Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Blaze Bayley probably shouldn’t still be going. It’s not because the legendary metal singer doesn’t have the desire. It’s certainly not because he doesn’t have the voice. It’s not because he doesn’t have the ability or the talent or legions of die hard followers.
Blaze Bayley probably shouldn’t still be going because the life he’s lived in the hard rock/heavy metal world and beyond would’ve crushed lesser people.
Talking to Blaze you wouldn’t know it. Having just celebrated turning 48, Blaze talks cheerfully, honestly and openly about everything he has endured with great enthusiasm and optimism. Like the American running back in football that fights so hard for those extra yards and sometimes fumbles, Blaze is so passionate about his music it’s almost to a fault.
“The loyalty of the fans is what enables me to keep going,” Blaze said. “They enable me to live a life that many people dream of living. It’s all very humbling to hear stories about how my music helped them, or that they identified with it. I’ve been very, very lucky to have the fans that I have, and who are very serious and very loyal with everything I do.”
To the layman, Blaze Bayley was the voice of Iron Maiden for two records and half a decade in the 90s. He wasn’t the first guy (Paul D’Anno); he wasn’t the main guy (Bruce Dickinson); he was the low, operatic, dramatic voice that threw a lot of Maiden die hards for a loop when the main guy decided he wanted a solo career, and when the music business went very alternative and metal was suddenly not as popular in mainstream markets.
But Blaze is far more than just an ex-Iron Maiden singer. He’s had a solo career now for more than a decade, and before joining Maiden he fronted U.K. cult-rockers Wolfsbane to initial recognition on Rick Rubin’s Def American imprint in the 80s (the other two bands Rubin signed at the time were Slayer and Danzig).
Blaze is set to embark on his first headlining tour of the United States ever as a solo artist this fall, having only played on U.S. soil with Maiden, Wolfsbane and one show as his solo project.
“I’m absolutely excited about it,” Blaze said. “It’s been a long, long time since I’ve done a tour of America. It’s been 14 years since Iron Maiden, and I have a lot of American fans who visit my websites and forum and have asked ‘When can you come over?’ I’m going to do a 90 minute set from the Wolfsbane era through some of the Maiden songs and my entire solo career.”
In all of his time he has experienced the very highs and very lows of anything and everything not only associated with heavy metal and the music business, but also in his personal life.
Wolfsbane got about as close as a group can get to mainstream recognition worldwide without it actually happening. Then Blaze got the call to join Iron Maiden and he had his big break. But it wasn’t without at the time losing his friends in Wolfsbane (they have since re-formed for a few small touring jaunts, an EP and are planning a full-album release this fall), numerous pitfalls, criticism and backlash.
Blaze did two criminally underrated records with Maiden in “The X Factor” and “Virtual XI.” At a time when metal was very much out of style in the mainstream, Blaze gave Maiden the kick it needed to survive after Dickinson left the band to pursue a solo career.
He was accepted by a large contingent of hardcore Maiden supporters, but also criticized for his much lower voice and vocal range when it came to some of Maiden’s older material. The new material was darker and more ominous than anything previously released by the band, although still distinctly Maiden. Bassist Steve Harris still cites “The X Factor” as one of the group’s best albums to this day and in a fan poll, the song "Futureal," written by Blaze and Harris off of "Virtual XI" was named one of the most popular Maiden songs of all time.
On his first tour with the band, Blaze was denied a proper monitor mix on stage, and was told the band would not tune down for any older material. When he could hear properly on stage he was able to stretch his voice to hit the notes. When he could not hear properly he did the best he could.
Despite enormous pressure and the odds stacked against him, he soldiered through.
“In Maiden, it’s tough,” he said. “You’re playing for England when you’re in Iron Maiden. It’s the top job in my field. The pressure is there in doing your best performance for every show, because every show is like the World Cup final. That’s a lot of pressure. But the other side of it is your playing to almost 10,000 people every night. And the songs I used to sing — I was a huge Iron Maiden fan, and to actually be performing those songs and to get those reactions from the audience and fans was just fantastic.
Blaze looked back on his recorded history with Maiden as well.
“I think that the two albums that I made and the work that we did on “Virus” (from “The Best of The Beast” compilation), it was good. At the time there were a lot of people that really missed Bruce,” Blaze said. “He was their favorite singer in their favorite band. None of us want our favorite singer to leave our favorite band.”
For Blaze, he relished the opportunity and felt that much like his previous effort with Wolfsbane, if it was just given a fair shake it would’ve been far more commercially successful and its acceptance more widespread.
“When I was working with Steve, there was no music written for the albums,” Blaze said. “Steve said, ‘Whatever ideas you got, I want to hear them. It doesn’t matter who writes the songs, but they have to be great.’ Once he started getting used to my voice it really started to click. It really came together with 'The Clansman' which was kind of floating around toward the end of 'The X Factor' sessions. Then he brought it back out. It just worked great. I was looking forward to a third album. I had ideas that I wanted to present to him. The third album was the one where people could’ve seen and said, ‘Well actually the changes worked. Yeah Blaze has every right to be there.’ I was expecting to make that album, I was really sad that it didn’t happen.”
Ultimately, he was let go from the Maiden machine when Dickinson decided to rejoin the band.
Blaze embarked on a solo career that was hindered by record label management from the get-go and released the same week as Maiden’s comeback, even though it was done months in advance.
“Silicon Messiah” was a metal masterpiece, but also was likely viewed as a threat. Blaze let management at his future label Sanctuary hear it, and the release was mysteriously delayed.
Perhaps the last thing Maiden management wanted was for people to hear an outstanding album by a singer they had just sacked, and Blaze had stayed with management that still had close ties to Maiden.
“I think that was a big part of it,” Blaze said about the so-called coincidental release date of his first solo record.
“Certain people said you need to get that record out before Maiden. I look back now and I made a mistake letting the management hear it before I got the record deal. It was just smothered by Maiden’s 'Brave New World,' which is also a great record. Naturally it was the people that had seen me in Maiden and Wolfsbane that were going to buy the record, but because it was released at the same time with little support, nobody got to hear it.”
Blaze kept going. With lackluster labels and management, he soon ended up with a revolving door of band members, but Blaze’s dedication and passion wasn’t always shared with the same enthusiasm by those around him.
He followed “Silicon Messiah” with “Tenth Dimension,” on a new label, SPV. But again, its release was delayed massively because Blaze had to fulfill an existing contract with Sanctuary who dropped the band mid-recording. Before he ended up losing some of his original line-up, the group recorded a solid live album “As Live As It Gets” and continued touring, but SPV allotted money for only one tour when they had agreed to two. Unwaveringly, Blaze put up the money for the second tour and lost his house.
Another solid record followed, “Blood and Belief,” again on SPV. The band stayed afloat by touring but were ultimately dropped, and any semblance of his original solo line-up had vanished.
Blaze suffers from bouts of clinical depression. He has always been forthright with those around him regarding it and still to this day and is candid and willing to talk about it to any family member, friend, band mate or fan. Part of his line-up problems stem from it. But those around him have not always chosen to see it as a serious health issue.
“It’s been sad I’ve had that many lineup changes,” Blaze said. “Every time someone has come into the band they’ve made a huge contribution, and I’m really proud of the music that we’ve done together.”
Perhaps Blaze's strongest line-up to date was the group he had once he re-christened the band's name from "Blaze" to "Blaze Bayley." Two records followed with David Bermudez (bass), Nico Bermudez (guitar), Lawrence Patterson (drums) and Jay Walsh (guitar) in "The Man That Would Not Die" and "Promise and Terror."
Patterson even penned a book about the story of The Blaze Bayley Band called "At The End Of The Day" which offered a much more intimate look of the struggles, rigors, triumphs and pit-falls of a non-stop touring and recording machine.
It was also during this period that Blaze tragically lost his wife Debbie to a seizure. She had pulled him out of a serious depression and got him back to being Blaze Bayley again. But in the end, due to numerous problems both financially and personally, the line-up could not continue.
The Bermudez brothers were from Columbia, and a change in passport law in the U.K. required them to re-new their visas every three months instead of yearly, meaning increased international flights that had to be funded by Blaze himself. The band also couldn't book anything more than three months in advance at that time because of the visa issue and not knowing whether the full band would be in tact for shows. Because of this, sometimes the brothers could not make certain scheduled shows, so fill-ins had to be recruited to keep the band playing and keep finances afloat. Resentment built, and eventually the cost of everything just became too much for Blaze. Between the death of his wife, and then the spilt up of his last line-up remains one of the most heart-wrenching periods Blaze has ever had to endure.
"We managed to keep it together for quite a few years," Blaze said. "In the end it was just unsustainable. It drove me crazy. It drove me into one of the worst depressions I've ever experienced.
Blaze reflected on the split.
"I had done everything I could to keep this band together," he said. "I've spent more than what I had, and it's just not possible. The realization that I couldn't carry it on absolutely killed me. It wasn't the best way that it finished. It wasn't done the best way that it could've be done. But when you're suffering, the circumstances just mounted. I said I needed a year away from the band to get everything sorted out. They just didn't believe it. They didn't believe that my mental health was that bad. My new partner now knew, and she was really, really worried."
Blaze had worked extremely hard to bounce back from Maiden, and he did. He worked extremely hard to bounce back from his first line-up and he did. He worked extremely hard to put together a new band, and then have to bounce back from the death of his wife, and he did.
But depression isn't something the singer is able to continually keep at bay.
"If you're a depressed person, or you know anybody that is, you can't just snap out of it," he said. "It's a roller coaster in slow motion through the darkness and back. There's only coping. When The Blaze Bayley Band ended it felt very close to what I went through after I was finished with Maiden. It's a difficult thing for other people to grasp that this person has a downward spiral they can't escape. I'm not absolutely crazy. I'm not a bad person. This is an illness."
Blaze had nothing but praise for his former band-mates.
"When we stood on stage, that last tour with The Blaze Bayley Band, and we would play 'The Man Who Would Not Die,' when everybody gets it just right, and the tempo is perfect and the volume is perfect, it's the most incredible and fantastic feeling like you're riding some kid of incredible beast," he said. "That is a feeling I will always cherish."
When it came right down to it, Blaze summed up his feelings on The Blaze Bayley Band in five simple words.
"I really miss my friends," he said.
For Blaze, music is the best remedy for all the curve balls life throws his way. He works, and works, and works. He truly is the man who would not die. And despite it all, here he is in 2011 ready to conquer new projects. First America, followed by a Wolfsbane U.K. Tour and a new Wolfsbane album. Then next year an acoustic record, followed by his next full metal album in 2013.
"It’s all been great," he said. "What I’m really looking forward to now is being a solo artist, and having the confidence in myself to show the fans what I'm made of. I haven't been to the United States for many years. Once I am there and I’m able to show them my passion about the music ... I can't wait."
Because for Blaze Bayley, what it all comes down to is the music and the fans. He does a meet and greet and literally every show he does to sign autographs and talk with those that have kept him afloat all these years.
Blaze recalled a story from his recent tour with Wolfsbane that's a prime example.
"The amount of fans that came up to us, and said 'You made me feel 18 again,'" he said. "I forgot how old I was. However cheesy that may be, one guy said to me 'We've grown up together, and I loved it just as much tonight as when I was a kid.' That's just a great reason to keep doing it, no matter what. That's what keeps me going."
- B.J. Lisko (firstname.lastname@example.org)