Like any soccer team, you have to field the best players, and the players to best complement each other," says Iron Maiden guitarist Dave Murray, referring to the Iron Maiden's current lineup. Early last year, the band reached all-star level again when guitarist Adrian Smith and singer Bruce Dickinson rejoined the legendary British metal band. Along with third guitarist Janick Gers (look out Lynyrd Skynyrd!), the blokes who brought us such powerhouse tracks as "The Trooper," "Number of the Beast," and "Aces High" were back at full strength, and then some.
The sextet embarked on a brief "greatest hits" tour to support Ed Hunter, a double- disc compilation/computer game. (For all you non-metallists, Ed is Eddie, Maiden's illustrious rotting-corpse mascot). But no matter how inventive classics like "Flight of Icarus" and "Aces High" sounded, something was missing. So after the tour, the group began recording their 12th studio album, the epic, sprawling Brave New World.
Produced by Kevin Shirley (Aerosmith, The Black Crowes) and co-produced by bassist/main songwriter Steve Harris, Brave New World recalls both the galloping power of Piece of Mind (1983) and the exotic prog-rock grandiosity of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988). At the same time, the record's monstrous three-way guitar attack and atmospheric keyboards (played by Harris) transport the band to new sonic frontiers.
Guitar.com: What led to this latest Maiden lineup?
Dave Murray: Bruce [who left the band in 1995 and was replaced by Blaze Bayley] made it known to our management that he wanted to come back again, and at the time, he was doing a solo project with Adrian [who left the band in 1990 and was replaced by current Maiden guitarist Gers]. I think it was Steve who suggested that we get Adrian back in the band as well.
Guitar.com: What was it like to reform with three guitarists?
Adrian Smith: Obviously we didn't quite know what would happened until we actually started playing, but Dave, Janick, and I get on very well as people. We call ourselves "the three amigos." So it was great to play the older stuff on the Ed Hunter tour. The fact that we did a new album was like a bonus.
Guitar.com: The three-way guitar onslaught must have been challenging at first.
Smith: We had to check our egos at the door. It's a real team effort. On some of the stuff we do live, Jan and I are playing unison leads, which is quite cool.
Dave Murray: They're playing the same notes but sometimes the playing isn't completely parallel, which gives it a delay kind of effect. Behind that I often play rhythm stuff. Years ago, we wouldn't do three-part harmonies in the studio because we couldn't r-create them live. But we had no problem doing them on this new album. And when we play a lot of the older songs live [on the upcoming tour], there's gonna be some third guitar elements that weren't on the original recordings.
Smith: When I first came back I actually re-learned a lot of the old songs and tried to play them a bit differently with different tunings, like drop D, to bring in different color.
Murray: And he adds a lot more weight to songs like "Fear of the Dark," which he didn't originally play on.
Guitar.com: How would you differentiate your guitar work?
Smith: I've known Dave since we were 15. We were the guys with long hair in our neighborhood. He started me off playing guitar and taught me quite a lot. And he's always sounded the same out of whatever equipment he's used. He's got very strong, big hands, and one of the most distinct guitar styles around. Davie plays a lot of neck stuff. He does a lot of fast hammer-ons. He's got that real round, mellow kind of tone. I've got more of a "cutting" sound; I play a lot on the bridge pickup. I go more for the Michel Schenker sound, lots of down-strokes while picking most of the notes. I'm always trying to stretch myself
Guitar.com: How did that apply to Brave New World?
Smith: By doing faster picking stuff, and just trying to get more flash into my playing, like my solo on "The Mercenary." But Dave goes even crazier before me [on that song]. He must have had his skates on when he did his solo [laughs].
Guitar.com: Why did you leave Maiden in 1990 to form A.S.A.P. with drummer Zak Starkey?
Smith: I think I was a bit burned out from all the touring and recording we'd done in previous years. And there was vibe to do a garage-y kind of album and I wasn't into that and wasn't really happy. I also wanted to some solo things. Now, coming back to the band with a completely different attitude and outlook feels marvelous. It's like leaving home and then reuniting with your family.
Guitar.com: Where was Brave New World written?
Murray: The whole band went down to Argarve, Portugal, for three months last year to write. Steve came in with many complete songs, both music and lyrics, as he often does. He had many guitar parts already in mind. But there was also collaboration between everybody. We sat down in a circle and played ideas, whether on acoustic guitar or on tape. Sometimes Adrian would play something and Steve would go, "I've got a bit to go with that." We picked out the strongest ideas and fit them together like a jigsaw puzzle. We then went on the Ed Hunter tour. Later, we got together again in Antwerp, Belgium, to write, and then we went into the studio.
Guitar.com: Where was the album recorded?
Murray: In Guillaume Tell Studios, which is in a very quiet little village in the outskirts of Paris.
Smith: The studio is in a converted theater. Halfway through the recording, these two really old people came in asking where the movie was. We had to help them out and explain to them in French that it was no longer a theater and in fact a studio where a heavy metal band was recording. They were very confused.
Guitar.com: Can you describe how you two and Janick set up to record?
Smith: We set up all in the same room, pretty much like we do on stage. Kevin Shirley persuaded us to put most of the tracks down live.
Murray: We're in rehearsals at the moment [for the tour], and I have my amps set up pretty much the same way. So when we come to the new songs [while rehearsing], I'm actually doing the same thing I did in the studio.
Guitar.com: How was the band getting along during the recording process?
Smith: We had a couple of little hiccups. I usually want to play for the sake of the guitar, so I play a song a bit slower, whereas Steve likes to play things right on the edge. So there was little friction about that, but nothing unhealthy. That's what a band's all about: You have to have a bit of debate otherwise it just sounds very bland.
Guitar.com: Brave New World goes where most Maiden album haven't gone before.
Murray: I think the identify of Iron Maiden is still firmly there, but there's more moods, more light and shade, than usual, as opposed to just goin' out and thrashin' away [laughs]. But there's some straight-ahead rock stuff that's real in-your-face, too.
Smith: A lot of times when people make a heavy album, it sounds like you're getting your head slammed into a brick wall. There's a bit of that on here. "The Wickerman" has the energy of earlier material, the "2 Minutes to Midnight" sort of hard rock thing. But the record also has progressive elements.
Guitar.com: That's especially true on some of the longer tracks, like "Dream of Mirrors" and "The Nomad."
Smith: You can probably create two or three four minute songs out of one of those [laughs].
Guitar.com: Was the band influenced by British prog-rock?
Smith: Steve has always loved the old Yes and Genesis music, and I kind of like the later incarnations of those bands, so there's always been a bit of a progressive influence.
Murray: From Jethro Tull as well. Some of the songs on Brave New World have some exotic music elements. he riffs and melodies on "Blood Brothers" have a Celtic feel, whereas "The Nomad" has an Arabian kind of flavor.
Guitar.com: Anything to add about the upcoming tour?
Murray: We plan on playing about 75 percent of the album, plus a lot of the old stuff. Visually it's gonna reflect the new album. Not to give too much away, but it's gonna be a massive stage show. With Bruce and Adrian back in the band, we really want to celebrate. There's gonna be lots of pyro and Eddie's gonna be out there.
Smith: It's kind of a stunning thing when he comes out on stage. Love him [Eddie] or hate him, you can't get away from him.