Iron Maiden Guitarists Discuss 'The Final Frontier'
GUITAR WORLD You recorded The Final Frontier at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas, the same studio you used for classic Eighties discs like Piece of Mind, Powerslave and Somewhere in Time. What was it like going back?
ADRIAN SMITH It was slightly strange. The studio hadn’t changed at all—same carpets, same curtains, same everything. The equipment there isn’t very good, but the actual room is great. The thing is, it’s important for us to be able to see one another while we’re recording, and a lot of newer studios aren’t set up for that, because today everything is tracked separately. But at Compass it was possible for us all to stand in the same room and play, and then have the amps off in a different room. And it turned out great.
JANICK GERS Usually we’re in the same room playing, but still separated by glass. So you can see Bruce, or you can see Nicko, but you’re not really “together.” This was different. We were right in the room with Nicko, all playing together. Except there were no amps. All the gear was 100 yards away, in another studio, and we all wore big helicopter earphones. And the sound was tremendous—it felt like a band. It was a tenacious feeling. You’re together. You can watch each other’s hands, see each other’s eyes. And that made a huge difference in the vibe of the album.
GW The record certainly has a more “live” and organic feel to it.
SMITH Well, Steve likes that real raw sound. And he and Kevin [Shirley, producer], they don’t like people going back and tidying things up. They say, “Let’s just record a lot of stuff and then we’ll put a track together.” I think if I’d had complete freedom I’d have probably made things more polished sounding. But those two kind of keep you at arm’s length a bit. So it’s a little like making a movie: you do your performance and you’re out of there.
GW Adrian, you have a lot of writing credits this time around. Did you just happen to have a hot hand?
SMITH I always bring quite a few ideas in, and yeah, this time I just had a bunch of stuff. But we all threw things into the pot. Janick brought a lot. Davey brought some. Steve had a song, though these days Steve writes more lyrics and melodies than actual riffs. He mostly lets us bring in the music. And Bruce does lyrics and melodies and stuff like that as well.
GERS I brought about an hour’s worth of material in, and we used a couple things out of that. And I’m sure Adrian brought in as much, and maybe more. And Davey, too. So we probably had about three hours’ worth of material just between the three of us. And you take a bit for this and a bit for that, and you end up with the songs.
GW The material is rather involved, but the songs are still easy to get your head around.
GERS For us the most important thing, no matter how involved the songs are, is melody. And I think a lot of metal bands forget that. They’re looking for the hard-edged thing. Which is great—I’m not knocking that. But without the melody on the top, it doesn’t cut it. And all the great artists had that. Hendrix had it. Zeppelin had it. Even Black Sabbath had it. When you talk about heavy metal, Sabbath are probably the birth of the whole thing. But if you listen back, there are some tremendous melodies there.
GW Adrian, the album opens with one of your compositions, “Satellite 15,” which is very un-Maiden sounding, to say the least. What’s going on there?
SMITH [laughs] That’s just something I recorded in my studio. I did it rather quickly. I thought it was an interesting, kinda futuristic-sounding thing. And Steve picked it out and started getting all these ideas, like a “lost in space” kind of vibe. And he said, “Yeah, we should use that.” I thought when we got to the studio we’d rerecord it. But he just lifted it straight off my computer, really.
GW So the first music we hear on the album is actually a home demo.
SMITH Yeah, which I did in about five minutes with a cheap little drum machine. [laughs] But after the shock of the first thing, the next four or so tracks are pretty straightforward. And then it gets a little bit more complicated, to say the least.
GW A song like “Coming Home” is a bit outside the box for Iron Maiden as well. It’s almost a full-on ballad.
SMITH We had a song on the last album called “Out of the Shadows,” which was kind of a similar thing, and Bruce was great on it. He actually does those kinds of ballads really well. So this time I had an idea for something like that, and I could just hear him singing it.
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