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Classic Maiden albums like Piece of Mind, Powerslave, and Somewhere in Time were recorded at Compass Point Studios. More than two decades later, you returned there to record The Final Frontier.
Murray: Compass Point hasn’t changed much in 25 years, although [producer] Kevin Shirley brought in all of this new equipment to keep the album sounding current. We embrace new technology. It doesn’t change the sound or the identity of the band—it just makes the whole process more spontaneous and keeps everything fresh. We like to get an analog feel, but we used Pro Tools on this album—like we have on the last few albums—to speed things up. You can record really quickly on it and jump sections around. We had a two-and-a-half-month window to record, but we finished recording in six weeks and Kevin took the tracks to California and did the final mixing.
Yet you still incorporate such old-school methods as recording without a click track.
Murray: Music has to live and breathe and move around. If you put a click track to any Iron Maiden song, it’s going to be moving around. The thing is that it moves in the right places so it adds dynamics. It might lift up a little bit in the chorus or the solos, but I think if you listen to the great rock bands from the ’70s, you’ll hear the same thing. Everything’s moving around, but it’s like a pulse.
Gers: Yeah, isn’t that what music should do? It’s supposed to breathe. You listen to the Beatles, Zeppelin, and Hendrix, and doesn’t everything fluctuate? It’s supposed to come from here [points to his heart]. That’s where all the greats come from. The Berklee guys that play the same riff for 12 hours—that comes from the head. I’m talking about feeling— about guys like Paul Kossoff or Tommy Bolin. It’s a technological age we live in now, and producers are always trying to bring in their own ideas to make things more “solid.” But music should move—it’s organic and it grows.
Smith: We don’t overly concern ourselves that every beat has to be perfect, as long as it feels right.
Dave Murray during the Somewhere on Tour tour at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit,
Michigan, May 18, 1987. Murray is playing his trusty black Fender Strat,
which appears to be outfitted with a Kahler tremolo. Photo by Ken Settle
Does one of you ever go in a different direction, tempo-wise, than the rest of the band?
Murray: Sometimes one of us might get excited and start moving, and the band might follow that. It’s kind of a natural thing, because of the adrenaline or the way the audience is reacting to the song.
How would you address that in the studio?
Murray: Well, with Pro Tools you can move stuff back into time, if need be [laughs]. Obviously, the timing is an important factor, but what’s more important is how it feels.
Are your solos worked out or off the cuff?
Murray: On this album, they were basically all spontaneous, although there may have been a few melodies I had worked out in advance for some songs.
Gers: Same here. It’s spontaneous, but if I have a melody I like, I’ll use it. Even live, there are certain things you keep the melodies for. I find it impossible to play the same thing twice. And if you’re playing how you feel, how can you play the same thing twice?
What makes a good solo?
Smith: A little bit of melody, a little bit of flash. And it should be something memorable. There’s a song on the new album called “Isle of Avalon” that has more of a fusion-y kind of solo. It’s over an unusual time signature—7/8. That was nice, because it makes you play something different. You can get into the trap of playing the same old thing over and over again. I was happy with that one.
Gers: It has to be something that enhances the song. It’s not about me doing a solo—not about, “Now it’s my chance to shine.” It’s about making the band sound better.