Interview With Jon Schaffer Of Iced Earth
Band Photo: Iced Earth (?)
American metal legends Iced Earth are finally finishing the legacy of their Something Wicked storyline began ten years ago with the album "Something Wicked This Way Comes." The culmination of the story, titled "The Crucible of Man," will be released this September just before the band goes on a headlining tour across North America. Founding member and guitarist Jon Schaffer recently answered some questions about the upcoming album and the Something Wicked storyline during a phone interview from his studio.
xFiruath: When did you first start playing music and what made you want to be a musician?
Jon: I started, let’s see, I was a freshman in high school and for Christmas my dad bought me a guitar. How old are you then, like 14 maybe, something like that, so I had been begging him for a long time to get me a guitar. Since I was a Kiss fan, I bought “Kiss Alive!’ on the day it came out when I was seven, and my dad took me to see Kiss live in 1979 when I was 11, so from that point I said “This is what I’m going to do, I am going to play music, I know that, I have to do this.” In the next few years of me begging and convincing him he finally submitted and got me a guitar. From that point a buddy of mine from school showed me the power chord and I just started making up my own riffs and had visions of what my band was going to be and where we were going to go and that’s it.
xFiruath: Tell me a little bit about the “Something Wicked” trilogy. How did the idea come about for three albums that were themed together?
Jon: Well it’s actually only two albums, the trilogy goes back to the album “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and the trilogy of songs at the end of it, and the original plan was to do a big full length two albums after that record. Because of the situation we were in with our record company at that time we put the whole Something Wicked trilogy on hold and did “Horror Show.” We shelved Something Wicked because back when 9/11 happened my head was in a different place. We didn’t want the Something Wicked saga to be our first album with a new label, we wanted to see how they worked. So we did “The Glorious Burden” and here we are. So Something Wicked, the trilogy is just those three songs. It was an introduction to this big saga, which was always planned to be only two parts. “Framing Armageddon” which is Something Wicked part one and “Crucible of Man” is Something Wicked part two. But the story is a very in depth sci-fi, fantasy, kind of conspiracy, human history, horror. It has a little of everything in it. It’s really a very dark tale.
xFiruath: From what I’ve read about what the new album is about it sounds like it’s got more of the religious undertones like in your earlier album “Burnt Offerings.”
Jon: Well, it does have religious undertones but not like on “Burnt Offerings.” This is more like one of the weapons, one of the tactics, that the Setians are using against humanity is to create the world’s religions to keep us divided. They are using the nature of mankind, which is our weakness, all of our weaknesses against us, to keep us from uniting and from evolving into a better race of beings. That’s the whole, the whole thing is that mankind has been trapped here by the Setians. Mankind came here in the beginning and invaded, they were in search of this power that the Setians have and this knowledge that they have which is everything, they have all the knowledge of the universe. They have the ability to manipulate the folds of time and space continuum so that they can time travel. They are the direct descendants of God, so they can do everything. They are a very highly evolved species and they see this primitive species mankind coming with all these weapons to wipe them out. Then the Setians trap them here, and in order for their species to survive here they have this mass exodus that happens before the humans arrive on Earth, with 10,000 of their people going off in hiding in the mountains.
Once the humans are here, the remaining Setians, there is this event called “The Clouding” that comes that the Setians make happen, this big cataclysmic Earth event where the Earth erupts, there are sandstorms, there are tornados, the whole thing just goes ape shit. The polar caps shift magnetically, and the events cause mankind to lose all recollection of where they come from. The ships that they invaded on and came through space with are all buried in the Sierra desert. There is no evidence, after they wake up from the days of The Clouding, they just go back to the basic instincts of survival, you know food, clothing, and shelter. The other thing that happens is, when the humans came before they could communicate with each other, but know they can only speak the language if they are the same race. The black guys can only talk to black guys, the white guys can only talk to white guys. There is this tower of Babel affect that happens, so anyway at this point the 10,000 Setians infiltrate. They morph into the likeness of man to look like human beings, they basically get in and start taking leadership positions. Then they start to migrate all around the world, and this is how all the cultures begin in the story.
But meanwhile, this whole domino decree, this plan set forth by the Order of the Rose, which is going to be a philanthropic society, is in every country in the world. These guys are involved in every government. They are the ones who are kind of pulling the strings. This whole idea, I’m sure you’ve heard this whole idea before, this whole conspiracy theory thing, the governments are all conspiring together. Like during the Cold War, that was all by the Setians design, and the rise and fall of the Roman empire. The cool thing about the Something Wicked universe is that you can apply anything in human history to it. So anyway, that’s what the first part is, and the second part in “Crucible” is about fast forwarding 10,000 years since the invasion of man and with the birth of Set six months before Jesus Christ. This record begins with his birth, and it brings us to modern day. The story does not end with “Crucible.” There is an end to it, but I’m not exposing it now. That will be exposed in another medium later on down the line. Not necessarily in music form, but probably in a graphic novel. We’ve got so many ideas to do with this that goes beyond the music thing. This is just like kind of the first step of many things in the Something Wicked universe. Part two is for the most part focused from Set’s point of view. There are a few songs that are from an outside narrative, but for the most part it’s from his point of view and what’s happening around him. It’s more dark and definitely more focused storytelling, and it’s working out pretty cool and I’m very happy with it.
xFiruath: That sounds awesome. So you guys are going on a North American tour next month after the release of the new album, are you planning on doing a European tour?
Jon: Well we’ve been touring Europe this summer quite a lot, did a bunch of festivals over there, but we will go back and do a proper headlining tour probably in the spring.
xFiruath: You’ve had Matt Barlow back on vocals now for about a year, how has it been having him back after so long without him?
Jon: It’s been great. It’s been actually about eight months I guess, back in December. It’s great, it’s like we never missed a beat. We came back in the studio and it was very natural. It felt like it always did.
xFiruath: Just like riding a bike, you never forget.
Jon: Yeah exactly.
xFiruath: I heard that you guys were planning on re-recording “Framing Armageddon” with Matt on vocals. Is that still in the works?
Jon: Yeah, that’s just going to be for the box set. The box set has been planned from the very beginning. We were going to do this box set, and it doesn’t really make sense to do it and have two different singers. I’d rather have the continuity. At this point there are like four unreleased tracks from part two, and so those will be added back in. I left them off because I felt like the continuity is somewhat fucked anyway because of the different singer thing. Once I put this segways back in the whole part one and two thing will flow together very nice and it will all make perfect sense. But it’s also going to have a DVD with some behind the scenes stuff and maybe a couple of songs from some of the festivals we did this summer. It’s going to have “Overture of the Wicked,” that EP, the original Something Wicked trilogy will also be sung by Matt. We did this thing called “Overture of the Wicked” which was the original Something Wicked trilogy. We re-played it like with baritones and make it a little more theatrical and we’re going to have Matt re-do the vocals and put that in there. So it will be three CDs and a DVD.
xFiruath: Can we expect to see anything new from Demons and Wizards anytime soon?
Jon: Not really, no. I’m so busy with Iced Earth and Hansi (Kursch, vocalist for Demons and Wizards and Blind Guardian) and I have gotten our work schedules on opposite ends. For many years we were releasing albums at the same time. Now we’re like on opposites because when he’s taking a break I’m knee deep in work, and I’m ready to take a break he’s knee deep in work so we’re going to have to wait until the cycle works out that it will work for both of us. I don’t have any plans right now. It could be a couple of years, it could be five years. We’ll do Demons whenever we want and can. We always want to make it a fun thing, so it will happen when it happens.
xFiruath: When you aren’t playing or writing music what do you personally like to listen to?
Jon: You know I don’t spend much time listening to music because it’s just not a hobby of mine. I’m so involved with every aspect of Iced Earth, on those rare two hours a day that I get to do anything personal I have no desire to hear music. I do really dig this young called Airborne though, we did some festivals with them over in Europe. They are like very powerful, very good rock and roll. Young kids playing ACDC like material but with an honest and true spirit. I think those kids are going to go far. But you know, I just don’t pay that much attention because I’m too busy making Iced Earth a reality. If I have a couple of hours off I want to spend it with my daughter instead of listening to music.
xFiruath: After all the years of touring you guys have done do you have a favorite venue or concert, or any crazy show stories you’d care to share?
Jon: You know Greece is always a special place for us. There’s just something about it. Iced Earth has a very dedicated fan base everywhere in the world and we are very blessed by that, but the Greeks have something, they reacted to my songs, it’s weird, it’s like I don’t understand it. There has to be a logical explanation I just don’t know what it is. They are really out of their heads passionate. Anytime we go there it is always great. They usually greet us at the airport and they are camped outside the hotel room singing the songs. It’s difficult sometimes just to walk down the street there. So a very Beatles like situation a lot of times, it’s almost surreal. So I’d say that’s probably the place to play for us. Hansi and I did a signing there, on the Demons and Wizards promo tour, and they had 5,000 kids show up. It got out of control very quickly. They were letting 10 or 15 kids in at a time and the entire store was made of glass, the entire store front. They were pushing on the glass and I looked over at Hansi and said “Dude something band’s going to happen” and right then the whole fucking front of the store came down like a guillotine. I’ve never seen so much blood. I had to put a tourniquet on this one kid’s leg, he almost bled to death and couldn’t even walk. It was bad, really crazy scene. Sometimes the passion can be a little dangerous, but that’s probably the craziest thing that’s ever happened in my career.
xFiruath: Well that’s all my questions, so do you have any parting words for the fans?
Jon: I just want to say thanks for the support as always and hopefully we’ll see you guys out on tour.
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