After almost ten years, Iced Earth returned to Greece for their own headline shows. It’s been too long and the two gigs on 2007 in Rockwave Festival and 2008 in Rock’em All Festival were not enough for their die-hard fans. Metalpaths had the honour and luck to meet their undoubted leader Jon Schaffer before the show in Thessaloniki and had a great conversation in a very friendly mood. Listen to Jon speaking about the renewed Iced Earth, his new frontman Stu Block, the difficulties he went over and why ”Dystopia” is the album that puts them back strongly into the game. He’s also trying to wake people up by telling them about the bank system and conspiracy theories driven by it. Take a look at his expressions while talking and you’ll realize more than meets the eye.
* You can also listen to the audio format of the interview HERE.
Hello everybody, this is Metalpaths and we have the honour to host Jon Schaffer from Iced Earth with us. Welcome home I dare say.
(Smiling) It’s good to be here man.
Because you know that we love you very much and we feel you like homemates.
Yeah, I feel that way when we come here, it’s my favourite place to come man, for sure. The food, the people, the audience obviously, it’s amazing.
It’s needless to say the love that Greek fans have for Iced Earth but we should point out firstly that it’s the first full show you do after February of 2002, it’s been almost ten years and we just can’t get enough of you. So we’d like to have a feeling of how the last two days in Athens were.
That was amazing, I mean the first night was difficult for me because they had an air conditioning, like there was air from outside blowing right on the side of my stage, it was freezing cold and I was really pissed off because my hands were like ice and I was trying to play ”When The Night Falls” with hands like ice, so I was pretty… I was yelling between the songs to the promoter to turn the shit off because you know, it’s a heavy metal show, you’re gonna be hot and sweaty and fucking that’s the way it works. But the fans were great. In after about an hour we had that figured out. But last night, it was great because it started off… there was no problems and us getting out there, the sound was great. So I think last night show was better out of the two but it’s always amazing playing in Athens.
Despite being very professional in your life, how much motive does it give you to play in a place that you know that people love you no matter what you have done all these years, no matter the difficulties the band had. I mean you’ve done the whole tour but Athens is the only city that had two nights and Greece had three nights out of it. It’s a small country but with a big response. Does this make you feel any better or any more relaxed when playing?
Oh, it’s… I just love it man, there is a connection, I don’t know what it is ’cause I never actually understood why certain countries around the world really gravitate and understand. The Greeks understand Iced Earth better than anybody. Better than any other fan base. I don’t know why, I don’t understand, there is just like a… some kind of a connection there and it’s always an honour and a pleasure to come and play for fans with that passion. For me being a guy I’ve been dedicated to this thing for 27 years now, whenever I have moments like last night it makes all the years of work worth it, just in that moment.
I had the luck to be the first time in the airport, when you came with Nevermore, if you remember us moving the bus like crazy ones, I had the luck listen to you saying ”I dub you the metal capital of the world”, it all started back 14 years ago, when you were younger than I am now and I had the luck to meet you in all the great places, it was Randall’s last live show here, you had this t-shirt, it was November ’97, so throughout all the difficulties the fans have stayed loyal, at least here. But how about the rest of the world?
Well, Iced Earth is fortunate, we have a very loyal fan base. I mean, there was an article about the fans with the most loyal fan base and we were on the top five, with the case of Iron Maiden and stuff, and I mean we don’t sell the amount of albums that they sell but our fans are really dedicated, they’re really into it. You know, like I said man, through the changes that’s going on and a difficult period where I was really disconnected from the band in the last ten years, I think it’s amazing we’ve been able to hold the success that we have, but I think Iced Earth now has the chance to go further than it ever has before. We’ve got a great line-up of guys, the chemistry is great, we’re like brothers man, we just laugh all the time, we have a great time. And Stu is an amazing positive force of energy for the band, he’s always in a good mood, he’s always hungry, he just loves the band, he loves being here, he loves to be a part of this and he makes me laugh. So we get a lot of fun.
Taking for granted our partnership since I first met you, I must thank you as a fan first for taking Stu Block in the band, because I’m also a big Into Eternity fan, I knew before he comes in the band that he’s a big Iced Earth fan and I can tell you without this sounding insulting, that he’s taking the band a step further, despite of course the great compositions, I mean it feels to me that the band can go to where things stopped in ’98 to 2001 and start from this point.
I think you’re right!
But we’d like to know how the two of you got to meet and what made you -because I know that you’re a very demanding person in what you ask from the band members- when did it feel right for you to take him in the band? What prerequisities should he have to be in the band?
Well, it was brilliant from the very… First of all, Century Media C.E.O. told me about Stu and I watched the videos and I really liked the look that he had in his eyes, that’s the thing. I didn’t really know about his voice, because he was singing in a very different style of music, but he did have a very wide range. And usually, when somebody has a range like that and if they’re willing to be produced, then I can pretty much pull all kinds of things out of them that maybe they don’t even know they have. I’ve been doing this a long time so… But from that point I just had to give him in for an audition and get him behind a microphone in my studio.One of the things that I told him is I wanted to see if we have chemistry, if we can write together. And the first song we wrote was ”End Of Innocence” and I knew within about 30 minutes that he was the guy, I can just tell I can feel it. We’re very close, there’s a great chemistry, it’s a very very positive thing. So that’s the process, basically I needed to know does he have a mid range of his voice that we can expand? Would he let me produce him? Would he let me work with him and get the best out of him? That was a big deal ’cause some guys they think they know everything and if you can’t get the best out of them, they’re not getting it, the way it works, there’s no chance from that point and on. So, you know, it was obvious he was thrilled with the things I was pointing out of him and he’s like ”Man, nobody has ever talked to me this way before” and I’m like ”Cool, you’re listening to me”. And Matt did too, Matt was that way as well, and the similarities between Stu and Matt were that Matt studied drama when he was in high school and Stu did too, so they understand the emotional dynamics that need to have in Iced Earth music, like a song like ”Watching Over Me” or ”End Of Innocence” where there’s stirring or like ”Melancholy”…
There must be some expressionism you mean…
Yeah, you have to really overdo it and it’s the way you announciate the words, and the timing and all that stuff, and he was very receptive to allow me to produce him. We did very detailed demos of the new songs and then Jim Morris came into it and laid it to the process. That was another level of education for Stu, and opening up his voice and it just works great, I think with the kind of energy that Stu brings to the stage which is fun for everybody, the band included, besides that, the biggest thing is I’m back you know. Because without the spirit behind them, being there, it’s not gonna work. And for about the last ten years I’ve had pretty difficult times, the last two albums were very difficult because I lost three of my family members in the writing process…
It sounded a little bitter.
Yeah, and I mean ”Crucible…” really suffered because right around then was my sister passed away and I was just like ”I can’t believe this”.
I can tell that two things show very much, one is that you have left your influence on Stu’s vocals, because I think that if you had let him loose, he wouldn’t know where to stop, in Into Eternity he does stuff like raising his voice beyond the unlimited and the second thing is that seeing you also now talking to me it seems that you are very relaxed and this shows on the compositions of ”Dystopia”. It reminds me of the first times I was listening to Iced Earth, back in ’94-’95 where everything sounded in order, that doesn’t mean that after 2000 things were not in order, but something seemed to concern you in your mind, but now you seem very loose. It’s a great thing.
One thing is I was really getting… caught up… what a lot of musicians do is when their career goes on is trying to beat the last thing and you tend to overdo it. I think you’re trying to come up with the best compositions ever and you start experimenting with all these different layers and doing the real shit, I mean the reason you start to be getting with, it happens to a lot of us. The longer you do this you feel like you wanna challenge yourself more, but after what I had what I call my awakening was really having the level of understanding that I do about what my government is up to, and how corrupted and criminal it really is and what’s happening, it was devastating for me but it made me completely come alive and reprioritize and put everything in focus. So my whole, everything has changed, I look at the world with completely different eye, I actually appreciate Iced Earth now. And back then it was just a burden to me, you know, so much fucking work and all the time dealing with all this bullshit, I didn’t really appreciate how far I actually came to since I left home when I was a teenager. It really made this shit happen, against all odds. So, my perspective has changed completely and most of it, when Sons Of Liberty came out of my awakening process, it was a way for me to really release a lot of shit that’s going on inside and that made Iced Earth come alive again. So, it all started about three years ago, just really, even when I knew Matt was leaving, I knew we’re gonna be fine. Because I know I’m the driving force of the band, if I’m not doing well, the band isn’t gonna do well. The guys know that, they understand. They look to me for their leadership, I mean I’m not some tyrant or screaming at people all the time.
It would be naive to say such a thing because everyone knows you’ve been doing that since 1984. So the next question is after almost thirty years, I know that your dream having talked to you many times was make Iced Earth an arena band. How much of the things you’d like to achieve have been achieved and how many dreams more are there unfulfilled, because I can see you right now with the spark in your eyes having still the motive, I mean being after forty years old, not many people have this fire inside as you, but I can see that you want to do more things. Is there something you’d think would be the highest peak in Iced Earth’s career and you’d like to achieve it through the years?
Well, I don’t know that breaching arena stuff is ever gonna happen, the music industry is changing so much and it’s just a different world. If the band would have started, if our first album was out in 1979 or 1980 it would be a different story I think. But now, it doesn’t matter actually, I don’t even care about that, I mean that would be cool but honestly man, I love playing these 1500-2000 clubs where people are close, like last night in Athens, that’s perfect man, that’s power and I think we can actually achieve way more now, simply because like I said I was pretty unrealistic a long time ago about where the band should go and my priorities weren’t right. My priorities are right now, and it makes a big difference.
I know that you’re very perfectionist sometimes but I can tell you that about 80 or 90% of the fans like ”Dystopia” very much. Would you change something now that you live with the album, you have toured with it, would you change anything in the compositions, in the production, in the duration or something, because most fans see it like a new ressurection.
I don’t think so actually, I don’t think I would change anything, it’s great the way it is, I don’t think I would change anything, I mean it’s a great album man and it’s definitely strong, I achieved straightly what I wanted to achieve with this album and I told Jim Morris from early on when I was in the early writing process, I said ”Dude, this is going to be completely different thing, we’ll strip it back”, fucking punchy and tight and that makes clean up the guitars and recording the drums and bass and a certain way the whole thing feels. And he wan on board with this, he knew what I was after, so it just feels right, it’s a new beginning and another string of great records. I mean, I can see us doing such a cool writing chemistry again and it’s just in terms of like the lyric and vocal melody type of thing, now I’ve got a guy who actually is great in coming up with hooks for vocal melodies, when that was always on my shoulders, 90% of them was, it’s a big deal, so now I have two of us, coming with the big chorus part, that’s killer. It makes it fun for me and it makes it more relaxing for me that I don’t have all the weight on my shoulders ’cause I know the importance of it. I mean I don’t give a shit how great the fucking guitar players are and the singers and the drummers, whatever. If the songs aren’t there, it doesn’t matter. That’s all there is to it. So I know the importance of the song writing and how crucial that is to making the whole thing happen. It’s great to have a guy like Stu to help with the vocal part.
I’d like to point out two specific songs if you don’t mind, one is ”Tragedy And Triumph”, we’ve always known that the last song on an Iced Earth album would let’s say look in the future, but this is a great sample of what the band can do in the future. It shows like it’s a step for you to do better things in the future, it’s a little different…
…than the typical last Iced Earth songs, which were kind of more epic, more angry sometimes. This is a song of hope to me.
Yes it is, it’s exactly what is is!
It combines tragedy and triumph as a title but the last result that comes to the fan’s mind is that ”Well, if this is the album they’ve done with the new singer, the next is going to kick ass”. That’s what they think. And the other one is ”Anthem”, which I think when you made ”When The Eagle Cries”, it’s like this eagle doesn’t cry any more.
This is the song that makes things better in the fans’ minds, so what’s your opinion about these two? Because they are two of the stand out tracks of the album.
Yeah, it’s to me two of the hopeful songs on this album, because we’re singing about some pretty heavy shit, and some real stuff, even though it might be disguised ”it’s about this movie or that movie”, you know there is a lot of parallels to the real world, whether it’s in the ”Something Wicked” story or whether it’s in ”Dark City” or ”Equilibrium” or wherever, or the other tracks based on movies. There is a lot of real stuff happening now that is dystopian. That to me was important for us, to put some positive things that will help people lift a bit and ”Tragedy And Triumph” was very different, I don’t even know where it came from.
It’s a simple thing, where it comes always the last 25 years.
Maybe, yeah maybe…
Like you said before, times are changing and what you feel it was different, maybe it was something hopeful in you.
Yeah, I think there is… I see potential, my goal is to make people to get inspired enough to turn off their televisions and start learning about what’s happening, we gotta all understand the bank system. We have to learn about that shit, because it is absolutely enslaving the human population, and it’s one bunch of criminal mafia pieces of shit. The people have to understand it because the only way a conspiracy like this can work, is if it exists in the shadows. We shine a light on it, it’s over. All of this stuff and the suffering your country is going through now is because of this criminal banks and the criminal governments they control. It’s happening all over the world, it’s just happening in different levels, the United States is really close to collapse as well. I don’t know what it’s gonna take to get the people motivated to do something, but the first thing is we have to educate ourselves and we have to stop listening to the propaganda. And in the States it’s more, the propaganda is unbelievable, I couldn’t really believe it was happening, once I really woke up I realised what was going on I was like ”I can’t believe this is happening in my country, I can’t believe I was fooled like this”. I’m a guy believing in the family fathers, the idea of individual liberty and freedom and property rights and this kind of stuff, and we get tolled all the time to those values that are still there and they count, but the rights on our constitution has been completely destroyed by this criminal fucking regime. And it’s been going on for over a hundred years, and it’s a system that’s been around for thousands of years, we gotta learn man, we gotta learn from history, I’ve got a song on the next Sons Of Liberty album called ”Molon Lave” it’s inspired by Leonidas.
That’s a shirt, right?
A Sons Of Liberty? Yeah, I have it on the back of one of our shirts, I actually bought one with the Spartan thing.
I can guarantee you to make you feel better that no matter what collapses, the love of Iced Earth in Greece will remain. You don’t have to worry about that at least.
Yeah, I know man but I’m worried about the people. I know I’ve done enough research and this is really bad. What’s coming is the world has never seen a depression like the one that’s coming around the corner because once the currency system collapses and it’s all based on Freud, so it actually needs to collapse, what happens typically in times of collapse is tyrants arise and people die. And that’s the slippery sloth that I… that’s why to me it’s the most important thing to try and make people learn, start talking, you gotta read the book ”The Creature From Jeckyll Island”, get that book and you’ll be able to expose the whole fucking central bank system.
But what if the people have a motive like Iced Earth for example to make them feel better and forget sometimes and then they can build a new basis on their minds for not forgetting? Not only Iced Earth, many bands, but talking particularly about Iced Earth, in a country that they are very beloved, I can tell you that despite this crisis and everything, we had two nights, yesterday and the day before yesterday in Athens and one today that will be sold out in such difficult times and I think this comes to you and what you say is proved by this. I mean, we’re still here, no matter what the problems are and you are inspiring people, not only in Greece but worldwide. It’s not only you but many people.
Yeah, look, there’s a lot of good people that are coming together and they’re starting to work together to try and turn things around, I just hope that the American people have the backbone to realize how much they’ve been deceived and to hopefully instead of being in the engine of tyranny, be in the engine of liberty and try to turn things around for the rest of the world, because so much is happening in Washington D.C., in the city of London, Wall Street. That’s where the crimes are and it’s just up to the people have become complescent and destructive and they’re too worried about fucking football games and television and dude, this is serious shit that’s going on, I mean serious. When you start reading the writings of these guys, the conspirators themselves, they’ve openly written books about what they’re doing and what they’re gonna do and nobody pays attention to them. I have, I have read it and dude, it’s bad, I’m telling you.
To make things a little loose, you once told me you think about moving there, in Greece. You might have said that as a joke but would you think about spending some time on vacation here?
Oh, absolutely I would love to man, the problem is I hardly get to take vacation, it’s been actually the first step of my awakening to actually take vacation and get out on an island to Central America.
You can always do it here though, it’s a nice place for the mind to relax.
Yeah, you’ve got very beautiful islands and stuff, maybe that will happen some day but right now, there is a lot of work to do, I won’t be taking vacation for a year and a half, so…
So, is there a schedule for a tour for which we don’t know how long it lasts so far, but are there any new ideas though we are in a very early ”Dystopia” situation?
Not yet, there’s always riffs and stuff, but I don’t get in song writing mood until I’m focused on that specifically, it’s just a different thing man, it’s a completely different frame of mind when you’re on tour, I know some bands write on tour but that’s just not really the way I work, coming up with a riff or lyrics, that’s just not really writing, those are parts, the writing is like make it shape, happen, put it into arrangement, getting every single detail over it, that’s a different step and it gets a lot of concentration and I usually get into a different part of my mind and soul when I’m in the writing process, it’s very different than being here and talking to the fans, it’s a completely different part of me, I really wanna get through this and then the band’s only gonna take a month off, once the world tour ends, and then we’re gonna be back in writing process and it will go quick as I want to work together and as inspired as I am, I don’t see it being very long.
So, last but not least, we’d like to thank you very much for honouring us with your presence…
Thank you too!
Thank you for this interview and you can add anything you’d like to be asked and we didn’t happen to ask you.
No, I think we covered a lot of stuff man, I just always love coming here, your people have an amazing spirit, and I really appreciate everything. Thank you very much!
God bless you always in what you always do and let’s hope you won’t do any ten years to come again.
No, definitely not brother, no way!
Thank you very much!
Interview by: Aggelos “Redneck” Katsouras.