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Iced Earth's Jon Schaffer Speaks Candidly On Several Issues

By Sefany Jones, Contributing Editor
Thursday, June 20, 2002 @ 9:00 AM


Vocalist Schaffer Addresses Fa

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Iced Earth vocalist Jon Schaffer recently posted an update on IcedEarth.com, addressing everything from his recent inspirations in Australia, to why he thinks you shouldn’t believe everything you read -- except for this piece, coming straight from the horse’s mouth:

Greetings All!!

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I've recently just returned from a short and intense 12-day trip to Australia and New Zealand. It was awesome, especially Australia. The people, the culture, the outback and the Great Barrier Reef were all very inspiring. I really enjoyed learning about the Aboriginal culture and their musical instruments especially the didgeridoo. For those of you that don't know about the "didg" it's said to be the world’s oldest wind instrument, around 40,000 years I've been told. In short it is a tree that has been hollowed out by termites, then the bark is stripped off, then painted by the maker. The artwork is amazing and often reflects the indigenous animal life from the area and/or the tribe from which the maker comes. It's played by blowing through loosely held lips at the small end of the didg. The hard part is circular breathing, which I'm working on now. The sound that this instrument produces is very unique and "hauntingly" cool. I'm having a great time learning it. While in Sydney I met an artifact dealer who buys a lot of instruments and art from the Aboriginals and the people of New Guinea. I bought several different kinds of drums and flutes used in tribal rituals there. The drums sound awesome and the heads are made from snake or frog skins. The flutes that are used are as beautiful as they sound. One particular piece that I love is called a fighting horn. This looks, in shape anyway, like a bullhorn but is carved out of wood and is carved to look like a crocodile head. It is used by the headhunters to let the village elders know how successful their hunt was. On approach from their canoes they blow the fighting horn one time for each head they've trophied! Pretty cool huh? The sound is very dark and powerful. I guess the reason I'm sharing this with you guys is because I've been very inspired and these are exactly the kind of things I've been wanting for the coming Something Wicked concept album. Of course there are a lot of samples out there that sound really good but I want the real things and I want to perform them, not a computer. Over the course of the next few years as I'm putting the big concept album together I will have a lot of learning and practicing to do to get ready for the recording. It will be hard but I love a challenge. I've never had the desire to play percussion or wind instruments in the past but that has definitely changed now. Of course a lot of these sounds will be atmospheric only and just in a few spots here and there but when telling a sci-fi/horror story with 12,000 years of human evolution and history in it I think it's important to have old world elements. Don't worry there will be plenty of raging guitar and hate filled screams, after all we are metal!!! I can tell you that even though the concept album won't be out until around 2005, it will be worth the wait.

The schedule that I've laid out for the next few years is most likely going to look like this. It looks as though we will be doing Mexico, South America and Japan later in the year, probably in fall or winter. That will conclude the "Horror Show" world tour. During the summer months I will be writing the next I.E. and D&W. The plan has changed a bit due to Hansi's schedule. Instead of D&W being out first I.E. will be. I hope to have the new I.E. out in spring of 2003 and D&W in Fall 2003. Hopefully by the middle of 2004 promotional and performance touring for both bands will be finished. I'm sure at that point, I will need a serious vacation to recharge the batteries. Then work begins on the big event. I will spend more time writing this album than ever before. I plan to spend 1 year on writing the album and the comic book (at least 4 part series) simultaneously. A lot of people have asked why the SWTWC continuation is not going to be the next one. There are several reasons, the main one however is that the time does not feel right. I'm very involved in negotiating a new record deal right now and have been for several months. I would rather wait and make sure that whoever I sign with is going to be a suitable business partner so that I know that the proper work and promotion is going to be put into what I feel will be the most important work of my career thus far. That's not to say that I will put less into the next I.E. or D&W, it's just that it's a bit easier to tackle an album that's full of killer songs rather that an entirely original story and book that's translated into music. I've learned many things over the years and the main thing is that when I don't follow my gut feelings I fuck myself. So if things go as planned the "Wicked" concept album should be out by late 2005 or early 2006. Of course this is Rock n Roll and nothing is set in stone. If we get a chance next week to do a year long world tour as support for Maiden or Metallica we'd jump right on it and everything would change, but I won't hold my breath.

So far the writing's going very well. Here are a few working titles for you. Some of these tunes could end up on either I.E. or D&W. "Hollow Man," "Night Train," "The Opportunist," "Liar," "Revolution," "Remember the Hero's," "The Mark," "Human Factor,""Desperation Day," "Unholy War," "The Tale of a Sale," "The Haunting," "A Glorious Burden." I can tell you that my goal is to make this a very dynamic and thought provoking album. I felt trapped in a way with the Horror theme lyrically and am looking forward to getting some heavier and more emotional things off my chest. It will be a far more personal album than Horror Show. Some of you will like that more and some less but it's what I always prefer to do. To me that is songwriting. Songwriting is not just coming up with some words or just a sequence of melodies. It's about experiences and being able to put that into music that makes another persons hair stand on their arms and get goose bumps. That's what counts, not how fast a million notes can be crammed into a measure or how superb a player may be, it's about taking life experiences and making someone else get it.

I did a quick scan through the forum, and that's one of the reasons I laid out the schedule above. People were wondering what's happening now, and there you have it.

Another thing I want to address is the press and interviews. I can tell you and am sure I speak for many of my brothers in the music industry when I say, "Don't believe everything you read!" There are a few very cool journalists out there that do a very good job and tell the stories the way that they are told to them. Then there are those that like to use controversy and sensationalism to sell a story. It's almost always done in the editing process. There has been numerous times that Matt, Hansi and myself have been misquoted. This happens to all of us musicians. It's actually one of the reasons I like the idea of doing the monthly letter like this to tell you guys what's going on directly from the source without bullshit. I have even noticed a few times where Neil has said things that I'm sure he thought to be true but were not. For instance, the Melancholy EP radio promotion discussion. Neil said there was a radio campaign done for the EP and there was not. That is a fact coming from the source, me. The only thing that should be taken as fact concerning this website will be here on this new page or in the news section and tour dates, not the discussion forum.

I noticed as I was scrolling through the forum a few things that I wanted to address. Someone wrote about me ragging on lead guitarists. Here once and for all is my take on "lead guitar". First of all I've auditioned around 200 "lead guitarists" in the last 17 years. The first and main problem I have had with lead guitarists is that their timing is usually shit when it comes to the most important thing, which is the song, the rhythm parts. When a lot of these guys are kids growing up and learning how to play they skip the fundamentals and almost immediately concentrate on soloing and running through scales. So when it comes down to crunch time and you're under the microscope in the studio all the problems really start to show. Oh sure, that 12 second guitar solo sounds fine but the rest of it is shit. That's the problem. Ego boys doing the "look at me now... look at me now" parts instead of what's important......... the song. Of course it's not always this way but I've seen it hundreds of times. I love lead guitar when it says something, Gilmour can make you cry with three notes, Eddie Van Halen is a killer rhythm and lead player, so was Randy Rhoads, and when they soloed they said something. One thing I try to tell the young aspiring guitar players is to find their own way. They will get nowhere except bar band level trying to play like someone else. Guitar players are a dime a dozen, that is a fact. I've seen guys on street corners that blow myself and 90% of the other signed guitarists out there away. If you want to be really valuable to a band become a great bass player or drummer and learn how to groove. Timing is everything. If you really want to be a guitar player then find yourself, become a songwriter do your own thing, have a vision. If you do that then that's half the battle. I personally have never had a real interest in being a "lead guitarist." I just don't feel it, so why try? I have played every guitar part on every I.E. album except the solo's and I did a few in the old days. I play all of our lead guitar melodies in the studio because that's something I write and feel. It's not that I dis "lead guitarists" it's just that it's a very small part in my world, which is I.E. I don't write songs with the idea that there has to be a solo; I only have one in there if it fits with the overall vibe. Iced Earth is not a guitar hero band and never will be. Iced Earth is about songs. If some of you love the guitar hero thing then more power to you, there are plenty of great players out there to listen to.

My feelings on Burnt Offerings: There is a long list of reasons why it's my least favorite album. I feel, with the exception of Dante's Inferno, that due to the tremendous amount of stress and the fact that I nearly dissolved the band in that time, that I was not focused enough on the writing and arrangements. On top of that a few of the players during that recording session caused headaches and budgeting issues because of poor performances. The drums were an absolute nightmare; it took Tom Morris every engineering trick in the book at that time just to get them done. Someone said I dissed Matt in an interview about his performance. Matt knows perfectly well what I was disappointed with, concerning his performance, and it lead to him being pushed harder and becoming a far better singer in one year’s time with serious work and commitment and religiously taking lessons. I love Matt like a brother and am proud of how he's grown within the band. I do not dis Matt or anyone else I simply state facts and if a journalist translates that to a dis, then at that point I have no control over my own words. As the principle songwriter I have a very clear vision of what my songs are to sound like. When someone is not able to perform their parts the way they are in the writer’s head then it can be extremely frustrating. This is perhaps my biggest problem with Burnt Offerings. Another thing is that it was our first big budget recording and first time using an SSL console, which would have made the Stormrider album sound 100 times better, and we got the worst reviews in the history of the band and worst sales as well. This was in Europe where we always had excellent reviews and great sales and were treated like royalty. On top of that I had never been more embarrassed in my life than when we went out on stage doing festivals for that album and performed like some rookie garage band. I actually wanted to hide. We even cancelled our co-headline tour with Rage because we were not suitable for touring. So as you can see there are a lot of reasons why that album has a dark cloud over it for me. Of course even the label covers it up with bios that aren't necessarily true, but hey that's the music business. Very little of it is true, in fact nowadays you can hardly believe what you hear sometimes, and that's the truth. That's why for me it's all about songs, because that really is the only thing that is pure. One thing you guys have to realize also is that what you hear is the end result, sometimes it can be very painful getting to the end. Anyway, I am not ashamed of that album and I love the new mix on Dark Genesis, Jim did a killer job. I am also glad that a lot of you really love the album, that tells me it was not a complete failure. Maybe someday we'll revisit that album and do it the right way and I can put that demon to rest.

Everyone is replaceable issue: Yes, this is true. People seem shocked by that a lot of times, but it simply is a fact. Let me explain, although if any of you reading this are business owners, you should skip right on by because you already know it's a fact. When I say this, does this mean that I'm an evil tyrant that will fire everyone if they disagree with me or blah... blah... blah? No, this simply means that I will not stop the forward motion of Iced Earth for any individual. No individual is more important than the band, and the moment anyone starts to believe that is already on their way out. When I started this thing 17 years ago, failure and excuses for failure were not an option, and still are not. If someone develops a drug or alcohol habit, and I try to help them through it but they don't want to help themselves, should I quit and dissolve the band or find one of a million talented musicians who would love to be involved in something as real and pro as Iced Earth? If someone gets the big head and thinks they are the reason for the success and starts treating other band members and fans like shit should I quit? Hell no! If any business relies 100% on any employee, I'll show you a doomed business. I don't say this to band members when they join as a threat, it's just merely a fact. I think it helps them to stay grounded and realistic. There are thousands of talented musicians out there that just don't have the know-how or drive or opportunity that would love a shot at the real deal. My deal is very simple; it's based on loyalty. If my guys are committed and loyal and do the best they can all the time, then they will always have a gig and get paid well. The point is, if anyone thinks they can have better success on their own and doing their own thing, then I say good luck and go for it. The most important thing, even more so than talent, is attitude and willingness to learn and to do your best and try your hardest. Good musicians with good attitudes can be molded into great musicians; I've done it many times in the past. It is very difficult to get to the point that I've achieved with Iced Earth in today's music business. I plan on pushing a lot farther, but whether we achieve that ultimate goal or not remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, my honesty, integrity and drive are all still very much intact.

Best wishes all...............................

Jon Schaffer


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