It’s almost out of the question that Iced Earth is Jon Schaffer and some other musicians who are currently playing with him. Well, this is very true. Jon has to be credited for carrying Iced Earth over the years and has all the rights to decide what to do with the band which he founded and made successful. But that wasn’t always like this. The guitarist Randall Shawver spent nearly a decade with Iced Earth — from the demo “Enter The Realm” to “The Dark Saga” album. Needless to say, that his contribution to the band’s music was almost equal to Jon’s contribution. Randy’s guitar defined the sound of such releases like “Night Of The Stormrider” or “Burnt Offerings”. A lot of the songs which were written or co-written by Randy are still in the band’s live set. This is why in 2012 Stay Heavy connected with Randy who shared a lot of interesting thoughts.
Hello dear Randall! Please tell me how did you get to know heavy metal music and start play guitar? Did you play in any band before you joined Iced Earth?
I started listening to rock/metal when I was about 11 years old. I started playing guitar at age 12. I got a copy of Judas Priest “Sad Wings of Destiny “ and I was hooked on metal from then on. I went to many concerts over the next years such as Kiss, Nazareth, Ozzy , Black Sabbath , Judas Priest , Iron Maiden etc. I also listened to classical music such as Bach, Beethoven , as well as Al Di Meola and other progressive artists. I never wanted to emulate one style of music but try and bring aspects of each into my current project. I am good at ear training so I could pick up songs easily on the guitar. I also took 3 years of classical guitar training.
How did you become a part of Iced Earth? Did you get a chance to hear them when they were Purgatory?
I was preparing to move to New York to look for a band since Florida was dead for heavy metal. I located an ad in Thoroughbred music in Tampa and called Jon. After we met he hired me on the spot after listening to my demos and hearing me play. I never heard them before I played in the band.
Tampa gave birth to a lot of death metal bands like Deicide. Did you feel comfortable on the Tampa’s metal scene considering the fact that your music was a bit different?
Tampa never had a metal scene other than for death metal, and even then those bands never got the support that they received in other parts of the world. There were a lot of bands and musicians around for a while, but the local concert scene never got as big as in Europe, Asia , etc.
Right from the start Iced Earth collaborated with Tom Morris and his Morrisound Studios. What do you think about this collaboration nowadays? What album by Iced Earth do you like most in terms of sound and production? Would you personally like to work with some other producer at that time?
Tom Morris is a good guy. Great place to record a metal record. I think it is easier for Jon to give Tom a few grand out of the recording budget and let him play guitar than to hire a guitarist who may want to be more than a low paid session/touring musician. I like “Burnt Offerings” the most on the pure aggression of the sound. Technically I like “Night of the StormRider” and the debut record. “Dark Saga” was a drastic change that I did not care too much for. I understand the reasoning of trying to be more commercially accessible for Todd Mcfarlane , but none of the songs made it to the “Spawn” movie anyways. The approach got way too simplistic for my tastes and Tom probably helped sway Jon in that direction for future releases. I didn’t think about other producers as they only recorded the records when I was in the band. I didn’t really need their advice.
Booklets of many Iced Earth albums read that Jon Shaffer played all the rhythm guitars in the studio while you played only solos. Why was it like that? Didn’t you like to play rhythm guitar or something else?
I could play 95% of the rhythm guitar on all of the records live. But it is better for one guitarist to handle the rhythms in the studio as every nuance of the playing will be more accurate in the recording. I played all of the solos. I also played the acoustic parts that I wrote as Jon was not very good at learning other people’s music. I played all of the harmonies as Jon could not harmonize guitar parts. I came up with keyboard parts such as in the middle of “Dante’s Inferno” on the guitar, which was then played by a keyboardist. Also the middle eastern harmonies in “Mystical End” were mine, although I did not receive any writing credits as I guess it was just a “solo”. So a lot of the parts that help set the song moods are derived from my parts as well as the rhythm guitars, though they may not appear in the writing credits.
You composed a lot of Iced Earth songs which became classics together with Jon. So can you describe this partnership: who brought riffs and melodies? Did Jon try to tell you how to play solos or whatever?
We both worked independently and came up with as much music as we could. Then when a record needed to be made, we got together and threw around ideas. I would give Jon a tape with a few hundred ideas. He would come back and tell me what he liked and we would write songs with his and my material. Once the songs were written, we rehearsed them and recorded them during rehearsal. I would then go home and improvise solos, sometimes hundreds of times. I would then go back and listen to them, pick out parts that I liked, and build the solo from there. Nobody ever told me what to play as far as solos. I wouldn’t have listened anyways.
What are your 3 favorite tracks from Iced Earth legacy and why?
“Pure Evil” is one. I wrote most of that song and it is still played live today. “Burnt Offerings” is another as I think it is just a brutal sounding song. “Dante’s Inferno”. Although I didn’t write the riffs in the song, I wrote the leads, harmonies, and some of the sinister sounding keyboard parts that were placed in the song and make it sound so evil. I don’t think the re-recorded version has the aggression and impact of the original.
Jon writes almost all lyrics in Iced Earth but did you try to offer him your ideas? Are there any lyrics of Iced Earth which you can’t stand?
I was never into lyrics much, even Iced Earths. I typically listen to guitars when I hear music and rarely listen to the singer or lyrics. The ballads such as I died for you I could not stand.
Iced Earth have always changed their line-up. Can you reveal a secret of your relationships with Jon? How could you play with him for nearly a decade? Were there any line-up changes which you would call as wrong? Do you still stay in touch with any ex-members of Iced Earth?
Me and Jon got along fine up until “Dark Saga”, then he seemed to want to make changes that I did not think were wise, such as simpler songs, with not many leads. That’s when he started having Tom experiment with his Led Zeppelin type solos. I stayed for a decade because it was fun and in the beginning it was fulfilling. But I do not think Jon ever wanted a band. He is happy to hire session musicians as you do not have to give up any control. You also can pay them less. The fact is that most of the bands that get huge keep stable lineups. So I guess Jon was more concerned with control and money for himself than with keeping a core of recognizable bandmates around that may be able to take it to the next level.
It seems that in the late 80’s – early 90’s Iced Earth were more popular in Europe than in the States. Why was it like that in your opinion? What was wrong with American metal scene at that time?
There was no American metal scene at the time. American music is trendy and grunge was the hot thing at the time. European and Asian fans do not follow trends and sought out music they liked, whether it was popular or not. Therefore we could still have a bigger, better audience abroad.
The band toured a lot together with Blind Guardian. Did you like their music? Can you tell me some stories about those tours?
I like Blind Guardians music. We had one bus for 17 people on the first tour and we all got so drunk every day that we had to rent two busses for the second tour. One bus was for partying and one was for resting. Hansi’s mom put us up in her house for a few days and cooked us dinner. They are good people.
What is your opinion about those arguments around the deal with Century Media Records which led to a 3 year hiatus? Was it a right decision? By the way what did you do during those years of hiatus?
Jon was really the one who did not want to record as he was not making any money at the time, due to the shitty contract we signed. We even talked about flying to California and breaking the legs of our record company executive. Once Jon started making money after renegotiating the record contract , all the other members were expected to be satisfied with making no money , even though he himself would not do the same ,which was evident from the 3 year hiatus. So it came down to being a business for Jon by then, and no longer a band. Once that attitude is set in motion, musicians would begin to come and go regularly. I would have preferred to record yearly records and get out of the contract sooner than to wait three years. Nobody but Jon was going to make any real money, so it would have been better for everyone except for Jon to keep putting out records.
You left the band after very successful album “The Dark Saga”. What was the reason for this decision? In some interviews Jon claimed that you lost an interest in making music. Is it correct? Were you disappointed by the whole music business or were you tired of Jon’s control over everything in the band?
I lost interest in putting in just as much work as any other band member and getting far less money and far less recognition. I play guitar daily and write music constantly. I will never lose my passion for playing. I will never work for someone again who thinks they deserve all the money and recognition. This situation, along with the shitty state of the music industry, compelled me to step back and take a break. Jon asked me to keep writing music for Iced Earth when I left, but I was just too frustrated at the time to agree to do such. I then had neck surgery as my neck was fucked up. This was about 2004. I worked for Dell, Microsoft, and now work as a security analyst.
Did you get any offers to join any band after your departure from Iced Earth?
I never pursued other bands as I needed a break.
You had a band called Yuhrott. What does this title means? How can you describe the music of this band? And why did you record only one demo?
At the time we were going to record a CD with the band name Yuhrott and the title In hell. So it would be You Rot in Hell. I guess it was a play on words. The singer Tank moved to Seattle and I was preparing to have neck surgery so it was put on hold and never finished.
In my opinion Iced Earth without you changed a lot and I wouldn’t say I love these changes. And what about you? Do you keep an eye on what they are doing nowadays? Do you like their albums since “Something Wicked…” and further?
Jon will always be a good riff writer, but it seems to have gotten repetitive and less creative. I don’t really follow what Iced Earth is doing. I have heard some of the records after I left. I think the guitarists he has hired are good players, but the menacing, aggressive, sometimes abstract elements that I injected into the early music is missing. I am more into setting moods through music than playing arpeggios and being the fastest soloist on earth. I guess he could not find another guitarist who can come to the table with creative ideas and the will to see them through.
I heard some tracks like “Classical” and “Pop Hip Hop” on your MySpace page. Did you write these tracks? And what kind of music you prefer to listen to nowadays? Do you still play music at least for your own satisfaction?
Yes I wrote the music. I always play and compose music. I literally have thousands of pieces of music written over the last 25 years. I listen to metal , as well as things I have always listened to such as Bach, Paganini, progressive music.
You Facebook page reads that you worked for Microsoft Corporation. Can you say a few words about your present day job and personal life outside music?
I work for a different company now as a security analyst. It is a technical job that keeps me busy. I do have plans to put more effort into music. It will just be a while longer.
Do you still stay in touch with Jon Shaffer? Didn’t he try to join the band at least for one show on stage? And do you still have copyrights on those songs you composed for Iced Earth?
I have not spoken to Jon since he called two weeks after I left the band and asked me to keep writing music for Iced Earth. I get publishing for the songs that I composed.
Please say a few words for Stay Heavy readers and your fans in Russia.
Hello my Russian friends! When I look at the world and think about who has the smartest and most creative people , I always think of Russia and the USA at the top of the list. It would have been an honor to meet the Russian metal fans. Hopefully one day I can visit your great country!