Early Monday morning, October 14, Matt Barlow called me from his home in Indiana. We talked about ICED EARTH's newest release, among other things.
Let's start off by talking about ICED EARTH's newest release, "Tribute To The Gods." This is your homage to the bands that influenced ICED EARTH. Who picked the songs? Was it mostly Jon's picks?
Yeah, that's sort of what we were shooting for, as far as what inspired ICED EARTH and the ICED EARTH sound. Jon sort of has the ICED EARTH sound locked up and a lot of these songs are the ones he was inspired by as a songwriter. The bands were picked first and then the songs were picked. I just gave some suggestions as far as my picks on some of the songs, given the chosen bands. There were certain bands we knew we were gonna do, and that's the way it fell into place. My picks were the AC/DC stuff, "Highway To Hell," and "Burning For You" from BOC, stuff that I remember listening to when I was growing up.
The early albums have been re-released in a re-mastered version. Do you think that is fair for the fans that had bought the original CDs all those years back?
Well, if they don't want to buy them, then that's cool. We're not gonna force them to buy the records. We wanted to do it as part of a box set. We knew that Century Media was going to do something like that whether or not we were involved in it. Jon wanted to have some artistic control, hence all the cool artwork. As part of the deal, he wanted to have the artwork and the remixed or re-mastered released as well singly so people could buy them as they wanted them, if they wanted them that way. The only thing that's exclusive to the box set is the "Enter The Realm" demo, and everything else will be sold singly. We're trying to make everybody happy. There's some people that are going to want to buy the other stuff because they'll want to hear it remixed or re-mastered, and it really does make quite a bit of difference, considering the mixing and mastering technology has changed and gotten better in the last decade. It's up to everyone to go check it out. Try to find a mom-and-pop shop that will let you listen to it, and if you like it better, buy it. If not, then don't. We're cool either way. We're just happy that Century Media is releasing it that way.
These re-releases, along with "Tribute To The Gods", mark your farewell to Century Media, where ICED EARTH has been under contract ever since the beginning. How would you say the co-operation has been between the band and Century Media?
Well, it's on again, off again. As far as this deal is concerned, it was a pretty good thing, because Jon had a lot more control over it, artistically and everything else. So it's nice when you get into a realm where you have some power. Where normally it's quite the opposite, where the label has a lot more control than the band does. Often times the fans don't understand that, but that's just the way it is, that's the nature of the business. It's one of the worst for artists in the world. To get back to your question, it's been, like I said, on again, off again, and we're ready to move on.
Is there any news concerning a new label for ICED EARTH?
Nothing that I can speak of. I wouldn't want to speak out of turn. That's something that Jon really handles-the business aspect of it. He and our manager are working on that at this point and as soon as I know anything that I can spout out about, then I will.
When you look back on your career so far, how do you see the evolution of ICED EARTH, musicwise?
I think that the evolution is based around Jon's songwriting, obviously. The songs are the basis of evolution as far as the band is concerned and I think that it's definitely evolved in a positive, more mature songwriting and that's sort of the way it's constantly been as far as a continual growth is concerned.
Who writes most of the lyrics for ICED EARTH, you or Jon?
Jon has. We pretty much split the lyrics for "Horror Show," but it was also a different kind of a vive with "Horror Show." Some of the characters, Jon wasn't that heavily inspired by them lyrically to write. So I got a hold of some of those characters and really tried to do my best to bring them to life. Within the next two records, we'll be jumping into the Set Abomine character again from the "Something Wicked"-trilogy and doing a conceptual thing on that. My writing involvement in that will be minimal, at best, because it's Jon's character and story and he's gonna want to really lay that out in his own way.
How has the rising success of ICED EARTH affected or maybe even change your personal life?
I don't know. I've been doing it for a while. It's definitely helped out financially. But as far as it's affected my personal life, I'm pretty grounded as far as that's concerned. I'm very realistic as far as where I am at in a musical career. I don't think that I'm something that I'm not and that's pretty much where I'm at. It's hard at times to play before 25,000 people and then come home and go back to a regular job. Other guys have done it and so can I. [laughs]
Well, then, do you have a regular job, besides music with ICED EARTH?
Yeah, I sort of do jack-of-all-trade stuff because it's kind of hard to get into a regular career, then break off and do the month or two or three on the road. It's really hard to maintain that kind of a life style and have a regular, other career.
The tour for "Horror Show"--with a huge playing time and three different stage sets-that must have been really tiring. How did you endure that?
We just sucked it up! We were dying the first couple of shows. We literally came back to our dressing room and just collapsed. But it's amazing how you can build your endurance just by doing something over and over again. By the end of the tour, man, we were good to go! It's something that's hard to prepare for. If we were faced with that again, we would probably prepare for it a little bit better in the physicality part of it. But getting out there and doing it is the main thing and hope you don't die doing it. [laughs] But it was a lot of fun. It's not something we'll be doing soon again, but I hope that some point in our career we can get back out and do another show that size.
When you go on tour, do you do anything special to preserve your voice, to keep it in shape?
Try not to get sick! [laughs] Try not to talk too much, cause talking is a really bad thing for a singer's voice. It's just not as natural and flowing as singing is. Oftentimes you gotta do interviews and things like that, and it's kind of tough to be able to do that all the time. Drink lots of water and try to stay out of smoky bars. Try not to let people smoke pot right in front of you while you're on stage-that sort of thing. It's just a matter of trying to stay healthy. Once you get up and perform a show like that, you don't really want to do too many other vocal exercises or anything throughout the day.
I take it, then, that you don't smoke?
No, I don't. I loved to smoke when I did. It's just one of those things-it's not real good for you. It breaks down your endurance to tolerate sickness, it's not good for your pitch or anything else. I don't know. It certainly affected me and I feel much more comfortable singing and NOT smoking and NOT drinking too much and things like that.
Do you still feel nervousness before you go on stage? Many singers have rituals they go through. Do you?
No, not normally. It doesn't really bother me that much. I've always sort of been a ham anyway. I can go out there and do my own thing. I just change into another person, I guess. I'm usually pretty laid back when I'm not on stage, but then I just get out there and do my thing. I don't really feel nervous, anymore. I don't think I've felt nervous since I was in high school.
What was it like touring with MEGADETH? Compare it with your headlining tour with IN FLAMES and JAG PANZER.
It was very cool touring with MEGADETH. They're very nice guys, totally pro, and it was cool playing for their crowd. Certainly, some of it was our crowd, as well, but most of it was their's and we got a lot of new people on board the train.
Are there possible plans for a new album?
Yeah. Jon's working on the music for that right now and I've submitted some lyrics to them and we'll see how many of those make it to the record. I know he's got the basis for fourteen songs, musically. I get to go over and listen to what he's got this week. We're hoping to be in the studio by the end of December, or at least have the drums done by then and start up again at the beginning of the year, but we'll see how it goes. We still have some contract negotiating going on and stuff like that.
Jon has DEMONS & WIZARDS. Do you have any other project or band to live out your musical ideas, or are you completely fulfilled with ICED EARTH?
No, I'm cool where I'm at. I've said it before. If something approaches as cool or on the same level as Jon's got with DEMONS & WIZARDS, that would be a different story and would probably be a very fun thing to do. But I don't really have any other things going on. I'm cool where I'm at.
What would you say is the status of ICED EARTH in the United States compared with Europe?
Well, it's ever-growing here. In some respects it's growing in Europe as well, certain regions. But there's a cool feeling here in the States in the way that our growth is coming up here. It's really coming up exponentially and we're adding a lot more as far as the populace at the shows. Our last headline tour was almost completely sold out. We're playing bigger venues than we've ever played before. There's an interesting vive whenever you go to these shows and see how your crowd is increasing. You see these new faces, people that haven't seen you before, or people that saw you for a half hour with MEGADETH, and now you're doing a two-hour show. It's cool.
How do you define success for yourself?
You know, I don't really know. I guess I'll know when I get there. At this point, where we are right now, there's certainly a certain amount of success involved, probably a lot more than most bands will ever see. But, that's the whole thing about never being completely satisfied. It's sort of a curse and a blessing. You always want to do more and do better, so it's kind of a double-edged sword in that respect.
Which CDs are currently in your CD-player?
Ooohhhhh, let me see. The latest JAG PANZER is in there. I've got Bruce Dickinson in there. SENTENCED. I heard their latest record just went gold in their homeland of Finland. That's a very cool thing. I always like to hear that. They're friends of ours; we've toured with them before in Europe. They're super cool guys. They drink a LOT. [laughs]
What has been your best, your worst, your funniest moment in your career so far?
Well, I've busted my ass a couple of times on the stage. Those are embarrassing/funny. They're embarrassing at the time but then you get off stage and you laugh your ass off and then the next day you're sporting a pretty healthy bruise on your butt.
Oh, yeah. Well, I do this thing with my hair and sometimes I get a little dizzy. It's all part of the show, it's all in good fun.
Well, my favorite last question is, do you have any pets? I hear something in the background.
Yeah, I do. I have a Labrador. He's nine months old and a total pain in the ass at this point. I'm waiting for that year and a half to go by when he turns into another personality. That's what I've been told. He's a puppy. He thinks he's about ten pounds and he's ninety pounds. That can be kind of rough sometimes.
What do you do with him when you're touring?
My wife takes care of him when we're on tour. Fortunately, the last time we were on tour, he was actually only about forty pounds, but he's grown since then. He's just a big boy.
What's his name?
Samson. Samson's Dark Night is his name.
Here's "The Metal Observer" traditional last question of an interview: What is your favorite question about ICED EARTH that you have never been asked before, but would finally like to answer?
Hmmmmmmm…… Let me think. That is a tough question because I'm not used to actually making up the questions, although I do appreciate it whenever people do ask me interesting questions. Hmmm… How about this? Do you find Spinal Tap as a direct mirror of your career? And the answer would be "Yes." There's always times when we look at each other with a smile on our face and know that it was a "Tap" moment. I think every Metal band, or every band in general, should watch that movie and look at it as a training film.
Well, it looks like our time is almost up. I want to thank you for taking the time to call me and do this interview for "The Metal Observer".
Have a good day.
All right. Take care of yourself.
1992: Night Of The Stormrider (CD, Century Media)
1995: Burnt Offerings (CD, Century Media)
1996: The Dark Saga (CD, Century Media)
1997: Gates To Purgatory (2CD, Century Media)
1998: Something Wicked This Way Comes (CD, Century Media)
1999: Alive In Athens (3-CD, Century Media)
2001: The Melancholy E.P. (MCD, Century Media)
2001: Horror Show (CD, Century Media)
2001: Dark Genesis (5-CD-Box, Century Media)
2002: Tribute To The Gods (CD, Century Media)
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