An Interview with Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth on 17th December 2001

Conducted by Glenn Milligan, BA Hons CS

It's 7 'clock on a cold dark night, not long before Christmas and it's time to at last interview the Key figure of 'ICED EARTH', the lead guitarist, lyricist and main composer, - this being Jon Schaffer. Iced Earth are getting more popular gig by gig and no wonder because their current studio album 'Horror Show' (that pays tribute to many classic horror films and characters) is a future metal classic!! It takes a quick call to the United States to conduct one of my best interviews so far !!! Jon's phone rings and he answers with:

'Hi Man, how ya doin'? I answer - "Pretty good" and in a matter of seconds we get going in full swing for a class interview !!!

Glenn: What is the history of Iced Earth?

Jon: We formed 17 years ago, there's been numerous line-up changes. It all started when me and a buddy played together.

Jon told me he had a near fatal motorcycle accident and after thought of starting the band. He ran away from home, slept in disused buildings and got a place in the ghetto area of Tampo, Florida. To get by he worked for various labour agencies - digging ditches or whatever, in order to earn some money. But all through this he kept the dream alive of having his own band.

He met people who were a similar way inclined and as he puts it -

"I put Purgatory together, we got better and better. We changed our name to Iced Earth because another band had the same name - we did several gigs".

Iced Earth produced a demo called 'Into the realm' and they received an Offer from the German Rock/Metal Record company 'Century Media' which Jon stated,"was very small at the time"'

Iced Earth then went on tour.

Jon stated to me: We had success in Germany, Greece and Holland - we had a line-up change and got big in Japan, in fact they were singing along to our songs, like 'Holocaust'.

I was really interested to know what bands had got Jon into the Rock and Metal scene and encouraged him to start up his own band and Jon insisted that,

"Musically it was Sabbath, Old Priest and Maiden. Kiss were the reason I got the band together - I went to see them and that was it. It wasn't so much the musical influence - it was the whole thing - the way they put a show on, as well as old AC/DC and Alice Cooper - they really influenced me. My biggest influence is Steve Harris - the way he leads the band (Iron Maiden)- I'm one of his biggest fans. I also like old Metallica 'Ride the Lightning' era especially."

Glenn: What are your main highlights so far?

Jon: Our 1st European tour in 1990 - we toured with Blind Guardian. We got a great response to the 1st album - they were chanting our name and clapping their hands in Hamburg, Germany as soon as they heard our entrance intro - which was our demo tape !!!. Another highlight was working on the 'Darker Side' record with Ted Macfarland (the creator of 'Spawn'). Then there was the release of 'Alive in Athens' which was a thank-you to those guys as they were so passionate - they were singing our songs and shouting our name outside the hotels we were stopping at !!!"

Glenn: Do you party while on tour ?

Jon: Not much - we're not that sort of band - we don't have a large female audience - it's most male. We are the real deal - we aren't into it for that - like the cock-rock bands. We don't allow it - all the partying - I'm not having band members not being up to scratch - coming on stage drunk or tired - that's where things tend to 'F*ck Up, mistakes are made and you disappoint the fans

Glenn: How come you only have one date in the U.K. (Iced Earth played The Scala, in London on 20th January 2002)?

Jon: I don't know - it's our first chance to play in the U.K.

Glenn: How did you managed to secure the various tour support slots?

Jon: We were offered a support slot on the (Judas) Priest Tour (with Anthrax) - it was all confirmed. Then there was the terrorism and the tour got postponed. Megadeth got in touch and they took us on tour with them for one of their legs. The tour went well - they are good people.

Glenn: I understand that you have a boxed set out called 'Dark Genesis', that places all your albums together in the same package - how did that come about?

Jon: Well, it's come to the end of an era with Century Media. So we wanted to do something like this - make it something special. I always thought that the first album had a great album cover but a weak sound. We recorded and mixed the album in a week on a budget of $8000, therefore we got Jim Marsh to remix the tracks for the box set version. His brother Tom Marsh also engineered them who has a better ear for rock and metal. It's now more dynamic and the sound has been separated out better. But then there was a problem with the labels - they got mixed up - Man -there's always something !!!

Glenn: Tell me about the concept of the new studio album, 'Horror Show' ?

Jon: I love horror films - my favourite is the 'Omen Trilogy'. I especially like the more modern ones - the Universal films. I love the old original actors say, Bela Lagosi in his 'Phantom of the Opera' era or when he played the Werewolf. I like the Hammer films with actors like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. I wanted to make a tribute album to all those guys.

Glenn: Why are there so many different variations of the 'Horror Show' album about?

Jon: I don't know - I originally wanted to produce something special, like have an Interview included on a bonus disc - 1 version. There was gonna be a hard back book or a slipcase version. Then all these variations came out - I had nothing to do with it at all - it's the record company.

I've been playing since I was 14, I'm now 33. I taught myself how to play (the guitar). I am an artist/businessmen. I am not into it to become a rock hero - I'm in it for the fact that it's art.

Jon told me that a good example of this art is the track 'Question of Heaven' which was influenced by Dante's 'Inferno' or the 'Something Wicked' Trilogy. Jon took the art aspect that was used to create themes like 'The Omen' or 'Phantom of the Opera' and adopted it for the creation of the incredibly impressive and atmospheric 'Horror Show' album.

I was really intrigued to find out how Jon turns his complex ideas into finished songs and on this factor he told me,

"I have to be in a certain mood - have a real emotion. I then write the music and lyrics - it's either real or I don't do it if I'm not in the mood. I always look back later after about 6 months of the album being out and think - 'I can do better'.

"I have the concept of the lyrics, sit around and jam and get the music to fit the atmosphere, then work on the vocal melodies. It's a very within (process) and that atmosphere needs a certain something."

Glenn: Your music seems to have a classical sense to it, with regard to the arrangements - do you listen to much classical music?

Jon: No, I never listen to it. Although I do like Karl Orff or the music from the film 'Excalibur. Sub-consciously, I suppose the song 'Stormwriter' was based on classical music - it's got that symphony like thing to it - but mainly because that is what would work best - it needed that. I like to flavour blues in the stuff as well.

Glenn: Which record company will Iced Earth be signing with next?

Jon: We've been negotiating with several - there were 20 in all, which we narrowed down to 6 -we have a strong idea to who we are gonna sign with but I can't say yet.

No doubt, whoever it is - they'll probably take 'em even higher than they are already and they truly deserve it.

Thank-you Jon for a very informative, interesting and above all, 100% honest 'n' truthful Interview.

AlI of us at wish Jon and all of Iced Earth all the best for the future - as you are reading this they are most probably on tour with Judas Priest and Anthrax.

Special thanks to Donna O' Connor and Andy Turner at Century Media Records (U.K.) for going well out of their way to secure this interview - especially Donna - we owe you one for all your assistance to make this happen !!! Unlimited thanks come flowing from all the team !!! Nice One !!!