Iced Earth

Interview date

03 Septembre 2011


Blaster of Muppets


Interview Jon Schaffer & Stu Block (face to face)

Hi, Jon and Stu! There’s a lot of things happening with Iced Earth this year: the departure of Matthew Barlow, the release of a live DVD, the recruitment of Stu Block, a new album already recorded coming next month, and the beginning of a massive world tour next. Let’s start with Matthew Barlow. Was it hard to see him leave the band for the second time or was it something you knew would happen?

Jon : Well, it was hard in a way, but it was also a kind of relief, because now, the band can really work you know. When Matt returned, it was on the condition that he would work part-time and we really thought we could make it work but the fact that for the last couple of years, the music industry has changed, CD sales are going down, music labels are going bankrupt, stores are closing, file sharing is a big problem… All of this is requiring that a band tour more. But Matt is committed to his other job too, you know he’s a cop, and to his family, he doesn’t want to be away from his family that long… It’s all cool, I totally understand that. But now, we’re ready to move forward, we’ve got a great group of guys that have been waiting for something to happen, a great road crew…

How was your last show with him at the W.O.A. this year?

Jon : You know, you can’t really imagine a better way for Matt to say goodbye to the band and the fans… There was a great party afterwards. I got a little choked up and so did Matt, you know, when I took the microphone and said goodbye to him and the audience screamed his name “Matt! Matt! Matt!”. Everybody was a bit choked up but you know, we’re really good friends, there was a lot of love there, and we had a great party… it was cool.

I wonder, when Matt came back to the band, I remember reading that he would record the sequel of “Framing Armageddon” (which he did), but that he would also re-record “Framing Armageddon”. Why didn’t it happen finally?

Jon : Mainly because of the bankcruptcy of SPV at the time. I know I wanted to do that but finally it’s ok because I’m really happy with the way “Framing Armageddon” sounds, I think it actually sounds better than “The Crucible of Man”.

Now, about the DVD, it’s no secret that you weren’t very proud of the DVD “Alive in Athens”. Have you achieved what you wanted for with “Festivals of the Wicked”?

Jon : Well, it’s a lot better than “Alive in Athens”, that’s for sure. That one was never intended to be released as a DVD. “Festivals of the Wicked” is of course way better in terms of quality but I wouldn’t say that’s it’s the definitive Iced Earth DVD because we haven’t made that yet. This one is a good way to bring closure to a certain era of Iced Earth. But when you play festivals, you don’t have the same control, unless you’re Iron Maiden of course and then you’re gonna get exactly what you want, but for bands at our level it doesn’t work that way. I would have preferred to film a show like we did on the Horror Show tour, you know a three hour concert with different themes, I think that would have been the ultimate show to have on a DVD at that time, for the first part of our career, but the label didn’t believe in the DVD format at that time, can you believe that? Anyway… But probably after the next studio album, we plan on filming a few shows on the tour and then come up with a DVD really focused on an Iced Earth headline show instead of a festival set of nostalgia.

Stu, I’ve listened to the album this week and you’ve done an incredible job. I was wondering if you recorded all the vocals on the CD, because at times it really sounds like there are different singers.

Stu (smiling) : No, there were lots of different singers involved…

Jon : Yeah, at least seven, right?

Stu : Yes, at some point, there even was a midget, God, his voice was powerful!!

(Jon & Stu are laughing)

Stu : No, more seriously, for the song “Anthem”, we brought in a group to sort of chant with me on the melody… But yeah, apart from that, I pretty much did all the vocals on this album, 98% of it.

Was it intentional at times to sound a bit like Matthew Barlow or Tim Owens?

Stu : Of course, of course… I mean I am not Tim Owens, I’m not Matt Barlow… but those are definite influences of mine. I have been a Matt Barlow fan for a long time. I sang to his albums in my car going to work, I didn’t try to imitate him but I think it comes naturally with the music because it’s Iced Earth music. I didn’t sit down and said “OK, I have to sound like Matt Barlow on that one” but I tried to bring certain elements of it and do my own thing. And I think it kind of worked out.

Jon, With your previous album released under the name Sons of Liberty, we discovered that you could actually sing and that your voice had obvious similarities with Matt’s… Did you think for a moment “Hey, I’m going to be the singer of my own band”?

Jon : No, I write vocal parts that are way beyond my abilities. It’s the writing you hear that sounds familiar with Matt because I’m the guy writing it. I’m not a real singer, I’ve always been able to sing enough to teach the singers the song and get the point across, but that’s all. I never really was motivated to be a lead singer anyway, the reason I did for Sons Of Liberty was because I had spent a lot money doing this record and I was going to give it away for free and I couldn’t ask other musicians to spend some time and work on it for free you know… And it was a personal thing too, a drive that I had, something I felt I needed to do.

If I said that “Dystopia” is a return to a more simple/straightforward/heavier Iced Earth, would you agree with me?

Stu : Definitely, definitely. That was the intention. The last couple of records were very big, with tons of arrangements, choirs, orchestra… We wanted to go back to a straightforward heavy metal Iced Earth album.

Although it’s not a concept album and consequently very different from The Something Wicked story, we can see Set Abominae on the cover. Will he be on every Iced Earth records from now on, like Eddie for Iron Maiden?

Jon : Well, you know, two songs on the album are actually about Set Abominae, “Dystopia” and “Tragedy and Triumph”. With the big changes, and the themes we’re talking about, it made sense to bring Set on the cover… I’m not saying he will be on every album cover… But it’s a real bad ass cover, I love it.

Did you know Set Abominae had a facebook profile? Your creation is taking a life of its own…

Jon : No, I didn’t know that. That’s funny…

Stu : How many friends has he got? (laughs)

No Idea… Stu, how was it to work with Jon and the rest of the band, did you have time to be active in the creative process?

Stu : First, it’s amazing working with Jon. He knows what he wants, and he talked to me a lot in expressing myself as a vocalist in his music. I think it really brought up a new shade or a new colour in my voice. I was involved in the writing process, I co-wrote ten songs with him, I wrote a lot of lyrics, a lot of melodies, most of the choruses… it was really awesome. Jon has never really had that before, I mean Matt is a great lyricist but he didn’t really write melodies whereas I used to do that in Into Eternity with Tim Roth, writing hooks and choruses, and I think it was a quality I possessed that Jon really liked.

Have you left Into Eternity for good or would you like to work with both bands?

Stu : I’ll work with Into Eternity occasionally, but Iced Earth is now my full-time job. I’ve been given the opportunity to be in one of the greatest metal bands and I’d be a fool if I tried to juggle both bands because it would burn me out. When I was transitioning between Into Eternity and Iced Earth, I recorded two songs with Into Eternity. One of them is Sandstorm which is on ITunes, and there will be another one coming out… If I’m off a tour, and I have time, I’ll have no problem helping out, recording a song in the studio, or something like that.

Jon, have you auditioned a lot of other singers? Was Stu an obvious choice?

Jon : I didn’t audition any singers but I listened to a lot of tapes and I spoke to some guys on the phone… But I just had such a strong feeling about Stu. I wasn’t 100% sure that his voice was gonna be the right thing for Iced Earth bit I liked what I saw in his eyes. The rage, the attitude was great for the band I thought. We had other singers doing some demos, two other guys were actually close, an American guy and a Swedish guy… but I’m not gonna tell you who they are. But you know, I really had this feeling with Stu so I decided that would be him. You know, when I follow my guts, it usually works, when I don’t, I fuck up! (Laughs)

What are your favourite songs on “Dystopia” and which one would you like to play live?

Stu : I love “Anthem”. “Tragedy and Triumph” is a great song… “End of Innocence” is very special to me because it’s a song I wrote for my mother who’s suffering from cancer, and it’s a tough thing to deal with because I’m very close to my Mum. You know, I’m a family guy, it’s a tough song to do, but I’m proud of it. There’s a lot of songs I’d love to do live…

Jon : we’re gonna do between five and seven songs live, you know. You can count on “Dystopia”, “V”…

And which Iced Earth classics are your favourites, Stu?

Stu : Hmmm… Wow, “Dante’s Inferno”. I don’t know if we’ll do it one day… I’d like to sing “A Question of Heaven”, “Burning Times”, “Watching Over Me”, “Pure Evil”… There’s a whole bunch I’m learning right now, “Stand Alone”… I don’t know for sure which ones we’re gonna do but I’m learning them.

It’s interesting that you mention “Stand Alone” because it’s not a song often played by the band. Can we expect any surprises in terms of setlist?

Jon : Oh yeah, there’ll be some cool surprises, nothing I can really get into right now, but there’s gonna be some changes and some songs Iced Earth has not played for a while, that’s for sure.

Which bands would you love to tour with?

Jon : Man, I’d love to tour with Maiden. But there’s lot of politics involved, I’ve been trying to do that for twenty years, so I doubt it will happen… But that’d be really cool because I’m a big fan. I’d love to tour with Metallica, too.

Everybody knows you were influenced by bands such as Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, but what are the new bands you find interesting?

Jon : Volbeat is a really cool band. I wish I had discovered them earlier… But they’re really excellent. It’s really fresh and inspiring to see a band that has so many different influences and still make their own thing. Michael and I are actually good friends now, we met at the Graspop festival, we had a blast, drank a bottle of whisky each that night, and this guy has followed Iced Earth since the beginning, he told me this story how the day our first album came out, he just had enough money to go the store by bus, buy the CD and go back home. He’s a great guy, and his music is really cool… This band is getting bigger and bigger and they totally deserve it.

And you, Stu, who are your favourite singers and biggest influences?

Stu : I try not to be completely influenced because I’m trying to do my own thing, and I hope that one day, when people hear me they’ll say “Oh that’s Stu Block” and not “Oh, is it Rob Halford or someone else ?”. So I’m not trying to be anybody else, but my influences for singing and fronting: Bruce Dickinson definitely for his energy and charisma… everything that Bruce does is amazing, I wish I could fly a plane like him (smiling). Dio is another influence of mine, Russell Allen, Geoff Tate… Of course, I’ve been influenced by death metal singers too like Jari Mäenpää from Wintersun, Amon Amarth, Cannibal Corpse…

Talking about death metal singing, isn’t it technically difficult to mix both death metal and melodic singing in a same song? Is this something you’re comfortable with on stage?

Stu : Well, I’ve trained for years to do it. I’ve been doing it ever since I was fourteen or fifteen years old. I have been through rough times but I’ve finally found a way to do that transition from death vocals to clean vocals. When I first started doing it, I was doing it completely incorrectly and I was spitting up blood… So I had to stop for a while, and saw a doctor and got everything repaired. And a few months later, I really started to learn to use the microphone to my advantage, opening the throat a little bit, being able to drop your larynx down, and keeping hydrated… But practising your art all the time is a big key. It doesn’t matter what you do, you have to practise everyday to be good at it.

Jon, what about your other projects? Will there be a third episode of Demons & Wizards (your band with Hansi Kürsch) or a sequel to the Sons of Liberty album?

Jon : There’s definitely gonna be more Demons & Wizards stuff. Hansi and I love creating together and we will definitely do it again, it’s just a matter of time. The thing is that we are both very busy with our own bands, so we’ll just have to wait until our schedules line up. As far as Sons Of Liberty is concerned, there’s gonna be an EP in a couple of months. Well, my manager told me “If you want to do some Sons Of Liberty stuff, you’d better do it now because you’re gonna be so busy for the next year and a half that you won’t have time…”. And he’s right, we’re gonna tour the world for a very long time. So check the new EP, it should be released before the end of the year.

The final word…

Stu : Well… Iced Earth is back, man!! Check out the new album, we're really proud of it.

Jon : Yeah, we’re back. We’re really excited about what’s to come, and we’re gonna give some killer shows… We’ll be in Paris and Lyon in the beginning of November, see you there!

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