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Kerby's Exclusive Interview With Iced Earth Leader, Jon Schaffer

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Saturday, November 15, 2008 @ 11:46 AM


"There is a lot of moral decay, and there are a lot of parallels that exist between this country and the Roman Empire."

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Jon Schaffer is Iced Earth. Regardless of who the vocalist may be or which musician might be manning the drum kit on any given record, the one constant in the band is also indisputably its most maligned. This could be due in part to the fact that the legacy of Iced Earth in certain circles seems to focus as much on the numerous lineup changes the group has gone through during its various incarnations as it is for its vast canon of ambitious, conceptual music. This appears to be the case concerning Schaffer as he has consistently felt the wrath of fans who have expected the group's personnel to remain static in a world where very little appears to ever stay that way. This is balanced out somewhat though by his many supporters who believe that Jon gets misunderstood simply because he is a guitarist with a specific vision of what he wants - and that if he were a lead vocalist, he wouldn't be subjected to nearly the same amount of scrutiny.

For a musician who has proven to be an avid student of history, this tumultuous period in America would have to be of concern as it is indisputably wrought with turmoil and uncertainty. At this point, seemingly everyone has an opinion concerning nearly every issue regardless of whether that individual is informed or not - Jon Schaffer certainly doesn't fall into that category. As a staunch American and creator of many musical pieces intended to portray specific periods of our past, Jon has some very insightful beliefs about the country and what this period may or may not mean for us as a people. Although basically conservative by nature, SCHAFFER does a good job here of conveying the type of apprehension that many more liberal voters also posses with regard to belief that the choices we had for President of this nation weren't exactly ideal.

On the road with his band in support of their tenth studio album, "The Crucible of Man: Something Wicked Part II," Schaffer talks candidly about his political views as well as what it takes to be a successful bandleader. Regardless of how any given headbanger feels about Jon personally, credit needs to be given to an individual who helped keep metal alive during a time when it wasn't the most popular genre to be a part of - here is hoping that the future brings more musical tales of futuristic havoc and historical mayhem - and that he brings them to a town near you.

KNAC.COM: When you find yourself getting inspired to interpret a theme musically, do you find any commonalities that exist? Is there any particular condition or emotional pull that you gravitate towards?

SCHAFFER: Well, in general, when I write music, I try to design the music, or create the music, to fit the concept of the record. With the Something Wicked stuff, that is a story that I wrote, so it's a little different than writing something about the Battle of Gettysburg or Dante's Inferno or whatever other subjects I've written about over the years. When it's one of my creations, there is always a different relationship and way of being inspired by those parts. Really, I would say the biggest thing for me that I find inspiring just concerns the human race and how fucked up we are. That is always a theme that I can pick up and draw from - it's because of the anger or whatever that I feel towards people - people who are very dishonest. It's a constant source of inspiration--even if it is kind of a negative thing. It's a good draw for me emotionally.

KNAC.COM: People have a tendency to believe that there is nothing new to experience and that all we do is repeat history. Do you think that is true, or do you think that possibly due to technology or the increasing amount of greed that exists that we could actually be devolving as a race?

SCHAFFER: Yeah, I don't know. My grandfather used to say, "nothing changes under the sun." I've always thought that was a wise statement. I believe in its truth. Maybe with the technological advances that have been made that we have gotten even worse, but..I think, overall, we are the same fucked up creatures than we've always been. You know, that's my take since all I know are the 40 years or so I've been on this planet. I couldn't say what it was like during the Roman Empire, but I can't imagine that it was very different. The technology may be different, but the behaviors of human beings are the same. We do repeat history. It's even harder in a society like ours where there is no importance placed on history. Kids aren't learning it, or if they do, they learn a very watered down version. If they do learn anything, it usually just concerns dates--and that's irrelevant--instead of learning about events and what human beings actually did. Those are the things that inspire people to learn - not dates. I think it is easily one of the most important subjects that should be taught for a human being in order to learn. I think societies have always done that. In Germany, since the fall of the Third Reich, people have learned about that to the point where there is no national pride whatsoever. They are taught to be completely antipatriotic. I think that is kind of wrong also though because there isn't a race on this planet that is free from sin. If you look at the Native Americans, there were tribes that were brutalizing other tribes....this stuff has gone on forever with people of all colors of skin. We are all guilty of it, so for a culture to almost be in this self-loathing thing, is also wrong. Yeah, they fucked up, but you have to look at the situation. People were absolutely desperate, and yeah, this guy was out of his mind, but he gave them hope. When people are desperate, they do stupid things. That's just one example of it.

KNAC.COM: Do you see any similarities that may exist between what is going on in this country and what happened just before the fall of Rome?

SCHAFFER: Absolutely. It's happening now. We are losing the identity of what it means to be an American. We are being almost too politically correct in catering to those who come into this country rather than insisting that those who come into this country assimilate to what our way is. The Romans did the same thing - they spread their power throughout Europe. There is a lot of moral decay, and there are a lot of parallels that exist between this country and the Roman Empire.

KNAC.COM: How do you see that in respect to the elections that just passed? Do you see Obama's win as signifying a substantive change or do you think it is more a case of a country paying lip service in a time of turmoil?

SCHAFFER: I think it's a lot of lip service. I think the majority of people who voted in this election are fucking clueless. It's scary to me. Believe me, I have all hope for our new President, and I hope he's successful - because I'm an American. I am nervous though from the standpoint that....I don't know who this guy is. I know that he's a good speaker and he's charismatic, and that people, especially in this country, tend to get caught up in that kind of shit. It's the nature of our culture, and the way we prop up our heroes and our stars, but there is a lack of information behind that record. Do we really know how he's going to govern? He can give a great speech, but c'mon, this is serious stuff. I think it was also rigged in so many ways - when you have every major news outlet out there gunning for him completely along with everyone from Hollywood--to me, it seemed like the deck was really stacked.

KNAC.COM: Well, he transcended the chasm from politician to celebrity to be sure. What I'm wondering is how committed many of the people in this country really are to change. It's one thing to carry around an Obama placard, but...when it comes time for personal sacrifice, will these people still be on board? Will they still be optimistic when these issues aren't solved in three or four months?

SCHAFFER: I think the majority of the people who voted for him have no idea what the issues are really about - I really feel that way. The guys in the dressing room last night were talking about how Howard Stern had some reporters go out and give McCain's speech and say it was Obama's. The people who voted for Obama were all going, "I agree with that! I agree with that!" That tells you those people just weren't paying attention. You get college kids out there who are voting for the first time or seniors in high school who are eighteen and voting for the first time who don't have a clue what life is really about. They don't know what it's like to really experience hard times. We have gotten so soft as a nation that for people to compare anything that is going on now to the Depression is fucking ignorant. We are so spoiled that it blows me away. Believe me, I love our American troops, and I support them, and they know that, but to try to compare what has gone on since 9-11 to Vietnam is absolutely ridiculous. We still have yet in all these years that we've been in this conflict - we aren't even close to the casualties that in one day occurred in the Civil War. The thing is, we are just soft.

KNAC.COM: Well...we are entitled, right? Isn't that basically what we are perpetuating is the idea that jobs, money or privilege should just be handed to us?

SCHAFFER: That's a big problem, man. I have a lot of disgust with the way this whole thing is going. It frightens me a little bit because there is just so much ignorance it's astounding. It's like when Jay Leno goes out and interviews people walking down the street and there are people who just have no clue. Nevermind them knowing about the founding fathers of this country or anything - they don't even know what's going on now. These people are out there voting.

KNAC.COM: And their vote counts as much as yours.

SCHAFFER: Exactly. But hey, there is nothing in the Constitution that says that dumbasses can't vote.

KNAC.COM: True, but doesn't a functioning democracy have to have faith in its constituency that it is informed?

SCHAFFER: Dude, you're right. The thing is...I don't know. I don't think anyone really knows. His career has been relatively short, and even the time he spent in the Illinois senate, most of his votes were "present". They weren't for or against anything. It's like he was in the senate for 175 days...and then he starts running for President. It's like, "c'mon people!" Hopefully though, he will assemble a good cabinet and do a good job and do the right thing.

KNAC.COM: Did you think it was a little disconcerting though when he was giving his acceptance speech and they kept panning to Oprah Winfrey's crocodile tears and Jesse Jackson? This wasn't a gala. It wasn't the Emmys.

SCHAFFER: Right. I know. I can understand the emotion for a black person here although I can't relate to it because obviously I'm a white guy, but I think our country has come a long way. I don't care what skin a person has because I think that pretty much all people are pieces of shit unless they prove likewise. That's just kind of my feeling, and I don't care what color their skin is. I can see where there were a lot of tears of joy because many people never thought they were going to see this in their lifetime. I think it is a good thing. I'm one of these guys where anyone too far left or too far right scares me. If you go too far in one direction, you are going to end up back in the same place. You can call it something different, but it's all the same shit. That's kinda what worries me when I think of the kind of people we have now with Barack Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. I don't want San Fransisco values spread throughout the United States. I think that would be the demise of what we have. It might be ok for someone in San Francisco, but it's not ok for the rest of the United States. That's what worries me. Where I think our founding fathers were geniuses in coming up with the electoral system because if it was only to go by population, the big cities would always run the show. That would mean that the farmers who were out there feeding the big cities would never have a say - it would only go one way, and you know how that would turn out. It would always be urban, and that's bad news. I think the way the guys went about setting this up all those years ago is pretty incredible, actually. Time will tell. I've never had this feeling before. It comes in waves - it is a feeling of real uncertainty.

KNAC.COM: Do you think it's odd that we, as a country, managed to get through an entire election process and still not know any more than we do? I mean, neither candidate was ever really made to answer any questions specifically - it was mostly propaganda with few actually examples of how any of it was to occur.

SCHAFFER: The thing that gets me, and it has nothing to do with being a Republican or a Democrat - I'm an American - is that it disturbs me when CNN and MSNBC and most of the newspapers out there gave Obama a pass. There was nothing in the press that really challenged him.

KNAC.COM: How much of that is because of race though? Who wants to say something controversial and be accused of being a racist? If he had been a white candidate, would he have been subjected to more scrutiny?

SCHAFFER: ....well, people are afraid of it.

KNAC.COM: Hilary Clinton ran into this during the primary. I don't think anything she did or said was out of the ordinary, but the backlash was enormous.

SCHAFFER: Yeah, actually, I'm not a big fan of the Clintons, but I'd feel more secure if Hilary was there. I know I'd probably be a little pissed off about it, but she can also be a cast iron bitch, and that's what we need. You know, it worries me when Ahmadinejad is trying to get a hold of Obama to tell him "congratulations" - that worries me. When the enemies of this country are out celebrating, that worries me.

KNAC.COM: Are there times when you wish you could get a "free pass"? I mean, especially on the Internet, your image is that of polarization to a great extent. Some love Jon Schaffer while others seem to have severe problems with the way you do things.

SCHAFFER: I think I get the sniping because I'm outspoken, and I'm not politically correct, and I don't care if people like me or not. That doesn't matter to me. I'm doing this because I know instinctively what works. People have no clue about the daily workings of what goes on in Iced Earth.

KNAC.COM: C'mon...everyone is an expert on the Internet.

SCHAFFER: They just don't know, and I don't have to explain myself to these people. It's my business. People have this fantasy about how a band is or the way that it could be. I think there are a lot of people out there who would happy if I just said what everyone wanted to hear. Believe me though, I don't lose a wink of sleep over it. It doesn't concern me.

KNAC.COM: It's not much of a way to live, is it? Constantly having to worry about perceptions? If you are in a position where someone is going to listen to you, isn't it your obligation to speak out?

SCHAFFER: I think so, but the one thing that gets me though is that I don't usually get into too many conversations about politics because I feel like there are too many entertainers who get up on their soap boxes who think that because they sell a million records or are in a hit movie, that they are an expert. I think that's bullshit. You are only an expert if you pay attention to the issues and get involved in stuff. I think there are a lot of people out there mouthing off who don't. They don't know anything about history or what's going on. Really though, I have to be me, and I know that is going to offend some people because I know how people are. Again though, I've got to live with who I am, and the people who know me know how I really am. The way I come off to certain people during interviews or when I'm speaking scares some because I am blatantly honest. Anything I've ever said in the past whether people believe in it or not is true. That is true whether we are discussing certain band members - I've never lied about anyone who has ever been in this band. I can't say that from the standpoint that there have been a lot of people who have left the band have certainly talked a lot of shit, but they have to because that is a human defense mechanism. When the ego is challenged, people have a really hard time. In the Something Wicked universe, the song "Come What May", that song is about the only hope for humanity being that we can evolve at an intellectual level - not in relation to the toys that we have. I'm assuming that's what you must have gotten out of it with the way you started the conversation. I just see dishonesty so often with people. I'm certainly not perfect, but I try to live my life in a way where I'm being honest with myself all the time. That is what keeps me at peace with myself.

KNAC.COM: I've also found that there aren't too many leaders anyway - whether in music or any sector, who get by with everyone loving them.

SCHAFFER: No, no. Nobody does. That is part of being a leader. That is the burden of command as it is. You know, the whole idea of democracy in a band...I don't know of any that have ever worked. There is always one or two guys who are running the show and making sure everything gets done. I started Iced Earth as a vehicle for my songs. It wasn't to go out and be a rockstar or guitar hero. This is a vehicle for my songs regardless of who is in the band. That isn't an issue. People can talk all the shit they want - twenty years later we are still leading the pack and kicking ass.


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