THE HIGHWIRE DAZE INTERVIEWS

Demons & Wizards is the brainchild of Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth and Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian. Together, these guys have recorded a thrilling power metal album Ė a debut effort that will be spoken of quite highly for years to come. We recently had a chance to chat with Jon Schaffer on the phone regarding both Demons & Wizards and Iced Earth.

Highwire Daze: How did you and Hansi Kursch meet and what made you decide to do this project together?

Jon Schaffer: The first time we met was in 1990 when we (Iced Earth) supported Blind Guardian on a European tour. We instantly became friends and stayed in touch throughout all the years. We actually ended up doing another European tour with them in 92. Theyíve come over to visit us whenever they have a chance and whenever Iím in Europe and have a couple of days off, Iím over hanging with Hansi. Weíve been really good friends for a long time. And there was a point in 1997 when I was doing promotions in Europe for the Days Of Purgatory album Ė I had a couple of days off and spent some time with Hansi. We went out and got pretty loaded one night on the first day I was there. The next day we were a little hung over and bored Ė I grabbed a guitar and started messing around and he started singing. We decided to go over to the Blind Guardian studio to record this song. Within three or four hours, we had a song recorded Ė and thatís My Last Sunrise, which is the last song on this album. After being friends for seven years, we realized we had writing chemistry together, which is really rare between people. We ended up doing our (Iced Earth) headline tour of Europe and they were on the road at the same time. We met up in Spain and we opened for them for five shows Ė and we started talking about it and said, ďLetís do it. Letís do the real deal!Ē We decided on the time frame that 1999 would be the best time to start working on it Ė and thatís pretty much what happened. Itís been great working with a musician of Hansiís caliber Ė heís a great friend and a great writer.

HD: Hansi lives in Europe and you live over in the States. How difficult was that arrangement when it came to the writing and the recording?

Jon: It was a little odd, but itís not much different from the way Hansi works with Andre in Blind Guardian. Hansi is a morning guy and Andre is a night guy. So Andre goes in there and records stuff throughout the night, and Andre shows up and does his vocal parts and they rarely see other throughout the whole writing process. For me, it was a little weird. Usually in Iced Earth, I write the lyrics and the vocal melodies in 90 percent of the stuff. So for me to do just the music arrangement was quite a bit less stressful obviously. We just used a lot of Federal Express, man. I lay down the music and put it down on the eight track, send it over to him. Heíd start working on vocal parts and mail it back to me and thatís how we did the whole thing really. There were a couple of touch-up things we needed to do when we got together in June of 99 in Indiana at my house Ė to record the demo in the basement. There were just a few things that we had to brainstorm about Ė but basically it was done at that point. Then we got together later on in August and recorded it. It was weird in a way, but it worked out. There is going to be more Demons & Wizards albums for sure. In the end it worked out and Iím really happy with this album.

HD: Where do you come up with the name Demons & Wizards?

Jon: I was trying to capture what Hansi and I are all about, what we like to write about and what we are onstage. I was kicking around some ideas with my wife and she came up with something like Demons & Angels and I thought nah, that doesnít quite fit Hansi. Heís no angel, thatís for sure. So it came to be Demons & Wizards. I know itís a Uriah Heep album that came out a long time ago in the 70ís Ė itís the title of one of their records. But I really didnít care Ė it just felt so right that I had to call Hansi about it the next morning. And he was into it, totally. I donít think you could come up with a better name for us.

HD: What songs on Demons & Wizards are you the most excited about?

Jon: I would say that my favorite is probably Fiddler On The Green, probably just for the heaviness and the reality of the story that itís based on. I wrote that music and didnít know what Hansi was going to get inspired by lyrically. I sent it to him and he had basically witnessed two children getting killed on their bicycles being hit by cars at two separate times. A little boy got killed one week when he was walking his dog Ė it happened right in front of him. And a week later the exact same thing happened to a little girl on her bicycle. It really had an affect on him. And when he heard the music, it inspired him to write this. Itís definitely based on reality, but he took it and placed his own touch on it. The story is that of the reaper, but heís playing a fiddle Ė in German folklore thatís what the reaper does. He doesnít have the sickle Ė itís a different thing. Basically, the story is that the reaper makes a mistake Ė he takes this little boyís life too soon. So he has to go back and make a paradise for the kid. So he makes a deal with what would have been his future wife, which is the little girl Ė to die and come over to live in paradise forever. Hansi took a really bad situation and turned it into something really cool, putting a fantasy touch to it. To me, that song really stands out Ė it gave me goosebumps from the very beginning. I like all of them really. For our first thing together, itís really great. And I can only see it getting better.

HD: Where do you come up with your musical inspiration for Demons & Wizards?

Jon: Itís the same as with Iced Earth Ė itís just life. I always do whatís honest and whatís going on within me at the time. If you look at an album like Burnt Offerings Ė that was a dark period for the band and for myself, and it shows in the music. And when things started getting more positive for us and our careers, it changed Ė and it turned into what The Dark Saga was. Itís always an honest idea of what Iím feeling at the time. Life is always my inspiration. And religion is a big topic for me Ė a big part of my anger goes towards religion.

HD: Have your Iced Earth band mates heard Demons & Wizards and what do they think?

Jon: They actually have and they really like it. Everyone is smart enough to realize that the amount of publicity weíre getting out of Demons & Wizards isnít going to do anything but help the band (Iced Earth). Itís a good thing all around. Iced Earth is my baby, I started it and kept it alive for all these years. The guys know Iím not going to bail because itís a huge part of my life. At the same time, Demons & Wizards is too now. And even though itís the little brother of Iced Earth and Blind Guardian, itís still an important part of me and Hansi. And if it was to grow huge and become really successful, then we would obviously have to change our priorities. But thatís not the goal Ė itís to write songs and have fun Ė and whatever happens, happens.

HD: How do you feel about the live Iced Earth CD going gold in Greece?

Jon: Iím really happy about it. I hope itís not our last, obviously. The band really has a long way to go before Iím even close to being satisfied with our success. We have a long way to go. Itís a great thing and it made me happy Ė but itís not anything to lose the vision over Ė the drive is still there. We want something to happen here in our own country. Weíve been successful in Europe since day one, and itís been an uphill battle constantly in the States.

HD: Why do you think you guys are so big in Europe and not here in the States?

Jon: The biggest reason is because it is such a big market and itís a trend based society. When you deal with the big labels over here that make trends happen, youíre really stuck with whatever they dictate in the market. Right now, Korn and Limp Biscuit is what theyíre pushing Ė and thatís the trend that they want and thatís what theyíre calling new metal. Guys like us donít have a chance because we have too much melody in our music. Until thereís a change in the command of the major labels, itís going to be very hard to be able to get where we want to be. Also, this market is based on commercial radio success which the major labels control. You donít have these things going on in Europe. In Germany you have government radio Ė the government runs in and they donít have 24 hour a day rock stations like they have in every city in the United States. They have a show that will play heavy metal 2 hours a week. And when you listen to a regular show, they may have Bon Jovi next to some German folk music. Itís that drastic of a change Ė thereís not really any programming going on, which means thereís no brainwashing going on. Itís a completely different animal Ė the United States compared to the rest of the world. The system is way more honest over there.

HD: Do you have any messages for Iced Earth fans and people who might be curious about Demons & Wizards?

Jon: I just want to say thanks for all the support throughout the years. A lot of people who have been listening to Iced Earth have been there from the beginning. Even the newcomers, I want to say thanks for the support and the loyalty. We really appreciate it. Also, if we havenít made it to your town yet to play live, be looking for us in late 2000, early 2001!



DEMONS AND LINKS

DEMONS & WIZARDS HOME PAGE: Plus Iced Earth news too!
SPV RECORDS: The record label for Demons & Wizards!
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