FEAR, EMPTINESS, DECIBEL: AN EXLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH IRON MAIDEN’S MANAGER, ROD SMALLWOOD!
Congrats to MetalSucks Maniac wtfhax, who correctly identified Amorphis’ Tales from the Thousand Lakes as the latest Decibel Hall of Fame inductee. He wins a free six-month subscription to Decibel! Now here’s managing editor Andrew Bonazelli to tickle n’ tease your naughty bits with a preview of the October issue of the only metal magazine we still get excited about reading every month…
Greetings from your new corporate overlords at Decibel. Just for commenter “mo biscuits”’ edification, I’m writing to you from the 38th floor of downtown Philadelphia’s posh 2 Liberty Place, which definitely does not revert to Cole Hamels’ Pert Plus™ Puppy Rape Dungeon at midnight. I’m currently enjoying a testicular belt sander massage from an intern in a Five Finger Death Punch thong, but that shouldn’t dissuade you from taking what I have to say about Iron Maiden seriously — namely that they’re on our October cover and you should buy it so the new MetalSucks/Decibel empire can collectively pool our coffers for, um, a sixer of Corona instead of PBR? (No, fucking seriously, pre-order it now.)
So, anyway, yeah, Maiden cover. That’s three times for these guys. Well, the first time was just Eddie, and there’s a joke about animated walking corpses vs. the real-life equivalent that I’ll leave it to someone in the comments to make. Even though I just made it. Whatever. (Imagine when we run our third Varg cover.) The basic premise of this article, courtesy of Adrien “Dubious Taste in Power Metal, but That’s Okay Because He Lives in an Igloo” Begrand, is that Maiden are still relevant, driven and occasionally brilliant, but they’re also collectively 5,234 years old and, well, if Tom Araya can barely nod onstage now, the days of flying feathered pantaloon leaps are coming to a close. Getting old blows, but if anyone did it gracefully, it was
Metallica Ozzy these guys!
And now, in the spirit of the completely superfluous just-released Return of the Jedi deleted scene, here’s a totally not-superfluous-at-all interview with Maiden’s iconic-in-his-own-right pitbull manager Rod Smallwood. That’s a name you don’t have to change when you’re touring with a universally adored metal band. “Is it rilly so small then, guv’nor?” “Come o’er and take a peek, lassie.”
How did the crowd on the first night react to the set list’s focus on the last ten years?
Rod Smallwood: Very well. Firstly, we didn’t play Dallas on the last tour, on the Somewhere Back in Time tour. So, I suppose to some extent some of the older hardcore fans were, “Oh, we didn’t get those [older songs].” But that’s the way the world is. A lot of the other places we’re playing , they got all those [songs] last time around. We always get that. Last time we came round all the press were going, “How can they possibly dare to play the whole of a new album in its entirety?” Bollocks. The way I see it, the bands who play all the hits all the time, they’re more entertainers. If you’re giving the audience what they want all the time, you’re an entertainer. If you are trying to bring your audience to newer things, you’re still a band. One of my heroes is Frank Zappa. I’ve seen him play many times, and he never fucking played the songs I wanted. [Laughs] The stuff from this decade, say, it hasn’t been heard a great deal over here. There’s some great songs there. And the band aren’t going to get out and play the same stuff all the time. We covered the older stuff very thoroughly before. We’ve got some [old] songs in obviously because we do appreciate the kids who do want to hear some of that stuff. But certainly, the reaction [in Dallas] was fantastic. If you just go by reaction, then I see no problem at all. If you go by the press, they’re varied. I don’t know why papers send journalists who think an evening with Iron Maiden and Dream Theater is just marginally better than watching Spinal Tap for the hundredth time. [Laughs] People either get it or they don’t with Iron Maiden. That’s it. If they don’t, we don’t fucking care. Never have, never will. The band want to challenge themselves and they want to take the audience with them. It’s the usual situation [in America] which we don’t get anywhere else, really. Not to the same degree, anyway.
Veteran metal bands are usually comfortable just coasting along putting out predictable music, but Iron Maiden just keeps pushing themselves. How have they managed to remain this relevant this late in their career?
Smallwood: I think because they care about their music. They want to make new music. We could have not made a new album, we could have taken those few months, go out on holiday, come back again, play to a big audience, playing the same old stuff. [Laughs] What sort of life’s that? It’s a bit soulless, I think. If they go make a new record, they try their best to make it the best they can at that time, and that’s what they’ve always done from the very beginning. Every time they go in to record, everyone’s spent their time, their thoughts, everything it takes to make a good record. That’s how thing’s should be, isn’t it?
How has the perspective you get in middle age affected how the band members get along these days?
Smallwood: It’s like your family. I’ve grown up close to these guys for 30 years [Laughs] Everyone’s pretty relaxed. We don’t go as mad as we used to on tour in the ’80s before we all got married and all that. To some degree it’s more sedate, but in other ways it’s not. I don’t think age is a factor.
How different is it keeping this operation going now as opposed to 25 years ago?
Smallwood: It’s a fucking nightmare. Absolute fucking nightmare. 25 years ago I had a seven-inch piece of plastic with a bag, a 12-inch piece of plastic with a bag. If you’re successful, which fortunately we were early, for our second album Killers we were allowed to put in a paper with lyrics on the inside, which on the first album we couldn’t. And that was it. Tour, sell t-shirts. In many ways we made merchandising more sophisticated because we had more good designs and really supplied demand on that. That was it. Now you’ve got fucking internet, you’ve got videos, you’ve got formats, you’ve got this, you’ve got that, you’ve got the other. I used to do Maiden on the road by myself. The Number of the Beast, my office was the corner of a friend’s estate agent’s. I was in the corner, I had no secretary, I had Keith Wilfort as my fan club guy, I was on the road all the time, and The Number of the Beast tour was hugely successful. That was just me and a phone. And now you’ve got a team of six to eight people. There’s just so much to cover for an album. You have the whole digital world and what iTunes want and don’t want, and what Amazon want and don’t want. It’s cycling through treacle at times. And you’ve got to be so careful with security. You won’t get your album out to Tierra del Fuego in three minutes in the ’80s, but now, we can’t really play any more songs from an album, can we? Because everyone will fucking have it. It is very, very tricky to get things right. It’s a massive amount of coordination and work and concentration just to keep things secure. On the other hand, the web is a great communicator. We were always based on word of mouth, radio never played us. Never has, never will. In a way that word of mouth now, the internet is faster and more widespread than physical word of mouth. I think that’s been great for us, we’re able through our website to communicate directly with the fans. We haven’t got some middle man re-interpreting what’s said. There are pluses and minuses, but all the operation’s changed drastically since that time.
Buy yourself a copy of the October 2010 issue of Decibel here, or just go ahead and buy yourself a full subscription here. It comes down to about two bucks an issue for a one-year subscription, which is roughly thirty-six dollars more a year you could be putting towards your Kiss Koffin fund.