EXCLUSIVE: Exactly twenty years ago, Adrian Smith released his final album before stepping back into Iron Maiden. Slipping out on 24th November 1997, Psycho Motel's 'Welcome To The World' came and went without much fanfare, overshadowed by the guitarist's activities at the time when he reunited with Bruce Dickinson. With the pair soon returning to Iron Maiden, the story of Psycho Motel's somewhat forgotten final release has never been fully told - until now. We sat down with vocalist Andy Makin for an in-depth insight into the sessions, how the Iron Maiden reunion was on the cards even then, and how the band folded. Checking in; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Andy, it’s been twenty years since ‘Welcome To The World’ was released; how does that make you feel?
I spoke to Adrian about it in May in Cardiff, funny enough [when Iron Maiden were playing as part of their ‘The Book Of Souls’ tour], and he was aware of it as well. We both sort of looked at each other and went; “Oh god, twenty years!” He has lots of those sorts of landmarks anyway, so for him, I guess, they’re less of an event.
Going right back to the start, how did you come to work with Adrian and Psycho Motel?
They put an advert in Kerrang! which said; “Singer wanted, 18 – 25”. It said they had a record deal, and they had management. I was in a little band at the time, and we’d just done a demo, and I though; “Oh, I’ll give it a try and see what happens”, and sent it in and forgot about it. About a month later, I got home, and my Mrs said; “Oh, some bloke called Adrian has phoned about this band that you send a demo to. He’s going to be calling back at 5pm”. I was very dismissive, and then Adrian rang. I obviously didn’t recognise his voice, and he was just chatting away, and then he said, very humbly; “I don’t know if you know the band I was in, but I was in Iron Maiden”.
Up until that point you had no idea that it was Adrian Smith that you were auditioning for?
Yeah, and at that moment, my jaw dropped, literally. He said; “I really liked the demo that you sent, and I want to get you down and maybe do an audition”. So he continued; “I’ll send you out the first Psycho Motel album; just pick a couple of songs off it, and we’ll be in touch.”
Were you a fan of Iron Maiden?
I’ve never really said to Adrian, but I was a massive Maiden fan, and still am. I was a huge Maiden fan, but I thought - I think, correctly - not to go that sort of, effusive nerd that wanted to jump out from me an just ask him a million questions and be all fanboy, especially if I was going to be a peer. So I never mentioned it, and still haven’t.
Was that difficult to contain!?
Well, when we first started writing for the Psycho album, he had a massive poster in his studio which was the Donington ’88 poster, with Maiden and Kiss, and all that. And I was there at that gig; I was sixteen at the time, and that was my first big Donington moment. You can’t say that to the guy when you’re sat next to him and he’s just made you a cup of tea, and you’re writing a tune. The first metal album that I ever bought was ‘Killers’, and one of my favourite guitar solos of all time is ‘Prodigal Son’.
Back to that phone call, and what happened next?
Two days later I got the CD in the post. I put it on, and my heart just dropped, because it was Solli [vocalist on debut ‘State Of Mind’], and Solli’s got a great kind of Robert Plant voice, and it was all high notes. I could see there was a bluesy, Hendrix type vibe, and I was listening to Machine Head, and Sepultura and stuff like that. And I thought; “I can’t sing this stuff”, so I rewrote the melodies, because I just couldn’t sing that high, and I just couldn’t do them justice.
What do you remember about the day of the audition?
I turned up early, and it was me against another forty other people. I was the only one who looked out of place. I had combat trousers, a scruffy leather jacket, and really long, unkempt hair. The queues going into the auditions were like big, blonde haired dudes with skin-tight jeans.
And what happened as you went in to do your audition?
We all met, and Adrian said; “What songs have you learned”, and I said I’d learned them all, and he said; “Pick one –I don’t mind”. So we did ‘Killing Time’, I think, and I did a bar of it, and you could see him looking confused, and I thought I’d blown it. But then he started singing the harmony to it, and I thought; "We might have something here." We did about three of four numbers, and the next thing I know – because he doesn’t really give much away – he went out and he came back in with his wife Natalie, and Tony Metcalf, who was a manager in Sanctuary at the time, and they gave me this little mock interview; sort of real Gestapo, shine a light on me kind of thing! And then he said; “I want you to come back to my house and record a couple of demos, if you don’t mind”. Ok, fine!
So were you in, at that point?
It came down to me and another guy, in the end. I thought I’d done well. I’d recorded ‘Rain’, and one other track, and they asked me if I wanted to stay over. But I drove home thinking; “Have I got it?”, because it went really well, we got on really well, he was my kind of guy – matey straight away – so I liked him a lot. Two weeks went by, and as you can imagine, it was absolute hell thinking; “Have I got this or not?” And then he rang up and said; “I’m sorry it’s taken so long, but it’s between you and another guy”. I can’t remember his name, but all I know is he was Irish.
Was there a final audition process?
We had to go to a studio in Hammersmith to be filmed to see how we were on camera performing with the band. It was Nova studios in Hammersmith, and there was nobody else in the room other than the band, and a couple of management people. But the other guy was so nervous - and I’ve seen the video of it - and he blew it; he was doing all the mic stand, rock poses and all that stuff, and it just wasn’t what they were looking for.
Which was great for you, obviously.
The funny thing was, even then Adrian couldn’t decide, because he can’t decide on anything! In the end he showed the videos to Bruce Dickinson, and Bruce looked at both videos and went; “Well, it’s that guy, isn’t it, obviously!”, and so that’s how I got the job.
How soon was it after you landed the gig that you started recording the album?
It was like a month. We started writing, and he sent me off with a little Tascam recorder thing, which I couldn’t figure out how to work. I went back to my little house in South Wales, and he said; “Any ideas, make sure you bring them when we start writing. We’ll figure out some writing days when you come down to the house and we’ll write”.
Was your contribution to the album solely lyrics and melodies?
Well, yeah, apart from ‘With You Again’. There are riffs on there that are mine, but I never got to play guitar on the album, which is something that still bugs me to this day. But this is still a record in my eyes; we did thirteen songs in two weeks. We just didn’t stop. I’ve never taped with anybody quite so easily as him.
The album features a pair of guests in Dave Murray, and Scott Gorham; were you around when they recorded?
I was there every day, and I saw everything. I’ve even got photos of them playing [see collage above]. I’d met Davey anyway, because there was this winter party at Adrian’s house before we started recording the album. I’d also met Bruce and Scott there, and Scott was the one for me, because I was a huge Thin Lizzy fan. I mean, watching that guy record; watching Davey and Adrian, yeah, there’s passion there and everything else, but they’re also studiously doing what they do. With Scott, he records like he plays live; vinegar strokes face, every single bit!
The general consensus seems to suggest that Dave Murray is a much more off the cuff solo writer than Adrian; is this what you saw?
When you get them both in a room, they are very similar in their approach; not sound-wise, but because they grew up together. They intuitively know what each other is doing. The harmony solo section in ‘With You Again’, Dave wrote that. When we demoed it, Adrian did this massive, standing on top of a cliff with the wind blowing in your hair kind of solo, but he said; “I want to get Davey on that so it’ll be like a two-guitar thing”, and when Davey turned up, he said; “I’ve got this little harmony part for it”, so he’d already written a little section. And his solo, it sounds off the cuff, but he’s so consistent; he’ll just do variations on three or four takes, and that will be it. Adrian is studious with certain parts of the solos, but if you get him in a Hendrix-ey mood, he’ll just go off for days on blues. He’s one of the greatest blues guitarists I’ve seen from the rock genre.
What was it like watching Adrian and Dave record?
It’s strange when you get into a room with someone that you know their sound, their tone. With a singer, it’s never surprising – that’s their voice – but when it’s a guitar player’s voice, and you know that tone because you’ve grown up with it, and they’re stood in front of you and playing it? Yeah, that puts a smile on your face.
What for you, are the standout tracks on the album?
Well ‘With You Again’, because it was about my dad, and ‘The Last Chain’, I like. I like them all really. There’s a couple of weak ones; ‘No Loss To Me’. That was a deliberate; “Let’s do a heavy song for the European fans - the more Germanic sort of people”, to make it a bit more obviously heavy metal. It came out a riff from a Silverchair song that was on MTV at the time.
So was ‘No Loss To Me’ an ironic title?
Absolutely. I remember recording the vocals at the time, and [producer] Simon Hanhart holding up a placard saying ‘colostomy’ and various other things! Yeah, it wasn’t my favourite. Also, ‘Hypocrisy’; we put that in because Gary [Leideman, bassist] had the riff, and so to keep everything equal, we had one of Gary’s songs, and Mike [Sturgis, drums] wrote ‘Innocence’, so his track was on there as well. There was a song called ‘Winter’s Child’ that we never had on the album that we demoed that I think was probably better than ‘Hypocrisy’, and perhaps we should have done that, but it was more of a sort of democratic thing.
You must have been very excited for the album’s release.
I was contracted for the recording of the album, I had a publishing deal with Virgin in Japan, and it was like; “Okay, this is going all right”. They were saying; “We’ll release it in Japan first”, and I had an itinerary for the next year for the interviews and stuff, which was kind of shuffling around between our stuff, and Bruce’s stuff as well, because Adrian was also doing that as well.
Was Adrian's commitment to working with Bruce Dickinson beginning to show at that stage?
Yeah, I mean, some of the mixing of the album I was doing with Simon in the studio whilst Adrian was off on tour with Bruce. While that was going on, there were talks of another support slot with Maiden, TV stuff; there were lots of promises, but I was like; “Okay, whatever’s going to happen is going to happen”.
In the end there was no touring at all for the album; did you get to perform with Psycho Motel at all?
Only at a charity show we did. That was at Café de Paris in London. We played with Page and Plant, Arthur Brown, Mica Paris, and Thunder. We did a covers band with Adrian and Scott [Gorham] doing Lizzy tunes. That was possibly the best thing that I’ve ever done, just as a fanboy thing. It was a good night, and we went down really, really well.
Did you play any other material, or was it solely Thin Lizzy covers?
I sang ‘Wasted Years’ with Bruce, and we also did ‘Psycho Motel’ the actual song, from the first album. I sang a duet with Bruce on that too. It was the same night of the Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams reunion thing over in Battersea Power Station [the ‘Concert Of Hope’, Sunday 29th December 1997]. They’d finished their show and they tried to get in to the Café de Paris, and they weren’t allowed in, because I don’t think the bouncers recognised them. I said that over the mic to this huge cheer! It was all downhill from there, really! *Laughing*
Bruce and Adrian were readying ‘Accident of Birth’ at that time; did you know that it was going to overpower Psycho Motel?
It was never a surprise. It wasn’t overpowering the Psycho thing; Psycho was actively encouraged not to do anything by certain management. There’s two cash cows which is Maiden, and Bruce, and rightly so. Adrian’s solo stuff was all well and good when it was just pleasing him in a little band that they could gig with, but then ‘Welcome To The World’ came out, and it wasn’t formulaic; it was a bit different for him, and I think it worried certain managers at the time, because it was like suddenly Adrian was like; “Hang on a minute, this is good, I want to push this now”. But I think there was an inevitability of the Maiden reshuffle a couple of years later, especially with the consolidation of their future earnings with their selling off of their back catalogue.
Could see the Iron Maiden reunion coming, even as far back as 1997?
Yeah, it wasn’t much of a surprise when they got back together a couple of years later, let’s put it that way. The thing is with Maiden, it’s a massive machine, but it’s also very much still a pub band run by one guy. It very much is, and I love Maiden, and especially Steve Harris; I think he’s absolutely amazing and a lovely chap. It’s Steve’s band, and he showed that it was his band when he got Blaze in and they went that way; you could see the only person steering that ship was Steve, and it still is to a certain extent. I think the way Adrian left, it hurt him a lot. I can’t go into too much about it, but Bruce has alluded to it in his book anyway, so I've been told.
How did you find out that Psycho Motel wasn’t going to be continuing?
Adrian was playing with Bruce at the Astoria 2 [on 8th December 1998], and after the sound check we went for a meal. We sat down and he went; “Look man, I’m not Bruce, I’m not Steve – I can’t push this band like that. I’m not a band leader kind of guy”. And I said; “I know that, it’s all right – don’t worry about it! We did what we did, and it was great”. There’s nothing much could be said, really. At the end of the day, he’s very much still a mate of mine, and he’s a lovely, lovely guy.
Looking forward, and you’re back with new band Nine Miles Down.
Am I having another crack of the whip, or am I just content to die old and arthritic with a Les Paul in my hand? Both, I think! A guy called Eddie Marsh got in touch with me just say how much he liked Psycho Motel, randomly, and I found out that he was also a guitar player. So subsequently he joined the band, but ironically, he then called me up and said he’d been offered the job of Janick Gers’ guitar tech. But I recorded with him, and a guy called Tom Williams on the drums, who’s this child prodigy, and an amazing drummer. We’re still trying to find a bass player at the minute.
How is it sounding?
There’s no rules with the writing, and no trying to fit in a box, really. I like nerdy prog, and Eddie’s sort of more into his weirdy stuff as well, but he’s a classic metal kind of guy crossed with Dream Theater kind of stuff. Finally Tom comes from the Trivium and Lamb of God kind of school.
When will the album ‘Fractures’ be available?
It’s just the single ‘Mockingbird’ at the minute. We’re holding on to the album to see if we can get any label interest. We’ve been talking to a few people, so we’ll see. At the end of the day, if it does nothing, I’m hanging out with my best mates playing music. I have no illusions; we’re not going to change the world or take over the world, but if I can just occupy a small slice of it, I’d be happy.
Finally, is there a chance some Psycho Motel material will make It into the Nine Miles Down live set?
Yeah, I think so. ‘The Last Chain’ we want to do, and we did talk about recording ‘With You Again’. I also talked to Adrian about maybe doing a solo on it, but do you know what, I tried recording it, and I can’t get it sounding better than the original. I don’t want it to sound like a pale imitation of something just so I can say that Adrian played on something. But yeah, we’ll definitely chuck in one or two Psycho songs. It would be nice to have them live again.
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To keep up with all things Nine Miles Down, visit the band’s official site, or follow them on FaceBook. Andy also guests on Phil Lanzon’s ‘If You Think I’m Crazy’ album. For more information, click here.