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Jon Schaffer (Iced Earth)

Interview with Jon Schaffer from Iced Earth
by Dimitris A. at 04 March 2002, 10:24 AM

Last week, Iced Earth made a long visit in Greece, for 3 very good live concerts that marked the end of their European tour. Manolis and me managed to meet the leader of the band, Jon Schaffer, before those concerts, to interrogate him about anything that crossed our minds: The tour, Demons and Wizards, his childhood and his memories of the early days of the band.  Here is the result.

It’s the end of the tour, so can you tell us how did it go?

It’s great. It was the best one so far. Almost every show was sold out. Only a few weren’t and there were new markets too. It was too long though.

And you toured in USA with Megadeth right?

Yeah we did like 3 weeks with them or so. We are headlining again in the states on April though.

Are you expecting much crowd in the states?

Yeah it’s getting better all the time. You know we haven’t headlined since 1999 so I expect it to be pretty good. I think we are going to probably have around 1000 people in each show and that’s good for the states. And it’s getting bigger.

The show is divided in 3 parts with different sets in each one. I bet it was very expensive to organize such a show. How did your record company take the fact that it was going to cost a lot?

It’s my company taking care of the tour. The only thing the record company is involved in, is making records and selling them. When it comes to touring, it’s only me and my manager that do all the work to set it up.

Yeah, but isn’t expensive carrying all this equipment around?

It is expensive for the level that we are at. It is not a KISS show, but with the money that we have, we are making the best out of it. The whole thing with Iced Earth is integrity; it always has to be the key ingredient because otherwise it all goes to hell.

I’ve always been very strict about that and about giving the fans something that they always feel they get the best for their money, they are being treated fairly and not getting ripped off like a lot of bands do. For instance the t-shirt prices on this tour are at 15 euro for a colored one, 8-9 colors. Dream Theater was selling them for 35 euros! 35 euros for a short sleeve t-shirt with like 3 or 4 colors. That’s rape to the fans. Also by coming out and doing a 3-hour show, which is very hard on us, on the musicians is risky. It’s more expensive because we don’t have support bands paying money towards the production so all the costs are handled by the band. It’s risky to do it but I am just thankful it worked out like it has. A lot of people didn’t believe it could work but I did believe it could actually work and most of the tour has been sold out all over Europe.

The ticket here in Greece says  + Opening Act…

That’s bullshit there isn’t anyone, there hasn’t been in the whole tour and that was the point. We are playing for 3 hours and 20 minutes with 2 short intermissions of 10 minutes each, where the band changes clothes and the set changes completely.

It’s like a theater or something.

Totally. It’s like Iced Earth history lesson in 3 hours.

You added another day just before the Saturday show. You weren’t meant to play on Friday, right?

Yes, this was an added show and it’s sold out too. That’s what I heard last night.

You have many loyal fans here in Greece.

Oh yeah man, they rule, that’s why I wanted to finish the tour here, cause it’s my favorite place to play in the world and it’s like if we finish here, then the tour ends on a very happy good feeling. That’s what I want, all the guys in the band and the crew going home feeling good about the tour. If we had finish in Finland, which is a new market and there were only 500 people, it wouldn’t have been like this. It was a good show but it wouldn’t have been like this. This is the way to end the tour.

There are some rumors about a DVD being recorded on the Saturday concert.

Yeah, well we talked about it but it’s not going to happen. It was looked into and the problem is really the business part. We are done with Century Media but they have the rights to all those songs for so many years, so that means that they would have to be the ones to put out the DVD. I wanted it to be right. I don’t want it to be just a concert in a DVD and they don’t believe in the DVD format enough to do it properly. I know we can sell a lot of them because I get asked all the time by the fans if we are going to do one. But I would rather do it just like I always do things, do it differently everybody else and to do it better for the fans. So if we do a DVD it’s going to be probably at least 2 DVDs with huge amount of live recorded material, with history and information, with some bootleg videos, you know, just all kinds of stuff, interviews with past members, something that it will make it different, cool and very informative thing, instead of just taking a concert and transfer it to a DVD. That’s what everybody else does and that’s kinda boring. I think it’s going to be a few years, but when we do it, it will be killer.

Last time we interviewed you, you were talking about the 2nd part of Something Wicked this way comes. Is there something going on with this material now?

No, I am in the middle of negotiating a new record company contract and whenever I decide who the company is going to be, then I’ll make the decision on which way I want to take the record. If my heart tells me now it’s the time, it’s Something Wicked time, then I’ll do it.

So you don’t have any music, lyrics or anything ready…

No not really. I mean I always have music, but right now I am writing the new Demons and Wizards album, so that’s where my head is at. It’s not in the Iced Earth world right now, except for the touring part. As far as the creative part I am doing the Demons’ stuff so the Iced Earth thing is still away, even though, I do have a couple of tracks written.

I tell you that most likely the next album will not be the Something Wicked concept because I really want to get to know the people we are working with and make sure that there is a strong relationship and they take the band very seriously.  I want the Something Wicked thing to be done properly, to be done 100% from everybody involved in it, because the story has so much potential. I am also going to be doing a comic book all the same time, so I want to have everything in place. Every time I don’t listen to my gut feeling, my heart, I fuck myself, it always end up being a problem. I know the Something Wicked thing is going to be the pinnacle of Iced Earth, of our career and will be like my Dark Side of the Moon, so I don’t want to rush it. It’s got to be right, everything has to be in place.

You said something about a comic book?

Yeah, there’s been a plan since the beginning. Set the character, is going to be the main focus and it’s a science fiction, horror story. I don’t want to unleash it, until it’s ready.

Who is going to do the drawings?

Most likely, Axel, Travis and Dani, the 3 guys that are usually used for our album covers. It will be the same style of artwork that our album covers are. That’s why I am keeping Set in people’s mind, on the cover, because the concept album will come and I don’t want people to forget about him. We keep those little things like in Damien, where I put Set in the big choir, so there are little subliminal things going on throughout a lot of this stuff. Maybe you don’t always realize it but it’s there.

Are you going to write the story in the comic book?

Yeah.

You’ve talked about Demons and Wizards. Have you arranged things with Hansi about the new album?

Yeah, but he hasn’t started on his parts yet. Actually he hasn’t heard mine. I wrote 5 songs and recorded them. I burned a CD at my studio, that was right before I left, because I was rehearsing 30 songs, whatever we were doing on this tour and negotiating record contracts and working like hell and I left the fucking CD in my computer! I was going to bring it over and give it to Hansi, but right now it’s in my house and studio. There is no way I can send it to him, not until I get home. This kinda sucks cause he had time this month to work on it. Anyway it will all come together fine. We are going to get together in summer time and put our heads together and do some writing.

Do you have any title?

No, we haven’t started talking about lyrical ideas yet. The only thing I’ve got is the music for 5 songs. It’s cool and I am very happy with the way it’s coming out.

Something about the Horror Show album now, about Matt’s vocals. They changed a bit, he screams more now.

It depends on what the song requires. I mean this is an album about a horror movies, so it’s darker and heavier and more intense. If I felt like one of the songs that I wrote by myself, like Damien, or Phantom or whatever needed it, I directed him to sing that way. That doesn’t mean he would do that all the time. It depends on what the song requires.

How is it going with Richard Christy? He is a permanent member of the band now, am I right?

Richard? Yeah, he is permanent as anybody in the band. If people work hard, are honest and don’t cause me problems, don’t cost me money, don’t give me gray hair, they are in the band and stay in the band. When people start fucking up, problems happen.

And what’s going to be with the bass player? Are you going to hire someone permanent?

Well Jimmy is playing…

But as a session musician?

He is doing the tours too. He learned a lot from the last experience in the band and I think if he keeps his head together and everything, he will stay in the band for a while. The thing is that Iced Earth will always carry on, as long as I am here no matter what musicians are around. I would like to keep the same guys together as long as they keep their head together. It’s a difficult business man, and it can play with your head, it can cause you a lot of problems. The music business is very difficult from every angle, there is nothing easy about it. The shit that I go through on daily basis, every day, just to be a songwriter is a lot. I think most of people would quit actually. There is a big delusion, or illusion I guess, that this life is so great, so glamorous and so fun. It’s all bullshit. It’s a lot of fucking hard work.

How did your parents take the fact that you were going to be a professional musician and how do they feel about it now?

Well in the beginning they were pretty skeptical about it, I think most parents are. They didn’t believe I was going to make it, they didn’t see it. They got divorced when I was 3 years old and wasn’t like I was dealing with both of them when I runaway from home. And then there was more, at that time they were pretty concerned that I would end up either dead or in prison. They thought that that was what it was going to happen. And because I was very rebellious and very… I don’t know. I knew everything when I was 16, I mean I thought I did. Anyway they were pretty concerned and now they’ve seen me, they have a tremendous amount of respect. They’ve seen all the shit that I’ve been through and in amazement they just can’t believe I am still doing it and that I’ve been successful. They’ve seen it all. The first few years that I runaway from home we didn’t see each other. I was in Florida, they were in Indiana – that’s 24-hour drive by car – so I just talked to them on the phone once in a while. In recent years they’ve seen the growth and all the shit I’ve been through like business wise and everything else and they are proud. We are very close now.


I remember when you released Iced Earth and Night of the Stormrider everyone said that this band was going to be big.

A lot of people forget about those old times and just think about their current success. But those first albums were successful. We didn’t get to play in Greece then, but I remember doing interviews over the phone on the first promotion tour and people were excited here. The press was very enthusiastic. That album in the first year sold 12.000 copies and that was pretty good for an independent band, on a time when all the independents were signing Death Metal. Nobody was playing metal in the underground at that time. Since the beginning there was something special and the European fans were with us since the beginning. I will never forget that cause I always remember and I know it has a lot to do with all the work that I have done and the shit that I had to crawl through. I will always remember where I came from. It’s been too long, too hard of a struggle, not to. Lot of guys get to a certain point of success and they forget where they came from. It’s never going to happen with me man. I started this shit 17 years ago and I’ve been fighting this battle since day 1 and still fight. We still have a long way to go. Every day is hard work, there is nothing easy about it. But the loyalty I have towards to the people, that have been here since the beginning is a very genuine thing. And they know, that’s what’s so cool about the Iced Earth fans, they know that we will always be true to them, they know that we are not going to wake up one morning wearing pants 3 or 4 sizes bigger and start rapping. It’s never going to happen.

Do you plan to re-release again you old albums with the original covers?

No, no. Especially that Stormrider cover looks like a 6 year old finger painting. I am glad there are very few out there cause I don’t like signing them (laughs). I hated that. What happened was that the asshole in Century Media, made the artist stay up all night and in one night to make the cover. He changed the cover without my permission. Back then I didn’t have control over that stuff. So I saw it and I freaked out completely. I just wanted to kill the motherfucker. I couldn’t believe it, I worked so hard on creating this album, that package was complete insult, complete slap on the face. So they ended up changing the album cover and we had the warrior on the horse, which was supposed to be originally, but… Anyway that was just a fuck up on Century’s Media part. That was the Stormrider cover. I completely freaked out, said that if they didn’t change it, I was going to blah blah blah, kill everybody or whatever I did that time (laughs). Finally they did change the cover and we went back in the production. But all that stuff are history. Those original 3 covers, the ones that are out in the Dark Genesis, are the ones that are going to be produced now. The same for the old mixes, they are history too. The remix versions are the only thing that it’s going to be available.

How do you feel about the current metal scene? Do you listen to new bands? Have you found anything new coming out that really thrilled you?

Nah, not really. I mean I don’t really listen to music much. My world… every day is consumed with the music business, so if I have time away from it, that’s what I do. I don’t want anything to do with music. I take my Harley and ride, or I go out and shoot my guns for target practice or whatever, anything that doesn’t have anything to do with music, that’s what I do. So I don’t pay attention and I don’t care like what’s current and what’s popular because I don’t give a fuck. The only band I care about on this fucking planet is Iced Earth. And Demons and Wizards and my close friends, like the Guardians and stuff like that. At the end of the day I am only focused on one thing and that’s Iced Earth. The rest I don’t care about. That’s the way it is. I don’t want to be influenced by any of the outside shit whether it’s a trend or whether it’s… Iced Earth is my world.

Did you listen to the new Blind Guardian album?

Yes.

Did you like it?

(Nods no). I think it’s just too much. That’s my problem with it. There’s too much going on in it, it’s hard to listen to. I am disappointed, I just listened to the whole thing one time, it’s difficult.

If I ask you to give me a term of what music Iced Earth play, could you do that?

Metal. I don’t really like to classify because any of the things that you try to classify is not really true in total. It’s not speed metal, it’s not power metal, it’s not thrash metal, it’s not death or black metal. It’s metal. A lot of different elements in it. I just thing we define what metal is, what metal music is about, that’s what Iced Earth is. Everything about it, it’s metal, it’s true.

Except from the fact that you are a leader of a big band, you are also an American. So I would like you to comment on the recent terrorist attack.

Well obviously it was a horrible day. That’s was the day that they came to pick us up for the Priest tour and we got all the way to New Mexico, just to find out it was cancelled because Judas Priest was stuck in Mexico. It was a kind of nightmare. All I can say is that we will win this war. And whatever it takes, it’s going to happen.

Bus is it a war? Is it really a war?

Sure it is. It’s a new kind of war, but it’s a fucking war. It’s the scariest kind of all because these people don’t have the courage to come out and fight you. They infiltrate your society and hide and act like your neighbor and your friends and since they get a call they turn and walk into a school full of children and blow them to pieces to make a point. They are the biggest cowards of all. They are completely brutalizing a religion, it’s not a bad religion but they are using it in a really fucked up way.

But it is a war. It’s a different kind of war. It’s not World War II obviously. We knew who the enemy was in WWII. Now we don’t.

Bad people often underestimate the power of the American Spirit. And when they do that, they always fuck up. There are a lot of problems in the US, but as far as I am concerned it’s the greatest place on Earth. It’s the country that I was able to runaway from home as a teenager and work my ass off to follow my dreams and to make them come true. It’s not an easy place to live but it’s a place where everything is possible if you work hard enough. And if you get successful you don’t get taxed to death. The thing about the American spirit is, when people fuck with us, we come together like… nobody knows and it’s just like you can’t defeat that. A lot of times in the normal every day life in the states, people are fucking rude to each other and not sensitive or caring, but if there is a problem, everybody starts to think what’s really important here, and then we all come together. It’s a very strong force because there is this unity thing. America is an ideal. It’s not a race it’s not a color, it’s not a religion, it’s an ideal. We have everything in there. Every kind of race in the world is in the US. And that’s another thing that makes us strong. Because you have all these different cultures from around the world that they made the country what it is. It doesn’t matter if you are a Buddhist or a Christian or a Muslim or whatever. A real American believes in the ideas of the country, believes in the freedom of the individual spirit, to be able to raise your family in a good world and a safe world. That’s the kind of thing that people forget on a daily basis, but when we are reminded of, when our values and out culture and our way of life are attacked, then we come together very strong and that’s where these guys fuck up. They don’t realize that they have opened up a Pandora’s Box that they are going to be very sorry they did, because even if it takes us 20 years, these fuckers will all die. And as far as I am concerned, you can’t think of a punishment brutal enough for these fucking people. It’s going to be a long hard battle but we will win.

Any words to the fans of Greece who are going to see you soon live?

It’s an honor to be back, what can I say? It’s like whenever we come here, it’s something we look forward too. It’s a special thing. I can’t really say anything, except thank you to the fans.

Thank you very much for the interview and for your time.

You are welcome. Thanks for the support.



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