Steve Harris and Dave Murray of Iron Maiden Open Up in 1988 Guitar World Interview
"I was only eighteen at the time," recalls thirty-two-year-old Harris, "and the other guys in the band were like, twenty-six, which I thought was really old at the time. But it was a great experience; it got me playing stuff I probably would never have played, and I had to go in and learn an entire set real quick. But I was listening to things like early Genesis, which I really love, and Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Yes, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin.
"So when I started writing my own stuff, it was with a lot of combinations and time changes and power. I wanted to do my first real song with Smiler, but when I brought it to them they said, 'Oh shit, this has too many time changes, we're not bloody doing this!' I couldn't handle that attitude, so I left and formed Iron Maiden. I still listen to all that old stuff; Foxtrot is probably my favorite record, and that's sixteen years old now and still holds up. Some of the newer bands I like include Queensryche and Marillion, and I was glad when Yes reformed. Also, Kingdom Come; I was laughing when I first heard it and going ‘This is outrageous,' but it's a really album. I went to see them play and enjoyed it."
Harris may listen to all of the aforementioned bands, but his thunderous, progressive bass style has its roots in the work of John Entwistle, Chris Squire, Mike Rutherford, Wishbone Ash's Martin Turner and Free's Andy Fraser. Entirely self-taught, he polished his chops on the tunes of Stray and Wishbone Ash, which were among the early covers done by Iron Maiden. Harris nicked a bit here and a bit there from their diverse styles, eventually developing his own distinctive and often imitated approach.
"These days, so many people come up to me and say, 'You're such an influence on me and I only listen to you,'" anguishes Harris. "I tell them that they're only going to end up sounding like me, and that they should listen to a lot of different people and cultivate bits from everybody, and then establish your own thing. That 's how I did it. I even write my songs on the bass. I play it all on the bass -- the guitar parts, everything-and then I show it to the rest of the guys. People tell me that's strange, but it's natural to me. Maybe that's what makes my stuff different, 'cause I write it all on the bass. I can't play but a few chords on the guitar, so the bass works just fine for me."
The equipment Harris uses to express himself hasn't changed much over the years. Recently, he swapped his slave amps from old, cumbersome RSD's to neat, powerful rack-mount Carvers. His preamps are four custom units called Electrons, made for him by a friend after an old 200-watt solid-state amp he once had. His cabinets are Marshall 4 x 12's with Electro-Voice drivers. A dbx compressor was recently flushed out of his system, leaving some minor eq work as all of Steve's processing. Live, he uses eight of the Marshall 4 x 12 cabinets with Electro-Voice drivers- four on each side of the drums, or, when in the studio, two cabinets and four microphones.
"The Fender Precision is my instrument, my beloved Precisions," sighs Harris. ''I've tried lots of different guitars, including some Lados, and they felt great and were really well made, but the sound just seemed to lack richness in the bottom end. My main Precision is a '71, and I also have a ‘59 that I don't use very often. I use Seymour Duncan pickups that are wound to be just like the originals which had just worn out, and I use a Badass bridge. The rest is stock. I've also had the tone control de-wired so that it's always on full treble. I did that because when we used to playa lot of gigs in England, the fans were allowed to get right up to the stage. Every time I held my bass out over the crowd when I was playing, the little buggers would turn me knobs down! I almost had the volume control done as well. Now, if I need a little more treble if the strings are getting dead or something, I just signal to my roadie by touching my shoulder and thumbing up which means top end; if I touch my ass, it means bottom end. Pretty sophisticated signaling, huh?"
Besides being the band's main songwriter, Harris also holds down half of Maiden's rock-solid rhythm section along with drum-mate Nicko McBrain. Because of Harris' secret desire to play drums, his musical relationship with McBrain works rather well. He tells a story about writing a drum intro for a song that was nearly impossible to play because of its complexity, and then making it the opening number for the drummer's first live set with the band. "He had to come out cold and play this thing his first night," laughs Harris. "Talk about framing somebody! But Nicko played it just fine."
"We sometimes have a great laugh when we're working out on songs," says Harris. "Because I can't play the drums and wish I could, I'll go in and tap something out with my fingers on the table and expect Nicko to play it. When working on that first drum intro, I kept trying to tap out this impossible rhythm and he kept trying to play it and it just wasn't working. Finally, he played it right, and I was screaming, 'That 's it, that's the one, hurry up and tape it or something!' We move pretty quick now because we're used to working together."