Bursting onto the scene with Wolfsbane in the early 1990’s, Blaze Bayley is best known for replacing Bruce Dickinson in Iron Maiden in 1995. After releasing two albums and touring the world twice with the metal legends and, Blaze and Maiden parted ways in 1999, and the Tamworth-based singer has since gone on to launch a successful solo career. Now working on his ninth release - the second part of his ‘Infinite Entanglement’ album trilogy - we caught up with Blaze for an in-depth chat about his career to date, the highs and lows of his time with Iron Maiden, and plans for a new Wolfsbane record. Ghost in the machine: Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Blaze, how are you today?
I’m well. We’re in the middle of rehearsals for the new album, and it’s going absolutely fantastic.
You’re currently working on the follow-up to this years’ ‘Infinite Entanglement’.
We’ve done all the initial demos, and now we’re bringing them into the rehearsal room. I like to get everything to come to life in the rehearsal room. I like to have the feeling that we could go and play all of the new songs as a set list at a live gig, so that’s the standard that we try and get them up to. It’s a lot of details and a lot of polish. The writing and the creative process is over, and hopefully they’re now ready to record.
The new disc follows on, thematically from ‘Infinite Entanglement’.
Yes, it’s a trilogy based on a book, a science fiction story that I’m writing, about a man who does not know he is human. Part one was ‘Infinite Entanglement’, and this is part two, and then next year there will be part three. On the first album, he discovers that his consciousness has been put into a machine body, and he has to decide if he is still human. The story follows on from that.
It sounds like there is more than a little metaphor in that story, from your own personal life.
Yes, definitely, because when I started off, people said I couldn’t sing; that I’d never make it as a singer, and never make it in a band, and yeah, I’ve had a lot of my own things to overcome to keep going and be a professional singer. I’m very, very lucky that I’m able to work full-time as a professional musician, write my own songs, record them, make my own CDs, produce my own albums, and have the support of so many fans around the world.
It must be a cathartic experience for you to be able to tell your own story like that?
A lot of it is heavily disguised on this, and I use parts of other people’s stories. Of course, what I’m writing as well as the book, on some of my albums, it’s just out there; this is me, this is what happened, and this is how I feel about it. But on this one it’s nice to go back and tuck things back into a metaphor.
One of the most personal tragedies to have befallen you was the death of your wife Debbie, in 2008.
Well, it’s a different era, really, and something I didn’t think I would survive. I really didn’t have any reason to carry on [professionally] after that, but I somehow muddled through. I had a lot of help; people helped me get back on my feet, and so I’ve been able to carry on. I’m very, very lucky that I’ve had such great friends and fans who have supported me.
Your career started off back in 1990, when Wolfsbane released their first album.
Looking back, it has been a crazy and unique ride that I’ve been on, and my ambitions and dreams have been fulfilled, and also spoiled, so it’s been madness, really. I count myself as someone who is ‘mad’; I suffer from depression, and mental health problems, and when I could put a label on that; ‘that’s an illness, that’s a condition’, you can do something about that. I’m not trapped now in this feeling of hopelessness and anger, and all of these emotions; there’s actually a reason for it. So, if there’s a reason for it, then there’s also a solution, or at least a way to cope with that. I’ve never made a secret of my mental health problems. I didn’t find out about that until after Iron Maiden, and I think if I’d have known this was what made me have some of the feelings that I have, I think I would have coped a lot better with the pressures of being in one of the world’s top bands.
It was twenty-one years ago that you kicked off your first world tour with Iron Maiden; what memories do you have from that period?
It was an incredible time. To work with new people is exhilarating anyway, and to write songs with Janick Gers and with Steve Harris was amazing. Steve Harris is so generous; he was a mentor to me. I had written many songs with Wolfsbane before, but writing with Steve, he just taught me so much; he found parts of my voice that I’d never used before, which was very, very exciting. And to sing his melodies and lyrics, and then to have him working on lyrics and melodies that I’d written, was just an absolutely incredible experience.
You had your biggest success with ‘Man On The Edge’, the first single that you released with Iron Maiden.
It was top ten all around the world, and in some places it was number one, so it’s my first number one after so many years of writing, thinking that I had a song that it was good enough, and then when we did that, it was good enough. It’s a huge confidence boost to go; “well, something that I’ve worked on is good enough to be a number one in some countries and in the rock charts in the U.K.” So getting to situations further down the line where you may have questioned yourself, you can go; “no, this is right, I know it’s right. I’ve worked with the best people and this got to the charts because it got the exposure, and people got to hear it, and liked it and bought it”.
What was it like the first time you held an Iron Maiden product in your hand and saw yourself credited and pictured on it?
It was a surreal experience really, because I’d been on the promotion tour, and gone to a lot of different countries, and I was the big story. It wasn’t that I wanted to be, but everybody wanted to talk to me about how it felt to be in Iron Maiden. All I wanted to do was get to rehearsals and practice the songs, and do the best job I could in making these songs come to life. It was a very surreal experience to actually be in the job, and to be at that level where you dream of getting, but you just don’t know what it’s going to be like when you get there.
Who chooses an Iron Maiden set list; is it Steve Harris, or Steve and Rod Smallwood, or is it more of a group effort?
When I was in the band - and I can only speak for then – it was; there are like, ten songs which normally feature on the set list, and maybe occasionally one of them isn’t in there, and then there are at least six songs from the new album. That’s the basis of the set, and it’s working it from there, really. Everybody could have an opinion; it was about what was best. Steve had an idea of what would sit nicely next to each other, but sometimes we’d change it as we went along the tour as well.
How was morale in the band at the time of recording ‘Virtual XI’?
Steve Harris was going through some very difficult times in his personal life. There was a certain amount of anxiety, which would be natural because many people inside the business expected the band to fold after Bruce Dickinson left. I really think, as much as I love Bruce - and he’s been a huge help to me in my solo career and before I joined Iron Maiden - but I really think somewhere Bruce thought it might fold as well. Everybody was anxious; it was such a huge change; you’ve had all the really big successes with one singer, and then a new guy comes in and a lot of people in the business are going; “well, is heavy metal even relevant anymore? Why are they do they even bother getting a new singer – shouldn’t they just pack it in?” And, there was certainly that anxiety there. A lot of times we were in rehearsals, and we’d see Kerrang! magazine, we’d see Metal Hammer and we’d see the things that some people would say, and the phrase just kept coming up again and again; “fuck ‘em, we’ll just carry on anyway”. I was an Iron Maiden fan, and I know why people like Iron Maiden, so fuck what anybody else says. It’s not dependent on press, or journalists, or people who don’t buy the CDs, it’s the people who’ve been loyal to Maiden and want that unique, individual style of music that comes with all the heart that you can possibly put into it.
Obviously, the track ‘Virus’ reflected this.
Yeah, it definitely did. We were all going; “fuck ‘em”, you know? I think a lot of people tried to write Iron Maiden off, and I was a part of it, so they tried to write us off as a band before we were going into ‘Virtual XI’, and they couldn’t do it.
The song ‘The Angel And The Gambler’ has caused a lot of debate due to its length and repetitive nature; nowadays even you acknowledge that is too long.
Basically, we had a [shorter] video version of ‘The Angel And The Gambler’, and I felt that was much more appropriate. I think there’s great parts to that song, and in my acoustic sets I often do a version of that, and it’s something nice to do, and it’s a lot of fun. But the album version of ‘The Angel And The Gambler’, I just really do feel it’s too long.
Did no one mention it to Steve Harris at the time? I suppose it’s not easy telling someone like that that one of his songs needs editing.
Well you say; “I think it’s too long”, and you have an argument about it, and they go; “well, let’s try it - I’m really convinced that this is it”, and then it’s on the album, and you can’t adapt it or change it – it’s done! So, it’s one of those things. These things occasionally happen in the record business; you record something, it’s pressed, and then you’re rehearsing it and then you’re going; “maybe that album version is a bit too long” *laughing”. So, going back in a circle, this is exactly why I’m in rehearsals right now with my band, because if something like that happens, we just turn to each other and go; “you know what, I’m bored shitless”, and if I’m bored now doing it, what’s someone who’s going to listen to the record going to feel like! *laughing*
Some of the tracks that you were working on for your third album with Iron Maiden did end up on their 'rejuvenation' album ‘Brave New World’.
Yeah, I can’t remember all of them, but ‘Dream Of Mirrors’ is the main one. Steve really liked the songs that we worked on together as much as I did, and he said; “I’d really like to keep these songs”, so I said; “yeah”. I had no plans at that time, but I did have ideas during the tour that I’d been working on, that I was absolutely looking forward to working with Steve, and Dave [Murray]and Janick, and they ended up on my solo album ‘Silicon Messiah’. I really felt that the third album to follow the ‘Virtual XI’ album would really convince the fans that I belonged there and it was worth me being there, because I really felt the music that we were going to come up was going to have a lot of power and passion in it.
Sadly, that third album never happened.
I think it was a business thing, really. I think EMI put a lot of pressure on the band, and that was it. Everybody was having a reunion, and it just made sense for Bruce to come back, just the way that Rob Halford went back to Judas Priest. You can’t say anything else other than; okay, it wasn’t very pleasant for me, but it worked. Iron Maiden are still going, and I said at the time; even if I’m not in the band, the world is a better place for having Iron Maiden in it, and the music business needs Iron Maiden to be there. I just wish them the absolute best of luck, and the greatest success, because they absolutely deserve it. The personal sacrifices that each person in that band has made, and the work they put in to build that band is incredible.
What’s the current status of Wolfsbane?
We’re just waiting for a time when we can get together and finish some of the songs we started writing two years ago when we did ‘Wolfsbane Rock’. I loved doing the EP, and we love performing together. Everybody’s got such different lives, and I’m a victim of my own success; the better things go for me with my solo projects, the less time I’ve got to spend with Wolfsbane. We’ve got some ideas that we really want to finish and bring out as an album possibly towards the end of next year, but we’ll have to see if that happens.
Finally, what’s next for Blaze Bayley?
Once pre-productions for the album are wrapped up, we start recording. The first part of my world tour starts in February in Malta, and then we come back to the U.K., and we finish in June of 2017. The new album; part two of ‘Infinite Entanglement’ comes out on 1st March, and the pre-orders start for that shortly. Right now, the new vinyl pressing of ‘Infinite Entanglement’ is in the process of being worked out; we’re just listening to the test pressings and checking those, and the pre-orders of that have started, and you’ll be able to get that when we’re on tour as well.
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To Pre-Order Blaze's forthcoming disc, and for full details of his 2017 tour, visit Blazebayley.net.