Interview with Jon Schaffer (Iced Earth)

Walking by himself

It’s no easy feat being Jon Schaffer.

Not often has someone with short hair received as much praise from a Metal legend, as Tim «Ripper» Owens did the last time this reporter spoke to Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth. Those days are now over. Despite the undeniable chemistry between Schaffer and semi-legendary singer Matthew Barlow, it came as a surprise when Owens was suddenly out, and Barlow back in the ranks – just in time for the recording of The Crucible Of Man, the third and final part of the band’s ambitious «Something Wicked» trilogy.

An album Schaffer, not surprisingly, perhaps, is very proud of.

– Which Iced Earth album is my favorite, is impossible to say, but what I can say is that it’ll have to be one of the last three. The Glorious Burden, Framing Armageddon and The Crucible Of Man are three amazing albums. The two latter are the results of a tremendously stressful year, I’ll tell ya – as we made both in just one year. Still, though, when talking about our music, you must remember that I hear our music different from how the fans hear it. I hear the music from a songwriter’s perspective.

What does that mean?

– It means that I listen beyond just taking in the riffs and melodies. I also look for the meaning of each song. Each song must have an opinion. Without a meaningful lyric a song isn’t worth anything. As opposed to many songwriters I never write the music first. Instead I begin with a title and a subject for the song, or even just a working title, and take things from there.

– What are you the most proud of with The Crucible Of Man?

– I’m incredibly happy with how «A Gift Or A Curse» ended up. I have never sung that way before. Normally I take the care of the dark and scary vocal parts, using a dark and growl-inspired voice, and this was a whole new challenge for me. The major challenge I face as songwriter is to make the music interesting for both myself and the fans. Such elements contribute to that, I think. Also, I am proud of how the choir sounds. I had the choice between using a full chorus and a full orchestra – the budget didn’t allow both – and in retrospect I’m glad, and proud, that we decided to go with the choir. They sing the actual lyrics this time, and not just ooh’s and aah’s. They sound powerful like hell, if you ask me. Music-wise «Come What May» is a definite highlight. It was great fun recording that song.

That Iced Earth is your band, and your band alone, is no secret. But in the lyrics to «I Walk Alone» you – finally – write that «I am the truth, I walk alone». Have you now finally made it public?

– Haha, that’s a good question. I have to disappoint you, though; those words are only related to the story. The message of that song is that the truth is the only thing that can save us.

Some old-school fans would probably argue that the only thing that could save Iced Earth rather was the return of Matthew Barlow. And Barlow is – at last – back in the ranks, after having left the band to work as a police officer following 9/11. And Schaffer was actually tempted to join the military himself at that point, he reveals.

– I was on the verge of joining the Navy Seals after 9/11. I have several good friends who are Seals, and it was actually them that talked me out of it. «Be yourself, it helps us and your country even more», they said, and that’s what made me continue doing what I do now. They told me that Iced Earth served as an inspiration for the soldiers, and that was great to hear.

The return of Matthew Barlow is sort of a cute homecoming son-story, actually.

– That might be so.

Uh, alrighty. What was the first rehearsal with Barlow like, then?

– The first session together was in the studio, and not a rehearsal so to speak. But we’ve done some touring together now, and the chemistry in that environment is incredible. Perfect, I’m tempted to say. To use a cliché it’s almost as if he’d never been out of the band at all. It felt good, and most importantly it felt just like it should.

… As opposed to when he was not there, or what?

– Well, Tim «Ripper» Owens is a great guy to work with in a studio environment. I have only positive things to say about the stuff he recorded with Iced Earth. Live, on the other hand, he was never even close to Matt’s level of performance. He’s never had the feeling Matt has, and after all that’s what matters. There used to be a certain chemistry onstage, when Iced Earth played live. And I’ve missed that feeling. I realize now that I’ve simply missed Matt. When he joined Pyramaze I knew that he missed working with music, and I contacted him about starting a side project together. But the more we talked, the clearer it was for the both of us what we really wanted to do. Iced Earth missed Matt, and Matt missed Iced Earth.

Schaffer does on the other hand not miss Tim «Ripper» Owens.

– Tim has a different presence, in a way. When we were touring after «The Glorious Burden» I suffered from these back pains, so I couldn’t be so active on stage as I usually like to be. For that reason I didn’t notice that something was wrong. But when we hit the road again after «Framing Armageddon», I really noticed what was going on. It didn’t feel right with Tim. Tim is a man who, at least until now, has been very focused on himself and his own career. He’s not that good at working in a band environment. To be a part of Iced Earth you need to be a true believer. To be honest I believe we would have found a new singer even if we couldn’t get Matt, just because of the lack of commitment from Tim.

«Ripper» is with Yngwie now, having done a great job on the latter’s fab Perpetual Flame album.

– Yngwie actually tried to get Tim while he was still a member of Iced Earth. They met at a festival we played. Tim and I stood and watched him play one of the 10 minute long guitar solos, and the three of us talked a little afterwards – mostly about family stuff and so on. But I’m convinced Yngwie and Tim also touched upon the subject of them joining forces together. My view is that Tim should stop working as a hired gun.

Schaffer pauses.

– Tim is an incredible singer. He should do his own thing, not just work for everyone that pays him.


  • Torgeir P. Krokfjord

    Torgeir was a reviewer here at Metal Express Radio. After hearing Malmsteen's "Vengeance" on a guitar mag CD at the age of 12 or 13, he began doing hopeless interpretations of Yngwie licks and it just took off from there. After shorter stints at other zines he was snatched to Metal Express Radio in 2003. Alongside Yngwie, Savatage, WASP, Symphony X, Blind Guardian, Emperor, Arch Enemy, In Flames, Opeth, Motörhead, Manowar, and Queensrÿche are a quick list of musical faves. Torgeir is also guitarist in the Heavy/Prog/Thrash outfit Sarpedon.

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