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The Weekly interview: Iron Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith

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Run to the Hills! Iron Maiden is coming.
Photo: John McMurtrie / Courtesy
Matt Wardlaw

When Iron Maiden hit the road in February 2016, the band stopped in Las Vegas as it began touring behind epic double album The Book of Souls. Since those initial U.S. dates, Maiden has visited more than 34 countries, playing its first-ever shows in El Salvador, Lithuania and China.

The band remains well-known for delivering one of the most impressive shows in heavy metal, in terms of both performance and production— and with each tour Maiden has dreamed up ways to deliver an even better experience to its fans. As longtime guitarist Adrian Smith stressed during a recent conversation with the Weekly, what you get with Iron Maiden is 100 percent real.

“It’s not a machine. You see bands these days, successful young bands, and they sound amazing,” he says. “But if you really listen to it, it’s almost like it’s played to a grid like a computer, too perfect. You just wonder what’s real and what isn’t. [With us], it’s very real without using any trickery. You get all of the blood and the sweat. It’s the real deal.”

Listening to stuff like “The Red and the Black,” the material from your latest album seems like it would be really engaging to play live. It’s engaging all right! I mean, you have to be on your toes for 13 minute songs [like that]. It’s a big one to play live, but it’s quite fun at the same time, and it’s got enough changes in it to make it interesting. It’s certainly a challenge to play every night.

With a double album of new material and so many fan favorites from the past, it must have been a complex process picking the setlist for this tour. Yeah, for the old songs, usually the set picks itself. “Fear of the Dark” has always been a popular live song. “Iron Maiden,” we tried to play shows without playing that song and it just doesn’t work. I think we’ve played it every single show I’ve ever been in the band.

So certain songs almost put themselves in the set. Likewise for the album. You can tell, when you’re rehearsing and writing the album, this is going to be a great live song.

It’s been more than 40 years since bassist Steve Harris started putting this band together, and this past year of touring has seen Iron Maiden find new places to visit. How surprising is it to when you realize there’s still uncharted territory out there? I’d never thought of playing Dubai. I didn’t think there would be any reason for us to go to India. But you know, there’s kids over there who love metal. We went to China, and that was great. People were just a typical Maiden audience, going mad. So it’s great to push your boundaries and visit new places.

The Book of Souls was the fifth album you guys have done with Kevin Shirley behind the boards. What does he bring to your process as a band that you really like? He’s old school. He likes to record live. We always did record live, really. We recorded everyone playing together, and then we used to overdub, redo the guitars and the vocals. But now, it’s pretty much live. We fix a few things up and do a few overdubs and that’s it.

When you’ve been doing it as long as we have, you kind of know what you’re doing, and you just try and get it down on tape. But you’re still playing to four walls when you’re in that studio, and that’s always a problem. You’re trying to give stuff life and energy, and you’ve got no audience to play [to], because the band obviously thrives in front of an audience. Hopefully we hit the mark sometimes.

As someone who has been with Iron Maiden over a 35 year period, how have you seen the band change from the early ’80s? When I first joined, I couldn’t believe the energy and how fast they used to play the songs. It was just pure adrenaline, energy, testosterone. We went onstage and just went for it. I think now it’s a bit more measured. We like to give a little bit more space in the music so everyone can express themselves within the framework of the song.

There’s a little bit more respect for other people. When you get older, you give people space, you give them a bit more respect, you consider the way they’re feeling. I think that comes across. But when we hit that stage and some of that old feel takes over sometimes and we still hurdle through some songs. I like to say it’s controlled power now. That’s my motto for a gig: Keep it powerful but controlled.

It’s impressive to me that the band can still kick out that same power and maintain that intensity. [Vocalist] Bruce [Dickinson] is incredible, a force of nature. He’s just got so much energy. He’s just blessed with that. Steve likes to play everything on the edge of the tempo and push it as hard as he can, and I’m always trying to pull it back a bit. It’s pushing and pulling, you know.

The current tour runs through late July. What’s on deck after that? What sort of discussions have there been about the next album at this point? If we feel like it, we might go and do another album. Or go out and play some other stuff. I don’t really know yet. We haven’t talked about it.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of The Number of the Beast album. What comes to mind when you look back at the experience of writing and recording that record? It’s your second album with the band, the first with Dickinson. There was a lot going on. Yeah, there were a lot of changes going on. We were sort of a band on the up, still trying to make a name in America. It seems so recent, but it’s a long time ago.

I started writing a little bit on the album and started to express myself a bit more. Steve came out with some great stuff, obviously the title track. It was a strong album. We recorded it in London, and we didn’t do that again for a number of years.

Did you have a sense that you’d made an album that was really going to have an impact? It did create a bit of a stir, to say the least, especially at that time in America. People were calling us devil-worshippers, and nothing could be further from the truth. We’re pretty straight-ahead guys from London—at least as far as I know.

Iron Maiden with Ghost. July 3, 7:30 p.m., $40-$100. T-Mobile, 702-692-1600.

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