Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth on ‘Wicked Words’ and Why Metal Music is ‘Always In a Good Place’

2020-07-14

Jon Schaffer – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Tim Tronckoe

Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth talks with Anne Erickson about his new book, “Wicked Words and Epic Tales,” the state of heavy metal music and more

Jon Schaffer always has a bevy of projects going on. From his main work in heavy metal band Iced Earth to other musical endeavors, such as Demons and Wizards and Sons of Liberty, Schaffer always has something new to share.

Schaffer’s latest endeavor is extremely creative: a new book, “Wicked Words and Epic Tales.” It’s a coffee table-style book featuring his lyrics over the years, vibrant art work, and a continuation of the “Something Wicked” story.

Schaffer is self-releasing “Wicked Words” and tells Audio Ink that, likely, all of Iced Earth’s material going forward will be self-released, without a label.

“That’s what we’re going to do in the future going forward– using these kinds of (Kickstarter fundraisers) to be able to sell direct to the fans,” he said. “I don’t really see the need for a record company anymore. I think things have changed so drastically, so we can get rid of a few middle men by making this kind of move and deal directly with the fan base. So, we’re experimenting, and the book is one of those experiments, and there’s going to be a couple more releases, and if we feel comfortable about it, then I think even new Iced Earth studio albums will be done this way.”

Schaffer spoke with Anne Erickson of Audio Ink about the new book, the state of heavy metal music and more. Read the interview below, and listen to the full chat via the Audio Ink podcast on Apple Podcasts here and Spotify here.

Anne Erickson: Congratulations on your first book on the way, “Wicked Words and Epic Tales.” Tell me about the concept behind this book and launching your own publishing company, Wicked Words LLC.

The idea for this came to me around this past Christmas. I had some time off, and I don’t know how or why– it just came to me, and what I was seeing in my head is something I would buy, for sure, from any of my favorite writers. The more I thought about it, I thought, I have to take a shot. I’ve never seen any product like this, and maybe it will fall flat on its face or maybe people will dig the idea.

What was the original idea, and how did that evolve over time?

The initial idea was to make an anthology of my lyrics but to do it in a presentation where it’s really like an art book, because I’ve always been so involved and critical at every step of our artwork and the imagery and everything that the final package ends up looking like when it gets to the fans. I’m very involved with all those details. The fans know that about me. They’ve been interested in the “Something Wicked” story I wrote back in 1997 and first put out in the trilogy at the end of that record called “The Something Wicked Trilogy.” Throughout the years, I’ve planted the seeds of the story and even did two full concept albums telling parts of the story. It’s a huge, huge story that takes place over 12,000 years, so there’s a lot to it. But, the idea is that there’s a lot of images from amazing comic artists that are doing images of my characters set in their style, and that accompanies it. It’s got a bunch of classic Iced Earth artwork in it, just all kinds of cool visuals to go along with lyrics that I started writing in 1994.

The book itself will be 250 pages, at least, and it’s a coffee table-style serious collectors book and also has the audio portion with it. That’s it in a nutshell. “Wicked Tales,” my plan was always to go into graphic novels and comic books with a lot of the stories that I’ve created and put into my music through all these years, so the fans have been expecting something like this, and this is a way for me to learn how to self-publish and get an idea about how this business works, because I’ve never been involved in that before, and to gauge the desire. That’s really what it is. Because many things things related to the “Something Wicked” story will be coming in the future with action figures and gaming and graphic novels and comic books, and all of that stuff will be under the “Wicked Tales” banner.

You’ve already surpassed your KickStarter goal of $20,000 by four times. How does that feel?

Its amazing. I’m really overwhelmed, and I feel very thankful. It’s really cool that they like the idea and I think once everyone sees and hears the final result, they’re going to be really happy with it, because I really strive to do the best quality of everything we release.

Iced Earth has such loyal fans, and you do, too, no matter what project you’re doing. Why do you think you’ve been able to maintain a loyal fanbase throughout the years?

I think it comes back to being authentic. I think the people feel that I’m in this for all the right reasons. They know that there’s a long history of that, and it comes from an authentic place, and I don’t put out bad quality stuff. So, regardless, even if it comes down to a simple release like an EP. When I did the 30th anniversary of the “Enter the Realm” demo that came out a couple years ago, we didn’t have to do all that go through the trouble of making a new album cover and interior art. Even though it’s a simple, single EP release, it’s really cool, so I think I would want cool stuff as a fan, and I think people appreciate the fact we put a lot of effort into the physical product, even though the physical product today is down big time in sales, because it’s a streaming culture more than an album culture. But, we still cling to that, and it’s what we grew up with, and I think a lot of our fans appreciate it.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has turned everything upside-down this year. How has coronavirus impacted you and those you know in the music business?

This was planned to be a year of some time off and studio work, which I have not achieved any time off, actually, but I’m planning on that in September. We didn’t have any booked shows, anyway, and even did demos, so we’re very fortunate, because neither Iced Earth or Blind Guardian or Demos and Wizards had any commitments to do any shows in 2020, but unfortunately, many, many of my colleagues are suffering big time. There’s a lot of expenses to launching a tour, and when you start, you need to be out on the road to make sure you that you recoup your investment and make money by the end of the tour. A lot of guys started, and one or two weeks in, had to cancel, and I know what that means budget-wise, and that’s a nightmare.

So, I feel really bad for a lot of the guys, but I don’t expect this to end anytime soon, and for Iced Earth, for us to make a record– I’ve got two international guys in the band, and I think things will get a lot more weird before they get better. I hope they get better, but I don’t believe that for the next two years, there’s going to be any concerts. Maybe in a few countries arond the world, but the way they’re floating the second wave and all of this, I don’t know. A they’re going to be limiting capacities at a lot of venues, so that means the ticket prices are going to go way up and bands are probably going to make less because there’s not the right amount of headcount there. It’s basically a scenario disaster for the music business– for everything. I disagree completely with the way the governments have handled the whole thing. We’ve had penalty of pandemics through the history of mankind, and you don’t shut down the global economy. I mean, the fallout– I personally don’t believe for a minute that the governments of the world love us so much that are willing to collapse the entire global economy to make sure people don’t die. That’s just not the way government thinks, so I feel like there’s another agenda at place here, and that’s rolling out day by day, so we’ll see, but it’s been devastating for millions of people all over the place, not just the music business, there’s a lot of people suffering from this. I’m not relying on anything right now.

You mentioned that the Iced Earth guys are overseas and you won’t be able to meet to create a record anytime soon. Do you foresee maybe not working on the new Iced Earth album this year because of that? 

I think it’s very unlikely because of that. I can start writing when I get in the mood and start putting a bed together and send files off, but the thing is, in Iced Earth, we need to be together to do production. It’s one thing if Hansi (Kürsch) and I were doing a Demons and Wizards record– him and I are so experienced and because we both have our mission and what our jobs are in the partnership, I don’t have any concerns with Hansi taking the vocals and doing them in Germany, and I don’t need to be there. But, I need to be where all of the instruments are being recorded, and that can be in my studio. We have options for a Demons and Wizards record even in the worst conditions, but with Iced Earth, there’s a different level of experience. Hansi is as experienced as I am, so it’s a different thing. With Iced Earth, we have be able to be during production, especially with vocals, we have to be together, and Stu (Block) is in Canada, and I just don’t know how travel is going to be going forward. Right now, Americans aren’t allowed to go into Germany. So, there’s weird stuff going on.

You can’t go to Canada, either. I’m in Michigan, so for me to not be able to go to Canada is so weird.

Everything is very weird. We’re just going to take it one step at a time and go forward, but this probably will end up being the longest break in Iced Earth’s history because of the whole situation. I just don’t see a whole lot of options, but we have a plan, so don’t worry. I’ve got to watch the global environment before we can start executing a plan, but I’m going to be really busy up until September, anyway, and at that time, I need a few months away, because it’s been a very intense few years, so I definitely need to recharge a little bit.

What are your thoughts on the state of heavy metal music? Do you think heavy metal music is in a good place?

I’ve been in this for a long time, and it has waves of popularity within the view of people, that it’s more exposed sometimes, then it’s goes back into the underground and then comes a little bit more into the forefront. But, it’s always there. It’s the one style or genre of music that’s very consistent in terms of the loyalty of the listeners. It’s not the flavor of the week. It’s a lifestyle. That’s what’s cool about metal verses pop and everything else, as far as I’m concerned. It’s a lifestyle, and the major labels know that. They see that. They see that with the exception of Metallica and Iron Maiden and the really big, big metal bands, there is a solid base and solid underground that doesn’t hit the numbers of the pop stars, but it’s solid, and it’s always there and always in a good place and always a reliable thing. They recognize that, as well, and that’s why a lot of these majors — besides for a few little divisions of major labels in years past — they didn’t really care about heavy metal but they still want that content now, because everybody wants to grab that catalog for streaming. So, it’s going to mostly end up being a world where it’s Sony and Universal controlling most of the catalog content on the planet. That’s where it’s headed.

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