Band hasn't lost its luster

Veteran metal act Iron Maiden still attracts teenage fans with stunts and fewer tour dates

June 12, 2008|By Ben Wener | Ben Wener,McClatchy-Tribune

Singer Bruce Dickinson explains how the British metal gods still attract teenage metalheads by the tens of thousands.

To keep the excitement level high, he says, "we just, you know, play a bit less."

Iron Maiden's touring schedule is never very full, typically sporting only a handful of stateside dates each time out, and often with a conceit attached, from The Early Days Tour, focusing strictly on material from the band's first four albums to 2006's trek behind the hailed return-to-form A Matter of Life and Death, when the group would play the album in its entirety, to this season's Somewhere Back in Time Tour, devoted to reviving the bulk of the band's 1984 World Slavery Tour, complete with a wilder pyrotechnic display and the most gigantic Eddie (Maiden's skeletal mascot) ever assembled.

"When we looked back at the Live After Death DVD," Dickinson recalls, "the big Eddie at the back that comes out ... we said, `Oh, well, let's just build it the same as we did before.' And then we found the measurements of it, and we went, `Yeah, that's pretty small. We can't do that. We've got to at least double the size of it.' So now it is absolutely monstrous."

So big, in fact, that a special hydraulic cherry-picker has to be flown with the band in order to lift it.

It could be stunts like that that keep attracting fresh-faced fans. Or it could also be that while so many of Maiden's peers and progeny have faded out or lost their edge after an album or two, these British veterans - including founding members Steve Harris (bass) and Dave Murray (guitar), drummer Nicko McBrain and guitarists Adrian Smith and Janick Gers, all in their early 50s - have soldiered on, surviving a rocky '90s to re-emerge this decade as one of the enduring masters of the form.

How would you characterize metal now?

Dickinson: It's kinda come full circle. Except, of course, that now more than ever the audience owns the music, because of the Internet and downloads and things like that. Audiences have such a choice now. But because of that, it's really heartening when you see your ticket sales going through the roof. And with no radio advertising, no TV - we don't even have a record out. Well, we do now ...

But it's a greatest-hits record (Somewhere Back in Time: The Best of 1980-1989).

Yeah, and it's designed - completely designed - to capitalize on people that are new to the band, who need some kind of reference to know what to dip into first. In effect, what we're looking at is a global phenomenon that is caused by word-of-mouth, and it's pretty unprecedented.

It does seem that way. When I saw you ... I noticed the crowd was astonishingly young. To see 15-, 16-, 17-year-old kids ... other bands who have been around as long or longer than you don't draw like that. What accounts for it?

The heartening thing is that it's happening in America now. This is what's been going on in Canada for ages, and it's what we expect in Europe and South America. When we go into a country and 45,000 people show up in Colombia, 30,000 in Costa Rica ... we don't even have a record company in Costa Rica. These are not old, die-hard fans. These are people who are seeing us for the first time.

And a lot of them are very, very young, which is great, because with all respect to old rockers, they don't put out like 16-year-old kids. You know, they sit there and nod their heads sagely and ruminate - and they enjoy it for sure. But they don't really start leaping up and down and head-banging and taking their clothes off and sweating buckets. They'd end up in hospital.

But with kids and us ... it's like feeding the hurricane. You need those warmer-temperature waters to keep the hurricane fed. We get our energy from the audience, and we fire it right back at them.

Some of why you're so popular with younger listeners must have something to do with older brothers and even parents handing down records. But I think a lot of it also has to do with metal now bearing so much of your influence.

Yeah, I think a lot of the bands that are around now will all name-check us as being a major influence. Because, you know, we went out and we did things our own way. We went, "Screw the Establishment, we don't care about radio, we just want to rock the way we want to do it."

You continue to do that.

Exactly. But the thing I'm really proud of is that the stuff we've been doing really stands up to scrutiny. So many of the bands now - the young bands coming up - are much heavier than we are. We don't have a problem with that - we're not gonna try to out-heavy them or anything else like that. We just do what we do.

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