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Maiden United

There's a new Iron Maiden compilation album coming out. Once again. This time EMI had the brilliant idea to bring out 'From Fear To Eternity: The best of 1990-2010' next May. If it was up to me, they should place Maiden United's 'Mind The Acoustic Pieces' from A to Z on that compilation. Because I haven't been so enthusiastic about a Maiden album since 'Somewhere In Time', and it will also make that useless compilation album a little bit useful. Maiden United is a largely Dutch-based project and on their album they blew new life into Maiden's classic 'Piece Of Mind'. And what kind of new life! Although it's acoustic, you definitely must put your prejudice and narrow-mindedness about acoustic and cover songs aside, and enjoy the enchanting reinterpretations of the Maiden classics, with Damian Wilson on lead vocals and Anneke van Giersbergen (Agua De Annique/ex-The Gathering) as a special guest on 'To Tame A Land'. Finally a cover band that really adds something to the songs. Brain and bassist behind this project is Joey Bruers. He tells you all about this project, and even the interview-shy Damian Wilson was willing to answer a few questions.

By: Evil Dr. Smith | Archive under heavy / power metal

First you founded Up The Irons in 2000, a conventional and quite successful Maiden coverband in Holland, and now there's also Maiden United. If there's one Maiden fan that's dedicating his life and love for this band, it must be you. At least the last ten years of your life. So tell me, how and when did your Maiden worship started in the first place? What went wrong in your life?
Joey: Nothing went wrong my friend (haha). It all started by the album 'Live After Death'. I was ten years and I was completely overwhelmed by the artwork. “This must be an amazing band!” was the only thing on my mind at that time. And I can tell, it still is! For sure! I became a fan, started collecting all the artwork (and later on the music, haha). Two years later I saw the video of this very same concert and I decided to play bass. Steve was my hero. He wrote so many songs I liked and his attitude was the best. Completely overwhelmed by music, artwork, stage design and show. This was my band! They were my hero's, no doubt about that. In 2001 I went to 'Long Beach Arena' (LA) just to visit the temple. The funny thing is that I did this together with Ruud Jolie [guitarist Within Temptation – EDS]. Now we are both completely involved in Maiden United. Visiting 'Long Beach Arena' was one of my first Maiden Pilgrimage. 'Mind The Acoustic Pieces' is one of the last Maiden pilgrimages I did. The biggest Maiden pilgrimage I ever started is Up The Irons: my Iron Maiden Tribute Band. Up The Irons brought me deeply into the songs, the music and the structure of Iron Maiden. I visited places (read: in the songs, the notes, the music) where not a lot fans went to. So many beautiful moments came into my life. It is Maiden United where I would like to share these moments with my bloodbrothers and –daughters. 'Mind The Acoustic Pieces' went straight to the heart of the Iron Maiden tracks. That's what so beautiful on this album. I can tell you, I went there with lots of other Maiden songs. This is just a piece…trust me…

On the other hand, Eddie's advocate would say: the last ten years you're busy playing other people's material. Don't you have ideas of yourself and a life of your own?
You'll have to know that I play Iron Maiden songs as a fan. Not as a 'rock artist'. Every show of Up The Irons is a real celebration of Iron Maiden music. We are just fans, nothing more then that and we would like to have a party with all the other Iron Maiden fans. We are all Blood brothers and –daughters. And like I said before with Maiden United I would like to share the heart of the Maiden tracks with the fans. We would like to unite all kinds of people to Iron Maiden. It's a present I would like to give to my friends.

In 2006 you were asked to do a special show for a Iron Maiden fan club. Was it the organisation's idea to play Iron Maiden unplugged, or was it yours? How did you get this idea developed and who helped you out back then?
I had this idea for more than a year at that time, but I never knew how to give this to the world of Maidenism. This invitation of the Iron Maiden Fan Club was the ideal situation to get this idea to the real world. I was a bit afraid. Afraid to been shot by the fans. I knew there was a high risk. They would like it or they wouldn't and they would shoot me…but lucky me…they understood what I did, they liked it, they liked it very much, they supported me, they are real fans, we became one and we can be very proud to our selves… The songs during that show had already new arrangements. I did this with several different musicians. It was not the complete Up The Irons line-up back then. The funny thing is that I asked Jos Severens for this Maiden United show and he became later on the lead singer of Up The Irons later on.

Eddie's advocate notices: In 2006 there was also a guy named Thingfishy who recorded the complete oeuvre of Iron Maiden in an acoustic way. Did you knew this Thingfishy and did you steal this idea from him?
No, we haven't heard from Thingfishy until we started the recordings of 'Mind The Acoustic Pieces'. So we didn't steal his idea. We both did Iron Maiden on an acoustic way, but we did this not in the same way. Our projects are totally different to each other.

But why took it another four years to come up with the album since that show on the Maiden fan club day?
There were so many ideas, so many songs we did and it was not that easy to arrange the songs to the best we wanted. We had some big fights with some songs, for example 'Quest For Fire' which turned out to my favourite on the album. Then we searched for the best musicians for this album. When we completed the line-up we made a lot of demo's and it took another ten months to record the album.

How on Earth did you manage to get one of the best (hard) rock singers in your band: Damian Wilson? Because this amiable man with the superb voice isn't nowhere as popular and famous as the man he “imitates” - although he should be (at least) as legendary as Bruce – and is therefore still approachable??
Like I said Ruud and I searched for the best musicians there could be for this album. And like you said Damian is one of the best singers on this planet. Ruud and I are real fans from Damian for such a long time and we thought that his voice would be the best for this album. We gave him a call. He came to our studio, just to make some demo's and see what happens. After two songs we stopped recording. It was clear, very clear to the three of us. We had to do this together! …and so we did…

Does Damian know that his performance on your arrangement of 'Flight Of Icarus' made the song better than the original? If not: tell him!
Well, I think I have to tell him… no I've got a better idea: You have to tell him! For sure…
We are jokin' all the time to each other, so he don't think it's serious if I tell him.

That's a good idea Joey. I'm going to Damian right now, talk to you later Joey. Hello Damian. Thanks to you, I think that 'Flight Of Icarus' never sounded so good, not even on the original album!
Damian: Thanks for your kind words.

When Joey/Maiden United asked you to join the project, did you need much time to think to say yes?
I wouldn't say I jumped at it. I really didn't want to be doing a tribute band. I'm terrible at impersonations, others are far better at that than me. The 'Piece of Mind' album was my introduction to Iron Maiden, so when I realised the intention was to record an acoustic interpretation I was interested. I didn't really know Joey too well or the other guys but I knew Ruud, and the fact he was involved was the true reason. He's a good man and fine musician. I knew we'd have some fun and create some great music. I couldn't say no.

In the early nineties there was a short moment and a slight chance that you could be the new singer for Iron Maiden. Eventually the job went to Blaze. What feeling does it give you to sing these songs, considering there was once a moment you actually were singing these Maiden songs together with the real Steve, Nicko, Dave and Janick? A feeling like: “Finally!” or is there deep down in your heart also some kind of mixed feelings?
No, I don't think I felt any feelings like that. They seem like different songs now. It's just as great to be playing with these guys as Iron Maiden. And I mean this genuinely: I prefer the opportunity, for example, of playing with Marco than say Steve Harris. The guys are great musicians and I get a real buzz playing off them.

What's the funniest inside/backstage joke in Maiden United about having (the rejected) third Iron Maiden singer in the band? Or do the others have too much respect for you?
Maiden United are very respectful. They only ever take the piss behind my back - never to my face.

Have you already heard a reaction from the Iron Maiden camp about Maiden United and your performance?
Not personally I haven't.

Okay Damian, thanks. I'm going back to Joey now. Joey, both Marco Kuypers and Mike Coolen are playing in Cloudmachine (and Mike also plays in Within Temptation). Also Damian and guitarist Ruud Jolie (Within Temptation) aren't unemployed lazy bones. Does this mean that it's difficult to organise live shows with Maiden United?
Everyone takes Maiden United very serious, but yes indeed it's very difficult, but I think we are doing a great job in these numbers of shows. We will tour in short periods, but that's fine for us. We have a wonderful team with the band and crew! We liked to go on tour with each other, so on that side it isn't difficult at all. We have to deal with our other bands, that's true, but we will tour as much as possible with Maiden United.

You choose for 'Piece Of Mind'. Why particularly this one? Because Maiden fans generally consider this as Maiden's best (while others might choose for 'Number Of The Beast' of 'Seventh Son')?
That's exactly the reason why: because I think it's the best album! And also Ruud and Damian think that 'Piece Of Mind' is the best album of Maiden.

Not only you played the songs “just” acoustic, many songs have a really different vibe and atmosphere. Who decides what kind of “feeling” the song must create? Is this all worked out behind the writing table, or a mutual progress between the band members by rehearsing, sharing files, e-mails, etc?
We never had any rehearsal together before we recorded the album. It was all in Ruud's and my mind. When we pushed the red button for recording we spitted all our ideas. The other guys made the songs even better and more beautiful. They putted the cream on top. 'Die With Your Boots On' is a perfect example of a song which is in my mind for years and years. I wrote the bass line and the drum parts many years ago. I knew the vocal line in my head. Damian made it even better. Marco did a great job translating the vibe I heard in my head for several years. When Damian decided to join Maiden United for this album I started to arrange 'Revelations'. At one point I came up with this idea to open up this song with a cappella intro of Damian. It became one of the highlights on the album. It is one of the highlights during the live shows as well.

By the way: You fucked up the running order! Blasphemy! Strange though… Never satisfied with the original track running order of “Peace Of Mind'?
When you re-arrange the songs, you have to re-arrange the running order as well to create the best album. But we opened up with 'Eagles' and finishes the album with 'To Tame a Land' like the original album. I think the outro of “To Tame' is the most beautiful outro we could make. Do you agree?

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Well… the album is one minute shorter than 'Piece Of Mind', and that's mainly because of that outro of 'To Tame A Land'. I'm really impressed by your version of what I think is the best song Iron Maiden ever made, but I'm not sure what to think of the (a cappella) fade out. Why using 'the fade out', a controversial thing in the metal scene anyway?
First of all: Thanks for the compliments! We used the fade-out because we didn't want to end the album (haha). It was such a wonderful time recording the album. By the way the outro is not a capella, but a canon with Damian and Anneke and Ruud playing guitar. The canon goes on and on and is still going on…mark my words.

Before you contacted Anneke van Gierbergen, you already “knew” you wanted to recreate that song for a duet. Why this song particularly and was it difficult to get Anneke “back in the (metal-less) metal scene”? ;-0
Anneke has got the most beautiful female voice I've ever heard. And it's true that I had the idea before we recorded the track. We had a demo of this track already including the canon. We contacted Anneke for the obvious reasons, explained our idea to her and she was in. The funny thing about re-metaling Anneke was the idea to record 'Sun and Steel'. We would like to do something really different to her then she's used to be. We had a lot of fun recording these lyrics with her in front of the mic. This track is on the B-side of our single 'The Trooper'.

What is her share on stage? Does she only sing those two songs on stage and is her presence for the rest only for “bacon and beans”?
Anneke will sing some more songs with us on stage. Her voice is too beautiful for only two songs. Being on stage together with Anneke is a pleasure for every musician. We will keep her on stage as long as possible…is that okay?

Alright, if you really want to… You also play acoustic Maiden songs from other albums on stage. Does this mean we might expect more albums in the future? Albums like 'The Acoustic Numbers Of The Beast', 'Behind The Acoustic Curtain', 'Unpowerslave', 'Acoustic After Death?', 'Somewhere Unplugged', 'Fear Of The Electric', 'No Plugged For The Dying', 'A Brave Unplugged World', (et cetera!)? Or does this depend on the results of this one?
You give me some real ideas! (haha) Uhm…yes, it depends on this album. We have a lot of other tracks recorded for demo's. I have a lot of new ideas on my mind (we are for instance busy with 'Rime Of The Ancient Mariner'), but first of all we are fully dedicated to 'Mind The Acoustic Pieces'. First of all let's have some fun with this album…

Am I right that you don't play Paul Di'Anno songs, let alone songs from the Blaze period? For the Blaze period I can imagine, but brilliant songs like 'Remember Tomorrow' and especially 'Prodigal Son' are almost (semi-)acoustic anyway, and haven't been played for decades by Maiden. Or what about killer songs as… 'Killers', 'Phantom Of The Opera', 'Prowler' and 'Innocent Exile'? I think it would be great to hear the more punkish Maiden with your arrangements.
We have some Di'Anno songs on demo tape, so don't worry about that. 'Drifter' and 'Burning Ambition' for example. And I can tell you that we have Blaze songs as well! Not every Maiden fan likes the Blaze period, but I can tell you that there are brilliant songs on these two records. Maybe one day we will surprise you…

Unfortunately I missed your first tour last December. Next April Maiden United will do a second club tour in Holland, and also a couple of shows in the UK. I'm glad to see that Anneke recently confirmed her participation on all shows, but not (yet?) on the UK shows. Why not? Finn doesn't allow her? ;-)
Anneke is a very busy musician. She's playing a lot. We are very pleased that she confirmed all the Dutch shows. When all is possible she will join us in the UK as well…

For the people who have seen you already: do you play the same setlist, or will people see other/new Maiden interpretations as well?
We will play the entire album and some other songs as well. In December we played 'Wasted Years', 'The Evil That Men Do' and 'Children of the Damned'. In April we will play some other tracks. Like I said before we have a lot of demo's, a lot to choose for the live-shows…, but maybe we will play one of these tracks again…we'll find out during the rehearsals.

After Holland and the UK: what's next? I've understand that you are very satisfied, even surprised, by the global interest in Maiden United. But is it enough to take a 'flight 666' as well?
There is a lot of interest from all over world. There will be a bigger tour planned in the (near) future. More about that when all is clear. I negotiate with different managements of the musicians when and how the tour can be planned. We really want to unite the whole planet to Maiden and really want to go out there. But first of all the second tour in April and August 4th we will play at the huge Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany! Keep an eye on our website and tour dates for further details.

The album will also be released on vinyl. A question for the collectors: When, how limited and will it have a gatefold sleeve (with the band sitting on a table, eating a vegetarian meal as a little parody on the original inner sleeve)?
The vinyl album will be released in April 2011. The pre-order started in March 2011. It has a gatefold sleeve, but no band around the table and no vegi-food! The vinyl album has a limited number of 400 items. Yes, only 400. That's the issue of Limited Editions. Keeps the album very special! Maiden United is not about selling as much albums as possible if you know what I mean. And all the names of the fans who ordered the album in the pre-sale last November will be printed in the sleeve.

It seems that Blaas Of Glory will play at The Gelredome, Arnhem at the eight of June – maybe as some kind of intermezzo act between the other bands. Wasn't it a better idea to contract Maiden United, or aren't you available on that day, because you have a day off and having a good time at the exact same place?
Well…, should be a good idea! (haha) One thing is for sure, I'm there. On stage or off stage…it will be one hell of a good time! Maiden! Maiden! Maiden!

Normally I dislike the following type of questions, but not when it's about Iron Maiden and answered by a Maiden cover band from a Maiden freak. Joey, what are your five favourite Maiden songs?
1. 'Flight of Icarus'
2. 'Drifter'
3. 'Caught Somewhere in Time'
4. 'Montsegur'
5. 'Seventh Son of a Seventh Son'

Your favourite Derek Riggs artwork.
'The Number of the Beast', I've tattooed this one on my arm…

Your favourite Steve Harris bass part.
'The Prophecy'.

Your LEAST favourite (80s) Iron Maiden song, and why.
I have no least favourite from the '80's. That's true… If I have to choose a least favourite song I have to choose 'Weekend Warrior'.

Do you think Janick Gers is a useful addition to the 21st Century version of Iron Maiden, or would he be more useful if he reunites White Spirit?
A lot of people don't like Janick and/or his stage performance. But I like him very much. He is a great player and I like his energy. The way he plays the twin-lines is brilliant. He is one of the real members for me. I've met him and trust me, he is a real nice guy!

Your most curious and/or precious item in your Iron Maiden collection.
'The Trooper' cassette in a vinyl sleeve or 'Live After Death' with another band on the B-side, but the most precious item is the team photo with me in the Maiden Football Team, sitting next to Steve. We won this game with 3-1!!!

Legendary icons like Peter Steele, Ronnie James Dio and Gary Moore recently left us: what do you feel when Steve Harris suddenly dies?
Do not wanna think about that. I grew up with Steve, he became really a part of my life. I decided to play bass because of him and playing the bass changes my life a lot. Steve is really important for me in several ways. Let's celebrate that every Maiden member is still alive!!!

I also ask Damian a couple of this type of questions. Damian, what's your favourite Maiden song to perform?
'Revelations'

Is that also the most difficult one, or is that another one?
None are difficult if you enjoy singing them. Difficulty in life is the struggle, when you enjoy what you are doing nothing seems challenging.

Do you have a veto right? For instance: if the other guys want to perform 'Can I Play With Madness' for the upcoming tour, then you're allowed to say: “No way guys, I will never sing that piece of shit in my life!”?
I'm sure if I felt strongly about a song they would hear me out, but I can't think of any Iron Maiden track I wouldn't try.

To conclude: are you also a little bit in love with Anneke, or shall I leave out the "little bit" part?
I'm deeply in love.

Aren't we all?

Maiden United:
Damian Wilson (aka Damian Dickinson)
Joey Bruers (aka Joey Harris)
Ruud Jolie (aka Ruud Murray)
Marco Kuypers (aka Marco Gers-Smith)
Mike Coolen (aka Mike McBrain)
Special guest: Anneke van Giersbergen (aka Eddie's mistress)

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