MetalReviews recently got a chance to speak to Jon Schaffer after the Iced Earth, In Flames and Jag Panzer show in Toronto recently. He's a very down to earth guy who is very passionate about his music, his band, and about metal music in general. It was a pleasure to chat with him and I will always remember it!!
MR: Amazing show!!!.....and thanks for taking the time to talk.
Jon: Sure...no problem
MR: Tell us how the tour is going so far?
Jon: Great....really great
MR: Last night you were in Montreal. How was that?
Jon: It was amazing. Every show except Indianapolis has been sold out. It's going very well and the response has been very strong every night. Fans have been singing along and we've had comments from promoters and local crew guys saying that they don't normally see that. It's like a pretty new thing, and it's cool!
MR: Being from Canada, we don't get a lot of exposure to Iced Earth and if it wasn't for the internet, I wouldn't know about the band at all.
Jon: I'd believe it........
MR: I hear that you are looking to make a deal with a new label. How's that going?
Jon: For 4 or 5 months now, me and my management have been heavily involved in it. There's enough rumours floating around, but until I sign the deal, I'm not going to comment much on it.
MR: Is there anything close to a deal yet?
Jon: Oh yeah....
MR: What was the problem with Century Media, was it a lack of financial support?
Jon: Part of it is that, but also a lack of vision. They have the cash actually, if they just had the balls to use it in the right way, it would make a big difference. It's not the people who work for the label, I think there's several people there who believe in the band enough that they would risk it all. That's what Century Media should do instead of signing a bunch of shit that doesn't matter.....See this is the independant way of thinking, they sign a bunch of bands in the underground, give them a shitty deal and a $3000 advance. That's what Obituary's first album cost $3000!!!. They sold 150,000 copies of it.......do the math!! That's a lot of money!! Even in the underground situation, to sell 40 - 50,000 copies world-wide is not a big deal. It's easy to do and if you only have $3000 advanced in recording and advertisement, that's a great deal for the label. That's where their mentality is. Where it should be is, yes do some of that but, put some of your key people on the bands that keep going up and up like we have. They should have put a lot more money into us. It's too little, too late and basically they're trying to save it and make me happy.......I've been with the label for 12 years.
MR: Iced Earth is the flagship band for that label right now are you not?
Jon: We are now but there was a period when Tiamat was a big band for them. In fact, in the early days, Night Of The Stormrider was the album that saved that label. They were about to go bankrupt because they put a shit load of money into this Cro-Mags reunion which was a total waste. It almost broke the company. When Stormrider came out, it generated $750,000 in a matter of a couple of months and I didn't see a red fucking cent of that!! That's when I realized I had a slavery type deal. It was time to change that and that's why there was a pause between Stormrider and Burnt Offerings as I refused to record for them until we could re-negotiate and do things differently. There's a lot of people I like at Century Media, but the leadership of the label lacks the vision and have made some stupid investments when all along, they have been sitting on a gold-mine the entire time.
MR: Do you think it's because of the musical climate in North America. It seems now that metal has all gone underground and I think it will take a major label to say "Look, this is great music and we have to put some money behind this band."
Jon: That's exactly what it will take. I mean what it will take is a band like us to lead the revolution so that they have to take notice. It was the same thing with the Seattle scene. There was a disturbance out there and they said, "You know this metal scene with the hairbands is getting kind of cheesy, and this is gonna be the next big thing. Let's back it with millions and millions of dollars". That exactly what they did. There already was a scene out there with bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains building up a big following in that area. If it can sell in one area, then it can sell anywhere. They saturate the market with it, they spend a fortune...and that's what it takes. That's the way the American market works...one of the negative aspects of capitalism. I love capitalism, I love my country and I love our way of life, but there's negative sides to it and it's not perfect. You get these "suit and tie guys" in a boardroom who need to generate a new trend to make tons of money.
MR: They're really out of touch
Jon: Totally.....totally out of touch
MR: How are the sales of Horror Show compared to Something Wicked This Way Comes?
Jon: It'll sell better for sure. It already has in a lot of countries. I think it'll probably do 65-70,000 by summertime and I think we're around 50,000 now which is what Something Wicked sold, 2 years after. But, you know, it's all happening so much faster because there's a lot more awareness of the band right now. The back catalogue's constantly going up too.
MR: I recently played the Something Wicked CD for some friends who are huge Metallica fans (pre-black album era) and they loved it! I got comments like "who is this band, and why haven't we heard of them?". I've been buying metal albums for almost 25 years now and I have to admit that Something Wicked This Way Comes is slowly creeping into my top 10 of all time!
Jon: That's cool.......glad to hear that.
MR: You've stated in other interviews that you were going to do Something Wicked Part II?
Jon: Yes.....another concept album
MR: Was there an opportunity to do it instead of Horror Show or did you just decide to do it at another time?
Jon: There was an opportunity, but I wasn't going to make it my last record with Century Media. It would have been a mistake. The time didn't feel right. When the time's right, I'm going to do it. It won't be the next one, that's for sure. It's written, I have some of the stories written and I know what I'm going to do. When I'm ready to unleash it, I'll know when the time's right. Whenever I don't listen to my gut feelings, I fuck up. That's the reality of it. My gut's saying "No, not this time, not the last album for Cenntury Media. and not the first album with our new label". I want to build a partnership so everyone's on the same page, and we are a priority. The next album will be a strong one, but not a theme album or concept album. I will be writing that album and the new Demons And Wizards album through the summer.
MR: Another Demons And Wizards album....excellent!!!....I loved the first one!!
Jon: That album, in fact, sold 200,000 copies world-wide and we even got a Grammy nomination in Germany. It was a phenomenal success. It out sold Iced Earth but I think Horror Show's going to be up there with those type of numbers. I see things now in the U.S. that are really cool. People think it's crazy 'cause we go on tour and we don't have the same kind of crew or the same productions, but I love the challenge! I love watching it grow 'cause I know that through our blood, sweat and tears, we're the ones who have made this happen. We took off, left Florida, and moved to the mid-west doing van tours so we could move the whole thing out. That was 1997. We didn't even start to work North America until 1997. Here we are 5 years later, and there's a big, big difference between what was going on then versus now. I think it's ready to explode. It'll take another couple of years, another strong record and a few more tours.
MR: I can see the whole scene starting to change. I now can walk into my local CD store and see Iced Earth CDs. Actually, my copy of Something Wicked came from Columbia House in Canada!
Jon: That's very cool.....
MR: It seems like a slow trickle, but great metal CDs are now more widely available.
Jon: That's cool to hear about especially in Canada because in the U.S., it's getting way better. Pretty much any store you go into, you can find our latest album. If that's starting to happen in Canada too, that's great to hear.
MR: Why do they seem to like Iced Earth more in Europe than in North America?
Jon: It's not a matter of liking us more, it's a matter of them being more aware of us. Millions and millions of people in the U.S. don't even know we exist.
MR: So you're on the radio more in Europe?
Jon: Radio doesn't matter in Europe, that's the difference. They don't have 24 hours a day, seven days a week commercial rock stations. There's pros and cons to it. Germany is our biggest market in Europe and I don't like the fact that the radio industry is controlled by the government. They don't have any private stations that do commercial rock. You know it's Bon Jovi and German polka music right next to each other! They may have a program once a week for an hour that will play metal, but that's it. There's no brainwashing that going on. Here in North America, it's big business. Songs don't get into American or Canadian rotation on the radio by accident, there's big money behind it. In Europe, radio isn't powerful, it doesn't mean anything. Neither does MTV. What matters is getting good reviews and putting on a kickass live show. The underground is very strong there....that's what it is. You know, we got a real buzz with the Enter The Realm demo tape. People in Europe freaked over that! That's how it started and why we ended up going there. I was dealing with Combat Records, Roadrunner Records and Century Media at the very beginning. Combat went out of business a couple of years later. Bridgette Roy, the president of that company, actually left because she wanted to sign us to a real contract. She was supposed to be the label manager and you'd think she'd be able to make decisions but they wouldn't let her do anything but a licensing deal. That's what Roadrunner wanted to do too, but I wanted more of a commitment. With a licensing deal, you're getting a half-assed effort from the label, that's really what it's all about. You're not one of their bands, they're just doing a bit of work for you and it's not the same kind of commitment. Century Media was willing to make the commitment, even though it was a bit like slavery, it got us where we needed to be, got our foot in the door and got our songs out there.
MR: How much of a disappointment was it to have to pull out of the Judas Priest tour?
Jon: Big...big disappointment. We didn't pull out though, they cancelled. The bus picked us up at 3:00 p.m. on September 11th, last year. That morning, my crew guys were crashed on the couch at my place, and they were just waking up and having a coffee when the first plane hit. When the second one hit, Mike, our drum tech, came pounding on my bedroom door saying "Jon...wake up, we're being attacked!" Like the rest of the world, we were pretty freaked out. On the bus, we had satellite T.V. so we were all glued to the T.V. all day. We got all the way out to New Mexico and found out that Priest was actually stuck in Mexico and couldn't get across the border. It took a couple of days for them to get back and another 10 days to get their gear. I talked to Tim (Owens) a few times on the phone over the next week and he was really disappointed. But you know, I was way more concerned about our country. It's been a life long dream to do a tour with those guys and it was a drag because it also hit me pretty hard financially. We lost $20,000 just like that because we had guys flying over from Europe for our crew and we had the bus for a week that we didn't use for anything. It was going to be a money losing tour anyway as they were only going to pay us $200 a night to open for them, which is bad. That's the way it works though, you have to eat shit, smile and ask for more! I talked to Tim again and he said they were going to re-schedule the tour for January. I said dude, I can't let the European fans down again, I mean there's no way, they were already pissed. That whole continent has embraced us from the beginning and I couldn't turn my back on them again just to go out on tour with Judas Priest. It probably would have sucked anyway because it would've been them and Anthrax and we would only get to play for 30 minutes with little stage space and bad sound, no lights etc. Typical support band deal.
MR: Judas Priest is not really playing large venues anymore. If it would've been in the mid to late 80's or early 90's, it would have been a different story.
Jon: Definitely......You know I've been trying to get this band on a support tour and in a 24 hour period, Judas Priest called, I immediately said yes, and the very next morning, Megadeth calls!!
MR: I saw that you did play a few shows with them
Jon: Yeah, and if I'd picked Megadeth instead of Priest, we still would've toured because after Sept. 11th, they went ahead and went out. We did end up catching up with them on the second leg of their tour. I couldn't believe it you know, in 24 hours, 2 very major bands called to ask us to open for them!! The only time we ever supported anybody was Blind Guardian in 1990 and 1992.
MR: I wish they'd come over to North America, they are a killer band!!!
Jon: Yeah.....I love their intensity and they are very, very good friends. I've been trying to get them over here for a very long time. They're actually coming over to play Atlanta (Prog Power) in the fall and are going to play Montreal as well.
MR: A lot of people describe your sound as being a very "U.S" type of metal sound. I hear a lot of European influences in your sound.
Jon: I'd say British more than European
MR: Do you like the European metal scene?
Jon: Some of it, but you know the stuff with the big happy choruses.......everybody has their own tastes, but it's not for me. What I wrote about in the Tribute To The Gods was about being an individual. With some of the new bands, are they taking the inspirations and influences and making their own sound with it or are they carbon copying Helloween? That's been done a thousand times already! Unless you take something and make it your own, you really can't go the distance, there's a big difference. That's why Maiden is Maiden and AC/DC is AC/DC. I respect them more than anything because they did their own thing.
MR: You definitely have a vision for this band and I see similarities between you and someone like Steve Harris from Maiden. He refuses to give up. Even after Bruce Dickinson left and the band seemed to be on the downward slide as far as sales and concert attendance, he kept pushing on.
Jon: Steve is my mentor man and my biggest inspiration in every way as a player, but mostly as a songwriter, visionary and leader of that band. The fact that he was unwavering and uncomprimised, I loved that. When I was 13 years old reading his interviews, it was like, this dude's fucking killer man! I saw them play live and I was blown away. I'd never seen anybody play so tight and with so much power!
MR: I saw them live in Toronto at a hall not much bigger than this one and I was about 10 feet from the stage. It was the Killers tour in 1981 with Paul Di'anno on vocals.
Jon: Ahhhhhh......sweet!!! Now I'm jealous!!!
MR: It was unbelievable, I couldn't believe how tight they were and I was totally blown away!
Jon: Demons and Wizards got to play with Maiden at the Gods Of Metal festival last year in Italy and we were on stage right before them. I was like a little kid waiting backstage to meet Steve!! I was nervous and shit and I've never been that way with anybody. I hung out with Bruce Dickinson for a couple of hours before and it wasn't the same. It was great meeting him, he's a great singer, front man and a great performer.....cool guy!. But, Steve Harris is the fucking band! He's the one who's written the best songs and that's the whole deal. You can have a room full of the best musicians in the world but if no-one's a writer, you're cooked. For me, all the classic Maiden tunes were written by Steve.....Number Of The Beast, Hallowed Be Thy Name, The Trooper etc....The thing Steve had that I didn't have was a kick-ass manager!
MR: They've built themselves an empire now.
Jon: Yeah, and you know if I had a guy like Rod (Smallwood) 10 years ago, it would've made all the difference in the world. Steve was lucky enough that he was sheltered from the business. I mean, Rod took care of everything. Steve got to be an artist and to focus on the things that he should be doing. See, I got to see and have seen, all the ugly fucking shit you know, It's good in one way because no-one will fuck with me again as I know what I'm doing. It would've been nice though because I wouldn't be as pissed off as I am now and it would be a lot more fun if I was able to concentrate on the art of writing, recording and performing my music. See, Iron Maiden was dealing with a major label right from the beginning and that's a major difference.
MR: If you're going to play this type of music, I think you need a person who is a visionary because for sure you're going to be kicked around and shit on, but if you're good and you keep at it, things will happen.
Jon: I hope so!!... See we've had a lot of support from the rest of the world, but it's extra special when it happens at home. I don't care about the whole rock star bullshit, I want my countrymen to appreciate our songs. This is the happiest I've been on tour in years let me tell you. I don't really have fun on tour anymore, I mean, I do, when we're on stage, that's fun, but all the rest of it sucks. Being away from home and you're family and dealing with all the neck problems I've had that are going to effect me for the rest of my life.
MR: Well Jon, you are a true metal warrior and I wish we could chat some more but we are about to be kicked out of the hall here! I want to thank you very, very much for the opportunity to chat with you. I wish you continued success, keep the flag of metal held high and keep at it!!
Jon: No problem.....anytime.......take care.