Exclusive! Interview With Vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens of Iced Earth
Tuesday, January 27, 2004 @ 8:33 PM
From Judas Priest to Iced Eart
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When the news broke that Ripper Owens was to become the new singer of Iced Earth, I was floored much like everyone else. In just two albums with Judas Priest, Ripper had begun to carve his own place in the Metal world, and now the opportunity had come for him to join a band on the true forefront of Metal. The Glorious Burden, Iced Earthís latest, has succeeded in being the album that grabs the listener from the opening seconds rather than taking repeated listen after listen to appreciate. Iced Earth, Ripper Owens, and all those involved are at the top of their game. Be prepared for 2004 is going to see world domination for Iced Earth!
KNAC.COM: So whatís up? Are you taking some time off before the albumís release? OWENS: We did finally get some rest. Itís been a hectic promotion from photo shoot to interviewsÖ
KNAC.COM: Is the album even out yet in Europe? OWENS: NoÖ nowhere. It comes out January 13th everywhere. No press or anything has gotten a copy.
KNAC.COM: I had to put in a secret password to listen to it. OWENS: Itís kind of a neat idea, but you donít get to really hear it as good if you donít have a great computer system. Like me, Iíve got an all right computer but my sound card is not so hot.
KNAC.COM: I think the album is going to turn a lot of heads. OWENS: I think it will do well. Every Iced Earth record has gotten better every time. I think this one has definitely got to be the best.
KNAC.COM: For all those who donít know, how did your involvement with the band come about? OWENS: Itís funny. Iíve known Jon [Schaffer, guitar] for years. I met him at a Judas Priest show that I was playing in Indianapolis on the ĎJugulatorí tour in í98. I was out walking around, had a hat on, was looking at the merchandise, and he saw me and came up and talked to me. We stayed in contact. He would call all the time, like ďWhat are you doing?ĒÖ
KNAC.COM: So this started to take form quite some time agoÖ OWENS: Yeah, obviously Matt [Barlow, former Iced Earth singer] was going strong, but he told me when he heard my voice, thatís what he writes for. We were really thinking like a side project. Thatís what happened this past year. He called and was like, ďDo you want to do a side project?Ē At that time, it was like March or April. With the way Priest works, it would have been two or three years before we would do anything. I was like, ďYeah, Iíd definitely like to. Iíd have to get an ok by my manager because of my contract.Ē It didnít get that far. What happened was he called in May, ďThe albumís done. We were mixing it down, and I wasnít happy at all with the vocals.Ē Matt wanted to leave the band in SeptemberÖ
KNAC.COM: He just wasnít into it? OWENS: He wasnít into it. Jon wanted him to stay around. I donít think it was bad. I also heard a finished product whereas Jon worked his ass off for it to sound the way it does.
KNAC.COM: From experience, I know in music that if you have other things on your mind, you arenít going to perform 100%... OWENS: Yeah, so I think thatís what happened. Jon asked if Iíd be interested in the vocals. I was under a tight contract, but as a guest vocalist it would be perfectly fine. So thatís what we did. I went to his house, and I actually re-wrote the song, ďRed Baron.Ē I wrote the lyrics and melodies...
KNAC.COM: Awesome song, by the wayÖ OWENS: Thank you! I think I laid the vocals for that song in about a half hour or 45 minutes. I went and did the album in 5 days. It all went well. We got along great. Iím on my way home, and I tell my wife, ďMan, I sometimes wish Priest would just get Rob back and fire me because Iíd never quit the band. So let me spread my wings more. Thatís the only time itís ever going to happen.Ē I never would have left Priest or burned any bridges. It was only two or three days afterward that they called and were like, ďYou know, weíve been talking with RobÖĒ
KNAC.COM: Wow, talk about timingÖ OWENS: It was really funny. I told them months and months ago, ďListen, get Rob back. Iím all right. Donít not make the decision because of me. Donít wait months and months down the road then decide when Iím sitting at home.Ē It was kind of a catch 22.
"Iím really, extremely happy that [Halford & Priest are] together. Hopefully, we can do some shows together this year."
KNAC.COM: Was getting Rob back something that was talked about for a long time? OWENS: No, it wasnít. It might have been internally. Mainly, when the decision came down, it happened really quick. There were probably internal talks for a little bit. I know for a fact that it probably would have taken a lotÖ it had to be done for them to get him back. I think Glenn probably thought if we have to do it, weíll do it. We had a good thing. We had a good relationship. I think finally there was no other choice. Really, itís the ultimate outcome. The whole thing was everybody could see it coming. Judas Priestís records werenít selling. Halfordís records werenít selling. I think itís great how much Iced Earthís records are selling. To sell a few hundred thousand copies of a recordÖ and Iím in Priest, and their albums combined with Halfordís probably arenít selling that. I donít know. I think they need each other and I think itís the perfect time. Iím really, extremely happy that theyíre together. Hopefully, we can do some shows together this year.
KNAC.COM: That would be great. OWENS: Yeah, that would be awesome. I donít know for sure if itís going to happen. Everybody knows, and Iíve told everybody that it would be great.
KNAC.COM: I think the strength of Iced Earth is that the band has reached a point where itís transcending genres. You canít lump Iced Earth into the Power Metal category. You see Hardcore kids rocking Iced Earth shirts along with Old School metal-heads. OWENS: I think Iced Earth has a wide variety of fans, and I think itís even wider now with me coming into the band. Itís a different element. The thing with Iced Earth is the dedication to Metal. Jon always says, ďFuck trends.Ē Jon doesnít even know what anybody sounds like now. He doesnít listen to music thatís coming out. He watches the news and runs his store. Iím the same way. Iím a Heavy Metal fan and I donít want to be anything else. I could sing other types of music. Thereís no question in my mind, but thatís not me. Thatís what brings people to Iced Earth, and I think with every record theyíve grown and changed a bit. They used to be a hell of a lot heavier earlierÖ
KNAC.COM: Definitely thrashierÖ OWENS: Yeah, and the songwriting wasnít as good. Jon will be the first to tell you. I came to like the band better as they went on. Iced Earth has gotten better in songwriting and better as a band over time.
KNAC.COM: So this thing automatically gelled? OWENS: It did gel. We got along really well. Itís just this chemistry thing that we had. After Priest and I split, I didnít decide to join immediately. I waited about a month or so. I had other offers. I had about 10 or 15 other offers. I had good offers. I had some offers from bands that werenít known, but had a major label and major management. Anybody else would have jumped at that, but I had to think of what was best for now and for the future.
KNAC.COM: And also what is going to fuel you creatively? OWENS: You know, exactly! Some singers have left Heavy Metal in the past and been able to come back because theyíve been in Metal for a long time and they just decided to try something. You can do that, but for me, I donít think Iíve done enough to earn that right to try something else thatís kind of off the beaten path. You know what I mean? Like a Nu-Metal excursion or somethingÖ the thing is if I did it, would I be able to deal with it tomorrow? What do I love? What can I do now that I can do 10 years from now? Thatís the thing with Iced Earth. I can do that. I could join a band, sell a million copies, be killer, and then the next record sell a hundred thousand, not have another record and never be seen again. Thatís what I didnít want. Iíd rather sell 300,000 copies or more, and do my own thing. Iced Earth is heavy. The whole thing that I went through toÖ I am Heavy Metal, and I believe itÖ this band is a well-oiled machine that keeps getting bigger.
KNAC.COM: Not to slag what you did with Priest in the past, but listening to the new album, it sounds like youíve found a better-fitting niche. OWENS: The thing with this is Iím able to do some things that I couldnít do with Priest. Obviously, Priest arenít fans, I mean everybody really knows this, but they arenít big fans of Iron Maiden. Everybody knows that. They like the guys, but you know... I have a tendency to have a high, soaring natural voice. I couldnít really use it. If I sounded too much like Halford, I would be bombarded. Thatís just how I sing. I have a voice that could sound like a Dio, a Halford, Bruce DickinsonÖ all that mixed into one voice. In Priest, I had to watch those things. I had to sing more in character. Now I can do what I want.
KNAC.COM: It comes across as more natural, too. OWENS: The thing about it is also, 75-90% of the takes on this record were done on the first take. It was never cut up a lot. That was the big thing. They just let me go and sing. That was a big thing. I loved the records with Priest. I loved Demolition, and I loved Jugulator. I loved it because there were a lot of different characters in the voice, and a lot of different feelings. I donít like to be too stagnant and too much of the same. I like to be versatile. I think Priest let me do that. I like to sing different all the time. This is just another way that people can hear me sing now. Thatís the fun of it. I enjoy those albums. Whatís funny now is Iíve talked to a lot of people who like Demolition now, but didnít like it when it came out. Thatís the funny thing. It was an album that would grow on you. The vocals in Iced EarthÖ the difference is Jon and Glenn are different writers. Jon writes with a lot more passion, a lot more melodic, a lot more vocalized. He writes these amazingly melodies. Glenn writes more in character. Itís fucking killer. He writes these character-like voices, which is a lot of fun. Five days, though, doing the vocals is pretty quick. I would have liked to have spent two weeks. There are some songs that I would have liked to have made better. ďValley ForgeĒ is one of my least favorites. In truth, I would have liked to have stepped up ďRed BaronĒ a bit. Maybe Iím pickier on that because I wrote the lyrics and the melodies. On the other hand, I canít complain. They were still all good to me. When you spend five days on a record, you always think, ďWell maybe, I should have spent six days.Ē Thereís a lot of people that Iíve played it for, that have said itís the best Iced Earth. Itís pretty cool to hear it.
KNAC.COM: So what happens next on the Iced Earth agenda? OWENS: We shot two videos. We shot a video for ďWhen the Eagle CriesĒ and for ďThe ReckoningĒÖ
KNAC.COM: ďThe ReckoningĒ has to be one of my favoritesÖ OWENS: Itís a pretty cool video. ďWhen the Eagle CriesĒ is really good. It makes the song better because itís just a passionate video. Itís just Jon and a lot of extras watching TV on 9-11. Itís fucking killer. ďThe ReckoningĒ is a brutal, in-your-face video where I look ugly. I probably needed to put more make-up on. Itís a good video. Itís not as good as Jon and I would have liked, but itís good. ďThe ReckoningĒ is cool because I worked on it at home, and I had my baby in my arms when I was singing it. I originally was going to sing that song high in my natural voice, but then all of a sudden, itís like letís try a falsetto. I think itís kind of a Metal Church, Priest-style. Now whenever I put on the video, my son could be doing anything, he just hears that riff, and he starts watching the TV. He wonít watch anything, but heíll watch the Judas Priest Live in London DVD, and then heíll watch ďThe ReckoningĒ video.
KNAC.COM: Thatís got to be better than watching Disney videos all the time! OWENS: Oh, he watches that shit, too. I get up in the morning and put Sesame Street on, but he could give two shits, heís six months old. Loud music, heís turn his head, but Elmo heís like, ďWhatever.Ē He doesnít do much different than I do. He wants to sit around, shit his pants, and not do anything. I mean, thatís what I do all day. But yeah, weíve been busy as hell doing this promotion and the album coming up. The single debuted at 13 on the Billboard top 100 singles chart. It was number one in Greece on their regular pop charts. Itís done really well for something that hasnít been pushed. I think itís sold 60,000 copies worldwide. Thatís good for a single from a Heavy Metal band. I think weíre going to take February for rehearsals and start the tour up in March. Weíll go all over the place.
"...with Iced Earth, I wouldnít be surprisedÖ this next album we do should be nominated for a Grammy. 'Glorious Burden' should be nominated for a Grammy."
KNAC.COM: Do you know who youíre going out with? OWENS: I donít, but Iíve heard in Europe, Primal Fear might be doing some shows and some other band Iíve never heard of. Iíve heard some other bands mentioned for the states like Children of Bodom and DoroÖ all kinds of shit. Anything thatís close to usÖ I donít something thatís too fucking heavy, and I donít want something thatís too siss-ified. I donít want some kind of a sissy band, a glam band. I think Primal Fear is a great band to tour with in Europe and I would hope they would tour with us all over.
KNAC.COM: I think Blind Guardian would be a good pick. OWENS: Blind Guardian would be good, but I think the thing about that tour is it would be like a co-headlining thing whereas I would rather have a headlining tour. I think probably if we did the states, I think Iced Earth would headline, right? In the states, Iced Earth would headline. Europe would have to be co-headlining. That would be good. Thereís all kinds of good bills. Itís just a matter of whoís available right now. We want to come back and do a support thing for like Priest or Maiden. That would be cool. Other than that, weíre not going to jump out with someone else thatís not a major one like that. It has to be somebody thatís big. You usually end up losing money when you support people like that so you have to make sure itís not a Metal act thatís going to draw the same amount as you. I hope we do all the festivals in the summer. Itís going to be a good time. Iím going to do a side project when Iím off. Maybe I can talk to Scott Ian about playing a tune. Itís all shit Iíve written. Iím going to be playing mostly with my friends around here. They donít get to travel around the world and be a rock star, but theyíre good musicians. Iím going to record a demo, get a deal, and do that on the off-time.
KNAC.COM: Itís good when the creativity flows like that. OWENS: It is good, and Iíve been writing these songs for a while. Some of these were actually written for Priest. Thatís what makes it so exciting.
KNAC.COM: Are you playing guitar, bass, and everything on the demo? OWENS: Well, Iím going to have my friends play it, but Iíve played everything on the four-track version I wrote at my house. It was all written by me, and itís cool to do that. Iíve never done it. This will be the first time Iíve written everything. It will be good. It will be basic Heavy Metal, chunky riffs, catchy choruses. That was another thing with Jon. He said, ďYou do your own thing. Iíll do Demons and Wizards and you do your own thing.Ē He wants me to do my own thing, too. He said thatís how you learn. Itís all good.
KNAC.COM: Iíve got to ask youÖ youíve lived the Metal fans dream, playing with Priest and now Iced Earth. How does it feel? OWENS: Itís great. I mean, just imagine getting a phone call from Judas Priest. Itís still an amazing thing. I look at my walls and see all of us, Pantera, Dio, Sum 41, Anthrax and all these picturesÖ Grammy certificates for MetalÖ Itís like a dream. I went from being nobody to being the lead singer of Judas Priest, and now jumping on board for something thatís going to truly leave its mark on Heavy Metal. There will be a time where I will go out in public, and people will say, ďOh, youíre the singer of Iced Earth.Ē Right now you donít get that. Itís an underground type thing. Now with Iced Earth, I wouldnít be surprisedÖ this next album we do should be nominated for a Grammy. Glorious Burden should be nominated for a Grammy. When I was nominated for a Grammy with Judas Priest, I mean, Nashville Pussy was nominated. I can see Iced Earth nominated. If they got by how good the music is, how good the record is for Heavy Metal, thereís no doubt in my mind that they will get it. Thatís what I feel. All of this was made possible by Judas Priest being my dream come true, and now I can continue to do it. Some people said after Judas Priest and I split, ďWell, at least you got to travel the world.Ē Iím thinking, ďWhat? Did I fucking die?Ē Itís funny because two months after that Iím in ten countries in 14 days or something like that. Itís an amazing thing. I savor it all the time, and thatís why Iím as grounded as I can be. Iím as normal as I can be. Thatís because I would never give it up. Iím so thankful for it. If people out there donít like me, and they didnít like me with Priest, then they can suck my dick.
KNAC.COM: Hell yeah! OWENS: That was mean, man. I shouldnít have said that. That took me right off the ground.
KNAC.COM: Yeah, the ďgroundedĒ thing is a little shaky now. OWENS: Yeah. [laughs] Youíve got to have a sense of humor. Iíll tell you what, I laughed so much with Judas Priest. We laughed so much, and right away thatís what I brought into Iced Earth. Jim Morris, Jon, and I sat in the studio and just laughed our asses off.
KNAC.COM: Yeah, some people in Metal take things a bit too seriously and suddenly the fun element is out the window. OWENS: Yeah, I donít think the old school metal guys take it too seriously. A lot of these newer bands are becoming philosophers like Disturbed. You hear them in interviews, and theyíre like philosophers. Youíve got to joke around. Youíve got to come out of your shell. People like that. You can be serious when you write and when you sing, but you donít have to be uptight when youíre not.
KNAC.COM: I think thatís one of the things that Pantera had going for them. They wrote brutal stuff, but they were always goofing off, too. OWENS: Yeah, and theyíre such nice guys.
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KNAC.COM: How did you develop your voice? What kind of training did you have? OWENS: Obviously, I grew up singing whatever my dad had laying around whether it was Elvis, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, or whatever it was. I was always in chorus or whatever in school. I took drum lessons, guitar lessons, and I just listened to music. That was the one thing I was gifted in. I sure wasnít gifted in getting good grades. My wife is in the engineering field. Iíd like to have it like that. Iíd like to make $25, $30 an hour. I was born with being a good musician, and most of the ones who are born like that donít get to do what I do. I got lucky and got a break. I grew up singing all this stuff, and I just take care of it now. I drink a lot of water and take vitamins. Youíre born with it and you work at it. I worked really hard on getting my voice where it is. I tried to develop it into something different.
KNAC.COM: Well, all the hard work has paid off, man. OWENS: It has. I donít know what the hell Iíd be doing. Iíd be one of those Mexicans working at Wal-Mart. Iíd be getting like 30 cents an hour.
KNAC.COM: Youíd have to sing the Wal-Mart song. OWENS: They have a Wal-Mart song?
KNAC.COM: Every morning before they open, they have a store meeting and they have to sing the Wal-Mart song. OWENS: Well, you know what would have happened to me with the luck I have? Somebody would have discovered me singing that, and I would become a star! I would have shot right up to Broadway. Iíd be in Wal-Mart commercials, and the only thing Iíd be wearing would be that smiley face right over my balls! ďPrices falling down!Ē Hell, at least if I worked at Wal-Mart, I could get discounts. Thatís where I buy my Dickies. Thereís your inside info. Ripper Owens buys his Heavy Metal wardrobe at Wal-Mart.
KNAC.COM: Weíll print that! OWENS: I ainít ashamed. I like to go in there. When you go in there, you can look at everyone, count all their teeth and still not have a mouthful! Including me because I donít have all mine either! Itís like Iím at home. Itís funny because everything we bought for Christmas was bought at Wal-Mart. Everythingís got the Wal-Mart stamp of approval on it!