February 3, 2020 Interview – Steve Harris of Iron Maiden & British Lion
Arguably one of the most influential, accomplished musicians in Heavy Metal, Steve Harris has a list of accolades from here to the end of time. Most famously known as the founder of Iron Maiden, one of the biggest Heavy Metal bands in history, Harris is also defined by his signature bass guitar style, his songwriting, production, and various other roles he has taken on in his storied career.
Spending the better part of four decades writing, recording, plus touring the world over and over again with Iron Maiden, Harris still found the time to satisfy other artistic itches with the formation of another band called British Lion. First debuting in 2012 with a self-titled album, Harris and British Lion roar yet again with their new album, The Burning, which was released on January 17, 2020.
A more Rock laden project, British Lion shines with strong songs that fans need to hear. Recently the ever-busy Steve Harris took the time to reflect on his career in music, the formation of British Lion, life on the road, plus a whole lot more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in Rock and Heavy Metal for over 45 years now, attaining a mass of success in that time with Iron Maiden, touring the world over, and consistently putting out new music. Briefly tell us, how would you describe your journey in music?
Steve Harris – Long. (Laughs) It’s been amazing, truly amazing. I’m just grateful I’ve been able to do it for so long. It’s just been fantastic, from the beginning up ’til now, and will continue to be so as long as I can do it.
Cryptic Rock – And you have done a lot of astounding things as a musician and songwriter. Interestingly, you have always had a love for football and considered focusing your attention on being an athlete. What was the turning point when you realized that becoming a musician and following your Rock-n-Roll dreams was the direction you wanted to go?
Steve Harris – It wasn’t really like that, because I stopped seriously playing football probably about 18 months before I started playing guitar. It wasn’t trading one for the other, really, at the time. I’m glad I chose music because obviously I can still do music, and I still do play football, but I wouldn’t be able to play professionally until age 40. Even then, after that you go into management or whatever. I think I chose the right career. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Agreed, things turned out for the best. We all know of the tremendous success, influence and longevity of Iron Maiden, but amidst all of that you actually formed another project called British Lion. How did British Lion come about for you?
Steve Harris – It goes back to the ’90s really. Grahame Leslie, the guitar player, and Richard Taylor, the vocalist, I was working with them on stuff and names for the band – at the time they thought the name was a little hard edge for what they were doing. I was trying to put it in a more UFO kind of direction. Anyway, I was doing everything in those days – recording, managing, booking gigs, etc. It just kind of imploded really, but I felt I wanted to do something with it because the songs were too strong not to see the light of day. So that is what I did and it’s been a long time.
Obviously, I couldn’t have done it more than, say, 10 years ago because Maiden was too busy then. We are still busy, but were not as busy as we were in those years before that. It would have been physically impossible, outside projects, back then.
Cryptic Rock – It is great you saw the project through because British Lion released their demo album back in 2012, and recently returned with a follow-up album a few weeks ago. The work of the band is different than Iron Maiden, whereas it is certainly more Rock driven than Metal. That said, what was the writing and recording process like for this new album, The Burning?
Steve Harris – The new album is much more live, and the recording techniques are much more similar to what I do in Maiden really. I would love to actually write, record, and mix an album the same way Maiden does, but that takes time so I can’t do it completely like that with British Lion. At least we can do some of it like that and I am really pleased with the results. It’s much more live sounding and much more representative of what we are doing now. It’s a lot similar to the way we play live.
Cryptic Rock – Well the album came out very well and these are very strong songs. Another aspect of British Lion that is different is that much of the song themes appear more personal, introspectively-driven rather than the epic storytelling style of Iron Maiden. Was that also an objective with this project?
Steve Harris – Most of that stuff is driven by Richard Taylor. He wears his heart on his sleeve a lot more than I do; I tend to disguise my stuff in other stories a bit more. He’s a really great writer, it’s all positive and good.
Cryptic Rock – Speaking of Richard, he sounds great on vocals. What has it been like working with Richard and the other members of British Lion? Everyone has a different style and approach, so what has it been like working with Richard and the other members of British Lion?
Steve Harris – Everyone has different styles, but that is nice to be able to work with people with different styles. It gives you different options and thinking in directions you wouldn’t have gone otherwise. Richard is obviously not so experienced with recording, but I think this time around he did great.
Cryptic Rock – Very cool, it seems things are meshing together well. You are actually out on the road in North America with British Lion right now. How is the tour going, thus far?
Steve Harris – It’s been great! People are getting into singing along with the words, some other people are coming along just checking it out. Some people have been coming along and probably just checking it out. Lots of people have been buying the records at the gigs, so obviously they don’t know the material until afterwards, perhaps. It’s been very positive reactions everywhere.
Cryptic Rock – That is good to hear. Seeing you have the enormous fanbase with Iron Maiden, do you find a lot of Maiden fans coming out to support British Lion? Also, do you find people coming to a British Lion show who perhaps were not Iron Maiden fans?
Steve Harris – You get both. Obviously since this is the first time in the States you get more of that going on to start with, it was a bit like that in Europe to start with a few years ago when we toured the first album. Over the years, the band tends to find its own audience. Of course you still get Maiden fans coming along and that’s brilliant; it’s fantastic they are supporting this as well, I really appreciate it. When you first play people are just curious. Others just come along because they really like it and already got the album, it is bit of both.
Cryptic Rock – That is good you have that balance of interest. With British Lion you are doing more club shows, whereas with Maiden you do a lot of larger venues. Is a club show different for you than playing a larger stadium?
Steve Harris – Yeah, it’s very different, of course. I didn’t really play any club in the States with Maiden at all. We did loads of clubs around the UK and all that, but we didn’t play too many around the rest of the world because we did massive support tours. It’s nice for me to play places I haven’t played before and I’ve really enjoyed it. Being close-up with the crowd is really enjoyable.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds fun. It is an intimate setting, especially when the crowd is into the music and singing along.
Steve Harris – Exactly. That’s the thing: people seem to enjoy being up close and personal, as well. So it’s good!
Cryptic Rock – Very cool. Over the years you have really amassed a lot of experience from the international touring with Iron Maiden, seeing how others live to the work put into each album. What would you say are some of the most valuable things you have learned from your life as a working musician?
Steve Harris – I just think it’s fantastic to meet different people from all different cultures. Funny enough, just a little while ago the other members of British Lion said, “You’ve played all these places before,” and I said, “Yeah, but I never get tired of it. I never get tired of travelling.” I do enjoy being in different places, in different cultures, and meeting different people, it’s something I’ve always enjoyed.
Cryptic Rock – Also, seeing the world broadens your perspective on life in general.
Steve Harris – Definitely. You can’t have a better education than actually going around the world and experiencing stuff for yourself. It’s an amazing thing and it’s a joke that I get to pay to do it as well, it’s a bonus. (Laughs) I just really enjoy it and everything about it really.
Cryptic Rock – That is wonderful. On the other side, doing the rigorous touring you have done through the decades, how have you stayed healthy?
Steve Harris – It is difficult. You try and eat well on the road, but it is tough. When I’m home, not on tour, I can eat very well, keep fit and stuff like that. When you tour it is difficult. It’s almost you just do the best you can do in given situations, it’s not easy.
Cryptic Rock – It has to be a challenge. You have these shows with British Lion and the new album out. What comes thereafter?
Steve Harris – We’ve got some touring with Maiden in Australia and Japan. Then Maiden has more festivals in Europe as well. I’m doing some shows in between times on some of the days where we have a few days off with Maiden. I’ve fit a few shows in, I think about eight or so – four are festivals and the others clubs. Usually the night before Maiden plays and the other show is the day after. I’ve never done that before, it should be interesting.
Cryptic Rock – Wow, that sounds like a lot, but fun. With this being your first British Lion tour in the USA, can we expect more touring with the band here?
Steve Harris – Yeah, I would like to play other parts of the country. We are doing the east side of the States now. I would like to do the mid and west sides of America and Canada whenever we can fit it in. Maiden always comes first, as it should be.
Cryptic Rock – Understandable. It’s exciting you have this other outlet. As mentioned earlier, this is more Rock driven. Would you say at this point British Lion is where you would like it to be?
Steve Harris – At this point in time, I would say definitely. I think it’s very representative of where we have been for the last few years.
Cryptic Rock – Fantastic. Last question. If you are a fan of Horror or Sci-Fi films, do you have any favorites?
Steve Harris – I’m a fan of any sort of movies, really. I like all different genres – it’s difficult to choose. I think for Horror my favorite of all time is The Exorcist (1973). I remember seeing it when I was like 14-15, it left a big impression at the time. As far as Sci-Fi goes there are quite a few I like. Obviously Avatar (2009) was good, but earlier Logan’s Run (1976) and Blade Runner (1982) were good. I really like The Fifth Element (1997), as well.
Cryptic Rock – As a songwriter you have been inspired by film, as well.
Steve Harris – Definitely. We used the intro to Blade Runner on Somewhere in Time (1986) back in the day. We used some of the props from the Blade Runner movie on the inside of that album. We’ve been influenced by different movies. There is lots of inspiration from movies.