Q&A: Jon Schaffer
Sheila Rene': Jon, perfect timing. The CD just finished.
Jon Schaffer: Where are you located? SR: I'm in Austin, TX
SR: You write most of the lyrics don't you?
JS: Yeah, I write most of it.
SR: What's your favorite guitar today?
JS: Always a Gibson Les Paul. I'm totally a Gibson man until I die. They stay tight in the upper ranges and you just can't compare it with anything else. It's a man's guitar.
SR: Would I be correct in assuming that the name of this band came from a comic book background?
JS: No, many years ago we were called Purgatory. We changed our name because there were a couple of bands out there with that name. My best friend was killed in a motorcycle accident when we were about 16 years old and he always said that he liked the name Iced Earth. I fought it but we ended up changing it in his memory.
SR: Iced Earth is certainly a topic of conversation today with some folks thinking we are going into a ice age again because of the ozone holes. Others quote the bible and predict we'll go down in flames.
JS: Yep, that's true.
SR: Is your self-titled '91 album, '92s Night Of The Stormrider and '95s Burnt Offerings still available? I want to bring myself up to date.
JS: As far as I know Century Media has kept pressing them. Have you heard all the back stuff yet?
SR: No, I haven't, but I'm on the case.
SR: This new project is a concept album based around your favorite comic book, Spawn. Didn't the real-life person who the comic's lead character is based on help write "Depth Of Hell?"
JS: I wrote this record in five weeks. It happened really fast. We approached the creators of Spawn and their staff about doing soundtrack music for the movie they're working on. They're also doing an adult animated series on HBO. I wanted to offer my services as a writer and become a part of it. We ended up talking to the creator Al Simmons and one thing led to another. It turned into this concept record. It was great working with Simmons on the lyrics. Not that many people know about Spawn over in Europe and Japan but they know us. The same thing is true of Spawn which is really huge here but not in Europe. It's a great cross promotion.
SR: Who is Al Simmons?
JS: He's the creators best friend. The story of Spawn is a dark love story, a tragedy. This character was assassinated by his best friend with orders from the government. He's out in limbo with his soul floating around. He's in constant pain and agony because he misses his wife so much. He eventually sells his soul to come back to earth to be with her. But he comes back as a child of Satan, this creature. All this f**ked up s**t happens to him all the time. He's always a good guy in a really bad situation. The story hasn't ended yet so it's still wide upon for what Todd will do with it. What I did was to give an overview of certain characters and story lines of the book and devised my own ending of the suffering.
SR: Are all those voices coming from Matt Barlow on "A Question Of Heaven" the triligy?
JS: No, that's our singer's sister-in-law. We tracked her voice four times so it sounds like a choir. That's what we wanted to have, the idea of Spawn and angels in heaven going back and forth. It came off pretty cool.
SR: I'm a real sucker for this kind of album...a concept .
JS: Stormrider was a concept album too. That was a story I created about a guy who was angered by religion, turns against it and then he's chosen by the dark side to bring death and destruction upon the planet. He has no remorse about what he does. It ends in a really sad way.
SR: This would make a great video.
JS: It would be cool. If we can get that much cooperation from the creator it would be great, but he's not a music fan. Al Simmons is the guy who really made it happen because he believes in it and thinks it's a great idea. We just finished five festivals in Europe and there are probably 30,000 people who know about the comic book now. We had the banner and the songs told the story. We had all kinds of merchandise from the comic book too at our table.
SR: I see five names on the bio, but the picture is only four.
JS: Keith Menser is no longer in the band and he didn't play on the record, but he's in the picture. It's pretty confusing. We have a "Spinal Tap" history here. Brent Smedly is our drummer but he didn't play on the record. We used a session guy from Morrisound Studios. Our old bassist Dave Bell played on the record but he's getting married and tired of touring. Keith came in but he didn't work out since he had just started a graphics business. We now have James MacDonough and Brent Smedley who've been playing together bass and drums for about ten years in a band called Oracle. They're hired guns, but it looks like they have a shot of becoming full time members.
SR: Were you totally surprised that Century Media let you have your head on this project?
JS: It's always been that way. I think they decided to just make the bio juicer. We haven't done a demo since we got a new singer for the Stormrider album. They've always trusted my writing ability. One of the cool things about being on a small label is the personal trust. They know I won't do anything stupid with my career. There's no point in spending money on a demo tape.
SR: Who did you work with on producing at Morrissound? That studio is the best down there now.
JS: Jim Morris and I produced. He's produced a lot of bands. The studio is definitely the best with a killer staff. It's right down the street from my house so it's convenient. Then we got a call from producer Scott Burns who wasn't supposed to work on the album. He just called us up to say he really liked the material and added his two cents.
SR: You're based out of Tampa still?
JS: Yeah, hopefully not for long. We've talked about moving to Phoenix. I'd personally love to move to Colorado, close to Denver. I love the countryside there. I don't care about a scene. I'd rather be close to nature.
SR: If you like cool weather don't go to Arizona.
JS: We're also talking about Seattle because we just shared a bus with the guys in Nevermore. They told us we should check out that area before making up our minds.
SR: Seattle is a great place to live. Funny you should bring up Seattle. Your singer's voice is very theatrical in the GeoffTate/ Queensryche-style.
JS: I've not been there yet. He's got some of those tones. There's no doubt that Tate influenced him. Matt has such an emotional voice. He came aboard for Burnt Offerings and The Dark Saga. We've had three singers in the band too. Matt is the one. He'll be with us for a long time I hope. We got signed when we were pretty young, about 12 years ago, but it's been six and a half years with Century Media. It's been a weird trip. The first singer really had his heart in it, but he didn't have the vocal ability. The second guy had the vocal ability but the worst attitude--the total rock star mentality. It doesn't work that way. The record contract brings on a new level of nightmares you have to deal with and not always rock star status.
SR: How long have you been playing guitar? You and Randy have a great sound.
JS: About 14 years now. Randy and I have been playing about 12 years together.
SR: Why do you think Europe and Japan are stronger markets for metal and hardcore than the U.S.?
JS: Because of the lack of brainwashing that goes on. In the U.S. people aren't really able to breath and think for themselves. There's so much influence from radio and MTV. It really influences the way people think about music. You can sell a turd to the American public if you promote it enough. If we were able to get rotation at every major radio market, we'd be selling tons of records. It's a matter of marketing and money. In Europe and Japan it's a matter of talent. If the magazines like your band and they write good things about you then the kids respond to that. MTV is also popular over there, but it doesn't have nearly the influential power that it does here.
SR: This MTV channel has absolutely nothing on that deserves watching. It's all pretty much rap and sex game shows. They turned their back on what they promised to be.
JS: It's crap. Definitely, they sold out. It's a joke.
SR: I don't know of an over the air radio station in the U.S. that plays hardrock, hardcore, heavy metal all day and night anymore. Do you know one?
JS: There's so much money involved in this. This stuff doesn't happen by accident. The major labels control what happens and there's no doubt about it. Once in a while something amazing might happen, a miracle might happen; but it's very rare. If Atlantic or Warner Bros. says 'we like this band, you're going to make it then it'll f**kin' happen.' It happens.
SR: There are some great indies that play a big part in music buisiness..Sub Pop for instance, or TVT, Wax Trax, Metal Blade, Century Media, Relapse etc.
JS: That's definitely where it starts. I'm talking about an overall soaking of national exposure. That's when the big money hands get involved.
SR: This cross promotion with your CD's being placed in the comic book stores is a great idea. That's how it can start for Iced Earth and this new album.
JS: I hope so. Metal is so dead in the States right now maybe we can get a little fire going in some of these young kids who are into comics.
SR: Are you as surprised as I am with all these '70s and '80s bands coming out of the closet? It could be good timing for Iced Earth to get swept up in that.
JS: That would be killer if some of that stuff comes back. Only time will tell.
SR: Where are calling from today?
JS: I'm in Los Angeles right now. I'm at the record company's office doing some interviews. I'm actually going to San Diego tomorrow to attend the biggest comic book convention in the U.S. We're going to try to sell some CDs to the dealers and talk to the kids.
SR: That's great. Is the whole band with you?
JS: No, it's just me. I'll be in San Diego for three days and then back to Tampa. We were going to have a table there but it had already sold out two years in advance. We had no idea it would be so tough.
SR:That's the fun of it, getting out and mingling with the fans.
JS: It's definitely the best of times in Germany for me. We have a very strong cult following there. We really love talking to them and finding out what's on their minds. It means a lot.
SR: Since I put up my own little web site I've been getting e-mail from Newfoundland, Sweden, Brazil, Germany and Arizona with hard music for me to listen to and write about. It's amazing.
JS: Killer. I know it's a big thing. I need to get on the ball, but I just don't have a couple of grand on a computer.
SR: Any tour dates yet?
JS: We really want to do and we're talking about doing some shows in the States with Savatage. It's looking good. We're doing out first headlining tour in Europe and record a live album and video in late August. It's certainly time we do this.
SR: Get to Austin please.
JS: I sure hope so.Thanks.