A Time Of Reckoning Interview With Jon Schaffer.
Power Metal has never been so popular of recent years, with the likes of Helstar, Omen, been in the forefront for the U.S., a new breed emerged in the 90's with such bands like Iced Earth, Nevermore step up the ladder of the Power Metal movement. Iced Earth have been around for at least 15yrs or so and with Jon Schaffer been the front man for the band they have gone from strength to strength. With the band releasing their debut for Century Media which was just self titled the band started to cause rather a stir within Europe and in the U.S. as well. The band released their 2nd album 'Stormrider' which saw the band been noticed and recognized by fans and press alike. Iced Earth are now becoming more popular than ever before and have also become popular within the UK, and with a European tour with 'Heaven & Hell', formely known as Black Sabbath with Dio I am sure the band will become massive over here in the UK. Since Matt left the band Jon recruited ex Judas Priest/ Winters Bane front man Tim 'Ripper' Owens to the fold and they recorded 'The Glorious Burden' through SPV. Now the band have released their new E.P. titled 'Overture Of The Wicked' the band are ready to embark on a new adventure with the next album shortly to follow in September. I managed to chat with Jon about the forthcoming album and what the band have been up too since Matt left the band. here is what he had to say.
OK Jon, it's great to speak to you again, its been some time since we last did an interview, it was for my fanzine about 4-5yrs ago. I'd like to ask you firstly, out of all the previous albums that you have done with the band, which are your favourite and least favourite and why?
"Well Jason, its been a long time since we last spoke or met even, good to hear from you & I'm glad you're website is doing well. So to answer you're first question, I would have to say my favourite albums would be 'The Glorious Burden' and 'Some Wicked..' are my fav's. I like 'The Glorious..' album up until the new one because it was a master piece that I had been creating for such a long time. I feel very passionate about that album and I'm very proud of that record. It was a very emotional and true to my heart record and the same goes for 'Something Wicked..' album. There are a lot of personal subjects on those albums for me. The new album has taken me 1 year and a half to complete and I'm very excited and proud of it, wait till you hear it man!! My least favourite album would have to be 'Burnt Offerings', because I wasn't focused on what i was doing back then in my career. I take full responsibility for that album & we were at a stand off with Century Media Records and I was struggling to carry on within the music business and I was very negative about a lot of things. I think it showed in the music on that record. When I listen to that album it makes me sick, expect for the song 'Dante's Inferno', which I would love to re-do at some point in the near future. There are a lot of fans who love that album and I can see why, but for me it wasn't the best album we had done.
Why did Matt leave the band & are you still friends with him?
"Well it wasn't a shock for us, we knew it was coming to ahead. Well we had already recorded 'The Glorious Burden' album and we were mixing the album & I stopped the production. I asked Matt to leave the band as his performance wasn't up to scratch and 6 months before that he said he wanted to leave the band. So I told him back then that I thought he was making a big mistake by leaving the band. I told him we were about to sign to SPV and things couldn't of looked brighter for the band. So he ended up hanging around and he did the vocal tracks for 'The Glorious...' album and it just didn't go well. Our producer Jim Morris and I were concerned about Matt's performance and Matt's heart wasn't in it anymore. I looked at Jim and told him that I could not put this album out as it didn't feel right for me. I didn't want to put out what i thought was the best album I have done by putting it out the way it was. So, I went home and Matt was helping me with the store I own and I told him that we needed to make a split, as it just wasn't working for us. It was a tough time for us back then, as Matt & I are very close and we are still friends. He is married to my step sister and he is a police officer. Matt knows how I am and business is business and I think that the fans will never get it. Matt was really burnt out and he wasn't really there. We could of put that recording out but it would of eaten at me for the rest of my life, knowing that it wasn't 100% true to my heart."
Did you ever think you would find a suitable replacement for Matt?
"Yes I did, when I came home I told Matt that it wasn't going to work and I called Tim 3 days later. Tim was in Priest at that time, so I said I have a record that I would love you to appear on doing the vocals. I asked if he was interested in doing the vocals for me and he said yes!! At that point there were rumors of him leaving Priest. At this point he was only going to do a guest performance on the record. As soon as he came in and recorded the vocals i was like 'Fuck yeah this is the guy I wanted'. It took him 5 days to record all his vocal parts on this record. So on the 6th day on his way home he gets a call from the Priest guys saying that Rob Halford is back in the band. So I called him and said if you want the job in my band you have it. So he accepted my invitation to join the band. It was a blessing in disguise and I think that things happen for a reason. Tim has the voice that I always hear when i write a song, I hear his screams etc... Matt has a great voice and range too, but Tim is on a different level. When I first heard him with Judas Priest I thought I'd love to have him in Iced Earth 1 day, he has such a wide vocal range. Matt & I actually met Tim when we went to see Priest & Tim was out by the merchandise store and we were talking to him as we were suppose to of toured with 'Winters Bane' back in the day but it never happened in 1992."
What did you think of the Winters Bane CD that Tim did, it's killer stuff Jon!!
'You know Jase, I still haven't heard that album. I heard its good though!! I wasn't too impressed with what Priest did when Tim joined the band. I love Priest, but I feel that if they had of written an album like' Screaming For..' or 'Defenders Of..' or even 'Painkiller' albums with Tim on vocals then they would of been awesome!! I think they tried to keep him in the frame work that they already had and I feel that the whole marketing was done the wrong way.'
Moving on, what do you think of Matt joining the Danish band 'Pyramaze?
"I think it is cool for Matt to join them!! I have never heard anything by this band but I guess he will be a suitable singer for the band. I think it will also be a good move for him with their music been different to Iced Earth. I hope that Matt gets paid for it and he also has a good time, I wish him well!! There are a lot of people who would like him to come back in Iced Earth, but this will never happen, but that doesn't mean that we won't ever work together again as I care very much for Matt and I always will do!!"
Moving on quickly, could you tell me a little bit about 'The Glorious Burden' album, how long did it take to record and get all the emotions going for that record?
"Well the 1st part of the album I wrote in 6 months, but when we were getting close to recording the album I knew I needed an epic on the record which really said it all. So, I went out to Gettysburg and the place just had a massive effect on me and I came back and wrote an epic on the battle of Gettysburg. I devoted myself to the biggest and best epic I had ever come up with at that time. It took me 3 months tow rite a 32 minute epic. I think we took about 7-8 months recording the whole album."
Moving on, how do you see the new album & E.P 'Overture Of The Wicked' as a progression from that of the previous material you have put out?
"Well I'm not sure if I see the E.P as a progression. It is a single with songs that have been released before. The new single '10.000 Strong' is a very important part of the story. For me it was to create a concept album that the songs would stand on their own. There are some concept albums that have really weird parts that don't fit the music at all. So for this album I wanted to make a selection of songs that will stand alone. There are so many elements in this album with twist and turns that makes it difficult to explain. There are thing that I personally have not heard a Metal band do before, but saying that I am sure there would of been some band who might of done what I was trying to create. There are parts that are World Music, and parts that have mixed cultures which is all part of telling the story. It all creates something pretty cool and interesting. It also helps when you're getting older, you become a better song writer and that is a progression on it's own anyway. It is a very heavy and emotional album with a wide range of feelings. Part 1 is 69 minutes long and with part.2 will be very similar to that and then again it will be very different as it will be another part of the story. Part 1 is out in September & Part.2 will be out in February 2008 and all the drum, bass and guitar tracks are already done for part.2 right now. I have to write the lyrics, vocal melodies and some lead guitar stuff."
Has the forthcoming new album 'Framing Armageddon (Something Wicked Part.1) been wrote lyrically and musically by yourself or has any other members of the band been involved with the writing side of the record?
"I wrote all of the lyrics and music, expect for 1 song which Tim has been credited for some vocal melody lines he has done. On part.2 he will have credits on there too. It is my story so it is hard to involved other people to it, that's when it becomes hard and complicated. Tim was doing the 'Beyond Fear' CD, and after he finished that SPV asked me if I would do another 'Something Wicked' trilogy. I told them that it would be sacrilege and it would also be strange to do musically. So for the E.P. we decided to redo the following songs 'Prophecy', 'Birth Of The Wicked', & 'The Coming Curse' in a different way were I could use baritone guitars and the kit drums would follow my guitar picking, this is something we have never done before! The 'Something Wicked' trilogy is almost 10yrs old, so we introduced the people to the story. Our fans have been waiting a long time for this record."
So Jon, what is the current line-up for Iced Earth right now?
"Well, we have Tim as you know, also we have Dennis from Beyond Fear, Brent Smedley is back in the band and this is the 1st studio album which Brent has done with us and I am very happy to have him on this record, and he should of been on 'Something Wicked' and 'Horror Show' CD's but he had some personal problems. He has always been my favourite drummer in the band and I really mourned his loss when he left the band. The 2nd guitarist who we have now Tim Mills, who is a British guy who owns a guitar pick-up company 'Bare Knuckle Pick-ups', and he did all the solos on the re-recordings on the trilogy and he is fucking awesome!! He did also get some credits on both part.1 & 2 of the trilogies. He has some good ideas and a very cool person, but after he did the records he had to step out, which was a really sad time for me. He owns that company and 1 of his partners of the business got cancer. For the tour we have a guy called Troy Seawee and we have been friends for 10yrs now. He did some of the solos on Part.1 and he was also interested in doing the tour, he actually did the Sweden Rock festival with us and did a great job."
So why the title for the forthcoming album 'Framing Armageddon', and was there any other titles for this album?
"Well its all about the story to be honest man, the title says it all and I love the title for the record. Its about an ancient culture which is going to bring down the downfall of mankind. It takes them a century to make it happen and it does happen, so there framing amrageddon."
Is the artwork for the album similar to that of the E.P.?
"Well the artwork has always been comic style artwork and it is the abominate who is also on the 'Alive In Athens', 'Horror Show' & 'Something Wicked' albums & that character is what this is all about. The new team I have for the album is ran by a guy called Nate, he is a tattoo artist and I met him by chance when I went into his store and I needed some earrings removing and this guy sees me and I can tell he knows who I am. They have a poster of Iced Earth on the back of the store and so we started talking, and he is a massive fan of the band. I started looking at his artwork and I asked him if he was interested in doing the artwork for the album. Sure thing he was so happy to do it. I met him several times and told him about the story to give him some ideas and the artwork is very important to us, as there will be a comic book coming out for 'The Something Wicked' thing."
So could you briefly tell me what the songs are called on the forthcoming album and what are they about?
"OK I will tell you what they are called, I can't give you too much detail as it is a surprise ok? (ED: Yeah No worries Jon). Something Wicked Part.1, Invasion, Motivation of Man, The Session Massacre, A Charge To Keep, Reflections, 10.000 Strong, that's just a tastier for you."
Just before we come to an end, just how excited are you to be supporting 'Heaven & Hell' in the fall? Also are you doing any UK dates on you're own?
"Well I cant wait man, I'm so fucking happy!! It all came about with our new agent, who had a lot to do with it & I'm not sure how it happened in the UK, but I am so happy it has as we have not had much success over there, but with this tour I am sure we will have. I am sure will will only get a 30 minute set but that will open the door for us to come back and play more shows on our own and with the sales we should sell a lot more albums over here."
Are you doing a live DVD? The last one that was put out was done by Century Media, are you weren't happy with it as you had no input.
"Well that is yet another story, but we will be doing a live DVD in the very near future which will be a combination of several shows."
Well Jon, it's been a pleasure speaking to you once again my old friend. Good luck with the new CD, regards to the band from me. Do you have anything to say to our fans who will be reading this?
"Yes Thank's to our fans for their support, I hope you like the E.P and the forthcoming CD. I hope you also enjoy the tour in the fall. Stay Metal!!!
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