Interview with Jon Schaffer
5th May 2017 @ My Bloomsbury Hotel, London
Interviewed by Oliver M.
Three years after the masterpiece “Plagues of Babylon”, Iced Earth are back with a new album called “Incorruptible”. This 12th opus has recently been released by Century Media and has already received some very positive feedback from the fans and critics. Last month, we had the opportunity to discuss with their mastermind Jon Schaffer in London about this promising record and his projects.
Hi Jon! Before we talk about your brand new album, I would like to have a look briefly at what happened in the last 3 years. In 2014, you released “Plagues of Babylon” which is one of Iced Earth’s best albums in my opinion. What’s your feeling about it?
I think it’s a good record. It’s honest just like the horror. I’m glad to hear you’ve enjoyed it and I think there are some really cool, high points on that record. But I feel that way about all of them. The fans’ perspective is always different from mine. We accomplished a lot at that time. That period was very intense for the band because we did “Dystopia” and put in “Live in Ancient Kourion”, “Plagues of Babylon” with 350 shows around the world as well. So, there were 2 massive world tours back to back with the recording period. It was a lot, really intense. Then, the band got pretty burnt out on that period because of the amount of work we did and the way we were travelling. It was good for us to take this break so we could build new material and come back with “Incorruptible”. It’s a very strong record.
“Incorruptible” is your 12th album and will be released in June by Century Media. The few songs I’ve heard so far are very good. Compared to what you did in the past, how would you describe that new album?
I think this is definitely our best album since Stu joined the band. I feel like that. First of all, Stu and I bonded instantly when he joined the band. Then, we went through these 2 massive world tours, made 2 records together, did a live DVD and spent a lot of time together as brothers. After that, we took a long break that was very well needed. I bought a studio and then, we had a place to call home as headquarters of the band. I feel like this album was done under all of the right conditions from a standpoint of not being under a specific time pressure. Our relationship even bonded at a deeper level after all the stuff we’ve been through. Those are just the things that make the production of the record really strong. Chris Harris did the majority of the engineering on the album. I did a lot of engineering on the guitars and some of the vocals. There were a lot of talented people involved in it from an engineering standpoint (including Jim Morris) and Chris did a great job on the mixing as well. I think the studio itself is really perfect for us and it’s just going to get better. That’s the first record we made in there. Now, we know some of the traps we have to look for and how to fix them for the next time to make it even better. From a songwriting standpoint, I think everybody was channelling the energy in the right way. Everybody in our team, from the artists who did the illustrations, to the guys who executed their parts. For example, Jake Dreyer didn’t do any songwriting because we had already done by the time he got there. But he did an amazing job on the solos. So, everybody put their heart and soul into it and in every part of the job. That turns it into a really great record. Well, I hope so. I mean it’s great for us and hopefully our fans will feel that way too.
You already made several concept albums in the past. Do you consider “Incorruptible” as a concept album? What are the lyrics about and the main themes behind it?
It’s not a concept album. It’s a horror-themed album, a collection of 10 individual songs. It has been quite a long time. I think the last time we did a record like that was on our first eponymous album. Most of them like “Horror Show” have themes of horror. Each song has a different horror story based on a movie or whatever. “The Glorious Burden” was based on different battles throughout history and “Framing Armageddon”, “The Crucible of Man”, “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, “Night of the Stormrider” were also concept albums. For “Incorruptible”, it has just felt that the right way to go was to do songs that felt good and not to worry about trying to tell one big story but to tell a lot of stories. That’s what we did. “Great Heathen Army” has the Viking theme going on with Ragnar Lothbrok’s son seeking revenge for his death. “Black Flag” is a short story about a pirate and how he came to be. “Clear the Way (December 13th, 1862)” is a tribute to the Irish Brigade from the American Civil War. I mean there are a lot of different things. As I know you’re French, one of the songs I’ve been considering to write for many years and it will happen someday is about the Battle of Austerlitz from the Napoleonic Wars. So, that’s going to happen someday. I was thinking about it but in the end, I considered it wasn’t the right time yet. The “Clear the Way” theme has been in my head for 15 years and it finally felt like the right time to do it. So, it happened naturally. I just let the energy flow.
Now, let’s talk about your side-projects. I’ve been a huge fan of Demons & Wizards for many years and the latest album you did, “Touched by the Crimson King”, was in 2005. Are you planning to release a new album with Hansi Kürsch soon?
Yeah! Actually, we’ve already started the songwriting process. I sent him 2 fully arranged pieces of music, he’s already worked on the vocals for those and has sent them back to me. So, it’s happening. It’s just going to be a slow process over the next year probably and between the holes in our schedules where we can make it happen. I’m going to see Hansi on Monday and we’re going to talk more about all of this.
Have you already got a label to release this upcoming 3rd album?
No, we’re not in a hurry for that. It’s not our priority. Everybody is going to want it. We’re not worried about finding somebody to work with later. We’ll make it ourselves. Putting the songs together is the thing we’re going to focus on first.
That’s really great news!
Yeah, a lot of people have been waiting for that. It has been a long time, 12 years since “Touched by the Crimson King”!
You have also a very interesting side-project called Sons of Liberty. Are you planning to release a 2nd album soon?
No, I mean it will happen someday for sure but I don’t have enough time to do everything. The last year and a half was super intense with building the headquarters for the band and it’s about 4 500 square feet. So, it’s a big project. From there, I have to think about the songwriting, pre-production, tour, production… But there will be stuff for Sons of Liberty. I just don’t know when. That’s really a passion of mine. I will do it when I feel it and then put it out like I did before.
Is it something very personal for you?
Yeah. I’m sure there will be more music coming but we’ve recently finished “Incorruptible”. Now, I’m focused on Demons & Wizards from a creative standpoint and maybe songs will come out after that! Or maybe I’m going to write for the next Iced Earth… I don’t know. Time will tell.
Through Sons of Liberty, you’ve been writing a lot about US politics. Have you been very sensitive about the election of Donald Trump last year or didn’t you care about it?
I mean I paid attention to it but actually, I don’t take part in federal elections anymore, for a long time. Because it’s so corrupted and absolutely criminal. I think the best hope for our country is that people wake up. We can’t rely on a guy to go into… Even if Trump is a really good man and I’m not saying he is! I don’t really know. But even if he is, it’s like putting him in the middle of a pit of serpents. You know what I mean? And what do you expect to happen? He’s surrounded by very bad people automatically and now, we’re talking about all this war. And I don’t want any more war. I think the American people don’t want any more war. We’re tired of this shit. So, it’s difficult. The central bankers in the military industrial complex make a lot of money on war and there’s a lot of people like that around him. Sometimes, I really think that he has a good heart and he was trying to do the right thing but now, he realizes this is a very difficult situation. I don’t know. I really don’t know. My president would have been Ron Paul from back in 2007. I was supporting him. He’s a constitutionalist, anti-war, pro-liberty, pro honest money and honest trade. These should be pretty simple things but they benefit the people more than the elite…
What are your projects after the release of “Incorruptible”?
We’ll do some festivals. Actually, the first festival of the season will be Sweden Rock. That show is going to happen about 10 days before the release of the album and then, we’ll come back to Germany and Spain. We’ve got some festivals scattered to this Summer. Now, we’re working on booking a North American tour. It will be in October. We’ll take a break for holidays and I think we’ll come back to Europe either as a headliner, co-headliner or support for a bigger band. There are a few things that are being discussed right now.
To conclude this interview, do you have anything special to add?
No. I think everybody should take a look at “Incorruptible” because it’s a very strong record!