Interview with Bruce Dickinson of Skunkworks

I spoke to Bruce Dickinson about the transition from Maiden to Skunkworks, the new album, and touring plans. Here're the excerpts of our conversation.

The name Skunkworks comes from the Lockheed Martin project that built the U-2 (the aircraft that penetrated the Iron Curtain), the SR-71 Blackbird, and the F-117A Stealth Fighter. The choice came about presumably a result of Bruce's interest in aircraft. Lockeed Martin itself got its name from Al Capp's "Li'l Abner" comic strip which featured the "Skonk Works", where Appalachian hillbillies ground up skunks, old shoes, and other foul-smelling ingredients to brew fearsome drinks and other products. This could well be a description of the latest offering from Skunkworks, the band, which mixes some amazing guitar work with just the right amount of processing, vocal gymnastics, and features a strong rhythm section, making for a potent musical brew.

Bruce referred to Skunkworks as "an advanced garage band." About 7 years ago, he saw guitarist Alex Dickson play in a pub around where he lives and "was completely blown away." After he left Maiden, he found himself asking "now what?" He then heard that Alex had been thrown of the band that he was in (named Gun) and Bruce jumped at the opportunity to get together and write music with him.

Finding Dickson, according to Bruce, "was like finding a soulmate." All the tracks in the Skunkwords album were composed solely by the two of them (with exception of Innerspace, where bassist Chris Dale contributed his talents also). Perhaps the similarity in their last names has something to do with it. Once they both got together, they soon recruited Dale and Alessandro Elena (for the drums), and Skunkworks was born.

People might claim leaving Iron Maiden was Bruce's biggest mistake in his life. Bruce apparently was a bit apprehensive about the Skunkworks project, but when the band members all got together and jammed, his fears were a alleviated. The band produced a lot of music (22 tracks in total) in 7.5 weeks. Of these 22, 13 are on the Skunkworks album, and a couple of them have been released as B-sides. One of the B-sides, Americans are Behind, has apparently provoked some controversy, but Bruce said that they were the result of "people with no sense of humour." The song is about time-zones.

Bruce said that he is trying fairly hard to shake the image of his past with Iron Maiden. He was quick to point out that Bruce Dickinson is the lead singer of Skunkworks, not the former singer of Iron Maiden. He said he left Maiden because "some what what he was doing was a parody of himself." When I mentioned to him that some the vocals on Skunkworks sounded a bit like the vocals on Samson, he agreed, saying he "wanted to get rid of the Pavrotti/Operatic stuff and wanted to sound a bit like the stuff I used to do before I joined Maiden."

He cited early Paul Rodgers and Chris Cornell as a vocal influence for this project, though he said Arthur Brown, of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown fame, has had a great influence on his Iron Maiden vocal style, particularly the operatic screaming. He mentioned doing a cover of their 1967 hit Fire. His recommendation, if you like that kind of operatic vocals, is to chance a listen to The Crazy World.

We talked a bit about the current music scene, and his current favourite bands are Monster Magnet, a little band in England called Skyscraper on a small indie label called Dinosupreme, and Dub War. In an interview early this year, he had mentioned that he was looking forward to the release of Deep Purple's Purpendicular. Now that he's gotten a chance to hear it, his favourite tune is The Aviator. He said he was amazed by their show live. Apparently Skunkworks' drummer "creamed his pants" when he saw Ian Paice's drumming. He also mentioned that he, Alex, and Dougie White (the current singer for Rainbow) all used to perform Deep Purple covers at a local pub.

In what seems like a general trend among artists signed to Castle, Dickinson stated his dislike for Major Labels: "Castle is a very cool label to be on. There's nothing a Major [Label] can do that Castle isn't doing, and Castle is spending one-tenth of the money that a Major Label does. Major Labels blow all their money massively and blame it on the band."

With regards to rumours about his amazing guitar playing, he said his guitar work is "dreadful." Drumming apparently was his first love, and he feels he's a better drummer than guitarist, but he switched to vocals early on since he "couldn't drive a car and couldn't afford a drumkit." He also doesn't seem to think much of interactive CDs, saying that, like Pink Floyd (who've apparently refused to release an interactive CD), he prefers to "let the medium speak for itself." He thinks the X Factor is a decent album, but that Maiden should change musical styles to fit Blaze Bayley's vocal style, just as they did when Bruce replaced Paul Di'anno.

Skunkworks will begin touring this Saturday, and they plan to come out to the U.S. in August. Bruce said they will be touring their "brains out." They will be playing one Maiden tune, and this'll be the first time that has happened since Bruce left the band. So keep an eye out for them, and check the album out!

Music ram-blings || Ram Samudrala || || August 4, 1996