Balls To Pi­casso

Metal Hammer (UK) - - Bruce Dickinson -

Bruce Dick­in­son wasn’t con­tem­plat­ing be­com­ing a full-time solo artist when he be­gan work on Balls To Pi­casso in 1992, though by the time of the al­bum’s trou­bled com­ple­tion two years later, Iron Maiden’s swash­buck­ling lead singer knew that he had no al­ter­na­tive but to leave the band.

“I’d taken [my time with] Maiden as far as I could with­out hav­ing some mighty con­fronta­tion,” he told Ham­mer at the time. “You start in­vok­ing par­al­lels about lead­ing horses to wa­ter, and you can­not ex­pect the whole band to aban­don ev­ery­thing and do some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent.”

By 1994, Bruce had recorded the al­bum three times, each at­tempt

dis­tanc­ing him fur­ther from Maiden’s well-de­fined, foot-on-the-mon­i­tor te­rri­tory. A first ef­fort, re­tain­ing Chris Tsan­garides (who’d worked with Bruce on his 1990 solo de­but, Tat­tooed Mil­lion­aire) and us­ing Lon­don hard rock­ers Skin as his back­ing band was quickly scrapped for be­ing nowhere near rad­i­cal enough. The Seat­tle ex­plo­sion had left metal in a tail­spin, and the last thing Bruce sought was re­peat­ing him­self with a car­bon copy of Maiden; he had to chal­lenge him­self and his au­di­ence. An ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the for­mer Ge­n­e­sis singer Peter Gabriel com­pelled him to make Balls To Pi­casso deeper, darker and more pro­gres­sivesound­ing than any­thing to that point.

“I wanted to use per­cus­sion and dif­fer­ent rhythms in a way that’s

never been done be­fore,” he ex­plained. “What’s been lack­ing in this form of mu­sic for so many years is groove. Things just be­came reg­i­mented into what’s now the ‘Maiden gal­lop’ or the ‘AC/DC plod’.”

Next up, Bruce jet­ted to Los An­ge­les to work with Keith Olsen, but the Whites­nake/Ozzy Os­bourne pro­ducer still couldn’t cap­ture the left-of-field ideas buzzing around in Bruce’s head. “I tried to stay away from scream­ing metal… and it was sort of me, but I missed the gui­tars,” he smiled.

With the Ozzy col­lab­o­ra­tor re­moved from the pic­ture, per­haps out of des­per­a­tion, Keith’s en­gi­neer, Shay Baby, took over the con­sole. And then a bolt of light­ning struck. Hav­ing mis­read his diary and on a day that he shouldn’t even have been at the stu­dio, Bruce met pro­ducer and gui­tarist Roy Z, who was mix­ing some songs from his own band, Tribe Of Gyp­sies – an East LA troupe whose mu­sic mixed hard rock and funk with Latin flavours.

“When Roy played me the Tribe,

I was blown away,” ex­plained Bruce. “They had great style, great songs.

They were a real street band with awe­some pres­ence.”

Roy was about to be­come a piv­otal fig­ure in the singer’s life. Af­ter forg­ing an in­stant connection, Bruce en­gaged Tribe Of Gyp­sies’ bass player, Ed­die Casil­las, drum­mer David In­gra­ham and per­cus­sion­ist Doug van Booven to per­form on what had to be one fi­nal stab at mak­ing the record, flying them in to work at Lon­don’s Metropo­lis Stu­dios.

“Af­ter scrap­ping the first two al­bums I went to the ac­coun­tant to find out how many pen­nies were left in the piggy bank,” Bruce re­vealed. “The an­swer was not many at all. I’ve got two kids and a third on the way, but you’ve got to do what you be­lieve in, so bol­locks.”

It all amounted to one last throw of the dice, es­pe­cially as Bruce was dead set on mak­ing mu­sic that pushed the en­ve­lope. Around him, man­age­ment and record com­pany were try­ing to ex­ert pres­sure in favour of a more tra­di­tion­ally metal-ori­en­tated sound.

“Look,” the­o­rises Roy Z to­day, “if you’re go­ing to go to Ve­gas and put ev­ery­thing you have on a num­ber, then pick your own num­ber – don’t use anyone else’s.”

De­spite the above state­ment, Roy now ad­mits that as far as pos­si­ble he did try to push the mu­sic back to­wards more recog­nis­able ter­ri­tory – “within the foundation­s of the sit­u­a­tion I snuck in some metal here and there; when

I could, I did. But the whole thing was a puz­zle for me,” he ad­mits, re­fer­ring to Bruce’s strongly iden­ti­fied sta­tus at that time. “You don’t change the colour of Coca Cola.”

But still, the ex­ter­nal co­er­cion con­tin­ued. One morn­ing Bruce awoke to find that some­body, pre­sum­ably from Mer­cury Records, who would later drop the singer when the com­pany down­sized, had pushed a copy of the 1976 Aero­smith al­bum Rocks un­der his ho­tel room door, along with a note say­ing: “Some­thing like this would be good.” The sheer im­per­ti­nence made Bruce irate, but he and Roy Z har­nessed the ex­pe­ri­ence as a pos­i­tive force to in­spire one of the al­bum’s best songs – later a Top 40 sin­gle in the UK.

“We took the piss out of the sit­u­a­tion with a song called Shoot All The Clowns, be­cause those guys are clowns,” Roy seethes. “Don’t fucking tell us how to write.”

What emerged was a fu­sion of drum­ming so pre­cise it could have been me­chan­i­cal and blis­ter­ingly heavy gui­tars. It’s best summed up on its hyp­notic, eerily in­hu­man open­ing track, Cy­clops, which we can now con­sider a sin­is­ter warn­ing of to­day’s CCTV-mon­i­tored so­ci­ety.

“Oh, it’s all real drum­mers, ex­cept for a very cheap drum ma­chine which goes ‘ping!’ and chips away at the back of your brain,” Bruce in­sisted back then. “There’s not a sam­ple or a key­board on the record; it’s all real.”

In­deed, the ro­botic ‘voice’ fea­tured on Cy­clops be­longed to Roy Z. “That’s


me talk­ing through the pick-ups of my guitar,” he re­veals now.

“Three of the al­bum’s songs were writ­ten on a free­way with Roy play­ing a tape of riffs on the car stereo, and me scream­ing along,” Bruce guf­fawed. “Roy was hold­ing the tape recorder there… it was a won­der we weren’t fucking killed.”

The cen­tre­piece of Balls To Pi­casso was its grandiose, six-minute epic, Tears Of The Dragon, the only sur­vivor of each of the al­bum’s in­car­na­tions. Orig­i­nally ti­tled ‘Pen­dragon’s Day’, it was reti­tled and rewrit­ten about six times (ac­cord­ing to Bruce) for the Keith Olsen ses­sions, and even recorded with a full or­ches­tra be­fore Roy per­suaded him to al­low one last stab at get­ting it right.

“The band had gone home but Roy sug­gested we get Dicki [Fliszar, Skin drum­mer] in for a day and Roy would do all the gui­tars and play bass,” Bruce

re­called. “And it turned out ex­actly how I en­vis­aged it.”

When Ham­mer spoke to Bruce back in ’94, the singer wasn’t aware of if Steve Har­ris had heard the fin­ished record, laugh­ing when this writer in­formed him that we had in­ter­viewed Maiden’s bassist re­cently, and that he was


un­will­ing to be quoted on the sub­ject. In fact, Steve seemed to agree with an­other writer who’d pre­dicted that Bruce would make “a bad Peter Gabriel al­bum.” “Steve did hear the Olsen stuff,” Bruce clar­i­fied, “and I think he found my go­ing off and chang­ing deeply wor­ry­ing ’cos it dis­turbed the or­der of his uni­verse. Steve does like things to obey the nat­u­ral laws.”

Balls… peaked at Num­ber 21 in the UK chart. With hind­sight, the de­lay in its mak­ing could now pos­si­bly be seen as for­tu­itous. Af­ter the apex of grunge, rock had its shack­les off and artists could be seen to do any­thing they wanted; along with grunge’s own sur­vivors, the big­gest rock records of ’94 came from artists as var­ied as Nine Inch Nails to The Off­spring. To­day, Roy agrees that had Balls… emerged two years ear­lier, in the eye of the Seat­tle storm, such an im­pact would have been un­likely. “Yeah,” he af­firms, “some­times tim­ing is ev­ery­thing.”

The down­side of the sit­u­a­tion was that Tribe Of Gyp­sies had their own record deal and were un­able to work live with Bruce in the long term. So, with his next al­bum, 1996’s Skunkworks, Bruce poured kerosene on any last rem­nants of how he was viewed, hir­ing a young, fired-up bunch of mu­si­cians, bring­ing in Nir­vana’s pro­ducer Jack Endino, mov­ing away from EMI to a smaller, more un­der­stand­ing la­bel and even cut­ting his hair.

Roy Z would later work in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances with Rob Hal­ford, who was out of Ju­das Priest when The Metal God in­vited him to produce his 2000 al­bum, Res­ur­rec­tion, and with for­mer Skid Row frontman Se­bas­tian Bach, with whom he cut 2007’s An­gel Down (which included a guest spot from one Axl Rose).

“As an ed­u­cated fan, I know what peo­ple want,” Roy claims. “I may not make the best record of an artist’s ca­reer but to­gether we will make a record that cat­a­pults them back to where they be­long. [For ex­am­ple],

I hope that some­day Se­bas­tian will get back with Skid Row. And if he does, I prob­a­bly won’t get any­thing out of it. My role is to bring artists back to their roots; to re­mind them what the fans re­ally love about them.”

Sure enough, af­ter two fur­ther Roy-pro­duced al­bums ( Ac­ci­dent Of Birth and The Chem­i­cal Wedding) Bruce re­turned to Maiden in 1999, where he has re­mained since. Roy would work with Bruce again, though, help­ing the singer make his 2005 solo out­ing, Tyranny Of Souls.

There is some­thing Bruce re­grets about the Balls To Pi­casso era, how­ever. “All that I would change about the al­bum is its ti­tle,” Bruce told Ham­mer in 2005. “‘Balls To Pi­casso’ was some graf­fiti I saw on a lava­tory wall…” IRON MAIDEN TAKE THEIR LEGACY OF THE BEAST TOUR ACROSS THE US AND SOUTH AMER­ICA LATER THIS YEAR

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