Jon Schaffer (Iced Earth) Interview

With such an extensive discography, you’d think that Iced Earth would be slowing down or that, at least, Jon Schaffer, the driving force behind the band, would rest on his laurels for a while. And yet, nothing of the sort is happening. Every year Iced Earth keeps performing in fronts of hundreds of thousands of fans and releasing great albums. Because of this, it is nothing short of a miracle to actually be able to get Jon Schaffer to sit down and talk; he simply doesn’t have the time!

[quote]The focus right now is totally on Iced Earth; there’s so much good energy, momentum and feelings behind everything[/quote]

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MB:  Jon, thank you very much for being with us here today. I know that you’re pretty busy, so let’s get right down to it.
Less than a week ago your new live album, “Live in Ancient Kourion” was released; a 2.5 hour epic of pure Iced Earth Power. While I agree that the setting was great, how did you come to eventually pick that place, considering the gigantic logistical difficulties that must have existed?
Jon Schaffer:
It was actually the promoter’s idea! We played in Cyprus in December of 2011, on the final show on our European leg of the Dystopia tour, and it was amazing, so when I was talking with the promoter after the show I told him that we were thinking of filming the Dystopia world tour somewhere, but that I wasn’t sure where. I mentioned that we had a few places in mind and he just said “Why not Cyprus?”. I thought it was possible, since there are a lot of places in the world that we still wanna play in, and told him we’d decide later.
The promoter really kept this idea spinning in his head, since a couple of months later he found the Kourion theater and sent me an e-mail with some photos and saying this is where you should film  your DVD”. I was “…. Yes, I think you’re right!” [laughs]. For me it was love at first sight when I saw the place, and I’m really glad that we did it, because from what I’ve seen they’re not going to allow any more rock or metal shows there, so we might literally be the first and only band in history to play the Kourion theater.

iced earth live in ancient kourion
“We might be part of real history now”

MB: I was surprised that it was even possible! I would have thought that the Cyprian Government wouldn’t have actually allowed anything of the magnitude of a heavy metal concert, let alone the kind of thing Iced Earth is known for putting up, at a 6,000 year old relic! Were the logistics a nightmare?
Jon:
It wasn’t really bad for us but I think the promoter had to go through a lot of red tape, and I actually saw on a newspaper article after our event there that the Department of Antiquities in the Cyprus government said that they would never allow something like this again. They put sanctions against the promoter!
The fans didn’t hurt the place, it wasn’t like that, I just think that they don’t want it to become something that happens all the time, and it’s really not built for that. I’m just glad we jumped in when we did, because we might be part of real history now. That theater has been built and torn down a few times through the millenniums; It’s a 6,000 year old site that has had theater and gladiatorial events through the Greek, Roman and Byzantine Empires. We were told that the current setting was 2,000 years old, but the site itself is 6,000 years old. You have the house of Achilles right next door, it’s so crazy, and you’re right in the Mediterranean sea, it’s beautiful. It has a really cool energy about it, so we’re really fortunate for having had that shot and we’re very thankful to the promoter for finding it.

MB: Since you are big history buff, I’m sure that it must have been a great experience!
Although Stu Bloc has proven himself more than enough, as he toured a lot with you during the Dystopia tour, was there ever a time, especially at the beginning, where you feared that the fans might react negatively to him after your second “separation” from Matt Barlow?
Jon:
There was no fear from me. When he came it was just an immediate bond and chemistry; Stu feels that this is the band where he should have always been, and I feel the same way, not only from a “singer” point of view but also from a “brother” point of view. I think it’s very cool that we found each other; we have a great friendship and partnership together, the chemistry is really special, and I think that’s at least half the battle when it comes to what we do.
I didn’t have any fear because, well, this isn’t my first rodeo; Iced Earth has been successful in every incarnation, so I wasn’t really worried about that. The fans and the people outside of our circle live in a mostly illusionary world about how things work and how all this machine clicks, so that’s a very different perspective from the one that I hold. I was not concerned, because as soon as Stu came and tried out, and how quickly we wrote our first song together and how the chemistry was flowing,  I knew that we had something special and that it was real. That’s really it.
Tim Owens, he’s a really cool guy, I love his voice, it was a pleasure working with him, an absolute pleasure, but from a chemistry on stage point of view it just didn’t work, and that’s also something that I knew about Stu, that he was going to be the perfect kind of frontman for Iced Earth, because he has that crazy and insane look in his eye, and has a very intense spirit, because he’s into it. That’s what Iced Earth is and that’s what people expect.
With Stu you have a great frontman, an amazing singer and for me, more importantly, an amazing friend.  

MB: One of the things that I have always found interesting about Iced Earth is that you refer to both your band members and your fans as “brothers”; so it’s great to see that you have that bond with Stu as well.
Jon:
Yeah! It’s a very strong bond, in many ways more so than in any other relationship before in the band, just because there’s a real openness; we communicate well together and Stu is committed to this thing 100%; there’s no hidden agenda there’s no other “thing”, this is what he feels like he was meant to do with his life and it’s really cool to have that.

Iced Earth Jon  - Stu
“I knew that we had something special and that it was real.” (Photo: Iced Earth’s Facebook Page)

MB: In the “Festival of the Wicked” DVD you mentioned how, after Matt Barlow’s first departure, seeing him perform with Pyramaze gave you hope as to his eventual return because he was showing that he had not lost his interest in music; with that in mind, how did you react when you saw him in “Ashes of Ares” with Van Williams, ex Nevermore and Freedie Vidales, your fomer bassist.
Jon: 
I think it’s cool, it’s going to be great for people to hear Matt singing again; I’m looking forward to hearing him again. Matt and Van are some of my favorite people in the world of heavy metal; we did a lot of touring with Nevermore back in the old days, so I think it’s cool.
How committed can they be? I don’t know; I don’t know what their plans are, but I know that when you have people who have other careers  it makes it difficult, that’s one of the problems with Matt being in Iced Earth. The band needs to work to stay relevant, it can’t work if it’s just kind of a “hobby band” where you just play festivals once in a while and a few weeks of touring here and there; we thought we could make it work, and we had some fun trying it again, but at the end of the day my fire for Iced Earth is still there, and I still feel that the band never really achieved all of its potential; Matt was given the option of being here full time a becoming a full partner, but he chose to stay being a police officer and being with his family, and I totally understand that. I think it’s very admirable.

MB: You’re known as a very prolific songwriter; did the writing process for the new album already start? I saw on your site that you have a lot of concerts already booked all the way up to April of 2014, so I don’t know if you can find the time!
Jon:
Yeah; actually Stu is here with me for about 6 weeks and we’re knocking some stuff out. We have 7 songs, I have the title of the album, I have the artwork theme, the concept behind it and the artist is starting this week, so it’s all on the march. Our plan is to have it out in October; as long as we can stay on schedule, although we have a bit of a challenge in summer because we’re doing summer festivals, so we’re going to be in Europe  working on the new songs and then we’ll start tracking as well, then flying to our weekends to wherever to do our festivals. As long as we can stay on track and get the master tapes handed in by a specific date, then we will have an October release, otherwise it will be in January of next year.
One way or the other, a new album is in the works and it will be fucking killer.

MB: What can the fans expect from your festival shows?
Jon:
Actually, this evening I have to really start thinking about the setlist, so we will try to shake it up a little bit. Stu will have to learn a couple of songs that he hasn’t yet; there is at least one song that I want him to work on that he hasn’t done since his audition tapes, so he will have to get refamiliarized with that.
We’re gonna shake it up a little bit, but it’s basically going to be an Iced Earth show. The new stuff won’t roll out until… well, there is a chance that we may perform one new song at the festivals later in the summer, but I’m still thinking about it. Normally I don’t like to do that, when it’s not available in stores yet, but this new stuff is so hooky that I think people are really going to be into it. We’ll make that call later on, but the new stage show and the theme of everything , that will roll out in October, as long as we get the album out by then, otherwise we’ll stick to the Dystopia drops and all of that, because it needs to all coincide with the new record.

MB: Speaking of new records, you are a very versatile musician with several side projects. Last year, of instance, you worked with the Syrian band Anarchadia, you have also worked in Demons and Wizards and Sons of Liberty. Are all your side projects on hold right now or are you still doing something there?
Jon:
No, I’m not, because basically it was too much. When I was writing Dystopia I was also writing the Sons of Liberty EP, so I was just taking too much of a workload, plus flying back and forth between the United States and Europe every weekend or every other weekend… it was crazy. I would fly out on a Thursday or a Friday, depending on what day the festival was, and get back on a Sunday or Monday to Tampa to be immediately the next morning going back to work in the studio and, you know, jet lagged as fuck the entire summer!  I don’t wanna do that again, that’s why we’re going to be tracking in Europe this year because, dude, it’s too much. I really don’t wanna go through all of that again.
The focus right now is totally on Iced Earth; there’s so much good energy, momentum and feelings behind everything that as much as I know that fans want to hear Demons & Wizards and I know that Hansi [Kürsch] and I wanna do it, we wanna do it the right way, and between the writing, recording and touring process it’s going to be at least a year of work, and I can’t really afford to take that away from the momentum that Iced Earth; I’ve got such a great group of guys around me that if I was to say “guys, I may be busy for a year doing a side project”, I think that it would hurt them. We don’t need to be in a hurry to do Demons & Wizards; Hansi and I will do that for the rest of our lives, but it has to be when it works. Also, I don’t want to shortchange Demons & Wizards with something like “Ok, we can squeeze out a record here, but we will only be able to do 4 or 5 shows”…  We know the demand is there, and we know that if we go out and tour on Demons & Wizards it’s going to be a very successful thing; there’s so many people around the world that want to see it, it’s a project that just grows and grows with popularity, it’s amazing to me how well it still continues to do and what demand there is for it. Again, it’s gotta be the right time for both of us to do it the right way.

Demons++Wizards++2005
“We know the demand is there, and we know that if we go out and tour on Demons & Wizards it’s going to be a very successful thing”

MB: And in the case of Sons of Liberty, do you think that it is over and done with or will it resurface?
Jon
: As far as songs go, I’m sure I will record more. Sons of Liberty has never been about touring, because I frankly don’t have the time and I can’t afford to start a “baby band”; to start something that is relatively unknown and try to build it up to where we can get some sort of guarantee and make money with it. Sons of Liberty is not about money, it’s just about the message and to try to inspire people to make copies and pass them around in protests and that kind of stuff; it’s just to get younger people to think about what’s happening, that’s really all that’s fort, so there’s definitely going to be more music but how much touring is going to happen… I’ve only done 4 shows with Sons of Liberty and there are no plans to do a real tour. It could happen someday, but the most likely thing is that I’ll write a few songs and release them like digital downloads, like we did with the EP.

MB: I asked because I know for a fact that for you Sons of Liberty is very close to your heart because it represents this “awakening” that you had and your political views.
As a matter of fact, I thought that it was an interesting coincidence that your live DVD was recorded in Cyprus and released just a little bit after the country went into a massive banking crisis. It is interesting considering that you have been very vociferous both in your music and in your interviews about the banking cartels and abuses.
Jon: 
Yeah; I feel really bad for the Cypriots and the Greeks. It’s fucked up everywhere; it’s just a matter of how fucked up you are at the moment. This whole system is based on fraud and deception, and it’s just theft, that’s all it is, theft. It’s really tragic what it does to people’s lives, who are trusting and believing in the system, they believe in their government and they go along with all this stuff, even if sometimes they’re not happy about it. Then, you’ve worked your ass off your whole life and you have your entire savings robbed from you, whether it is slowly through inflation or whether it’s really fast like the theft that took place in Cyprus where they just took your money. It’s brutal, and I think that it’s the kind of situation that I’ve been saying all the time with Sons of Liberty, that the system is exposed for what it is and I think it will fall. So many people don’t understand it, they don’t think about it or they’re working really hard; there are a lot of variables as to why people haven’t revolted. If you take the average colonist back in the days of the beginnings of the United States from 1765 to 1775, we’re talking about people who would go and pull somebody out of their homes and tar and feather them for raising taxes [laughs].
If you can’t tell me that we haven’t gotten soft by putting up with the kind of shit that our governments are doing to us all over the world, and certainly in the United States as well… we’ve become milk toasts, the people are not standing up for their rights, they are letting this criminal government get away with murder, literally with murder, and I think that it’s tragic and I hate it, and I feel bad for all the people that are being deprived of their wealth and their savings by these thieves.

MB: Since you mention murder, and I’m sorry to bring this up, you are ideologically connected with Alex Jones, he has recently been hinting that the Boston bombings were a “false flag operation” perpetrated by the United States. What’s your take on this?
Jon:
I’ve seen some things that are really questionable, for sure, and I think that if anybody does their research and sees a lot of the documents that have been declassified and the fact that we are dealing with a government that has a history of false flag attacks

MB: I guess you are referring to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which was used as a pretext for the Vietnam war?
Jon
: Yes; the USS Liberty is another one, there’s a lot of them, if you really start digging into it. There are a lot of things that have been declassified and that, obviously, the media doesn’t cover. Operation Northwood… I mean it just goes on and on and on. The more you dig into it and you see that kind of things the government has been up to, and it’s all about pushing a specific agenda.
People can call him [Alex Jones] me or anybody that knows history and has studied the facts a conspiracy theorist all they want, I don’t really give a shit. We’re not talking about conspiracy theories, we’re talking about conspiracy facts. You wanna talk about little green men that are coming down and in the White House controlling people, yeah, I’d fucking call that a conspiracy theory [laughs] because I haven’t seen any facts to back it up, but I’ve seen plenty of facts to backup the kind of things that Alex and myself and anybody that’s in the liberty movement are talking about.

MB: You mention these little green men; do you think that it is very common for people to try to simplify or ridicule the Liberty Movement as a group of people that claim that reptiles run the government, in order to de-legitimize your views?
Jon:
Yeah, that’s how they marginalize you; it’s one of the tactics that the mainstream media and the government themselves use. I mean, come on, the mainstream media is state controlled media; you have this channel that’s supposed to be conservative and that channel that is supposed to be liberal, but that’s just to keep the infighting going. The system props itself up through the Republican/Democrat fraud. That whole concept is a sick game; I was caught up in that too, because people are busy working and you wanna trust your government, when you’ve been told since the time you’re born that you live in the freest most transparent country in the world and blah, blah, blah, you wanna believe it. At some point all of us know that something doesn’t feel right and when the light switch comes on and you start seeing it for what it is and you dig in and you start studying…
It’s clear that, back to the Boston thing, whatever happened, I’m sure that they are lying, because known liars, they lie about every fucking thing that happens, and I don’t trust anything that comes out of the government or from the views of the mainstream media. That’s the brilliant thing about Youtube and Facebook, Twitter and all that, and of course the Establishment is watching the population through these channels but it also gives us a chance to use their control mechanisms against them and to be able to share information. That has been really a huge thing, because you can get eye witness views of things that happened, or you can add together a string of different news stories which really give you a broad view of the kind of disinformation that’s being put out there and it confuses the public. “I heard this”, “I heard that”, nobody knows what to believe; the only thing that we can believe is that we have a criminal cabal in our government and that they are liars. Whether is Waco, whether it’s [the] Oklahoma City [bombing], 9/11, the USS Liberty, the Gulf of Tonkin; all of that shit, it’s all deception.

MB: Wasn’t the USS Liberty bombed by Israel?
Jon:
Yes! But our the Johnson government was telling the Captain “Do not fire back, I wanna see that goddamn ship sunk in the ocean”. And Israel is supposed to be our ally? They attacked our ship to try to get us to go into war; the presidency of the United States was involved in that false flag attack, or was at least beholden to the shadow government that really runs that office.

Sons of Liberty Cover
“Educate yourself, follow your sense of discernment”

MB: Last year you gave us an interview at the Bloodstock Open Air festival in the UK about Sons of Liberty. In the article, in passing, we made a mention of some crazy conspiracy theories that you did not mention and have nothing to do with you, and we actually got some response to that, by being accused of doing PsyOps, working for the government trying to create disinformation. So I think that a common problem in the “Conspiracy Theory” movements is that this constant belief that everybody is trying to fool you makes you paranoid.
Jon:
There’s no doubt. A lot of people that start to learn about this flip out a little bit, and they do get very paranoid. On the other hand, there’s no question that there are PsyOps that take place and that there are divisions of the government whose job is to spread disinformation and do that kind of stuff. Again, it comes back to not being too willing to bite on any hook, but to use your common sense, your discernment and knowledge of history. I think that once you understand the mindset of the global elite, the shadow government… if you read their playbook, you know what they’re up      to, and if you do that it’s pretty easy to see what the agenda is, and what their next move is going to be.
I don’t even pay attention to a lot of the comments that people make whenever there’s a story on whatever site, whether it’s Infowars or Prison Planet or some of the other liberty-minded sites, like Natural News; there are a lot of different blogs and news sites out there… Even on [the] Drudge [Report]. Wherever you can leave comments, I don’t really care to look at them because I think that a lot of the comments are left by people that are paranoid or-

MB: Or Crazy…
Jon:
Or crazy or that are government ops, that are there specifically to just make people confused about everything and to make us all look nuts.
The thing is, don’t trust anything the government says because they are known liars, educate yourself, follow your sense of discernment, that’s the biggest thing.

MB: Before we leave, let me assure you that we are not working with Israel, the United States, the European Union, the UN or anybody. We are absolutely independent.
Jon, I’m looking forward to your new material, hopefully by the end of the year. Thank you very much for taking the time with us today!
Jon: 
You’re welcome! Take care of yourselves and remember that we have a lot of cool and exciting stuff coming up; stay tuned to our Facebook page in the coming weeks, because there’s a lot of good shit coming down the road.