Demons & Wizards, the project from Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth and Hansi Kürsch from Blind Guardian, are currently gearing to release their brand new album III, via Century Media records. The first record in 15 years, the band has spent the past few months performing at various festivals and events around the globe to set the stage for the release. A few days before Christmas last year, we had the opportunity to chat with co-founder and guitarist Jon about the upcoming release, how the music industry has changed and his love of hiking.
Demons and Wizards are gearing up to release the brand new album titled III. How has the response been to the songs released so far?
It looks really really good. Our gauge in these early stages of the cycle is hearing from journalists and when a video comes out we can see a bit more from the fans. The comments we’ve been seeing are overwhelmingly positive which is good and we’ve been receiving a lot of positive feedback.
With it being almost 15 years since the previous release, how much of a difference has the promotional cycle been now to as it was back then?
It’s pretty different, man. The market has changed radically and it seems to change every few months with the amount of mergers going on. Back then, it was focused a lot more on physical products and a lot of the magazines that were around then are no longer in business today or they’ve moved solely online. It’s different definitely and promo tours back in the day were way more extensive compared to how it is these days with the internet now. It’s become a little less strenuous on the artists which is nice.
You’ve also just recently finished off a US tour with the band. How did that go?
It was killer everywhere. It was probably the area which we were least sure about to be honest. If you look back, the first album was only available in the US via import and Crimson King had distribution but no touring at all on that cycle. We weren’t 100% sure on it, but the promoters believed in it and it was super successful with a great reception from everywhere that we went. The performances in Europe we did were really well received as well. We headlined MetalDays in Slovenia and did a lot of other big slots including Wacken and Barcelona Rockfest which went really well as well.
It’s been mentioned in the past that you write the music and that Hansi writes the lyrics. Was that the case for this album as well?
Doing it the way we do it is pretty collaborative and is very similar to how the writing works in Blind Guardian. The instrumentation is my part and Hansi does the vocal melodies and most of the lyrics. That’s typically how I’ve worked with most vocalists I’ve worked with. I don’t really concern myself with the vocal melodies in Demons & Wizards as that’s how we create the music. The way I interpret vocal melodies is very different to Hansi and it would sound more like an Iced Earth record than a Demons & Wizards one if I was to do that. I send him the musical compositions and he then comes up with his interpretation of vocal melodies and we then work on lyrics. On this album I wrote three songs in full and I then helped him with some pieces. That’s normally how we do it and lyrics are still his responsibility but I’ll help wherever necessary.
It’s a very collaborative effort because in Iced Earth I write pretty much everything in that band. On some previous Iced Earth releases Stu [Block] and Matt [Barlow] did contribute some lyrics, but Demons and Wizards is a different beast and it was the two of us merging together that made this.
What equipment did you use for this album?
It’s pretty much the same gear as I use in Iced Earth. I let the music speak to me to be honest. I did use 4 different tuning’s on this record which was more than I’ve ever used in the past. There’s been 2 different tunings a few times in the past on previous records in both Iced Earth and this band but I’ve never done 4 previously. I used a baritone guitar on a few of the songs, there’s one in C# tuning, one in standard and the rest are in E-flat tuning. I used a Telecaster through a Class-A head on a few tracks as well which was quite nice and provides a bit of a different sound to my Les Paul and Larry amp sound.
What inspires you to create music?
It’s really reflections of life to be honest. Before starting to work on this album, I went out on a month-long, 200-mile hike in complete solitude to disconnect from the music industry. I was really close to a burn-out and doing that really helped me recharge my batteries and I felt super-charged when I came back. 5 days after I came back I went over to Germany and met with Hansi to discuss our plans for what the next few years were going to look like. That was probably the most inspiring thing, going on that hike.
“Timeless Spirit” was a direct result of coming back from that hike. I wrote the lyrics and music for that after I came back and it just poured out of me. That’s probably the main inspiration for this album. It depends where my head’s at at that time to be honest. I’ve been doing this thing for a long time and my inspirations have varied over the years. It can be real life events, something I’ve read or seen.
What’s something you want to see less of in the music industry?
You know man, I think too much of this social media pandering for attention bullshit. I know it’s kind of normal now, but it’s not good for rock and roll and certainly not for the illusion. All these young guys starting their career off think that they need to do that and making themselves so accessible to their fans, and in my opinion they should focus that time and money on creating a quality product and is timeless. When I was growing up it was all about the albums and the LP’s. You would absorb the record and the artwork and because that was all you had, the imagination was running wild and you’d maybe see something in the magazine and go see the live show. That was all you had and there was no real showing of what else happens.
In this age with so much content available about everything, there’s less magic in my opinion. With the playlist culture, people are missing out on the albums and just hearing the ‘top songs’ which is not really fulfilling for artists. Granted, there are some artists whose albums have a lot of filler on them but there’s other artists who’ve really created art on every track. There’s a lot of things in there but I feel like they all relate to the one thing and are connected.
What are some common mistakes you see new bands making and how can they avoid making them?
I think it comes back to the overindulgence in social media which is one thing. There’s also some bands getting into difficult touring or recording contracts which I think is less necessary now. I have a lot of history of that happening to me. Since the rise of the internet, it’s much easier to reach more people than ever before and you have more power at your fingertips but at the same time the market is a lot more diluted as a result of that. It’s a double-edged sword and knowing how to wield it, I think is really important. Some of the deals I see people getting signed on are really not great. I often caution bands and tell them to tread carefully as they don’t want to get signed into a long-term contract. There’s a lot more ways to reach people now in the unsigned market but make sure your craft is good. If your craft is good and you make the right business choices then you should do ok. Spend your time and money on getting really good songs and good marketing for those.
I think as well, some people don’t know how the music industry works. Some bands want to play everywhere, but if it doesn’t make monetary sense then they can’t really do it. Most of the time it’s not down to the bands as to where they play.
Aside from releasing the new album, what are the band’s plans for the next 6 to 12 months?
It’s back into Blind Guardian and Iced Earth stuff. I have to get back into the zone of my own band and begin writing stuff in the new year. It’s kind of backwards to the way we wanted to do things but it’s worked out really well for us. It ended up being based around Wacken after we got offered the slot and it changed our plans. Instead of focusing on songwriting and then doing some shows, it ended up with us juggling everything at once. I had everything done and ready for Hansi to track the album by March 18th. By the time we got together to assemble the live band in May, he was not done yet so in the gaps of the schedule he was tracking the vocals in the Blind Guardian studio. The earliest we can do some touring off this album is probably 2022 to be honest as we’ve both got new albums in our respective bands which we’ll be working on.
So yeah, no real plans for anything with Demons until 2022 potentially but Iced Earth will be releasing a new record probably around quarter one of 2021 if everything lines up. I’ll be doing some more hiking in between those times and other projects I’ve got going on.
What would you say are your favourite places to hike in?
My favourite area would probably be the Sedona area around Flagstaff, Arizona and I’d love to go hiking in the rocky mountains. If my schedule lines up, I’m hoping to hike there in May which will be awesome. I prefer hiking in the mountains as opposed to in the forests as it can get really muggy. The red rocks area in Arizona is super nice and I love hiking there.
Tea or Coffee?
I’m a coffee guy but I know tea is better for me. I have this brewer thing for tea and I really like green tea but I prefer coffee as it’s quicker in the mornings. I like whatever is strong and easy to make. I got some really good Jamaican coffee recently which I ground fresh this morning and is really nice. The Italians and the Swedes do really nice coffee as well. You get a much more robust coffee in Europe compared to the states.
III is scheduled for release on the 21st of February via Century Media Records