Jon Schaffer is the founder and only original member left in his over-20-year-old band, Iced Earth, but they're stronger now than ever. Iced Earth is hitting the City National Grove of Anaheim tomorrow, (co-headlining with Symphony X) as a part of their World Dystopia Tour. He answers some questions about the inspirations, views, and experiences that make up the band we know today.
OC Weekly: What would you say is your favorite influential band, the one that inspired you the most?
Jon Schaffer: I have to say Iron Maiden. It's hard to get away from Judas Priest and Black Sabbath, for sure, but it was Steve Harrison's song writing and leadership abilities that got me started on this journey.
Iced Earth has had a kind of revolving cast of over 25 different musicians since its inception. You're the only original and continuous member. What is it like to work with a changing band like that?
Well, it's a hassle for sure. But change is necessary. If we had come out in the 1980s, like Iron Maiden, it would have been a different time, we would have been more popular. Since we became known in the '90s, it was an uphill battle. The mainstream says metal is dead, and that's bullshit. But some got sucked into the illusion, wanted to be famous, and got corrupted by the ugly realities of the business. For a while Iced Earth was just another project because of all that, but now I feel like we're a real band again. Nobody has an agenda; everyone is here because they want to be. This is what we do, this is what I do–it's in my soul.
Your newest album, Dystopia, revolves around Orwellian ideas of a totalitarian society. What got you interested in this concept?
I have very real concerns about this. I put out an album with Sons of Liberty that was obviously political. It was free online for a long time; we wanted to get the message out. But it freaked people out a bit. I didn't want to get political with Iced Earth, and even though people are opening their minds to these ideas, I still wanted the message to be a little veiled in Dystopia. The truth is, though, either we're free or we're slaves. At the end of the day, that's it.
Can you tell me about Set Abominae, your mascot of sorts that was featured in the Something Wicked Saga?
That started around '96 as an idea for a character on our album cover, but this huge story came out of it. It hit me like a ton of bricks, like, Wow. There was even going to be a full concept album based on it, but it didn't work out. The story has these freaky parallels to what's going on right now, like my subconscious knew that things are totally fucked up.
As for what you're doing right now: What is is like to be on the largest, most expansive tour Iced Earth has ever done?
It's great! I have such a great group of guys around me. The whole team is firing all cylinders. I'm a little sick, and dealing with that has been a small problem since we're crazy busy. But I'm going to places I've never dreamed of. We'll be in China in a couple months. The next show is at the House of Blues in Anaheim. I don't think we've played at the one in Anaheim before, but we've played House of Blues and they're always pro-crew and good to work with. It should be great, I'm excited.