Stu Block: "The Chemistry Between Me And Jon Is Really Cool"
Band Photo: Iced Earth (?)
Over the past few years, Iced Earth released the admirable efforts “Framing Armageddon” and “The Crucible of Man.” The former featured vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens and the latter marked the return of Matt Barlow. The two albums were met with equal mediocre fan response. It seemed as though the band lost a little steam. With Barlow departing for a second time, guitarist Jon Schaffer had a plan.
Century Media representatives suggested he check out a stellar new vocalist from a Canadian progressive extreme band called Into Eternity, a band that was making great waves in the metal scene. After seeing the fire in Stu Block’s eyes that he desperately needed, Schaffer was impressed but still a little unsure on how Block’s patented “hybrid vocal” style (combining traditional, extreme and death style vocals) would fit in with Iced Earth. After just one tryout, Stu was hired. The end result was the realization of Schaffer’s vision: “Dystopia.” The album reinvigorated the band and the reviews proved it.
What followed was a highly successful tour of Europe in late 2011, which brought them to the eve of the first night the most prolific power metal tour to hit North America in years: Iced Earth co-headlining with Symphony X. Now, Hartford isn’t exactly the first place you would think of for prolific tours, but Connecticut was blessed with the opportunity to be the first to witness this event (see our show review). Stu Block sat down with Metal Underground in the back lounge of the band’s tour bus to give the low down on his recruitment.
CROMCarl: So Stu, you have that first Iced Earth tour under your belt with the European leg last year. Congratulations!
Stu Block: Thanks man.
CROMCarl: How was the reaction to you and the new material?
Stu Block: It was really good, man. The fans were awesome. They were singing the songs and it seems like they were really into the new stuff. Of course, we had a healthy balance of the older songs and stuff like that. I think the fans really enjoyed the set and the reactions are really well. It’s going to take a little longer. There are certain songs that aren’t getting as big a reaction as others. It takes time, sometimes. The album has to grow on people. The album is being very well received, so I think they are enjoying it. As the tour progressed in Europe, we noticed they were singing it more and more and more because they are listening to it more and more, so that was cool.
CROMCarl: So which new songs were a hit? I imagine “Anthem” was one.
Stu Block: “Anthem” was a huge hit. It was a really big one. “V” for vendetta was another one. It is sort of anthem-esque. It has that victorious chorus to it. “Dystopia,” the opening title track…they were really diggin’ it.
CROMCarl: I saw the set list for the shows in Europe and I saw it was a nice smattering of material from the legacy of the band. What I cannot wait to hear is your renditions of “Angels Holocaust” and some of the earlier stuff. Are there any changes or surprises planned for the set list on the North American tour?
Stu Block: No. It’s a little shorter because we are doing the dual headlining with Symphony X. We had to cut a couple of songs. We were doing about an hour and fifty every night and now it will be just about an hour and a half. Yeah, a couple of songs had to go, but it’s still a healthy balance. It’s a fun show. We picked out the songs that I think were getting really good reactions and, of course, Jon knows his music better than anybody else and he knows his fans better than anybody else so he knows what to choose.
CROMCarl: I thought it was amazing to see just how much of the writing process you were involved in on “Dystopia.” You not only co-wrote ten of the tracks, you came in and rejuvenated more than I have seen in years. The last couple of albums, no disrespect, were just not the same as the older style Iced Earth and then you come in and “Dystopia” is like the early ‘90’s again.
Stu Block: I appreciate that.
CROMCarl: So how has the experience of transitioning been when you go to Iced Earth from a band like Into Eternity?
Stu Block: To touch on a couple of aspects of your questions. Of course, the writing process…me being the new guy coming in and doing some writing…that was one of the reasons I was hired. I can contribute to the writing process. Jon has a lot of stuff to do, he has carried that weight for a lot of years and he has written a lot of music and I think it is great to have a fresh perspective. One of the reasons he hired me is that I can write lyrics, I can write an ok chorus and I think it was a great chemistry in regards to the writing process. That is why I came in and co-wrote ten songs with him right away. The chemistry between us in the writing style is very cool. There were cases were we wrote a song together in one day and it wasn’t something where we said ‘ok we wrote this, let’s go back tomorrow and listen to it and see how crappy it is.’ We went back to listen to it and went ‘wow’ and maybe there was some little tweaks to it but it’s cool. The chemistry between me and Jon on the writing is really cool.
The transition period from Into Eternity to Iced Earth is a big transition because Into Eternity is a lot smaller. Iced Earth has a lot more fans and Iced Earth can be as busy as they want to be. It’s a really cool thing. You are under the microscope a little more because the fan base, they are watching you a little bit further. The Iced Earth fans are very loyal and they are very open minded. Very cool people. There was beads of sweat there, in the beginning. The thing is, this is what I always wanted to do and that is the bottom line. If I had any doubt in myself or anything like that, then I wouldn’t be here right now. I had to get over that nervous aspect. For a little bit, I was a bit like that, but after the first few shows were under my belt, it was just like I am back at work. I’m doing what I do and it comes naturally and melds real well with this band.
CROMCarl: Now when you were hired, my understanding is that Century Media hooked you two up, right?
Stu Block: Yeah, it was weird. I was at work one day and I got a call from a Century Media representative and he mentioned to me that Iced Earth was looking for a singer and they were going to be auditioning people and If I was interested, my name came up. So I talked to Jon and he sent me some songs out and I recorded over them – a couple of old ones and a few new ones – and I sent them to him. He was interested and I flew out to Indiana, recorded more with him…the chemistry was there. He didn’t want to try anyone else out and I got the job. So, it was really cool.
CROMCarl: I heard that he saw live videos of Into Eternity….
Stu Block: Yeah.
CROMCarl: …and he said to himself ‘now that’s the energy that we need as a band’….
Stu Block: Yep, you’re correct.
CROMCarl: …but correct me if I am wrong, was he sure as to how your vocals would fit in? You have such an incredible range of styles that I wonder whether Jon wondered how that would factor into Iced Earth.
Stu Block: You hit the nail on the head. I believe he was with one of the CEOs of Century Media and they were watching some videos of me and he really liked the fire in the eyes and he liked the energy and all that kind of stuff. He wasn’t sure about the voice because I was doing death vocals and a clean mid-tone and then the Halford stuff. So he wasn’t too sure, so that’s why he talked to me. He knew that if I had that low stuff that I could maybe put some grit behind the clean and do something with it. I have always been a Matt Barlow fan and I always sang along to his stuff so I knew I sort of had that pocket in the voice. No one is ever going to be Matt. I am never going to emulate Matt, ever. I can do what I do fairly similar but make it my own way. So, it’s cool and I think it worked out really well. When we recorded, we found out that I did have that voice.
CROMCarl: Now let’s talk about your vocal style. When you were growing up and having aspirations of being a singer, so were you just practicing in a mirror or was there formal training?
Stu Block: No formal training, a lot of mirror time. I just sing along in my car. I was in a few cover bands and stuff like that. It was part of my life and I was just singing along to it and trying to do my own thing with it. I just noticed I can do this type of vocals and I just kept nurturing it.
CROMCarl: ….and then you heard Satyricon and you starting doing that style (laughs).
Stu Block: yeah, right…or Cannibal Corpse (laughs) and Wintersun and all those guys. I’ve always been into the death vocals and stuff like that. There is only a few of us on this bus that are actually into death metal. I appreciate the melodic and technical death metal styles.
CROMCarl: Do you think we will ever see your full range of styles in future Iced Earth releases?
Stu Block: No, not to the extent that people would hope. Iced Earth has a sound and we can’t mess with it too much. In songs like “Boiling Point” on the new album, there are some…when I am yelling “Boiling Point,” if you really listen you’ll hear a low death vocal in there. It is more of just a little bit of spice. Its kind of an ambient thing. Tonight we are going to do “Dante’s Inferno” and there is a line where I do a death vocal part, but it fits. It’s just splashes, it’s nothing major. It’s just a little splash.
CROMCarl: Speaking of Into Eternity, they have a new album coming out which you are still a part of, but they have a touring singer now?
Stu Block: Yeah, well I am sure the touring singer….I hope they do a little recording with her because she’s pretty good and I think she will handle it really well. You know, they are my brothers and I don’t really want to touch on it too much, but Iced Earth is my deal. I really appreciate being in this band. This is a level of music I’ve always strived for and I really fit here. It seems like it just fit like a glove. There’s things that challenge me in this band, also there’s lots of things that challenged me with Into Eternity too. My brothers in Into Eternity, I love them dearly and I’m sure I’ll do a couple of shows with them and we will be doing stuff, but not to the extent that it ever was. This is my musical home now and this is where I want to nurture myself.
CROMCarl: So you won’t actually be on any Into Eternity albums, you mean?
Stu Block: I can’t really say anything.
CROMCarl: Ok, that’s fine. Has Iced Earth been writing new material for a “Dytopia” successor while on the road?
Stu Block: On the European tour, since it was my first tour, everybody was just getting adjusted to each other. We didn’t want to start any writing. On the American leg, there is less borders to go through and the drives are somewhat shorter and there is going to be a little more time for that. So, we are hoping to get a little bit of writing done this tour. It’s only beneficial for us.
CROMCarl: So, when you think of all the tours you played with as singer for Iced Earth and/or Into Eternity, who are some of the best bands to tour with?
Stu Block: Wow, oh man. Dream Theater, of course. I toured with Symphony X before too, I am a HUGE Russell Allen fan. I can’t wait to see him, I haven’t seen him yet. Michael Romeo and all those guys. On the Dream Theater side, Mike Portnoy and I, we became acquaintances. James LaBrie was a really nice guy, Petrucci and all those guys are really sweet dudes. We had a great time on all those progressive tours. Of course, I only had one tour with Iced Earth, but Fury UK were so sweet. They are just such great guys and they are such hard workers. It was unfortunate that White Wizzard had to drop off the tour, but shit happens. The list goes on. I’ve been out with Hate Eternal. Eric Rutan, he is such a sweet dude and such a master at what he does and a really interesting guy to talk to. Amorphis was a cool one too, that was a really neat one. I’ve been a big fan of that album “Tales From 1000 Lakes” and their new stuff is really cool too. So, I’ve been blessed to be able to tour with a lot. I mean, Edguy….I mean, people are like ‘oh, they’re hokey and stuff,’ but I think they are fun, man. Great band. I think Tobias Sammet is a great frontman…very energetic, funny guy. So I’ve been blessed to be able to tour with a lot of really cool bands.
CROMCarl: So you are a huge horror movie fan, I hear?
Stu Block: Yes.
CROMCarl: So now, if I wasn’t into horror movies and I had to ask you what movie I had to watch to get into it, what would it be?
Stu Block: If you hadn’t been into horror movies, I wouldn’t want to shock you too much (laughs). It depends, there are so many different genres of horror movies. But in order to get somebody into horror movies, I would probably start by getting them into an old school zombie movie. Of course, I would always choose “Day of the Dead,” because of the fact that it had such a good array….the original “Day of the Dead,” not the remake….of acting, even for back then. If you’re an intellectual type and you really listen to the dialogue it is really cool. It will touch on things that are even happening today and if you look at the whole apocalypse thing, it’s kind of cool. You just put the zombies in someone else’s shoes and you got it (laughs). I’m really into French extremism right now. I am into a movie called “Inside.” It’s a phenomenal movie done by two no-name directors just making their start now. It is a phenomenal movie, great acting, very artistically shot, and I would urge people to see that. There is another movie called “Basket Case,” and it’s a little more twisted. If you like a little bit of a laugh too, “Dead Alive” is a great one also. It’s another zombie movie but it’s done in New Zealand and it’s got that sort of funny edge to It, sort of like a “Shaun of the Dead” kind of thing.
CROMCarl: Now are you into the “Walking Dead” too…have you been watching that?
Stu Block: I have man, and I’ve been left hanging! I am NOT HAPPY “Walking Dead” people (laughs). On the other hand, if you are looking for a zombie, I’m out there! I don’t mind getting my head blown off.
CROMCarl: I read an interview from 2006 when you were asked where you saw yourself in five years. You stated that you hoped to be still making metal and that you would be able to quit the day job and do this for a living.
Stu Block: …and I did.
CROMCarl: So dream fulfilled?
Stu Block: Yeah, its really cool. I’m blessed, man. I’m blessed to be around such professional people..not that Into Eternity wasn’t…but these guys are such a different level. They take care of you in every aspect of your life. When you are in the band, it’s kind of like a gang. Jon takes care of your family, he takes care of you. He is very concerned about your health and your well-being. He is a very focused individual on his band members and his music, especially, every aspect of his life. I don’t know why that guy has not gone completely crazy yet, but he does it and he’s been doing it for so long that he knows that happy balance. It’s been really cool to be able to just go home and just work on Iced Earth stuff: Learn more tunes, or write and stuff and stuff like that and not have to have to go home and go ‘I need a day job’ like most metal guys have to do right now. I urge every guy that’s in either a lower level metal band or just in the b-line touring circuit – keep at it guys, because it’s all about passion and heart. If you have the passion and heart and the dedication it will pay off man. I’m living proof of it.
CROMCarl: Thank you so much for your time, Stu.
Stu Block: Thanks man.
Carl Frederick is a staff writer for Metal Underground.com. From the early to mid-90's, Carl published his own fanzine called C.R.O.M. In 1997, he released a compilation entitled "CROM: The Resurrection of True Metal," which featured songs from bands from around the world, including the first U.S. release of any kind for bands like Italy's Rhapsody (n/k/a Rhapsody of Fire) and Brazil's Angra. Follow Carl on Facebook and Twitter: @CROMCarl.
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