INTERVIEW AND PICTURES BY
MARKO SYRJÄLÄ AND ARTO LEHTINEN
Iced Earth is making a return to the limelight. The band has now booked to several European festivals and heading to tour as a supporter for Heaven and Hell. At the Swedenrock festival, we got the great opportunity to have a small chat with the frontman of Iced Earth and Beyond Fear, Tim Ripper Owens. Iced Earth will be unleashing their new album called “Framing Armageddon” via SPV. The album’s story continues with the saga of the trilogy from SOMETHING WICKED. Owens tells us more about the concept of the album and plans to get on the road again.
We would all like to know that the current line-up has changed slightly since the last tour?
Well, the bass player is Dennis Hayes. Dennis has played with me for years. He plays in Beyond Fear with me, and he played in Winter’s Bane with me, so it goes back quite a ways. He’s on bass, and he played on the album. And Troy, the guitar player that was just here. He came aboard because Tim Mills couldn’t do it because of his business, and somebody got sick at his work, got cancer, and he couldn’t do it. Tim was awesome. Tim’s great. We would’ve loved to have stayed with him. Brent Smedley was on drums in Iced Earth years ago, and he did the “Alive In Athens” and stuff. Brent would be the drummer and then had a couple of guitar changes that nothing Jon could do about it, you know? Actually, none of them are officially in the band or even did anything, you know…?
But you are an official member, aren’t you?
Oh yeah, yeah. So is Dennis now, and Brent would be, the guitar player’s not. Right now, we’ll see what happens with touring and stuff.
Don’t you think it’s a little challenging to work on the material because you will always have to find a contemporary musician all the time?
Well, we’d all probably like to keep them, but one goes to prison, one’s employee has cancer, and he has a business to run. It’s hard to do that. I think Jon would love to keep the same line-up all the time, but hopefully, I have a feeling that Dennis will stay for quite a while. I don’t foresee him doing it; hopefully, Brent will be here for a while too, and that’s the main section you want to keep.
You just released your new EP, “Overture of the Wicked”; it came out last week or something, except for a brand new track. What was the reason you decided to re-record a couple of old songs for it?
Because it’s what the story is about, the next two records are about. So Jon wanted to re-release that and put that out there so that people start getting familiar with it again. I mean, he wouldn’t have done anything else, it just fit what we were doing, and since the album was coming out, he thought while we’re here, let’s do the “Something Wicked” trilogy re-record it. Start the story off again; familiarize people a couple of times.
The EP is now out, and the album is coming out in the fall. Jon also told me earlier today that you’re going to shoot a promotional video for the new song?
Yeah, we leave tonight actually to go to Gothenburg to shoot the video.
What kind of concept do you have for the video?
It’ll be a dark concept, and I guess we’ll have to see after it’s done. The funny thing about videos is that you never exactly know until it’s done if it’s going to work out or not anyway. This is the same guy that did the “Terror Train” for Demons and Wizards, and he’s done a lot of them. We’re pretty excited about the way this guy shoots and what it’s going to be. It’s going to be a little bit different.
How about the touring plans from now on? So far, you have booked only have a couple of festival dates in Europe now, right?
When will the actual tour start?
We’re probably looking at starting in October or something; I would probably think? Because we do have the Heaven and Hell tour we’re doing in the UK with Heaven and Hell, so we’ll probably go out before that and do a headlining tour. Once you get close to the album coming out, we’ll probably start then and work it hard. We’re going to try. I mean, hopefully, his back will be good. This time we’re going to start in Europe and not start in America.
That’s good! *laughter*
So we make sure that that was the unfortunate thing about the last record because the touring was going well, so hopefully, this one will be good.
Are you going to have some band package with you, like the last time you were supposed to have Primal Fear and Thunderstone, but it got canceled.
Uh yeah, I think we will have some package. We’ll have something, we’ll see when it gets closer, and we’ll be able to put that package together, but we’ll have something, it’ll be a nice, uh, nice. You have to do that nowadays, don’t you; you got to put a suitable package together.
Well, after finishing your European tour, you’re probably going back to the States, doing some tours there. What kind of following do you have in the States, because as far as I know, classic albums/classic metal is not that big thing there now?
Well, we did rather well. We sold out places, House of Blues, and theaters that we would play here as well here. We did well, and we had a good package on it. We had Children of Bodom and Evergrey, so it was an excellent package. So really, it’s not the same over there. One thing they don’t have is the festivals, which are the thing. I guess they do have big festivals that tour; they have Ozzfest that tour, and it will probably have 10 to 15 thousand people every night.
The lineup is something else but traditional metal.
Well, Dimmu Borgir was on the main stage last year.
But they are not traditional metal.
No, but what IS traditional metal nowadays, right? You wouldn’t be able to call Blind Guardian traditional metal. We’re probably close to it because we’re in the band. I’d say we’re traditional metal, and people always say aggressive stuff.
Well, Ozzfest of this year is for free.
Yeah, the problem is you get a free show, and you look at the bands’ line-up.
That’s true, no wonder people come here and if it’s free.
I mean, free would be good if you had a great line-up. You had Maiden on it, before that, you had Priest on it, Ozzy and Priest, or in years past you had Pantera, you had whatever, but now. There’s nothing like that.
Well, let’s see how it goes. Speaking of you doing double duty with your two bands, as a singer, isn’t it sometimes difficult for you to keep things separate from each other?
No, no, it’s my voice. I don’t disguise it for each band and sing differently. I sing. Singing in Iced Earth is like putting on a glove. It’s ME when I sing, old stuff or new stuff, and I fit right in with it. It’s great to do; it’s not a change if you think of it.
Some old-school fans of Iced Earth still keep on asking why Matt isn’t in the band. Is Tim as good as him and “blah blah blah”?
Well, you’ll always get it. I mean, there are still fans that liked the singer before Matt. I still hear that. That’s how it is, Matt was a good singer and a good guy, and people should do that. I think people should always want Matt, but they still have to look to the future, open their ears up and listen, come to the concert and listen. But you’re always going to get it.
Did you manage to put your input to the new songs’ songwriting process because the last time you came in and did the vocals for the previous album?!
It was hard with this one as well, because this is Jon’s story, it’s in his head, so it’s hard to come in, you know, and the advantage to this record is that there wasn’t somebody singing on it before me, so it was wider open for Jon’s ideas, to write material that he knew could even branch out something a little bit different. But it’s a story, that’s the great thing about it; I said that the whole time. It’s a pretty complicated story, so it’s hard to write melodies for something you don’t write by yourself. It’s complicated for Jon to talk about, so you can imagine.
Yeah, you are the one who has to have to sing what he wants to hear “laughs.”
Yeah, so I understood that, and I had a couple of ideas I threw in, and a couple will be on the next record, but it’s the more minor things you realize it’s going to be hard to do.
So, you had “The Red Baron” on the last album; you had some writing credits, so you’ll have some on this one too?
I don’t know, and I haven’t seen the credits yet! But the difference was that I was asked to write a song about something, or he had the song, and I could write it about into “The Red Baron,” whereas this one I couldn’t write about something I didn’t know about. I did give him a couple of melody ideas, and we used one on one song. I think in the future, as we write together, he can do that more often, and we realize how we can do it. Even if he writes some lyrics, he can go, “Hey, why don’t you see if you can put this to something.”
Speaking of this “Wicked” concept, when will the story end? Will it ever see the end?
God, I don’t know!
It seems like it! It’s quite a unique adventure. The album is pretty spectacular as a whole piece. To sit down and listen to it, music fitting with the lyrics and melodies. Things that are just fitting together it’s pretty awesome. It’s pretty ballsy too, it’s pretty heavy and kicks ass.
Who did the production this time, and the mixing?
At Morris Sound?
Actually, we did most of it at Jon’s studio and then went to Morris Sound and did some mixing there. Morris Sound is still doing metal bands and always bringing them in, still doing it.
Morris Sound has a strong death metal background.
Yeah, it’s funny how they got bigger. When we were there recording, Trans-Siberian Orchestra was there recording.
Quite funny! There’s Jon Oliva and Al Pitrelli, so it’s a few good metal guys there, but they’re just doing something slightly different.
The last time you had lyrics about different fighting and war things, and now it’s more about fantasy things. Which kind of lyrics do you prefer to sing about, like war, fantasy, or realistic ones?
I’ll sing about anything! I enjoyed singing, “Gettysburg” was just awesome to sing because it’s such a fantastic piece; the three songs were quite amazing, and to be able to do that live, was pretty spectacular. It’s not something you pull off. I’m not a sci-fi guy, and that’s pretty much something with a sci-fi type of thing. But it has such a human element to it, and it’s not robots coming down. It’s almost like a human. Let’s say it’s non-fiction; put it that way. But I like singing just about usual stuff myself, something that you can feel, understand and know what’s going on.
So it feels kind of corny to be singing about wizards and demons and dragons and swords.
Well, I did it on the Beyond Fear record. I sang about it, “Scream Machine,” and it was written that way to be a little tongue-in-cheek, kind of a Judas Priest song. It was the last song I wrote for the record, and I wrote it to be a nod, to say to Priest that I could’ve written on the records if you asked me to. So I wrote “Scream Machine,” which is a very Judas Priest-like song, and lo and behold, it became the most popular song on the record. So, funny that I’m singing about a metal monster coming to get you “laugh,” but that’s the great thing about heavy metal, you can write a song about anything from politics to metal monsters, to demons and wizards, to history. And it’s also fun that way, and I would never limit myself to write about one thing.
Of course, Jon is very interested in the history and history issues that were going on. How much you are into those things, and I would also like to know how much Jon has told you those things, history, etc. For example, have you two been to Gettysburg to see the ancient battlefields together?
Well, we did, we went to Gettysburg, and it was just unreal. It’s one thing that was stepping your foot into that area; you know that so many people lost their lives. It changed where I live, and it changed what I would’ve become. It does make you do that because when I went there, stepping into it, you just felt “Ah.” You know what happened here, this place? I never thought of it before. So, I did. I became really into it. I knew about Gettysburg, but I’ve never been a big history guy, but being friends with Jon makes you more aware of history, just world history, what’s going on.
Because we’re running out of time, we have to end this discussion very soon, but before that, we would like to ask a little more about Beyond Fear. What is the state of that band now?
Luckily we all live locally, so we get together and practice and stuff. John Comprix and I already threw around some ideas, so we probably have about four songs already. Whenever the Iced Earth tour is done, my goal is to go back into Beyond Fear and have the album pretty much done. Going home, working on some songs, maybe we are even recording stuff while I’m on a break from Iced Earth?
I’m looking forward to it. It’s probably going to be a bit more “Scream Machine” and “Words of Wisdom’s” and stuff and stuff like that.
Beyond Fear: Alive in Finland in 2006
You did your first actual Beyond Fear tour with Anthrax before the album was released. Now afterward, how did that tour go, in your opinion?
It was great, and it was a great tour, although our album wasn’t out yet, except the show in Gothenburg, which was kind of, uh?
Awful. It was absolutely terrible. It was by far with the power going out and the minimal crowd. We were playing a lot of sellout shows and good shows, and suddenly, we hit that. It was just one of these things, but you get them on tour. But it was a great tour, and the fans were great, and we were accepted well for not having a record out yet, and it went over well. I couldn’t believe the reaction we got, so it was great.
Both your shows in Finland went well, and you seemed to have a great time there?
Yeah. Always do. Back from the Priest days on, I’ve always loved it.
“Ripper” in Finland during his Priest days …
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