IRON MAIDEN… Arguably the most seminal heavy metal band in the annals of music history. The solely mention of its name strikes joy in the hearts of millions of metal fans, and immediately your mind takes you back to one of their gigs, with of giants columns of pyro, Spitfire planes flying overhead the frenzy audience, special effects and ever-evolving stage sets, endless incarnations of mascot Eddie… and you can’t help but to start humming one of their most beloved songs, whichever came to mind at the moment from their revered career and extensive catalog… Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
What I’m 100% sure you will never think of is FISHING…
“Monsters of River and Rock: My Life as Iron Maiden’s Compulsive Angler” was released in November, and consists of the memoirs of Adrian Smith, arguably the most melodic guitar player in the band. The focus is primarily on fishing, the hobby he chose to pursue even while touring, but as admitted by Adrian, the end result is “70% fishing and 30% music”. With valuable information about his formative years, joining Iron Maiden, touring the world and recording some of the most memorable solos in the history of metal, the book will equally keep metal fans and fishing enthusiasts entertained.
Sonic Perspectives collaborator Rodrigo Altaf has been a fan of Iron Maiden since he saw the first Rock in Rio on TV in early 1985. Since he started writing about music and interviewing artists, speaking with someone from Maiden became some sort of a life goal. Here he is now, talking to Adrian Smith about writing his book, working with Martin Birch, fan encounters and much more. Find out everything they talked about in the link / video below – or read the full interview transcript – and remember that for more interviews and other daily content, Sonic Perspectives is on Facebook, Flipboard, Twitter and YouTube, where you can be notified about new content we publish on a daily basis.
Hi Adrian, it’s great to have you here with us.
Ah, thank you, thanks for having me!
We’re here to promote your recent book, “Monsters of River and Rock”. Was it always a goal of yours to write this book?
Well, not really. It just sort of came about in the last couple of years. The book is actually already released, I think it came out in North America on the 3rd of September – no, sorry, 3rd of November. And it was just something I was encouraged to do, and once I started doing it, I found it just kind of flowed out. But no, I never had a goal to write a fishing book before [laughs]
And how long did it take you to read the whole thing from a first draft up to the final result?
Well, um, it was probably over a period of a couple of years, you know, there were months where I couldn’t do it, but I kind of saved my writing for when I was on the road with the band. We get a lot of downtimes in hotels and on planes and waiting around. So I did actually did a lot of it on the road.
And instead of the typical biography you chose to talk about fishing with sprinkles of information about your life in the music business. Was it a concern of yours to try and balance these subjects or not?
Well, it started out as purely a fishing book and then I just thought it would make it a bit more interesting [to mix up these two subjects]. I’ve done a lot of fishing all over the world – I’ve been an angler since I can remember, you know, since I was a little child. But I thought I’d do a sort of timeline from when I was very young. I was into fishing and football and stuff like that – soccer. And then I discovered music when I was about 15 and I gave up everything else and just concentrated on the music. And I’ve got back into fishing when I went to join Iron Maiden funny enough [laughs]. I didn’t fish for about ten years, I just concentrated on trying to make it as a musician. And when I joined Iron Maiden, it turned out that Clive Burr, our drummer at the time was the same as me. He was a very keen angler as well, but he hadn’t gone for a while. So we started to go fishing and that’s how we rediscovered our love of it really, and I didn’t look back!
On a side note, it was great of you to include a glossary at the end, for those of us who are not a hundred percent familiar with the fishing terms, but I’d say it’s an entertaining book for anglers, even if one completely ignores our history with Maiden, wouldn’t you agree?
Well, I was surprised because there’s quite a lot of non-fishing content, I’d say it’s about 70/30. It was supposed to be a fishing book, but I just thought it’d be fun [to include the music stories], because a lot of my fishing experiences were on the road with Iron Maiden, or when we were recording in The Bahamas. We did quite a few albums at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas, and I started fishing there while we were recording the albums. So it’s a lot of things that are intertwined, and I managed to sort of connect two of my great passions, music and fishing. So there’s a lot of music stories, you know, there’s a chapter about New York, for example, when I go back to the first time I went there on the first ever American tour we did, with the band supporting Judas Priest. We were only in our early twenties, and I’d never been to America before. So I described all that, what it was like. And then we went down to Rio to do the first Rock in Rio Festival and came back to New York. We all got sick – we were supposed to do five nights at the Palladium, but we all got the flu! [laughs]. And then finally I come to how it is today – I never think about fishing in Manhattan when we play there, because it’s so oppressive and there’s so many people, but I thought I’ll try and go fishing in Central Park, so there’s a bit about that – about going bass fishing there, and just the crazy things that happened in the Park. So that’s a sort of a general flavor of the book: mixing up the music and fishing.
One of the most interesting chapters for me is the one you just alluded to when you talk about the very first Rock in Rio, because that was my introduction to Maiden. I was ten years old at the time, you know, I’m Brazilian! So I watched it on the TV. Can you reflect a little bit on that festival and then coming back many years later to play the same festival? And did you manage to fish in South America at all?
No, it’s very difficult to do anything in Rio because the fans are very passionate and like, even back in the first Rock in Rio they were outside of the hotel, and we couldn’t go out. I talk about it in the book, of how crazy it was [laughs]. Even when we sat out in the balcony having breakfast, there’d be people in the buildings and they were taking photos and looking at you through binoculars, you couldn’t do anything, let alone go fishing! There’s a thing on the documentary we did about Rio in 2000 where I go out to Copacabana Beach, but no, I didn’t go fishing. And Rock in Rio was very memorable at the time – it wasn’t so well organized as it is now, back then it was a bit chaotic. And I describe that in the book. Whitesnake and Queen were on the bill that day, and I came back from the stage after we finished our set and as we were passing Queen’s dressing room, I heard them rehearsing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” just the vocals and that was amazing!
Yeah! And the story I love the most is how you met Dave Murray and about the first songs you played together with you singing, do you guys often talk about that and reflect about how far you’ve come?
Well, it’s quite incredible that Dave Murray and I hooked up when we were around fifteen years old, maybe sixteen. We were probably the only two kids in our neighborhood who liked hard rock. We discovered Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix and all that. We used to ruin parties by putting on Deep Purple records, when all the kids wanted to listen to pop music. That’s how we found our common love of rock music and I describe in the book how we met, the first time we played together, Dave teaching me guitar and me singing. I think the first song we ever played together was “Silver Machine” by Hawkwind. My whole, yeah, I think it was another [inaudible]. I was an absolute thrill just hearing for the first time Dave playing electric guitar and he still has the same sound. It’s funny, but your sound doesn’t change no matter what guitar people use. The sound is in your hands and in your technique.
Absolutely. And who would you say is more obsessed with their own gear: anglers or guitar players?
Oh, that’s a very good question [laughs]. Guys in general, we love our toys, don’t we? [laughs]. I love music shops and I love fishing shops. I am a bit of a gear junkie, so I have a room where you cannot move, where I keep almost 50-60 rods…I love gear. As far as music equipment, I used to always be searching for the Holy Grail as far as an instrument and amplifier. But then I realized that it’s really in your head and in your hands, you know, it doesn’t matter really to a point what gear you use. It’s how you express yourself physically it’s not about technology. Having said that, I probably have about forty or fifty guitars [laughs].
In the, in the book you talk about being recognized in New Zealand and people talking about the Maiden lyrics. Have you gotten used to fan encounters over time? I mean, how do you react to it nowadays?
It depends. When you’re on the road you’re tired, you’ve done a lot of traveling, and I try to think that the hotel is my home away from home. I try and relax and I get some privacy – it’s very hard to find privacy. If one or two people come up to me and ask me in a civilized way, it’s no problem. But sometimes people come up to you and they grab hold of you and they get too excited, and there might be a lot of them. That’s difficult to handle, especially if you’re on your own. I don’t mind if one or two people come up to me and ask for an autograph, but it’s just hard to find a balance on the road. Obviously you want to be nice to your fans because they’re the ones who buy your records and go to concerts, but on the other end, you need your privacy as well. Otherwise you go out of your mind, you know?
Yeah, absolutely. Um, and you briefly mentioned in the book what it was like to work with Martin Birch. Can you tell us a little bit about how he helped shape the Maiden sound in the mid eighties?
It’s interesting you say that about shaping the sound. Martin wasn’t the sort of producer who would make you sound like “one” if you know what I mean? Some producers will have their own sound. Martin let us sound like we sounded. He just captured what we were, that was his strong point. His productions, weren’t bombastic and overproduced, they were very natural. To be quite honest, sometimes I had a problem with that. I thought we should sound a bit more bombastic, but that’s the way Martin did it, and that was his strength. Some of my favorite albums I’ve heard were produced by Martin. I think my favorite all-time album is probably [Deep Purple’s] “Machine Head”, and that’s what got me into music. I talk about that in the book as well. It has a very dry… it sounds like the band! And another of Martin’s strengths was sort of man management, which is very important for a producer. You got five personalities in the band, and you have to balance it and keep everybody happy and do the best for the overall outcome. So he was really good at that, you know, getting a good performance out of you.
That’s a good skill to have for a producer, for sure.
He was a bit crazy as well. He worked very hard and he used to play very hard as well. And there’s a few stories in the book about it.
Right! And you speak humbly in the book about Steve Harris embracing some of your song ideas like “Wasted Years”, “The Final Frontier”, “Isle of Avalon”… it seems to me sometimes you’re surprised at how much people enjoy your songs. Am I right in saying that?
Well, it’s still incredible to me that I’m in this position. It’s amazing that people want to listen to my songs, and I don’t get complacent. And then every time I sit down and write a song, I want to write the best songs I’ve ever written and I want people to like it. When you’re in a band – and I’ve always been a writer in every band I was in – you have to kind of open yourself up. When you sit down and play a song to another three or four guys, and they’re sitting there looking at you asking “come on man, what have you got?”. There’s a little pressure in it, you know? Especially in the old days before you did demos, you just had to sit down and play your song on an acoustic guitar and sing. So you really put yourself out there, but it’s the sort of thing you do if you want to make it as a musician. I’m pretty laid back by nature, but when it comes to music, I know I gotta put myself forward.
One thing you briefly addressed in the book is your musical adventures outside of Maiden, like ASAP, Psycho Motel and Primal Rock Rebellion. Do you think we can see that material being brought back to life, maybe touring in any capacity?
Yeah, the Psycho Motel stuff got remastered and re-released a while ago. There’s a lot of unreleased stuff I did when I wasn’t in Maiden. I’m still doing projects outside of the band, and I’ve got something coming out now, and the first track will be premiered on the 8th of December [Note: that is actually coming out on December 10th] – I’m doing a song with another guy, but it’s a secret at the moment. But yeah, I’m always doing stuff outside of the band. We have a lot of time off these days and I like to be busy and I like to be productive.
This year is the 40th anniversary of you joining Iron Maiden. Did you do anything to celebrate the occasion, or did that escape your mind completely?
Oh my God! I didn’t even think about it to be honest. [laughs]
That’s all right!
Forty years! I suppose it was around September time. I do remember joining the band very clearly. That’s another thing I talk about in the book. I was just walking down the street and bumped into Steve and Dave Murray. And they said “what are you doing, we might need someone in a little while”, and I said “yeah, give me a call”. Because they called me up a few months earlier and I was busy, I couldn’t do it. Of course after that they had like a number one album in England, they had toured with Kiss, and my band was breaking up. So I was lucky I bumped into them, and they asked me again to join, you know? So that four years ago…wow!
Yeah, a long time ago!
I was only 23 years old, you know, I was a little more than a kid, really.
Oh yeah! And is there anything else you would like to have included in the book, but was left out for any particular reason or not?
I didn’t want to overdo the music stuff because at some point there might be just a music autobiography. I’ve still got loads more stories and loads more stuff to write about. Like I said, I think the book was probably 30% non-fishing and 70% fishing. I think I’ve tried to write about fishing in a training way and get people who don’t fish an insight into why people go fishing and what the benefits are, what are the mental health benefits and that sort of thing. And then the physical benefits, fresh air…it’s such a crazy world, you know? We’ve become so engrossed in the digital world and it’s nice to get out into nature – is really important, and I try to emphasize that.
Final question for me: did revisit things and certain moments in your life teach you any lesson about where you are now while you were writing the book?
It’s almost therapeutic going back into your life, you know, all the things you’ve done and it’s, it’s quite something to write about, let alone putting it out there in front of people. I suppose when I was in the band in the first period, I probably didn’t appreciate it as much as I do now. I feel lucky to have had a second bite at the cherry. So I’m grateful for that. And I’m grateful my dad took me fishing when I was a kid, because it’s given me a lot of great memories over the years, and hopefully a few more to come.
Thank you for sharing that! Adrian, thank you so much for the interview. Enjoy the rest of the year, Merry Christmas, and I hope to see you on stage again, as soon as possible!
Thank you, take care! Bye!