Interviewing Blaze Bayley is, by essence, a rather indecent business – for, in order to understand and analyze his work, you have to ask him terribly indiscreet questions. And the man answers with great honesty, not trying to hide his vulnerability, his voice shaking, and sometimes leaving heavy silences stretch, as if trying to keep himself from letting himself go. The kind of conversation you conclude with a big knot in your stomach.
We therefore talked about discouragement – the main subject of the song “One More Step”, where Blaze seems to be tearing his heart out to sing –, depression and even suicide, an option he’s already considered several times. Most notably, the former Iron Maiden singer told us more than once over the course of the interview that he was “an underground artist”, like some sort of mantra. On a more concrete note, we talked about his latest album, The King Of Metal, on which he expresses his extreme devotion and his gratitude towards his fans – the only thing that makes being away from his family bearable. This album was also an opportunity to pay a sincere homage to Dimebag Darrell (Pantera), whom he liked as a musician and as a person with an exemplary way of life. He also addressed the question of his separation with the former members of his band with great humility.
And because a funny comment was very much needed, he concluded with a saying of his own invention, supported by Paul Di Anno’s hair evolution: “When you give up Iron Maiden, you give up your hair”.
Radio Metal : This new album, The King Of Metal, is the first since you broke up with Jay Walsh and David and Nico Bermudez. How did that change the writing process? How was this record written?
Blaze Bayley : I found a new guitar player. I write most of the song and then we talk about it. It's the same with Claudio Tiricanti, is my drummer for this record. So regarding the writing process, what we did is a totally different approach. I wanted to do something very simple and very direct, particularly lyrically, I wanted to be able to talk to my fans whose first language isn't English, so it has to be a very clear and direct message. When I've been starting the writing I wanted to be able to be on the stage, on the tour, and say specific words in a specific way, directly, to my fans, so that's what I've done.
Did you feel more free to compose as you want as a real solo artist?
Well, I do what I want anyway. It's just the mood and what's happening in my life. Every album is a reflection on what's happening in my life, a snapshot really of what's happening at that time. You know, at different times in my life I had to go through some big challenges, I had to see a psychiatrist to help me with depression until I get off medication, and this album says everything about that, really.
This new album is called The King Of Metal and is, like you said, dedicated to the heavy metal fans. You declared that the metal fans are the true kings of metal. Do you think that, from all the different types of audience, the heavy metal fans are the most dedicated fans of the world?
Yeah, I think that if you look at the different genres of music, pop fans are more fashion-orientated, so maybe they will like one Madonna record, but not all Madonna records. Every artist has a certain number of true fans, but the heavy metal fans are special. If they like an artist and liked a cd, then for the next cd, they won't wait for the reviews, but just find out when it comes out and get it, because if they're fan of the artist then they love everything. On everything that I ever recorded, I feel that that loyalty have meant a lot to me. I have a few fans... You know, I'm a very small, underground heavy metal singer, a lot of fan from the Iron Maiden days have heard of me but not a lot of them know what I do with my own music, or a very few. So I'm just a small, underground artist doing things my own way and I have support from a few fans around the world and that keeps me going. And I'm very proud and very honored to have that support, truly.
Don't you think fans of different genres such as jazz or hip hop have this kind of loyalty?
Yes, everybody has a certain amount of fans, every artists has loyal fans, but in heavy metal, I think we're more extreme in our loyalty. We are... I don't know the word, but if you're a fan of Miles Davis, then you will probably stay a fan of Miles Davis, but there's a lot of people that likes Miles Davis without even owning a record by him, and they're still calling themselves fans. Whereas in heavy metal, if you are a fan, you really support the artist I think, but I might be wrong, I don't know. I'm just an underground artist trying to do something different.
And do you think that it's precisely because heavy metal has a very underground scene that the fans are so dedicated because they know that those artists really need that support?
Yeah, well... I need their support, and I'm very glad to have this, I find incredible levels of support from fans who are across Europe and the rest of the world. I did a limited edition album, numbered and with an exclusive t-shirt, and that sold out in no time at all. And every night, when I play, I sell my own merch, and the fans buy my cds and t-shirts and support me, and I'm able to continue to tour and pay my rent.
This new record is a classic heavy metal album, very back to the roots, not only musically but also with the production and the sound of the album which is very different from the modern productions. Did you wanted to have a sound that symbolizes this very old school album?
Yes, I wanted to do something that's very simple. People aren't used to that now, but I wanted to do something very direct and cheap. The basis of the recording was as simple and as raw as possible. So it's a little hard to listen to at first, but hopefully, if you listen to it two or three times, then you will see that it's more open. It's probably like a strong coffee: at first it's a little bitter, but eventually, you can't live without it.
There is a song called “Dimebag” that's dedicated to Dimebag Darrel. Why did you choose to dedicate a song to Dimebag 8 years after his death? Why now?
There's a few reasons, and the first one is purely artistic. I had the basic idea a few weeks after he died and I was working with different musicians at the time, and it just didn't come together. We tried it a few times, but we never had the chance to finish the song, so I just kept the idea because I thought it was good. I really believed in this idea, and I've tried it with all the musicians I've worked with and it never ever worked, it was never appropriate, it never fitted with what else we were doing. So for this album, I was like “OK, let's give a try on that idea, I'm gonna start with that”. It was one of the first things we started to work on when I started working with Thomas [Zwijsen] on the writing and the songs generally, and it got together really well. And then when we got to the pre-production we had all the bass and all the drums going and it really started to take shape, and that was it. I had the core of the song and I'm really pleased with the way it turned out. So because of certain reasons it's accidental, but it's something that I really like: no one can say that I'm on the bargain trying to make something that have been done, because it is so far after his death, you can't say that I put this song on my album so Pantera fans will buy it. It's something that Pantera fans won't think about, if you see in the general press it's not mentioned a lot at all, so in that way, people will see this so far after and see it's a genuine tribute to the man, and also a warning of the terrible things that can happen. Of all the death in music, it is the one that I respect the most for the way he lived. He never had a choice about how he died. I think people are glorified when they drink themselves to death or die of a drug overdose, and for me that's just not good. Dimebag didn't killed himself, he didn't do anything at all to bring on his own death. His life was taken from him. I think that's why he's more worth remembered, and because of the great work he might have done. He wasn't like the people who'd drink themselves to death and so on.
This song “One More Step” is a very beautiful song about discouragement. The thing about being discouraged is that we picture at the same time all the steps we have to make and that we stop thinking step after step. How do you manage to fight against these emotions that push you to give up?
Sometimes my emotions get the best of me and then I feel like I can't go on. I just feel that I'm really lucky that I have incredibly supportive fans. Many fans say to me after my concert when they meet me “please carry on, please keep going”, and I have an incredibly supportive family and just a handful of friends who I respect and I'm lucky in that way. That's another idea that I had for a long time I couldn't get it to work, I'm very glad that it worked in this album. I just hope that people that listen to the song will understand the lyrics, and perhaps, in a very small way, it will help one of my fans who's having a bad day or a bad week, to carry on, maybe some of those facing the pressure of final exams at university or trying to get a new job or any challenge like that. I hope that song will help them, because a thousand thousands steps is about 300 miles: it takes about 3 days to walk 300 miles, and you can survive 3 days without food, so it can be done. It's physically possible to walk a thousand thousands steps. That's the message of the song: as impossible as things may seem at the time, they only seem impossible because that's the frame of mind that you are in. If you can sometimes look at things in a different way, then you'll see that it's possible. Sometimes you can't look to far ahead, you just have to take one single step, and it might not seem that much but it is a single step and it's closer to where you want to be.
By the way, the way you sing that song is very intense, very moving, like you weren't really singing but like you were talking to someone or talking to yourself. Who are you talking to through that song?
Yes I'm trying to... [pauses] It's my inner voice that I try to reveal. It's like, an inner force. I thought about my wife and my child because that's all I have, and sometimes I'm a thousand miles away from home, and sometimes it seems impossible to get back [pauses]. I'm talking to myself, I'm talking to my wife.
In that song you sing “it's do or do, not do or die”, like death wasn't an option for you. Don't you ever felt the need to give up and put an end to your life?
Yes, many many times I thought that that was it, and I'm just very lucky that I'm till here and ready [pauses]. And some other songs might talk about that situation as well. Sometimes, if you allow yourself the option, then it's there for you to take. So that is why... “Do or do, not do or die”, because if you give yourself the option of giving up, then perhaps you will. So don't give yourself the option of giving up before, just say “I can't give up, there is no choice, I have to continue, I have no choice, no option to give up, I must continue, this is my only choice, to stop here and wait until I can continue, or continue right now, there's no other choice.” Those are the words I think sometimes I need to say to myself, because many times it's very difficult, and there are many times I wished I stopped, but I couldn't, and I hope, by the end of this 60 shows-tour, in some small way I'd have proved [pauses] that I continued and I found a way to carry on and make a new album. If I had stopped I wouldn't have done any of those things. When I meet my fans and they say my music and my lyrics means a lot to them, then those dark hours where I wonder if I'm alone seem worthy in some way. When people say “those lyrics really inspired me, those things got me through”, somehow it makes it work, it makes it fit.
Last year you split up with David Bermudez, Nico Bermudez and Jay Walsh and released a statement about it. A few days later, they released a statement saying that yours wasn't true and that they were fired only for financial reasons. How did you react to their statement? Where is the truth?
There is no truth, there is only personal, subjective view of your situation and your reality. There is no truth. There is how do you feel about a situation, and how you feel you've been treated. I just wanted to kill myself on that tour, the pressure to keep a band together was too much. Sometimes I really wished I had killed myself to escape, but my wife talked me out of it, and she persuaded me to carry on, and that's why I'm still here. So they can say what they want, but my truth is: being with those people on that tour in that situation made me feel like killing myself, like ending my life, ending everything, leaving my wife and my son just to get away from everything. That's my truth.
A few weeks ago, you sang in Russia with Paul Di Anno, who also was a member of Iron Maiden like you. What can you tell us about this experience?
It was fantastic, so much fun, it was just great. The weather was horrible in Moscow, it was snowing, and it was really cold, but Paul is a really funny guy, and the Russian band that played with us was absolutely excellent and did a wonderful job. They made my songs sound really good and they were great guys to work with. Because of the two names, people who didn't know me came to see Paul and me, and I made a lot of new fans, so that's something I really enjoyed, something that I putted of doing before, but that seemed to be the right time to do it, the right state of mind. I don't have a band now, I'm a solo artist and I choose different musicians, but this was the right time to do this, and it was great. I really enjoyed it, it was so much fun. And I got paid, which is really great. So I think we're gonna do some more, we've got Australia coming up in November, and then I think we're gonna do a few more dates together in Eastern Europe, in the end of October/early November. I'm really looking forward to that, it's something that works well. I do a few of my own songs, then a few of the songs I'm known for in Iron Maiden, and the fans seems to really enjoy that set-list we did, so I'm open to do a few more of those. It's a lot of fun. One thing I think about music is that you should do it because you enjoy it first, not because you expect to get anywhere. If you get anywhere, then that's great because you're doing something you enjoy. That was really good and that really gave me a boost and gave me a lot of confidence to get back out there. That's really good.
That's cool, did you ever consider making an album together?
No, because I don't see what the value would be musically. If Paul and I had some incredible idea of some new kind of British metal, or a new kind of heavy metal that would take two voices to sing, then perhaps, but at the moment no. Now I'm very busy making my own music, and Paul is also very busy, he owns a club in Brazil and two shops and he works all the time in different countries all around the world. So no, we haven't thought about that, I don't see where the value would be. I wouldn't say never, but I can't see who would be interested in that album.
By the way, when we saw pictures of that concert there was a running gag about you two having lost your hair. Does that mean playing with Iron Maiden makes you lose your hair?
Yes! If you leave Iron Maiden, you leave your hair.
Interview conducted on april, 25th, 2012 by phone
Transcription : Chloé
Blaze Bayley's website : www.blazebayley.net
Album : The King Of Metal
This post is also available in: French