With the last remaining original member at the helm, Iced Earth returned to the studio for the 11th time. Now, they’re louder, hungrier, and more focused on coming down under.
Metal giants Iced Earth are on track to release their 11th studio album Plagues of Babylon, which will be supported with a world tour, which was produced with guitarist Jon Schaffer at the helm. Schaffer says he’s always been involved in the production of Iced Earth’s albums this time, however, he took the role of sole producer.
Schaffer’s foray into solo production isn’t the only change for Iced Earth in recent years. They acquired a new vocalist and drummer. And while Schaffer says there has been changes in the writing process it hasn’t changed the core vision and sound of Iced Earth.
“There have been a lot of changes through the year…there have been big changes in the songs and songwriting but we have a defining sound. People know it’s Iced Earth they put it on [Plagues of Babylon].”
Over the course of the year there’s been “a lot of growing and reflecting” for Schaffer as a person but he says it’s “about keeping it real and staying focused.” And suffice to say, Schaffer is more than focused.
“We’re still a force to be reckoned with” he says. “We’ve been fighting in the middle trenches for forever, we’ve been through a lot of shit but we’ve stayed focused and I’m proud we’re still relevant.”
The live DVD Live in Ancient Kourion (released earlier this year) is a testament to the band’s relevancy, the set was three hours long and the response has been everything you could hope for.
Schaffer says the they’re blessed that they’re still drawing crowds and it’s something he worries about.
“You stay relevant by staying hungry and keeping it real. I often worry about that.”
Part of it, for Schaffer, is writing great songs and he sees why some of the greats may lose their place.
“Some of my heroes, arguably some of the greatest songwriters of all time, seem to lose their ability to write good songs.
“I think they gain wealth and because they’ve achieved their dreams, they stop being hungry.”
The guitarist, and last original member of Iced Earth, says that to degrees it could be commercial pressure to produce more of the same. The catch is, he doesn’t sound completely convinced.
“Sure there is but I wouldn’t say Paul McCartney has to worry about that. And I think it’s been a long time since he’s written a great song.”
He feels the same about Roger Waters, conceding that people will, inevitably, disagree with him, he says he’s followed the same path as McCartney.
“I liked some of his solo albums but what he did with Pink Floyd was a super power. He was in the zone. These guys don’t have to worry about corporate pressure, they’re so big they’re the pinnacle of what musicians want to be.”
Being at the helm of the new record as allowed the Schaffer to quell those fears of becoming irrelevant ever so slightly and he says writing good songs was at the core of the album.
“Good songs is always number one. It doesn’t matter how good the guitar or bass part might be, they [the songs] are the most important thing. If you don’t have good songs, you’re fucked. Hang it up.”
Iced Earth have been growing their sound and challenging themselves for a few records now. But Schaffer says the balance between musical growth and alienating your fans is a delicate one.
“It’s a trap…you want to challenge yourself and I’ve had that, when I’ve had the technology at my finger tips and the wheels are fired up, you want to make it as epic as possible.
“It’s a lesson I’ve gone through and you want to please yourself…and you want to stay on point.”
One of the most important aspects is attitude. It doesn’t matter if the pitch is off or the instrument is slightly out of tune, Schaffer’s philosophy is all about capturing attitude.
“You don’t have to worry if it’s out of tune, you only have to worry about the attitude. Because that way, it feels more realistic.”
Loss of attitude is attributed to what Schaffer called the “trap of perfection”.
“You worry about it and you lose spontaneity and…it goes sterile and there is no emotion. The loss can fuck you up and you have to go for what you want it to feel like.”
Schaffer’s proud of the songs and he attributes their success, not only to the band, but to their trust in him and the right amount of attitude. After all, he reminds me, it is rock’n’roll, and rock’n’roll isn’t supposed to be pretty.
While Schaffer stresses that the future is too distant to foresee, he assures me, there’s plenty more to come.
Fri, March 14- The Hifi -Brisbane
Sat, March 15 -Manning Bar – Sydney
Sun, March 16 -Billboard (the venue) – Melbourne