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Iced Earth

Iced Earth
How The World Really Works


Архив интервью | Русская версия

These days when Russia is no longer such an exotic place for international metal bands, a prominent act that has never played a show here is somewhat of a rarity. However, Iced Earth were one of such acts for years, for some reason always leaving Moscow off their concert tracks. And when they did come this fall, it was a little too late for many, as charismatic singer Matt Barlow had left the band just months before. Nevertheless, enlisting the services of new frontman Stu Block (ex-Into Eternity) and putting together what the band’s mainman Jon Schaffer calls “a really strong line-up”, Iced Earth are still a force to be reckoned with, both in the studio, as can be heard on their latest album “Dystopia”, hailed by many as the return to the heavier and more aggressive roots, and onstage, as witnessed by yours truly and a sizeable crowd of fans at Club Milk. Shortly before the show we hooked up with Jon Schaffer to finally welcome the man in Moscow and find out his current opinions about the singer situation, the state of the music business and protest movements in America.

It’s your first time in Russia. How much of the city have you seen, and has it lived up to your expectations?

Man, I’ll tell you - we had a long 10-show run, we played in nine different cities in 10 days (we had two shows in Athens), we covered some serious ground in Eastern Europe, so everybody’s pretty tired, and some of us are a little bit sick and trying to get over a cold. Troy (Seele, guitar) and I are the only ones who went out, everyone else slept today, but Troy and I went to the Red Square and it was awesome. It was really cool to see, but we didn’t have anybody there who knew what the stuff was. It would have been great if we had somebody who knew the history and everything. We hang out for about an hour, then went back to the hotel and had a couple of beers. Hopefully we will see more, but it depends if we stay up partying all night tonight and get up in time to do it tomorrow, but some of the guys are talking about trying to get up in the morning to go see some stuff.

On the current tour you’re visiting many places that you have never played before. Given that over the past 10 years Iced Earth hasn’t been a very active touring band, how does it feel like to be on the road for so long?

It’s cool, and the thing that makes it cool is the chemistry between the guys in the band is the best it’s ever been. It’s a really strong line-up and a great group of guys who are definitely like a band of brothers, kinda like a gang out there, taking care and watching each other’s backs. So it’s been really cool. But man, we’re just getting started, it will be the biggest tour Iced Earth has ever done, it will go through towards the end of 2012. We’re heading all over the place. We’ve been places in Europe and the United States multiple times, but this time we’re also gonna be in India, China, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, all that stuff has been worked out. We’re just rolling three or four weeks into it, so we’ve got a long way to do.

This tour is the first one for your new singer Stu Block, and in an interview you said that you were planning some sort of initiation, some welcoming party for him. Have you already done it? What it was?

No, it’s kind of what we call hazing. I wouldn’t say it’s an initiation party, it’s gonna be an ongoing thing for about a year. You’ll never know what day something is gonna happen, but something will happen, and I can’t say because he will find out. (laughs) We just pull jokes on him.

Why did you decide to introduce the new singer with the new version of “Dante’s Inferno”? Why this particular track, especially given that it’s such a massive composition…

That would have been done if Matt had stayed in the band, that had nothing to do with Stu coming into the band, I made that decision a couple of years ago. We didn’t wanna charge people for it, because it’s already been released on a record, so we didn’t wanna sell it. I mean, they can buy a physical copy at the merch stand, if they want one, and it’s higher quality obviously than an mp3. But the main reason for re-recording “Dante’s Inferno” was so that we could play it live without having a keyboard player on tour to pay him for the sake of one song. It doesn’t make sense financially. That was the reason and that was planned a while ago.

Speaking about Stu, what qualities did you find in him that motivated your choice, and did you have any other options?

Yeah, we had lots of options, but once I auditioned Stu, there was really no point looking any further. The best thing is that he’s got a wide range of vocals which is necessary for any Iced Earth vocalist, he’s gotta understand the drama of the music and the different emotions that go on. Iced Earth has atmospheres that can go anywhere from the melancholic sounds of Pink Floyd to the ranging sounds of Slayer and everything in between, and the vocalist has to be diverse enough to be able to deliver the atmospheres that the music requires. That’s just the way it always has been. Stu is the perfect guy for that because he’s got the drama understanding – like Matt, he took drama when he was in high school. He was into acting, and he understands that, and that’s the frontman’s job and the singer’s job. So that, and the physical ability, plus he’s a really cool person, and he’s a lot of fun to hang out with. He has a very positive energy, and he brings a lot of great ideas. It’s the first time I’ve felt like I really have a writing partner, somebody with whom we can sit down and accomplish stuff really quickly and get a lot of cool things done. Stu’s great at working out cool vocal melodies, that’s something that was always on my shoulders for a long time, and now there’s two of us that can deliver really big chorus parts, work together on them, and work on the lyrics together. It’s a help to me.

As far as we understand, on the previous albums you composed all the vocal melodies yourself…

Well, probably 95 percent, yeah.

We interviewed you about eight years ago, and then, welcoming Tim Owens in the band, you said, “This is the voice I hear in my head when I write songs”…

Yes, I love Tim’s voice, but the spirit behind the voice is the other thing that matters whether it works within a band situation. That’s the thing about Stu – he’s got all those abilities, and he’s got the right spirit, too. Tim is a great guy, and he’s an amazing singer, but he just didn’t fit in Iced Earth from a personality and chemistry standpoint, from the kind of energy that needs to happen on stage and that stuff. It just didn’t work, but I have nothing against him.

It was very surprising for us when in 2010 Iced Earth and Sons Of Liberty were signed to Century Media Records again. You were never happy with the label before, what made you go with them again? Did they offer you a better deal? Did the personnel at the label change?

Actually a lot of the people that work at Century Media, I really like and I always have. I had problems with the upper management, the owners of the label at some point, one of the owners especially. But we put all that shit behind us. They’re one of the stronger indie labels. The thing is that if it was up to me, I would have no record company, and I think that’s where the future is headed at. The industry is changing, and labels are in trouble financially, and so are distributors, and so are retailers. I see the future model of the music business as the bands dealing directly with fans, and it may not be three or five years before we get rid of the labels altogether. Maybe not, maybe I’ll be wrong about that, but their role is becoming smaller and smaller, but they still take the biggest piece of the pie. It’s a changing time right now. I’ve always liked most of the people at Century Media, I’ve always had a good relationship with them, it’s just the heads of the company with whom there was always a conflict. Like I said, all that stuff is behind us. We’re glad to be back, they’re doing a great job in Europe, in the States I’m not completely happy with it, but we’re just gonna have to write it out until whatever model gets decided for the future in the music business. We’re just kind of waiting to see what happens, building our database…

As far as we understand, you made the album of Sons Of Liberty available on the Internet for free download…

For a year, yeah!

…with the goal to deliver it to as many people as possible. Do you think you succeeded in this endeavor? I have a feeling that the more access people have to the music, the less interest they have in getting new stuff…

I think in some ways you’re right about that. It was a little bit of an experiment. But Sons Of Liberty is about a message and I know that hundreds and hundreds of thousands of copies have been made by activists. That’s cool, and that’s what I really wanted. I figured that if I put it up there online anybody who’s interested can get it, but the main goal was for the people who understand what’s happening around the world and how the world really works, to inspire them to stand up and get involved and to educate themselves. Maybe one out of ten persons that hears the Sons Of Liberty album is gonna think about it, maybe it’s one out of a hundred. But if that one person wakes up – and you never know whom you can wake up, how powerful their spirit can be – then things can turn around. There’s a lot of people doing that kind of stuff, with different independent films or whatever, it’s an activist movement.

As you said, the situation with the music business is going downhill. And you have spent almost all your life pushing the band to the top, working hard, living in the vans and whatever. How do you feel now when it all may be gone?

It’s not gonna be gone, the model is changing. The people that really care about the band wanna support the band. There’s a lot of other people out there who are fringe fans that don’t really care, they steal your music and they don’t care about you. But I think if we can deal directly with them, if we can sell the product at a discount price, because there’s not three other people with their hands in the percentages so it can be cheaper, it’s gonna be better for us, because we get better royalty. That’s what I think the endgame is gonna be, the bands are gonna sell directly to the fanbase, and the fanbase, if they really care about the band, they’re gonna support the band. And we’ve got one of the most loyal audiences on earth, maybe small compared to Iron Maiden and Kiss, but they have the same passion. There’s a book out called… actually I can’t remember the title, it’s a heavy metal encyclopedia that lists bands with the most rabid fanbase, and we’re in Top 5.

One of your songs that are loved the most by your fans is “Melancholy”. Why isn’t it in the setlists of the current tour?

We didn’t wanna do any of the ballads on this tour. This is a tour about going back to the roots and making it fucking hot and heavy. But we decided several days before going to Greece that we needed to try to do “Watching Over Me”, because we had two nights in Athens, and it’s a special place for Iced Earth, and they expect a lot more. We’re the kings there, so we gotta give them what they deserve. We did it on the second night in Athens, it was Stu’s first night of doing this, and he did really well. We will bring those songs back, but we do them all the time, we’ve been doing “Melancholy” for years. We’ve got plenty of songs like that that people love, the big ballads  – “I Died For You”, “Watching Over Me”, “Melancholy” – but we’ve got a couple of big ballads on the new album, and we wanna push those, so we were switching over every night, playing “Anguish Of Youth” one night and “End Of Innocence” the next. But we’re not doing it here, we’re playing “Watching Over Me” here.

“Dystopia” evokes quite a lot of themes related to what is happening in the world right now, as well as to books and movies, but to put it short, there are two basic interpretations of what “dystopia” is. The first one was described by George Orwell, and it’s totalitarianism, oppression, etc, and the second one by Aldous Huxley in “Brave New World”, and it’s like amusing yourself to death. Which one is more dangerous to today’s world?

I think what we have is a mixture of both of those ideas. We’re already there, we’re living in what those guys said we’ll be living in. Maybe not to the extremes yet, but it’s certainly headed that path. What’s more dangerous? They’re both dangerous!

There’s a strong movement these days called Occupy Wall Street or Occupy anything. Do you think this is a solution, or are they heading in a wrong direction?

Here’s the thing: The Tea Party was a similar movement against the government, and Occupy is against Wall Street. What people seem to misunderstand is that Wall Street is the government, that’s the connection that a lot of the people don’t make, or activists themselves actually understand it but the controlled media keeps us divided saying that Tea Party is right-wing fascist, racist and all that shit, and Occupy people are socialist and communist. If you get the people that really know what’s going on in both of those movements talk to each other, they all know that it’s the criminal fucking backing system that’s behind everything. It’s not a matter of like, “should I choose”. The problem I see with the people that are totally anti-business and anti-corporations is that they run to the state for answers. The state is the corporations! They’re not putting those two together, and that’s the whole problem that we have, and it’s the matter of us being on the ground communicating and turning off the fucking television and stopping reading the bullshit newspapers and magazines, because they’re all controlled by the people who rule the world. I think that the Occupy Wall Street movement is awesome, I support those people 100 percent, I support Tea Party, but there’s fringe elements of both of those, and as soon as you get establishment money in there, like George Soros Fund, if he starts getting involved in any movement, or whatever globalist puts their money in there, they start fucking the whole message up. But the people on the ground actually understand what’s happening really well, we just have to try to keep educating people and inspiring them to educate themselves, that’s the big deal.

How do you look back on “The Glorious Burden” (2004), especially after you recorded “Brush-Fires Of The Mind” with Sons Of Liberty?

That’s still my favorite album, one of my favorites, for sure. Does my perspective change on something like “When The Eagle Cries” (the song is about the events of 9/11 – ed.)? Absolutely! Was my country attacked by a band of criminals? Absolutely! Unfortunately it was elements that run the government, not the story they’re giving everybody, and I think it’s pretty obvious that anybody that does five minutes of research will start putting the pieces together and realize that this is all part of a much larger plan. You can twist the perspective of the song, and it still fits. My love of my country has always been about its founding principles and not the tyranny that it has turned into. I was naively believing that the Bill of Rights and the Constitution and the founding ideals of the United States were still alive, but for the last 100 years they’ve been in a constant state of erosion, and this shit’s all gone, and it’s clear as a day now. But you know, we’ve got some pretty hi-tech propaganda going, and it’s really hard to resist that for people who are busy and get caught in this hamster wheel - just trying to feed your family and take care of business. If you’re trusting in what the news media’s telling you and believing that those people don’t have an agenda, then you get sucked into a trap. That’s what we’re up against here.

Have you encountered any resistance against Sons Of Liberty from the side of “the powers that be”, so to say?

Ehm, yeah, there’s been some things that are going on. I’m not gonna get specific, but there’s been some issues.

Our final question is based on the last song from “The Crucible Of Man” (2008). In that song, “Come What May”, Set Abominae gives the mankind one last chance to evolve. In your opinion, do we still have this chance? Are we doomed to fail, or is there still hope?

Hah, I don’t know man. It’s difficult, we’re up against some heavy shit. Here’s the thing: with all the negative stuff that’s going on, there’s an equal reaction, I think that’s the way that the universe works. Whether it’s revealed itself to the people or not, I believe there’s something going on that’s positive as well. It’s up to us, man, good people have to stand together and have the courage to say, “I’m fucking done! This is the line, no more!” And that’s it.

Iced Earth on the Internet: http://www.icedearth.com/

Special thanks to Vera Dmitrieva and Kira Nefedova (Spika Concert Agency) for arranging this interview

Interview by Roman Patrashov, Vladimir Impaler
Photos by Natalia “Nuts” Reshetnikova
November 29, 2011
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