Heart of Steel: Interviews

Tim "Ripper" Owens Interview
January 26, 2004

Interview by Lord of the Wasteland

The big story in the metal world this past year was Rob Halford re-joining Judas Priest for a new album and tour. However, one of the key pieces in that equation tended to get forgotten about in the big picture. What's going to happen to the guy who Halford is replacing? To most mainstream media, it was inconsequential, however those of us who know metal know that while Priest was gaining a singer with legendary pipes, it was also losing a singer who so deftly replaced him. Tim "Ripper" Owens' story has been well documented, most notably in the loosely-based version of his life that became the Warner Brothers' film, ROCK STAR. While the Hollywood studio took heavy dramatic license with Owens' story, the basic premise is the same: a band loses its lead singer and searches for a replacement only to find it in a cover band. Owens' was the next best thing to Halford and for 6 years, he suffered the brunt of endless comparisons, flack from fans and was always the odd-man-out within the band. Upon Halford's return, Judas Priest let Owens go but he quickly found a new job behind the microphone with American metal group, Iced Earth, who were also searching for a lead vocalist. While Owens' vocals on the band's phenomenal new CD, THE GLORIOUS BURDEN, were done as a favor, it quickly became apparent that the fit was right and he became a full-time member.

Once we discussed the pulverizing winter weather that hit Ohio and got the pleasantries out of the way, we settled in for a 35-minute chat about the new Iced Earth album, the band's upcoming tours, his departure from Judas Priest and, of course, Ohio sports teams.

Iced Earth has just released a fabulous new CD, THE GLORIOUS BURDEN. I've been listening to it to non-stop since it was released on January 13th. This is your first album with the band and is arguably the finest vocal performance of your career and it is also the best Iced Earth CD, in my opinion. Are you happy with the end result?

Oh yeah, it's great! I agree with you. I think it's one of my best vocal performances and I also think it's one of the best Iced Earth records. So does Jon. It's just been great. It worked out well and I think the thing is, the material was great to sing over. It was good material, period! We're excited about the record and that it's finally out and doing well.



Can you explain the meaning of the title?

An American president said that once. He said that being the president is "a glorious burden." I think being a musician is kind of the same thing. It's a "glorious burden." There's great things that come with it. There's nothing better than doing music for a living, but it's also a pain the ass sometimes. The "burden" part comes into play. But obviously Jon picked it because an American president said that it was a glorious burden being the president. Being the history buff that Jon is, it's the perfect title!

Are you a history buff yourself?

I knew about Gettysburg and some history but I wasn't as much into history as Jon. When I got into it, I had to study up on The Red Baron because I wrote the lyrics and the melodies to "Red Baron/Blue Max," so I had to study that. I'm definitely into history more than I was, but I'm a real sports fanatic myself.

What are your favorite teams?

Well I'm a Cleveland guy-I'm from Akron, Ohio-so I root for the Ohio teams. Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Indians, Ohio State Buckeyes, Cleveland Cavaliers…all that stuff.



Have you been to Jon's Spirit of '76 store (www.spirit-of-76.com) yet?

Several times, yes. It's an amazing place! So is his house. You walk in and it's like a museum. The store is amazing, though. The paintings, the pictures, the little miniatures…it's unbelievable.



From what I've seen on the website, it looks pretty cool! I'm from Canada, so my knowledge of American history is limited but…

The thing about his store is that he has history there from throughout the whole world. The album is the same. Obviously there's more American history because that's what we know most about, but there are several other things about world history. It's just a history theme. His store is the same way. It has German history, African history…history from throughout the whole world. You can walk around and see several things.



You mentioned that you wrote the lyrics for "Red Baron/Blue Max." Did you have a pre-existing interest in that subject PRIOR to joining the band or was it something that Jon turned you on to?

It was an interest that Jon had. The song was originally called something different but it was about The Red Baron. It wasn't even in the chorus, as a matter of fact. I remember listening to the song and thinking it was weird that it was called that but never mentioned. I thought it was a good one for me to do. It definitely drew a lot of interest for me. He said I could redo "Attila" and "Waterloo" but it just would have taken me too long to research and study that to rewrite the song and I think it would have done them injustice, so I just left them alone and studied up on The Red Baron.



What are your favorite tracks from the new CD?

Single "The Reckoning"I like "Hollow Man" a lot. I like "The Reckoning" a lot. Obviously, the whole "Gettysburg" thing is just amazing.



What is "Hollow Man" about anyway? The rest of the songs are pretty easy to figure out, but I couldn't see what that song was referring to?

That's the only one without a history theme. It has to do with inner demons and conquering those but it was actually written during the HORROR SHOW time period and it just didn't make it to the record. Jon wanted to save it and use it later.



Why isn't "Waterloo" on the North American version of the CD?

It couldn't fit! There were so many songs that we had to make different versions. We thought we'd leave "Greenface" off the European version because it's about the Navy SEALS and we thought maybe they might not want to hear about that and we'd put "Waterloo" on there because it's a European history thing.



I had to get the 2 CD European version just so I could have EVERYTHING!

That's actually NOT a European version! It's a special edition that has got everything on it. The European edition doesn't have "Star-Spangled Banner," "Greenface," or the acoustic version of "When The Eagle Cries" on it. The one you have is the deluxe edition. It's got EVERYTHING that was recorded and it's available throughout the world. It does say it's a European copy, but it's not. It's the deluxe edition. The U.S. and the European edition is a single-CD version. That's why we had to take the other songs off, so that we could fit "Gettysburg" on there.



I haven't even seen the single-disc version in the stores in Vancouver. Just the deluxe edition!

No?! Well there you go!

Maybe it's sold out? I don't know why anyone would buy the single when you can get the double, but that's just me (laughs).

I don't either but if someone doesn't want to spend the extra, what is it, $4, to get the other one they have the choice. For $4 or $5, I'd get the other one too!



The art, both in the booklet, as well as the cover is really incredible. Who did the artwork?

OHHHH…I can't remember his name, but he's done some stuff for Blind Guardian. It's amazing stuff. It's really unbelievable. I don't know if he did everything inside it, but I know he did the cover.



I saw a video for "When The Eagle Cries," but it was online and not on any of the video channels. Has it been released to the TV stations yet?

It has, but we're not sure if they'll play them or not. We're hoping that Fuse will play it, or one of the stations, but it's hard. For Fuse to play it on Uranium, it's such a mellow song so it's hard for them to play it. We actually shot the video for "The Reckoning" also so that one has probably got a better shot to be on Uranium and the same with The Headbanger's Ball. We'll just have to wait and see, but no one's playing it yet.



We have a metal program up here called LOUD on Much Music. It's only on for a half hour once a week but it's something anyway!

Oh, OK. Well hopefully they'll get it going too.



I had read that there is going to be a DVD released that coincides with the CD. Is that true?

Yeah. It's going to be on Gettysburg with surround sound. It's going to have fight scenes in it, narration...it's going to be amazing. It's a different type of DVD but it's going to be cool.



Will it be packaged separately or as part of a special "box set" with the new CD in it, as well?

I think it will just be a DVD on the Gettysburg thing. We might put the video for "When The Eagle Cries" or "The Reckoning" video on there also. We'll see.



Is there a release date in the works for it yet or are things till in the planning stages?

Not yet, no. We're still trying to get it all done.



THE GLORIOUS BURDEN debuted on the Billboard magazine Top 200 chart at #145. How important is that to the band that you've finally "broken" and made it on Billboard?

It's great! I don't know if the band has ever charted before? The sales have been better than we had hoped, so it's a great thing! Not only that, it was on the Independent Chart at #6 or something, so it's done really well. We're really happy with it. Hopefully it will continue on a roll.



How did you and Jon know each other before you joined the band? Was this a meeting of circumstance or were you friends beforehand?

We met at a Judas Priest show and have been talking ever since then. Last year we started talking about doing a side project together and it just went from there.



When it was first made public that you were doing the vocals on THE GLORIOUS BURDEN, it seemed almost like the next day that there were mp3s posted with you singing the new songs. How long were you actually in the band before those were posted?

I finished the vocals in the beginning of July. I was still in Judas Priest when I did the vocals, so the album was done for quite a while. I didn't join the band until August sometime. It was a thing that after I did the vocals, and Priest and I split, I had to make a decision.



So when you did the vocals, it was just as a favor to Jon and there were never any obligations made or plans to join Iced Earth permanently?

I just signed a "side man" contract and did it as a guest musician.



Now that you are a full-time member, can we expect more lyrical and musical contributions on the next record?

Yeah, definitely! That was one of the reasons I wanted to join. I'm definitely going to write with him and get as much done as I can. Be a team, you know?



You didn't have any writing contributions at all on either Judas Priest studio album, did you?

On the Japanese release of DEMOLITION, I co-wrote a song called "What's My Name," but I didn't even do much writing on that one. I was all right with that. I laid back and let them do the writing. I knew my time would come eventually. In fact, I wasn't even a member of Iced Earth and Jon already was asking me to do some writing so that was pretty cool.



What was it like working in the studio with Jon? He seems like a pretty driven guy who knows exactly what he wants. Was perfectionism ever an issue?

We got the vocals done in five days and we probably could have got them done in four. Everything went good! He was easy to work with. He's probably one of the easiest I've ever worked with. We got along great. We struck a friendship right away.



The CD was supposed to be out back in October but got delayed. Was that because you wanted to do some fixes or was it a label decision?

It was a label decision. We wanted it out but they wanted a little more time to push the record. Give it some more momentum and get the ball rolling. When you have the ex-singer of Judas Priest join the band, it's another angle of advertising-a little more of a boost. I think they were excited. Jon and I certainly wanted it out. It was killing us! But it's out now, finally, so we're pretty excited.



The band begins a European tour…in March, is it?

Yeah. The middle of March we start Europe and do 21 shows in 25 days or something ungodly like that. Then we're going to come to the States and Canada to tour. I think we're in Vancouver in May?

May 14th.

Yeah, so you know it's a whole world tour coming on!



Children of Bodom will be one of the opening acts for the North American tour, but who is the other band going to be?

I don't know yet. We're still trying to figure out what we're going to do. We're just checking things out and making sure we get things right.



Do you have bands that you are considering that you can say?

No we don't.



Will you be doing anything from BURNT OFFERINGS on this tour?

I don't think so.

But you will be covering most of the other albums?

Oh yeah. We've got a bunch from SOMETHING WICKED and DARK SAGA. We're doing one or two off HORROR SHOW. We're doing quite a few but I don't think we have any off BURNT OFFERINGS.

What about from the new album?

We're going to try to do "Gettysburg," which will be quite amazing. We'll do "Declaration Day," hopefully, and I think "Red Baron" and "Hollow Man." We're not sure yet. We haven't started rehearsals.



How will you tackle the orchestral parts of "Gettysburg?" Will it be a recorded track?

It will be a recording. That's how everybody does it nowadays. We'll probably have to play to a computer and put the orchestra back there or not have it all, but you can't do that song without having it in there. We want to have everything in there for the fight scenes.

It's crucial!

Yeah, it will be an amazing thing live.



We have some readers in Norway and Australia who were wondering if you'll be heading there on this tour?

Uh, I don't know yet. Australia is a hard one to get to. It's so expensive to get there and get a tour lined up. I loved Australia and Norway! I've played there and it would be a great thing to go back, but I don't know what's planned.



You could go to Australia and do the KISS thing with the orchestra for "Gettysburg?" (laughs)

That would be all right!



There's another rumor going around that you might be touring with Symphony X. Is there any truth to that?

I haven't even heard that one yet! That's a new one (laughs).

The good old Internet, huh (laughs)?




Will you be doing any of the big epics like "Dante's Inferno" or "A Question of Heaven?"

I don't know because you have a time limit there and a budget, so if we're going to do "Gettysburg," it will be hard to do the other ones, you know?



How long is your set going to be?

An hour and a half…hour and forty-five minutes. Something like that. My main thing is you just get up there and give them a great show. You want to leave them wanting more! You don't want to sit there and overdo it. That's the main thing.



I just have a couple more questions about when you first joined the band. I know Matt Barlow had recorded all of the vocals for the album and then decided to leave the band, but there are still some of his backing vocals that were kept.

Yeah. We couldn't get rid of them. First off, he finished the album and Jon asked him to leave the band. Matt didn't want to be in the band anymore but then he decided to do the record. When Jon was mixing the album down, he just felt that it just wasn't very good. He spent 17 days on the vocals and Jon just felt they weren't strong enough for the album, so he asked Matt to leave. But the background vocals that he did, he sang with about 5 or 6 different guys, Jon being one of them. You know, you can't pick a voice out. It was like a bunch of guys standing around, like a choir, so that's the background vocals that he did.



How has the fan response been to your replacing Matt?

Most of it's positive. I mean, there's Matt fans out there that don't want him to leave and might not even like me, but the majority of it is pretty happy with this record. They still like Matt and everything but Matt didn't want to do it anymore. I think fans have to realize that, but there's always going to be the people that don't like it. Iced Earth is going to go in. I mean I'm the FOURTH SINGER of Iced Earth (laughs)! Matt was a great guy and a great singer, but things move on.



Are there any songs in particular that you're looking forward to doing live?

"Burning Times" will be fun. "Melancholy" will be nice and easy to sing. But I'll have to wait until I start rehearsing.



Another one of our readers wanted to know if the band has discussed re-recording any of the older songs with you on vocals like they did when Matt  joined and recorded the DAYS OF PURGATORY CD?

No, not really. That was all Century Media stuff and now we're on SPV, so we really haven't discussed it.

So DAYS OF PURGATORY was a label decision?

No. When you change record labels, they own those songs…those versions of the songs. Right now, we're just thinking about the future. I don't know what will happen in the future but right now, all we think about is the stuff we're doing now.



During your down time in Judas Priest and before you joined Iced Earth, you were playing in a cover band and singing songs by Disturbed, Godsmack and a few other nu-metal acts. Are you still doing that?

No, but I wish I was actually, because it kept my throat in shape. It's a band that's from around here. It's a bunch of my friends and I just jumped up and sang a couple parts with them, a couple songs. They have a singer. I just happened to join in with them. I'd sing some Sabbath, Maiden, Pantera, Judas Priest, some Godsmack, and I sang some Chris Cornell. It was great! It kept my voice in shape and unfortunately I stopped doing it because I got too busy. I wish I were because I had a good time doing it.



How is your solo project going?

It's good! As a matter of fact, I've got to get in here right now and get some stuff done. I'm in the studio and I'm standing here watching the money fly out of my pocket (laughs), but I'm trying to get it done. It's going good, though. I'm trying to do the demo tape right now and get some things done. Hopefully it will turn out well. I've got to get this demo tape done and shop it to some labels.



What type of music is it?

It's kind of a Maiden-y, Sabbath/Priest type of a thing maybe? I don't really know. It's my stuff. It's basic heavy metal, basic singing, in my opinion.

Is it just some friends or local musicians you have playing on it?

Right now it is. I've written all the songs and it's just my buddies jamming with me.



What sort of vocal training did you have growing up? Did it come naturally?

It was something that came natural. I mean I sang in a lot of choirs, but I was born with a voice and I take care of it and I still do take care of it!



What sort of regimen do you keep to maintain your voice?

Well I usually sing with friends on stage. It's funny because a lot of heavy metal players thought it was a stupid idea. I'd do it to have fun, drink beer and keep my voice in shape, but people don't understand that. Now that I'm off, it's not in good shape, so the fans don't quite understand it. I just started going to the gym and working hard and trying to get it right.



I have a few Judas Priest questions if that's all right?


Are you still referring to yourself as "Ripper" now that you've left Judas Priest?

I still do, yeah. It's going to be a nickname for the rest of my life. It's a good nickname. My friends call me that, some family call me that. It's just a nickname given to me and it will always be there. I'm proud of it, you know?



Is there anything that you would do or not do looking back at your time with Judas Priest?

No, I had the time of my life. We're still the best of friends. Everything was great. The timing of the departure was great. We both wanted to go their directions so it worked out great! I would change nothing at all with them.



So as a fan, I guess you're pretty excited to hear the new material then?

I am excited, you know? I'm hoping it works for them. I'm worried for them because it's a lot of pressure. The Judas Priest records didn't sell real well and Rob Halford's records didn't sell real well, so I'm hoping they get together as a combination and sell real well! I'm excited for the guys because it will be cool to see them together. It's just a lot of pressure on all of them to have this thing work. Obviously it's a lot easier to tour but putting records out is a hard thing.



Were you disappointed with the negative reaction that the DEMOLITION album got?

Well, it got some bad reviews but a lot of people gave it good reviews. Rolling Stone did. Some people gave it reviews saying that it doesn't have melody and it does. I like the record. I thought it was great album and I guess that's all that matters. I've read some reviews of THE GLORIOUS BURDEN. How they could do that, I don't know but people just do it. That's their opinion.

You can't please everybody!

No you can't.



Would you ever play with Judas Priest again?

I'd probably jam with them and play on some tour dates, but I'd never rejoin them again. If I could do it in my off-time with Iced Earth and jam on stage with them, I'd do it. I would never quit Iced Earth or leave Iced Earth to do something like that.



Do you have any favorite new metal releases?

My favorite is Anthrax' WE'VE COME FOR YOU ALL, but I don't listen to much other than that.

You don't listen to a lot of metal on your own?

Not a whole lot, no. I don't like European metal at all. I'm a big sports fan. I listen to a lot of sports talk and that's about it. And talk radio. I listen to a lot of talk shows, stuff like that.



Was there ever any talk of rejoining Winter's Bane after you left?

No, not at all.

That's done?

Yeah, that's done.



Do you have any memories about recording the HEART OF A KILLER album?

Yeah it was a great time. Three weeks in Germany. It was a lot of fun. A learning experience and a growing experience. It was a good time definitely.



I read that Jon is working on a science fiction conspiracy album that's based on SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. Is that going to be the next Iced Earth album?

I don't really know. I don't think he's put a lot down yet because we're so busy with this. It's probably something he'll work on on his off-time in between stuff. It's just really too early to say anything yet. We're just so happy to get this album out and get out on tour! With Jon and his shop and this…it's just way too much stuff.



Well I think that's all I have for you, Tim! I appreciate the call.

Well, good. If you need anything else, just give the guys a call and they'll give me a holler. Any other questions you have, let me know.

Thanks Tim.

***Thanks to Jon @ SPV for setting up the interview***