Quite a scoop for a young fanboy, when Bruce went solo for a few years I managed to get an interview with him at Bradford Rios. The interview was done on June 10th, 1996 which explains why I still have hair…
So – what do you want to know?
The name of the band to start with. How did you get ‘Skunkworks’?
Well, it sounded cool and it came from Lockheed Skunkworks which is a secret American aviation base.
Sort of the Hangar 18 kind of stuff?
I notice there’s a bit of a spacey theme to the album. Was that deliberate or something that just came up?
It sort of…happened, really. The name came after the music.
You’ve got a new guitarist with the band as well.
Well – it’s Skunkwork’s isn’t it. It’s not a new guitarist. It’s a new band.
You are still being billed in a lot of places as Bruce Dickinson. Is that just a label you’re trying to get rid of now, then?
It’s taken a while to get to this stage, though, hasn’t it? You did Tattooed Millionaire while you were still with Maiden, and Balls to Picasso was still a Bruce Dickinson album. What made you decide to start afresh?
Well, having a band. Actually having one. The idea was to have one all the while, but we never really got the timing right to get things together. So the first opportunity I got to do something sensible with a bunch of people, you know, we got Skunkworks. And it’s shitloads better than anything else we’ve done. Loads better. It’s really fresh, it’s really new. It’s nothing like the old stuff.
It’s definitely got a different sound compared to the last couple. Tattooed Millionaire was different enough at the time, but Skunkworks just has a different edge to it. Do you still do most of the songwriting, or is it more of a cooperative effort now you’re part of a band?
Al [Alex Dickson – Mosh], who’s just walked out, wrote half the stuff. Anything that’s guitar – he wrote.
I noticed last time on tour, you actually played guitar yourself.
Well, no, just for a bit. I just sort of fucked about. There’s no point at all in doing that with Al around. He’s such a great guitar player. Most of his tunings… other guitarists can’t even understand them!
Where did you get him from, then? He’s not someone I’ve heard of before.
Found him in the pub. Best place to find most things.
This is, what, the fourth date on the UK tour so far plus three months in Europe. What’s the response been like to the new material? Are they starting to identify it as Skunkworks?
You always used to say that the whole performance end was what it was all about. Is it still a ‘live thing’ for you?
It’s more of a live thing now than it ever was. Some of the stuff with Maiden was a more like a pantomime to be honest with you. Especially with the more monsters, the more…. stuff. This is more intense than anything Maiden ever did.
You’re playing to smaller venues now than you have with Maiden for years. Do you find it more fun playing to a smaller crowd?
No, not really. I’d much rather be playing to a bigger crowd.
That’s nothing to do with it. It’s purely down to how many people are there. It makes no difference to us whether there’s 200 people, or 2000 or 20000. The show’s the same. The intensity is the same, but from the point of view of getting the music out I’d much rather it was a lot more people than a lot fewer people. Simple as that.
So it’s not a matter of the size of the venue. It’s just getting up there and playing.
Well, you do the size of venue that you do. There are very few venues left any more. End of story. And if you play Bradford, you either play St George’s Hall or you play here, that’s pretty much it. There’d be no point in us playing the St George’s anyway.
Do you ever think you’ll get this band up to the size Maiden reached? I’m surprised you actually started as small as this…
Everybody has to start as small as this. Maiden in America were playing 400-seat clubs, then 8 years ago they were playing 4 night at Long Beach to 10000. What we’re at now is building up from what’s basically been a steady decline in everything. Maiden are at a decline big-time now and everything that’s associated with that whole era of music is being seen as old and tired and it’s had its day. Even if traditional metal ever does come back, it’s much more likely to be a Paradise Lost type vibe. You know, something that’s new rather than some ‘old-hair’ band from the 80’s getting back together. Which is great – no problem at all, but that’s why Skunkworks is around.
Is that why you want to be known as Skunkworks rather than Bruce Dickinson?
Exactly. Because Bruce Dickinson is this old fucker who used to sing for Iron Maiden. And the chronological age thing has nothing to do with it. It’s just the connotations.
Because even on the promo CD cover it’s Skunkworks with Bruce Dickinson in big letters on the front.
Yeah, they’re being a bit cautious about all that nonsense. But from the next album it’s just going to be Skunkworks. There’s just no point in persisting with this Bruce Dickinson nonsense. So what you’re seeing now is the last vestiges of it. Promoters somehow cling onto this thing. You know, Bruce Dickinson – ex-Iron Maiden – and people will turn up. People aren’t turning up for the real Iron Maiden never mind ex-Iron Maiden!
You mentioned Paradise Lost there. Is that the sort of thing you’re listening to these days?
No – I just mentioned them as they’re going to be the inheritors of the dwindling bunch of people. They’re uniting the small niche of people that like that sort of stuff. If you take a band like the Chili Peppers or something, that’s much more what we’re listening to now. Deconstruction and those kind of things.
So what do you think of the scene as a whole in the UK as opposed to Europe?
Germany seems to still have a fair amount of metal-type stuff. Scandanavia. For example, Germany does it’s thing and they’re still fairly traditional. Nazereth are still big in Germany. It’s that kind of a vibe. We’re not really trying to appeal to old Iron Maiden fans. There’s absolutely no point. Because if those people are going to like it, they’re going to be aware of it and they’re going to get into it anyway. No amount of doing 10 formats of a single is going to do it. You’ve just got to deliver really cool music. Really fresh so that people will go away and talk about it. The only way to do it is to be the real thing.
You’ve always been one for fan contact, too. With every album you do a decent signing tour. Do you find that this has helped?
Well if you mean has it generated loads and loads of record sales? No. Has it helped the vibe? Probably. I mean, we don’t mind doing it. It hasn’t sold us millions of albums, though. People don’t go and buy the album because you’re in the shop on a particular day. The people who show up are generally those with the album who bring it with them. They’re fans already. It is important to look after people who are fans, and it’s important to get feedback from them as well. They can sit there and they can tell you the album sucks, or it’s brilliant or whatever.
What happened with that Bosnia thing a while back? There seemed to be no feedback from that at all afterwards?
There wasn’t any feedback, but it was a fantastic five days. It was an amazing five days. We basically drove ourselves through a war zone, sleeping on the gear in the back of a truck for seven hours with no military protection or anything. Just a civilian driving up front in a soft-top truck.
What made you decide to do that?
They asked us. Kerrang actually. They were asked by UN protection forces in Sarajevo to get a gig together with a local rock society. Motorhead pulled out at the last minute, Metallica said they didn’t want to do it because it was too dangerous or whatever and we said ‘what the fuck, we’ll do it.’
What’s the chance of another Lord Iffy novel, then?
[Bruce gives us a dirty look]
I take that as a ‘no’, then? They did get a bit of a mixed reception.
Everybody that bought them seems to think they were very funny. It was only the tossers who write for the music magazines that went all snotty on them. Frankly some of the literary magazines, some of the regular newspapers and Radio 4 gave them great reviews.
I’ve read a couple of Tom Sharpe novels…
That’s where I ripped them off from. I don’t like him. He’s too slow. I only ever read half a Tom Sharpe novel and I was bored out of my mind. They’re much slower paced and I thought they needed to be jazzed up. You want a gag on every page. So I just went for the approach of doing a punk version of Tom Sharpe. I thought, there’s no point in trying to be gentile about this. Let’s just get as pornographic as we can, as graphic as we can, and a gag where you don’t know whether to laugh or vomit. A book with a sort of emetic quality. You could actually hurl over the book at breakfast!
It actually had a good story which surprised me. They’re something that a Tom Sharpe novel isn’t supposed to have.
Well, I know how writers do it. I spoke to some and they say you basically get a typewriter and bash away for 11 hours a day and you’ve got a novel.
Douglas Adams says you stare at a sheet of paper until your forehead bleeds…
I wrote the second one more like that. I was told I had to write a sequel and it was really difficult. I just couldn’t get the pace.
Is that what put you off a third one?
Yeah. I got about 60 pages into a third one and just thought it was rubbish and ripped it all up. It was Lord Iffy’s schooldays. I didn’t think it was funny. Maybe I’ll have to revisit it sometime.
Well, thanks for your time and best of luck with Skunkworks.