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John Schaffer – Guitarist and Songwriter for Iced Earth

Date: 08/28/08
Interviewed By: Rich Catino


1. Having Matt back in the band, did that change the outcome to “The Crucible of Man” as opposed to if Tim Owens would have sung on it?

JOHN: Not really. The only obvious change would have been the lyrics that Matt contributed. All the songs were already written, actually all the music was written already and it (“Framing Armageddon - Something Wicked Pt.1” and “The Crucible of Man – Something Wicked Pt.2”) was all recorded at the same time for the most part. After the “Framing Armageddon” tour I just had to finish some lyrics, a few guitar leads, a couple melody lines and some segue pieces and that was really it for “Crucible”. So no having Matt return didn’t really change or influence the outcome of “The Crucible of Man”.

2. You kind of already answered my next question already which was were both Parts 1&2 recorded at the same time?

JOHN: Yeah exactly at the same time. When Brent (Smedley) cut the drum tracks he did thirty something songs and I did all the guitars and bass tracks except with the clean part in “The Clouding” from “Framing Armageddon” and “Reflections” which Dennis Hayes played on and about five or six other tracks I wanted finger touch on Part 2. But the rest of the bass I did.

3. Can you tell us about some of the sound effects and orchestrations on “Crucible of Man”?

JOHN: Yeah well the orchestrations are a bit different than Part 1 by design and that’s for a reason. “Framing Armageddon” was from more of an ancient part of the story and to have more ancient/tribal sounds. So on “Crucible” some of that stuff will appear on four new tracks that are segues which will appear on the forthcoming “Something Wicked” box set. Those four tracks were left off of “Crucible” because the continuity is a bit fucked now with the different vocals so I figured “The Crucible Pt.2” would flow a little better this way and then Matt will re sing everything on “Framing Armageddon Pt. 1” for the box set. Then I will add those segues back in and it will flow better.

But for the most part this album takes more of a classic tone and its steep in the same melodic arrangement as the ending of Part.1 its just that its done with different instrumentation and I had a real choir for this one. I had a choice of either going to Prague and have the Philharmonic Orchestra again or have the choir samples and I have been wanting to do the real choir thing for some time so we did it for “The Crucible of Man”.

4. Again you gave a partial answer to my next question, now that Matt is back in the band have you thought of going back and re recording the vocals for “Framing Armageddon” ? You also mentioned a box set?

JOHN: Yeah, originally the box set was something that was planned from the beginning when we knew we would be completing the “Something Wicked” story. So I asked SPV to make sure that “Framing Armageddon Pt.1” and “Crucible of Man Pt.2” would be released only once without those albums coming out again as some kind of special edition because we already had these plans to re release both albums in this “Something Wicked” box set. So it makes sense to have the continuity between Parts 1&2 now that Matt is back in the band. I have my own studio so it makes this not such a hard thing to accomplish and its really cool because I can go back and remix and fix some of the low end issues I had on “Framing Armageddon” and also something I was able to address on Part 2. Part 2 I think is a bit more punchier than Part 1.

5. What else will the “Something Wicked” box set include aside from “Framing Armageddon Pt.1” and “The Crucible of Man Pt.2”?

JOHN: It will include the “Overture of the Wicked” E.p. which has the newer versions of the original trilogy (“Prophecy”, “Birth of the Wicked”, “The Coming Curse” from the “Something This Way Wicked Comes” album) but Matt re singing those songs, then it will have “Framing Armageddon Pt.1” remixed with Matt singing, a DVD with footage from the festivals we did this summer in Europe plus behind the scenes of us making Parts 1&2.

6. Did any of the musicians currently part of the Iced Earth touring band participate in the recording of “The Crucible of Man”?

JOHN: Well Troy Steele played three guitar solos and Brent Smedley played the drums, and that’s it. Obviously the vocals were done by Matt.

7. Now the guys listed on the back of this promo copy I have for “The Crucible of Man”, are they in the band and will they part of the recording for the next album?

JOHN: Yeah that is the touring band as of now and I certainly hope it stays that way for the next record. I mean our new bass player Freddie Vidales is really what the band needed, he brings a lot of energy to the live show and has a great stage presence. He has been the leader of his own band for a long time so it is great to have someone else in the band who can identify with all the headaches I deal with, Hahaha.

8. What are your favorite songs on the “Crucible” and why?

JOHN: “Come What May”, “Sacred Flames” is probably is the most theatrical piece of music I have written. But “Come What May” as a song is my favorite, why…I guess it has a glimmer of hope for humanity. The story doesn’t end on Part 2 but it brings us up to the current modern day and it basically states the situation to humanity that if you take the right path we can truly begin to evolve and survive this whole thing. The songs says, in a nut shell, that human kind has only evolved in the sense from a technological stand point but in the nature of our being we are exactly the same as when we first stepped foot on this earth thousand of years ago. The whole thing is that of we don’t start evolving on another level, a spiritual mental one, than we are fucked. And to me this whole story is that mankind was in search of this knowledge, this power that the Setians had, and the Setians are the descendants to the grand architect of the universe which is God. And what is God, God is absolute truth, to me, and that is what God is in this story. The only path to light is honesty and truth, and man are the masters of lying and manipulation and that is kind of the whole premise to this story. That the Setians are using our fears and weaknesses against us to keep man divided so we can annihilate each and they can sit back and pull the strings as puppet masters. That’s kind of it in a nut shell.

I love “Crucify the King” too, “Behold the Wicked Child” I also like, “A Gift or A Curse” is cool because that’s a different sound for Iced Earth and it’s the first time I sang lead vocals in that way where I do the higher melody and Matt does the lower melody. It kind of has that Peter Gabriel/Pink Floyd vibe to it, I really enjoy that one.

9. Recording any shows for DVD?

JOHN: Yes we are. We recorded at several of the festivals we played in Europe and we are planning to put a DVD out in Jan/Feb but this is not going to be an Iced Earth full production DVD but it will be better than “Alive in Athens”. But it is festivals so it’s a different situation from our show where you will get lights, pyro, our stage design. Its gonna either be the show from the Metal Camp or the Rock Hard festival. Those were the two that were shot pro with multiple cameras but I have not seen or heard the masters to decide which is the better show. Then you will get some behind the scenes stuff and highlights from Graspop and some of the other shows. We are gonna call it the “Summer Slaughter”.

10. When you do record this show for DVD, have you ever considered maybe doing a history type thing where you start at the beginning of Iced Earth’s career and play songs from the first album to the present?

JOHN: I don’t know yet. It depends actually because I have been asked if we are going to do the whole “Something Wicked” saga live but that really depends on the fans if they wanna see that. I want to see what the long term feeling on this record is and if that’s what they want to see then I would work to make it happen. I can’t say yet. Whenever the time comes we will do a show on the level that I have been wanting to do a DVD for a long time.

Actually I would like to do a historical type thing, something like we did for the “Horror Show” over in Europe. It was great and I wish we taped it but Century Media didn’t believe in the idea. We did three sets with no support band, for the first set the stage looked like it was made of metal and we played only songs from the first three albums, then the curtain closed and the set changed to look Egyptian where we played songs from “The Dark Saga” and “Something Wicked”, then the stage changed again with the back drop and artwork for “Horror Show” and we came back and did the whole album live. We had pyro, did a couple costume changes, it was really a spectacle and it should have been filmed and I don’t understand and can’t believe Century Media wasn’t willing to cough up the cash to tape it.

11. What are your thoughts looking back on the release of the “Alive in Athens” DVD because I know you were not happy with it at the time of its initial release?

JOHN: Its not like its something I am ashamed of it just wasn’t done properly and what bothered me was Century Media made it sound like it was something they found in the vaults. Dude, its all horseshit we knew it was there. It was recorded for like a small version of a German MTV. Three songs were broadcast on TV, I hosted the thing, and it was like the Iced Earth weekend in Greece. So it wasn’t filmed for something like DVD and when they edited it they fucked up all kinds of things. It at least would have been nice if they had me to be involved so I could properly edit the thing because many camera angles were not properly synched up with the audio track. I mean I know there were certain situations where there was just no way of getting a good angle in some of those shots but that was just unavoidable.

12. Shooting any videos for “The Crucible of Man”?

JOHN: Right now there are no plans, the label has been a little shaky about it. I would like to though.

13. Are there any newer heavy metal bands you like?

JOHN: I don’t know if I would call Airbourne heavy metal but I love them. We played a couple shows with them in Europe and I loved their attitude, the energy live. They are excellent. I think they have a ways to go to develop into better songwriters but if they play their cards right they could become pretty successful. I really don’t get to hear too many new bands. I am so wrapped up in the world on Iced Earth trying to keep that machine going that I just don’t get the chance.

14. Status of Demons and Wizards?

JOHN: Well as of right now its kind of in limbo. I have been very focused on Iced Earth and the new album, Hansi is taking a break from Blind Guardian before they go into the studio to record another album. Bad thing is we are both on different schedules now, we use to release albums around the same time but some how now our cycles are completely off. So it could be a few years before we do something new but the thing is we do it when we have the time.

15. Iced Earth’s touring plans and what is on the horizon for the future?

JOHN: Well in the near future we have the American tour this fall, then we are looking to go back to the UK in November because things are really starting to take off their, we were looking at Australia, Japan, and New Zealand for January, Europe in the spring with Saxon. More festivals next summer. The cool thing is we have a real booking agency and opportunities are presenting themselves that never did before. I have proper management for the first time ever and there are some really good things changing to benefit Iced Earth’s success. Now I can actually see the day when I can be able to focus on being a guitar player instead of running the band. I can then focus on the art instead of the business. I was never able to do that in the past. My guitar at times gets about 5% of my attention and people can’t believe it. But there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes to keep Iced Earth going that in the past I had to take care of.

16. Will the next cd come out through SPV?

JOHN: No our contract is up with SPV this is our last album. I don’t know what will happen for the next album. I am certainly happier with SPV than I was with Century Media but SPV do stuff in some parts of the world more than others.

17. Did you see the new box set “Slave to the Dark” Century Media released and what are your thoughts?

JOHN: Well Century Media will always cash in on Iced Earth’s success. They did that whole thing without me involved in it because they know I am going to shoot it down because really it is all rehashed stuff. I really like the packaging it looks great. Yeah you know I think it would be cool for someone who’s just discovering the band and then can get all the albums at one time and it does have some bonus live tracks that weren’t released everywhere in the world. There was a year we did the Wacken Open Air festival in Germany which was recorded and “Stormrider” was picked as a bonus track for “Something Wicked This Way Comes” for Japan. So there are little things like that but does it really warrant buying the whole set. If I was involved I would have probably included some other things to make it more worth wile for the fans who already own the “Dark Genesis” box set or all the individual albums remastered.

Official website: www.icedearth.com

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