Metal-Rules.com Interview with
ICED EARTH Mastermind, Jon Schaffer

Interviewed By EvilG
October 2001


ICED EARTH's future is definitely looking up. It's been an uphill battle for the guys against trends of the day and against some people who think they don't deserve the accolades they have obtained. I think they deserve what they have and much more! HORROR SHOW has been the band's best selling album to date and after repeated listens I am very close to saying it's my favorite Iced Earth album!!  On the eve of Iced Earth's North American tour as support act for Megadeth, Jon took some time out to have a talk with me about the band.


In my opinion (and probably yours) Iced Earth seems to be at a very important point in your career. You have developed quite a cult following and just about everybody who is heavily into metal has by now heard the name Iced Earth. However the next step is one which could make the band a big success outside of the underground. And being hand picked by Dave Mustaine for the Megadeth tour must feel pretty sweet.

Yeah it does man. I just recently heard that he actually did want us and I thought that was really cool and quite a compliment. And also we got offered the Megadeth tour the day after I got offered the Priest tour. We've never been a support band in the US, so when my manager called and said “You got Priest”, I said “fucken’ eh let's do it...now!” Don't need to think about it. It was a difficult decision to postpone Europe but it was pretty obvious it was something we had to do. Then you know that thing fell apart and the next day my manager called and said “guess what? Now Megadeth is offering.” We’d already committed to Priest so they said “if we still need somebody maybe you could hook up on the second leg.” That would be great. So the obvious thing would have been if the Priest thing would have happened, to do that and this Megadeth thing by the time we would have come back in March to the states after Europe and headlined the states. We probably would have grown considerably. But as it is now, it's a big step for us and I hope that there is going to be more of these tours coming up our way but I was surprised and honoured that they picked us.

 

 

Yeah it's really cool because the band they had on the first part of their tour, I read that Dave Mustaine had posted in an interview or on his website that they bought their way onto the tour. He said he something about not wanting to have anymore of that. He wanted to pick a band that he thought was a heavy metal band as opposed to whatever ENDO was.

Yeah that's cool. I'm sure he's aware of us because obviously we're much bigger in Europe than we are in the States and have been for years and years. I'm sure he's watched our career grow at least over there. Now he can see that at least in the US we're becoming a viable support act because on our own we've been able to build up the kind of following around the country where we can have just 300-500 people and more in some cities. But that's just a general average and it's a good step. The whole thing of moving from Florida and getting the hell out of there and moving up here to Indiana working on the mid-west first; the whole plan worked. So it was the right thing to do.

 

So how did you think you would handle or balance more of a mainstream success with the band, while at the same time keeping fans that got you where you are today?

Well that's not going to be a problem at all because in the end it doesn't really have anything to do with mainstream success or the fans, it has to do with the songs. That's key and I'm always going to be concerned with making myself happy before anybody else. I've been saying this for 17 years and for the last 11 that it became a reality that we were a professional signed recording act, my integrity is not for sale. This is the real deal and it's my way or the highway. So I don't think it's going to be a problem. I'm just going to continue to be an honest songwriter. That's the basis for the success that we've had and it will continue to be. People can either take it or leave it, I don't really give a fuck.

 

 

Do you feel that you have proven yourself musically or do you think there are more things you need to prove or maybe even different elements of your musicianship that you can show to the world with Iced Earth?

No because I don't look at it that way. That's the wrong approach. I don't feel I have anything to prove and certainly not to other people. I hold myself to a much higher scrutiny than any other person ever possibly could. What pushes me is to become a better songwriter. Not necessarily because Joe Blow over here with his band is having success doing this...whatever man. I don't give a fuck what everybody else is doing. I've got blinders on you know. That's been my philosophy since day one for Iced Earth. The point is to continue to grow as a songwriter, to continue to look inward and to live and just get smarter and to try to somehow connect life experiences and make that into musical emotion. I think that's what makes it work, because I've never been the guy that cares about the rock star thing or the guitar hero thing. To me that's kind of shallow. Iced earth has been nothing but a vehicle for my song writing since day one. That's the entire reason that I ran away from home at 16 years old and went through all the shit that I’ve did and done. The whole purpose was to start a vehicle so I could write songs and to be able to get my music out and have it touch people. If they got it, great, if they didn't, that's fine too. But the ones that did; we've got a special loyal thing here and it's working. Obviously I think the world is the fans but I will never let anyone dictate how I write. Be it a record company, fans, journalists, I don't give a shit...that's up to me. It's my baby and I'm the one that's been busting my ass and fighting for it and scratching and clawing. There are going to be people out there that say just because we get more successful they're going to run their mouths and say we are selling out...yeah whatever. I don't even give a fuck what they say. They are fickle fair weather fans and who needs ‘em? The people that really get it and really understand the artist and know what's going on; they're going to be there. Because if you're honest and you're loyal they pick up on it, and they're honest and loyal, well that's all that matters.

 

 

What is your opinion on how metal has changed since Iced Earth began and do you feel you've had any impact on some of the change that has happened in metal in the US even or in Europe?

I don't think that we've really changed all that much. I think that the focus has always been there, it's just a matter of growing in your own element. I don't know about the States but I have seen that in Europe it's a different kind of a trend because over here now it's the rap metal shit and that's the trend or the flavor of the month or something. It's a typical American thing when the corporate suits throw something out and it becomes successful, then they saturate the market with a million bands that are wannabes that sound like this kind of a thing. Then it gets old and a couple years after it starts there's something else. But over in Europe we've developed since the first album, a steady solid fan base and have grown upon that since the last 11 yrs. But what I have seen happen over there in the last 3 or 4 years it's become cool for the independent labels to sign metal bands that are death metal bands because that's pretty much what they were all signing up. Then the gothic thing for a little bit. But I think we probably do have something to do with that. You know “hey there's another trend/movement.” Although we're not the trend, we're doing what we've always done. Over here the market is just so much different. I would love to think that metal will come back here in the states in a huge way, it would be an explosion. I don't know if that will ever happen or not. At the end of the day we're going to continue doing what we do. Whether the whole damn thing takes a dive in the states and it all goes completely underground, I mean it has basically been that way, but I think it's getting a little more recognition now than it has previously.

Yeah, in the middle of the 90's it was pretty bad.

Yeah it was bleak. Even if that does happen again we'll still be doing what we do.

 

 

About other news happening with the band; I read about your upcoming box set that's coming out. First of all, I was wondering what prompted the idea for the box set? What is something you wanted to do or was it the label that asked you?

This is what one site says the cover art will be!!!Well you know, it's kind of a last thing. HORROR SHOW is our last thing with Century and we haven't done a box set yet. We talked about what would be cool things to do and basically one thing I wanted to do was re-issue the artwork because I like the second version of STORMRIDER (the one that's the most known) it’s a really good album cover. But the other album covers are terrible and I really wanted to change that. It kinda grew upon that idea and we talked about re-issuing them and doing a re-mix, and then it developed into the box set. The box set is going to be called DARK GENESIS. It's going to have a hard back book type of thing and a slip case and it's going to be a really sweet package. It will have the ENTER THE REALM demo in it's original form that got us signed except now it will be pressed to CD. Also, the first three albums re-mixed by Jim Morris with all new artwork and also the bonus disc is going to be the TRIBUTE TO THE GODS that we just recorded. We recorded the whole thing here in my home studio down in the basement and we did the recording in 7 or 8 days and we mixed in 3 days down at Morrisound. All the bands that I grew up with, some of the other guys in the band did as well. Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Blue Oyster Cult, Kiss, AC/DC, Maiden, Priest is the kinda stuff that I grew up on, it’s all there. That's going to be included in the box set as well but it's also going to released separately so that people don't have to buy the box set. It was just one of those brainstorming sessions that happened when I was talking to with the owner of the label and it grew from a small idea into a big idea. It kinda maps the beginning of the band and where we come from.

 

 

Has the final packaging for the entire box set been finalised?

Yes I’m working on it because I'm involved with all that stuff. Not since BURNT OFFERINGS has there been one album cover I wasn’t involved with, they’re always my designs except for DARK SAGA which was licensed from Mcfarlane. I knew I wanted Spawn on the cover but they are my ideas and visions and I work very intensely with the artist to make sure it comes across properly. There's nothing more disappointing when finally getting a record contract and you think “Ah yeah here we go”, then you get that box and you open it up and it looks like shit and there's typo's all through it and they've spelled stuff wrong and it's like “ahhhhhhhhhh!” Ever since a long time ago I've been very involved so shit like that doesn't happen anymore. The covers are great and it's going to be a real sharp looking set.

 

 

I read it was supposed to be released around Christmas time, is that so?

Yeah I believe so. It's getting real tight on the deadline. It's a pretty overwhelming amount of work that my artists and me have been doing here, and especially them. They've been the one's doing and I've been directing. There's a pretty detailed biography about the history of the band and there's also all the lyrics and that kind of shit, there's a bunch of photos and you know...whatever.

 

 

Regarding HORROR SHOW, was it harder or was it pretty much the same to come up with an album that was more of a theme album as opposed to a concept oriented album?

In some ways it was maybe a little harder. It depends on which aspect really. Musically it wasn't hard to make it dark and aggressive. I don't usually have a problem with that in any way, especially considering in 2000 my life felt like it was in hell - between the surgery, my divorce and a bunch of other shit that happened…career wise it was great. The Demons and Wizards album was huge and a big success, but the personal world was going to hell so the music was coming out angry naturally. The one thing I was real concerned about was that by taking on this subject matter, I didn't want it to be a cheesy recording. I wanted to be able to look back at this record ten years from now and still be proud of it. That was probably the biggest challenge because I used to write songs about horror movies all the time when the band was called Purgatory. Hell, our third demo was called HORROW SHOW in 1986. The music is totally different but the thing is it's been a familiar subject matter for me writing about horror stuff. It was definitely not alien it's just that it had been so long, and from being a teenager to being a 33 year old guy writing songs like that; it was a challenge. Some of the stuff I was writing back then was certainly corny, but when you're young you don't think about stuff like that. Once I take on the SOMETHING WICKED concept album, that's going to be a huge challenge. But then I look at DARK SAGA which flowed killer. The story was already done for one thing and I was so into the Spawn story line, all that stuff came out quickly. The writing went very smooth and flowed right out of me - the lyrics and music...all of it. But every record is different man.

 

 

You and Matt are responsible for writing most the songs on HORROR SHOW. Do you see a point in the future where maybe Larry or even Richard may be involved more in the song writing process?

Probably not. Like I said earlier, that's the whole purpose that I started the band. There are a lot more good musicians out there than there are songwriters. Even in Matt's case, he doesn't really write music. He writes lyrics and mostly it's poetry and then we work together to make it work in a song for him. He did come farther on this album than he has in the past. But Matt is not really a songwriter persay; more of a poet. He's a great performer but the thing is song writing is definitely an art form and not everybody has it. I'm not willing to change the sound of the band just out of the sake of being cool to somebody. Song writing is a very personal thing. It's not like you just bring somebody in. That's just one side of it. It's very rare that you have chemistry between people that can actually come up with a song that is a really good song. The only person that that has ever happened to me with is Hansi where it's like a full on 50/50 chemistry thing where he's totally pulling his own weight because he is a songwriter also. Not just coming to the table with some lyrics. That's a different kind of deal, that’s the easy part. The rest of it is very difficult. That is possible, but it's only going to be if let's say Larry comes up to me with a piece of music that I feel is going to fit with the vibe of whatever direction it's going in. Then I would use it and obviously give credit to him and all that. But you know Iced Earth is my baby and the song writing is the foundation of everything. That’s what determines a band’s style and that's how we've been able to keep and retain the vision and style from the very beginning. If I were to start to change something like that now; it would throw a wrench in the whole process. It's also easy for somebody to come along and maybe come up with a guitar part or something like that and want to think of themselves as a song writer. But the battle it takes to be a recording artist and to fight for everything that you have and to be able to get it published and get it out there, is a battle in of itself. It’s a very complex thing and if I felt like it was going to enhance the sound of the band and really do something, then yeah. But I'm just here to tell you that I've had a lot of musicians in the band and a lot of guys think they are songwriters but they aren't. There are a lot of performers out there but there are very few songwriters.

 

Concerning mascots...Iron Maiden has Eddie and Megadeth has Vic, Iced Earth has an equally classic mascot in the form of Set Abominae. What exactly does he embody and how important is he to Iced Earth?

Well he's not really a mascot. We have been using him but not as the same sense as Eddie. I would imagine that when I do finish the SOMETHING WICKED concept record (I don't know if it's going to be the next Iced Earth album or if it's going to be the one after that)…but when I'm ready to tackle that monster, that will probably be the end of Set being on our album covers. We've had many albums out and he's only been on the cover of 3 of them and it's a short-lived thing. We put him on ALIVE IN ATHENS to keep it fresh in everybody's mind and on HORROR SHOW he wasn't even supposed to be there. That was a last minute addition and we made it like Set was raising the monsters from the dead because of label politics. Put it this way, it's not that important. It's important to the SOMETHING WICKED story and it seems like a lot of the fans have taken to him and stuff but I wouldn't really consider him a mascot or if he is it's temporary. Basically the SOMETHING WICKED (or whatever I'm going to call it) concept album is based from the trilogy at the end of SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. That trilogy provides the introduction to overview the story that I've written. Once I tackle that into a concept album form at the same time that the album comes out we're going to be releasing a comic book. The album will have pages of art from the comic book and the comic book will be out and it will probably be a four part mini series. It's a very detailed science fiction horror story and when that's all done I would imagine that Set is going to be put to rest and we'll move on to something else. We're always going to have cool striking artwork but he won't be in the theme the whole time.

 

 

I know you are somewhat of a motorcycle fanatic and have recently become more involved with motorcycles. What kind of bikes do you ride and what compels you to ride?

Well I ride Harley's and I've got a Buell, which is a Harley sport bike basically. I've got a Road King, Night Train, and a Screaming Eagle Road Glide and I've got two Cyclones. I have a couple of antiques that I'm going to restore. I'm going to try and do one of them this winter when I have some down time. One of them is going to be resold and one of them is a 1946 WL Solo that I'm going to restore and just park it in my living room and keep it there. It's a cool thing to look at. I would say what compels me to ride is just the…you know it sounds cliché and cheesy but it's the freedom of the open road. It's like a way of getting away from the music bullshit and people and everything and just going out and hitting the pavement and tearing it up. It's very soothing. There's a very peaceful thing about it. I love going out and riding with my buddies in my hog chapter and we'll cover some pretty serious territory sometimes and it's just therapy. It gets me away from all this music shit. [and doing interviews...] (laughter) Yeah. But no, the stress of it all. It was the one thing gratifying about Demons and Wizards, when I'm doing that with Hansi I have a partner that is fully capable in every way cause he's been around. He's the leader of his band I'm the leader of mine. We're the guys that age way quicker than anybody else is. When you go into business together, it's like Demons is a side project but it's a business and it's a 50/50 thing. Hansi is there for me and he can take half the weight. It's a pleasure for both of us because it's half as much work as everything else is and basically we're under zero pressure and it's a huge success. So you can't ask for much more so that was actually a fun thing but then when I'm in the Iced Earth world and 95% of everything rests on my shoulders, riding my bike is sometimes my only relief and my getaway from it.

I guess you don't get to take your bike on the road with you do you?

No, not yet. Someday man! I wish I could pull a trailer behind the tour bus. Believe me, I've thought about it a bunch!!

 

Obviously because of the success of Demons and Wizards I guess you're tired of hearing everybody saying, “when are you going to do a new album.” But ah...when are you going to do a new album? (laughter)

Well we're going to be doing it depending on schedules. It depends on Hansi and his schedule but I've already started working on some pieces of music and I'm planning on working on it between the end of the Megadeth tour and before Iced Earth heads out again on the headline tour of Europe. Between that time period I'm going to be using the time to continue writing and then I'm expecting to try to get something done in the summer of 2002. I'm hoping that I can get at least my parts all recorded.

 

 

I know that this has been talked about in interviews before and that's a North American Iced Earth tour with Blind Guardian. Has there been any more talk on how you'd be able to get that moving or is it just something that is down the road maybe?

Well it's one of those things where it has to work out for the timing of both bands. I wish like hell that the Priest thing had happened then the Megadeth thing. After those two tours the band would have grown quite a bit, but I think we still are going to grow quite a bit just by getting hooked up with Megadeth. Those two things would have been killer! It would have been worth it for me to push Hansi and the Guardians to come over here because then we could really offer them something. It's one thing to come all the way over, and those boys are kinda spoiled. They're really big in other parts of the world as we are but we're also Americans and we're used to really busting our asses and having to fight and claw for everything. It's a little bit of a different way of approaching things and I think for me to get the Guardians to come over it needs to be like we're averaging a thousand people a night. Then bringing them over is going to be worth it for them in their eyes. Where they'll be able to afford a tour bus and do it in a comfortable way. They're not going to be into doing the peanut butter sandwich tour thing. The more we fight and claw over here the more it will be good for them when they finally do come over. We are still going to be working towards that no doubt.

 

 

As most everyone knows, and you mentioned earlier, your next studio album will be on a different label. Has any label been announced yet or is it still in negotiation right now?

We're still negotiating and it could go on for another six months even. It's one of those things that we want to make sure that whoever we go with is going to be committed to the hilt. That's one thing I'm more concerned with is doing business with people that see the vision, to see the overall plan is world domination, put it that way. We're not fucking around, we need to have people behind us that believe in this thing 100% and are going to be willing to focus the energy big time on it. I'm not counting Century Media out completely. They definitely do not want to lose the band but they have to step up to the plate and take the risks. That's the kinda thing that's going to have to happen with whoever we get in the business with. We're taking it slow and steady and patient.

 

Is there any plans or talk of an Iced Earth DVD?

Well I was really wanting that for this box set but Century didn't want to because they didn't want to have to raise the price of the set too much. So I would say yeah at some point I would really love to do that. But I don't know exactly when it's going to be. What I would love to really do is on the next Iced Earth studio album is have a DVD audio mix because that shit is pretty cool. I think it's going to become more popular here. You'll have a good chance of topping the normal CD stereo market because it's just so amazing if you have a surround sound system and you hear a CD that's been mixed for DVD audio. The separation and everything is so cool. It would be really fun to be able to do an Iced Earth CD with a normal stereo mix but then also do a surround sound mix. Especially for something really atmospheric like the SOMETHING WICKED concept album.

 

 

I don't know if any metal band that has done that yet. Have they?

I don't think so. The other day I picked up Deep Purple’s Machine Head, and Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies; that's about the heaviest stuff I've seen that sounds fucken killer!

Have you picked up Alice Cooper's new one?

No actually I haven't. But I wasn't a huge fan of the last one he just did. I love Alice man, but I'm a big fan of the early 70's stuff.

 

 

I think I've pretty much reached the end of my questions. Is there is any news or things you'd like me to pass along to people?

I think we pretty much covered it man. We're staying busy boys as usual and we're looking forward to seeing everybody out on the road.

Hopefully all the dedication pays off and you'll be turning all the Megadeth fans into Iced Earth fanatics.

I hope so dude. This is what we've been working for and it could be the beginning of a much bigger future. I'm hoping that happens but like I said it's gotta happen with my terms and my integrity intact. If that happens it's all good.

You deserve it!

Thanks man!

 

It would be really great because there's still people who are into metal who haven't heard Iced Earth. And every time I come across them I say 'man what are you doing? You like Iron Maiden you like this...check it out!'

There's allot of people in this country that we haven't reached and I would be willing to bet that in the US there's still more than a million dedicated metal fans out there. You just have to fucken find them you know. They're out there and somehow we have to reach them by going out and headlining. It ain't going to happen yet, so this is the best shot we got doing stuff as a support band finally. It's all coming in steps.

 

 

It's been all up hill so far. Has HORROR SHOW been your best selling album so far or do you know the numbers?

It is yeah. I'm sure it is from where it's charted from the soundscans that have been coming in the states, it definitely is yeah.

 

I read the press release that mentioned that it was on the Heat Seekers chart for the billboard in the states. That was like wild man, for a real metal band!

It's coming man. It's just a matter of doing this kinda thing. It took this many years; well 1997 was the first time we toured in the states. From the last four years of us working the market and relocating the band to this part of the country and all that stuff, it's paid off. It was the right thing to do to get out of Florida because now even though we were going out and headlining and preaching to the choir, it still did get us up to the point where we're becoming a viable support band for some of these bigger bands. So it’s like “these guys are going to be worth this amount of people every night, so they're a worthwhile addition to the package.” That's the next step and once we do more of those kinds of tours, then we should start headlining because we would have grown considerably.


Other Iced Earth Stuff in Metal-Rules.com

CD Reviews
Horror Show
Iced Earth - The Melancholy EP
Alive In Athens
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Interviews
Matt Barlow (2001)
Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth / Demons & Wizards (March, 2000)
Jon Schaffer - Iced Earth (Dec.5, 1998)


Hails To Those Who Made This Possible

  • Hails to Ronnie for providing the transcription for this interview in such a short time! I don't  usually work on a deadline like I did with this interview, but you pulled it together in wicked time!!

  • Thanks to Loana and Century Media for giving me the opportunity to talk to Jon and for publishing an edited version of this interview to the Century Media Magazine/Catalog!

  • Photo credits, Michael Hames.


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Tuesday, October 23, 2001