INTERVIEW: Blaze Bayley shares stories from the past

Interview by Coromoto Jaraba

Blaze Bayley
Photo Credit Thomas Ertmer

At the end of January I had the chance, and the privilege I should say, since he’s going to be induced to the Rock Hall of Fame, to interview Mr Blaze Bayley. It was quite a long chat, I had the feeling we could have talked for another hour easily. It was great fun and I learned a lot from this metal icon born in the north of England.


Metal-Roos:: Hi Blaze. Thank you for your time. How are you today?

Blaze: I’m very, very good. We have snow over here. It’s been sunny. I’m very good. And, the good news is, so far all of the journalists that have listened to my new album “War within Me”, none of them said, “it’s shit”.

I’m really pleased. Normally, what I’ve done over the years, I’ve made sure that my fans hear the album before the journalists. But, for the last two, I’ve spoken to my fans. I’ve said, “look, maybe it’s time”. Because of the number of interviews and everything, and everybody agreed. So now, the journalists get the album before the fans can listen to it. And so far, none of them hated it.

I’m so small, and when I started my own record company, I’m the only artist in it. I said to my manager, “As far as I’m concerned, the most important people are the fans. And the only opinion that I value, it’s my fans.” If I’ve been dishonest, if I haven’t done my best work, my fans will tell me. If I’ve done something good my fans tell me. And they still buy my album, and they may say “I’m not that keen on the last one” or “I really like this one”. So, I’ve said, right, I’m gonna change things. Now the journalists do not hear the album before the fans. So, everybody knows who the most important people are. And we did that for three albums. And, for me, it was something that really worked. Because that was the only opinion I was interested in. The people that buy my records, and buy my music, the people that support me, they’re the only people I care about. And I don’t value the opinion of someone who got the album for free. They might not even like that kind of music. So we worked in it. And, now I was very nervous because journalists can hear the album first and put their reviews and their show together for the promotion. So far, it’s had a good reaction. I feel very lucky indeed.

Metal-Roos: How did you start as a musician, how was growing up in Birmingham?

Blaze: Well, at school I was very lucky. Obviously, I’m very old. When I was at school it was the year of the Sex Pistols, I think it was 1976. We had, at that time, The Sex Pistols, Motörhead, Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin in the charts, and on TV. It was an incredible time in music. Yeah, there was still shit pop music. There was then, there is now. But some real music got through.

We would go to each other houses, the same as people do now. Young people at school listen to each other records and things like these. But I remember that first Black Sabbath album and being scared. I’ve never heard anything like that before. And I remember that freaking me out, and I’m like “what the hell is this?” It was unreal. At school, there was a band that did some punk covers, and I used to watch them rehearse sometimes. I looked at the singer, and perhaps I was arrogant or foolish at the time and I thought “I think I could do that better than him.” I never did anything about it at the time. But years later, I was working in a hotel, working night shifts. I loved metal music and through the night I could listen to an album 4, 5, 6 times. It was the day when we had cassette tapes. And, we had one album on one side of the cassette and one on the other. It was a wonderful format, for me. What I used to do, since I worked nights, I started my shift at 11 pm. Then I would finish at 9 in the morning. What I would sometimes do is go into Birmingham. The venue was called Birmingham Odeon. It looked big to me, but it was one of the smallest venues in the UK on the circuit at the time. I would just go, and buy a ticket for whoever was on that was rock, anybody. And, some of them were people I’ve heard, some of them weren’t. And, I’ve heard a bit of Ronnie James Dio and one night I was there. It was the Holy Diver Tour, and Ronnie James Dios sang “Children of the Sea” and something connected with me. And I thought, “that soft part at the beginning” (sings a bit) and “I’m like, wow, I wanna do that”.  Then, I still have to go to work, after the show. I’m back to work at 11 pm and then my job was basically cleaning the hotel, checking in the guests and then Hoovering the hotel. I started the hovering and something happened, I just stopped, and I thought, where would I be in 5 years.

Will I still be pushing this hoover around this hotel? I thought “What would I do if I could do anything I liked?”, and the answer just went “Bang!”

I’d be like Ronnie James Dio, I’d be a singer and tour the world with a band. That was the moment. Then my whole life changed direction. Until that moment, I was gonna be a hotel manager. Because I was gonna start training as a hotel manager. But at that moment I changed it. A few weeks later in the local paper, we were very lucky, they had a great music section in the paper. And, it said in a little ad “Heavy Metal singer required, no experience necessary”. And, I thought, “that is me!”

And Jase Edwards and Jeff Hately were at school together, and they started Wolfsbane, they had a drummer as well, but he wasn’t at the same school… I managed to get an audition. I think I was the only one that turned up. And, I managed to get it. And that was the start of the long road. Loving music and learning to write songs. And, learning to sing. And, that’s it. I’ve been very lucky. We did wonderful things with Wolfsbane, I’m so proud.

Probably my next album will be a Wolfsbane album. We’re trying to get that together during this lockdown. We made some great music. It’s a different type of thing. It’s a band when we get together, the four of us, that’s the sound. I was very lucky. And then years later, I never expected it but I auditioned for Iron Maiden. And I got the top job I could possibly get in my profession. And that is to be the lead singer of Iron Maiden. As a Heavy Metal singer is an incredible experience. Of course, people think about the big gigs and the travelling and everything. But, to me the most important thing…the thing that I really took from that was working very closely with Steve Harris. We worked closely with songwriting and he showed me so much, and I learned so much from him. But also, he gave me a lot of confidence because a lot of my ideas, he said: “that’s really good, that’s a great idea, we’ll use that.”

After Iron Maiden it was a difficult time, a big adjustment to make. But I still had that confidence. In one small thing, but that was, actually, my songwriting was good enough for Iron Maiden, so I still have that to keep me going. And that has kept me going. And now, I own my record company and I produce my own albums. I’m tiny as an artist in the world, but I have the most incredible, wonderful loyal fans that support me and make it possible for me to live as an artist. I work full time as an artist. I am so lucky to be able to do that, and I thank my fans for the support they’ve given me over the years. It’s just incredible, it’s so humbling.

After that walk of Blaze career, I was a bit mesmerized. But we had to continue our interview.

Metal-Roos: Tell us about the recording of your new album WAR WITHIN ME. I read somewhere online that it came out early, is that right? How did you handle the whole Coronavirus issue?

Blaze: For this album, we came back from the Tour in South America, a wonderful tour, in January or February 2020. We were scheduled to record the new studio album anyway in 2020. When we came back from South America, we flew back into Paris to get a flight to England and everybody had masks on. And there were posters all over the place about the coronavirus. My sister had sent me some messages about it. There’s nothing here in Brazil or Chile about it. And that was it. In March, we did I think one of the lasts live gigs in Europe at Burr Fest. Then, after that, the dominoes started falling. First people were postponing and then cancelling.

Metal-Roos: The album was not early.

I’m absolutely on schedule. What happened was, we were only scheduled to write and record in 2020. And bring the album out on Spring 2021. What happened was that every time a Festival cancelled or got postponed, it gave us an extra three days. Because we didn’t have to spend a day getting there, perform and then come back. So, almost everyone was three days. And now, what that meant was that we actually had extra time that we wouldn’t have had to spend with the songwriting for the album. I think that’s made all of the difference. Nothing is really rushed. It was pressured. We couldn’t record in the way that we recorded the previous three albums. Because, for a start, this is the first album I’ve made in my life where I haven’t been in the room with the drummer. Working at the arrangements. But with the amount of experience that we have between us and the technology, we were able to do that. But what it really meant was, we did our demos, Chris and I, we did them on an old green acoustic guitar. And then we would take the demos away, and we were able to live with them a lot longer. And, then come back and go “how do you feel about it?” “well, this is really good, on this one something is missing”, “on this one is back to front and we have to chop it about and change it.” We would keep doing that… So it was horrible and I miss my fans, and I miss the festivals because it’s so much fun to do. But as an artist and a producer that time I did not waste. It was cooking time. I was able to make my album more slowly, take care of more details and keep things going. And, also, a lot of my fans say to me “I like this song because it helped me, lifted me up,” “It got me through something,” or “this album meant something to me because you are talking about your own problems,” others tell me “I take your album to the gym” “I leave your album in my car because that’s what picks me up.” I was very aware of the privilege and the honour that I had, being able to be inside people’s heads. But I also thought, “that is a responsibility.” And, I have a responsibility to my fans and I want to do something for my fans that they can have and put on: in their car, on their headphones, on their Hi-Fi, wherever they are. They can put on when they think “you know what, I really need a boost, where’s my Blaze Album”.

And I thought about all of this as I was going through the lyrics and everything. And as we would do in the melodies and the guitar solos and instrumental sections. Everything was about “right, what’s the emotion” and in the end “do we rise up? Do we feel like we are rising up?”  Do we feel like we are broken and now we are strong? Now we can face the world again… and that’s what we did on every song and that’s what we did on the whole album. It was a lot of work and I think is really worth it. I’m very proud of what we’ve done. I hope that my fans will enjoy this album and it will help people. They will go “I’m not stopping, I’m not giving in, I’ll keep going”

Metal-Roos: Blaze, tell us also, how is your work with Chris Appleton – is he the perfect sidekick for Blaze?

Blaze: Basically, we work well together, because we have to work together. We work together a lot on the trilogy and we kind of came up with a way of working together. And there’s a certain level of respect that we have for each other’s abilities. But I’m a very difficult person to work with. I’m an absolute fucking arsehole. I’m a bully. I’m terrible. And Chris has had to develop a very thick skin, to be able to put up with me. Because sometimes, I just want to get my guitar and smash it over his head. I get so frustrated. I often throw things at him when we are in the studio and he just backs them away and puts them over them. He’s hugely talented at what he does. He’s a guitarist. A fantastic musician. He’s great also as a studio engineer. But I moan so much. And I have to have things perfect. And I need them just right. And sometimes, I’m not the most polite person. So, I really don’t know why he keeps coming back and putting up with my bullshit.

Metal-Roos: Because you work together very well…

Blaze: We get results and that’s it. I see him sometimes, just look at his face and think “I’m not gonna say anything, because it’s not gonna be worth it”. Another times, he says something. And he’s right, and I’m wrong. I try not to admit it, but I always use his idea if it was better than mine. But I’ll try to pretend that is my idea. Yeah, we found a way to work together. And, on this album, we just opened ourselves completely. There’s no reserve on what are we trying to do.

Metal-Roos: This line of thought leads me to ask you, would you say is a more honest album than the trilogy?

Blaze: Well, the trilogy is a story. It’s fiction. There are elements, that every writer would use, elements from themselves in there. So it’s a story. It’s a science-fiction love story, a horror story that I started writing. And it turned into three albums: Blood and Belief, which’s a very heartfelt album. And, so it’s The Man who would not Die, and Promise and Terror.

And this album, really, it’s in the style of those albums. Though there are some songs, like Three-O-Three, and the songs about the Scientists. The other songs are personal and honest. It’s me. And, I’m saying this is me, this is what happened to me, and this is how I feel about it. “Pull yourself up” is about having a motorcycle accident, destroying my knee and not being able to walk without crutches. The guy at the physio on the first day said, “I don’t think you’d be ever able to walk without limping”. And, I thought, “You don’t know me”. So, that is, in the lyric, it says “walk with me”. Because I did learn to walk without a limp. I managed to get my leg back together, with a lot of help and hard work. And, people said to me, in the beginning, “You can’t sing”.

I said, “I’m gonna be a singer”. They said, “You can’t sing”. I said, “Well, I don’t care. I’m gonna be a singer like Ronnie James Dio.” And, people laughed at me. They said, “You can’t sing, you’re never gonna make it. How are you gonna be a singer?”. I said, “I don’t know. And I don’t care what you think. This is what I’m gonna do.” And, the second part of the song says, “come and sing with me”. Because, that was another thing people say I could not do it, but I did manage to do it. And now, here I am, 35 years later talking to you, from my own record company.

I’ve had the best job in the world that a Heavy Metal singer could get, and now, I’m totally independent. I’m supported as an artist by wonderful fans who support me and make it possible for me to live as an artist and make my living as an artist. I’m incredibly lucky. So, I wanted to put that feeling into a song. The feeling that “that’s impossible”, that the end of the sentence is “well, for you it is. Because you think it is.” I don’t care I’m just gonna do it anyway. If it’s possible or not. I don’t care. I wanted to put that in a song. I’m lucky.

Chris started playing some chords, and I felt like using some descending chords somewhere. He started jamming these few simple chords and then, “Bang!” it came out. The chords came out, and then the lyrics. In about half an hour we had most of the song. It is called “Pull yourself up”. It’s a true story of me in my life, overcoming my own difficulties.

I used to see other people at the physio and they would just give in. I thought I got too much to live for, I need to walk. I need to run again. And it took a long time, but I was able to do it.

Metal-Roos: If you had to choose one track of this album, which one would be?

Blaze: That is so difficult because there’s so much truth in it. “Pull yourself up” is great. But also, I have a song called “The Unstoppable Stephen Hawking”, that’s a true story. It’s the real story of Stephen Hawking for me. Of course, he was a genius, a physicist. His theories about supermassive black holes, and finding Hawking radiation, and all of that is incredible. But he had a terrible disease that crippled him, and he was told that he had three years to live. And I wanted to put that into a lyric.  The real story about Stephen Hawking is not about what he did as a physicist. But, the fact that a doctor said to him, “I think you’ve only got three years to live.” And he didn’t listen, and he wouldn’t accept it and 49 years later, he was still there. And he’s travelled the world, and he lectures in front of the most important scientists on the planet. That is the real story. There is no bigger hero than that.

Metal-Roos: Definitely the human brain is amazing! Now, to the album cover by Alberto Quintero, please tell us about it.

Blaze: Well, I needed something. And this was a few years ago. At the second part of my trilogy and, he, I forget now how we got in touch. I think he saw me on Facebook or something, and I mentioned there that I needed an Illustrator and this was just before he started working with Iron Maiden. And he happened to be a fan of my music and my solo career. I told him the idea that I wanted and he was able to help me. And, we worked together ever since. For this one, I said to him, “The idea is: War within Me”. And, the song is the positive YOU overcoming the negative, self-destructing you. The person, the half of you that wants to give in, drink till’ you blackout, pick a fight, and the other side of you that wants to be kind, that wants to work hard, that wants to help other people. These two sides of my character I’m constantly battling, to get to the front of my mind, one that says, “Forget everybody, get drunk”, and the other that says, “start writing some music, get out, help people.” And, I explained this to him. And, this was a concept that we came up with. Inside that head, you see the two people fighting, the ying and the yang, the good and the bad. That was the idea. And then, I wanted a reference to each song on the cover, and so, the Three-O-Three is about hurricanes in World War 2, so they’re present. Stephen Hawking’s chair is being pulled into a black hole. There is a tiny little nickel of tesla who’s got lighting there, it’s electricity. There’s the dream of Alan Turing, you see the keys that say Nigma because he cracked the Enigma code in World War 2. So, he liked for me all of these things and it’s very cool. Perhaps it’s the favourite artwork that I’ve ever had.

Metal-Roos: Blaze, how do you keep your voice so pristine? What’s your secret?

Blaze: I’ve had some tuition over the years. I’ve had some coaching. Every time I hit a problem or I’ve had some difficulties, then I would find a coach. The last coach I used is one of the top vocal coaches in the country and I learned so much from him. It was fantastic. I think the most important thing, obviously is breathing, that’s first. Make sure that you’ve got your breathing right, that you’re supporting the nose. And, then, just really be natural. If it hurts, it’s no good.

Practice with a basic keyboard or learn the guitar, and do it every so often, half-hour a day or 10 minutes a day, do your scales. Only 3-4 days in a week is enough. And avoid alcohol when you’re performing, or when you’re practising, because it is like a sedative. It desensitizes you. Here’s the problem. Maybe you won’ tell or people won’t tell that maybe you would be out of tune. But, because it desensitizes you, you could be hurting yourself and not know it. You’ll be singing louder and you don´t know it. It also affects your hearing, ‘cos your voice is only tiny, it’s like two little pieces of paper rubbing together to get that note. If you’re gonna put alcohol on that, it desensitizes it. It will also work on your brain, so your hearing is less good and you’ll want things louder. Singing too loud is another thing that would hurt your voice.

I would say, the single most important thing is to try and be natural. When you’re writing your music, do not do it in the rehearsal room with the drums and the loud guitars. When you’re doing this, get a place where the voice is the loudest thing. That’s what I learned in Iron Maiden from Steve Harris. Whenever we wrote, we did it quietly, not with the band. Listening to it. The voice was the loudest thing in the room. We’d work things out, listen to things also very quietly. The voice is always very natural.

When that was done, we’d go to rehearsal and we’d start getting the drums together, the guitar, and, this amazing base that Steve would do, and it was incredible. It also had a real strength to it, because the singing was in a natural place. The melody that you found would go with the different codes and different paths, in an easy natural place. So, the voice has a different texture and I feel that is the area of the voice that really gets to people, it goes straight to their heart. If you’re pushing it, or, you haven’t chosen the right key, your voice is not going to be as effective. But, that’s my style and my own way of thinking. I’m not telling people what to do.

My basic advice is, don’t try to be like anybody else, find your own voice. The best thing about rock music is the different types of voices that we can have. You don’t have to be a classically trained singer. You just have to be someone who wants to sing, and that’s the best thing about it. That’s why we have people like Ian Gillan, Bruce Dickinson, Jeff Tate, me, or David Coverdale, who don’t come from a place where they’re classically trained. Come from a place where they really wanted to sing, and they just find out how to do it.

Metal-Roos: Where do you like touring best, South America, North America, Europe, Australia?

Blaze: You just can’t say. Because everywhere has its own vibe. What you don’t realize is that your country has a personality, your culture and the way that you are in your country. There are some things that are common between rock fans, in different countries. It’s just like when you’re standing in a crowd; people around you got different personalities.

Metal-Roos: I also wanted to know your thoughts on the whole Brexit thing. Will this affect your touring, your work?

Blaze: I remember how it was before the EU. In my first tours, you had to have a lot of paperwork. You have to do that. It’s almost like we’ve been really spoiled over the last few years. It will just work itself out. The big advantage I’ve got, I’m very small. I can adapt very quickly to any changes. That’s the thing. If anybody thinks that we’re gonna be doing any serious touring around Europe for a long time, I mean, forget it. It’s just not gonna happen.

When Brexit is sorted, we are going to have these in our plan. My manager said, “right, we’re gonna finish our European on this day” because Brexit was like the following week, and we’re not coming back through that. A year after that passed, and all the politicians were messing around and then it was COVID. Anyway, we had to cancel. I don’t know. The most important thing is that music has a language on its own. It is emotion. No matter what language the lyrics are in. It can be Spanish or English or German. It has emotion on its own. I think nothing can stop that.

Metal-Roos: Blaze it’s been really grand talking to you, a real pleasure, thank you. anything to add?

I just wanna say a huge thank you to all of my fans. Thank you so much for supporting me. I hope that you get the album “War within Me”, and that you can find something on it that you really enjoy. Please stay safe. I need every single fan. Thank you so much.


Interviewed by Coromoto Jaraba

Interview Date: 2021-01-29