**This interview is one that I did a year or two ago for a now-defunct magazine called Hails & Horns. It’s particularly special to me because A: he’s the bassist of Iron Maiden and B: it was the first phone interview I ever did and I’m really proud of how it went. I’m going to try and add a few of my older interviews on here when possible, so hopefully this is the 2nd of many more to come.**
When your entire career has been defined by one band, it can sometimes be hard to branch out on your own. In September, Steve Harris, bassist of IRON MAIDEN, released his first solo album, titled British Lion. The album showcases a more classic rock side to Harris that many MAIDEN fans had never heard before and its release has been a long time coming for Harris. I caught up with him to find out more about the album, and how he had time to create it amidst an incredibly strenuous schedule.
You’ve been involved in the music business heavily for the last 30 years or so, at what point did you decide you wanted to release an album as a solo artist?
A few years ago, when I started working on some material with the singer Richie Taylor and the guitarist David Hawkins. I was sort of helping out with the band years ago, and I actually named the band British Lion. Then it all folded up as these things do, and I thought it was such a good name, that I’d use it for the record.
How did you choose what other musicians you wanted to work with for the recording of British Lion?
Well, I’ve known most of the guys for years. I’ve known Graham Leslie for more than twenty years; I’ve known David Hawkins and Richie for quite a few years as well. Simon Dawson was the drummer in a band called DIRTY DEEDS that supported MAIDEN quite a few years ago as well, so I’ve known him for some time. In fact, all the guys that worked on the album, apart from one guy, are people that I’ve known for a very long time. It was really natural and I felt very comfortable working with them.
How involved were you in the actual songwriting process for British Lion? Did you write all of the songs on the album?
Yeah, I wrote em all, but with other people. As soon as I’d start working on stuff with people outside of MAIDEN, obviously that stuff can’t go on the table for MAIDEN also, so it has to go elsewhere.
When you were writing the bass parts for the album, was it difficult to turn off the MAIDEN part of your brain and slow down your playing a little?
Not really, because I mean, I’ve done a lot of stuff with MAIDEN over the years that hasn’t been full tilt, really. I mean, some of the early stuff is a bit more kind of straightforward. It’s whatever the song needs really; I’ve always looked at myself as a songwriter first and foremost, so I just play whatever is necessary for the song.
While in the process of writing, recording, and producing the album, did you feel any pressure to make it sound a certain way, due to your name being the main one stamped on it?
No pressure at all actually, because no one knew about it, so there wasn’t any pressure whatsoever. The only slight pressure I felt in a way, was sort of my own doing, in the sense that I didn’t really have the time to do it all in one go. It was all done in bits and pieces, and the rest of the tracks were just waiting around in the wings. That was a little bit of pressure there, but other than that, none really. It was quite enjoyable because I didn’t really have any pressure.
As far as the actual songs go, on the track “The Chosen Ones”, I noticed a little bit of influence from bands like BOSTON and RUSH. Were you inspired by any particular artists during the songwriting process?
To be honest, that song is more really influenced by the British band U.F.O and THE WHO really, more so than the bands you just mentioned. I don’t have a problem being mentioned in the same breath as those bands though, everyone’s got a different idea of what they think things sound like, but to me that song really is more U.F.O.
On songs like “This Is My God” and “Judas”, the lyrics seem to be very personal. Who wrote the lyrics for British Lion, and is there a particular theme throughout the album?
They were written between Richie and myself, obviously over a long period of time. Some of the words are a little bit deeper than we normally do, some of it is kind of religion based, but Maiden’s been doing alot more stuff like that these days as well. I think that the older you get, the more you start to think about these things, really, I’m not sure why that is, but it just is.
When hearing songs like “Karma Killer” and the later years THIN LIZZY vibe of “Eyes Of The Young”, it’s pretty obvious that these songs would sound awesome in a live setting. Do you have any plans to play shows or tour with this project?
Yeah, we definitely wanna do some shows, ya know. I think because MAIDEN is going to be playing the other side of the pond, in Europe in the summer that it’s probably realistic that British Lion will be on that side of the pond first. We’ve just done a North American tour with Maiden anyway, but I’d like to try and play everywhere, really. At some point, I think there’s probably a window of opportunity sometime next year.
It seems that you are always busy writing, touring, recording, producing, or working on live videos. How have you been able to focus on everything that goes with IRON MAIDEN, and also juggle British Lion without burning yourself out?
Also, you throw six kids into the mix as well, and yeah, I get a little frayed around the edges at times. That’s why, a few years ago, the band started to tell Rod Smallwood we need to take a little bit more off. The way things work out though, I tend not to get as much down time as the rest of the guys in MAIDEN, because I’m so busy. At times you do get a bit rough around the edges, I feel a little bit like that now, I’ve been doing loads of press for this, but also been working on other stuff for MAIDEN when we’re off the road. So I’m just about ready for a bit of a rest right now.
With all that you’ve accomplished in your career, what are you hoping to achieve now as a solo artist, and how are you hoping Maiden fans react to your this material?
All I ask, really, is that people give it a fair opportunity. Give it a few listens, you know, just give it a chance. I can’t change people’s minds, they’re either going to like it, or they’re not. Hopefully they’ll like it, but if they don’t, they can always pass it on to someone else. I feel like that with MAIDEN’s stuff too, people either like it or they don’t. I’ve always written music that’s what I wanna do. It’s a selfish way of looking at it honestly, but, ya know, that’s the way it is. It’s got to be that way, really, you can’t start doing censuses to see who wants what, that’s not the way to go at all. You’ve got to do what you feel is right with yourself, and people either like it or they don’t, but hopefully they’ll like it.
I read that in its first week, British Lion sold pretty well in the US and UK, landing it in the billboard 200 chart and heatseekers chart. This, in today’s climate, is pretty good. When deciding if you’d consider the album successful or not, how much do album sales really factor into that?
Obviously, in this day and the way things are now, it’s more difficult to get serious album sales, but I ‘m really pleased with the way it’s going. Especially for a solo thing as well, those things don’t tend to do as well, so yeah, I’m really pleased.
As part of a successful band, you’ve seen the meteoric rise of the music industry, and the eventual drastic fall. What are your thoughts on the way things are in the industry today, and how do you feel about people downloading music?
I think downloading music is a great way for new artists to get across. Let’s face it, with the internet now, you’ve got a worldwide tool you can get across, you don’t have to worry about maybe having a record company or anything to get noticed. You can make a cheap video these days with the software that’s around, and you can make an album from your laptop pretty much, so there are a lot of opportunities for young bands. It’s just changed around, that’s all. Whereas before, you had to do a tour to promote an album to get the album sales, and now it’s sort of the other way around, really. You sort of make an album to promote the tour; it’s just turned about face. I suppose the one thing people can’t clone or whatever is a live performance.
You’ve written some pretty incredible songs throughout your career, but if you could have written any song ever, what would it be and why?
Wow, that’s a difficult question; I suppose the first one that springs to mind for me is “Supper’s Ready” by GENESIS, the early GENESIS with PETER GABRIEL. It’s about twenty minutes long, and it’s got everything but a kitchen sink in it, so it’s just about the best piece of music I’ve ever heard, I think.