IRON MAIDEN's BRUCE DICKINSON On His Singing Voice: 'I've Been Lucky That Most Of My Highs Are Still There'

December 21, 2023

In a new interview with Germany's Rock Antenne, IRON MAIDEN frontman Bruce Dickinson was asked how he keeps his singing voice in shape after touring and recording for several decades. He responded (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "Uh, I don't know. A certain amount of it is probably the way I'm made. And then a lot of it is trying to look after the bits that you've already got. And other than that… I think the voice, it does change as you get older. I mean, there's no doubting that, but I've been lucky that most of my highs are still there. And we do all the MAIDEN show in the original key, all the songs and everything. Which is not to say that one or two of the songs aren't quite challenging. But I have news for you: they were always challenging; when I was 25, they were challenging."

He continued: "The tone of my voice has changed a little bit, and in many ways I like it more now than I did when I was 23. 23, I was like shiny and squeaky. Your voice becomes more lived in. You can express more emotion, you can carry more emotion. So, for example, there's a song on [my upcoming solo] album ['The Mandrake Project'] called 'Rain On The Graves'. I couldn't have sung that song when I was 22 years old in the same way. So it's interesting to see how the kind of emotional life of the voice develops over the years. So that's the kind of the realm that I'm trying. I'm trying to extend the range, the emotional range of my voice, as much as preserve the physical range at the same time."

Dickinson also talked about his diet and exercise routine and how it affects his singing voice. He said: "I maybe changed a couple of minor things on my diet. I don't eat as much bread, but mainly that's because my wife is French, so I'm completely indoctrinated into the ways of French bread. And I'd rather not eat bread at all than eat rubbish, like industrial bread. So I'm sold on that idea. So I actually eat a lot less bread and I try and eat a bit more protein than I used to. And I do sometimes go down the gym and throw a few bits of iron around. And I still train fencing, and I don't think people realize how physical that sport is, 'cause you're covered in white and you're wearing a mask. So it's like people say, 'Grand Prix drivers, they don't they don't do much hard work, do they?' Because they're all covered in the suit and they've got a helmet on, but they're losing god knows how many kilos of water. They work physically incredibly hard. And the same thing on stage. I mean, on stage with MAIDEN, I'm losing about three liters of water during a show. I probably drink a liter and a half or two liters during the show. And so when I go back to my hotel room, I'm still a liter short of where I should be, so that I just gradually make that up. As a singer, 'cause I sing from my diaphragm and all the good things you should do, it's not happy if you chuck an entire liter of water into your belly."

Bruce previously discussed his singing technique during the question-and-answer session at his January 2023 spoken-word appearance at Slagthuset in Malmö, Sweden. Asked how he takes care of his voice, he responded: "Well, it's not that I take care of it — I kind of do — but I just try not to abuse it, if that makes sense. 'Cause the voice will kind of take care of itself, as long as you don't abuse it. So, yeah, common-sense things: drink plenty of water, don't smoke loads and loads of cigarettes or gargle with razor blades before a show, and anything else like that. And preferably don't go out to a football match the night before a gig and [yell at the players and the referee], 'cause afterwards [you will have no voice left]. So, obvious things like that. Warm up a little bit and everything else. Oh, and the other thing is, learn how to sing. It helps."

In a 2017 interview with the Scandinavian talk show "Skavlan", Bruce said about how he preserves his vocal cords: "Your voice is a muscle, like anything else, and as long as you don't abuse it and you use it correctly, then it will last.

"I'm not a great believer that a voice is just about singing," he continued. "A voice is a tool for communication. And as a singer, all you are, really, is a storyteller, and it just so happens that, obviously, with my voice I tell stories a particular way, but if you're Leonard Cohen, you have a different voice and you still tell great stories.

"When I got diagnosed with throat cancer [in 2014], the thought occurred to me I might not be able to sing again," Bruce said. "Thankfully, that was not the case. But I did think about it, and I thought, 'You know what? Even if my voice changed completely, it still doesn't mean I can't tell stories.' Maybe I'd have to tell them a different way. Maybe I couldn't do them with IRON MAIDEN. But it still doesn't stop you… If what you want to do is tell stories, then you find a way to do it."

According to Bruce, "talking is disaster for the voice. Because when you sing, all the muscles in the voice are used in completely the opposite way to when you talk," he explained. "So I'm talking to you now and I'm using everything from here [points to his throat] down. Well, when I'm singing, I'm using everything from here up. So all it is is… Think of it like an organ pipe — basically, lots of rest, sleep, plenty of water, keep it hydrated. Don't go out yelling in pubs after the show."

In early 2015, Dickinson underwent a seven-week course of chemotherapy and radiology to treat a small cancerous tumor at the back of his tongue. A couple of months later, he was given "the all-clear" by his specialists following an MRI scan.

Also in 2017, Dickinson spoke to the Swedish TV show "Malou Efter Tio" about how his singing voice has changed following his cancer diagnosis. He said: "[It's] a little bit different. Two things are slightly different. One is my saliva, which obviously lubricates your throat a little bit, is a bit less than it used to be. Although, back ten years ago, if I had the same cancer, I wouldn't be making any saliva. But now, I'm probably 70 percent, which is great. Thanks very much, everybody upstairs. [Laughs] And the other things is that I think that the shape of possibly the back of my tongue, which forms vowel sounds and things like that, might have changed shape slightly, because, obviously, it had a big lump in it, and the lump's gone. So maybe the surface has changed shape. So I notice a few differences. Funnily enough, the top end of my voice is maybe even a little bit better than it was before. [Laughs]"

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