Not only is he one lucky so and so due to his current location, but he also happens to be just about the nicest guy you could meet and also one of the most famous drummers on our blue planet, who at this moment in time, is bursting with excitement regarding the release of Iron Maiden’s sixteenth, studio album.
OD – Firstly, I wanted to ask about when the process of The Book Of Souls took shape and the process of it’s completion. How long did it all take from the very first point of writing until the finished, recorded album?
NICKO – Well, the guys were individually talking about ideas a while back and when Bruce (Dickinson, Vocals) got together with Adrian (Smith, Guitars), and Adrian got together with Steve (Harris, Bass), when they were back in England. Dave (Murry, Guitars) is over in Hawaii and I’m in America, so we are spread out all over the place. I think they started probably around August / September last year, knowing that we were going into the studio. Basically, when we started in the studio, we actually rehearsed and wrote the whole album in there also. We didn’t go into a rehearsal room and learn half a dozen songs, only to find that 3-5 weeks later, when we get to the studio and fucking forget them (laughs).
We wrote songs that were already composed before our producer, Kevin (Shirley) came in. So we had about 3 and a half weeks in Guillaume Tell Studios, before we started recording, we had about 5/6 songs before Kevin set the board up and we were ready to go, just straight in no kissing!
OD – Prior to that, were Adrian, Dave and Steve sending you over demos around that time so you could get a sense of what was happening?
NICKO – No, we actually just learned everything as we went along, basically we’d sit down acoustically in a circle, then we’d go ’tilt’ it up in the studio. A good example of this would be Speed of Light (first single from the album). Adrian started a riff off and Steve and I just looked at one another and thought, “we better do that now!”, so we went off and recorded it right then and there! You know, there are a couple of little drum mishaps in it and I deliberately kept them in. Don’t get me wrong, there were people moaning about it saying, ‘oh there’s mistakes in there”! My response was, ‘bollocks to that, it’s live and it’s a great vibe’. Then when the other songs were coming together, like Book of Souls and Bruce’s Empire of The Clouds, we took our time. We had no ticking clock on this album, which was great, so we just went in there every day and learned bit’s and pieces of new songs and then went ahead and recorded them. From start to finish, from the first to the last song to write and record, I would say that the whole process took about five months at the most.
OD – Wow, that’s such a short amount of time considering that you have yourselves a double / triple (vinyl) album there. That’s really good timing for a project of that length. Especially when you look at the likes of Metallica, taking up 8/9 years to make an album.
NICKO – Well, Metallica take about 2 years to tune up the guitars for starters! (laughs) Only joking mate! The thing is, when you are in a situation where there clock is ticking, sometimes it can work against you and other times there is no pressure, but you just have to get on with your own work schedule and do the best you can. Look at Def Leppard, Pyromania, that took 2 years and that was down to Mutt Lange (producer), who was doing his “Mutt Lange” thing back in those days and it worked for them.
For us in the first 5 songs we were like hmm… these are a bit long. I mean, fucking hell, The Red and The Black comes in as long as Rime of the Ancient Mariner, for crying out loud, ha ha! But at the end of the day, we just get on with it and we had the best time and it was the greatest record I’ve ever made with the band. In my personal opinion, the way we did this record, with the choice of studio and having Kevin Shirley involved, turned out to be a great album for us, sound-wise. Too be honest with you, sonically I think this is the best album we have ever done.
OD – Speed of Light is the first single / video, to be released from the album, do you have any idea of what we can expect as the next release and if so will there be a continuation to the video that was released for Speed Of Light?
NICKO – I honestly do not know! In saying that, there’s a couple of songs you could choose. I suppose there could be like a follow up single, but I haven’t spoken to anybody about that and really I don’t care to be honest. I’m more excited about the live stuff and can’t wait to get out there and just play it live. Please don’t get me wrong by that, I respect the kids that do like the videos and all of that, but you see, I’m an old fool! I don’t even call this a double album, I call it a triple album, because its three piece of vinyl. We’re old school, so to answer your question, I’m really not sure, it’s anyone’s guess right now as to what will be the follow up single or video.
OD – When you discovered that Bruce had the cancerous tumor, did you think that was it, game over, and how did you cop with it all?
NICKO – Well, I’d be a liar if I didn’t think for a minute that’s Iron Maiden finished, I thought more about the possibility of loosing my friend than anything else, to be honest. Then later I was thinking, God forbid if the worst ever happened, the legacy would be the last 16 albums. I’ve got to be honest, I did question his mortality at one point and thankfully that didn’t last long. Honestly, I got down on my knees and said a prayer, picked my thoughts up and got positive about it all thinking to myself, “if anyone can beat this, its Bruce”! He’s so positive about everything he’s ever done in his life, or what every he is about to do. Basically, I prayed for him and my prayers were answered, as well as everybody else that knows and care’s for him.
OD – This must have put a phenomenal amount of pressure on everyone in the band during the time of his illness.
NICKO – Do you know that none of us knew that he was poorly, until after the record was done? He performed that whole album, knowing that something wasn’t quite right with himself, but didn’t get diagnosed till after we’d finished the tracks. So this album Book of Souls, is just very special to me and all the rest of the guys. Bruce didn’t know until December 2014 and then started his treatment in January 2015. We weren’t aware and neither was he, that he had the tumor.
OD – Being one of the most iconic, if not THE MOST ICONIC metal bands in the world, did you feel a sense of pressure when putting The Book Of Souls together, in keeping with the quality of your discography?
NICKO – No, not for me because I’m not a prolific songwriter like the rest of the guys are, because that pressure is totally different. You see, there is a different pressure to the guys writing the songs. I took a couple of ideas for some tunes that I was gonna present to the guys, but they already had so much stuff to work on and it’s just the way the process works and too be honest, I wasn’t strong enough to go in and say to the guys and say “lets work on this idea”. They just had so much material that they were working on during this time and that’s why it ended up being a double / triple album.
We just created this music for us, it’s how we felt at the time in the studio and everything about it felt right to us. Steve kept coming with these incredible ideas such as, The Great Unknown with Yannick, which we had ready to record when Kevin came over. Yeah, there is a pressure of sorts, but for us it’s more an internal thing when we look back and think, “well, how can we beat the last album?”, or “lets look over all the albums or go back to Piece of Mind or Number of the Beast”. You can’t keep going back, you have to look forward and that’s key for Iron Maiden, we’re always looking forward. When the history page is turned, then it’s done, you have to move on to new things. For us, 2014 was Iron Maiden, Book of Souls, that was without a doubt, it’s own entity, the pressure was to just make a great album and not “fuck up”, basically.
OD – I know that Adrian, had spoken recently about recording the album in Guillaume Tell Studios in Paris and how it was a major influence on the album, can you talk a little about that?
NICKO – You know, there’s an old analogy that goes something like, “there’s nothing as comfy as an old pair of shoes”. It was like that fit for us and being in that studio was the essence of Iron Maiden on this album. When Bruce and Adrian came back to the band back in 1999, it was a reunion and we made Brave New World in that studio and had some great times in there. We had this crazy experience in that place, it was like a new band again, you know? We made a great album there before and we had so many happy memories, so straight off the bat, it was a positive experience. Not that we didn’t make happy memories from all our records, but there was something special about that room in Guillaume Tell, that connected with us throughout the whole process.
When we decided last year to do this album, Kevin went shopping around for a studio and we originally wanted to go somewhere warm, well Steve and I did. Kevin then said “well, why don’t we go back to Guillaume Tell” and Bruce straight away got behind the idea.
I have to be honest, I was being a selfish around this time, because I really wanted to be somewhere warm, as it was going to be around September / October when we were recording. I really thought, well that’s selfish of me to dispute it, because Bruce had still got all his flying stuff that he had to do and you can’t take him away from that, can you? The whole thing just seemed right, it just all seemed so right to go to Guillaume Tell and so we blocked booked it and the rest is history.
When we all got in there the studio it was actually very cold, because Kevin was not there yet and the studio control room wasn’t functioning yet. So basically, we were using the main room as a rehearsal space at the start. It’s a stunning sounding room, really beautiful and you know when people talk about the “essence” of something or something has ‘the X factor’, I can’t really put my finger on it, but that’s what it really was for us in that studio and we had the best time. We all agreed that it’s best time we’ve ever had making an album together.
OD – The Mayan reference on the album is reflected with Eddie as per usual, when you think back to all the incarnations that Eddie has taken on, which one do you like the most and the least?
NICKO – Personally? That’s easy, the one design I like the most is, Somewhere Back in Time. The least? Oh God, you’ve put me on the spot, hang on a minute, I’ve got to be careful here, you don’t want to be going and pissing off Eddie, or he’s beat you up! (ha ha). You don’t fucking insult Eddie, you don’t tell him what’s the least one you like, or he’ll get you, he’ll find you, no matter how far away you are ha ha!
My least favorite was probably No Prayer For The Dying. He looked a bit gawky for my liking. I think it was trying to look too much like the early Killers, Eddie. I can’t really say though, I love them all. Good question though, you put me on the fucking spot, you bastard (ha ha).
OD – It’s been far too long since you played a show in Ireland and I know that it’s out of your hands as it’s between Booker’s / Promoters and management etc, but can you disclose any information on whether or not there will be an Irish date on this forthcoming tour?
NICKO – Absolutely not! (ha ha) But I’ll tell you this, I was talking to someone from Ireland recently and they said to me that if you’re not coming over we’re gonna come hijack Ed Force One and get you over here one way or another and I said “no mate, I’m gonna hijack it myself and fly the bastard over there!”. We have a 747, we can fly into Dublin no problem, they got a big enough runway to handle us. I hope we do, but we haven’t spoken about it yet. In other words watch this space and keep your eyes open. I could do with a couple of pints of Guinness as well! I’ve been keeping really fit and looking after myself, so I might just have to come off the wagon and have a pint or two if we get over there.
OD – Can you give me an insight as to what we can expect from the live stage production for this tour? Will there be pyro and various incarnations of Eddie on stage?
NICKO – Well you just never know do you? You’re just have to wait! Even I have to wait (ha ha)! I have no fucking idea what’s gonna happen, until I walk in to that rehearsal space and everyone goes “were gonna do this and were gonna do that”. All I know is that it’s gonna be big, as big as this album is, as long as it is and how brilliant it is, you can only imagine what the stage set is gonna be like and what were gonna do on stage. I’ll leave that up to your imagination boys and girls, but I promise you it’s gonna be classic Iron Maiden, through and through.
OD – There has been a lot of talk of recent about the future of the metal scene with bands such as yourselves hanging up the boot straps and calling it a day and no matter what way you look at it, nothing lasts forever. Do you feel confident in the younger bands carrying the flame once you finally decide to retire?
NICKO – My feeling on that, is if they have a smidgen of the percentage of drive, passion and ferocity that we have as a band, along with being dedicated to what they are doing individually, as a musician and collectively with your brothers that you play with in the band, there will be hope there. You have to do it for the right reasons – a love of music and the brothers that you play with, is the foundation to having a working model that will survive the test of time.
Its very hard to find to find 2, 3 or 4 guys, who are like minded and doing it for the right reasons. If and when you do it for the best possible reason – well, the best possible reason behind something that you’re doing, is that you’re doing the the best job that you can. If these young bands can have 5% of that energy and devotion, (they really need 100%), but 5% is a start, then you just carry on and don’t get lost along the way. That’s what so many bands do, they believe their own hype.
Iron Maiden never had hype, we never had mainstream press, we did what we wanted to do and we’ve been fortunate. I’m not trying paint the picture that’s it’s easy. Especially today, agents don’t get behind you like they used to and record labels don’t finance you. The way to make the money in the industry is to keep your guys going and keeping it interesting, different and hardworking. It’s different than 40 years ago, but the same goal is there and some good old fashioned hard work will pay off in the long run. Where there’s a will there’s a way!
The bad times is when you really get tested, God tests us with everything and it’s the same with music, so keep the drive and the passion. I do believe in these younger bands and they look up to us like “we want be like Iron Maiden”, but if they look behind the book if you like, ( pardon the analogy), if they look behind the story and see how it works, what its all about, the essence of the band is always the same and it never changes. We choose this for life and that’s what we are sticking to.
Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls, is out now! Click here for your copy or drop into Sound Cellar in Dublin’s Nassau Street for a selection of vinyl, deluxe CD’s and standard CD’s.
For more information on IRON MAIDEN, please click here.
FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN VINYL / CD COPY OF THE BOOK OF SOULS, FOLLOW THE RULES BELOW!
2.) Like and Share this feature on your Timeline / Twitter feed by clicking ‘Share’ and don’t forget to tag ‘overdrive’ in your comments.
3.) Make sure when you click ‘Share’ that the image is set to Public so that we can view your entry
You must follow ALL of the above steps for your entry to be valid. We can and WILL check to ensure your submission counts.
WINNER PICKED WEDNESDAY 9TH SEPTEMBER – GOOD LUCK!
INTERIVEW – ORAN O’BEIRNE
TRANSCRIPTION – KATIE Mcgarr
PHOTOGRAPHY – STOCK © IRON MAIDEN 2015
© OVERDRIVE 2015