Wednesday 12 July 2017

INTERVIEW: "Dedication to his craft": In Conversation with Blaze Bayley

By: Richard Maw

Following the recent review of “Infinite Entanglement” and “Endure and Survive”, I began thinking that it would be awesome to know a bit more about those albums and Blaze Bayley's plans for album number three in the cycle. The only problem... how to do it?! As it turns out, Blaze's management could not have been more accommodating. An email exchange, a request to interview and then one Friday night I found myself on Skype talking to Blaze himself! A metal legend, live and direct in my kitchen, via the medium of modern technology! What follows is a transcript of the interview, covering everything from recording to quantum physics. Enjoy

Congratulations on the success of the latest instalment of your Sci fi trilogy- “Endure and Survive” That and “Infinite Entanglement” are absolutely superb (“Endure and Survive” is my album of the year so far) and I cannot wait for the third and final part! Can you give us any idea of what is going to be on album number three and what is going to be in store for us on the next record?

Well the first one, “Infinite Entanglement”, was the beginning of a journey of 1000 years and it was the realisation that you are not in a  specially designed space suit; you are actually a machine! Your consciousness has been downloaded into a machine body and the very question “are you human?” and to decide “are you human?” is big. The second album, “Endure and Survive”, is the end of the journey of 1000 years and the darkness of that endurance the things that happened to understand that you are just a cog in a machine, you were never meant to reach that new world. That new planet, that fresh start was never meant for you. It was an absolute lie and a seduction.

Part three has to tie up that story. I can't say too much about it, but what I can say is that I am in an absolute blind panic! I never expected anyone to like the second album better than the first one- so that's made it very difficult. I thought the first one was pretty good; I was only trying to make the second one, thinking 'If I could just get it the same standard as the first one then I would be happy....' then people were saying ' Oh, it's much better than part one!' and I thought 'Oh No!' because now the expectations are so high, not only from the fans but from me.   My idea is that you have a play list of the three albums and you can listen to the three albums on one playlist start to finish in one story, just like you've listened to a really great, long album. That's the idea, so it has to be interesting, the story has to keep you, has to grip you, and you must be interested in what's going to happen to these people and what's motivated them.

At the moment we have, well, I'm looking at my wall and we have five titles that I am confident will turn into full songs of a good standard, so I am six short of what I really need. I have more musical ideas; we have bits and pieces we're working on. I am just waiting for that three in the morning bit of inspiration that catches you, or that thing that catches me when I am out shopping like 'What's that?! It's mine! I've got an idea and I've got to record it!' so that's it. I know the story, I know where I am going with the story, but musically the journey I want to take you on is different. It's a different path and it will only make sense I think in the context of the three albums. When you get to album three and you get to the end you will think 'oh well that was different, but of course it had to be that way and it makes sense.' I am hoping you will like it. It's a lot of work and it's a lot of nerves. We'll have to see what happens.

Of course. Thanks for that expansive answer. For what it's worth I do listen to the two albums back to back on my commute to work. I'll stick on “Infinite Entanglement” and then “Endure and Survive..”.

That's a long ride!

I live in Leeds (England) and it's a big city; the bus can take a long time! Or I listen to one album on the way there and one on the way back. It's really immersive as a listener to do that. Can you tell us a bit about the studio you are using for these records and the production?

It is a studio in Birmingham called Robanna's. It's completely independent. It is run by Rob, Rob Hoffman, and his sister Anna, I think. I started doing all my guest vocals there. It's a fully professional studio, using pro tools which is the only software I like to use. I would never go back to tape! I hate analogue and all of that. I like digital. In the modern world of computers and the hard drives that we have and the speed of the processors, you can actually make music and it sounds good and it can keep up with you- which it never could in the early days of the eighties and tape. You had to have so much patience and I just haven't got that! I started doing guest vocals there; bands and singer songwriters from around the world ask me to do vocals for them or feature on their album and I thought 'I've worked in a  lot of studios, I've spent a lot of time travelling, this is (without traffic) twenty minutes from my house- I'm gonna record there!' And it makes so much sense: you get up, you go to work and at the end of the day, you come back home.

It just makes sense. When you spend perhaps six to nine months of the year away from home, to be able to get up, go to work and come back home after work makes sense. To meet a deadline, I'm not one of these arty farty types who say 'well it will be finished when I feel it's right...' No! It'll be finished on time because it will be right: because I call myself a singer, a songwriter a producer and after thirty years if I can't meet a deadline which I set myself? I shouldn't be doing it! So that's it.  I own the record company I am actually the only artist on the record company so I am the boss telling myself what to do. If I can't meet it, I should be ashamed. I'm a working class man, I come from a working class family. That's it for me: the inspiration is important, the passion of the music is important.

The real place that music is formed is in the rehearsal room with the band full blast. We put these ideas together at home and then we take it into the rehearsal room and we start feeling those rhythms, those runs on the bass, the shapes of the chords and the rhythms in the riffs and that is when you know if it is gonna live or if it is going to be cast aside, or if it is going to need major surgery as it doesn't have a heart and you've got to give it one!  That's what happens and that is how those first two albums. “Infinite Entanglement”; we had a lot more rehearsal time  and a lot more distance from the recording and “Endure and Survive” was a lot more urgent but we had all the time that we needed and we beat the deadline by two days! The next one? I just don't know. I'm very nervous about it, but it's a studio that I like to go to because I know everybody there. I've known everybody there for a long time. You walk in and you feel at home.

Fantastic. Thank you very much. If we can keep with the same records, they are very immersive in terms of the story and themes kind of pull you in. What is it that makes physics and science fiction so appealing to you as a songwriter 

Well, a lot of people have asked me this over the last few months...


I've had a think about it and it goes back to... as a boy I watched science fiction with my mother; Space 1999, Dr Who, Blake's Seven, Star Trek Original Series. We watched them together. I also had an interest in how things worked. Any toy that I had which had a battery or an electric motor, I used to take it to pieces to try to learn how it worked. I liked to learn how to fix my bicycle myself. My mother could take the gear box out of a transit van and fit it back on! I had this kind of background.

Quantum Physics, in the end, is how things work. When you look inside the engine of your car, the spark, the small tiny spark is what keeps everything going. This little explosion ignites the petrol. It goes down to something so small: how does it all work?! That's the interest I have: how does it work? Why are we even on this planet? How are we going through space so fast around this giant ball of fire?!  An invisible force controls us- you can measure it but you can't see it, you can't touch it. You are a part of it. It acts upon you. You don't act upon it. It is an invisible force and it is the most amazing thing to have this thought in my mind.

That leads me on to my belief in telepathy. Years ago in the eighties, in the scientific community, if you said you were investigating and interested in the merits of telepathy, you would be ostracised, man, you would never get a job. Now, it's becoming almost a legitimate area for research as technology can get rid of all the fake results, all the dummy results.  In my story, “Infinite Entanglement”, telepathy plays a big part in that story and it's coming down to this: if two electrons are paired, they always know- instantaneously- what the other one is doing, where it is and how it is. If two electrons can do that- and that is proved scientifically beyond doubt- then, if we're made of electrons, why wouldn't you, telepathically, be connected to the love of your life? Why wouldn''t you feel what that person you love intensely, why wouldn't you know what they are doing. That is the entanglement of two people far across the universe still being connected, entangled and the seeming infinity that there will never be a way for those two people to be physically close.

Fantastic and interesting stuff! A real quick question for you now: will there be a vinyl release of Endure and Survive. If so, when?

Yes! The test pressings have come back and they are all great. The mastering has been done by Ade who did the Maiden remasters. He has his own quirky way of doing things and he basically rebuilds the records for mastering. He did this amazing job where he did this special master for the vinyl. It's just awesome. Our first vinyl for “Infinite Entanglement”, there was a problem with the mastering so by the time we had sorted it, they had so much work on- because vinyl is now becoming more popular-  we had missed that Christmas  thing, but this one, you will be able to pre-order the “Endure and Survive” Vinyl. It will be just the same as the “Infinite Entanglement” vinyl with two discs, all the art work, big and beautiful! It's coming out very very soon. There will be an announcement by or before October and everybody will, if they want it, will be able to get it before Christmas. It'll be on my web shop.

Brilliant. I'm looking forward to it myself. I've got “Infinite Entanglement” on vinyl and I want to complete the set.

On a more personal note this time: I think it is fantastic that you play in places that are maybe more out of the ordinary for touring bands. Specifically, I want to mention Grimsby. It's my home town and I lived there until, well, I was old enough to move out! I ended up in Leeds, but I have lived down South as well. When I was growing up in Grimsby, Humberside, me and my friends that were into metal there would have found it absolutely unbelievable that any metal band would play there at all. There were no gigs. I know that now Grimsby has this venue, Yardbirds, can you tell me a bit about what it is like to play at Yardbirds and similar venues and what your love for it is?

Well, this is the story of being independent really. Blaze Bayley Recordings is independent. All the licences I did years ago have all come back to me. All my CDs, everything I have done since Iron Maiden- apart from one live album- I own. It's all on my web shop. My fans buy from me directly and support me. Even though I am the record company, I'm tiny.

It's the same with venues. Yardbirds is a completely independent venue run by enthusiasts and they really don't care who you are: if they like you and you do well, if you play well; they will have you back.  That's the same story as all the independent venues throughout the UK, the rest of Europe and the USA. Maybe 90% of the places I play are independent.  You will almost never see Blaze Bayley at an O2 or somewhere like that. I always go to independent places. We work in a kind of partnership; we do our best. For me, there is absolutely no prestige attached to a particular city or venue. For me all the prestige is attached to the fan who bought the album and bought the ticket. Where are they? That's where I want to go! I don't want to go to London and everyone has to travel to see me, I want to go to where my fans are. Sometimes I go to London and play to my fans who are from London, but that's it. It's not just about the capital cities and all of that. I go to towns and if it's an independent venue run by independent people then I try to support them as much as they support me by having me at their venue.

Yardbirds is one of the best venues in the UK, from an independent point of view. You always get the most fantastic sound, great PA, great equipment and you are always treated very, very well. They can really show one or two venues around how it's done! We're always treated very well and I have been going there for years. It's fantastic and I always look forward to going there, no matter what day of the week it is. It will always be on my tour schedule; it's a phone call ' Can we come back?' 'Yep, OK what day do you want?' 'We're doing a tour...' Bang, it's done! It might already even be booked for next year! It's the independent venue for me; I really don't care about playing the Albert Hall. My goal- my dream- is to sell out Yardbirds and be able to play two nights there. To me, that is a huge success.

It is genuinely heart-warming to hear that, because not too many people say they are looking forward to going to Grimsby! Next time you play I will try to drive across and see you play there. I wanted to come in March, but we have a daughter who was only three months old at the time (she is six months now) and I couldn't get the time, the evening, to go. Next time I will try to drive across and show a little home town pride!

Blaze we are actually past the twenty minute mark now, have you got time for one more? (*Blaze's management allotted me twenty minutes for the interview)

Yeah. Yeah, you can have another couple!

In that case, I will cut to the chase: you are headlining the tenth anniversary of the SOS Festival in Manchester on Saturday 15th July. I'm going, I'm very much looking forward to it. Can you give us a glimmer of what to expect in the set list?

We're going to have a lot of “Endure and Survive” in the set list, a couple of Maiden ones and a Wolfsbane one as well. I'm really looking forward to the gig. It's the second time they have had the festival in the new venue but it is the first time I've been there. The acoustics and everything are loads better. All the facilities, so they tell me- they just might be trying to get me there!- but they tell me: the venue itself, the facilities, the acoustics are miles ahead of the old venue.  I am very excited about it. It is gonna be one of the last UK gigs (this year). It's a big day for me and we have been all around Europe. It's going to be a kind of homecoming. We hope we play well and don't make too many mistakes.

There is going to be a free meet and greet afterwards and we hope to be meeting people and signing things. There has been the reissues of “The X Factor” and “Virtual XI” on vinyl and I have been signing those. People say: “Are you OK signing it?” Well, why not?! I sang on it and it's my songs which I sang on are on there and both albums sold over a million copies! Why wouldn't I be proud as anything to sign an album that I am on, that I wrote songs on and that has sold over a million copies? So if you have bought those albums or bought that vinyl, bring it and I'll sign it for you!

That's brilliant- no charging for meet and greets. That's nice.

The meet and greet is free. People have done enough. People have bought the ticket and got away from the telly! I don't think you can ask any more. In this world, I’m a tiny underground cult artist!  In the music business I don't sell thousands and thousands or millions of records. I'm doing my own thing, I'm independent and I am very happy doing it! Why would I need or want to say to somebody that you can meet me but it'll cost you £35. It's not part of it for me, it's not me. It's not why I do it.  For me, one of the reasons I am not part of that big machine is because when I was in Wolfsbane and even sometimes in Iron Maiden, I saw such a lack of respect for the fans that supported the band and some of the things that they were asked to buy as fans... their loyalty was put to the test again and again and never rewarded. I thought 'if I ever get my own thing together, that's it: the fan is number one.' That is what we try and do.

With everything we do, we try to do the best quality that we possibly can. We try to make our albums and our artwork just as good everybody else; as Disturbed, Iron Maiden, Sabaton... We do the best that we possibly can and give the best value that we possibly can. We feel that if a fan has bought the album, bought a ticket and come to the gig then you should be saying thank you and you should be grateful that someone who had a choice about what music they listen to has decided that your music is actually worthy of their support and that's how I feel about my fans. I am lucky to have any support at all. People who charge for their meet and greets- some give great value and you get a lot of stuff and a proper photo and its right for them. For me, it's not.

It's a nice ethos and a nice way of going about things. It's a great way of doing things and a great way to say thanks and for the fans to get something signed. We have now gone to nearly half an hour so I won't take up any more of your time! I really appreciate you doing the interview.

OK mate, I hope to see you at SOS and all the best to your little daughter.

I can't wait- one week to go! Thanks for that Blaze. I really appreciate it.  All the best for your next record.  You are a gent.

BB: Thanks for that Richard- good bye.

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