Metal-Rules.com Interview with
ICED EARTH Mastermind, Jon Schaffer
Interviewed By EvilG
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
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
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
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?
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
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?
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
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?
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
I guess you don't get to take your bike on the road with you do
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
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
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!
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
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
Earth - The Melancholy EP
Wicked This Way Comes
Matt Barlow (2001)
Schaffer of Iced Earth / Demons & Wizards (March, 2000)
Schaffer - Iced Earth (Dec.5, 1998)
Hails To Those Who Made This
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
Photo credits, Michael Hames.
©2001 Metal Rules!!