Steve Harris and Dave Murray of Iron Maiden Open Up in 1988 Guitar World Interview
The second working third in Maiden's guitar team is Adrian Smith, and again, this quiet little guy's offstage presence gives little clue to the manic strut he takes on when plugged in. He also took up the guitar relatively late, at sixteen, when he met his counterpart Dave Murray. Adrian and Dave have been friends since their schoolboy days in Hackney in London's East End. In fact, Dave had been banging around on his first ax, (a Woolworth Top 20 with "a neck made of balsa wood, a body made from a washing machine and action three inches above the neck") for a couple of years before he sold it to Adrian as his first guitar (rumor has it that it wasn't working at the time).
The two formed a band and started doing school dances playing T. Rex and Rolling Stones covers "because they only had three chords."
Smith acknowledges Ritchie Blackmore and Deep Purple as his main influence, while Murray bowed to the god Hendrix and Paul Kossoff of Free. Adrian soon went on to form Urchin, and Dave did a six-month stint with an early incarnation of Maiden before rejoining Adrian in Urchin. After many genealogical twists and turns, Harris usurped Murray from Urchin to Maiden, where he was later joined again by Smith to form the twin lead/rhythm attack we know today. This fifteen-year incestuous relationship has bred an electrifying team where each man knows his gig and doesn't break the other's fingers.
Adrian and I started playing guitar pretty much around the same time; I guess we were about fourteen or fifteen years old," recalls Murray. "We would go around to each other’s house and just jam around on different songs. Over in Adrian's basement, we had this little cardboard sort of drum kit set-up with a bass drum, a tom-tom and a cardboard snare. We also had this old Vox 4 x 12 cabinet and a small amp. Once, we did this gig at a school in Hackney with a band we had gotten together, and we figured we had to make our gear look good so we covered all the stage gear with this flowered contact wallpaper made for kitchens.
"This lasted for about four or five years, and then Adrian went off to form Urchin and I knocked around in a bunch of different bands. I ended up in Maiden eventually, and when Adrian joined, it was perfectly matched, because we knew each other and had already played together. We were really into harmony guitar playing, and in Maiden there's a lot of opportunity for that. We have completely different styles, but they naturally complement each other and we lock in really well all the time.”
"It's not a competitive relationship at all," adds Smith. "There's usually two solos for each song and loads and loads of little bits and pieces, so there's never one of us who's being held back-there's always a lot of stuff to do to keep us busy. When we rehearse before we record, we play a few chords, then sit back and listen to the backing tracks and say, 'Well, you play this bit and I'll play that bit.' We sort it all out so neither of us ends up playing three solos in F#; we split everything up and make it interesting for both of us."
In the Iron Maiden biography titled Running Free, Gary Bushell notes that "those observing the two are often amazed at how well their two different styles work together. Davey's the wilder of the two, soloing off the top of his head, while Adrian is more thoughtful and tends to work his solos out in advance. Together, they seem instinctively to know what the other is up to, and make a perfect team." Recently, though, the guitarists claim that they're reversing the way they work.
"On our first few albums I used to just go in and knock off most of the solos from the top of my head by listening to the chord pattern," says Murray. "I would have a place where I started and a place where I finished, and I would just sort of go for It In the middle, just wander around a bit and see what came out. But on Seventh Son, I actually sat down with my little Fostex four-track and all the backing tracks and worked out all of my solos before I went into the studio.
"I was trying to get more of a melodic aspect to my solos instead of just ripping them out I think being spontaneous can sometime spark a little bit of magic, but I felt that this time ~t might be nice to approach the studio with everything all worked out. Actually, it felt really comfortable doing it that way, and in the future I'll probably work things out ahead of time."
"I suppose I used to sit and really try and work everything out," explains the thirty-one-year-old Smith. " But now: I go into the studio and try to do things 'a bit more spontaneously. A solo should have a special little 'thing' in it, and then I'll try and throw in a fancy bit. I find that once I work out with a solo I find the key to it and I then sort of work the rest of it around that. I can be sitting there for hours just playing around with a backing track, then all of a sudden I'll get one little bit, maybe even just a couple of notes and that's the key to the whole solo. On other songs, I can just go in and there's the whole thing, real spontaneous. Sometimes you're in the mood and sometimes you 're not. It's a funny old game soloing."
Smith does his workouts using a Jackson guitar that he's had for three years. It s modeled after a ' 55 Strat that he owns but refuses to take out on the road. The guitar sports Jackson humbuckers and the neck IS an exact copy of the ' 55. He has another Jackson Strat with a single pickup that he uses with a Roland synth set-up though he claims it doesn't sound as good as his main one, "probably because of the wiring.” A synth-equipped Lado is also in his collection, and a neck-through Jackson Soloist is being made for him that will catch up with the band on the road, although Smith prefers bolt-on models.
Adrian says he brought about twenty different axes into the studio, but ended up using just his main Jackson Strat: "It just comes up trumps every time." His amps are new-model Gaillen-Kruegers that are rack-mounted with his effects, a T.C. Electronic 2290 and a Lexicon delay. He uses 2 x 12-inch Gallien-Krueger stacks dotted around the stage for a monitoring system, the real details of which he's keeping mum about because of what might happen "once people find out I've got me own system... !" And he's even got a way to bring his studio sound to the stage.
"I've got real studio-quality effects for the road this time," he explains, "and with some help from the record's second engineer, Stephane Wissner, I can get the same sound on stage. The Germans are so efficient; he was really on the case in the studio. He wrote down every setting for every effect I used on the record and then sent them to me.
"I went through all of his notes and set about duplicating the sound on all my new gear, and now I can almost entirely recreate the sound exactly as it was on the lp. I used to just plug in and play, but now my stage presentation is going to be real technical. I'll see how it all works out, though after a couple of weeks I'll probably end up bypassing it all and saying, 'Screw it, just plug me straight in.”
Keyboards, "the kiss of death" for a heavy band, also play an expanded role on Iron Maiden's new lp and tour. Both Harris and Smith played some keys on the record, and Harris' roadie, Mike ("The Count") Kay, actually ends up onstage during the show to play synth on a couple of songs. Harris experimented years ago with a crude, early version of a bass synth, and reports that if keyboard technology had been then what it is now, he would have used them on a lot of the band's earlier material. He's right - many epic Iron Maiden songs definitely lend themselves to a wash of keyboard strings here and there.
" I think new technology, like keyboards, makes it easier to do a lot of different things," says Harris. "It also makes it easier to recreate studio sounds live. We work fairly live in the studio anyway, going in and doing songs just as we would on stage. There's not really a great deal of stuff we do on the records that we can't do live, even the keyboard parts. I never want to be in the position where we've put so much into the production of the record that there's no way we could recreate it live. It may make a fantastic lp, but then when people come to hear you play, they go, 'Great, but where's that part?"
"I like keyboards as long as they're not too dominating," adds Smith. "In a band like Saga, for example, they work great as an integral part of every song, but we're a guitar band, and we just use them for string washes when necessary. And they are necessary on some songs.”
Iron Maiden has tracked a fairly progressive course for itself, one that's steamrolled the band through nine discs and several hundred gigs, one that's earned them a rightful place alongside the industry's most virtuosic heavy bands, and is, according to its members, one that 's still gathering momentum with no end in sight.
"I think the key to our consistency lies in just growing up together and living with each other as you must do on the road," says Murray. "We've really gotten to know each other and have become very close. I also think our songs are a very important part of the whole thing, and that the strength of the band really lies in the songs. There is a definite direction for Iron Maiden, and we adapt ourselves to that way of playing. And when we're playing together, it 's that old " chemistry' thing again, where we start playing and there's a spark and the magic just takes over."
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