Iced Earth Interview 3/15/02


Iced Earth’s first studio album was released on Century Media Records in February 1991.  Their presence, however, has only become known in the United States within the last few years.  Although residing on the label for over a decade, the band has been focused mainly on the European market where they are very successful.  They have released 6 full-length studio albums, a double live album, an album of re-recorded songs from the first few albums, and a box set.  Things really started happening for Iced Earth with the awesome, soon to be classic Something Wicked This Way Comes album.  This powerful release, followed by Alive in Athens and new disc Horror Show, have finally led to decent U.S. touring with bands like Megadeth, In Flames, Jag Panzer, and almost Judas Priest. 

  I spoke recently by phone with Iced Earth founding member, guitarist Jon Shaffer.  Jon was doing promotion for the tour with In Flames and Jag Panzer and is also promoting the Dark Genesis box set.   Jon explains the band’s struggle to tour the US; “For over a decade I have been trying to get the band as a support act, anywhere, on an American tour with anybody that mattered.  Then within a 24 hour period we got the Priest tour, at the offer I immediately said yes, and the next morning we got offered Megadeth.”  Jon was committed to Priest and had to decline the Megadeth opportunity.  The Priest tour was postponed due to 9/11, and was rescheduled for months later.  Iced Earth was already booked in Europe and was unwilling to cancel those dates.  When they returned to the States they were able to join Megadeth for the second leg of their tour.   Jon says of touring with Megadeth: “They were very cool to us.  We didn’t spend a lot of time hanging out or anything, they are very serious about what they do and so are we.”

As for the Dark Genesis box set, Jon is happy with the way it turned out as well;  “The first three albums have been re-mixed and re-mastered.  The Enter the Realm demo that got us signed is for the first time ever on CD.  The Tribute to the Gods CD is also in there, which is a tribute to the band’s that were my biggest influences as a songwriter.  We did covers from Maiden, Sabbath, Priest, Blue Oyster Cult, Kiss & Alice Cooper.  It’s a quality package but it is not for everybody, it is for the real fan.  It’s not for the fans that just came aboard and like a song or two, it’s for the fans that are into the band, into the history of the band, into what we stand for.”  Jon is right about it not being for everybody, the material in the box set is old school Iced Earth, before they developed the style that has gotten them where they are now.  The set consists of five CD’s; Enter the Realm, Iced Earth, Night of the Stormrider, Burnt Offerings, and Tribute to the Gods
                Now that Iced Earth is getting some recognition in the states and are about to be free agents, what’s next?  The Dark Genesis box set will be the bands last effort for Century Media.  As for the bands future Shaffer says NO to a major label;  “Whatever move I make with the labels it is going to be a step forward.  I think that things are going to start happening for us.  We are just getting started in the states.  But (as for a major label), we’re not ready for that.  My theory is and my strategy is that the time for that is when we have enough clout to go in and make our demands.  We need to get to half a million (record sales) worldwide before we can say ‘yeah, this paragraph about you having creative control, I want it out of there, I want it out’.  And that’s how the majors are.  They want complete control on everything.  So that’s why it’s absolutely out of the question right now.”  Jon continues; “When I started this thing 17 years ago my goal was to take this thing to arenas worldwide, but it’s got to be on my terms, my vision, with my integrity intact.  And it’s a very, very hard wicked uphill battle, and it’s almost a little unrealistic, but I have to keep that as a long-term goal.  I’d rather have things the way they are now with a smaller fan base that’s very loyal.” 

The topic of the record label is something that Jon has some very strong opinions on.  First he explained to me about ownership of his songs; “The way it works is, they will (Century Media) have the rights to the masters for eternity, in other words they can keep those songs in their catalog forever.  They can also sell them, but I am sure they would not sell them cheap!  What I can do starting in 2005, I get the rights to re-do those songs for another record company if I wanted to, or I can do another live album and do songs from the first six records”.  That would be a great idea because I personally think that the older stuff before Matt Barlow on vocals is pretty bad.  While Jon has been very quick to criticize Century Media to the press recently, he has overlooked the fact that Iced Earth for the most part sucked before they picked up vocalist Matt Barlow.  The European market is one thing, but the older material wouldn’t have dome well here in the states if the label gave it away.  Of course I said nothing of this to Jon but I did wonder if he thought that Something Wicked This Way Comes was his masterpiece and to that he quickly responded: “Well, no, I haven’t written it yet!  Out of the stuff that has been recorded so far, Something Wicked is my favorite.  It has some very personal stuff on it, and to me, that’s what makes Iced Earth a little different, the honesty and emotion in there.”

The band’s sound only really came together on the Dark Saga album from 96’.  If you have been meaning to give Iced Earth a shot you could start off with that or you can jump right to the desert, which is Something Wicked This Way Comes.  I know people like Jon, they don’t take the easy way out, ever, they have to succeed on their own terms and love the struggle of getting there.  But more important than success to Jon are the fans;  “We have the loyalty that Maiden fans had with Maiden, Kiss fans had with Kiss…This loyalty of knowing that’s always going to be your band, and they are always going to deliver what you want, not worry about trends or whatever.  I think you have to establish that loyalty with your people, and you don’t forget where you came from.”