England's Iron Maiden are one of the greatest metal bands of all time. Since 1975, their swashbuckling multi-guitar churn and the howling croon of Bruce Dickinson have been bringing joy to headbangers around the world. They've sold more than 85 million albums and played more than 2,000 shows in 58 countries. Through the years, their lobotomized, 18-foot-tall skeleton-wraith mascot, Eddie, has come to symbolize the beautiful destruction that rock music can inflict. Maiden have been killing it since before "killing it" was born.
Their darker, devil-infused imagery is wrongly tagged by conservatives as satanic or evil. But they're not satanic: Iron Maiden are simply a rock band. Additionally, Dickinson holds a degree in history from Queen Mary University, London, and in 2011 he was awarded an honorary doctorate of music by his alma mater. He's also a published author who used to be an Olympic-standard fencer, and he's a fully licensed pilot who sometimes flies the band's 757 Ed Force One to and from concerts himself, where he sings about the devil. Sing it with me: "6-6-6! The number of the beast! 6-6-6, the one for you and me!" Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain spoke from his hotel room in Indianapolis, where he was watching golf on the telly.
When I was in seventh grade, I was in my room listening to "Number of the Beast" on a boom box. I was supposed to be doing my homework. My mom opened the door and heard the words "666, the number of the beast/Sacrifice is going on tonight." Then she looked at the Eddie poster on my wall from your Somewhere in Time album, where he's demonic and holding a gun. She confiscated the CD. And grounded me. She thought I was listening to satanic music. I wanted to get you to explain this song to my mother, and all the mothers, so I won't be in trouble anymore.
Well, the song is about a dream. And if she confiscated the CD, then she'd have to take your Bible away, too. Because it comes from the Book of Revelation. The imagery of that song, it does conjure a bit of darkness. And that scares some people. But that's okay. And the image of Eddie being this skeleton creature. It is scary. Tell your mom I'm sorry, it's just part of our story. You can tell her we're not demons. I play golf! [Laughs] And that you can't judge a book by its cover.
And never judge a band by its 18-foot-tall demonic mascot.
Eddie's just a puppy dog. Tell your mom I'm here in my hotel room watching the British Open golf tournament. We drink tea before we play our shows. Satanic, evil people don't drink tea before they play. Maybe that will help with your mom. I've actually been playing golf with Alice Cooper on this tour. Alice has been opening for us. But he likes to play in the morning on the day of a show, at the crack of dawn. I prefer to lie in me bed and get rest for the show. We play when we have a day off and it's not the crack of dawn. Alice has a few strokes on me. I take my sticks on the road with me. We have a day off in Chicago tomorrow, and the Def Leppard boys are there. We may all play. Mark Twain said, "Golf is a good walk spoiled." But that's not true. I love it.
For this tour, you all are playing mostly songs from the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son album. The story there is that the character is the seventh son of a seventh son and he's clairvoyant, right?
It was kind of a mini conceptual album. We tried to keep the songs all in line with clairvoyance. The character is clairvoyant, but can he foresee his own demise? When we were deciding what to do for this tour, we thought, "Should we record a new record? No, we'll leave that for another time." So we decided to revisit and re-create the Seventh Son vibe, and dust off some chestnuts from that album.
There's a new Eddie on this tour, and multiple Eddies, and fire. Lots of pyro. Is that a giant fetus the big Eddie is holding up?
It is a fetus, yes. It's from the video for "Can I Play with Madness." When the teacher falls down into the catacombs, he opens the Fridge of Life. And there's Eddie and the fetus. It's the first time we had an actual animated Eddie. We thought it would be a good idea to have it onstage. We've had a couple people ask if there's a roadie in there, squirming around [laughs]. We've also got the Scribe Eddie, and, of course, the Eddie that comes onstage in all his glory and tries to decapitate everybody. It's great fun. I never get to see it, though, because I'm buried behind all the drums.
Does anything ever go wrong with the Eddies? I mean, they're basically big robots.
Things occasionally happen with the Eddies, yes—a stumble here or there. A gear gets caught. Three or four shows ago, I stood up to see what was going on. And there's the fetus, right by my head. It scared me to death. I should probably know where the fetus is from now on.
Is that an umbilical cord hanging down on your drum kit?
It's above me, but yeah, it's an umbilical cord. I probably need to watch out for that thing, as well. There's a walkway up there; it's Bruce's domain. It's quite a theatrical set.
Your drum kit is so huge, have you ever thought about scaling down to a smaller kit?
The band won't let me. It is harder these days to get all the way around the thing on the toms. But everything is right where it needs to be for me. At one point, someone was trying to get me to add cymbals, but I told him, "There's no more room."
How does the tour feel so far? How have you all been playing?
Tour's been great. We're having fun, and the fans are having fun, and that's the important thing. There have been lots of shots so far of the good-looking drummer on the big screen up there [laughs]. It's still a great feeling after all these years to have a great show, and it's still a bad feeling when you don't play so well [laughs].
Your album Powerslave raised me as a seventh grader. Maiden's 14-minute adaptation of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was the greatest 14 minutes of my life when I heard it. Thank you for that. Thanks for talking. I'll tell my mom you said hello and that you're not an evil satanist.
And tell her about the golf. That will help. I'm glad Rime of the Ancient Mariner was there for you. That's why we do it! Thanks for having me.