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Still Living The Dream: An Exclusive Interview With BLAZE BAYLEY

By Daniel Höhr, European Correspondent
Friday, April 24, 2020 @ 8:11 AM

“My dream is very humble and I’m living my dream right now.”

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Photos By Paulovic Photography

It is easy to avoid the label “ex-IRON MAIDEN singer” when talking and writing about Blaze Bayley. Even though the NWOBHM icons recorded landmark tracks such as “Man on the Edge”, “The Clansman”, and “Sign of the Cross” with the Birmingham-born frontman, Blaze Bayley’s impressive recording history stands on its own and nobody would seriously doubt that he is a bona fide artist in his own right. And yet his career post-MAIDEN, from the monumental Silicon Messiah album in 2000 to the Infinite Entanglement trilogy (2016 – 2018), has seen ups and downs. It was the start of the collaboration with guitarist Chris Appleton and his colleagues from ABSOLVA that gave Blaze the right personnel to create his magnum opus, the Infinite Entanglement trilogy. His latest release, the live album and live DVD Live In Czech, has received excellent reviews and proves once more that the heavy metal powerhouse that is Blaze Bayley is more alive and kicking than ever before. Presently stuck at home like all of us, Blaze is creative, working on a short story to accompany the re-release of his Tenth Dimension album and writing new songs. On Monday evening I interrupted his creative processes and called him on Skype to task him about the live album, his close relationship with his fans, and what he would tell himself if he could travel back in time and meet himself as the frontman of IRON MAIDEN 25 years ago.

KNAC.COM: Blaze, great to talk to you. How are you?

BAYLEY: Good. Well, actually I’m bitterly resentful towards the government and the new rules, because I scheduled my time to be at home, working on my book and my new songs. And then the government have brought in regulations that say that I have to stop at home and work – and I’m already doing it! It’s very, very irritating to be told to do something that I’m already doing.

KNAC.COM: So that’s how you’re spending your time during the lock-down – writing a book and working on new songs?

BAYLEY: I’m exactly doing what I should have been doing. Anyway, my manager is probably very grateful that the government have chipped in to make me do what he told me I should be doing anyway. So I’m writing my notes and my short story, which goes in the new vinyl edition of my Tenth Dimension album, because I never actually got the chance to write the story at the time when it came out. It’s like a missing puzzle piece. In the CD of Tenth Dimension it’s done in the style of a notebook of the scientist, but the actual story, as I realized afterwards, wasn’t quite clear, because it’s a concept album about someone who discovers time travel and discovers that there is a human soul. He also discovers that he’s been working for the government and that they’re gonna use the technology and this thing that he’s developed as a weapon – kind of a metaphor of what happened to Oppenheimer, really. And that never really came over, so it’s great to have the opportunity to do a story. Also, my Tenth Dimension album is connected to my trilogy, because the central character in my trilogy is related to a character in the Tenth Dimension. But it takes a lot of time, man. I don’t know if you’re written any fiction or any story at any length yourself. If you have, you know what it takes. There are a lot of details over and over again: ”Oh! I missed a capital letter!” – “Uh! How far should this be indented?” – “Oh! Is that…. AAAAHHHH!” [laughs].

I have one of these very special qualifications from school, which is called ”No-level English”, which means I absolutely failed everything. I’ve never let that stop me doing anything creatively, but often, when I hit these barriers, I go: “You know what? I didn’t learn this in school – YouTube is the answer!” And that’s what I’ve done. So I’m doing that and looking at new songs as well. It’s nice to have the time to be creative in a way that I can let new ideas sit for a while. When my manager said “When can we really expect to deliver a new studio album?” I said “We’ve used so much energy on the trilogy, I mean Infinite Entanglement. If we rush to do another album, it’s not gonna be the quality that we have of songwriting on Infinite Entanglement. So I need this time. And with new ideas what I find is that if I can let them sit after the initial part of the process, and then come back to them, that perspective is great. It always helps the song. Because bits that I was in love with are suddenly not that special. They shouldn’t be repeated eight times, they should be there once.

So that is a great thing to be able to have and I’m so lucky to have a manager that is supportive of me as an artist, who supports my creative vision. And, of course, I’m incredibly lucky to have so many wonderful fans that have supported me throughout the last few years, that made it possible for me to do the Infinite Entanglement trilogy that have come to Brno, to Melodka in the Czech Republic and have been a part of my live album. My fans have really put the energy into the album and they’ve made it something very, very special in my career as far as my live recordings go.

KNAC.COM: Your new live DVD/album, Live In Czech, is out now. What’s the background to it? Why did you choose this particular venue in Brno … [hesitates] … how do you pronounce it?

BAYLEY: It’s “bur-no”. What I wanted to do for a few years was do my live recordings at the end of my tour, when everything is familiar, when everything has a smoothness to it, when the perfection is really there in the band. So I was lucky that my manager said “Yeah, okay, we can do that.” So I wanted to show the different sides of what I do. The last DVD was at a much bigger venue in France, one of the bigger venues that I play. And this is one of the more intimate venues that I play. The advantage is that it has great acoustics, there are great people working there and there’s great sound equipment. And there’s just a nice vibe. We had great gigs there in the past. We try to do the live albums in different countries and different venues. When we talked about it, we went “Why can’t we finish the tour in Brno, we love it there, and record it and make that the end of the trilogy? Put the big songs on that album and make that the last live recording of the trilogy, because after this, we’re gonna move on.” And so that was why we did it, really.

On the DVD you can see there’s no barrier, everything is very, very close. I don’t know if that would ever happen again now with this virus situation. And there’s an intimacy, something very special that I’m able to share with my fans. There were people there that supported me for so many years and that were able to come and be part of that live album. And I’ve had many special moments in the Czech Republic and I’ve been there many times with different bands and different performances. It was great to be able to do something special there in Brno with the fans that had supported me so well for so long. It was a great experience, really, and I’m so pleased with the result. And the thing I’m pleased with most is the energy that comes from the audience.

KNAC.COM: You chose “Virus” (video HERE) to be released as the first video from Live In Czech on YouTube. Why this particular song?

BAYLEY: Well… it’s the most obvious choice [laughs]. Because if we’re going through this hideous situation, it’s a war with a microscopic enemy that you can’t see coming down the street. So it is just terrible and “Virus” itself, that song is about a state of mind, which is also invisible. People will show you what they think, it’s about cynicism. And for me it’s been something that has been a part of my professional career since IRON MAIDEN. People look at what I do. I play smaller venues, I’m not interested in going to big theatres or arenas. That has nothing to do with what I’m about. And some are very cynical and judgmental saying “oh, you’re doing this” when they don’t understand where I want to be going and what I want to do. I don’t want to move to a bigger venue. I want to be like the old school, when I first started seeing metal bands. MAIDEN would play two nights in a place if they had sold out, then three nights. They held the record at Hammersmith Odeon – eight nights sold out at Hammersmith Odeon! When I saw METALLICA, BON JOVI, TWISTED SISTER – all those bands were at small theatre venues. 1,800 people – that was the capacity. And they sold out, two, three, four nights. It was incredible. You would never see BON JOVI in a theatre unless it was some kind of MTV thing.

So I was very lucky to go through that and I’ve always felt, when I was in MAIDEN, I loved it, I loved playing big venues, it was very exciting to be playing to big crowds. But there were moments when we did play a couple of smaller venues, about a thousand, two thousand people. And a couple of very small ones when that was the only place to play. We really wanted to go there. And I thought, you know, this is where Heavy Metal lives. This is what it’s about: feeling the music, feeling it move and being part of an experience together. Not “Look at me on this big stage!” but “Look at us, together feeling this thing!” And for music to really come to life, it has to be in the heart of fans. That’s what makes it worthwhile, that’s what brings it to life. And from weeks, months, years before when you’d written that song to then being in that room with your fans and seeing them singing along and feeling them coming with you on that journey. It’s an incredible experience and I don’t think it’s one that you can get in a stadium. That’s a spectacle, it’s not a vibe, it’s not what will be in my heart when I’m in those situations. So that’s what I wanted to do with this DVD. I want to say “Look, here’s one of the smaller shows that I do.” What’s important is the connection between people and how these songs connect with fans. Chris Appleton produced it, and Rich Pembridge produced the DVD – and it’s just a fantastic job capturing the vibe of what happened that night.

KNAC.COM: At the beginning of “Virus” you are talking to the crowd, saying their dreams are important to you and ultimately that they are important to you as people. You already talked about your relationship to your fans, which seems to be incredibly close.

BAYLEY: Well, I’m very lucky in a couple of ways. One, I’m absolutely not scared of people who come up to me holding a CD cover. I don’t think they’re gonna kill me like some people in music seem to do. If someone approaches you with a pen and a CD cover, suddenly they imagine they’re gonna be attacked. I’m not like that, my fans are far more sensible. So I’m lucky in that way. And it is a direct relationship because so many people come to see me so many times, two or three times when I’m on tour, and every year, on every tour they come to see me. I’ve become friends with some fans. So for me the best thing about being independent is the fans, who are the centre of what I do and the reason why I do what I do.

In other circumstances, in other situations over the years in the business I’ve heard people in the music business talk about “the kids” and being very condescending and demeaning and disrespectful to fans. And I’ve always disliked that attitude, because I’ve always felt especially metal music lives in the heart of metal fans. And as fans we love this music. It’s fans who really make it possible, so I always disliked this attitude. And it’s become very important to me to do my own things, so up until now there’s been a free meet-and-greet at every Blaze Bayley concert. I want the opportunity to say thank you to my fans. My dream is very humble and I’m living my dream right now. I’m not trying to get bigger. It’s nice for me to be able to say thank you to the people that support me directly. I am the record company. I’m the producer of the album, I’m the songwriter. When fans come to my webshop and buy my CDs and merchandise, they’re supporting me directly. Not crowd funding. What crowd? Some people said to me: “You should look at crowd funding.” I said: “Why? I’m already funded – by my fans. They actually know me and know what I do. Why do I want a stranger to support me?” So I’m very, very lucky to have the support of incredible people that have kept me going every time I’ve asked for support. They’ve stuck with me not knowing what they’re gonna get. I’m very, very lucky to have that support.

KNAC.COM: Let’s talk about your band. For some years now, you have been recording and performing with members of ABSOLVA. How did the collaboration start?

BAYLEY: Many years ago, I asked ABSOLVA to be my support band. They were called FURY UK at that time. They came and supported me, we shared equipment, went on tour together. I had my ups and downs and during one of my low parts, I was doing an acoustic night in Manchester. I had more or less given up on metal and having my own band. Chris Appleton was there and he said to me after the show, “If you ever want to try again, with full metal, I would love to come on that journey with you.” It really made me think. So we tried a few things, tried a few gigs and it went really well. And the most important thing was the attitude that Chris Appleton and his band had, namely that fans were at the centre of what they did. And everything was about playing the best performance possible for the fans that supported them. And that’s why we got on, because, you know, I’m a terrible person to work with, I’m an absolute arsehole. I have a terrible memory, I may insult you, I may forget and then say the exact same thing to you about an hour later. I will ask you to do impossible things and then really have a go at you when you say you can’t do it. But they’ve put up with me and done the things I’ve asked and the result is we’ve made some incredible music together. This trilogy, the Infinite Entanglement trilogy, is my greatest achievement in music since I started. And that’s been possible because of the collaboration with the guys from ABSOLVA and working very closely with Chris Appleton.

KNAC.COM: On 7 March this year, you headlined Burr Fest, a festival in London in memory of former SAMSON and IRON MAIDEN drummer Clive Burr, who lost his battle with MS in 2013. Can you tell me something about how that went?

BAYLEY: Well, that was one of the last live gigs in the UK. I really thought that it could not happen at all. In France they had already said 500 is the limit and many gigs were stopped. We didn’t know if this was gonna go ahead but were lucky that it did go ahead. It was a sold-out show. It was the first time I did my 25-year-anniversary MAIDEN set in the UK and it got an incredible response. It was mind blowing and very humbling. There were people there that followed me to all my solo gigs and there were people there that hadn’t seen me since MAIDEN, and there were also people who had never, ever seen me perform live but wanted to hear me sing those old songs from my era. And it was just incredible. The reaction was mind-blowing, it was an incredible experience. I never expected that reaction at all. And that was the last live performance that I did and it’s great to have that as the last live performance. I don’t know when the next one will be. But that was something very, very special.

KNAC.COM: You already mentioned the 25th anniversary of the release of X-Factor, your first album with IRON MAIDEN. If the Blaze Bayley of today could travel back in time, what advice would he give the Blaze of 1995, who had just made his first record with IRON MAIDEN?

BAYLEY: That’s a hard question… because it’s a good question… and I’ve got to think… [thinks for a moment]. So, knowing what I know now, I think I would say "Relax a bit more about certain things and spend a certain amount of time on other things that I thought weren’t that important but they were." It’s a question of priorities. You learn as you go. I look back and I go “Ah..! If I’d put time into that thing, things would have been more comfortable. If I hadn’t worried about these things, things would have been more comfortable.” I think I worried a lot about different areas. And also there was a great vocal coach that I’d managed to find but that was in a break in the Virtual XI Tour. So if I were to go back now, I’d say “Okay, here’s the number of that amazing vocal coach. Go and see this guy, he’s really gonna help you.” Because the techniques that I learned from him are things that helped me so much and it’s like the bedrock of what I do now. My voice grew and developed while I was in IRON MAIDEN. I’m a much better singer now and have more control than I had back then. But also I’m much older and my voice and my tone are undeniably a part of the experience that I’ve had. When you listen to a Blaze Bayley recording, hopefully you will hear that there is a man who has lived with pain and suffering and sacrifice and has felt joy and redemption and is positive about the future. Hopefully you can hear that in my voice and in my songs. So to go back, I would say the main thing is don’t worry about the small things.

Thanks to Bruno Rocha!


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