We’re not preaching to the people or anything like that, it’s just to get people inspired to start thinking about what’s going on here”
Jon Schaffer (JS): Hello.
W (Daniel Dystyler): Hello, may I speak with Mr. Jon Schaffer, please?
JS: This is him.
W (DD): Hi, Jon, this is Daniel, from Wikimetal in Brazil, how are you?
JS: I’m good, man, how are you?
W (DD): Excellent. Is it ok for us to talk a little bit right now?
JS: Yeah, no problem.
W (DD): Just to give a little bit of background, I’m one of the cohosts of the Wikimetal show, which is the largest Heavy Metal and Hard Rock podcast in Brazil. And it’s really an honor to have you here in our show, because everything you’ve done for Heavy Metal for more than 25 years has been really, really great. So, in the name of all Brazilian headbangers, I’d like to thank you and welcome you to the Wikimetal show.
JS: Well, thanks, brother. That’s good to see that you guys have a cool podcast.
W (DD): Jon, I’m gonna start asking like, back in the day, what do you consider to be the main influences that Iced Earth had in order to create such a different and great sound? And what were the main musicians that made you choose the guitar as your instrument?
JS: I would say, all the dynamics that you hear on Iced Earth come from everything from Pink Floyd to the really heavy stuff like… Certainly, Iron Maiden, Steve Harris in particular, I’d have to say, is my biggest influence. He certainly was when I was a teenager. And when I started a band in general he made me the songwriter, and the visionary and leader of a band; he was always the guy I looked up to most. He’s got probably the most influence over me, you know? Later in life came Roger Waters, Pink Floyd, he’s an amazing songwriter, and lyricist, musically and everything, he’s amazing. So, it’s been a lot of influences. The reason that I play guitar has to be Ace Frehley, ‘cause I saw Kiss when I was eleven years old and that’s the night that I decided what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t get a guitar until many years later, like four or five years later, but I did really decide it. It was when I got into Iron Maiden that I decided the direction that I wanted to take the band. I was listening to early Alice Cooper, when I was a little kid and Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Judas Priest, Blue Öyster Cult, all those 70’s Rock bands and all Old Wave Heavy Metal bands and New Wave Metal bands, that’s where the big influences come from. I didn’t play their songs, I never was in playing cover tunes, but I listened to it so much and smoke so much pot while listening to it, it had… some kind of influence for sure.
W (DD): Jon, talking a little bit about the new album, I think since the “Night of the Stormrider”, almost every new Iced Earth release was in a conceptual context, if you will, with the “Something Wicked” saga being probably the most evident release of this approach. Tell our listeners a little bit about the new album and this really cool concept of “dystopia” being the opposite of utopia.
JS: Yeah, I really have a hard time writing without having some kind of full concept album. I consider a full concept album to be like a single story. A lot of times these songs are thematically based, so it’s like “The Glorious Burden”, for instance, that’s about discourse throughout history and you’ve got “Horror Show” which is a theme album based on horror movies. And then there are other albums, like “The Dark Saga” or “Night of the Stormrider” or “Something Wicked”, the last two “Something Wicked” are actually full conceptual albums. I have a hard time not having an overall theme for a record when I’m in the writing process, because I want to visualize the theme at the time that I’m starting to write; what direction we’re taking this, what are the album cover artwork ideas, how can we make sure the music fits with all that, it all fit this uniform in some way. So, that’s just the way I write, I’ve always been. The first album is different, because what you have to understand is those songs, the first album, I wrote that stuff when I was a teenager, mostly. And I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I wanted to document properly and historically so if I was gonna be doing this for the rest of my life, so people could see what I really started out as at the beginning. If I would have released the music that was current during the first time I wrote it would have been “Night of the Stormrider” stuff, because most of that was already written around that time. I wanted to do the older songs, so that it was a real document of how the growth and the writing and everything was developing. So that’s what that is, that’s why is not really a theme, it’s just a collection of songs. But, yeah, I started to turn that way, but as far as “Dystopia” goes, I think it’s a creative way of trying to get people to think without getting political. It’s a look at some real issues that are going on, but veiled in literature and science fiction, Tolkien theme songs. Unfortunately, a lot of the stuff is really happening with us. I didn’t want to come off like we’re preaching the people or anything like that, it’s just that get people inspired to start thinking about what our government do and what’s going on here, you know?
You can take any point in human History and apply it to ‘Something Wicked’ universe”
W (DD): Yeah, it’s really a great way, in my opinion, of shedding some light on those issues and raising awareness. I remember when I was a kid, reading ‘V for vendetta’ for the first time, I was amazed. So I can relate to all the youngsters that are following Iced Earth and listening to this new album that probably will feel the same way.
JS: Yeah, that’s the goal. Like with “Sons of liberty”, that’s a direct kick in the face what the message is there, it’s all really, in many ways, related to this days issues, this is just a more subtle way of doing it, because I never wanted to make Iced Earth a political band. It’s not even that we’re talking about politics, you know? We’re talking about human freedom, all humans, not just Americans, not just Brazilians, everybody. And the idea of … I believe that human beings are born with this – whether they know it or not – they have this spark inside them that they deserve and should pree and our governments are getting more and more out of control all the time, certainly here in the West. There’s very serious issues on, since I’ve been studying history, since I was old enough to read, I have some very big concerns, ‘cause the warning lights are going off and I just think it’s from good people to reconnect with their humanity, to actually get involved and start learning and educating themselves to where we’re headed and why we’re headed there and what we can do to turn around, because it’s not going in a good direction.
W (DD): And since you’re mentioning this and about all this conceptual approach that Iced Earth has, “Something Wicked” saga is such an amazing story and I don’t think the Brazilian fans had the opportunity to listen from you what it really represents. I know that there are too many things going on in the story and it’s really tough to summarize, but would you mind talking a little bit about the plot in general and the 10,000 strongs?
JS: Yeah, it is very difficult to get into it, because it’s such a complex story. Did you know the bizarre thing is… when I wrote the story was back in 1997, it just hit me like a brick, this whole idea. Really weird, I can’t even explain it, it just hit me and it was all there, it’s freaky stuff. A buddy of mine named Jamal that actually came up the shackles design and all of that, he lives over in Bosnia. And he did an interview with me, he said “Dude, this all ‘Something Wicked’ thing could be real” and I said “Come on, man, it’s just a story” and I’m not saying it’s real, but the more I’ve learned about what’s really happening in my country and around the world, and how things are being manipulated in the shadows and the financial system and the whole thing, it’s like “Holy shit, maybe my subconscious was on to things way before I really learned it in the conscious level”. So, there’s a lot involved. I can’t really get into details now, ‘cause someday there’s gonna be a book, there’s gonna be hopefully a comic book, a graphic novels…
W (DD): A movie.
JS: Hopefully a movie. I mean, the “Something Wicked” universe is… the story telling is as big as the Star Trek universe and the Star Wars universe, you can take any point in human history and apply it to “Something Wicked” universe and come up with some badass stories. That’s what’s cool about it, so it’s very in depth for us to get into what is really about, it would take hours. It would take a level of explanation, we can’t really do that or have time for, but I would say right now, people read the lyrics and look at the artwork in the last couple of albums and listen to the songs and sound effects. It takes you on and you can pretty much put two and two together, you can imagine and people interpret their own story.
W (DD): Yeah, I know, it’s really tough, because it’s such an amazing story and I really hope that it will become a movie or a graphic novel or something in the future. Jon, we have a classic question that we ask every single person that we interview, which is: imagine you’re listening to the radio on a rock station, driving your car, or whatever, or listening to your iPod or any music player on shuffle mode, and all those tons of Heavy Metal songs playing and all of the sudden a song starts, that makes you lose your mind and start headbanging immediately, it doesn’t matter where you are, you can’t refrain yourself, what song is that? So we can listen to that one on our show right now?
JS: Oh, man. I would say probably an old song in a new song. One from one of my favorite bands, Volbeat, and this song is called “Pool of booze, booze, booza”. Yeah, it’s really cool, it’s on their first album, I love that band, that’s the only band that I hear these days that really…. You listen to good stuff out there, but those guys really have something special going on, they do positive kind of music, it’s fun and it appeals to all people. I’m sure they have their haters, just like everything else. My daughter, who’s six years old loves Volbeat, I love Volbeat and my mom does, you know? And everybody in between. They have something that appeals… it’s like rare magic that appeals to multiple generations. They’re awesome and it’s really fun music, it’s the first thing I’ve been excited about in years.
Stu’s a killer. The chemistry in the band is the best that’s ever been and fans can feel it”
W (DD): Regarding Stu Block, he sounds really great in the new album, how was the process of creating some songs with him and what about his live performances singing Matt’s and Tim’s material?
JS: Well, first of all, it’s not Matt and Tim’s material…
W (DD): Yeah, sorry, it was interpreted by them.
JS: Yeah, they were instructed what to sing, it’s like always, so it’s funny when people say that. It’s really been great, he came in and he’s contributed a lot to his part, kind of rare, actually, since in the past I always the did the voice, 90% of the melodies, the lyrics, so he was really helpful to me. You have somebody come in and get involved in those parts… and not just get involved, but concentrate ideas, I’m not gonna do somebody’s parts that aren’t good for the band and for the whole big picture. Stu, he’s just… when it comes to catchy melodies, he’s great at that. So, that’s a big plus, it takes some work off my shoulders and it’s fun to work with him, he contributed a lot to his own parts. So, with that process comes a lot of fun, we have really good chemistry with that. And as far as the live thing goes, it’s a killer. He fits in this band perfectly, there’s no question about that. The chemistry in the band is the best that’s ever been and fans can feel it. You gotta go on YouTube and watch some videos and you’ll see that we’re on fire, man, people react to it. There’s always gonna be people who can’t get over the past, and that’s cool, you’ve got those records to listen to. But Iced Earth is moving forward and we’re going places, not only around the world, that we’ve never been before, taking this band further that it’s ever gone before, I guarantee that’s gonna happen. Some people just can’t get past it because of the past or whatever illusions they’re trapped in and that’s ok. I’m just saying the band is moving forward and it’s working, so…
W (DD): Since you guys have a legion of very young and teenage fans, besides the old school fans, these youngsters they really love the sound and the attitude of your band. What would you say to a kid that is thinking on starting a band or pursuing a music career?
JS: I’d say “a tough motherfucker” to be able to handle a lot of the shit you better be focused and you better be driven and watch your back, that’s what you gotta do. It’s a tough way of life, but it’s really fulfilling. If you can make it happen, and stick to that. Kind of against all odds, but… it’s not glamorous, there’s a lot more that goes on in this business. When I was a kid, I was all “I’m gonna start a band” and all this shit, just like every other kid, not realizing the reality of the situation. It wasn’t even until after I signed my first record contract that – and it was probably within six months of that fact – that I realized what I really got myself into. That thing is really stacked up against you, you know? It’s difficult… put glamour outside of your mind if you’re gonna start a Heavy Metal band, because there ain’t nothing glamorous about it. If you can get Metallica’s level, if you can, if anybody can ever get to Metallica level again. It’s hard work, man. So, sorry…I’m getting a text right now.
W (DD): No, that’s good, it’s a very good advice. Jon, can you pick an Iced Earth song that you’re really proud of having written, so we can listen to it on our show right now?
JS: Dude, I’m proud of all of them, otherwise I wouldn’t have written them. You can pick whatever you want, you want something new?
W (DD): Yes, that would be great.
JS: “Dystopia”. It’s my favorite. I don’t know, it changes day to day, I’m proud of the whole record, but I really dig “Dystopia”. It just got a good angry vibe to it, it certainly works as an opener, the beginning of a new chapter.
Brazil is one of the most amazing places and people in the world”
W (DD): We Brazilians, probably as everybody else, we grew a very strong passion for Ronnie James Dio and Black Sabbath and we know that you guys covered sounds from Sabbath. Is there any chance we might be able to check this live on the upcoming concerts in Brazil?
JS: Yeah… I actually doubt it, ‘cause there’s more Iced Earth that people want to hear. We don’t normally do, we really hardly ever do cover tunes, we’ve done a couple of times in the past and, believe me, I love Ronnie too, he was a hell of a mentor and probably the most sincere awesome person I ever met. He actually was the best people I ever met in my life, it’s kind of hard to meet real people when you do business with Ronnie, ‘cause Ronnie was a real person, a great person, so… I don’t see us playing cover tunes when we come to Brazil man. Because, there the fans want so many different points of the Iced Earth catalogue, we really pick our time for cover tunes, or guitar solos and drum solos, you know, all that stuff. We have time we could be playing Iced Earth originals.
W (DD): And speaking about that, do you know any Brazilian Heavy Metal band? What’s your relation to the country?
JS: Obviously, Sepultura and I remember Angra from the old days. I haven’t heard any young Brazilian. I don’t know if there’s any Melodic Metal bands coming, it would be really worth checking, but I’d like to hear some, so…
W (DD): Yeah, Shadowside is a new band… well, not that new, they have ten years in the road now and they’re doing a good success in the US and Europe as well, it’s called Shadowside.
JS: Shadowside? I have not heard of them.
W (DD): It’s a female vocal.
JS: Ok. Is it Melodic or it’s like Death vocals?
W (DD): No, it’s Melodic, but it’s not classic like Tarja Turunen, it’s something in the middle between Nightwish and Arch Enemy.
JS: Ok, I’d be interested in hearing it, for sure.
W (DD): So, we’re about to finish. Can you leave a message to all Wikimetal fans that are listening and invite everyone to go to the Iced Earth concerts in Brazil in March?
JS: Yeah. We really appreciate the support that we get from Brazil, it’s one of the most amazing places and people in the world and we’re excited to come back and see everybody again. We’re gonna do a hell of a show, lots of power, lots of energy and quite possibly the strongest Iced Earth’s shows you’ve ever seen, so look forward to it.
W (DD): Once again, Jon, thanks so much for your time and hope to meet you backstage on the São Paulo concert on March 25th.
JS: Sounds great, man.
W (DD): Excellent, thanks so much. Bye bye, man.
JS: Bye, bye.