Heart of Steel: Interviews

 

Interview with Matt Barlow of Iced Earth
Interview by EvilG, Transcription by Waspman

I thought we'd start by talking about the tribute album that's coming out on November 12th, although it was previously available on the DARK GENESIS box set. Was the original plan to always make the CD available as a stand-alone?

Yeah, that was one of the things that Jon wanted to do, because he didn't want to really screw anybody out of the opportunity to have it, even if they didn't want to buy the whole box set. The only other thing with the box set is the ENTER THE REALM demo. We had to give something exclusive to the box set, otherwise people that went out and paid the cash for the box set would be like, "Hey man! I didn't have to go out and buy this whole thing!".

 

I'm sure you've been asked this before, but I was wondering, why did you decide to do a tribute album, and what are your thoughts on some of the other tribute albums out there, such as COVERKILL by Overkill or perhaps that Dio tribute album HOLY DIO? There's a lot of them out there obviously.

Yeah, I mean, those are all cool, most of them were done by multiple bands. This was something that we wanted to do and were able to do, as one band. Sort of play cover band for a little while. It was sort of unique and a lot of fun to do, sort of a cool part of the whole box set thing.

Most of TRIBUTE TO THE GODS is done pretty much very faithful to the original. Did you guys ever think of trying to mutate the songs in a new way?

No, I don't think that there was any idea of mutating any of the songs. I had some ideas of doing different harmonies with the Priest and Maiden songs, but Jon thought it would be better if everything was like you say, faithful to the original. We're not trying to one-up these guys or anything, we're trying to pay homage to them. That was the important thing.

Did you personally select any of the songs, and if so, which ones?

Well, I made suggestions but I didn't select any of the songs, but a couple of them actually did make the disc. "Burning for You" and "Highway to Hell" were a couple that I wanted on there. That was stuff that I was really inspired by at a younger age. Most of the stuff though reflects what Jon's inspiration as a writer. That's kind of what we were shooting for.

I was wondering, why are there two cover songs each from Kiss, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, and Blue Oyster Cult, when you could have used four extra openings to cover different bands?

Well that's the thing. We could have, but these were the main bands that were influencing, just trying to...it was hard enough to break it down with just these bands. Tunes that we thought would show what we thought of the bands, performing them again, and also picking songs that would be more of crowd favorites. It was tough. We've already done a cover of Priest and Black Sabbath before, so they only got one song each. Alice Cooper was one of those deals where it was just we picked the one cool song for him. It was a really hard decision I think, certainly for Jon to pick these songs that are cool and in your face. He was kicking around an idea to do "To Tame a Land" from Maiden, but thought it would be better to do two shorter songs that were highly identifiable to metal fans.

Were there any bands that you toyed with the idea of covering but it just didn't come together as you'd like so you scrapped the idea?

No, I don't think so. It was pretty much what we stuck with.

Are there any songs on here that did make the cut that you're not thrilled about personally?

I'm thrilled with all of them because it was done in such good fun. We didn't set out to do something super spectacular, we just wanted to do them justice and maybe add an Iced Earth flair. That was pretty much what we did, and had fun with it as something cool.

Are all of the songs on here candidates for set material or will you just stick to your own material?

We'll probably stick to our own material, but you never know, we may pull something out.

I got the bio from Century Media where Jon gives his thoughts on all the songs on the album. Since I'm not talking to Jon and I don't have your thoughts, I thought we could go through the bands that are one here and maybe tell us what it meant to you. I'd like to start off with Kiss and "Creatures of the Night" because that's my favorite song on the album, and the first track.

Cool. I'm not a really huge Kiss fan, Jon is definitely the Kiss fanatic of the band. I certainly respect Kiss and have been more of a fan since knowing Jon, I definitely think that CREATURES OF THE NIGHT was the best record that they've done. I don't know if it was because a lot of the writing was done by Vinnie Vincent or not (laughs). I just think it was more of a metal record and heavy with super drum work. For me, that was a very cool song to do, and something that a lot of people say that I sound like Paul Stanley. I was interesting to do that to hear if I actually do, 'cause sometimes I don't get it. I do hear some tonal things in there.

Probably some of the higher notes.

Yeah, probably because we both have large cranial cavities or something (laughs). Something that simple.

The other Kiss song was "God of Thunder".

We were actually kicking around doing "Detroit Rock City" but Jon wasn't real sure on that one. I suggested that one because, for one thing, it's one of those really identifiable Kiss songs, and I thought Jon would sound really killer doing it, 'cause he's such a big Gene fan. That was really cool that he did that.

The other band on here with two tracks is AC/DC with "Highway to Hell" and "A Long Way to the Top".

Right.

Was AC/DC a large influence?

Yeah, that was the stuff that I cut my teeth on, listening to hard rock, that was the shit back when I was a kid. Before that I was basically spinning my dad's country and Elvis 45s. So that was like the first influence down the road to hell basically (laughs). "Highway to Hell" was the first AC/DC record that my brother brought into the house and I just listened to it over and over. Then, of course, "A Long Way to the Top" is something that Jon picked because it makes perfect sense. If there's a message song on this record, that's the one.

There's also a pair of tunes on here by Blue Oyster Cult. I know I've read before about Jon's interest and influence by them, is that the same for yourself?

Well, the funny thing is, I just liked the way the songs sounded back when I was younger. I didn't really delve into the lyrical content of it. It just makes total sense now. I love the way that bands from that time, be it BOC, Bad Company, or Deep Purple, oftentimes with their songs gave a very sarcastic vibe to the songs, 'cause their songs sounded so nice and beautiful with cool choruses and stuff, but when you got down to the lyrical content, it was just the opposite. That's a very cool thing to be able to do 'cause you're in the mainstream and the go, "Well, y'know, "Burnin' For You" is not a love song". It's not about my loins burning for you, it's about my soul burning for you. It's one of those cool things and it's definitely a very important and dramatic thing about heavy metal. You can draw people in with the simplest sounds of a guitar or song and yet there's a much heavier lyrical content. That's really what heavy metal is about. People who say that BOC aren't heavy metal are full of it.

There's a lot of people who say that about older bands. They're not heavy metal, they're "classic rock". It's like the bar gets raised every decade or so.

Right, right! Heavy guitar sound, does not make a heavy metal band.

Definitely not. Another band on here is Judas Priest, obviously must have been a big influence for a young Matt Barlow.

Oh yeah, definitely.

Alice Cooper you spoke about, and the only other one is Black Sabbath. I was wondering, was that be the ideal song for you, or were you maybe toying with a Ronnie James Dio song?

No, I mean...That was kind of the epitome of their influence and inspiration for Jon. Certainly did some killer stuff as well as Ian Gillan. Jon really loves that record even though it's not a crowd favorite. It all goes back to the first of it, the original stuff.

I noticed in Jon's words in some of the songs, a lot of times he mentioned that his sister got him into this stuff. What was it like for you? Did you have an older brother playing this stuff?

Oh yeah! My brother is five years my elder, so he brought in he AC/DC and Judas Priest. Back before all that he got into Lynrd Skynrd and Molly Hatchet which is more in the Southern Rock vibe. Then came the AC/DC and stuff like W.A.S.P. Now some of his favorite stuff is death metal.

What does he think of Iced Earth?

He likes Iced Earth, we've sort of both been on different tracks. He tends to go for the heavier sound in terms of guitars, he calls it "brutal". I'm a vocalist, he plays guitar so maybe that's the difference, but I tend to fall back a bit more and appreciate the vocalist a little bit more.

So regarding all of the bands on here, they're all active today to some extent, do you keep up with these bands now? Do you like they're older stuff better?

Um..oftentimes yes. I think it's probably because there's people who walk up to me, who say "Man, I really like you, but the first Iced Earth record is still my favorite". That's cool y'know, because that's what they started out on. That's what got them into Iced Earth, and often, that's the case. A lot of times people will come up and say "I heard you guys for the first time on SOMETHING WICKED, and that's my favorite". That doesn't surprise me because that's just the way that people react to music sometimes. That's the first thing and they listen to it over and over again and that's what they like. Bands tend to change style and feeling and everything else throughout their career, and that's just natural progression, but the fans are still stuck with the fact that they love this record the most. That's cool man, it's gonna happen.

Onto other topics, I was wondering how much material has been written for the upcoming album?

Jon's written material for 14 songs, he's told me. We're gonna get together later on this week and I'm going to listen to that stuff. Things are going in a really positive direction. He's done a lot of good things and he's got a lot to accomplish on this record. We're going to be changing labels and things like that and there's a lot of things that are going to need to be done; shooting to smoke HORROR SHOW in terms of writing and sales. As well as everything else, all of the artistic stuff in between. That's what we're aiming at. There may not be 14 songs on the record, and he may write different stuff. This is just preliminary stuff and we're shooting to get into the studio at the end of December. If that doesn't work out and we have to push it back then we will, it's most important for the writing to be right and the songs to be there.

So you haven't heard any of the new music yet?

No, I haven't. I submitted some lyrics to him a couple of months ago and I know he's got some ideas for stuff. We're not even going to get into that, I'm just going to hear it and then we'll see where we're at.

So do you foresee yourself contributing more lyrics because I know you did more than ever on HORROR SHOW?

Well, I hope so. You know, I think I gave him six sets of lyrics, but it may not all get on there. I've also got some other ideas that I'm going to submit to him.

I know this is an ongoing question that gets brought up on interviews, and you just touched on it, and that is, has Iced Earth found a new label yet?

Well, nothing that I can speak of. It's definitely not my place to say.

So you're still in the negotiating phase then?

Yeah.

OK, cool. I interviewed you almost exactly one year ago, and at that time I asked you if other bands or musicians have approached you to do a side project, 'cause as you know a lot of fans think about, "what could Matt do while Jon is off doing his Demons & Wizards thing?" Has that status changed?

No man. I'm cool where I'm at. If something killer came up, like Jon and Hansi have been able to do, then that would be great. I mean, nobody's approached me and I'm not really seeking anything.

 

iced fkn earth

 

So what will be up next? Will it be Iced Earth or Demons & Wizards?

Actually, I was just talking to Jon last night and he's said that he's going to possibly try to bash out drums for both records at the same time. There's a scheduling thing with Hansi, Blind Guardian's tour schedule. We'll see. Hopefully..I'm thinking that the Iced Earth record will be out before Demons. I think that's the way that Jon wants to do it, unless something happens with a scheduling conflict.

Overall now, what is your take on the direction that the music industry has taken in the present day? Both the music industry as a whole and also the metal side of it.

Well y'know the music industry has not completely embraced heavy metal like it did in the last 80s. I don't know that it ever will. I keep hoping that somebody will take the chance. The major labels do kind of swing the trends, and it would be nice for there to be somewhat of a bigger opening for metal bands, not only the nu-metal bands. Even those guys, they're doing OK, but they're not like Metallica in the 80s.

Do you see any bands being pushed like you guys would like to be pushed? Do you see anyone and go, "Wow, that label's doing a great job, that's what we'd like to do"?

Yeah, there are certainly bands that are on majors that are getting a much bigger push than we have gotten, but we'll see what happens after we get signed and everything.

In terms of the scene as a whole out there, what's going on in terms of bands that you think is cool or new bands?

I don't really look out for new bands. Some people might think "hey, you're not helping the industry by not promoting new bands". Hey man, I'm 32 years old, I've got the things that I'm set in my ways, and there's the things that I like. Occasionally I will listen to some new stuff. Most of the time I listen to the bands that I like and respect and been on tour with. I listen to what they're doing and I'm happy that they're OK. Like Sentenced. Actually I don't have the new one so I'm kinda pissed off (laughs). Those guys just got a gold record in Finland for that and that's super cool because they deserve it. They're great guys. The guys that I care about in the industry are the ones I listen to.

So on a typical day when you're sitting down and pop on a CD, what kind of music would it be?

Well, let's see. Man, anything I guess. I do like Bruce Dickinson, some of his stuff. I'll listen to Maiden or Metallica, Judas Priest. That's kind of the stuff that I rock out to down the road with. Most of the time that I listen to music, that's where I listen to it.

One last question about TRIBUTE TO THE GODS. You just mentioned Metallica, and I was a bit surprised that they're not on here, because older Metallica seemed to have been somewhat of an influence to the band.

Maybe more in the attitude and the timing than anything else. Certainly Jon was more inspired by the British wave of metal. That's one of the things that's parallel. Metallica was inspired by Diamond Head, but they weren't inspired at all by Maiden. At least that's what I gather from their vibe. This is really more along those lines, than even earlier stuff that started out before Metallica. All of the guys on here started in the 70s, at least most of them did.

So is Iced Earth to the point now where you derive enough income from it that you don't have to worry about a full-time job, or do you still manage the restaurant?

Nah, I'm still doing stuff. I'm actually doing some catering and stuff like that. I can't totally rely on the income of the band. I'm doing pretty well, and things are going to be better after the new deal is signed. I have a certain lifestyle that I like to live, and that's where I'm at. My wife works and we have things, like the dog here (laughs). It's a constant money pit (laughs).

So do Iced Earth fans try to find out where the restaurant is and barge in demanding to see the manager? (laughs)

Some of them have, certainly. Only a few.

So what do you like to do in your spare time? If there is such a thing.

Well, I like to play my Xbox, that's for sure. I've got this dog which is a full-time job, and he's pretty cool, a Labrador.

That's pretty close to where I'm from.

Oh yeah, is that right?

It's part of the province of Newfoundland which is where I'm from.

My apartment's not big enough for a Newfoundland! (laughs) That's a big dog man.

(laughs) My last question, if you've got the time, this album TRIBUTE OF THE GODS is coming out now, what would you pick as your top 5 classic heavy metal albums of all time?

Oh boy.

If you can. I know the list might change tomorrow. (laughs)

Yeah. A lot of them that were on here. NUMBER OF THE BEAST would have to be one of them. Also, PIECE OF MIND. As far as Iron Maiden's concerned. RIDE THE LIGHTNING would have to be in the top. BLACK SABBATH. Four?

You picked two Maiden, so one more (laughs).

Let me see. SCREAMING FOR VENGEANCE. You got me on the spot here...I don't know.

That pretty much sums everything up.

I'm trying to access my memory banks of all the songs out there. It's pretty tough.

So is there anything else going on with yourself or Iced Earth that you'd like to share?

Well, I think we pretty much covered it all, with the album and the writing.

OK, man. Well, thanks again for your time and I look forward to the new album!

OK, take care of yourself! Stay warm up there!

Thanks! Bye.


Official website: www.IcedEarth.com
Label: www.centurymedia.com

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