Having recently released the new album with Iced Earth, called “Incorruptible”, Jon Schaffer seems to be very positive and certain about the future. As he always says, he has a vision and he trusts it. So, before his comeback in Greece, he gave a huge and very interesting interview on Rock Overdose and to Konstantinos Sotirelis and he revealed a lot of interesting things about Iced Earth! Enjoy:
Rock Overdose: Hello, Jon!
Iced Earth: Hello! How are you?
Rock Overdose: I’m very good! How are you?
Iced Earth: Good, man!
Rock Overdose: Welcome to Rock Overdose! Would you like to tell me the band’s news so far?
Iced Earth: Um, well… I mean, I’m compiling some riffs. I’m working in. I’ve already sent them some three songs and I’m focusing on working in the warehouse and getting our office in it, because that’s… That’s actually quite a big job, going through archives and all that kind of stuff. And, you know, before too long, we’re preparing to go back on the road in January and next year is going to be a very busy touring year.
Rock Overdose: I see… Four months ago, you released your twelfth studio album, named “Incorruptible”. What’s the feedback so far?
Iced Earth: It’s been killer! It’s a big record, man. So, fans are excited. It’s selling great, so, yeah, it’s cool.
Rock Overdose: You have stated that you are sure this album will be a classic Iced Earth record. Now, four months after its release, do you feel the same?
Iced Earth: Yeah, I do. I mean, what I said was I feel like it’s gonna be a classic and I know… I’m aware that the fans only are going to decide that, but – you know – the fans are very fired-up all over the world. So, you know, it’s definitely a… My instincts are usually right when it comes to that kind of stuff and we’re still pretty strong in the early writing process. So far, it’s playing out that way. We’ll see… You know, you can’t decide in four months if it’s a classic; it’s gonna be a few years.
Rock Overdose: In my ears, this album reminds a lot of “The Dark Saga” (1996) album. Did it come up naturally or did you want to go back to that era?
Iced Earth: Uh, it definitely came naturally. The only thing that I did it from a production standpoint was that I pulled out the amplifier that I used on “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (1998), so that was… You know, those tones are pretty similar because the amplifier that I had built by Larry Grohman… The first one I used on “Burnt Offerings” (1995) and “Dark Saga” and, then, I had him build another one and I used that on “Something Wicked”. The biggest difference, the drastic difference, between guitar sounds on “Burnt Offerings” and on “Dark Saga” are the way we ‘miced’ the amplifiers. There was a lot of outer-phase ‘micing’ going on to give it more of a scoop sound on the “Burnt Offerings” album, or, as on “Dark Saga”, things were in phase more. So, it’s a production thing, but – you know… The songs themselves were really… Everything flowed very naturally; there was no - you know…
I don’t think the production sounds like “Dark Saga”. I think it’s actually pretty far away from that if you were to compare the two records together. But, the feeling is just that the songs were flowing very naturally, and that’s… That was happening in that period as well, so – you know – there’s… It’s just… I don’t know how to describe the way the energy comes in when we’re making a record. Sometimes, everything is, uh… flows in a really smooth and natural way and, sometimes, it’s a little more work, and sometimes we’re really under pressure for time, and so there’s a lotta – you know… It’s a lot. Next year is the thirty anniversary of the name change from Purgatory to Iced Earth, so it’s been a long journey, man.
Rock Overdose: Well, a lot of people agree that “Clear The Way” is one of the best songs you’ve written in years. I have to say that I really like the epicness of this song but, as a young man, I prefer the “Seven Headed Whore”, which is really fast and wild and reminds me some Slayer stuff. What’s your opinion about that and which song of the album do you prefer mostly?
Iced Earth: I mean, I think there’s… A lot of these songs are some of the best that I’ve written in my career – or co-written in my career. So, you know, depending on which track… “Clear The Way” was definitely fun to do and it’s something that I’ve been planning for a lot of years. It’s kinda been brewing in the back of my mind for many years now and, I mean… I haven’t sat down. I didn’t sit down, start working on the parts. It’s just one of those things that, one of these days I wanna write a song about the Irish Brigade, and I did it. And I still have plenty of ideas like that. They sit in my mind maybe for eight years, ten years, where I’m thinking, ‘Yes, someday that’s gonna happen’, and it just happens when the time’s right.
Is “Seven Headed Whore” Slayer-ish? Yes, it is. I mean, it’s a harmonic minor/minus kind of thing. Of course, we’ve done that stuff in the past, but I would say that’s a definite Slayer influence and it’s got a- kind of a tribute to Mille [Petrozza] from Kreator, and Chuck [Schuldiner] from Death on vocals. I mean, there’s a lot of different vibes throughout this record, but I agree. I love that record, man! So…
Rock Overdose: You said that you had the idea for “Clear The Way” for many years. I think you have stated that you had this idea for ten or fifteen years, or something like that.
Iced Earth: Yeah, probably. It goes… I’m sure it goes back to, at least, when I was in the writing process for “The Glorious Burden” (2004). I think I probably considered doing one about the Irish Brigade then, but because of the magnitude of “Gettysburg” I just left it. You know, that song – thirty two minutes of music… I mean three songs, but still it’s all related to that battle, and so – you know… It was an idea. I also have… I wanna write a song about the Battle of Austerlitz (1805) from the Napoleonic Wars, and I wanna write my own version of a story about Alexander the Great. So, I mean, there’s a lot of stuff that I wanna do, but I can’t do it all at once and I have to do it when it feels like the natural time to do it; I can’t force it.
So, who knows when these things will happen… It’s just, I- I kinda let my higher self speak to me when we get into these modes. You know, as long as there’s not a concept that we’re chasing, or a big story, or a part of a story, or whatever, then – you know – there’s more room for bringing in different ideas on our albums. And we don’t have any plans to do a story on the next album, but you never know what’s gonna happen over the course of the next year and a half. We may not even think about writing a new Iced Earth album for quite a while. We’ve got a lot to do on this one yet.
Rock Overdose: As I understand, you have a lot of ideas for some of the next songs in the future.
Iced Earth: There are always ideas, man! There’s more- I have way more ideas than I will ever be able to make a reality in my lifetime.
Rock Overdose: Why did you decide that this is the proper time to write “Clear The Way”?
Iced Earth: It just felt right. I mean, I knew I had an opportunity to write… I didn’t want to make it a themed record or a concept record, so I had kind of an opportunity to write about a bunch of different subjects and I just felt like it was a good move to make. It felt right to me. I, actually, had recently unpacked this painting called Clear The Way by Don Troiani. It’s an amazing piece of art and it was hanging in my house for many, many years and then it ended up being boxed away in storage, and I unpacked it and I just… It made me kinda reconnect with that energy in a way. It just… It just happened, man. I don’t really think too deeply; I just go with it. You know…
Rock Overdose: So, this is the second time you take on the production. What are the difficulties you face up as a producer of your band, and why did you decide not to have someone to do this job for you?
Iced Earth: Uh… Well, because no one knows Iced Earth like I do. It exists within my sphere, you know – so there’s no… Working with somebody in co-production, the capacity is always a possibility but there’s never been a producer of Iced Earth… It’s not like I haven’t been… I have a vision in my head that I’m chasing – you know, that’s really what production is. It’s to get the help with the arrangements, to get the best performances out of people – you know, to steer the ship in terms of the kind of… You gotta work with your engineer, for sure, trying to get the tones that you want. And, from an early stand, I’ve learnt a lot, dude. This is what I’ve done now for the last fourteen, sixteen albums. You know, twelve with Iced Earth studio records, two with Demons & Wizards and two Sons of Liberty albums. I mean, I have some experience and I produced a band called Silent Scream from Germany in the late ‘90s. And I’ve had plenty of offers; people want me to do productions, but I just… It’s a matter of time– I don’t have enough time to do all the things that I would like to do.
Rock Overdose: I see…
Iced Earth: So, there’s no… I don’t- I think a lot of people look for a producer when they’re not exactly sure what they want. And they need somebody to help… They have some ideas, but they don’t really have the full vision of what their song structure should be, or what the tones are, or arrangements – or whatever… They need, like, that extra guy to come in and… I mean – you know… For many years, Jim Morris– and will be in the future still a co-producer involved in engineer[ing] and he understands me very well, because of the amount of – thousands of – hours that we’ve spent together – you know – over the last twenty-some years and… There’s guys like that that I work with where – you know – it’s cool ‘cause it takes some of the pressure off of me and I’m not a recording engineer.
I mean, I can do very elaborate and very good-sounding demos. But, when it comes in the time to do production, I want an engineer there so I can focus on the performances, whether it’s myself or it’s… uh, recording Stu [Block] or if we do- whoever. You know, I wanna listen to what’s happening and not worry about doing edits and punches and that kind of stuff on the flat. It’s just not something that I… I mean, I can do anything that I wanna do. Everybody on this planet is capable of putting their mind to something and making it a reality; we just are, but I do enough, man. I do a lot of work for this band and to make everything a reality, from the artwork and booking an artist… Everything, man. So, it’s a lot of fucking- it’s a lot of work, but I’m not complaining because it’s what my passion is. It’s very clearly happening in my mind, body and soul.
Rock Overdose: You wrote the lyrics of the song “Brothers” along with Stu and it’s a song about your brotherhood with Stu. So, after six years that he’s been in the band, you seem very connected. What’s the secret that made you cooperate so well?
Iced Earth: Uh, probably… I mean, it’s probably past-life stuff, man. I don’t really know. I mean, Stu and I felt familiar with each other from the moment we met. Like, there was some deeper relationship there and, then, after all of the years that we’ve spent on tour together, and all the shit we’ve gone through – and bad shit, amazing shit… You know, we’ve had a hell of a journey already [and] the bond just got stronger. It was actually strong right from the beginning and it got stronger as we went through all of the things that we did, and… That’s quite a statement because – you know – if you look at just the “Dystopia” (2011) tour and immediately going into doing “Plagues Of Babylon” (2014) and, in the middle of that, the “Live In Ancient Kourion” (2013) DVD came out… It was a tremendous amount of work and, then, we go on another massive world tour for “Plagues Of Babylon”. You know, Stu’s done more shows with Iced Earth than any – all – of the singers combined – you know… Because we did massive world tours back-to-back and… So, you know, sometimes, in those situations, you can have a relationship that doesn’t go well because maybe there’s clashes and a personality war, but with Stu… Stu and I just got tighter, so it’s a very cool thing, man.
Rock Overdose: Uh, the last time you came in Greece you presented Jake [Dreyer], your new guitarist. His amazing skills and his very good performance made me think that he gives a lot of energy to the band due to his young age. Do you agree, and how did you choose him to be your new guitarist?
Iced Earth: Uh, I don’t know if it has to do with his young age necessarily as it does [with] his spirit. You know, there’s already a good amount of energy happening in the band. I mean, Jake brings something to it for sure. Anytime you have a change like that, it’s gonna change the chemistry without doubt. But I think the biggest shot in the arm for Iced Earth, coming back energized, was just having a break for a while. You know, me getting the surgery that I desperately needed and taking the time to rest and heal and, then, build our headquarters so that I knew that the next production, which was “Incorruptible”, was gonna be a great one because I was working in my own studio, with my own equipment, and that’s a big deal. So, the band was on fire when the Bang Your Head Festival and we did the 70000 Tons of Metal in 2016. The energy was way up, well, when Troy [Seele] told me that he was gonna have to step down because of – you know… His son’s autistic and it’s a demanding situation for him.
We just put the word out and we had hundreds of people audition for the guitar position and– you know… All over the world, lots of talented people, but I knew Jake, and Jake is very talented. He is a very, very skilled player. He is a dedicated metalhead. We knew him because his band, White Wizard, had opened for us on a tour and we just had… When he flew out here for the in-person audition, I had a very good vibe from him and so did Stu. He fits in perfect; he’s actually – with his sense of humor – very much like a young Troy. You know, that’s always… ‘Cause Troy’s got an amazing sense of humor. He will always be our brother. Troy’s gold! He’s a very, very good person and, you know, he lives probably twenty minutes away from me, so we still see each other pretty often, and he comes over and helps me in the warehouse and stuff when I need it. You know, it’s just… That’s what friends do, you know? So… But it’s good. Jake fits perfect, and he’s just got all the skills and the right personality to be with a band like Iced Earth.
Rock Overdose: Do you think that he will surprise us in the next Iced Earth album with his writing skills?
Iced Earth: I do think so, yeah! I mean, I’m looking forward to it because he came into the “Incorruptible” process too late. But, he’s got some very good ideas, so I’m excited about it, you know. So, we’ll see what happens.
Rock Overdose: I guess that he only wrote some solos and some lead guitars…
Iced Earth: Yes, solos. Yep.
Rock Overdose: So, in a few months, you’re coming back in one of your favourite places, in Greece. What should we expect from the show and the setlist?
Iced Earth: Well, we’re doing a lot of “Incorruptible” on the world tour – probably seven songs, maybe eight – and then we’re doing… We’re bringing back classics that the band hasn’t played in a very long time, so… Some stuff that Stu’s never done before, certainly not Jake or Luke [Appleton]. You know, Brent [Smedley] has done pretty much all of these songs at some point or another in the last twenty one years, but he’s… It’s been a while; it’s been a long time for me, for some of them. It’s gonna excite people because it’s – you know… There’s gonna be your kinda typical, classic stuff, but we are bringing back old songs that haven’t been done in a long time and we’re gonna play a lot of “Incorruptible” because it’s a very, very popular record and I think it’s gonna go over really well live.
So, we’re gonna have a shitload of songs prepared and, then, once we get out on tour for a while, we’ll see how the crowd is reacting and then we will probably adjust the setlist as we go along. You know, like we normally do. I mean, sometimes we think that a song is gonna go over great live and it doesn’t; and then sometimes we’re shocked by how well another song goes over. So, we just have to change the set. In a world tour, it usually takes probably a good week or two before you really know what the right order and the crowd’s responding to the best.
Rock Overdose: After twelve albums, I guess it’s very difficult to choose the setlist. But, I have to ask if there is any possibility to listen any songs from the “Burnt Offerings” album because it’s one of the favourite albums here in Greece.
Iced Earth: It’s… We’re gonna do one song. It’s not gonna be lots of days in front of us; it’s probably gonna be “Last December”, because we can’t… I don’t wanna get too much stuff from the past because we’ve got so much powerful stuff from now, and… We really can’t do that. However, we are going to be re-recording those records over the course of, probably, the next ten years. We’re gonna be doing a lot of the Iced Earth catalogue because, you know, I don’t own the master rights and there’s no real income coming from that. If we redo those records, then everybody in the band will be able to get a royalty in the future moving forward. So, it’s gonna be a big project and it’s gonna be a lot of fun to do, to really dig back into those records – especially, like, the first six. That’s what we’re gonna focus on.
Rock Overdose: Twenty years ago, you visited Greece for the first time and, in six months, you came back for another show. What are your memories from that time, and why did you decide to come back in only six months?
Iced Earth: Oh, I don’t remember if it was only six months…
Rock Overdose: The first live was in November and the other one in April, I think.
Iced Earth: OK… It must have been that there was a demand for it. My memories were amazing of that first trip in Greece and that’s why I decided immediately that, when we did a live record, it was gonna happen there. So, I’m assuming that… Oh, yeah, you’re right! You know, it was… I think, it was “Dark Saga” that we came there for and, then, we came back pretty quick for “Our Days of Purgatory” (1997), maybe…
Rock Overdose: Yes, it was that era.
Iced Earth: Yeah, so… You know, it must have been that the demand was strong enough. You know, we did a full European tour both times and it probably just worked out. Since “Days of Purgatory” was coming out, we had to go back out and support that; that’s the normal routine when you’re- you have a new record coming out. So… You know, every experience I’ve had in Greece has been amazing. I mean, I love going there.
Rock Overdose: You know, I was only one years old then, but I’ve heard some stories about Greek fans waiting [for] the tour bus and coming to you, asking about autographs and being so crazy... Is that true?
Iced Earth: Uh, yeah… It was a little more than that… [Laughs] It was extremely crazy; way more than asking about autographs.
Rock Overdose: It was, I think, the tour with Nevermore…
Iced Earth: Um, yes, it was. I don’t know… I think Nevermore was with us the first time. I’m not sure if they were there the second time. I don’t remember, man…
Rock Overdose: OK… I think it was only the first time, but I’m not sure.
Iced Earth: Yeah…
Rock Overdose: After twelve albums, is it easy for you to write new material?
Iced Earth: Um, it is easy to come up with guitar riffs all day long for me. It doesn’t mean that they’re all great, but that’s not just songwriting. There’s way more to songwriting: it’s framing arrangements and lyrics and vocal melodies, and coming up with cool lead guitar parts that weave with the vocal in a good way, and all of that shit. There’s a lot to drum and bass arrangements, and keyboard parts. And if you want orchestration, there’s that… I mean, there’s all kinds of shit, so that’s kind of a big… It’s a big deal and it does still come to me when I’m inspired. You know, it’s one of those things. If I- like… Going forward, we’re not gonna be under any pressure to make another Iced Earth record to the point where we’re rushing it and doing in-between scheduled tours or something… I’m just not gonna do that. It’s gonna be more, you know, we-take-our-time, and make-the-record-that-we-wanna-make and, then, we put it out. And, if we do that, we’re gonna end up with albums like “Incorruptible” all the time. I mean, because it’s just not forced.
It’s like you’re allowing the energy to flow the way it’s supposed to and coming up with the goods, man. So, you know, that’s all about learning from past experiences and just trying to go with the flow and that force, something, because of a time commitment. And, besides, now that we are free and, you know, the way that we’re gonna be doing business as a band going forward is gonna be completely different than anything in the past. That, also, gives us a lot of possibilities of dictating the way that our future is done. So, it’s a great period for the band right now, actually.
Rock Overdose: So, what are the next plans? Touring for the next two or three years and, after that, you’ll start thinking about a new record?
Iced Earth: Well, I don’t think we’ll tour for the next two or three years. But, we’re gonna tour for probably a year, a year and half – something like that. And, in the meantime, in the holes of the tours, I’m gonna be working with Hansi [Kursch] on the next Demons & Wizards [album]. And, then, we have plans in early 2019 to start re-recording one of the classic Iced Earth records – I don’t know which one we’re gonna start with yet. I have a pretty good idea which one, but the guys and I will talk over that in the next few months. And then, you know… Well, we’re gonna be busy. There’s just gonna be stuff happening. There’s gonna be, like, always various projects. But, what’s not gonna happen is… If it takes three or four years for another Iced Earth record, then so be it. I don’t think that it will but, if it does, OK.
You know, there’s such a huge catalogue now, and we have these big projects of going back and re-recording the old records so that I have master rights – you know – and ownership, and not a giant corporation like Sony, where we’re just getting a tiny fraction of what income comes from it. Now, we can redo some of that stuff and do it – you know… I mean, not to take away ‘cause I think those albums are great. But, it’s just – the fact is – that it was a bad business deal for Iced Earth and, for us going forward, we gotta have control of our catalogue and of our destinies and so… It’s a whole different thing. There’ll be a lot of production happening. A lot of work always goes on even when the band’s not on tour. It’s not like I’m sitting around doing nothing; there are shitloads of work every day – believe me.
Rock Overdose: Um, I think you mentioned something about Alexander the Great a few minutes ago. Do you have any idea for a song about Greek history?
Iced Earth: Well, that’s what I’m talking about. I mean, it’s something that I have… For years, it has also been stirring my mind. It’s just- the time hasn’t been right, but it will happen… I don’t know when, but it’s already brewing and I had an amazing…
Rock Overdose: Let’s hope it will be very soon!
Iced Earth: Could be… I’ve had an amazing experience at the- at Alexander the Great’s father’s tomb- King Philip, I think… Right?
Rock Overdose: Yes!
Iced Earth: And some very wonderful people in Thessaloniki took us to his tomb and to the museum, and it absolutely blew my mind. I mean, I’ve never experienced anything like that. Definitely, something very special is going to come but I can’t rush; it’s gotta happen when the time is right. So… I’ve been doing some research and everything – you know… It’s gonna be great, man! Whenever it happens, I promise it’s gonna be great.
Rock Overdose: Great news! I can’t wait to hear it.
Iced Earth: Yeah! Me too! [Laughs]
Rock Overdose: So, thank you very much for this interview! It was a great honor for me. I hope that you can close it with a message to your Greek fans.
Iced Earth: Well, as always, I just wanna tell everybody how much I really appreciate the passion and loyalty through all these years. It’s still so amazing to me, and special to me, to come there. It feels like home and I just love the spirit of the people, and the food and the culture – the whole thing! I had a few days off in Athens the last time and, actually, went in Thessaloniki, when we went to the tomb. It’s just so great. I wish I could go there and stay for about a month. It would be awesome! I love our fans there; they mean the world to me. We have a very special bond and I think we always will. It’s a cool thing!
Rock Overdose: Great! Thank you very much again. Can’t wait to see you in Thessaloniki in a few months.
Iced Earth: Alright, man! Looking forward to! You take care.
For Rock Overdose,
Interview: Konstantinos Sotirelis
Tapescript: Stergios Gkoutsidis