the studio to write. It just so happened that it became this big. It’s actually a triple album on vinyl.
I think it’s just the fact that we had so many ideas. When we go in to write, all of us write and bring ideas in. I brought over an hour’s worth of material and everyone else did as well. So you gotta hone that down. But we got so many ideas, it’s fantastic.
Generally, bands run out of ideas, but we kept getting more and more. I think that’s telling of how the band is growing and getting stronger and it’s very valid. We pull in new audiences, younger audiences when we play the music. Look, we don’t want to be a trend. It’s a passion to do what we do.
If you had to pick, what are your favorites off this album? “Empire of the Clouds” [an 18-minute album closer written by Dickinson] seems to getting a lot of hype.
“Empire of the Clouds” was a great track. “The Red and the Black” is another great track. I think they’re all great tracks – some of the slightly longer tracks like “The Book of Souls” is actually like that. It’s a lot of diversity, there’s different kinds of music. It’s almost classical sometimes. There’s a broad base of music on this album.
It’s hard to believe there are still territories Maiden hasn’t played yet – what is it like flying around on a world tour of 35 countries?
I think it’s important to play in different places all the time. We always try to play in places we haven’t been before. That makes it exciting for us as well, and obviously the fans get to welcome us at places we haven’t played before. And in all the places we have played before, it’ll be great to see them again. It’s a tremendous honor.
A lot of bands don’t like touring, but I love it. I love playing live. I think that’s what we’re all about – playing live. There are songs that we play live with the band and there are songs we don’t play live – they’re all great songs but when we play them live, they should come alive. They should become more than they are on the record.
And you’ve got a plane at your service to take you around.
To be honest, it’s just logical. To me, it’s like going on a world tour on a bus, but it’s just better. If you’re going to move around in circles, in order to move to Europe and South East Asia and places like that, it’s so expensive to move around there now so it becomes impossible to tour. If you can get your own plane, bring your own crew and everybody – you can adapt the plane to get the gear in there and the crew and the band.
If you tried to do it in other ways, you may not be able to, because of the costs. It also works from a publicity point of view…It’s all about keeping the excitement in, keeping the band looking and sounding as good as possible to me. That’s what it’s all about.
What is it like having Bruce as a pilot on the plane?
We have about eight pilots who fly the plane and Bruce will fly the odd one here and there, when he’s free and wants to do it. When we hired the plane, we hired the pilots to do that. Bruce is a pilot and used to fly a while ago, but he’ll be flying certain times across the sea when it’s easier for him to do it, but you couldn’t expect him to go from jumping around the band all night and fly a plane every night. He does fly though, and he’s co-pilot or captain or whatever.
It’s a bit unfortunate that India isn’t on the map – or is a show still being confirmed? Because I know Bruce is visiting Mumbai for a talk in October.
The thing is, it’s down to logistics. All I can say is we look to come to India and we love playing there. We completely enjoyed everything about the place and hopefully we can manage to get there. It’s logistically tough and about how you can fit a tour in – we’ve got a very small window when we can play at a certain place and fly over it and it’s impossible to turn around play there at the end of the tour… We’ll do our best to play there, really. I love coming to India.