Jon Schaffer - Demons & Wizards

May 26, 2005

You are in Iced Earth and Hansi is in Blind Guardian. How did you guys meet?

We met back in 1990 when we toured Europe together the first time. It was their first European tour and ours. Iced Earth was supporting Blind Guardian and we just became very good friends. Hansi and I especially like brothers. We vacationed at each others places and that kind of stuff through the years and toured together several more times after that. We just became like brothers and many years after we met each other is when we discovered we had a songwriting chemistry together. That was in '97. It kind of happened by accident. This whole project, its roots are in friendship and that's really what it's about.

You're right about that. When you guys decided to put Demons & Wizards together, did you have an idea of what sort of musical direction you wanted to go in?

That was never an issue. We are metal guys so there was never a discussion of what direction we were going. We just do what we do naturally. I just started writing the music and Hansi works on his vocal melodies from what I supply him and then we arrange the stuff after that. Work on the lyrics together and that's it. Yeah, we never had any desire to do anything other than what we are.

Right, because sometimes people form little side projects because they want to do something a little bit different.

Yeah, that's not what we're doing. I think people do that sometimes if they're artistically frustrated or something but we aren't. Seriously. Or if some guys are in bands and they don't feel that in their band they're getting their creativity out. Sometimes that's what it's based on but I do not have that problem. Iced Earth is my band. It's my vehicle, and I've written 90 percent of the music and lyrics and everything in the band for the last 20 years so that's not a problem. Doing this thing with Hansi is a whole different thing. It's a lot of fun.

I can imagine. I love Iced Earth. I think you guys are incredible.

Thank you.

You guys put out your first album in 2000. Why did it take five years to put out your next album?

Mainly because of our schedules with Iced Earth and Blind Guardian. With Demons & Wizards the first album was a huge success in Europe especially. We got a Grammy nomination in Germany for the first one and it was awesome. We headlined a lot of festivals and played a lot of shows. It actually took off more than Hansi and I ever expected. This time, throughout the years we've been wanting to get together but because of his schedule in Blind Guardian and my schedule in Iced Earth, we just weren't really able to until late in 2004. We decided a year ago that there probably wasn't going to be any touring with this because of the way things are lining up for our bands. Hansi is getting ready to start pre-production for the next Blind Guardian record. I'm getting ready to go into the writing stage for the next Iced Earth. I think it's just more work than we really are wanting to do at this point to get a tour together and the kind of time that that steals. I really need to be focusing on another Iced Earth album and he needs to get with Blind Guardian. We were actually pretty lucky that we were able to get to this when we did. It was done in a pretty short amount of time and it's just the way it is. It's tough. Obviously if Demons & Wizards was to explode and get huge in the States and everywhere, then I think we'd have a hard time ignoring it. We wouldn't do that. To do what we expect to sell, 100,000 copies worldwide, that's a good selling record in today's market. That's a cool thing. It's not something that we feel pressured on. Demons & Wizards has got to remain fun if we're going to do this and that requires doing it when we can and when our schedules allow. Keeping the pressure down on it. If we start raising the expectations and everything, then it will take away from the magic of it.

Absolutely. I can totally understand that. When people do such great stuff together, people always wonder if they're going to tour.

We might someday but it's very unlikely that it's going to happen this year because by the time the album comes out, there's not going to be that much of this year left. We've got packed schedules as it is. We're talking about doing a live record and if we do that, it's probably going to be recorded in the States and when that time comes, I would imagine we'll do a mini tour of the main markets. Maybe six or eight dates in America. Something like that. I'd imagine if something like that happens, it's going to be more likely in 2006.

You two belong to two very successful bands so your focus definitely has to be on that. You said you do 90 percent of the lyrical writing for Iced Earth. Did you do that with this one or do you and Hansi split it 50/50?

Yeah, we do it all together. Mainly the lyrical themes are Hansi's in Demons & Wizards. I help him with the lyrics when he needs it. English is his second language so a lot of times I'll help him with grammar. I know what he's trying to say with something and I just help it become singable and the syllables fall and all that kind of stuff. In Demons & Wizards my job is to write the music fast. Create the songs and Hansi then takes the piece of music and creates the vocal melodies and comes up with the lyrical ideas. Then we work on that together so it's a partnership.

The guy who produced your record also did the guitar solos on it. Was there any particular reason why you chose Jim Morris to be the producer?

I've been working with Jim for years. About 10 years now. We have a very productive relationship. Jim understands my music. He gets it and we have great chemistry. He's a good friend. We're like family. I just really don't have a desire to work with anybody else. We have a good time when we're doing it. We have good chemistry. He played the guitar solos on the first Demons & Wizards album too. It's cool because he's about 10 years older. He comes from a different school. His guitar players that I'd say influence him are like Hendrix, Clapton, David Gilmour. That's very different from the stuff that's influenced Hansi and I. Although we're fans of that older stuff and respect it, it's not where our influences are. There's probably only four or five solos or something like that on the record but the ones that are there, they say something. Jim has a very mature, grown up way of playing and it fits. It adds a nice element to what Hansi and I do. That's why we like his style.

You guys also used Bobby Jarzombek. That guy is an incredible drummer.

He's awesome. He's the new Iced Earth drummer. He's just the best drummer I've ever played with. Just incredible. I really look forward to doing the next Iced Earth album with him. He's just something. He's a groove machine. He can lay it down.

I also love the work Tim Owens does with you guys. He's an incredible vocalist.

Yeah, Tim's amazing. As far as I'm concerned he's the best metal vocalist out there. It just depends. Hansi and Tim are very different singers. Not only stylistic and stuff. The way Hansi does vocal parts, I always consider him to be like the Freddy Mercury of metal because he creates these big, gigantic vocal passages. He can make himself sound like an entire choir. There's really nobody else that does that in the business. Tim for instance for a guy like me, a songwriter like me, you can't ask to work with a better singer. He can do anything with his voice and he is the best singer in metal. There is nobody that has better pitch and the power is amazing. He's just a natural born talent.

Absolutely. That's why he fit in so well with Judas Priest when he joined them for a little while. Those were some pretty tough shoes to fill. How long did it take you guys to do the album?

Not long. I think we spent five weeks on it. Something like that with the mixing included. It was pretty quick but we knew what we were doing. Go in there prepared and knock it out.

I loved the cover of "The Immigrant Song". That came out really good.

Yeah, that was cool. It was fun to do and we have two other original songs that are going to be on the bonus disc but we both liked "The Immigrant Song" so much. We liked the way it came out that we wanted it to be on the main release. A lot of people have been asking why we did that. We wanted to.

Probably because that is one of the best Led Zeppelin songs I think. Out of all the stuff they did, I think that's the best. I think people like to cover it because it's just such an awesome song vocally. Are there any particular songs on the record that you like the most?

I like all of them. It depends on what kind of mood I'm in as to whether there's a certain one I like more than another. I like "Terror Train". I like "Crimson King". I like "Dorian". They're all strong. There really isn't a weak song on the album.

I noticed that. "Terror Train" is my favorite right now but that might change.

That's pretty vicious. That's the one we're going to do the video for. It's definitely a vicious song and it's an asskicker to play I'll tell you that. Me and Bobby had to be at the top of our game to perfom that in the studio. It's tough.

The kind of music that you guys do, that Blind Guardian does and Iced Earth does, you really have to pretty fucking talented to play that kind of stuff. I don't think just anybody can get in and do some of that stuff that you guys pull off.

I guess. The thing is, I think we are talented at what we do and I think there are guys out there, if you say as a player overall, I don't really consider myself to be a great guitar player. I think I'm a good guitar player but I'm a songwriter. That's what I do and Iced Earth is my vehicle. The guitar is just a tool to write songs with so I never have tried to be a guitar hero and have no desire to be. I lead my band as a visionary force and it's all I've ever done for the last 20 years. It's never been a priority. The music is honest and it comes from the heart and people feel that. Whereas some of my stuff might be really hard for somebody else to play, it's the same for me. There are guys out there who blow me away as a player and it's because they're doing what they feel but they might not be able to play what I can play. To me it's never been a contest about who is better at this instrument or that instrument. Who's got a better voice. It's about songs. That's what makes a band last. You can put 10 of the best musicians in a room together and if none of those guys have a vision or direction or leadership or songwriting ability, it ain't going to mean squat. That's just the reality of it so for me, pushing the band forward has always been what I do. It's about the music. It's about the songs. Not the rock star bullshit or guitar hero stuff.

You're right. What's really important is well crafted songs because when I listen to songs, sometimes I get a mental image and sometimes I don't. With you guys, listening to some of your songs you can practically see what's going on. When you did that album that basically is about the Civil War and all that, you could just picture some of that stuff in your mind. I guess that's the key to being a successful songwriter. Having songs that come to life where you can just see images.

Cool. The key is if you can really cause another person to get goosebumps when they're listening to your music then you're doing something right. If somebody has to work to enjoy your music then something is missing. You should know really within the first time you hear something if you really like it or not. If it grabs you and you go "man, that's fucking awesome" and you've got to rewind it, then you're doing the right thing.

You guys are going to do a video for "Terror Train". Do you have any idea when you're going to be able to do that?

Not soon. In the next probably week to 10 days.

Do you have an idea of what it's going to be like?

Yeah, we're working on the treatment right now and it's going to be pretty cool if it comes out the way Hansi and I want. It's such a fast song. We want fast cuts. We want an intense performance and we want it to come from the perspective of the train going down the tracks. Like this hellish wasteland and also visuals of seeing the train. There's a lot of ideas and it's a matter of trying to make it into a reality for a small budget. The director is working on it now.

It sounds like it'll be pretty damn cool when it's done.

Yeah, I hope so.

Any other thoughts or comments?

I think we covered it.

Demons & Wizards