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"Dystopia", the next chapter in the Iced Earth story! After the second departure of Matt Barlow, the band found a replacement in Stu Block from Into Eternity! Here's a chat with Iced Earth mainman Jon Schaffer and also the new singer Stu Black. Read and enjoy!


Matt Barlow, arguably Iced Earth's most popular vocalist, left the band in 2003 and returned in 2007, and called it quits once and for all in March 2011. What were the circumstances behind his final departure?
 Jon Schaffer: "When Matt came back, he made  it clear that  it was on a part-time basis. He has a career and a family, and I was fine with that. We did another album ("The crucible of man: Something wcked part 2"), we did a tour, but  the  industry  is  changing  so much  that  a band needs  to  tour  in  order  to  stay  vital  and  relevant. Matt couldn't commit to that, and I totally understood why. I love the guy and I wish him the best for his future, but we've moved on to a new and exciting chapter in Iced Earth."
You chose  Into Eternity vocalist Stu Block to replace Matt. What was  it about him that convinced you he was the one for the job?
 Jon Schaffer: "I  liked what  I  saw  in Stu's eyes  in  the  Into Eternity videos,  that  intensity and passion, which  is always what I look for in a frontman. In order for this to work I have to have that. So, the question at that point was 'How would his voice work doing a lot of mid-range vocals?' which is really where most of the Iced Earth stuffsits. We  had  to  check  that  out, because  I'd  never  heard  Stu  sing  like  that before,  and we  had  to  see  how we clicked and if the writing gelled. The first thing we did when I contacted Stu was try some old songs, and then I had him come out to work on a couple of original pieces. I didn't give him much time, but we finished some really cool songs; 'End of innocence' and the basic arrangement for the track that became 'Dark city'. I think we were part way through 'Dark city' when I said 'Dude, you've got the gig.' I knew that we could write together and that was a big thing for me. Stu is intelligent, there's a deep commitment here, and I haven't had a committed frontman in this band for a long time, and that was a problem. I rely on my instincts a lot, and it just felt like the perfect fit having Stu in the band. From what I remember of his energy as a frontman for Into Eternity when they toured with us, I knew it was going to be great. Obviously there's a different dynamic in this band, but all the ingredients are there."
Was the material on Dystopia written with Stu in mind, or did he come in after the material was complete?
 Jon Schaffer: "There were really only a few tracks done when Stu came into the fold, and we were discovering and  exploring  Stu's  voice  through  the whole process. We've  opened  up parts  that  he didn't  know  he  had,  and neither did I. It just worked, and Stu was involved in his parts more than any other singer in the past. He wrote a lot of  lyrics and  vocal melodies by himself, we did  some  together,  I did  some by myself. We had a killer  time working  together,  and  that was  exciting  for me.  It was more  fun  for me  and  it  took  a  lot  of  pressure off my shoulders."

You're known as  the brains behind  Iced Earth. Was  it difficult  to open up  the creative process up  to a newcomer - someone you barely knew at that point - considering Iced Earth is your baby?
 Jon Schaffer: "It's not that the creative process was ever closed; it was a question of whether it worked or not. That's  the  thing  that  people  don't  really  understand.  Matt's  vocals  and  lyrics were  really  cool,  but  as  far  as coming up with the cadences and melodies that really made the hooks, that fell onto my shoulders. Some people aren't songwriters, and that's just the way it is. When I've got somebody like Stu that can hear really cool vocal melodies and hooks, when we put our heads together we can come up with some bad-ass stuff. And we're  just
getting started."

Iced Earth is known for doing full blown concept records, but Dystopia takes a different path. Was it clear from the beginning that it wouldn't be conceptual, or did it just turn out that way?
 Jon Schaffer: "It was definitely clear that it wasn't going to be a concept record. We were looking for some kind of theme for the artwork, something to tie things together, and we had six songs that were dystopian in terms of lyrical content.  It's more of a  theme  that  runs  through  the album, but even  then  it's not 100% devoted to the dystopian theme."
Was it a relief to do things in a less complicated fashion, worrying only about the songs rather than tying them together to create a story? 
 Jon Schaffer: "There was a lot of pressure to deliver the goods on this album. The biggest sense of relief on this album  compared  to  the  last  couple  records  is  that  I'm  in  a much  better  spot  in my  personal  life.  During  the writing of "Framing armageddon" and "The crucible of man", I lost three family members - my brother, my father and my sister all within a year  - so  it was brutal, and  I definitely wasn't as  focused as  I normally would have been. After what I call my awakening to some of the harsh realities of the world, I feel better and happier than I have in my entire life. Put all those things together, and the direction of the new album was a natural step. It's focused, heavy, intense, melodic, and it's epic without having a big, giant, epic song."

No matter how well Dystopia is received, the deciding factor amongst the fans as to whether Stu is worthy of being  Iced Earth's singer  is how he performs the old songs. People are expecting to hear them a certain way and you've got a different voice doing them. What's the process been like shaping the songs for Stu for the stage? Some of those songs really have to be delivered in a specific way.
 Jon Schaffer: "That's what people's perceptions are. It's a different thing for me, having authored all those old songs. I don't hear them in the way that the fan hears them. It's a completely different perspective. I don't want Stu to come out and sound like Matt or Tim; I want him to sound like Stu. I don't want a clone of somebody else, I want  someone who  can  stand on his own  two  feet and bring his own power  to  the  table. However he delivers those songs, I'm sure it's going to be cool. Are there going to be people that complain? Of course, but I've never
guided Iced Earth's career by what people say."

Describe how it felt getting the Iced Earth gig. It isn't the sort of opportunity that comes along every day...
 Stu Block: "There was a  feeling of validation,  that my wanting  to be a professional   musician  isn't  just a pipe dream. Joining Iced Earth is a huge opportunity, so I was feeling a mix of pure joy, excitement, and being scared shitless (laughs).
On the surface, it seems like a very easy decision to accept the offer to join a band of Iced Earth's caliber. When it came down to actually making a serious commitment, knowing how much time you'd have to devote to the band, did that make it harder to say "yes" ?
 Stu Block: "There are certain factors in my life where it was sort of a tough decision, but I knew in the back of my mind that it was a no-brainer. My mom is dealing with some stuff right now, and I'm going to be on the road, but you can't live your life being held back. Anyone can find an excuse not to do something. I know this will be a life changing experience,  I'm going to be away  from my home and my  fiancée  for months on end, but  I have a
such a great support system in my family that everyone including my mother is encouraging me to do this. They told me I'd be a fool if I didn't do it, and I agreed wholeheartedly. I try to keep a positive attitude towards the whole thing, knowing what I've gotten myself into. In the back of my mind it was a definite yes."


It's a huge responsibility to take on, fronting a band like this.
Stu  Block:  "Definitely,  and  there  are  a  lot  of  emotions  involved  in  this.  I'm  scared,  excited,  there's this anticipation, and I have to keep those emotion under control. Jon has kept me so focused and busy that I haven't really had time to think about it (laughs). It's been an incredible journey of creating music."
Was  it  intimidating having the  freedom to write material  for the new album, knowing that anything you offered up had to live up to the Iced Earth legacy?
 Stu Block: "When Jon and I first talked, he let me know that he wanted me to write lyrics and melodies. Knowing that, I knew he'd be open to anything I gave him. Of course I was a little nervous, hoping that he doesn't think it sucks, and there were things that I gave him where he said 'You're a cheeseball, Stu, go back and rewrite that....' (laughs). We had a good collaboration process.  I was more excited to show him what  I had to offer  rather than scared. It obviously worked out well."
It must have been a very different process from working on Into Eternity material 

Stu Block: "It was a totally new vision. It was definitely liberating in the fact that I could bring in ideas that I had. There were ideas that I had for Into Eternity that just wouldn't have worked. Tim wrote most of that stuff, but I'd help him out on the choruses. You know as well as I do, that stuff is crazy complex, so that's where it gets tricky with  Iced  Earth.  In  some  cases  it's  actually  harder  to  sing  the  Iced  Earth  stuff.  People might  think  it's  easier because  I'm not  singing over  these complicated  Into Eternity  riffs and 12/8  time  signatures, but  that's not  the case."
What's your status with regards to Into Eternity? Are you officially out of the band and focusing solely on
Iced Earth?

 Stu Block: "I've been asked this question a lot and... they're going to keep going. Tim (Roth/guitars) is the leader of that band, and he'll keep it going at a rate he's comfortable with. As far as I'm concerned, I have to embrace the opportunity that I've been given. I've been introduced to some amazing people, I can't look back now. I can't say 'Oh, in my spare time I'm going to tour with Into Eternity...' That's unrealistic because on my off time I just want to be at home (laughs). Maybe there'll be a day when I'll go into the studio and help Tim out on a song, but as far as recording and touring goes, Iced Earth is my # 1 priority."


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