Following the release of their latest album, Endure and Survive – the second installment to a three part concept album – legendary former Iron Maiden singer Blaze Bayley and crew stopped by On the Rocks in Helsinki. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Blaze and his lead guitarist, Chris Appleton, before the show.
So Blaze, who are you playing with tonight?
Blaze Bayley: This tour and the last two tours, I’ve had the Absolva band as my backing band; they also played the two albums, Infinite Entanglement and Endure and Survive. And before that we did the anniversary tour of Silicon Messiah and a Soundtrack of My Life best-of tour. As we’ve worked together [Chris Appleton]’s really got a shorthand to the way we do things; we’ve got a lot of similar values and the guys have a huge amount of talent and work-will in mind. It’s worked really well.
So what I’m trying to do now is build and say, “I don’t want to just do bits and pieces of Iron Maiden with different bands and just do my own thing.” It’s taken a while to get to that level. It seems to be working. My fans give me great comments and that’s the most important thing. Some even say it’s the best I’ve ever sounded.
I’ve seen every one of your Helsinki shows in the last 10 or so years and I swear, with only two exceptions, you’ve always come in May. Is it a scheduling thing or do you just love Finnish May?
BB: Well, the whole of Scandinavia, for me the best time is spring or summer. I don’t like touring anywhere in winter – it’s very unhealthy and can be quite dangerous with the weather. So I try to come here in spring, ever since I first toured here with Maiden. The tours that we do, we also try to book around Easter so that we don’t play religious countries at Easter-time.
Chris does most of the booking; we’re totally independent. We don’t have a big label or management, so what we really try to do is if the venue has decent sound and they let us do signings after and the fans like it, then we’ll go back – doesn’t matter if it’s a big or tiny venue. But if they don’t respect the sound, don’t respect the fans, doesn’t matter how prestigious the venue is, we never go back.
Speaking of the fans, I’ve never seen a more fan-oriented rock star. You always stay after the show to give out autographs and talk to the fans, I’ve even seen you selling your own merch. Don’t you ever have a bad enough day that you just want to call it a night?
BB: Well first, I’m not a rock star. I’m a singer – that’s something else. I’m a musician and I love to sing. I’m completely independent; there’s no big record company behind me. I work with a very small group of people in terms of management. The next thing is, I’m a working class person – it’s work. I’m very lucky to have a job that I love. I’m supported completely by my fans. And what we do is we make sure there’s a free signing after every show we do. I’ve even had to threaten to cancel a gig because the venue didn’t let us do a signing. And you know the problem is that support bands take up loads of time. So sometimes I’ve had to finish early so I could sign. The only times that I’ve had to cancel a signing is if I’m sick or if I’ve had to catch a plane.
I’ve also seen you popping up on other albums, doing collaborations with up-and-coming bands like Sinnergod, John Steel, Chris Declerq, Mindghost, and Savage Wizdom, to name a few! Would you say it’s about branching out and trying new things or…?
BB: You know, it’s really, really simple. I’m a professional singer; I work for myself and people hire me to do a job. So there are many bands that are fans who like the sound of my voice. And if I like the sound of it, I’ll do a session for them and get paid. I don’t normally contribute anything to that. So that’s how it works. Now, I don’t have much time to do that. I can only do the odd one here and there.
The last one I’ve heard you on was Geoff Tate’s new album with Operation Mindcrime, Resurrection. You were on “Taking on the World” alongside Tim “Ripper” Owens. How did that come about?
BB: Geoff got in touch that he had an idea to get the three voices together, called it Trinity. We did a little video for it and a short tour at the end of last year. It was a lot of fun.
Now, your new album is Endure and Survive, which is the second part to a trilogy of albums called Infinite Entanglement. I understand it’s something of a sci-fi concept album?
BB: Well, lyrically and musically, we tried to create something that would make sense even if you didn’t know the story. I had this idea and started to work on it with Chris. And it started to get too big. Then I said to Chris, “I think this is three albums, and if it’s three albums, it has to be one album each year.” I think musically we were very interested in telling the story. What do you think, Chris?
Chris Appleton: Yeah, the whole concept and everything that we were putting together, at that time we were only meant to be making one album, one CD. And we ended up having 18 songs after one writing session. We had 18 songs, all really good quality. In the time we had allocated there was no way we could record all 18 songs into this. And as Blaze’s story started to develop, for Infinite Entanglement he got in touch and said, “The reason we couldn’t do this in one album was because it’s a trilogy. It’s much bigger than we first expected.” For me, when we did that first album is when it all really fell into place. With the songs we didn’t use, we could then tell a storyline. We still have songs from the first session that are ready for the third installment. So it’s really just a big thing, it’s a big task. But the reaction has been quite strong, you know, from the last tour and this tour. We’re very happy with it.
Thematically, you’ve done sci-fi before, but this one seems more like a 70s-style sci-fi – darker and more character-driven. And there seems to be a darker theme to Endure and Survive than the first one, kind of like The Empire Strikes Back. Was that intentional?
BB: When we started, we knew that it was the end of a journey of a thousand years. The first album was kind of full of expectation – it set up the story of these two characters and their entanglement, and someone who doesn’t know if they’re human and then makes his decisions based on that. And the second one just naturally seemed to get darker. I worked very closely with Chris on how we could tell this story in terms of the music. He had a lot to say in terms of, “Is this okay, ’cause it’s gonna be so much darker.” He had a lot to do with how it came together musically.
CA: Yeah, that entire album was a lot darker. It goes a bit deeper. The first one sort of set up the trilogy but in Endure and Survive, it gets a bit more into the main character, William Black, and his past, his background. From what Blaze was telling me about what he’d done, these horrific things, I thought to myself, “How do I get all these horrific sounds out of my guitar – to transfer all of this darkness into music?” That was something that we worked on a lot. Not just musical arrangements and chords and solos, but how we get these sort of evil sounds, whether it be in pinched harmonics or big bends on the guitar. Stuff that’s not standard stuff in heavy metal, stuff that hasn’t really been done before. I think we captured that darkness but we still got that quality that you can take one song off the CD and it’s still a heavy metal song but it still fits into the story.
Great! And so I understand you’ll be releasing a third album next year? And then possibly a book?
BB: When I first spoke to Chris, I said, “We’re not gonna wait until it feels right. We’re gonna have three albums, 3 years – first of March, first of March, first of March. The book will come after the last one because the lyrics are all based on the book that I’m writing, this science fiction story. So any bits of information they may have missed, I hope, will be answered in that book. We’re working now on the third album on any days off, any time off that we get. The music, we now know the journeys that we want to take. It’s finding those blanks to fit the story in. The next tour starts in February of next year. The album will come out on the first of March. We’ll do the same tour. Everywhere we’ve been, most every show people have said, “We’d love you to come back with part three.” We have, I think, thirty to forty shows already booked that we’re gonna come back with part three. And then at the end of it, we’re gonna do a DVD – a live album and DVD. It’s gonna be our live set, which will be mostly songs from the trilogy. And then there will be the book.
All that sounds like a massive undertaking.
BB: Yeah we never set out to write one thing. All the time since we knew it was three, we’d start talking, “Where does this song fit?” And a very huge, great thing, this massive thing that we’re very proud of, was just obviously on the last album. So we’ve done it like that, basically. Chris has challenged me many times on the story. I’ve had to explain myself, why I want the character to do this. If I haven’t been able to explain it, I’ve really had to go back and sort out the story. And the exact same thing, I’ve challenged Chris with say, “This musical section, I don’t think we’re telling the story.” On Endure and Survive, Chris is the co-producer, so we kind of split into two. Your side was more studio oriented, right?
CA: Yeah, I kind of took over a lot more on the production side, along with Blaze. I was still pretty involved in the first album, but from the start of the whole process, I was much more involved with Endure and Survive – the production, getting all the pieces together, all the pre-production – before we went to the recording studio. All the guide-tracks and everything. Making sure we had a full album of demos, good quality demos, so we knew how we wanted everything to sound, voice actors, and everything. And that’s all before we went in and recorded the real album, so we could listen to it in full, which takes a lot of time in itself. Because it is a story, you need to be sure that it flows. You need to know that every song is in the correct order, musically. So yeah, we’ve got good responses.
Well thank you very much for your time, and best of luck. Hopefully we’ll see you on the next tour back in Finland.
Photos: Marco Manzi