Steve Harris: British Lion Band Keeps Me From Writing Long Songs
A glance at Iron Maiden's writing credits makes it no secret that Steve Harris has a thing for writing long songs. Over the last quarter century, when left on his own, he's shown a deeper affinity for these epics and, in his side band British Lion, his bandmates help to keep him from heading down the same path.
"Well, for some reason over the last few years I've been finding it a little difficult to actually keep songs short — they always end up being long," Harris admitted in our sit-down interview to discuss British Lion's second album, The Burning. "The British Lion guys, they rein things in and the way the songs are structured, they don't need the big, long parts," he continued, content to put his name to some more straight-forward, hard rocking songs.
So, how else does Harris differentiate his writing styles between the two bands? With British Lion, he's got the benefit of playing with a drummer who utilizes double kick drums, something Nicko McBrain abstains from in Iron Maiden, though he did use the technique on "Face in the Sand" off 2003's Dance of Death record.
"Usually, you have to play less otherwise it becomes a mess," said Harris. "You've actually got to work it out and not play against him, but play with him. That's what I find otherwise it becomes a battle and it's not so good." Despite McBrain's reluctance to discharge double bass, Harris laughed, explaining that the drummer's single-foot style is so fast, it's practically a double bass pattern anyway.
Now, onto the lyrics, which is another Harris specialty. We joked with him that sometimes we feel as if he's trying to kill Bruce Dickinson with the insanely challenging parts he comes up with (such as "The Red and the Black" off The Book of Souls), but he cleared the air, stating that he runs it by his singer first.
"Bruce has always had a little bit of a word here and there sometimes," Harris replied. "I'm not a singer and it's obvious I'm not a singer — I don't profess to be one either. But when I'm writing melodies, I write melodies and then I put words to the melodies and [Dickinson] has to sing them. I do actually go to him and say, 'Look, are you all right with this key?' and he usually goes, 'Yeah, yeah. It's fine,' and all that. He can sing up there with the lot — sounds only dogs can hear."
Richard Taylor, the singer in British Lion, has a remarkably different style — one with less pronounced power, but still highly melodic. The bassist divulged that he can throw most ideas at Taylor, who is plenty capable of hitting those high notes as well, but remarked that it's just not the singer's style and you've got to write for the singer you're working with.
It's Taylor who put his personal experiences of being orphaned as a child and later adopted, so there's a bit of a despondent feel. Still, some cheerier moments shine through and we asked Harris, after all he's accomplished and seen, what he's still learning about the world and what gives him hope for the future.
A proud parent, Harris expressed his excitement for what his kids are doing (Maiden notably took The Raven Age out on their "Legacy of the Beast" tour, which features his son, George, on guitar). Children are great, but it's grandchildren that he's really looking forward to. "Maybe one day," he hoped.
Our conversation wraps up, focusing on the magnitude of Iron Maiden's activities compared to those of British Lion, as they'll be embarking on their first-ever U.S. tour in 2020. It turns out, it's British Lion that keeps him even busier than Maiden, as he books the hotels on tour and plays the role of tour manager. Where does he get all this energy?
Watch the full interview at the top of the page.
British Lion's The Burning comes out Jan. 17. Pre-order your copy here and catch the band on their U.S. run at the dates listed below. And look for Maiden to resume their "Legacy of the Beast" tour at these stops later in the year.
British Lion 2020 Tour Dates
Jan. 18 - Orlando, Fla. @ Ace Café
Jan. 19 - Tampa, Fla. @ Brass Mug
Jan. 20 - Pensacola, Fla. @@ Vinyl Music Hall
Jan. 22 - Houston, Texas @ Scout Bar
Jan. 24 - San Antonio, Texas @ The Rock Box
Jan. 25 - Dallas, Texas @ Trees
Jan. 26 - Memphis, Tenn. @ Growlers
Jan. 28 - Nashville, Tenn. @ The Cowan
Jan. 29 - Joliet, Ill. @ The Forge
Jan. 31 - Cleveland, Ohio @ The Odeon
Feb. 01 - Lexington, Ky. @ Manchester Music Hall
Feb. 04 - Atlanta, Ga. @ The Masquerade
Feb. 05 - Jacksonville, Fla. @ Jack Rabbits
Feb. 08-13 - Monsters Of Rock Cruise
Feb. 15 - Fort Lauderdale, Fla. @ Revolution Live
Feb. 17 - Savannah, Ga. @ Victory North
Feb. 18 - Greensboro, N.C. @ The Cone Denim
Feb. 19 - Lancaster, Pa. @ Chameleon Club
Feb. 20 - New York, N.Y. @ Gramercy Theatre
See Steve Harris in the Top 66 Hard Rock + Metal bassists of All Time