Interview with vocalist Blaze Bayley
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: June 30, 2018
Bayley Alexander Cooke (aka Blaze Bayley) is the musician that most people remember fronting Iron Maiden from 1994 to 1999 when Bruce Dickinson stepped aside to pursue his solo career. Before that, Blaze had his own band called Wolfsbane for 10 years, releasing three studio albums and one live album, Massive Noise Injection (not to mention several singles and EPs). Since then Wolfsbane has done three reunions and is more or less an active band.
After he departed Iron Maiden, he formed his own band simply called Blaze. Bayley recruited guitarist Steve Wray, guitarist John Slater, bassist Rob Naylor, and drummer Jeff Singer, and signed a deal with German label SPV, releasing the band's debut studio album, Silicon Messiah, in 2000 which was well received all over the world. Two more full-length albums followed; Tenth Dimension saw the light of day in 2002 and Blood & Belief followed in 2004. The band's first live album, As Live As It Gets, was released by Steamhammer Records in 2003. Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned with the label, and deep financial problems and issues with the record company soon led to changes in the band.
After setbacks, constant line-up changes and some serious financial matters, Bayley renamed the band Blaze Bayley (also known as BBB, or Blaze Bayley Band) in 2007.
After recording six full-length studio albums, forming his own record label Blaze Bayley Recordings and doing several successful tours across many countries, Blaze Bayley arrived in Finland once again in May 2018 (as he has done quite a few times already) on his current European tour, the Manchester-based Heavy Metal band Absolva forming the core unit of the band's line-up.
The Metal Crypt got a chance to sit down with Mr. Bayley in Helsinki, Finland, on May 10th, just a few hours before the band was to play at On the Rocks club in front of fanatic Finnish fans. The main focus in this conversation was, of course, the ongoing tour, the band's Infinite Entanglement trilogy consisting of the band's three latest albums, the rotten side of the music business as well as the future projects of Blaze Bayley. Read on to learn more...
FINLAND MAY RULE BUT MÄNTYHARJU DOES THAT EVEN MORE
Luxi: First off, welcome to Finland, Blaze.
Blaze: Thank you.
Luxi: Last time you were here in Finland like, hmmm... 1 or 2 years ago, right?
Blaze: It was last year.
Luxi: Last year?
Blaze: I come to Finland every year.
Luxi: So, what's so special in Finland?
Bayley: It's not Finland, it's Mäntyharju.
Blaze: Yes, I've great memories of Finland over the years. I've come here many times with my tours and have wonderful memories here with Iron Maiden. I wanted to come back and nobody would book me. One of my fans got in touch and said, "Please come to Finland." I said, "Well, no one in Finland will book me. No promoter wants me. Nobody wants to see me in Finland." Then he said, "well, I'll book something." He went to his local pub and another pub and he explained who I was. I managed to come and play two shows, acoustic, with Thomas Zwijsen, who does Iron Maiden. One was in Mäntyharju, can't remember the other one. We got on with the owner of the pub in Mäntyharju and he said, "Well, come back for Metal next time." We managed to do that. I've managed to come to Finland every year not playing Helsinki, playing Mäntyharju and we do two days there. Saturday night, we did the full Metal set and on Sunday we do an acoustic set for the mums. Fans can bring their mothers to the gig and it's been Mother's Day twice. This year is Mother's Day and that's it really.
It's because of my fan Mika (Nevalainen), who first arranged those acoustic gigs that I've been able to come to Finland. I've just kept coming and going to Mäntyharju and a couple of other places. Last year, we got a gig here at On the Rocks and the man that was running it did a fantastic job of promotion and we had 200 people and it just went great. Last year when we were here he said, "Well, I know the free dates for next year." We booked it then. Last year we booked this year and we're very, very excited about it.
Luxi: How has the tour been going for you so far?
Bayley: Well, I started the Infinite Entanglement project three years ago and it came from the idea for a book I started to write, a short story, though it turned out to be a bit longer. When we got together to start writing for a new album I said, "I really want to try these ideas that from my short story from this book idea." I worked with Chris and a couple of other writers that I work with. It went really, really well, but then we had too much and when I looked at it, it wasn't one album it was one story, but it would be three albums. At the beginning of the journey, the journey itself and then the end of the journey, arriving on the new world and finding The Redemption of William Black. I said at that time, "I want to do three albums. I want to bring it out first of March each year and I want to tour every spring in Europe for these three years." That's what we did because I'm completely independent and I have a great manager who believes in the artistic side of music and my artistic and my creative vision and he said, "Okay, then we'll try it."
That's what we've done, and this is the third part, this tour is the third tour of the Infinite Entanglement series. It's the third album of the series and we're going to as many places as we can. On the 25th and 26th of May, we record this set list for a live DVD, which we're producing ourselves.
Luxi: You have also played some acoustic sets, like you mentioned. Do you, from time to time, prefer doing acoustic sets rather than full Metal shows?
Blaze: Well, it's classical acoustic so Thomas Zwijsen plays a classical acoustic guitar and sometimes we have a violinist, Anna Baker, with us. It's a different set list. It's not like unplugged where you're playing what you would basically play on a Heavy Metal guitar. On a steel string acoustic, we make different arrangements and many of the songs are different as well in the set list. It's a different way to look at it. It's two parts of my personality. The classical acoustic side is using your whole voice as an instrument, there's much more space there. All of the different textures of my voice that go with the lyrics, you've got the melody, the lyric, the texture of the voice, the classical sound, which is a lot of flamenco when we do it, very exciting. That presentation, it's a different thing and many people don't know what to expect. They think it's going to be two guys sitting on stools, but it's absolutely not that. It's a very passionate and involving show when we play classical acoustic set.
I really enjoy both and I do my full Metal which is full of power. It's a monster that comes and grabs you in the night. It's a nightmare that you live through and then feel your heart taken from your chest and breathed upon and put back into your chest and hopefully, you walk home thinking [*gasps*], "Wow, that was a great experience. I have been a part of the Blaze Bayley show." When you come to the acoustic, classical acoustic, then you are seduced in another way. It's a more gentle seduction, but at the end of that hopefully, you go home and go, "Now, I'm in love with Blaze Bayley."
PULLING YOUNGER AND OLDER FANS TOGETHER
Luxi: I really like the way you described these different sets. Is it the same audience that comes to see both of your sets, acoustic and full Metal?
Bayley: Yes, it is. It's changing slightly. I don't play the same venues but see many of the same people. We seem to be getting, now, some people that aren't really interested in Heavy Metal, but they really enjoy my classical acoustic side. There's a certain core in the middle, but from the edges, they come. More people come from the Heavy Metal side, they come from the Sabaton and the Iron Maiden and that side of Heavy Metal and Saxon. From the acoustic, they start to come from the big singers and from more classical things and John Williams and people like that.
Luxi: And even grandpas and grandmas are warmly welcomed to your shows - both acoustic and full Metal?
Blaze: Yes, of course! Well, everybody's always welcome and the range of my fans at my Heavy Metal shows goes from very young to older ones. Many people bring their kids because they know that I don't take drugs of any kind and everything is about the music, I'm independent. It's all about making that music come alive and being passionate about it. Many people bring their kids to see Blaze Bayley as their first concert. There are people that have loved music for years and really like it, people in their late '60s and '70s that come. I have fans that are old and they enjoy it and it's different really. Just a few different people only that come to see the classical acoustic side.
Luxi: As said, your fan base is actually very wide. You have older Maiden fans in your audience and then you have a new generation of Heavy Metal fans following you. Must feel great I believe?
Blaze: Yes, it's a great feeling. I'm very, very lucky because I've had incredible support from loyal fans for so many years and that has just kept me going through the darkest times of my life when I felt like giving up completely. I've been lucky I've had these incredibly loyal fans and now what seems to be happening is there are people that are finding out about my two Iron Maiden albums. They've were released last year on vinyl. We did a special signing here on the day of release for X Factor and Virtual XI. Some of the people are coming to see me for the first time because they've never heard of me, they didn't know anything about me and that's really cool, but there's also people that come to the show and say, "The last time I saw you was 1996." You go, "Every year I have 10 albums, nine studio, and a live album. I have 10 albums and this is the first time you see me since I left Iron Maiden." They get at that, but the good thing is most of those people go, "I've really enjoyed it."
I'm not trying to get big. I've been in the biggest Heavy Metal band in the world and I've played huge places. I've seen the music business from all sides and all levels and so I have choices now because I'm independent. I don't have to listen to all this business and that much money and la-di-da. I can go, "Okay, right." I want to play these kinds of places because this is where I can get close to people. This is where you can look someone in the eye and tell them the truth, "This is how I feel." You can touch people. For me, I'm not interested in getting big, I just like to come to Mäntyharju and to come to Helsinki On the Rocks and play these places. If I get really, really big or more people want to see me, I'll still be playing here. Here, I can do a meet and greet. At every Blaze Bayley concert, there is a free meet and greet. I sign for every single fan that wants it and anybody that wants a photo, they can have a photo. The only restriction is if you're really drunk then I won't talk to you, because it's very insulting.
I do a free meet-and-greet at every show and these are the types of venues that I like to do. My music, when I'm writing with Chris Appleton and other people, in my mind is this venue and venues like it and all the small venues that we play and the reaction of, "How will people get this part of the song? Is this going to work in that venue?" When I'm looking people in the eye, "Can I really say this with conviction? Can I sing this and really mean it and stand behind these words?" That's one of the reasons that I like to play these places; everything is more personal. A lot of times they're independently owned and you meet the owner, which is really, really cool and the people that promote the gig, you can make fans before and after. For me, it's a much better way to live. I'm very, very lucky that I can choose what I want to do, very lucky. I'm lucky that I am living my dream of being a professional singer, writing my own music. I'm very lucky to do that and in a lot of cases, I can choose the venues that I want to play and I'm very lucky to be able to do that.
ABOUT WORKING ON YOUR OWN
Luxi: The core unit of your band's live line-up comes from a British Heavy Metal band called Absolva. How did you end up hiring those guys for your band?
Blaze: Well, we weren't together. Many years ago, they were called Fury (UK), okay? The band came to support me around the UK and we did some shows together we got along well. Then a long way down the road there are different line-ups and different things and it's just so difficult to keep a band together if you're not working 300 days a year, very difficult or you're not making a lot of money. It's so much stress it nearly killed me, trying to pay for wages and all of that. In the end, I just finished with Heavy Metal then I went back to acoustic and I said to Thomas, "Let's do let's go and do some acoustic." We did a lot of acoustic touring and then Chris said to me at one of the gigs he promoted, "If you ever want to go back to Heavy Metal, I'd love to have a go at being the backing band, if you want to do something." I had this idea to do a "best of" album called Soundtracks of My Life, which is a little bit of everything that I do from acoustic and all my Heavy Metal albums and everything.
I said, "Well, do you want to come and try and do this show with me?" He did and it worked out well and then we did Soundtracks of My Life, then we did Silicon Messiah too and we've carried on now. Then we've worked in the studio together to see how that works and he's gotten very, very well.
What is really one of the many good things about it is at the end of the tour, I go home and I ride my motorcycle. I just forget about it and do what do and Chris goes and carries on with his band Absolva. That works great for me, I'm not responsible for anybody else as an artist and a human being, only have to think about my own thing. I don't have to fill my head with numbers and all of these. I've got a wonderful manager that takes care of that for me. I just think, "Right, What's the next thing I want to do?" I'm very lucky I'm able to do it.
THE BIRTH OF INFINITE ENTANGLEMENT TRILOGY
Luxi: You just got the third and last part of the Infinite Entanglement trilogy, The Redemption of William Black, which the press and people overall have taken to really well. The album's got a song called "Human Eyes", which, in my opinion, is probably my favourite cut off the whole record because it's full of emotions and sounds very powerful. The song is kind of like a power ballad almost. How did this some come about?
Blaze: It was one of the first songs that we had, and we started work more than three years ago in the summer. We started work on that song and I had all of the lyrics, but not quite in the right order and we juggled them around. At first, it was called "Choir of the Damned" and we put that together and that was perhaps the key song that made me see it's three albums because that was the end. In the end, he's standing alone in the new world looking up, but he doesn't have human eyes, he has these machine eyes. This is the part of it that's awful, the loneliness he feels and the desperate emotion, but also this consolidation of everything that's happened to him, his acceptance. When I looked at that I'm like, "This is on part three, isn't it?" We just kept it and kept it and kept it... It was huge man, to say we're going to do three albums, because never in your career can you ever, ever do that, because the record company will say, "We'll see if we like the first one. If that goes okay we'll fund the next one." We said, "Right we'll do the first one and we'll just find a way and we'll ask the fans."
The fans pre-ordered the second one so we could do it. They did the same with the third one, so we could do it. "Human Eyes", was there at the beginning and it's right there at the end. When we got to the end we thought, "Ah, it's all sorted." Well, the melody was and most of the music was sorted, but where were the drums? What were the drums and rhythm supposed to do? That really, really took a long time to do. I said to Marty [Martin McNee], "Look, Marty, Here's the song. The arrangement is not going to change. These are the words, that's all going to be there. Tell me what the drums are supposed to do, because I've got no clue. Can you put this here, I want a big -- I'll let this go, I'm done with it." That was it. He did that and of course, it was great. But then we faced a different situation and I said, "Marty, we've got a lot of it in the main verses, but what I'm feeling is this really big emotional build up with the drums. I'm feeling that the drums are kind of the heartbeat that starts rising, remembering this past and these problems and the whole thing picks up. The drums start taking over the whole thing." In rehearsal, which is Randy on the key tone in the rehearsal ring, I'll go, "Come on Marty, fucking go, come on." Chris will be doing the solo and I'll go, "Fuck Chris, come on, take over."
Luxi: Sounds like a very intense session, all in all...
Blaze: That's what we did. Of course, it just turned out fantastic. It's a huge, huge song in the trilogy because there it was saying, "I belong at the end and you've got to make two albums to get to me" [*laughs*].
NO THANKS TO MEGALOMANIAC CONCEPT ALBUMS
Luxi: Do you believe you most likely won't be doing anything like this anymore, or do you say, "never say never"?
Blaze: Absolutely not [*laughs*]! No way, man!! No way man, no. This has been three years of just pushing and pushing. I've had a bit of time off each summer where we didn't have much. We did the pre-production well before the recording of the first album, Infinite Entanglement. For three years the dates for the studio was set so you knew when you were going in, you knew when you had to have stuff done. Tonight, we drive up to Mäntyharju and we have a night off. Last year Chris and I got together and were writing. On the German tour, I said to the guy on the sound board, "Can you record something for me?" He said, "Yes" and it's the jam that I have now. We came off the tour around October 4th and then 10th October we're back, we're starting, man. We took two days off because we physically were ill and we couldn't do anything.
Luxi: I assume you aren't planning to enter the studio this year to record any new stuff?
Blaze: No. I've got plans. The book is next and because I'm not writing music and there's no studio albums to make this year, in September, October, I'll plan to get another chunk of the book together. Hopefully, next year I'll have it finished and all the songs from the trilogy, all of the lyrics actually come from that book and the ideas in that book. It's the story of this man finding that he does not have a human body and deciding for himself who and what he is. After believing that he was finding redemption, that he was atoning by signing up for this mission of a thousand years, a one-way mission. Being lied to and pushed away and rejected and they tried to murder him, to kill him. After that, thinking there was nothing left, then arriving on the new world, being surrounded by strangers and making a decision and thinking, "Well, perhaps there is a way." They never saw there is a way to redeem himself for the terrible atrocities and horrible things that he did in his past, in the military. That's what he does. At the end of the redemption of William Black is the Eagle Spirit - and he has trained and stands alongside the indigenous population and defends them against the new conquistadors and fights alongside them.
Luxi: It seems like these last three years have been very fruitful and creative times for you personally, as you have released one album per year and all of them have been well received in the media. Do you feel like they have been exceptionally creative years as far as songwriting is concerned?
Blaze: Yes, it is breaking it into smaller parts. It's one song at a time. We had songs that we wrote that we loved that just didn't fit. We had to find new songs. We had to find new solutions for the story and every album has to make sense on its own. If you don't know about Blaze Bayley, if you don't know it's a concept, if you don't know it's a story, you have to be able to listen to that album and go, "Well, that's a good album, isn't it?" That's the first thing. So, at the very start, I made a deal with Chris and I said, "Right, I've got to have the final say. I'm where we are musically and what happens, but in the running order, you have the final say and I will suggest it and I'll argue for it. In the end, you pick the running order to make it the best album as a normal album would be." That's what we did and the last one we battled out for it. In the very end, I said, "Well, this is what I would have in my ideal world." He said, "Yes, but it's not an ideal world for you, is it?"
It's what I say, and he says, "Get out, but you have to stick to it because my version was really boring." Chris chose it well but I think we always knew that "Eagle Spirit" would be last. It was finding out where everything else went and the start of the album was always the start of the album because that was the intro. If you were here last year, that intro you heard is now a full song, that intro turned into the first song of the album. It's like we didn't know how we were going to do it.
We didn't know what it would turn into. That it would be "Redeemer" and we're looking at each other as we're writing, we got the computer there and everyone's going, "So what's the fucking chorus man and it's only got "Redeemer [*singing*]" That's it. We've fucking got it.
GOODBYE TO THE OLD SLAVE SYSTEM - BECOMING INDEPENDENT
Luxi: What made you decide to start up your own record label, Blaze Bayley Recordings?
Blaze: I was out of it. I was absolutely out of it really and I wanted to make a new album The Man Who Would Not Die. I went to a distributor in the UK and I said I want to start my own record company and this is it. He just looked at the numbers, he said, "You did that much with Iron Maiden, yes." That was it and that was great. I was so lucky that I had the Iron Maiden tag and my two albums with Iron Maiden, despite what people think, did very well. Then I managed to make The Man Who Would Not Die and then I had to wait for everything that was under license. I had to wait for five years after the release of the last album Blood & Belief to get my catalogue back, my whole catalogue. It started off with The Man Who Would Not Die and then Promise and Terror and The Man Who Would Not Die - and eventually, I got my catalogue back and then I had to find the money to press by catalogue. Then, I could do my Silicon Messiah tour.
And that Silicon Messiah tour was the real tour to go with Silicon entirely because when that album came out after Iron Maiden, it was ready to come out, all the artwork was done, everything. But the record company management put it out the same week as Brave New World, so it was completely overshadowed, and it was stillborn and so was Tenth Dimension. I really had no chance with them and not one single tour date was booked to go with Silicon Messiah. I don't think that's good management. Coming back, it's the anniversary tour and we played everything off the album on that tour, everything. Chris did a fantastic job on some of the songs, just absolutely brilliant what he did with them and live. It was great and I felt that was the start of a kind of comeback. Those songs are good and there are people who have known them for a long time but haven't heard them live and then people who are new to it and the album still sounds fresh and good. It's just a fantastic production. That's when I really felt like yes, "I've got the catalogue back, now I really am independent."
Now I am free. Everything I've done I own, apart from one Polish DVD, but everything else, I absolutely own. I'd say I'm very, very lucky to be in that situation. George Michael, God rest him, wasn't in that situation and I don't think Prince was either. They didn't own their own catalogue and there are many artists like Scorpions and Judas Priest and a lot of people from back in the day, under the old slave system where the label owns everything. If you want that song to come out, you've got to re-record it yourself and make your own recordings. It's a tough situation. We were in that thing with people saying, "Oh, well, you don't make enough money if you do this." We're like, "Well, we don't really give a shit about how much money we make as long as you make enough money to pay for the fucking tour bus because actually all we want to do is be on tour and make records and go on tour." It was the kind of a situation you could not do that and then spending thousands on big videos when you're not a pop band is like, "Ugh."
That's it. I will do it my own way and we'll make our own video for the song that we like from the album and we love it. We've got our own YouTube channel and on social media there nobody can misquote you, it's your thing. You say, "Hey guys, I'm doing a gig here and to see actually this is what I think about this." It's a different world from when I started. There were no mobile phones, there were no laptops. It's a different world. Doors didn't open by themselves then, it's just a new world. I've seen a revolution in information. I have a computer. Now here, I can do anything with it. Now, I can write my lyrics on my thing at home and then I can look at them here on my phone, or I could make notes on my phone of lyrics, I don't have to rely bits of paper and then when I get home, I could pull it up. It's amazing. It's actually fun for me. It's absolutely brilliant as a writer and as an artist in my situation. Now, when I give advice to other people, which I hate doing, "What advice would you give to new bands?" "Don't ask for anybody's advice. Say, fuck off I'll do it my own way."
Well, "Okay, if you want advice well, first, don't fucking bother and do something to get a proper job because it will rip your fucking heart out but if you're going to do it, then it's not enough to be good on your instruments. It's not enough to be the best at what you do. You just have to be that, anyway. You have to learn to record yourself. You have to learn how to get the sound that you want onto the computer, onto the hard drive, onto the tape, whatever medium it is." That's what you really have to do because then you're cutting out a lot of people at the creative process. It's good to work with a producer a lot of time because they'll show you a lot of things that go wrong and I've learned a huge amount from working with producers, good and bad. Now, I am a producer. I produced my own albums with Chris. But I think really, learning to record yourself, that is where it is. You can capture your ideas and you can bring them to a certain level and that's the future, I think.
I'm very lucky that now we can produce very good quality demos that you could listen to and live with very quickly. Whereas, years ago, it wasn't a quick process to make a demo and sometimes it was expensive. You can work on something, you can change it easily, you can edit it, and you can put it into the shape that you want it. Here it's working in several different ways and they go, "that's the version, that's what we'll learn, that's what we'll rehearse, then we'll get the feeling we'll know then, the next level that it goes to" and for me, that's the weight as a producer. That's the way I like to do it and I think Chris does the same.
THE TOUR CONTINUES - NEXT CHAPTER FOR 2019
Luxi: What about next year? Do you think it's time to take a short breath from the touring as you've been so long the road, touring for these three albums?
Blaze: No, because there are 32 songs on the trilogy. It's worked out from the start because 256 divides down to 32 which divides down to two, which is the infinite entanglement of Brewer and William Black. That's the entanglement. There are another five songs that we can't fit in the set list and they're all big songs like "The World Is Turning the Wrong Way" and "Eagle Spirit." All big songs and there's a lot of songs we haven't played for a while from Tenth Dimension and there are other things from Silicon Messiah we haven't heard. There are things from the Blood & Belief album that I haven't done for years and years. What we do next year is, it's still the Infinite Entanglement tour, but the set list changes. So, as a fan, you get to hear these other big songs from the trilogy, you get to hear the whole thing played live because they're all written to play live and you'll be able to hear that and then see the relationship between Tenth Dimension and the Infinite Entanglement trilogy, because they're connected in the story.
Next year, we have the live album DVD and we'll be promoting that next year. I suppose we'll still be meeting people that say, "The last time I saw you was 1996."
Luxi: Maybe it's about time for these people to come see you playing live again, as 1996 just went by a few moments ago... ;o)
Luxi: Where would like to go and play next year?
Blaze: Well, South America is planned, because I go there every year, but I've been so busy with the trilogy and in Europe that I haven't been for a few years. South America is planned for January, USA for spring and then a European tour will be the second half of the year, maybe in September-October.
Luxi: So, basically the tour continues...
Blaze: The tour continues for another two years and the set list changes vastly. There'll be some standards, which people have come to really enjoy from the trilogy and from my past, but they'll be a lot of new stuff, so it'll be almost completely a new set list.
Luxi: That's cool. When do you think you might even think of recording the next Blaze Bayley studio album?
Bayley: Well, it's after that tour really. I'm hoping to finish, get a massive chunk of my book done so that can come out in 2019. As we are on tour in 2019, what normally happens is I think probably for many creative people is, as you're locked into something then part of your brain wants to play and I think during 2019, we'll start jamming through ideas and thinking about what we want to do next in Heavy Metal.
Luxi: Okay. I think that was it from my part. Thank you for being in this interview. It was really pleasant to meet you face to face and chat about things close to you.
Blaze: Thank you, and thanks for coming over, man. It was a pleasant conversation.
|Other information about Blaze Bayley on this site|
|Review: Silicon Messiah|
|Review: Tenth Dimension|
|Review: Blood & Belief|
|Review: The Man Who Would Not Die|
|Review: Promise and Terror|
|Review: Infinite Entanglement|
|Review: War Within Me|
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