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Angling For Perfection: An Exclusive Interview With ADRIAN SMITH Of IRON MAIDEN

By Shelly Harris, Chicago Contributor
Thursday, November 5, 2020 @ 2:21 PM

"I get on the river bank and I forget about work, and I forget about everything, and I just concentrate on that water. I just find it very therapeutic."

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Live Photo By Larry Petro/Petrofyed Photography

Adrian Smith, esteemed guitarist and songwriter with IRON MAIDEN, seems to be in a great mood on the line from England, where he has been weathering the pandemic with the band's tour unfortunately canceled this year. The obvious reason for his enthusiasm is the U.S. debut of his new book, Monsters of River & Rock: My Life as Iron Maiden's Compulsive Angler, on November 3, which he is willing to discuss in detail:

KNAC.COM: It was a pleasure to see how literary it was ... It's not just a fishing book or a memoir. The reader really gets a look at things through your mind's eye. A person who has never met you and doesn't know you in the least would get a very good idea of who you are upon reading the book, and that's because your stream of consciousness goes through it. What gave you the impetus to do it?

SMITH: Well, it started off a bunch of friends sitting around, and I was sort of telling a few stories, and someone said, "You should write a book", and that's how it began snowballing. It was going to be a full-on fishing book, and I wrote a few chapters, and we took it around to a few publishers and got an interest from Penguin - it's BMG over there, I think. When I started writing, I thought I'd do a timeline through it, from when I was a kid growing up, and how I grew up. Fishing with my dad was a big part of it, you know? Then giving it up when I thought I wanted to be a musician and being involved with music full time. I gave up fishing, and every other sort of hobby I had, to concentrate on music, and it wasn't until I joined MAIDEN that I started again, because Clive - Clive Burr - was into fishing as well. So, we started going again, and bringing some fishing rods on the bus - there's a few stories about that. And then I got back into it in a big way. As I went on, I found that the music and the fishing were kind of intertwined. So, I'd estimate about 30 percent of the book is about non-fishing stuff. It's about music and how we wrote songs, and how we came up with particular ideas, or some funny things that happened in the studio, so I kind of mixed it up a little bit.

KNAC.COM: Well, you also had a technique of tying it all together with the Prologue and the Epilogue...

SMITH: Yeah!

KNAC.COM: It worked, and the in-between was almost dream-like in the segueing through topics using stream-of-consciousness, which made smooth connections between the fishing side of things to the band side of things. It was very artistic in the way that that was done.

SMITH: Well, Thank you, thank you. I think it might have been my wife's idea to try and have an intro and an outro. So, it starts off on the way to a show [in Mexico City] in a crazy police escort. People think police escorts are glamorous and how great it must be, but the reality is that they're a nightmare, because you get a crowd around the car, and people are driving on the wrong side of the road, and there's all this chaos. It's draining! So, I pushed my seat back and closed my eyes, and just pretended I was fishing. It's like a meditation, you know? That's what it is for me. I get on the river bank and I forget about work, and I forget about everything, and I just concentrate on that water. I just find it very therapeutic.

KNAC.COM: Well, it's coincidental, but the first interview/feature article I ever did on IRON MAIDEN was conducted at Alpine Valley [WI] during the Fourth of July holidays of 1982, and you were actually there fishing then, with Clive and Dave, and I mentioned it in the article. And I knew that you were from the very urban East End of London, like Dave and Steve, and I thought that was funny at the time that such big city boys had an interest in fishing. But you mention how that all came about in the book.

SMITH: Yes, I grew up in the inner city [industrial Hackney neighborhood in the east end of London], in this concrete jungle. So, my dad was into fishing, and he took me, and first we would just go down to the canals, but they were very industrial. The canals in London were used for transporting goods like coal, wood - whatever, and it was all factories, and it was very grim, you know? But, there were fish there - and they were beautiful fish! - and I just loved it. And then, after a couple of years we joined another place that was out of town, out of London, and I loved that even more because it had me in the countryside, in the green. I think I'm a country boy at heart, even though I grew up in the city. (laughs) I just felt at home right away. And, it's funny you should mention Alpine Valley because there's a story in the book about it. We were on tour - I think it was The Number of the Beast album - and we were opening up for the SCORPIONS. I just thought that it was really funny that me and Clive and Dave were fishing, and the SCORPIONS were slightly perplexed. (laughs) And, they might have even been wearing their stage gear, because they were living the life in those days! I mean, I love the SCORPIONS - you know what they're like! And I just thought it was a funny little story about them in the book.

KNAC.COM: Well, the book explains some things I had actually wondered about when I wrote that particular article from Alpine Valley all those years ago. I grew up on a river - a bayou - and knew a little about fishing - and I'd asked you what kind of bait you were using, and you said, hamburger, pickles, and bread! (laughs) Then, when I asked you what kind of fish you were fishing for, you said, "American fish". So, I figured you were pulling my leg, about trying to catch American fish with hamburgers! (laughs)

SMITH: Well, it actually was the hamburger meat. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Well, I'm sure you were joking a bit too!

SMITH: And it was a very hot day, as I remember!

KNAC.COM: Yes, sunny and very, very hot the day before, during, and after that gig. At the time, though, I thought to myself, I know why he's doing that - why they're doing that - because I figured it was a counterbalance to all the crazy stuff that was going on at the time!

SMITH: And it WAS crazy. You were there in those days, and I do write a bit about that! It could swamp you a little bit, and it did me, and it certainly did Clive - because you know Clive didn't end up being in the band anymore after that. So, it was a crazy life, really, I think rediscovering fishing was so good for my mind - and I did get more into it, in later years. It's been a godsend, really, for me.

KNAC.COM: Well, I knew it was more than a passing fancy for you when we did an interview when the Powerslave album was being released. When I asked you how you spent your time off after the Piece of Mind tour, you told me that you had spent some time in a very remote part of Ireland fishing!

SMITH: Yeah, at the time, there was some technical reason I couldn't go back to England, so I had to find somewhere to kind of hole up, and I wound up going to Ireland - I think it was for at least a month - and it was in the middle of nowhere, on my own! I like fishing, but I don't like it that much! (laughs) I'd cut myself off! But, I wound up getting my family to come over, to visit me, and my girlfriend, who's now my wife, Nathalie - she came out as well, so it was a fun time.

KNAC.COM: Well, at the time, you did mention a few problems while there, and you said you couldn't communicate with some of the people there because you "don't speak Irish". (laughs)

SMITH: Oh, I must have been joking! (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Yes, I assumed you were! Even though I know they do speak Gaelic out there. (laughs) And speaking of funny, there were so many funny stories in the book, too. I was reading it on a plane to and from Tampa recently and I had to force myself not to laugh too loud!

SMITH: Really? Ah, that's great.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, it was the way you described some of the situations, even if they were kind of tense - or even dangerous - it was very descriptive and very humorous in parts.

SMITH: There are a couple of more technical chapters - it is supposed to be a fishing book, after all - but a lot of the fishing is anecdotes, and funny stories about encountering bears in Canada ... I'm a city boy, you know, and where I come from, you don't really know how to deal with them.... And sharks in the Caribbean, where I've been standing in the water, and a shark just comes right up to look at me, and stuff like this. The snake in the boat was another one, in the middle of a lake in California, actually, out in the middle of nowhere. I had found a boat on the shore that had obviously been lying around for awhile, and I cleaned it up, and jumped in it, and went out on the lake ... then, in the corner of my eye, as I was fishing, I could see something moving, and I noticed it was a snake in the boat with me! Then, I had to high-tail it back to shore! My missus was there and she got it all on film. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Yeah, and the stories about the rats, and the alligators...

SMITH: The alligators? Yeah, yeah! Yeah, coming from England to America, a different continent - with all these different creatures - along with the crazy rock 'n' roll life, it was an automatic learning curve!

KNAC.COM: And, as you say, it IS a fishing book too, and it's definitely above my level of knowledge of fishing, so I was glad you included the glossary in the back for cross-referencing!

SMITH: Yeah, someone suggested doing it. Even if you're a fisherman in America, you might not be familiar with some of the English terms.

KNAC.COM: And even the names of some of the types of fish sounded unfamiliar.

SMITH: Yeah! And I did try to include some American anecdotes in there ... There is a chapter on New York, but that starts off with the first time I went to New York, and we were opening up for JUDAS PRIEST, I think, on the very first tour. We stayed at the Gramercy Park Hotel, and I describe how I really didn't like New York - and I still don't - I just find it very claustrophobic. And a couple of tours ago, I tried to find somewhere to go fishing, and I went fishing in Central Park. I had some funny experience there. I called it "City Rats and Largemouth Bass" because after dark all the rats come out in the park and they're literally running across your feet - It's incredible! I've never seen so many rats!

KNAC.COM: Having lived in NYC for a spell, and I could envision what was happening with that scenario, but especially because your writing was so descriptive that reading it was almost like watching a movie.

SMITH: Well, I've always read. I don't have a high education or anything, but I like words, and I like books. And there's some great writers - great fishing writers; there's a guy called John Gierach - an American guy who writes about fishing - and he writes about fishing, but it's about so much more. He manages to incorporate other things and I suppose I'd tried to do that to a certain extent.

KNAC.COM: We've talked about how the sport of fishing is therapeutic, but another thing that comes out in the book is how intoxicating - and addictive - it can be to pursue that big catch.

SMITH: I suppose it's like anything that you get a buzz out of. Some people get addicted to golf. It can be slightly compulsive although that wasn't my description; that was the book people. But I suppose it is kind of like that sometimes. I go through phases where I'm just compelled to go! (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Well, you described how thrilling it is to catch those big fish, and I get it, even though I've never caught one of those big ones myself.

SMITH: Well, I've done some little films on my Instagram and YouTube channel, and quite a lot of it has to do with fishing on the road with my days off, and I just take a camera, and I just do a little blog, and one of them is about Chicago. I was just carp fishing on one of those rivers that goes into the great lake [Michigan] there, it's just a very short one. So, people can check that out. It's called misteradriansmith on Instagram, and it's got a connection to all those films. There's trout fishing in Calgary, and carp fishing in Minneapolis. When I end up hearing gun shots when I'm on the banks, I high tail it back to the hotel. I get the Hell out of there. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: I'll check that video out, but there actually are a lot of good places to fish in Chicago. Besides the lake and river, there are also some large lagoons in the the parks.

SMITH: Yes, exactly! There's great fishing there, but it gets damn hot in the summer, jeeez! (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Do you think you'll eventually do another book?

SMITH: I don't know ... It is in the back of my mind, that I may just flat out do a music book or something, at some point, you know? I've still got a lot of funny stories, and some not so funny, and that might be quite interesting. Who knows? I enjoy it, I do enjoy writing, so we'll see.

KNAC.COM: Are you fishing now during all this Covid stuff?

SMITH: Yeah, I've been doing a lot, because, sadly, we're not working with the tour canceled this year. We have it penciled in for next year, so hopefully we'll get out on the road next year. So, yeah, I've been fishing a lot, because you're out in the fresh air, and you're not in contact with other people, so it's sort of naturally self-isolating. But there's another lockdown now, and I don't know if they'll let us do it, but, we'll see. It would be better for the mental health if we can.

KNAC.COM: You begin your book by talking about how your learned the love of fishing from your father, and you dedicated the book to him, but who did he learn it from? His father?

SMITH: As far as I know, his father didn't fish. When my dad was born, my father's father was like 50 years old, and he was one of nine children. That's what used to happen in England in the working class: they'd have these huge families. So, I don't know if he was that close to his dad, but I know in the late 30's when he was a little kid, his next door neighbor used to take him fishing. And that is when they used to bring the fish home, because it was towards the beginning of the war, and food was scarce. I think maybe that's how he started.

KNAC.COM: And now your son does does some fishing with you too?

SMITH: He does a little bit, but he's not as "compulsive", if you like, as me. But we do have the odd trip together, and that's quite nice. It's a way to spend some quality time together.

KNAC.COM: And it's a way of passing it on, like a family tradition.

SMITH: Yes, that's exactly right.

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