As I wrote in my review of Maiden's latest album, I think The X Factor is their best since Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. I really think the band has recaptured some of its earlier energy. I talked to Blaze Bayley, the new vocalist for Iron Maiden about his thoughts on the album, the upcoming US portion of the tour, and some other stuff. Here's a summary of our conversation.
According to Blaze, who by the way is a very nice guy, the songwriting process for The X Factor was very "quiet". The recording apparently proceeded very well, since the band was really "optimistic" and "enthusiastic" and there was no stigma "about having a new vocalist". Blaze said that he and the band really clicked and wrote a bunch of songs together. The group then "simply took the best songs into the studio, worked the arrangements out together and recorded the rhythm tracks first." They went on to record the other tracks and what you see on the album is simply the "first time they got it right." That is, they didn't do any demos or previews at all, and it resulted in "very immediate recordings" for the band. Blaze mentioned that the first demo recordings of a band usually had some energy that is sometimes not present in the later recordings, and that the band really wanted to capture that aspect of it. This might well account for the energy and quality of The X Factor.
The U.S. release of The X Factor is about 71 minutes, but that's not all the songs that the band recorded! The extra tracks can be found on the Japanese release. So it's clear that the band really did a lot of writing and recording. Fans might've noticed that there's a label change going from Capitol to CMC International (at least in the U.S.). Apparently this was due to the fact that CMC really wanted them and were willing to promote them in a heavy manner, something I suspect Capitol wouldn't have done.
Blaze right away dismissed all rumours that he and the band will be parting ways soon by stating they are all "rubbish!" He clearly enjoys working with the band and apparently he told Steve Harris (Iron Maiden's bassist) after performing live with them that "you won't get me out of the band"! Blaze's enthusiasm for working with the band is evident when you talk to him and I think he sincerely respects the people he plays with.
Blaze said one of the goals during the song writing process was to make sure that the songs were "enjoyable live." This is the direction he sees Maiden going in and he hopes that the "future will have an even stronger sound." According to him, The Sign of the Cross is one of his favourite songs to perform live (it's the second longest Maiden song ever!). All through the conversation, Blaze kept making comments that led me to believe that he is pushing the Maiden group to a harder and heavier sound. In a way that Black Sabbath's first album is "heavier" than many contemporary albums (on an undescribable emotive level), I think Maiden's latest is also "heavier" than many of their previous albums.
Why choose to call it The X Factor? Blaze: "In studio we were listening to these different takes and each song had this unknown factor to them, plus the album itself had unknown factors, you know, new engineer, and a new singer, and so we decided to call it the X factor, X representing something that is unknown." Blaze also mentioned that other things like the fact that The X Factor is Maiden's 10th studio album and the symbol symbol "X" represents the number "10" in Roman numerals. During our conversation, the idea that the X also represents the eXecution of Eddie was also tossed around. So there were many reasons for calling it The X Factor, and apparently when the band was looking for something that would characterise all the songs in the album, this is what they all agreed was a good choice.
Speaking of Eddie: "poor sod", to echo Blaze. Apparently he was on a "holiday to hell" after Maiden's last album and now they've resurrected him by mutilating and torturing him. Unfortunately, for American fans, Eddie will not be present during the live show: "Sad, but true." Still, it should be cool to see one of the greatest Heavy Metal acts live.
Is there any kind of concept in the lyrics to the album? Blaze mentioned that when he wrote lyrics, he was trying to "explore the darker side of the human spirit", and this is clearly seen in quite a few songs in the album (like The Edge of Darkness, Lord of the Flies, and The Sign of the Cross). The Edge of Darkness is influenced by the film Apocalypse Now (which is based on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness). The Lord of the Flies is based on William Golding's book with the same name. The Sign of the Cross, however, has little to do with the movie of the same name, or the book The Name of the Rose, according to Blaze.
One of the more interesting things I found is that Iron Maiden does indeed plan to release a CD-ROM multimedia version of The X Factor. They haven't worked out the details yet, but it will be released sometime around the end of the year.
Blaze said that U.S. fans can expect a "powerful energetic show" as "they've been getting and better with every concert." He has played over "60 shows [with the band], but it so far still seems like the first week." Undoubtedly, Blaze's enthusiasm will come across to the audience. He mentioned that he "enjoys singing the old songs" and the tour set list will comprise of equal parts of old and new stuff, "so both old and new fans will have something to look forward to."
To the nonbelievers who think that heavy metal music is dying or that Maiden's popularity is on the wane, Blaze believes that "Maiden can still fill Wembley", but they chose not to. The U.S. tour is shaped to play more venues, and since there was no U.S. deal to tour in place when they did the promotion for their album, it was hard to promote the album and tour (in Europe) at the time time. Fans can expect a lot more promotion on the part of the band now and he said the next tour will be better in terms of venues and promotion. He said "the important thing is coming over and playing live and having a great time!"
Regarding the status of heavy metal, he thinks it has essentially "bottomed out. Heavy rock is like the ocean and right now it's at a low tide; there's a full moon." However, given the "fantastic response" Maiden have enjoyed on the current tour ("the U.S. ticket sales have been excellent!"), Blaze feels metal is coming back to the forefront. He said by the end of millennium, there would be no place for self-obsessed bands and it will all be about expressing energy. I think all heavy metal fans will look forward to that.
What is the weirdest question you've been asked?
"`What school/exam qualifications do we have?' Steve had the only qualification in school. The rest of us had all failed [laughs]."
What's the most interesting question that you've been asked?
"In Greece, someone asked me `If you had to describe your music to someone from Venus who had never heard it before, how would do it?'"
What are your favourite bands currently?
"Paradise Lost, Benediction, a bit of The Offspring and Metallica, AC/DC..."
Who are your vocal influences?
"Ronnie Dio and Bon Scott, but that doesn't mean I sing like them!"
Is there anything else you'd like to say to the U.S. fans in anticipation of your upcoming tour here?
"Come and see us, it's going to be great!"