Interviews

Jon Schaffer on New Demons & Wizards III – This Is An Exercise In Brotherhood First and Foremost!

 

 

Interview by Robert Cavuoto

 

 

Demons & Wizards have just released their third CD entitled, III, on February 24th via Century Media Records. Hansi Kürsch vocalist for Blind Guardian and Jon Schaffer guitarist for Iced Earth are a legendary heavy metal collaboration; uniting the talents of the two musicians and their passion for making music. Their songs embody their stylistic trademarks on two previous albums, Demons & Wizards [2000] and Touched by the Crimson King [2005].

With each CD, Jon and Hansi continue to develop as a writing team providing sonically powerful riffs coupled with thought provoking-lyrics. The new CD will not disappoint any heavy metal fan from the opening track “Diabolical” to the epic closer “Children of Kane!”

I had the pleasure of speaking with Jon to talk about the creation of their new CD, why it’s been 15 years since their last release, and the success of the band.

Robert Cavuoto: Are you surprised by the success of Demons & Wizards?

Jon Schaffer: We feel blessed, but I don’t think we are surprised as we have continuously been asked that question since the first CD came out in 2000. We did Touched by the Crimson King five years later and that question came up 1000 more times. I think we are surprised to be headlining Wacken Open Air. Overall there has been so much love for the project; it’s not a surprise but a blessing.

Robert Cavuoto: It’s been 15 years since Touched by the Crimson King came out, why has it taken so long to release this CD?

Jon Schaffer: The reason why it has taken 15 years is due to the activities of both Blind Guardian and Iced Earth. We are both in successful global bands. Early on in our careers, both our bands were on similar release and touring cycles. We were performing in many of the same places like Europe, North America, South America, Central America, Asia, Eastern Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Everything became bigger and more demanding, so the album cycles became longer. Then suddenly Blind Guardian and Iced Earth were on opposite release cycles making it very difficult to carve out any time to focus on Demons & Wizards. You need a year and a half to do an album and some shows. When we got the headlining spot at Wacken Open Air it completely changed our schedule. We initially planned on writing and recording the album then go out on tour. We ended up doing all the touring before the album was finished or even released.

Robert Cavuoto: How long did it take for the songs to come together once you carved out the time?

© Adrian Hextall

Jon Schaffer: About three years ago I developed 3 ½ songs while I was writing for the Iced Earth Incorruptible CD; “New Dawn,” “Universal Truth,” “Invincible,” and half of “Midas Disease.” As the songs for Incorruptible came into focus and we had our 50-55 minutes, I decided not to invest the time in developing those 3 ½ songs any further. Some of the guys in Iced Earth were bummed because the song which was titled as “Incorruptible” at the time, ended up being “Invincible” on the Demons’ records. They told me it was their favorite song! I thought the songs we had ready for Iced Earth were working better, so I didn’t pursue these 3 ½. I sent the songs to Hansi, and he immediately sent them back to me with vocal melodies. That’s as far as we got with writing at the time. I had to put the Demons album on pause so I could finish the master tracking for Incorruptible then went on the world tour. In between the holes in the Iced Earth touring schedule, I went over to Germany in May to meet with Hansi to prepare for our festivals and headlining shows plus have him finish up the vocals. After that, we went out on the North American tour and finished some more vocals and started mixing. The majority of the Demons’ CD started in 2018, and we had the entire band performance master tracked by March 15th. I’m very mission central.

Robert Cavuoto: Is there a theme or concept running through this CD?

Jon Schaffer: No, there really isn’t. On the last CD, we had four or five songs related to the Dark Tower by Stephen King. We considered calling that album II, but at some point, which neither of us can remember, we decided to call it Touched by the Crimson King. We decided that all future albums will be numbered like a volume.

Robert Cavuoto: Is there a certain expectation or pressure that this CD had to be equally as good if not better than the first two CDs due to the band’s success?

Jon Schaffer: For ourselves as individuals absolutely, but not for any other reason! If it ever becomes too much pressure or not fun, we just won’t do it. This is an exercise in brotherhood first and foremost. Hansi and I were very dear friends before we realized that we could write songs together. Writing together actually happened by accident. When it happened, the next question was, what are we going to do with it? The first song we wrote was “My Last Sunrise” and it was the last song on the first Demons’ album. Initially, we talked about Blind Guardian and Iced Earth, each doing a version but at some point, I just said to Hansi, let’s just do our own thing and write a bunch more together! It has always been about having fun and spending time together, but we do hold the pressure to ourselves in delivering something we are happy with. Nine times out of ten, the fans will be right on board. It’s all about satisfying yourself as an artist first then we let the dice roll.

Robert Cavuoto: Whether with Iced Earth or Demons & Wizards, do you find that one day you had an adequate song idea and suddenly the next day creating something special?

Jon Schaffer: I can always feel the spark when there is something special. I don’t know why, but I call tell it right in the very beginning of the writing process. I just always know! I learned through the years when I’m on a schedule where we have a world tour, two weeks off, album writing, festival shows, album master tracking, and another world tour; it’s a mistake for me! It’s because I’m forcing art into a calendar which is a commission-driven plan by management. I get it, and a lot of bands do it. Those have been the worst times in my career when I have gone along with that plan. I guess I’m complaining at a high level as we don’t have any shitty albums in our catalog. The ones that I’m least a fan of are the ones that we were pressured into. Pressure is a good thing, but working in the confinements of sandwiching two giant world tours can hurt the art. You don’t get a chance to rest, recharge, and rebuild your mind, body and soul before moving on to the next mission and the art suffers. I was very near burnout when I told Hansi that we would have to delay Demons a little more at the end of the Incorruptible tour. I told him I’m going off for a month into the mountains to hike, be by myself, and clear my head. Afterwards I was completely recharged. There is nothing like Mother Nature kicking you in the ass and getting you back on your feet. When I came back the songs poured out of me very fast. I started writing in November 2018 and by March 15, 2019, the album was master tracked expect vocal. All the guitar, lead guitar, drums, and keyboards were done in the studio in Indiana. Had I started the songwriting after the tour and not taken the break, the music would have suffered. I can just feel when a song is going to be classic; my spirit tells me that.

© Adrian Hextall

Robert Cavuoto: “Midas Disease” is a tribute to Malcolm Young, tell me about the song’s creation and your decision to dedicate it to him.

Jon Schaffer: I was messing around with my Telecaster and my 30 watt Komet amp, which is a knock-off of a Ken Fischer’s Trainwreck amp. It has a cool snarl that Malcolm and those guys used. Between the sound and riff, I thought it had an AC/DC vibe and the working title was “Unbroken.” I sent it to Hansi with the thought it would be a dedication to Malcolm. Lyrically he took it in a TV evangelist direction, which was fine by me. There a lot of Demons & Wizards fans that don’t like it and don’t feel it belongs on the album. It’s us, and it’s what we wanted! We just had fun with it. It has a unique dynamic that a lot of fans love. AC/DC is one of my favorite bands, and Malcolm is one of my favorite guitar players of all time. He was the secret weapon of AC/DC and the riff master. Their rhythm section is golden.

Robert Cavuoto: Understanding how “Midas Disease” came about because of a riff with a unique guitar tone; I have to wonder if your technique and tone factors into all of your songwriting?

Jon Schaffer: If I’m in the studio messing around with a lot of different instruments and have a stable of amps, it can sometimes influence a riff. Typically my sound is a Les Paul through a custom Larry amp head. The head is made by a guy in Germany, named Larry Grohmann. He is like a mad scientist when it comes to making amps. I have never met anyone who is more thorough and understands metal. He flipped out when he heard my rhythm guitar sound on the first Iced Earth album and got in touch with the people at Morrisound Recording [where we recorded our first album] wanting to build an amp for me. Not long after that, we were playing in Nuremberg, Germany and he took me to his place while he soldered components and circuits as we dialed in my desired sound. I have six or seven of his heads and won’t record with anything else. It’s my signature tone, which Larry had a huge hand in developing. He knows that he could develop an amp that can respond to my picking patterns where the low ends won’t get “woffie.” That was the biggest challenge I have had with all the rigs I have owned – how can I get the pick attacks to speak on the low notes and have the “wof” out of the way for the next one. When you get into triplets that are 200 beats per minute, you need a quick responding amp. It’s still super musical. Ever since the album Burnt Offerings, my sound has been a Les Paul and a Larry amp.

 

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