Q&A: Iced Earth
The American metal band’s frontman and founding member Jon Schaffer on playing at Bangalore Open Air and writing for their 11th album, Plagues of Babylon
Last year, American metal band Iced Earth were announced to headline Bangalore Open Air. They canceled their trip owing to visa issues, promising they would be back “as soon as humanly possible.” Since both organizers and the band themselves were that keen, Iced Earth are finally making the trip down to India on July 6th, to headline Bangalore Open Air 2013.
Iced Earth is the biggest name on the festival posters and will take to stage as the final act of the night, which also features melodic metal band Dark Tranquillity, thrash metallers Sodom, black metal act Ihsahn, prog metal band Leprous and tech metal band Animals as Leaders. “I’m sure it’ll be a great show. I was really looking forward to playing with Kreator, because I really like [frontman] Mille [Petrozza] a lot. They’re awesome,” says Iced Earth guitarist Jon Schaffer, who adds that among this year’s lineup at BOA, Iced Earth has shared the stage with Dark Tranquillity at festivals over the years.
You guys are finally coming to India, and I remember the last time you had to call it off, you said, you’d be back “as soon as humanly possible.” A year on is pretty early, right?
Yeah, sure. We decided to come and check it out.
That said, has there been more attention given to your visa processing? Anything different you plan to do this time around?
It’s going to be somewhat of a different setlist, compared to last time, just because of where we are. We’re getting ready to start recording the new album as soon as we get back from… well, we fly to India and then we go to Athens, do a festival there and we have a couple of German dates. Then we go right into the recording studio.
Dystopia was album number 10, and now you are writing for the 11th one. What can you tell us about Plagues of Babylon?
It’s going to be great, I’m really happy with all the songwriting and what we’re doing. We’re rehearsing the new songs now, and finalizing some lyrics and vocal melodies. Little changes will happen in the studio. It’s a really strong record, it’s got some strong songs. It’s very heavy. It’s also very melodic. There are some really great moments on it.
Are you going to be playing some songs off Plagues of Babylon in Bengaluru?
So Iced Earth really isn’t road testing new tunes? Or is it more a case of letting fans listen to the studio version first?
Yeah, typically we do that. That’s kind of the normal routine. I think we’re going to do it [play new songs] during our tour in Europe, before Plagues is released. Because now, it’s getting pushed to January or February, when the release is gonna happen. We have another tour opportunity in Europe and on that tour we’ll play a couple of songs and probably sell a picture disc vinyl or a download code or something like a single. I mean, that’s what we’re talking about now.
We haven’t really rehearsed the stuff with [vocalist] Stu Block, because he’s been working on all the musical passages but it’s too soon to play it live. So by the time we do this tour in the fall in Europe, we’ll definitely be ready, because the album will be finished by then, for sure.
How long is your headlining set and what do you have planned?
It touches on a lot of the classic periods, a lot of Dystopia. It’s Iced Earth man, I don’t really know. It’s a giant catalog; it’s really hard to put together a setlist…
I was just going to say, it must be quite a task to put a setlist together, especially for gigs like BOA, when you’ve got 10 albums.
Yeah, I mean, it’s going to be close to the one we played in Germany. It was a great set and people were happy with it – it’s got songs we haven’t done in a long time and it’s got some real classics.
Going back to Plagues of Babylon, is it going to be similarly based on themes and concepts just like Dystopia?
Well, I’m not going to give details. It’s going to be a surprise, when it’s unleashed. Once the news is out, it’ll be on a worldwide press release. I can tell you that there are six songs that are related to a story, then there another six that are individual tracks, standalone songs. It’s a little different – it’s not a concept album, but it has six songs that are related to the story we’re telling and tie in with the album cover and everything.
I remember the first time I came across Iced Earth, it was recommended to me as heavy, extreme metal with clean vocals. What do you think of that reputation, and where Iced Earth fits in the metal world?
I think it fits in just about everywhere. I mean we’re a metal band. We don’t get into subgenres and all that shit. I think it’s something that fans and journalists care about a lot more than musicians do. For us, we’re a metal band. We can have everything from Pink Floyd emotions and melancholy passages to Slayer and everything in between.
Iced Earth is a musical journey and a very dynamic band and it always has been. It’s really hard to pigeonhole us. I mean, people call us power metal, but I don’t think it’s really fair. We have a lot more happening in the band. We’re a metal band and I don’t give a fuck about the categories and subgenres. It’s a way to pigeonhole a band and then it sort of predetermines what someone’s opinion might be, if you label [bands]. Iced Earth is way too varied to be stuck in some kind of pigeonhole term.
This is Stu’s second album with Iced Earth. From the title, I can guess it’s got a few similar themes from Dystopia. What do you think has changed for him from the last album?
Yeah, he’s pitching in both the melody and the lyrics like we did on Dystopia. Stu’s doing great – he’s really coming into his own, you know? He’s learning a lot… he’s learned a lot in the last couple of years. It shows in his stage presence and everything. He’s a great frontman and contributes in ways that help me out.
I read an interview in which you spoke about your connect with Volbeat, when you were touring with them. Are there any other bands you’ve toured with where it was just a perfect fit?
[laughs] Well, Blind Guardian. In the old days, we did some tours with them. Those guys are amazing and those were some of the best memories of my life. We had a lot of fun with Nevermore in the old days, we had a lot of fun with Symphony X just on the last American tour we did. Russell Allen [Symphony X frontman] is a very dear friend and we just had a hell of a lot of fun together. There are a few bands over the years that we toured with that are just like brothers to us.
The stage lineup at BOA is varied though. Just like how Iced Earth doesn’t really think of one genre, there are a lot of different kinds of metal bands up here at Bangalore Open Air.
I just think that’s good, man. Obviously here in the States you have Wacken Open Air… I mean not in the States, in Europe. I’m sorry! [laughs] I’m constantly on the road and get lost about where I am sometimes.
I’m in Germany now, and they have some amazing metal bands, but it’s a metal festival. You know, there’s a black metal stage and stuff. For me, as a fan of music, I prefer to hear some variety, actually. I don’t want to hear the same kind of music all day long, you know? It’s nice to shake it up a little bit. On some level, the fans appreciate that as well.
Since you came pretty close to playing in India last time, you must have done at least a little bit of research last time. Have you checked out any Indian metal?
No, man, honestly, I haven’t. Are you talking about local bands?
Yeah. There are two playing with you at Bangalore Open Air, but there a lot of other bands.
I would like to check it out. I’m so fucking busy all the time; it’s just hard to discover new bands. I’ve been into Ghost B.C. lately. Obviously, I love Volbeat and stuff but it’s really hard for me to research what’s up and coming. I don’t just play guitar in Iced Earth. I run this thing, my manager and I. It’s a fulltime job, just making shit happen. Whatever it might be – from management to business calls to designing merchandize and everything. It’s a complex situation and hard for me to break away. I spend so much time on Iced Earth that if I get any time off, it’s rare, I don’t want to think about music. I want to do something completely different. My whole world is that, so you kinda need a break from it sometimes.
So what do you do instead?
I like to read and – this is rare – but I love to go scuba diving but I hardly ever get a chance to do it, because I work too much and travel too much. I like white water rafting, I like motorcycles. There are a lot of things I like to do but I rarely ever get time to do them.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Well, I’m excited about going to India. I hope this is the first of many trips to India. I’ve seen some of the passion from the fans while watching Iron Maiden videos and stuff, so I’m really excited. I hope we can generate that same kind of passion and emotion from the people. And if we do, we’ll certainly be back many times in the future.