An Interview with Blaze Bayley of Wolfsbane

All images courtesy of Blaze Bayley Management


By Andrew DiCecco
adicecco@vinylwriter.com

Far removed from the stadium concerts and big theater performances of yesteryear, veteran vocalist Blaze Bayley continues to infuse his own vision and ideology into the music he performs before a devoted, albeit curtailed, audience in the modern era.

In the nearly four decades since co-founding multifaceted English rock act Wolfsbane, Bayley has traveled the world, performing in venues both large and small, including some of the grandest stages with heavy metal giants, Iron Maiden.

Since departing from Iron Maiden in 1999, Bayley has enjoyed steady success with his solo career, releasing ten studio albums to date, including his latest, War Within Me.

Even in the face of incessant demand, Bayley prefers to play intimately these days, dedicating himself wholeheartedly to his steadfast audience, who have entrusted the earnest frontman with the responsibility of continually delivering engaging, heartfelt, and blistering performances no matter the circumstance.

My recent interview with Blaze, who joined me via Zoom, covered several topics, including the blueprint behind his most recent solo album War Within Me, the pronounced element of authenticity behind his songwriting, the evolution of his vocal approach over time, and his five-year tenure as the voice of Iron Maiden.

Andrew:
Thanks for setting aside some time to chat with me today, Blaze. What’s the latest? I know you’re in the midst of touring and have four more shows to close out the month of July.

Blaze:
Well, we got two more, now. We’ve got the Daun Festival coming up, a couple of U.K .shows, then a U.K. Festival called Dominion Festival. These ones are with the Iron Maiden Anniversary setlist, which we’ve been requested to do. People really seem to like it. It’s my version of my songs from X-Factor and Virtual XI, a lot of the songs, people have never heard them live when I was in Iron Maiden because we didn’t perform them, or they just weren’t into Maiden at the time and they’ve come to Maiden afterward, and they’re interested to hear them sung with the original voice from the record. So, we started doing this a few years ago, and people kept asking for it. So, it’s a lot of fun to do that. My headline shows are all to do with my War Within Me album, which came out a couple of years ago now. My hardcore Blaze Bayley fans say it’s probably the best album that I’ve done in my solo career – and I’ve got, I think, eleven albums now. So, that’s very, very cool.

The other thing that we have going on, at the end of the lockdown, we managed to get together in Wolfsbane and do a brand-new Wolfsbane album. All original members from that first album, Live Fast Die Fast, and it’s turned out great. It came out the fifth of July, and it’s called Genius. The fans – I mean, Wolfsbane fans go back so many years, man – the fans that we have from all those years ago, from the beginning, they love it. So, that’s been really good, and we’re gonna do some more Wolfsbane shows next year, and we’ll hope for the best.

So, things are going really well. It’s a very, very exciting time for me. You know, what’s very nice, as well, Maiden are on tour right now, and there’s still a couple of my songs from my era of Maiden that are in the set. So, that’s really, really nice that all of that is going on.

Andrew:
You mentioned the War Within Me, which I also believe is your strongest solo album to date. What was the musical blueprint for this one, Blaze?

Blaze:
Well, we had just a couple of things left over that we hadn’t used. We keep things in the vault; if an idea doesn’t work, what we say is, “That’s not working right now.” But if we come back at that – six months, a year, a lot of years after – and listen again, maybe something about that is gonna catch us and that’ll be a good song. So, we had, I think, two things which we had leftover and we decided to look at them again. But overall, what we do is, we get together, and we talk about the kind of album we’d like to have at the end of the process. So, it was tough times, and my fans have been there for me during tough times, and I wanted to do something that was positive. Overall, it had to be an uplifting album, and that’s what we tried to do. So, every time we were going through the arrangements, the lyrics, the chords, the melodies, we were saying to ourselves, “Is this feeling positive? Is this gonna give the fans, many of them who we know so well and have become friends now, if they put this on are they gonna feel good? Are they gonna feel uplifted? The tough times that everybody is going through, are they gonna feel positive when they listen to the Blaze Bayley album?” And that’s what we were trying to do. So, it was under the microscope.

We started off first, we did everything on acoustic guitar. All of the songs, the melodies, and even the solos, were all worked out on acoustic guitar, my old, battered green guitar that doesn’t even plug in. And to get the shape of the songs and the vibe of the songs, we just used that. When we felt we had those songs finished to a certain standard, “Yeah, we think this is a complete song,” then let’s make it electric and see what the drum parts are and everything like that. But for us, if it didn’t work with just the voice and acoustic guitar, it wasn’t gonna work. That’s what we did; we got some really great music and some great ideas. We didn’t worry about being too cheesy; forget it, man, as long as we like it.

When we started getting the full metal arrangements together, we didn’t care if it sounded cliché; if it fits that idea, then that’s what we used. So, if we came to a part and it’s, “This is a big chorus, but this is a big E-chord!” It’s like, “Yeah, and I mean big! Keep it hanging! Keep it hanging! ‘Cause that’s the power! That’s the fourteen-year-old heart listening to that! Yeah, we got a great melody now that we can sing along. Now we’re comin’ into the solo. Yeah, we’re building it up and we’re gonna go faster! And we’re gonna go faster!” So, we didn’t care what anybody thought because I think we know fans – our fans, my fans – I know them, and they wouldn’t keep listening to me if they weren’t getting something that they liked. So, we’re like, “You know what? It’s heavy metal. We don’t apologize for being heavy metal, we rejoice in electric guitar, bass, drums, and vocals. We love harmony guitars, and we love a gallop rhythm here and there.” So, if we felt it, we did it and things went really well for us. We had just one little gap, and Chris Appleton – who’s my co-producer and co-writer – he did a full demo from a song at the end of the sessions for the last album. It was a complete demo with drums and everything, and I said, “Leave it with me.”

What Ian Gillan from Deep Purple does – and a few singers do this – is get the music, then find the lyrics to go with the music. And that’s what I did on that one. It was a big challenge to get my head in that place again, but that was it. That was War Within Me. I started looking at little motivational quotes that I put into my phone and stuff like this, and in spite of all that and all those feelings of being trapped and not being able to do anything … “Yeah, come on. Let’s do it. We’ll make it happen.” You gotta fight your own mental health, because I’ve had a lot of mental health problems over the years, and I just struggle like everybody else to get past suicidal thoughts, to get past that depression, to get up one more time when you just wanna stay in bed. I wanted to put all of that into that song “War Within Me.” It came out pretty well. We’re very pleased with the way that it came out. Then when we were choosing the opening song for the album, that was it – “War Within Me.” We just kept it very simple; it starts with a guitar that’s very, very loud, and it keeps going. And everything comes in. It really worked for us, so overall, we’re very pleased.

All images courtesy of Blaze Bayley Management

Andrew:
Given the album’s positive reception, can we expect any new Blaze Bayley music in the near future?

Blaze:
We always have a plan. We always have things in the pipeline because I’m a working-class man; I come from a working-class family, and we like to set ourselves deadlines. So, “When should we release our next studio album?” And we say, “Then,” so that means we’ve gotta have the final mix then, the songs all written and done then, and we’ve gotta start writing on this day. And that’s the way we do it. So, we’ve gotta plan to start working on some new music later in the year. We’ve got a little gap between shows, and we’re gonna see what we come up with. It’s a lot of pressure after doing an album that everybody likes. All my friends go, “Oh, it’s a great album! One of your best!” I’m not even trying to do better; how do I just get as good as that one? I don’t know. But yeah, we always have things planned. I don’t like being in a situation where it’s, “Oh, I’ll do it when I feel like it.” Because in my experience, you rarely feel like it. So, we go, “Yeah, that’s the day that we turn up to work. Feel like it or not, we better come up with something.” That’s the way we work in our band.

Andrew:
What resonates with me about your music is the element of authenticity in your lyrics. Do you mostly draw from personal experiences?

Blaze:
Yeah. Most of my lyrics, particularly on the War Within Me album, I don’t apologize or hide anything. It’s about me, and it’s about my own darkness and the things I go through. And I hope by being open and honest about my own experiences with tragedy in my life, with suicidal thoughts, that if other people see that I go through that, maybe then they’ll think they can get through it. That’s what I hope, but I know that sounds very pretentious. Really, I just do the best I can and I try to make sure, when I’m writing, there is some truth in each lyric.

Andrew:
What changes have you made in your vocal approach over the course of almost four decades in the industry?

Blaze:
Well, that’s a great question, Andrew. I think the big evolution, for me, was the Maiden years, working with Steve Harris in the studio and writing with Steve [Harris], Janick [Gers], and Dave [Murray]. I found this other part of my voice which I never used in Wolfsbane – I didn’t really know it was there – it was like another third of my range that I found. A lot of my Wolfsbane stuff before that had been very excitable and energetic, and I found this other darker part of my voice on those two Maiden albums, and slowly I’ve kept that, and I’ve become more used to it. So, my vocal range now is strong in all those areas. I have the experience now, we’ve come to an album like War Within Me, and I’m going, “Okay, what vowel sound and what pressure do I want to put on this particular lyric, in this part of the song, to draw my listener into my song?” That’s something that I didn’t have before, and over the years, slowly I’m able to do that. So, with our last couple of records, I’ve been able to use certain textures here, a certain vowel sound there; should it be not just soft and loud; should it be emotional or strong? And because I have those textures – and then with the lyrics that we choose to be there – it gives me so many more colors that I can use to paint that audio picture for my listener, that they will hopefully be drawn in. I’ll go in through the ears, and I’ll get to the heart.

All images courtesy of Blaze Bayley Management

Andrew:
While Wolfsbane was the catalyst for your music career, you are best known for your time with Iron Maiden, which led to two underexposed albums, The X-Factor and Virtual XI. How do you remember your audition?

Blaze:
Well, first, I was very, very lucky to get an audition. They had hundreds of guys who were either just as good or much better than me. They could have chosen a Bruce [Dickinson] soundalike – there were a lot of guys that could do that for them – and they decided to go in a different direction. But the audition was the same for everybody: Ten songs that were in the Iron Maiden setlist at the time. Most of them were classic songs, and you had to perform those ten songs. The great thing was you were in a small rehearsal room. So, I’m there, and you can hear Dave Murray live and it sounds outrageously wonderful. And Nicko McBrain – in the room – so loud and incredible. So close to everybody, it was absolutely wonderful. I didn’t think I had a chance at all. So, I had been practicing pretty hard, and at the start of the audition, I just thought, “You know what? That’s it. I’ve done everything I can. Now, it doesn’t matter what happens, but for one hour, I am the lead singer of Iron Maiden.” And I just let go, man; I knew all the drum fills and everything. So, I just tried to have as much fun as a I could. I was very, very surprised after the audition that they said, “Yeah, we’d like to see you again for the second audition,” which was in a studio, where they see if you’re any good at recording. Well, I was lucky there, because I made a few albums with Wolfsbane, and I worked with a couple of top producers in music. I even recorded at Abbey Road Studios and Sound City Studios in Los Angeles, so that, I wasn’t too worried about. But even so, it was quite a tough thing to do, and I was shocked, man, when I got the call to say, “That’s it. We’ve chosen you. You’re the singer.” I think that was Christmas Eve, and it was just fantastic.

Andrew:
Who called you? Was it Steve?

Blaze:
Yeah, Steve Harris called. He said, “Yeah, that’s it. We’ve decided to go this way.” And that was it. It’s five years of my life, and it’s two albums, some videos, another couple of songs, and some B-sides, but I learned so much from it. That’s what I’ve really taken. Afterwards, they treated me very fairly; no complaints there. The biggest thing is how much I learned about singing and songwriting, and my ideas were good enough to be on an Iron Maiden record. And that will give anybody a lot of confidence. “The Man on the Edge” was No. 1 on the regular charts; that’s huge for anyone who writes songs. So, that gave me a lot of confidence, and I needed that confidence because, after Maiden, I made what I considered to be really good records, and because of circumstances at the time – the management, the record company – they completely flopped. Now, I’m completely independent, I own almost everything I’ve recorded, [I have] my own catalog, I do things the way I want, and I’m supported by my fans. Not by a big record company or anything like that; my fans support me. That’s a great feeling; it’s a privilege, as well, to be trusted when I say, “Please pre-order my album.” My fans don’t know what they’re gonna get, but they trust me to make a good record.

Andrew:
For a newcomer joining such an illustrious band, you have four songwriting credits on The X-Factor. Could you describe the creative dynamic within Iron Maiden during those songwriting sessions?

Blaze:
Well, it was nice. It was a nice feeling. What was very different was we did everything quietly in the songwriting. So, we never did songwriting in a loud rehearsal room, with full metal guitars. We did everything very quietly and made sure that the voice was the loudest thing. So, that meant that you were always in a comfortable place in your voice as you were going through. I hadn’t experienced that before. We’ve done, in Wolfsbane, a lot of things in rehearsals with lag guitar; only occasionally we did quiet things. And that really changed things for me, because there you are with guys who’ve got gold, platinum albums, and they’ve written some of the most outstanding, legendary songs in metal history, but it all starts very quiet with the voice. So, one of the things that Steve Harris said to me is, “The most important thing is the vocal. The instrumental is just as important as the vocal.” So, it’s this crazy thing that doesn’t make sense – but it does when you’re there – that, “Yeah, the vocal is the most important thing! You’re talking to people. And then the instrumental can’t be less important than talking to people. It has to use another language of music to get to people’s hearts.” That was a revelation. It was fantastic. So, that’s what I take away from those days. And the great friendship; Steve Harris became a really good friend. He was a mentor to me, as well.

It’s taking me a long time from those days to get to the place I am now, where I’m living my dream, again, of being a professional heavy metal singer. I don’t play big stadiums or big theaters, [and] I don’t want to. I like to be in places two-to-five hundred – maybe a thousand – and keep it so it’s close. Every concert, before COVID, and we’re starting to do it now, there’s a meet and greet included in every ticket. So, you buy the ticket for the Blaze Bayley show, you’re meet and greet is included when it’s the headline show. I’m able to meet my fans, sign for everybody, do selfies, and everything. That’s what I like to do and that’s the way I like to live. If we sell somewhere out, then the next time we go and play two nights. We’re not interested in that. I like it the way it is, and I’m very lucky and very fortunate to have such wonderful support from great fans around the world.

All images courtesy of Blaze Bayley Management

Andrew:
When you wrote “Futureal,” what was the inspiration behind the lyrics?

Blaze:
Well, that’s a good question that rarely gets asked. It’s actually I was absorbed and fanatical about the X-Files. Watching X-Files again and again, totally addicted to it, it really was that feeling of perhaps being that Fox Mulder, the character, but everything had gone. The aliens were gonna get you, and he knew it was the end, but he still wouldn’t give up. That was it, really. I went ‘round for the writing session, and it was just Steve and me, and he said, “I’ve got this fast idea. Have you got anything?” I said, “Well, actually, I think these lyrics might fit.” And we started, and then it was like, “What is real? Futureal!” It was great, man; it just worked well. It felt so good to do it, and the lyrics were really expressive. So, the way that it turned out, it’s a little bit crazy but also, it’s defiant, as well. Which I really enjoy.

Andrew:
In retrospect, how do you back on your brief, yet important tenure in Iron Maiden?

Blaze:
For me, what’s great is, Maiden is all about passion and doing everything a hundred percent. Committing a hundred percent. Those albums that I was on, Maiden were fighting, because, in the U.K., the journalists said, “Maiden is over.” And they refused to die; they refused to give up. CD sales were going down around the world; people were losing faith in heavy metal because the grunge era was still very strong. So, Maiden were really fightin’ to stay Iron Maiden, and a lot of people were saying that we wouldn’t get through. So, for me, those albums are a turning point. That’s when Maiden started on the more progressive music; a darker music. Now you see that, as well; they’ve carried on in that direction. So, my era – the Blaze Bayley era of Maiden – really shows that change of direction to something more progressive, dark, and unapologetic. It’s something that’s different. What’s nice is, some people say the new Maiden album reminds them a little bit of X-Factor, and they go back to X-Factor and Virtual XI – and maybe they didn’t give it so much attention at the time because they never wanted Bruce to leave – and then they listen to it, and they get something new out of it. And they start to go, “Ah, now I get the point why it’s so dark.” So, that’s a really good feeling as well.

Andrew:
Last one, Blaze. What’s next for you?

Blaze:
Well, it’s so good now to not be so worried about COVID and restrictions. We’ve got a lot of challenges, because of Brexit and other things, you know, but we’ll keep on making music. More people seem to slowly be streaming us on Spotify and the other formats, and we’re very, very excited about the future. I don’t know what my new album will sound like, but next year, there will be a new Blaze Bayley album. There’s still a lot of countries that we haven’t been to with the War Within Me album, and we’re excited about visiting those places, too. And I have to say a huge thank you to all my fans around the world for staying with me through thick and thin, through COVID – through everything – believing in me, supporting me, and making it possible for me to make the War Within Me album. Thank you so much everyone for sticking with me.

All images courtesy of Blaze Bayley Management

Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is the Senior Editor for vwmusicrocks.com and may be reached at adicecco@vinylwriter.com.

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