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Jon Schaffer’s Purgatory

These days Jon Schaffer reigns supreme with his main band Iced Earth. Yet that band came into being out of the ashes of Purgatory in the late eighties. They released three demos at that time and five songs are now rearranged and rerecorded. On the 21st of December the EP, simply entitled ‘Purgatory’, was released. The material has gotten an upgrade like fury. After several attempts to call, we finally got Jon Schaffer on the line to find out about the motives behind this initiative. Based in a German hotel, he tells us everything about it.

By: Vera | Archive under heavy / power metal

band imageHow and when did you come to the idea to resurrect Purgatory?
It seems like it had to happen, it was fate. I was looking at old Purgatory material at the Iced Earth building and I stumbled upon photos and flyers of the old days. I was wondering how these guys were doing. We hadn’t seen each other for so many years. Then I was watching the Iced Earth Facebook and saw that Gene Adam (Purgatory vocalist who also sings on the first Iced Earth album – Vera) should do an interview. It had been 27 long years since I had seen Gene. I looked at it and he mentioned the band he was in now. I searched for their website and contacted him. He called me back and told me that he would be in Tampa one week later. We decided to have a drink together and that’s what we did. It was a nice time, we talked about the early days and at the end of the evening I asked him if he would enjoy to rerecord some of the old songs. I know so much more about working in a studio now and I thought we would be able to upgrade the material. It seemed like an amazing idea to him and so we got in action. The only break in my agenda was in between a European tour with Iced Earth in January and the American tour in February/March. Then I had two weeks off. We did this nine days production during that break.

That is really quick. Wasn’t it difficult to regroup the former members?
Only Gene, Bill (Owen – bassist – Vera) and me were involved. We only have three out of five original members on the EP. The drummer Greg was not active as a musician anymore and nobody had had contact with Richard Bateman anymore. Recently we found out that he had passed away late September. That was a real shock! Fifty years old… tragic. But I had some session musicians I once played with, friends like Mark Prater who helped me with the first Demons & Wizards albums and he played on ‘The Dark Saga’ and ‘Something Wicked…’ of Iced Earth. He is a sound engineer himself and he used to work at the Morrisound Studios years ago. He is a session drummer as well. He is really incredible! He has played some parts in the studio and furthermore we have Ruben Drake (bass – Vera) who contributed to Demons & Wizards and Sons Of Liberty in the past. He is a friend and a session musician in Tampa, a fine guy, so he plays on the album. Jim Morris played a couple of guitar solos and arranged them. We produced the album together. With a team like that, nothing can go wrong!

Indeed, also Jim Morris became a legendary guy as producer. Strange how everybody has found his way in life. That must have been a nostalgic happening!
It surely was. It was amazing and we are most likely the first big band – not a real band, but a bunch of professional musicians – who recorded at the new Morrisound Studios. It is completely renewed and innovated. It is at a different location now, but still in Tampa and it has the newest things of equipment and material. I even do not know if they already announced this, but I think they did, since our recordings took place late January. I have recorded my guitars at home, but all the other guys are living in Florida, so it made sense that I went over to them in Florida.’

Which memories do you have on the foundation of Purgatory in your early youth?
I still remember very clear how I made and designed the logo at school, I followed lessons for graphic designer. When I do something, I always get very deep and intense in the matter. I go all the way, with all my dedication. The will to succeed was there from the very beginning. It was in the second half of 1984 that I designed the logo and later we decided to change the name. We made an official announcement of our existence on the 20th of January 1985. Not so much later, Greg and I decided to leave Indiana and settle down in Florida. We started our adventure right there and met Bill, Gene and Richard. It was a time of working hard, a difficult time, but after playing with many musicians, we finally found a proper line-up. We lived in abandoned, empty houses and went through a lot of shit. People will hardly be able to imagine all the things we did to make this band real. But once we were properly settled there and met the three other guys, things started to get serious. They were also very devoted and we rehearsed a lot. But we had to change the name of the band when we started to grow. It is a wonderful, amazing time for me when thinking back now. We were totally wild and crazy. Out of control guys. We partied every day and lived on the streets.

Were you a rebellious teenager or more into books and history then already?
A rebel, without any doubt. I already had my times with interests in books and history when I was a lot younger; but when I was around 16, 17 or 18 years old, everything turned around the band, partying and girls. We were young and wild.

That’s a normal age to revolt of course…
I think that the age of revolting never goes away in my case (chuckles), but of course you change through the years…

Out of Purgatory, Iced Earth was born. Later you used some ideas of Purgatory for Iced Earth, like ‘Horror Show’, isn’t it?
Concerning themes in a sense, yes. The song ‘Jack’ was originally a Purgatory song. Here and there, there are small pieces I had initially written for Purgatory ending up in an Iced Earth song, or even in a Demons & Wizards song. But these were bits and pieces, not whole arrangements. Just take the Iced Earth song ‘Dracula’ on ‘Horror Show’, that has absolutely nothing to do with ‘Dracula’ of Purgatory. Same goes for ‘Jack’ and ‘Burning Oasis’ is a title I really liked, thus I wrote a song about it for Purgatory, but when we recorded ‘Burnt Offerings’, I have written another song called ‘Burning Oasis’ and this one is also not comparable with the Purgatory song. On this EP you will find the originals, but performed in the right way and recorded with better sound. With this team it is absolutely impossible to record something weak. When we did our first recordings, we were still kids. We hardly knew what we were doing, but the song ideas were good. The basis concept was good, but we were a bunch of beginners when playing our instruments.

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Where is ‘In Your Dreams’ coming from?
That song includes one new riff I have added, but the rest is old material. At that time, everything was based on horror movies. We were fond of them. That song is about Freddie Kruger and ‘Nightmare On Elm Street”. ‘Jason’ is inspired by ‘Friday the 13th’ and ‘Jack’, ‘Dracula’ and ‘Burning Oasis’ do not only refer to horror movies, but it is also about a town which is condemned by God, a kind of ‘Sodom & Gomorrah’ story. And there was more. We had a song called ‘Play The Chain’ and that was about ‘Leatherface’ and ‘Chainsaw Massacre’. For a club band we had quite a theatrical show and that was all based on dark stuff and horror movies. That was our thing.

The Song ‘Dracula’ has obvious seventies hard rock influences…
The intro surely has a kind of Pink Floyd affinity, that’s because I had asked Ruben to get loose on his fretless bass. He is good in that. Earlier he did some fretless bass parts for Demons & Wizards and for Sons Of Liberty.

Are there still other songs laying on the shelf, which can or will be rerecorded in future?
Well, at the moment we changed the band name into Iced Earth, we had 28 to 30 songs. That’s a lot. There is a lot to choose from. When we should decide to rerecord other old songs – and I am sure that would be fun – then it would lead to a lot of work. It demands a lot from us and it take a lot of time before the product is really finished. There is a busy schedule coming up to me with Demons & Wizards and Iced Earth. I really don’t know when I will find the time to do more old stuff. If the people really like it, then we might consider doing a sequel in a couple of years. Maybe. Live gigs I consider highly unlikely. I have already two bands which demand a lot of input from me and I don’t think that I can get Bill and Gene in a tour bus for a club tour at the age of fifty (laughs). That’s not really realistic. It was fun when we were teenagers, let’s keep it like that. What we are trying to achieve with this, is paying tribute and honouring the history of Iced Earth. We are truly a band of brothers and we used to be totally crazy back in the days. Celebrating this for fun together, as friends who meet again, that’s what it is all about.

Do you still have recordings from The Rose?
No, we even did not record anything at all with The Rose. Maybe a chambox recording in a room, but that was really a garage band. Well, Purgatory too in the beginning, but then we built it up in the environments of Tampa by playing in bars and things like that. No, there are no proper recordings of The Rose.

Which music did you listen to at that time?
The same stuff as I always mentioned. We were all fond of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Kiss. We also listened to Mercyful Fate and Nasty Savage. The most important bands came out of the NWOBHM and old WOBHM. That is – without any doubt – the music we were growing up with.

We already dropped the name several times during this interview. Finally a third album of Demons & Wizards is in the making, so it seems…
We are working on that. I am now in Germany and we have a lot of meetings. We have to announce the things when the time is ripe for it. We are working on it, that’s true.

And what are the plans for Iced Earth for the near future?
Iced Earth will be on hold for a while, while we are working on Demons & Wizards. In 2019 we will play at many big Summer festivals. Few recordings will come out, things will be announced soon.

Is it also possible that you would write new stuff for Purgatory?
No, highly unlikely. Well if people really dig it and the demand is overwhelming, then I would consider it, but I really doubt it. It would be more fun to work on old material that’s still lying on the shelf. That old stuff makes it special. Actually, I do not see any reason or need to work on new material for Purgatory, because I have to be fully committed to my established bands, more precisely Iced Earth and Demons & Wizards. Or even Sons Of Liberty as well. That is also in the planning for the near future. I have some ideas in my head I want to realize. We are talking about a vinyl version of the first two albums. If I manage to write a couple more songs, then we can make a enticing package of it. There are so many things I would like to do, but there is always too few time to realize it all.

But at least we can say that Iced Earth is going through a very prosperous time again, isn’t it? With Stu Block you can travel the world, play at festivals and do long tours. That has become a huge success…
Indeed, that is amazing! We are having fantastic times together. We have an incredible relationship, the band is very close. At the end of the tour we went hiking together in the Desert Mountains in Arizona. Just the five of us and we had a superior time. This is more than a band, for sure!

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