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Bruce Dickinson, photo © John McMurtie Bruce Dickinson, photo © John McMurtie


Bruce Dickinson: “What if you had the four bikers of the apocalypse? What if they were the four Eddie Bikers of the apocalypse?”

In our latest Cover Story, metal icon Bruce Dickinson invites us into the world of his new solo album ‘The Mandrake Project’.

Bruce Dickinson, photo © John McMurtie



In terms of heavy metal, there can be few frontmen as iconic as Bruce Dickinson. As frontman of British legends Iron Maiden, Bruce Dickinson has put his voice to some of the most recognisable songs in the history of heavy metal. A career fronting one of the biggest bands on the planet does mean any other plans you might have tend to play second fiddle however, for the Maiden frontman, the opportunity came for him to resurrect his solo career.

Now, it’s been nineteen long years since Bruce Dickinson released his last solo album, 2005s Tyranny of Souls so there was plenty to talk about when we were lucky enough to spend some time with the man for our fiftieth cover story. For nearly forty minutes, Bruce chatted candidly about what The Mandrake Project is, the comic, his love of superheroes and the nineteen-year journey he went on to make his new solo record.

There’s a lot to talk about with the new record which feels like it’s been a long time coming. Could you talk us through the journey to get to this point with the record?

“So notwithstanding the fact that we had a couple of things left over that was just sitting around the equivalent of on the cutting room floor, not because they were bad songs, but just we, Roy and I, tend to do things for a laugh because we go, “Hey, let, let’s have a go at this,” and we do it and it doesn’t fit with something. So there was a couple of things like that kicking around.

After Tyranny of Souls, I was rushed off my feet with Maiden, we were putting everything back together. We were re-conquering the world and it all worked. I said, let’s do a follow-up to Tyranny of Souls. I had some songs. With a bit of luck and a fair wind behind us, we might even get a chance to go out and play live, you know? So I went along to LA and we demoed quite a few songs, drum machines, guitars and some vocals, some of which are still on the record because we keep everything. If it’s really good, we just keep it, you know? So, I went along there with “If Eternity Should Fail”, which was going to be the title track, the album was going to be called that, I was thinking about doing a comic already, but just one episode. Bizarrely enough, “If Eternity Should Fail” is the title of a Doctor Strange episode.

So I’d been looking through my comic collection of Silver Surfer and Doctor Strange a couple of years before doing this and thinking about it and thinking, “You know what? Comics are just like storytelling and the album is that, maybe this is like a good, a cool thing to do?”

“So I’d been looking through my comic collection of Silver Surfer and Doctor Strange a couple of years before doing this and thinking, “You know what? Comics are just like storytelling and the album is that…”

That was just in the back of my mind and I thought, well, I’ve got to create a story for the comic so I came up with a story, not a very big one, a very simple one – two characters – Dr. Necropolis and Professor Lazarus. So far, so good. I didn’t develop it. I must have written down all of one page. I thought I’d get around to that later once we get back and we start on the album. So then I started on the Maiden album, Book of Souls. Steve wanted to do “If Eternity Should Fail” because he’d heard it and said, “Oh, I like that” which was alright. After all, I’m not fussed about it. I’ll repurpose it and put it back on my album. I’ll probably change a couple of things, you know, that was my idea.

At the end of that one, I got throat cancer. So that was a year out. Then it was two years of playing catch-up with Iron Maiden. Then it was three years of COVID and so the next time I stepped into Roy’s living room, it was like, now, where were we? It was seven years – from 2014 to 2021 when we were allowed back to set foot in the United States. So that’s how the writing process was and we picked up where we left off, but with the exception that we wrote two songs immediately, two new ones, which are “Afterglow of Ragnarok” and “Many Doors to Hell”, the first two on the record.

That, in a way, gave us a different lens with which to view the other songs. So, we looked at the other songs and started to think about where these were going to go sonically. Seven years ago, it might have been a very different world, Roy moved on, Roy had more guitar sounds, and more ideas and that’s the genesis of the whole thing and the comic during lockdown ended up taking on a life of its own.”

It feels like manifested from, like you said, ideas on cutting room floors into quite a beast of a project.

“Well, what happened was obviously during lockdown, everybody was just binge-watching Netflix and all the rest of it. I was quite busy doing the Maiden album, the Maiden video, “Writing on the Wall”, which is the big animated thing, that was a very long process with animation and doing it in detail and I wrote the story. The story I wrote was at least partially inspired by a TV series called Sons of Anarchy which has all the bikers and I thought what if you had the four bikers of the apocalypse? That’d be cool. Right. Okay. Now, what about if they were the four Eddie bikers of the apocalypse? That’s even cooler. Yeah. That was sort of a bit of inspiration. So, whilst I’m doing that, I’m also scribbling out notes on my story and realizing that, once you start to develop the characters, it becomes quite a lot bigger.

So, I’d had a couple of quite dark revelations about the characters and the stories. I thought that was not very nice. Wow. That’s a bit edgy. I like that. Great. Okay. So I’m a million miles away from where I was in 2014 and I was having Zoom calls with my mate, a guy called Sasha Gervasi, who’s a Hollywood script-writer, who I met when he was 16 years old, and I was like 19. I was in Samson and he was hanging around with rock and roll bands, right? So I first met him there.

The next thing he did was the Anvil documentary and then he’s done My Dinner with Hervé and he wrote the script for The Terminal for Spielberg and other stuff. So, we’re just having Zoom calls with each other, just telling each other tall tales and stories and I mentioned the Sons of Anarchy. What a series. What a writer. That guy, Kurt Sutter and he went, “Oh, he’s my buddy. Did you want to get him on a Zoom next week?” I’m like, “Oh, you are kidding me?”

“The story I wrote was at least partially inspired by a TV series called Sons of Anarchy which has got all the bikers and I thought what if you had the four bikers of the apocalypse? what about if they were the four Eddie bikers of the apocalypse?”

So, for the next two or three weeks, myself, Kurt and Sasha had a Zoom together. We were just discussing writing between the three of us a project, which was quite cool, but didn’t end up being made or come to anything. It might one day, but during one of these sessions, I said, “Kurt, can I run an idea past you because I’ve had this very, very dark story that’s turned up in my brain and I want you to tell me if it’s complete and utter rubbish, you know, be honest.”

I sort of pitched it to him and he said it was great. He made a suggestion as well. He said, “If you did this and this, that would be really, really twisted.”

“Is that a freebie?”

“Yeah, yeah, you can have that one.”

So I started scribbling away and then what should I do with this? Should I write it up and send it off to Netflix? Or, what should I do? He said no, it’d just go in the bin along with everything else. He said to do a comic.

Bruce Dickinson ‘The Mandrake Project’ Comic Artwork

Bruce Dickinson ‘The Mandrake Project’ Comic Artwork

I was thinking of doing a comic. How do you do a comic? I don’t even know where to begin. I mean, I’m like a little stickman in terms of drawing stuff. How do we even get started with a comic? Who publishes it? I don’t know anything about the ins and outs of the comic world. He said he had gone through a bit of a dry spell writing for a while and did a comic and got it published. He said he’d send me the comic then basically he sent me the keys to the kingdom. Here’s the comic. Here’s the script that underpins it. Here are the character studies. Here’s the synopsis of it and here’s the initial pitch of the whole project.

So I read, digested and decided I’d do the same, but with my comic, which didn’t have a name yet. Neither the album nor the comic had a name until we almost finished the album. I had all 12 episodes, a synopsis and everything. What the fuck do I call it? I’ve got the story. What do I call it? Doctor Necropolis’s House of Death. Okay, I’ve got a pretty good handle on this so far.

Who do I talk to? He told me I should talk to a company called Z2. That name’s familiar. Why is that name familiar? Well, it turns out Iron Maiden has been talking to them about doing a 40th Anniversary Piece of Mind comic book which is now released and it’s out.

Funnily enough, I got Sasha, my script-writer mate, to do the story for “Die With Your Boots On,” and I did the story for “Revelations”.They hooked me up with an award-winning scriptwriter who does 2000 AD and Dracula and Dr. Who called Tony Lee.

Tony and I did a dummy run with “Revelations”. We got on great and we said “Should we do this script together?” I don’t know how to write comic scripts. I freely admit that hands up. I’ve done screenplays. I’ve done novels. Comic scripts are different.

So, we started there, he’s looking for artists so he suggested Staz Johnson. This guy’s great. Staz, incidentally, illustrates “The Trooper” in “Piece of Mind” as well. Then we needed a cover artist, and incredibly we got this guy, Bill Sienkiewicz, which I still can’t believe we got him but we did. I think mainly because we talked to him about the philosophy behind the story and that’s what piqued his interest. He doesn’t need to do any old crap, you know. That’s how the comic ended up being effectively linked, but separate from the album.

The album has still some tracks that are hangovers from that early comic idea. “Resurrection Men” Who are the Resurrection Men? There are other odd things, but a lot of the songs are not specifically related to the comic at all.

So the album is freestanding. The comic is freestanding. The analogy is it’s like a pair of trees growing in a forest. They don’t lean on each other, but if you look closely, the roots are intertwined. So that’s it.

The name The Mandrake Project? I was sat scribbling around on a bit of paper coming up with the most embarrassing things on the planet coming up with names. It’s a piece of paper that no other human being will ever see because I’m so embarrassed with some of the shit I was coming up with, but I wanted something that sounded a bit conspiratorial for the comic. Something Project like it was a secret clandestine Government thing. Mandrake, of course, has a lot of connotations with the occult so I thought Mandrake Project. My first response is thinking if I was somebody and I didn’t know what that was, I’d think what the hell is that?

I thought that’s a really good thing, that’s a great way to approach something because I would want to open this because I’m curious. I thought it worked for the album too because I wanted the cover and the photographs on it which are, by the way, not photos, I’m extremely proud of the fact that I restrained everybody from photoshopping the photos.

If some of the best album covers ever are real photographs. The minute you dick around with it and change it you break the spell. People can see the join and it takes away the magic. I was thinking back to the very first Black Sabbath album and that cover that everybody knows of the infrared picture of the woman standing in front of the lake with the building in the background.

I stared at that picture for hours when I was a kid wondering what was going on. Why is she there? What’s going on in that building? What’s in the lake? I wanted to try and get something like that feel with the album cover. It was an album cover that was an enigma, not a cliche.”

V13 - Magazine Cover - Issue 50 - Bruce Dickinson

V13 – Magazine Cover – Issue 50 – Bruce Dickinson

In terms of the visuals, you worked with Ryan on the video for the single. One of the things, he said was he was a huge fan of Iron Maiden growing up and the videos he’d seen changed his life like “Can I Play with Madness”. In terms of pulling a team together of people you work with, what was it like finding people who shared the vision that you wanted?

“Ryan was… we did everything arse backwards. Normally you pick a video director and then you write the script and then you do the video which is what happened on “Rain on the Graves” because we already had Ryan.

I came up with a story then we kicked it about a little bit and then we made the video right with “Afterglow of Ragnarok”. Honestly, I thought there was no way we could afford to shoot this video so what to do with it? We’ve got a single coming out. Let’s make it a gatefold single. Let’s do a comic of the video treatment. Let’s do eight pages, which is a storyboard of the video tree. As for the video, we’ll get to that later. We’ll have to find a director. So we did the comic with Tony and Staz Johnson.

Again, it was a rehearsal for the comic. I went through video directors and I looked at maybe a dozen directors from all over the place. I just looked at Ryan’s showreel or the images that he had on his site and half the images he had on his site I would want to see in this video. He was channelling something in me so we chatted and he liked Hammer Horror, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, English folklore stuff, folk horror. You’re talking to a man who’s obsessed with William Blake and The Wickerman.

I was in LA at the time. I don’t live there, but I was there at the time. He was going to have to do the video and I’m going to have to come over and do it on the green screen or something. He told me not to worry as he had got loads of ideas which was good because I didn’t think we could afford the synopsis I did. I asked what video he was going to shoot and he told me he was going to do the comic. I thought it was too expensive but he did an amazing job and he pulled together so many favors to get that. There’s a lot of visual effects, which takes a long time and it was great. I think if we both had done it the right way around where I was talking to Ryan and then the video could have been even more effective but, as it happened, it’s still pretty darn good.

Then after that “Rain on the Graves”, we put together. We put the bare bones of that together in the pub after I’d done my green screen. Three or four beers and I came up with the basic idea and somebody from the management was in there going, “Oh my God, the fucking artists. They’re at it. Look at this madness.”

Metal people have got no sense of humour and so I told them to shut the fuck up… one word… Thriller. That works. We were gonna do a Hammer House of Horror with a bit of Thriller thrown in and a few other little bits and bobs and a lot of William Blake in there. Most people get the one image that we recreated of one of Blake’s paintings, but nobody so far has got the other one. We had a facsimile of Blake’s grave, and at the end is a complete replica which I say with certainty is 100% accurate because I was there and I sang by Blake’s graveside. They put the stone on top where they’d finally found him in Bunnhill Fields because they hadn’t figured out where he was.

Bruce Dickinson ‘The Mandrake Project’ Album Artwork

Bruce Dickinson ‘The Mandrake Project’ Album Artwork

There was a stone saying “Near this spot is buried William Blake”, but now with ground penetrating radar, they identified the spot. The Blake Society, because of The Chemical Wedding being inspired by Blake, they invited me along. There were probably two or three hundred people, all of the most eccentric people in London, it was brilliant. The head of the Monster Raving Loony Party was there, there was this right-wing blogger, and then there was a bunch of choir singers who sang. I mean, honestly, it was the most, incredibly eclectic bunch of people. I think very reflective of the man.

So I got up and sang standing on top of a park bench because you weren’t allowed any electronic anything in. No music, no nothing. Everything had to be a hundred per cent acoustic. I’d done a gig at the O2 for Maiden the night before. It was a Sunday morning, so I turned up bleary-eyed, and semi-hoarse, but I’m going to sing. I’m going to sing for William and then we went out of the pub and got pissed in the Artillery Arms. The perfect end.”

Going back to what Ryan said about Maiden’s videos having a big impact on his life. Going back to your growing up and childhood, you’ve mentioned Doctor Who and Silver Surfer already, what were the books and movies that took you off into your fantasy world that had a real impact on you?

“A lot of the stuff that I did kicked off with stuff that I was given at school. One of the first, I can’t remember what I read but I think I must have been a very early reader because I remember reading things that were newspaper headlines that happened when I was about four years old. For things like the Sputnik and Yuri, it was 1962.

“Ryan was channelling something in me so we chatted and he liked Hammer Horror, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, English folklore stuff, folk horror. You’re talking to a man that’s obsessed with William Blake and The Wickerman…”

I was four years old and I remember reading the Daily Mirror, because my Granddad was about to light a fire where he lived in his little council house. He was a coal miner, he was about to light the fire and there was this incredibly dangerous thing he used to do where he’d put a sheet of newspaper up against the fire to get a draft going through it.

The sheet of newspaper had “Yuri Gugarin circles the earth”, and I said you can’t burn that! So, I was inspired by astronauts and fighter pilots and Biggles and all that stuff. Then I went to school. All of a sudden, I got presented with a copy of The Hobbit then the next thing they gave me was Lord of the Rings. I would have been probably maybe eleven or twelve when I read Lord of the Rings and it just blew my head off.

Honestly, the rest of it, I was just addicted to Thunderbirds and Gerry Anderson and puppet shows and all of that stuff and, you know, the Eagle, the Mekong, Dan Dare, all that British comics. Silver Surfer I always loved, Doctor Strange, I always loved.

Superman I thought was a bit of a prick. The other one I wanted to be was the Human Torch because I thought, fucking great, he can fly, and he can set himself on fire, and all the girls want to sleep with him. Nobody wanted to sleep with me. The Silver Surfer was permanently pissed off, which was me as an adolescent, you’re permanently pissed off, I get it.

Then Doctor Strange. He can control everything and I could control nothing. I want to be him too. Doctor Who. I was Doctor Who. I wasn’t behind the sofa because it didn’t terrify me. I loved it. All the early Dalek stuff, and the stuff that’s lost. There was one series, The Mechanoids, I love the Mechanoids and that’s been lost. All that shit from William Hartnell going right the way through Patrick Troughton, everything. The Cybermen when they first came, they were scary.

When I was old enough it was Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Dracula, all the early Frankensteins, Werewolf, Son of Werewolf, even like Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein, the Werewolf and Dracula.”

Moving forward then, you’ve described the comic and the album as separate, do you see this building into a series?

“Well, the comic is a three-year project. So every three months is a new 34-page comic then, every 12 months, there’ll be a book, the four of the four comics bound together because it’s a three-volume set in effect, So the comic will be going on like that. Where we go with the music, I’ve got loads of guitar demos from Roy. I have to clear the decks mentally and start and see what madness arrives, you know? I’m not going to prejudge it. I think we just do what’s in front of us that we think is good. I’m going to make a start on that and the next week.”

I’m excited to see what you do next and where this goes visually and musically. Your photographer John was one of the first photographers I ever got commissioned with…

“John photographed out of his skin for this. It was great. The one session we did, one afternoon in this bizarre set of architectural follies in a field in Berkshire had this brutalist architecture and then there was a pyramid outside, a concrete pyramid and then there was like a Roman Amphitheater. It was a Jewish boarding school that had gone bust just outside Reading. It was a Jewish boarding school that had gone broke.

Everything was just frozen in time. All the modern buildings were going to rack and ruin. Unfortunately, all the stuff that was designed by this amazing architect was listed. Grade One couldn’t touch them so consequently, nobody can touch the site because it’s a bit of a pain in the ass, isn’t it?

If you can’t touch these things, what can you do with the rest of them? For us, it was great because we could climb all over them. Next door to it, not part of the school was a chapel that was ruined with a graveyard a little bit of it was still consecrated. I just went wandering around the graveyard and I said to John to go and hide in the bushes and just take pictures and I’ll just wander around the graveyard like I’m looking for something and that’s how we came up with the picture that was on the back cover.

What am I doing there? Why am I there? That’s the perfect picture, you know, Don’t tweak anything. Just leave it. And what the hell is he doing in the middle of a graveyard? The same thing with the gatefold, and the centrefold, which is me in this amphitheater thing and there’s a great shadow and everything. They said we could put some bits on it and I said, “Just put the lyric, I am your very soul, the one you do not know, and leave it at that.”

Have people looking at it wondering what it means? Why is he there? What’s it? What is this ritual? It prepares you, for what happens on the record.”

Bruce Dickinson ‘The Mandrake Project’ Unboxed Packshot

Bruce Dickinson ‘The Mandrake Project’ Unboxed Packshot

Brilliant, just to wrap up then. The album is out and you’re heading out on tour in May. Have you got any message for Maiden fans or any fans of your solo work about what to expect?

“Just enjoy it for exactly what it is. It’s a load of stories and great music, and you can paddle around in the shallow end if you want, or you can take a deep dive and have a look. It just depends on what sort of stuff you’re into. I realized that Maiden fans come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are quite open-minded and like all kinds of different kinds of music whereas some of them are pretty much straight-edge. They do Maiden and that’s it. I’m not having a go at anybody though as that’s fine. It’s an open door, take from it what you want.”

Tour Dates:

05/18 – Glasgow Barrowland Ballroom
05/19 – Manchester O2 Academy
05/21 – Swansea Arena
05/23 – Nottingham Rock City
05/24 – London O2 Forum Kentish Town
05/26 – Paris L’Olympia
05/28 – Tilburg 013
05/29 – Groningen De Oosterport
06/01 – Budapest Barba Negra
06/03 – Bucharest Arenale Romane
06/05-8 – Gdansk Mystic Festival
06/05-8 – Solvesborg Sweden Rock Festival
06/09 – Oslo Rockefeller
06/16 – Berlin Huxleys Neue Welt
06/17 – Hamburg Grosse Freiheit 36
06/19-22 – Copenhagen Copenhell
06/24 – Mannheim Zeltfestival Rhein-Neckar
06/25 – Munich Circus Krone
06/27-30 – Clisson Hellfest
06/30 – Esch-Sur-Alzette Rockhal
07/03-6 – Ballenstedt Rockharz Open Air
07/05 – Rome Ippodrome Delle Capannelle
07/06 – Vincenza Bassano Del Grappa
07/09 – Koln E-Werk
07/13 – Zagreb Hala
07/16 – Sofia Kolodrum Arena
07/19 – Istanbul Kucukciftlik Park

To pick up your copy of The Mandrake Project, head over to the official Bruce Dickinson Website here.

I have an unhealthy obsession with bad horror movies, the song Wanted Dead Or Alive and crap British game shows. I do this not because of the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle it affords me but more because it gives me an excuse to listen to bands that sound like hippos mating.