Blaze Bayley, former Wolfsbane and Iron Maiden frontman, has embarked on a…wait for it…acoustic solo tour to bring his new brand of music to the masses. I caught up with him before his gig at The Towler for a bit of a chat. I say a bit of a chat, he’s a talkative soul and I’m sure if he didn’t have a show to do, we could have chatted for the rest of the night…
You’re touring in support of your new EP, Russian Holiday. Tell me more…
It’s an acoustic EP and the song Russian Holiday is inspired by the true events of my tour in Russia last year. The other songs on there are some things I wanted to do again because I feel my voice is better now than it has ever been. I’ve a different way of singing now to the way I did years ago and a different approach. I wanted to sing these songs and record them with the voice I have now and my experience. I want to do it differently which is why I’ve chosen to do it with a classical guitar.
We did a few acoustic dates earlier in the year and I asked the fans if they’d be interested in more. They all said yes. We haven’t done any promotion for it apart from on Facebook and my website because I wanted the fans to be the people who heard it first. I’m an underground artist supported 100% by the fans, no-one else. It’s them buying my music and coming to my concerts which is why I can do what I do. The only opinions that count are the people that support me. If they hate it, I won’t do another one. If they love it, then I might be able to do another one. I don’t care about being number one in Metal Hammer or Kerrang. It’s nice when you read nice things about yourself but it’s better when you meet people who say they love your music because it made them feel a certain way.
I’m known for metal. People still think of me from Iron Maiden but that’s 15 years ago now and there’s still plenty of people that hate me from that era as well.
You mentioned that some people don’t exactly warm to you because of Iron Maiden. How does that make you feel?
I enjoy it. I like that I piss people off. There are still people who are venomous and vitriolic towards me because they see me as “that bastard who made Bruce leave Iron Maiden”. I wrote songs with the guys in the band. I had great times with the band, I travelled the world and some of those fans are still with me. The fact that I really piss a few people off and they refuse to even listen to the albums I did with them, for me that’s really cool. It just makes me appreciate being an underground artist living off the support of the fans with no proper record deal so much more. It makes me feel very fucking cool.
Would you say it’s more liberating being an underground artist?
There’s a degree of stress both ways. When you’re getting money from anyone it always comes with strings attached and whenever you’re working with a contract there’s always small print involved that makes you go straight to the devil.
We all have this romantic view of “our songs are so special and when people hear our music they’ll be blown away.” It’s just not true. You can be the best musician in the world and end up not being a success because of money and business. It’s just a hideous, horrible thing and that’s the way the music business is, the way the world works and I never blame anyone that gives up.
There’s a certain degree of freedom. I choose my own artwork, who I work/write with and no-one tells me what to do. The only thing I’m restrained by is what I can afford to do. If I can afford more pages in the artwork I will. With King Of Metal, I had 28 pages of artwork. This album had to be cut down. It’s a much simpler layout. Sometimes you want to take a sound man or other people on the road. That costs money. In the end, they’re going to earn more money than you and you’re not going to pay your rent. It’s just practical considerations.
You mentioned having a 28 page booklet of artwork. I like a hard copy of something personally but a lot of people have moved towards downloading, some paying for it, a lot don’t. What are your thoughts on that?
Music has changed. I am so small I don’t feel I’m suffering too much because hardly anyone knows me. I think the people who suffer are the bigger artists that make crap records. You download it for free, listen to it, think it’s crap so then you don’t bother getting a hard copy. I’m very lucky that I have loyal fans that even if they download it for free, they’ll still buy it too. I try and make it special too by signing as many copies as I can and doing limited edition t-shirts with pre-orders. Things like this are good for people that enjoy collecting and feeling that connection with an artist. That’s important for a lot of my fans. Young and old.
If someone downloads something of mine, they might come across something they like and buy the whole thing. I may be deluded but that’s the way I like to look at it. The way I measure success is by asking myself if I can afford to make an album, if I can afford to go on tour, if can I afford to pay my rent and can I afford to put fuel in my motorcycle? When I can answer yes to those four things, my life is perfect. My fans come and see me. They validate me. How many people can say that? It’s humbling. I’m just a working class guy from Birmingham who failed all his exams at school. I got into a band because I love to sing and I love to jump about on stage. People say the loveliest things.
What’s been your favourite comment from a fan?
I don’t know, it’s embarrassing really because they say these incredible things. I’ve struggled since Maiden for so many years and fought just to be recognised for doing the music I believe in. I didn’t try and be commercial. I believe in this kind of metal and the truth in the lyrics. That’s the path I’ve chosen to take and it’s not been easy. People saying “that’s my favourite album” or “that song changed my life” is truly humbling.
Lyrics are clearly important to you. How do you get inspired?
There’s a certain time when technique is important. Sometimes that will get you through. I don’t think of lyrics as my ideas so much as I’m capturing a whisper, making a note of a memory. Something that my subconscious has thrown up. I try and write things down when they come to me. I always think it’s put there for you and if you don’t take it, that’s your fault.
I review music and whilst I would never outright slate a band because that’s someone’s heart and soul, I’ve seen it happen many a time. How do you deal with that?
I was very lucky in my early career with Wolfsbane, we started off in Tamworth and the local paper had an incredible music page. The guy who wrote it never slagged off anyone because they were crap, he always found something good to say. “Oh their hair was good” or “I liked the way they moved”. That gave people a lot of confidence. I was very lucky to start off in my first band in that environment. We were hideous really at times. There were 20 bands at least playing original music in Tamworth alone. That’s how vibrant that one person made that scene.
Do you think that’s still the case?
Print media isn’t so important anymore. In those days there was no internet, no mobile phones. You got your Kerrang every month and that was it.
Having had the experience of being in a massive band and being an underground artist, what advice would you give to those trying to “make it”?
Brush up on your maths. You’ve got to work out your figures. There’s loads of free courses to help. Always be you, don’t try to be like another band. Find people you get along with and see what you come up with.
OK you’ve kind of got a show to do now so to finish off, describe Russian Holiday in three words…
Dark, passionate and brilliant.
The Russian Holiday EP, featuring Thomas Zwijsen, is now available on Blaze Bayley’s official website at http://www.blazebayley.net