“A lot has been written and said about me through the years — most of it bad, some of it untrue.” That’s the opening of the 2010 Paul Di’Anno biography The Beast, which reads more like a gritty LA noir novel than a musical memoir. If you were to read the book — a combination of the Mötley Crüe biography The Dirt and the Marquis De Sade — you’d think avoiding Di’Anno was in your best interest. Even if you didn’t, plenty of Internet stories would steer you in another direction.
Di’Anno sang on two of the greatest metal records ever: Iron Maiden’s eponymous debut and the follow up Killers before he was replaced by Bruce Dickinson, in part because of hard living. Three decades later, those albums blow away much of the metal that followed and their place in the Maiden discography is still fiercely debated (yours truly ranks them very favorably). Di’Anno has crafted a solo career and fronted many other bands but his sets still weigh heavily on that timeless material.
When Decibel caught up with Di’Anno in England he couldn’t have been more of a gentleman. He told us The Beast — and the Web — don’t tell the true story about Paul Di’Anno. Join us in a discussion about Jack Daniels and the human voice, the horrors of customs in 2014 and fronting Maiden tribute bands.
How are things going?
I have a little break from touring because that’s all I seem to do. I’m finishing all the lyrics on the new album and hope to have it out by the end of the year. It’s a pretty busy time with new management; I have all kinds of shit going on right now.
Do you ever tire of touring? You’ve done it relentlessly your whole life.
No. I have a bad knee and everything but if I sit at home I have the attention span of a goldfish. I can’t get into it. I haven’t seen my family for such a long time and they are in the states. I can only get over to America when I have a work visa; I’m not allowed over there otherwise from being a bad boy many years ago. I’d love to spend time with my family but I try not to think about it and tour.
Weren’t you thinking of retiring about a year ago because of that injury?
Not really. I’m going to need an operation on my knee. It just keeps getting worse. But some days are worse and some days are o.k. This morning I tripped over a vacuum cleaner and pulled my knee out and it’s all full of fluid. It just happens – it’s a war wound from the road. It’s getting old, really.
What is it like to play and tour with people who grew up with your recordings?
Well, I try not to waste too much time thinking about it because you’d drive yourself nuts. What happened with me is that my plan backfired but it’s also been good as well. Iron Maiden was doing nothing to celebrate (the anniversary of the first album) so I did. And now, people keep booking me for that.
I got to be honest it’s a bit frustrating sometimes because I’m not getting a chance to do my own stuff. I use different bands in different countries so I can bring this to the fans. But I can’t keep doing it forever.
In the states there are countless bands that could do it. We have certain bands in Europe and Australia. I just try not to think about it and get over there. My voice is actually getting somewhat better as I get older and I’m amazed because I don’t take any care of it.
What do you think about where metal is these days? Do you listen to black metal or death metal?
I’ve heard some death metal stuff and it’s not really for me. I grew up with thrash. But the death metal stuff, I find it a bit of a joke. Some of the music is great but the lyrics, eh. If these people did come face-to-face with me they’d shit their pants or run home to their Mom.
When you are performing the Maiden stuff what do fans tell you about it? They are two of the best records and I feel like they sometimes get glossed over in the catalog.
Well, peers like Pantera, Sepultura and Metallica say they are the two best Maiden albums. I think they were fantastic, pivotal albums that set the world on fire. But the way I do them now doesn’t really sound like Iron Maiden. Our sound is a lot heavier. Sometimes it could sound like it’s Sepultura playing it to make it interesting. If I’m going to carry on playing these songs I need to put a bit of a twist on them, y’know?
How do you approach the vocals? You mentioned you don’t take care of your voice.
(laughs) I’m having a cigarette now! This voice was made on cigarettes and Jack Daniels. People overanalyze it like: “I need 20 cups of tea or I’ll cancel the show.” I’ll never do that. I’m just me. On this DVD I hit some amazing high notes and it never happened before tour. When we were on tour in Poland they wouldn’t let us get off stage and we were even singing Judas Priest. It was absolutely hilarious. I gave them the first part of a song and was hitting all the high notes.
What is the DVD project (The Beast Arises) about?
The guys in Poland were brilliant and it was a real pleasure working with them. We starting doing this DVD in a club and it went smoothly and well, which is a miracle. We played about six or eight shows all over Poland. We did most of the Maiden stuff and a few songs from my catalog. It’s a good representation of what I do live around the world. With the Architects Of Chaoz (Di’Anno’s new band) we do the same thing but ease off the Maiden stuff a little, just four or five songs in our set. So I get best of both.
How do you adjust to playing with different bands around the world?
Most of them I’ve played with over a few years. One of my bands is Children Of The Damned and they are a cover band. Sometimes I find it quite funny, like you are really living someone else’s life. It works out fine, though. Most of these guys I’ve done tours with around the whole world and we know each other well.
We’re trying to go to Canada but it could work out better there with work visas. It’s a bit paranoid over there. Since 9-11, I mean, America used to be a joy to go and see. It’s bloody hard work for people to go there. C’mon, in England we got bombed and stuff like that. America is a great country but the bureaucracy is a pain in the ass.
Did you have problems at customs?
All the time. It’s amazing. I’m used to it. When we crossed over from America into Canada there were bloody guns pulled at the border. One of the boys had a knife so he got kept for like an hour. I wanted to go to Canada to see some friends and the same thing happened. It’s just a pain. You need to keep your borders safe but, c’mon, I’m a bloody metal musician, not an Arab terrorist. It can get on your nerves a bit. A lot of European people go there and also think it’s a rigamarole and why bother. Once you get through it’s fantastic but in ways it’s like the Russians who look like they want to kill you every five minutes (laughs).
I can only imagine some of the changes you’ve seen as a touring musician.
I think England has some of the best security of all time but it doesn’t seem so oppressive. I don’t know how to put my finger on it. I’m always so nervous when I fly to America. Even with a work visa I always wonder to what’s going to happen. I do like to get to Miami to see my wife and children.
Have you ever been recognized by a fan at a border crossing?
Oh shit, yeah. About six years we were in Puerto Rico. I arrive in San Juan and it’s a weird place because you get your luggage and then go through security. They detained me overnight and it was very strange. It was weird because half of the guys working security were coming to the concert and it was cancelled. I was sent back home, without prejudice, I might add. They didn’t do their homework but they did take great care of me. I had to stay in a holding cell with some immigrants.
Have you seen the movie Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr.?
Why is it I’m thinking they leave you alone in a call overnight then come back and Paul has befriended every inmate and is telling jokes?
That’s what happened with those guys! I have to tell you border security in Puerto Rico is awesome. It was a genuine mistake. I was more pissed for the fans. We finally made it there a few years later and it was fantastic.
There have been a lot of stories about you out there about your conviction (for benefits fraud) and your health and you wrote about addiction in detail in The Beast.
How long ago was that? That biography was a long time ago.
If people piss me off they get punched in the face. I don’t fuck around with people. You get some idiots out there and I don’t have the patience for them. So I have a bit of a reputation for saying what I want.
So in many ways you’re the same Paul Di’Anno from Iron Maiden?
A bit older, a bit heavier. I’ve never been someone to take any shit and I’ll come off worse a few times. If people are slagging me off — unless they have a good reason –expect some retaliation.
What songs from the back catalog do you enjoy most playing?
Since Clive (Burr, original Maiden drummer) died I’ve been dedicating “Remember Tomorrow” to him because that was such a blow. It broke my heart. I hadn’t seen him in a long time. I haven’t had a lot of time to grieve. Sometimes it’s really difficult to sing it. I love doing “Killers” and “Phantom Of The Opera” … they run into each other in the set. And we put “Charlotte The Harlot” back in the set recently.
When Clive passed my manager at the time sent me a text and I was stunned. I got on the phone with my wife and told her when was going on. Even now I find it difficult to talk about. I couldn’t make the funeral because I had to fly back to Brazil that day. I wrote a small eulogy, which Clive’s wife read at the funeral. I’m sorry, I can’t talk about it…
What are some of your best memories?
He was a lunatic. Me, him and Dave (Murray, guitarist) always used to go out together. And he was such a fantastic drummer; I think he was the greatest heavy metal drummer in the world. He left me in hysterical laughter most of the time. And he was the ultimate professional.
Are you still living in Brazil?
I’ll never leave. The people are wonderful and I like the weather and I’m a football fanatic, and I mean real football, not what you call football. It pisses me off that you call it soccer. I love the atmosphere. I like Brazil more than any country in the world.
You’ve been at this your whole life. Will you ever stop?
I’m going right to the boneyard — from the stage to the boneyard. It would be awesome to die on stage. But I guess you have to stop sometimes. If the voice goes out I’ll have to think about settling down.