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Jon Shaffer Interview (July 2)


Part 1:
Part 2: caught up with Jon Schaffer on June 16 for an audio interview lasting 16 minutes which is available as a free mp3 download (15.2 MB)  here. To download the interview, use your mouse to right-click on the link above, and then select, "Download Linked File."

Topics include:

The choice of title for the forthcoming release, "The Crucible of Man - Something Wicked Part II"

Choir arrangements used during recording, including the vocal arrangments (chants) used at the conclusion of the song, "The Coming Curse" from 1998's' "Something Wicked This Way Comes" release

Thoughts on re-recording songs from the back-catalog as acoustic versions

Technical talk about mastering, volume, compression, and dynamic range

Playing live with the new touring lineup

The direct link for the interview is:

sweet! thanks
Johnny Z.

I - Interviewer
JS - Jon Schaffer

I: How did the title come about?

JS: Well, it's very relevant because of the way this record is and really what the point is. I don't really want to give too much away lyrically. There's a couple different points of view, with some of it being Set's point of view. I thought Framing Armageddon was a killer title. I've come up with all of Iced Earth's titles and when it hits me, it's always been like a sledgehammer in the head. That's it. It's like "no question, that's the one". With this one, it took a long time for the sledgehammer to hit me. Usually it's months before production is done, but I had several cool titles, but none of them were really clicking. When I sat back and really said "Look, what encompasses this whole thing, what part two focus on and the way that it ends?" -- Set is the Harbinger of Fate, he is the one that will foreshadow and control and manipulate, but also it's the ultimate trial and test for mankind. My favorite song, and pretty much everyone who has heard the album so far is 'Come What May'. It's the closer. And it's a different kind of closer than what I normally put on records. It's not terribly long, it's around 8 minutes or something. It's a very powerful song. It has some pretty strong statements. That song in particular puts the exclamation point on what this thing is about, and "Crucible" works with that...

I: You said that 'Come What May' is about 8 minutes long. Would that be the longest track on the disc?

JS: I think it is. I couldn't really say for sure. But I think it is the longest, yeah.

I: In the original Something Wicked trilogy, you ended with some choirs, stuff like that. What do you have working for choirs, if any, for the new CD?

JS: Actually, this is the first time we've been able to do a real choir. An SATB choir -- soprano, alto, tenor, baritone. That's the first time we've assembled a professional group of people who can all read music. Howard Helm was instrumental in doing that, because he's the director of a church choir, so he was able to get people together -- the difficulty was that it was on memorial day weekend when we were tracking this, so a lot of people were out of town -- but we were able to assemble a really good group of people. So, for 'In Sacred Flames' and then 'Harbinger of Fate' there's some pieces in that song. And then a couple of segue pieces and then just little bridge pieces here and there. Certainly, the biggest part is 'In Sacred Flames' and that is definitely one of the coolest pieces of music I've ever written. And all of this stuff they're saying is in Latin. I basically translated what I wanted the pieces to say in Latin, and we had a couple of guys in the choir, because of their work with different churches, they knew how to pronunciate things properly. It was really cool. It was pretty powerful. I guess the ultimate thing now would be in a production to be able to have a giant choir and a real orchestra all at the same time. That would be amazing. Maybe it will happen some day, but at this point we don't really have the budget to do that. It worked out the way we planned it. It was a sixteen piece choir and we stacked them up several times so it sounds really huge and it's great, great stuff.

I: Going back to the original Something Wicked trilogy, a lot of people ask about the chanting that concludes the last song. Can you tell us a little bit about how you wrote those chanting passages.

JS: ...I shall never tell

I: [laughs] Ok, thats pretty straight forward...

JS: That's me and Jim and Matt's little...

I: Oh ok, so...

JS: Yeah, it's... what can I say? It works perfect for that...

I: It's almost like your own language maybe...

JS: Yeah, sort of.

I: I know Matt did make some contributions lyrically to the new CD, can you comment on what he did on the CD in terms of lyrics?

JS: There are two pieces that are fairly short and then three songs that are full-blown songs and some great stuff. For one thing, Matt is into the story and he gets it. We're into the same kind of stuff, always have been. I have a lot of faith and trust in Matt's lyrical ability. And that's why he's done several things throughout the years. Matt doesn't write really corny, shallow stuff. At all actually. His stuff is thought-provoking and heavy and meaningful. Because the thing is, the writing, whether it's the music or the lyrics, is really what dictates the end result. It is the key factor, because if you take that away, none of it really matters. Because without IT, then the whole thing is kind of a waste of time. I'm very picky about who's going to contribute what. It has to fit within the vision and it has to maintain a certain level of integrity. But like I said, I have faith in Matt's ability and always have, so there wasn't any fears with that. The story was done -- I wrote the music all a couple of years ago. And these tracks were already recorded at the same time Part 1 was; all the drum tracks, rhythm guitar, I did most of the bass on Part 2 as well... well, I'd say like 65, 70% of the bass. And then Dennis Hayes did some of the other tracks that I wanted some finger style picking on, his touch basically. So the music and the theme of the songs were already there but what I told Matt when he came back was; "It would be helpful to me" because I was kind of wearing down. After going at this basically on a daily basis for two and a half years, it was definitely taking it's toll on me. So I gave him a list of bullet points and I told him the titles and what these songs were about and some specific things that needed to be said and basically he just took it from there and ran with it. He ended up doing the lyrics for 'Cruicify the King', which is killer. I really love that song. Then he did 'Sacrificial Kingdoms' and 'Minions of the Watch'. And then 'The Revealing' is another one, which I believe is a more like a shorter piece.

I: I've been wondering, as have a lot of fans I'm sure, is when you do future singles or as bonus tracks for upcoming CDs, have you ever thought about or considered doing acoustic versions for any of your back catalog.

JS: We have actually. The problem is, with the way I always want to do things, which is kind of like "do it all the way if we're going to do it" it ends up turning into a real production. Now, I do have my own studio and that takes some of the expense down, obviously it's not going to be as expensive as going into a recording studio and set up and do it. But you know, I wouldn't want to do it just me sitting down with an acoustic and Matt sitting down with a mic, and us playing through a song. Though that might be cool for a specific song, it wouldn't be what I'd really want to do if we were going to pick a set of songs to do. I would want to really go for it and produce them into something very special and very cool. Which would mean almost a real production kind of thing. And thats the problem, because you run into the cost... it goes up, and the effort is there and then it becomes like 'well, is it and should it really be a filler thing for a single?' and my feeling on that is 'No'. You know, if I'm going to spend the time really dedicating myself to an idea or concept for a song, then I'm going to want to go for it all the way. So thats kind of where I'm at with that. We've talked about this in the past... I mean, a song that might be cool doing it that way would be Watching Over Me, you know something thats just Matt and I sitting down with an acoustic and us singing it together. But I would almost rather do special arrangements and really analyze how we could do this in an acoustic way with drums and an acoustic bass and with cello and maybe some keyboard pads to really make it as atmospheric and as cool as possible. That's my feeling on that. And like I said, having my own studio now makes that kind of stuff more possible without adding as much cost. But at the end of the day, if I want to tackle anything, I want to do it the right way and not just kind of half-ass it... not that you were suggesting that, I'm not saying that. I'm just saying that it sounds really easy just to do some songs acoustic but I think it actually could be a little trickier than one might think when you do it and you do it right. It's always the simple stuff that gets you.

I: On the inside cover of the new single, bottom paragraph... last paragraph... there's a statement you wrote about dynamics, volume, mixing and mastering. Could you elaborate a little bit further about your message in that paragraph?

JS: What's happened in recent years, is a lot of people are mastering their albums at very loud volumes. And what that does is, it tends to kill a lot of dynamics. But you have these knuckleheads... you know, these A&R people, and whatever. Product management and people at record companies that really don't know about music and how things are recorded. It's this effect that it has. If a manager comes in with his band's record and they put it in a CD player and it's automatically loud, it makes people go 'Oooh, it's loud" -- well, fuckin' turn it up! If you want it loud, turn it up. But when you take dynamic music and you squash it with compression, which is the only way you can bring the volume up really loud, it wears the listeners ears out. You can't listen to it at high volumes for a long time. Your ears will wear out. After a few songs you are not getting it anymore. If there are any dynamics, you're not going to get it. My feeling, and several people who are in the know about this, especially guys who write dynamic music would prefer to have an album that is mastered at a reasonable volume and then just have the listener reach over and turn the volume knob up. I mean, I know it takes a lot of effort to do that. Hence the sarcasm. It's just part of the way things have gotten in the music business. This whole 'My album is louder than yours..." Well, louder does not make it better. When people hear 'In Sacred Flames', ok? This is some of the most dynamic shit I've ever written. If we would have mastered that at full balls to the wall volume like a lot of newer releases in the last several years have been doing it, it would not have the impact that it does. A few people have spoken about this, a few guys in the industry, not enough I don't think, but I also think there are a lot of kids out there who are playing, especially the young kids and the younger bands... they don't know the difference, because it's been going on long enough that that's just the way things are done. It's a dynamics issue... it's just a musical issue that I have. I want my music to be dynamic because it's written that way and it's intended that way and mastering at stupid, ridiculous volumes kills dynamics. It's a technical thing that most people won't comprehend but I'm telling you, people who have enough musical intuition, if I was to sit down and play them an album thats mastered really loud and one thats mastered at about where we master our stuff, they would hear the difference. And you would hear that when you turn it up, it's getting more powerful and more heavy. There comes a point where with a mastered CD that's really loud when you turn it up, it's just not going to do anything else, it's not going to get any louder, it just sounds the same.

I: Before I leave you, because it is getting late, I just wanted to ask what has it been like, for yourself, playing again live with Matt in 2008?

JS: Just like I expected. It kind of felt like we never missed a beat. It was kind of emotional for everyone involved. Or at least, for Matt and I and the fans. For Troy and Freddie and Brent some as well, but for Troy and Freddie they hadn't been with us when Matt was in the band... they were definitely moved by it, but they probably didn't have the same kind of sentimental feelings as what we had. But it was great, man. The fans were just really killer. It feels like Iced Earth again. It just feels right...

Thanks Raivotar (BUI user) to this transcription

Yeah, RAIVOTAR rules!
The Sexiest Metalhead

He's getting me even more excited for the new album...
The Wicked One

ill be pre-ordering this album, hopefullly ill get a digipack that I KNOW WILL BE IN STOCK!!

The Wicked One wrote:
ill be pre-ordering this album, hopefullly ill get a digipack that I KNOW WILL BE IN STOCK!!

All the Swedish CD-sellers still call the album Revelation Abomination,
and it has no artwork, so I'll wait to pre-order 'till they at least got the name right Wink

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