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Flotsam And Jetsam

Flotsam And Jetsam
Lords Of Chaos


Архив интервью | Русская версия

Arizona’s Flotsam and Jetsam are among the few thrash metal bands that have never called in quits since their formation in the early 80s. They did have their share of hard times, but they soldiered on through thick and thin, so their latest record, “The End Of Chaos”, is already their 13th full-length album. Ever though the market nowadays is full of both newcomers and classic thrash metal bands, Flotsam and Jetsam are doing surprisingly well, with the album charting high in a lot of European countries, and we thought it was a great opportunity to finally interview the band for the first time in this webzine’s 12 years of history. This turned out not an easy undertaking, as singer Eric A.K. was absolutely impossible to reach, but guitarist Michael Gilbert stepped in to save the day, and within 25 minutes we discussed both the past and the present of Flotsam and Jetsam, as well as chances of finally seeing the band on the Russian soil.

First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the success of the new Flotsam and Jetsam album in European charts. It ranked at No. 19 in Germany, which is a great result for a metal band.

Thank you very much! We’re super excited about it. So far it’s got really good reviews, and the record’s actually charting right now, as you said, at No. 19 in Germany. We haven’t got all the results of where it’s at in other countries, but in the United States it was at No. 81, I think, on Billboard last week, which is pretty cool. I don’t know how long it’s gonna last there though.

In your opinion, what is behind the success of the new record? Why does it do better than the past few records, which also did alright?

I attribute that to Eric A.K. This guy is one of my best friends, and he’s a monster singer. I think he really nailed it with the songwriting this time, he did some really great choruses, some really rhythmic verses and some great lyrics, too, the content was awesome.

How much has your record label, AFM Records, contributed to the success of the band? I’ve talked to some musicians who believe that the most important thing nowadays is to have their record on Spotify, and it doesn’t matter that much who puts it there. What’s your opinion on that?

Well, the record label, they are really behind this release. They were the last one which we did, too, which was the self-titled record, “Flotsam and Jetsam” (2016), but this time it really seems that they are as excited as we are. They put together the box set, special edition vinyls and stuff like that, and they’re really hitting it hard with interviews and stuff. We’re lucky to be on AFM, they’re a great label for us, and, as I said, they’re 100 percent behind the band, which is great.

A while ago you worked with the crowdfunding platform Pledge Music for the release of the “Ugly Noise” album (2012). What were your impressions about this kind of distribution model?

Pledge, I think, is a great platform if you’re an established band. It can really be helpful to an artist in collecting their own money if they don’t have a record label that’s behind them that’s gonna push the record and do the marketing and stuff like that. If you’re a successful band or musician, you can get on the Pledge platform, and your fans are getting in the money to produce your own record, which is, I think, a great idea. On the other hand, the record label’s got its own pros to, because they’re gonna do the marketing and the promotion for you and they can reach a lot more people than Pledge can. That’s why we’re back on a label – because we want someone else to do the production part of it, we just wanna record and not worry about a Pledge campaign or anything like that.

My next question is about the songwriting process for “The End of Chaos”. I heard that you originally wrote about 40 songs for the new record, and then chose the best of them. Is it something that you usually do for a record – write several dozen songs and then choose the best ones? And what happens to the rest of the material – does it just gets thrown in a can?

No, we keep it on. We always say, “We’ll save this one for a B-side” or “We’ll save this one for the next record”. But Steve (Conley, guitar) and I are still writing music right now. These songs that we worked on for this last record, “The End Of Chaos”, they won’t get thrown out but they probably won’t get used on the next record either, because we write more updated material.

The songwriting process is still the same, we write the music and we send it over to A.K., and he kind of picks and choses what song he can write a strong verse or a strong chorus over. We try to get as many options as we can for him so that he gets more creative.

On the self-titled record there were a couple of songs which originate as far back as the 80s. Do you have more material like this waiting on a shelf and ready to be used at some point in the future?

From the 80s – yes, we have. There’s a few songs from the 80s still laying around. It’s just a cool nostalgic type of thing that they can bring out if we decide to ever use them on a new record coming up. There’s definitely some value to these old songs because of the era that they were created in.

I’m looking at the new album cover right now, and I wonder what connection this Flotzilla monster on the cover has with the album title, “The End Of Chaos…

You know, we were just getting a lot of requests to bring him back. He was on the cover of the first record (“Doomsday For The Deceiver”, 1986), and he was like a cool little mascot for us. He was on the shirts that we did for the “No Place For The Deceiver” tour a few years ago, so he was just kind of lingering around, and we thought we would bring him back on this record, because people have been requesting him. (laughs) I like him, he’s neater looking now than he has ever been.

You have a new drummer in the band, Ken Mary, whom most of the people know from a very different kind of music, as he used to play with Alice Cooper, House Of Lords, etc. Why did you choose Ken for the job and not somebody with a more thrash metal background?

Ken has been a friend of Steve Conley, the guitar player, for a lot of years, they just didn’t work together. When Jason Bittner decided that he was gonna sit in for Overkill, we asked Ken to do the upcoming tour, and he just kind of stuck around. He’s such a versatile drummer, he’s a freaking monster! On the first rehearsal we did with him I knew within a couple of seconds, “This is our guy! We need this guy in our band! He’s killer”. And he’s an awesome person, he’s a pretty funny guy, so he’s part of the family now, and we’re not gonna let him go.

Are you still in contact with the original Flotsam and Jetsam drummer, Kelly David Smith? Did you consider bringing him back, or does he still have those family issues that forced him to leave in 2014?

No, he’s got his personal things going on. I don’t think he would be ready to come back. I think Ken is the perfect fit for us now for what we’ve got going on, for this new chapter in the Flotsam and Jetsam book. Kelly is still a friend, I still talk to him all the time, I talked to him a couple of days ago.

Does he still play music?

He still plays drums. I don’t know if he is really looking to be in a band or anything like that, but I know he still plays. He’s a great drummer.

You personally spent about 11 years out of Flotsam and Jetsam in 1999-2010. What was the story behind your departure, and what were you doing during that decade?

Oh, I was still writing, I was writing music. Actually a lot of stuff that’s on “Ugly Noise” came from those years when I was dormant with the band. The reason why I left was management, and it seems like we kind of lost our way in the 90s. It seemed to me almost like we were working for the management and everybody else, I didn’t feel like it was our band anymore. I was like, “I’m done, I’m tired and stressed out about this”. It wasn’t worth it. We weren’t writing our greatest material at that time, and it just seemed like it was coming to a halt to me, so I was like, “I’ll start something else”. But I didn’t, I just ended up writing a bunch of music in my studio, and when I had enough material and they had asked me to come back, I stepped back in.

I noticed that while you were away, the band was playing nearly no shows, maybe one or two a year, and after you came back, the band started touring internationally again. Was it your initiative to tour on a bigger scale?

Oh, I always want to travel, I love being on the road, I love being overseas. (laughs) I love Europe! I have yet to go to China and Russia, but we visited Japan last year. I just love travelling! I could tour all the time - if that were a possibility, I would always be on the road. They did release a great record while I was departed from the band, and they had Mark Simpson (guitar) – they released “The Cold” (2010), which is phenomenal. But they didn’t do a lot of shows, they didn’t do a lot of touring.

Speaking about touring, I don’t know if you’ve heard about it, but there was a funny incident last week, when you announced a show at some Club Red, and Facebook automatically attributed that gig to the Club Red in Moscow…

That’s weird, because that club is actually here in Phoenix, Club Red… I want to come to Russia though! Get us in the Red Club, I want to come to Moscow!

That would be really cool! Have you ever been contacted to promoters or booking agents from Russia?

We’re working on that right now. We’re talking about maybe coming back [to Europe] after the summertime, maybe hitting some dates in Russia and some other countries we’ve never been to. Hopefully we’ll put together something like a package tour. I would love to tour with Destruction, I love touring with those guys, we’re good friends with them, and we get along great.

I’ve checked your setlists from recent shows, and basically there are only new songs from “The End Of Chaos” and a lot of old material from the first two records. Why do you focus that much on these two types of material, have you considered adding anything from the middle period?

We’re gonna be over there with Destruction and Overkill in a couple of weeks, and we’ll only have about 40-45 minutes, so we’re trying to cover all the classics. There’s a couple of them that we always have to play – we always have to play “Hammerhead”, we always have to play “No Place For Disgrace”, but we really want to push the new record since it’s doing really well, it’s really popular here on satellite radio. Hopefully we’ll get a headline tour over there and we’ll be able to play everything. (laughs)

A few years ago you re-recorded the entire “No Place For Disgrace” album (1988), and when a band does something like this, there’s always a sort of controversy around it: some fans are ok with the new version, while others prefer the original. Have you analyzed the response to “No Place For Disgrace 2014” – were there more people in favor of the original or the re-recording?

You know what? The only reason that we even considered re-recording it is because we couldn’t obtain the master tapes. Otherwise we would just remix the record. So we decided to re-record it, and a lot of fans were like, “Don’t do it! Don’t do it!” And after it came out, they were like, “OK, it’s OK”. (laughs) We’re lucky that people took to it, because a lot of the times that stuff fails. We’re lucky that it didn’t.

Are you planning to do anything with the album that followed the original “No Place For Disgrace” - “When The Storm Comes Down” (1990)?

I would love to remix that record, it is in desperate need of remixing, for sure. We’ve talked about it, but there’s nothing on the table yet, we’re just still kind of talking about it.

I know that a lot of people dislike the drum sound of this record or the sound of it in general. What were the circumstances around that recording session – were you in a rush in the studio or were you not seeing it eye-to-eye with the producer?

There were too many chiefs in charge. We had people mixing it that shouldn’t have been at the mix, and it just got confusing. I wasn’t at the mix for that, and I never liked the mix. There were too many chiefs involved, everybody thought that they wanted to hear this and wanted to hear that, and the next thing you know is that you’ve got a stew of crappy sounding record.

But I really like the material, there are a lot of cool songs on it!

Yeah, I love the songs and the arrangements. I just HATE the mix on that record.

There were also reports that you shot a video at the Keep It True festival in 2014 where you played an oldschool set, but as far as I know, that video never saw the light of day. What happened to it?

Hmm, I don’t know, that’s a good question. I had some technical difficulties at that show with my guitar. My pedalboard was coming on when the lights were coming on and going off when the lights were going off, I think I was plugged into the wrong outlet. (laughs) That might be why that video never came out. If something’s gonna come out on video, I want it to be pristine, I want the sound to be perfect, I don’t want anything to be released with the guitars that are coming in and out. But that’s one of my favorite festivals, Keep It True is a great festival.  

Thrash metal to me in general is a surprising style, because it is still defined by classic bands from the 80s, which are still going very strong and enjoying the support of younger fans – unlike younger bands that have a relatively limited following. Are you into any younger thrash metal bands? Are there any newcomers which you would like to mention for other people to check out?

Newcomer bands… Holy Grail, I believe they’re from Los Angeles; Exmortus, some great guitar playing in that band. Right off the top of my head these are the two bands I can think of that I listen to. I would definitely suggest for your readers to grab one of their records.

We’ve discussed Pledge Music, and there’s another powerful internet promotion took – Facebook. I noticed that some of the artists post something on Facebook every day or every two days, and what do you think about such heavy use of Facebook to promote bands? Does it really help bands reach a broader audience?

It does, but I think there’s a fine line, because if somebody is into your band, they’ll read your posts and stuff like that, but if you’re basically pounding them with your Facebook posts, they’re gonna unfollow you. They’re not gonna unfriend you, but they’ll just unfollow you. I guess that’s the drawback to it – you definitely wanna get out there on Facebook, but you don’t wanna overstep your bounds and annoy people either.

Flotsam and Jetsam on the Internet: http://www.flotsam-and-jetsam.com/

Special thanks to Irina Ivanova (AFM Records) for arranging this interview

Interview by Roman Patrashov
Promo photos courtesy of AFM Records, live photos by Natalia “Snakeheart” Patrashova
February 19, 2019
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