Songwriter Interviews

Paul Di'Anno (ex-Iron Maiden)

by Greg Prato

Share this post

Iron Maiden may have become a global stadium headliner with Bruce Dickinson on vocals, but for many fans, the group's early albums with Paul Di'Anno behind the mic are every bit as great as any subsequent release. With an undeniable punk edge added to Maiden's trademark metal, these recordings (1980's Iron Maiden and 1981's Killers) have also been pointed to over the years as a major trailblazer for a genre later known as "thrash metal."

And Di'Anno is still recording and touring, as evidenced by the 2014 release of a live DVD, The Beast Arises, and an announcement that he has launched a new band, Architects of Chaoz. When we got Di'Anno on the line from Spain, he proved to be a very amiable fellow, chatting about songwriting, the stories behind several early Maiden classics, and the aforementioned projects.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): Do you still enjoy singing the Maiden classics?

Paul Di'Anno: Yeah, I do. There are days where you don't really want to do it. You feel like, "Oh God, what am I doing?" You know, we've done it for so long on and off and I've been lazy - I don't make records, which I should do! I just think, Oh God, I'm going to be stuck doing this for the rest of my life. There are days when I say, "I don't want to do this," but as soon as I get on the stage, everything's fine. We play a lot heavier, as well.

Songfacts As far as songwriting, how would you say that you write your best songs?

Di'Anno: In jail. [Laughing] No, me and Joey - my guitar player from Architects - we seem to have hit it off really well. Joey's the newest member with us - he's only been with us a couple of years when the rest of the guys have played with me for about six, seven years. He's absolutely phenomenal. We couldn't believe it. We knew he was good, but we didn't realize just how great a guitar player he is. Both my guitar players in the band are absolutely awesome.

It's really changed the whole feel of the band. And yeah, we're coming up with some really good stuff at the moment, so we're really happy.

Songfacts How would you describe the songwriting in Iron Maiden?

Di'Anno: Well, it's Steve Harris, isn't it? [Laughs] Steve's band, Steve's rules, Steve does what he wants, and if you're lucky, you get to write the odd song.

Songfacts But as far as the songs that you had a hand in writing, such as "Remember Tomorrow" and also "Running Free," was it the lyrics that you contributed?

Di'Anno: Yeah, I did some of that. "Running Free" is basically my song. I asked Steve to play this certain bass line, he did, and I actually ended up getting a songwriting credit - I thought, "Oh... great!" But Steve would have an idea and I would make up some lyrics on the spot, or make up some sort of melody line, and then we'd just carry on with it after.

The "Running Free" single was Iron Maiden's first-ever release for a major label - issued in the UK on February 8, 1980.

Since the single was issued two months before their self-titled debut album, it was decided that the face of the group's now-infamous undead mascot, Eddie, would not be seen, so it could be "premiered" on the full-length's cover. As a result, the "Running Free" single cover shows Eddie's noggin as a silhouette.
Songfacts Regarding the song "Running Free," did you pretty much write all the music, as well?

Di'Anno: Yeah. I had the idea for it all. I stole the idea off of Gary Glitter, with a drumbeat and stuff like that. I wanted that kind of vibe and feel for it. It's quite simple. I think it was "Rock and Roll, Parts One and Two" - it was the same drum beat, we just sped it up a little bit.

Songfacts And then the song "Remember Tomorrow," if you want to talk a little bit about that.

Di'Anno: That was about my grandfather. I lost him in 1980, when I was on tour. He was a diabetic. They cut off his toe and his heel, then he lost his leg from the knee down, and he just sort of gave up.

But the lyrics don't relate to it, to be honest with you - just the words "remember tomorrow." Because that is what he always used to say - that was his little catch phrase. "You never know what is going to happen, remember tomorrow, it might be a better day." So I just kept it in, and that was it.

Songfacts Were the lyrics to "Running Free" based on any of your real-life experiences?

Di'Anno: Yeah. [Laughing] I've always been a rebel. I don't know why, I just don't like conforming to the norm if I can help it. I don't respect authority, which is a bit unfortunate, as it's a bad thing for me sometimes!

Songfacts What about the song "Killers," that you also co wrote?

Di'Anno: Steve had the song and I had the idea for the lyrics. But Steve wanted to play it live at the Rainbow when we'd done that DVD, and I thought, Oh crap. I had a rough idea, but I made up the words as we went along - live on stage, in front of all those bloody people. And they're different to how they are on the album, as well.

It was about a psychotic killer, what he's thinking about while he's doing it.

Songfacts Looking back at those two Iron Maiden albums, what song is your favorite and why?

Di'Anno: I don't know really - they're all bloody good. It's just the production is really bad on the first album. I prefer all the songs on the first album.

Songfacts What was the hardest or most challenging Maiden song to sing?

Di'Anno: The one we don't do anymore - "Women in Uniform." [Laughs] We played it a couple of times with Iron Maiden, and I played it a couple of times recently over the years - it's such a bloody pain in the ass, it really is. And it's not even one of our songs - it's Skyhooks, the Australian band. I just didn't get on with it. I don't get on with that song at all.

Songfacts One of my favorite Maiden songs has always been "Murders in the Rue Morgue."

Di'Anno: Steve came up with that - it's from the book, The Murders in the Rue Morgue [a short story by Edgar Allan Poe]. Steve is into all that stuff - the historical stuff - and it came out really good. I still love playing that song live, and I'll be doing it tonight again.

Songfacts What about the song "Wrathchild"?

Di'Anno: That's one of Steve's inventions. I don't really know what it's all about, to be quite honest with you.

Songfacts Was there ever a lyric that Steve presented that you didn't really care for?

The song "Invasion" is not to be confused with the Bruce Dickinson-era Maiden song, "Invaders." "Invasion" was never included on a Maiden full-length, but rather, on the group's 1979 indie EP, The Soundhouse Tapes, and also on the B-side to the 1980 UK 7" and 12" single, "Women in Uniform." "Invaders" on the other hand, served as the opening track on Dickinson's first-ever album with Maiden, 1982's The Number of the Beast.
Di'Anno: Yeah, there's a couple. "Invasion" was one of them - one of the very first tracks we ever did. The hook line: "The Vikings are coming, the Vikings are coming." Oh blimey, that sounded really rubbish. But it still went down great live, so I can't complain - what do I know?

Songfacts: Let's talk about your new project, Architects of Chaoz.

Di'Anno: This is my German touring band. We've been friends for so many years and we just decided that we've had enough of this, let's become a band. We still play some of the Maiden songs, but we started writing and it's all going very, very well. We had an EP we put out to try and get a record deal, and somehow, Metal Hammer got a hold of it and Rock Hard Magazine have both made us the EP of the month in August. And the vibe on us is going absolutely crazy, so we're loving it.

We go into the studio in February to start recording the full album. Still got a couple of songs to finish off the album when I get off tour. And then it's a May release. We've already got the title, it's Architects of Chaoz, A League of Shadows. So we're just going to see what happens with this now.

Songfacts And also there's a new live DVD that came out called The Beast Arises.

Di'Anno: That was something I'd done through my old guitar player, Cliff, in Poland. He's involved in a record company out there, and he wanted us to do something. We did The Beast in the East there years ago in Poland, and it came out really well. There's a great Polish band over there. They were awesome. We had a really good time, the fans are fantastic. It's a cover of my stuff and Maiden stuff and just doing what we do at the moment.

Songfacts I'm in the midst of reading your book, The Beast. Has there ever been talk of it being made into a movie?

Di'Anno: I hope no, oh, my God, no. I want to try and get over that sort of period in my life. That was bloody awful. There's not so much about music in there, it's all about bloody drugs and abuse of bloody women and stuff like that, which is not good things to be doing. I had no respect for anybody back in them days, and things are a lot different now.

I've just been talking to some guy over in Spain, actually. He's going to try and put it into the Spanish language, which is going to be absolutely mental, especially in South America, oh my gosh. As long as I still get the money for the cancer charity off of it, it'll be great. That'll be all right.

November 19, 2014. For more Paul, visit his official site. Photos of Paul are from his site.
More Songwriter Interviews

Comments: 1

  • Will from Australia I met Paul, he's such a nice guy & an incredible performer. Great interview.
see more comments

Mick Jones of ForeignerSongwriter Interviews

Foreigner's songwriter/guitarist tells the stories behind the songs "Juke Box Hero," "I Want To Know What Love Is," and many more.

Strange MagneticsSong Writing

How Bing Crosby, Les Paul, a US Army Signal Corps Officer, and the Nazis helped shape rock and Roll.

Chris TomlinSongwriter Interviews

The king of Christian worship music explains talks about writing songs for troubled times.

Neal Smith - "I'm Eighteen"They're Playing My Song

With the band in danger of being dropped from their label, Alice Cooper drummer Neal Smith co-wrote the song that started their trek from horror show curiosity to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

George ClintonSongwriter Interviews

When you free your mind, your ass may follow, but you have to make sure someone else doesn't program it while it's wide open.

Hawksley WorkmanSongwriter Interviews

One of Canada's most popular and eclectic performers, Hawksley tells stories about his oldest songs, his plentiful side projects, and the ways that he keeps his songwriting fresh.