It may be a novel concept, but The Iron Maidens are an authentic tribute to one of the world’s biggest metal acts. Formed in 2001, the all-female five-piece accurately replicate the work of Harris, Dickinson & co, playing their own high octane shows to fans all over the world. Due in the UK for their first ever British tour in October, we caught up with guitarist Courtney Cox – or ‘Adriana Smith’ – for a chat about the band’s live shows, and the challenges of replicating one of the most respected guitarists in metal. Strange world; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Courtney, How are you today?
I’m good. I was drinking last night. I stopped drinking for a while, but I’m at a friend’s house for holidays, so one beer led to ten! *Laughing*
You’re on a little bit of down time now.
Yes, which is very, very rare, especially for the summer touring season. They go; “You have July off”, and I’m like; “What?!” So I don’t know what to do with myself. It’s very strange.
You’ve been busy recently, even playing at the Iron Maiden fan club’s party in Las Vegas.
Oh yes, it was great. The rest of the girls left really early the next day, but I decided to stay behind and see actual Maiden. A fan got me in, so we were all hanging out, and he was like; “This is really funny, because this is your day off, and you’re still at Iron Maiden!” – Yeah, tell me about it! It’s actually great to not be responsible for producing it, you know? I lost my voice jumping in the pit and everything!
You played the fan club show a year earlier as well, and got to meet the band; what was that like for you?
We just went to the bar to come down after the show, and they just started rolling in. You look to the right and there’s Nicko and he goes; “Hey lovely!”, and I just go; “Okay, this is happening!” I went off to another bar to talk to Adrian. That was from a friend of mine that hangs out with Adrian all the time in Malibu, so I was very, very lucky. They’re all sweet guys.
What was it like for you as his female counterpart, meeting Adrian?
Actually, I met Adrian a few times before. The first time was at a music conference called NAMM out here in Anaheim. He was having a meeting with Jackson guitars about his new model that came out, so that would have been about four years ago. So they dragged me in; “Adrian, this is you if you were a female!” I don’t get star struck, but I was like, lost for words.
You’ve studied Adrian’s playing style intimately; what’s your favourite track to play?
Oh man… for me, probably ‘Sea Of Madness’. It’s just the note choice in that. Or even his solo in ‘Still Life’; I look forward to it every night. That kind of song reminds you why you started playing in the first place.
What’s the most challenging to play?
I always feel like a snob answering these kind of questions, because, for me, it’s not hard, because I grew up listening to that stuff, so it’s kind of second nature. But the one that always makes me sweat a little bit before I hit that boost pedal is probably ‘Alexander The Great’; that first tapped note, the bend and the tap, I’m always like; “Okay, here we go!” It’s like double dutch; am I going to hit it? Am I not?!
How do you go about learning Adrian’s parts?
I’m an ear player, so I’ll sit there until every note sounds good. After playing his parts for almost ten years now, you kind of almost step into his mind set, like, you know where he’s going. ‘Wasted Years’ is a perfect example; I would go insane, especially watching other bands cover that song; I would wait for that one part of the solo where he goes for that one signature lick, and I’m like; “You’re playing it wrong! Completely wrong!” I mean, just for jokes, you go look at the tabs - completely wrong, YouTube - completely wrong I’m like; “LISTEN to it!”
Is it a matter of pride that you want to get the parts so right, or is it because Iron Maiden fans know the songs so well?
Well, it’s funny because, I could have a completely crap night, be all over the place, just miss stuff, maybe a few too many beers, and at the meet and greet; “Oh yeah, that was perfect, you didn’t miss a note!”, and I’m like; “Are you serious?!” So it can go either way; you can have the guitar school nerds like; “Oh that was sharp, and that didn’t fit in that dorian scale, or blah blah blah”, or people that were just so in the moment they don’t even notice!
The Iron Maidens seen to be having a lot of fun, playing a lot of shows.
The line-up now is very strong, and now we have a new big-time booker, and he also books like Queensrÿche and stuff, so they’re definitely putting us to the test on the road. I’m not complaining; that’s what I love to do, and actually being at home is the strangest thing for me. I love being on the road, so we’re very fortunate to stay as busy as we are.
When you’re at home do you tend to put the guitar down?
It’s nice to put it down for a while, but when I’ve time off, I kind of focus on my own stuff; trying to figure out [recording program] Pro Tools, including new technology, because I am not a tech person at all. I mean, I think I still have an old four-track cassette recorder. I’m so old school, I don’t like technology.
Looking forward, and in October The Iron Maidens are coming over for your first ever UK tour.
I’m very, very excited. We did on show in London [in 2016], and that was kind of like the guinea pig; it was the test show, because they didn’t know how we’d do in the UK, and I was like; “Well, seriously, it’s the UK, it’s Iron Maiden, I think it’s going to be a win / win!” We sold out that show in minutes, so now, fortunately we have more dates there, so I look forward to it.
Had you ever played in the UK before that, personally?
I have. I grew up in Philadelphia, and I had a band called Queen Diamond, which was an all-female tribute to King Diamond. Me and the girls started that when I was like 15, and then when I left to move to Los Angeles, they turned into a group called Misstallica doing Metallica instead. They came over and did a tour, and they needed a guitar player so they asked me. We did that two years in a row, I believe.
So you’ve got a bit of local knowledge for when the other Iron Maidens come over?
Yeah, it’s like I got it; “I can show you all the chip shops, and the kebab shops, and pubs” You need the right shoes to soak up all that oil! *Laughing*
What can fans expect from the shows; will it be a mix of older and newer material?
I think the latest album we touch is ‘Dance Of Death’. We just added ‘Montségur’ to our set list, but I don’t know if we’re going to be doing that in the UK. We tend to stay away from the material that they’re currently touring to do something different. We tend to lean towards the songs that fans won’t see at an actual Maiden concert right now, like ‘Only The Good Die Young’, little gems like that, stuff that they probably will never see.
Have there been any songs that you’ve tried and thought; “I don’t think this is going to work”?
Actually, funny enough, ‘Ghost Of The Navigator’. With some songs, you kind of think; “This is the crowd that, they’re not really diehard fans”, because you’ll start the song all excited, and you get to the second verse and look out and they’re just standing there, and it’s like; “I don’t think they know this!” Even for Maiden songs, there’s songs that work in small clubs, and there’s songs that are written for arenas like ‘Blood Brothers’; you can’t really do that in a small club; it has to be full crowd, singing along. They knew what they were doing when they wrote those types of songs.
If you were to choose a dream set list for Iron Maiden to perform, what would be in it?
‘Back In The Village’ for one. ‘Still Life’, oh this is tough… ‘Powerslave’, but they are doing that. I mean, I would even just be that Maiden geek and say something like ‘Reach Out’, because I want to see Adrian sing. We did that song once, It’s a tough job to play that and sing, and I got to tell you, I did not enjoy it! I was like; “What do you mean I have to sing – where’s the tequila?!” Kirsten [Rosenberg, The Iron Maidens singer] did the harmonies, which she hated, because she’s usually lead, and she was like; “Why do I have to do harmonies?!”
Finally, if Adrian Smith was unable to play, would you offer your services to step into his shoes for a night?
Within seconds, yes. I couldn’t even imagine. Yeah, that’s a dream gig. I would have to do my homework!
Tickets for all UK dates are on sale now. Click on the links below for details.
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The Iron Maidens 2017 UK Dates.
Wed 25 Oct - Cardiff, The Globe
Thur 26 Oct - Reading, Sub 89
Fri 27 Oct - Leamington Spa, Assembly
Sat 28 Oct - Sheffield, Plug
Sun 29 Oct - London, O2 Islington Academy