Matt Coe of Eternal Terror webzine recently conducted an interview with ICED EARTH mainman/guitarist Jon Schaffer. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Eternal Terror: Most people familiar with Stu Block‘s work in INTO ETERNITY are aware of his impressive death vocals and killer high range pipes. How did you know he would also develop this amazing mid-range that works so well for ICED EARTH on this new album, “Dystopia”?
Schaffer: I didn’t know until I auditioned him. That was the defining moment in the audition, to see if he could do that. I looked at the videos that he has with INTO ETERNITY. I really liked the fire in his eyes, the attitude. I felt that he must have a big range because he was doing the Halford highs and the clean, melodic choruses but I didn’t know about the mid-range voice that ICED EARTH is all about. So I had to make sure he could do it. When he came to audition, it was pretty clear to me that he was going to have the right attitude to try everything, to be coached, to be produced and a pretty clear understanding of what ICED EARTH is all about. He knew about the different dynamics that our music has, from the epic parts to the raging thrash parts to the melodic, MAIDEN-ish type parts. It’s a roller coaster ride of emotions, and any vocalist has to be able to convey that. He’s done a great job. I’ve seen vast improvement in him since we’ve started together in March. For the first album of him singing in this new way, he did an amazing job and he continues to get better. He’s stepping into some big shoes, and this is the kind of music I feel he should have been doing all along. He’s got the tools to do it. We’re pretty psyched. We have a great time hanging out together, I love Stu — he makes me laugh.
Eternal Terror: One of the aspects I love about “Dystopia” is the variety of arrangements and material on display — there is plenty of harmonization for fans to sink their teeth into, as well as a couple of shorter songs like “Boiling Point” and “Days Of Rage” that really evoke the early ICED EARTH days. Do you feel a revitalization of ICED EARTH and the need to prove to the world you can still be heavy this many years into the group?
Schaffer: Totally. But I think we’ve always been heavy. The difference is the energy behind this record is from a revitalized, new love for ICED EARTH that was missing for quite a while. There was so much inconsistency with the last 10 years. We haven’t had committed frontmen since Matt [Barlow, vocals] left after “Horror Show” and even when he came back, he was on a part-time basis and we agreed to that. I thought we could make it work, but it just didn’t work out because the music industry is changing so much. When I had my awakening and a clear understanding of what’s going wrong in the world and why we are here, that energized me and made me appreciate ICED EARTH more. I had such a change of perspective. There’s a lot of positive energy behind this album and it’s culminating in the songwriting. Stu is a very positive guy; you add that to the mix and it allows for that kind of thing to happen. I told [producer] Jim Morris when I was starting the songwriting for this next record I wanted to strip it back, the arrangements and production to be a kick-ass metal record, and I am not telling a story with orchestration and vocal stacks, harmonies… Of course, we can still do that, but I wanted a balls heavy metal record. Stu was very involved with the melodies, lyrics, and some of the stuff he did on his own. We just really gelled as a writing team. You can feel that ICED EARTH is back and we mean business. Stu is 10 years younger than me, so he’s kind of like a little brother; he’s got an energy that he’s brewing that’s infectious. It will be obvious when people see us live that we are back with a vengeance.
Eternal Terror: It’s a tumultuous time for the music industry. What are the keys for ICED EARTH to survive and thrive?
Schaffer: I think it’s to plant seeds in new markets, which is what we are going to do with this record. We are playing Eastern Europe, Russia, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand — a real world tour this time. It’s about really staying busy and staying focused and on point. Building up a database because there will come a time where we will deal directly with the fan base; the writing is on the wall for the record industry. That’s important for us to stay viable, because in order for us to exist, we have to have income. I know there are people who think all of this should just happen without income, but it’s a business and we have to make money to function in order to record albums. The paradigm is shifting. I am a survivor and I refuse to be a victim, I’m trying to think ten years ahead and how things are going to change and stay on the pro-active side.
Eternal Terror: Do you feel like you have to work that much harder in terms of physical conditioning due to your previous back and neck injuries to make it through ICED EARTH‘s intense world-touring schedules?
Schaffer: Yes, I’m going to have to, that’s for sure. I have a physical therapist going on tour with us for that purpose, and I have been doing a lot of conditioning in the process. Getting ready for the tour — it’s a matter of being smart on stage and not getting caught up in the moment. I can’t bang my head like I used to; that’s what caused all the problems. Realizing that I am not the youngest guy in the world anymore and that I have to take care of my body.
Read the entire interview from Eternal Terror webzine.