Flotsam and Jetsam – Doomsday Is Near

Sunday, 15th May 2016

Amongst lifelong metal friends, we felt that Arizona’s Flotsam and Jetsam were one of those bands caught in the thrash category shuffle to gain a certain amount of respect and appeal, but not quite enough to make that monumental ‘next level’ breakthrough that say Anthrax or Metallica would make. Records like Doomsday for the Deceiver and No Place for Disgrace were benchmarks, in terms of exemplary riffing, tight arrangements, and the high octane vocal action of Eric AK.

During the 1990’s when the metal scene domestically collapsed, the band also felt a lot of twists and turmoil – losing record deals, shuttling back to Metal Blade and starting that slow rebuild as lineup changes became prevalent. Embracing crowdfunding over the course of their last studio album Ugly Noise as well as the re-recording for No Place for Disgrace (no thanks to Elektra losing the master tapes… another tombstone to a major label’s love for metal), the band decide to sign a new deal with AFM Records and issue their latest self-titled record. A record that probably will have as much appeal with the younger generation just getting into the band as it will the old guard – there appears to be something for everyone here in terms of the songwriting diversity (reaching back into Michael Spencer’s archives as well as current contributions from Michael Gilbert, Steve Conley, and Eric AK), aggression, speed, and dynamic overtones.

Chatting from Arizona with vocalist Eric ‘AK’ Knutson, this was a great back and forth conversation where we covered a lot of ground in a short period of time. From feelings of losing Jason Newsted to the mighty Metallica just as the band’s profile was on the rise in the 1980’s, to the tumultuous 90’s era and the excitement of live performances these days – as well as a little bit of pilot and Bruce Dickinson talk thrown into the mix, prepare to learn and dig into this band’s discography, as there is plenty of gold to mine.

Dead Rhetoric: Your latest studio album is self-titled – would you say this is another fresh start for the band given bassist Michael Spencer’s return plus the fresh blood of guitarist Steve Conley and drummer Jason Bittner?

Eric AK: Yes, it sure feels like it. It feels like a fresh new start. Everyone is very energetic and on the same page. Our writing styles and what we are going after, everybody is on the same page pretty much. It feels very fresh and new, and kind of old school at the same time.

Dead Rhetoric: Because a lot of the recording these days is done at Michael and Steve’s homes, correct?

Eric AK: Yes, for the most part. We did the drums in a professional studio and had a professional do the mixing and mastering. But we can get most of the tones at home, for sure.

Dead Rhetoric: I’m psyched to finally hear the song “Forbidden Territories” make an album appearance – given the fact that this song has been around since the No Place for Disgrace days. Considering there are multiple songwriters in the band, how does the decision-making work for material in terms of inception to the final product? Do you hash out ideas separately and then work on them, or do you prefer face to face rehearsal room work?

Eric AK: We have to have a mixture of both. We are all busy guys most of the time, and can’t really get together all the time when we need to. It’s a plus to have today’s technology where everybody’s got ProTools in their house and can do their parts to e-mail them back and forth. We have to sit down and hash these songs out live before we make any decisions as to what everything is and where it’s heading in the right direction or what needs to be on the backburner. It’s a really fun process.

Dead Rhetoric: When Jason Newsted jumped into Metallica, what sort of feelings or concerns came up within Flotsam and Jetsam given one of the driving forces for the group was gone?

Eric AK: My first thought was ‘Wow!’ I wish it was me, I wish Metallica had asked me to go join them. I’m really happy for Jason, but at the same time I knew replacing him was going to be a pain in the butt. We were just getting rolling, and now we have to take a couple of steps back to bring in somebody new and have to start that energy all over again to decide who is doing what. It really wasn’t that big of a deal, we were also looking at a lot of free press out of Jason joining Metallica. It was a downfall and a plus at the same time.

Dead Rhetoric: How have you been able to keep your voice and range in tip top shape for 30 plus years? Most singers who have to hit those youthful piercing screams can’t convincingly do it in their 50’s or 60’s…

Eric AK: I really don’t know- I’ve been really lucky. There are times when I really have to baby my throat and keep myself in shape and then there are times when I can do whatever I want, party all night and it still sounds great the next day. I have learned that I need to think about what I’m doing today to make tomorrow’s show happen. That’s the main thing- I can make it through a show at any time in any condition but the next day I’m not going to be able to do it if I don’t take care of myself. It’s just a matter of knowing that the voice box is a delicate little instrument, you just have to be nice to it.

Dead Rhetoric: No Place for Disgrace for me was a pinnacle record in the thrash regime – what memories do you have surrounding the recording, songwriting, performances, and touring around this time? Did you sense the band had a chance to rise up to the big leagues?

Eric AK: We did. That was actually a really good spot for us. Some of us handled it well and some of us didn’t. We had just gotten taken over by Elektra Records, which really excited us. We are on a bigger label- they are telling us we are going to be right in there with Metallica and Mötley Crüe. It was just one thing after another from that point on that was kind of our fail points you could say. That was our first recording in huge studios, different ones for each thing. We were recording in the same places that Aerosmith and Kiss recorded records in. We were getting to the big time- and if we would have had our heads about us and kept our crap together then we could have headed that way a little better. It was one bad luck thing after another since then, we have kept enduring and kept pushing at it.

Dead Rhetoric: I also remember the major video airplay “Wading Through the Darkness” from Cuatro received on MTV – did you feel the tides shifting in the music industry around that early 1990’s period, because I also remember being surprised when supporting Megadeth for the follow up Drift you guys going on before an up and coming Korn for that tour who were supporting their debut record?

Eric AK: Yeah. That was a very experimental music scene for everybody involved in that time period. When I first heard Korn, I thought these guys are never going to catch on. When we did that tour I was like ‘holy crap!’ the crowd was going nuts. When I sat down to actually listen to their material, I realized it was pretty good. Maybe I shouldn’t judge books by their covers, you know? There are experimental times in the music industry, you just have to kind of cross your fingers and hope you are heading in the right direction.

Dead Rhetoric: What would you consider some of the highlights of Flotsam and Jetsam’s career – in terms of recording memories, particular tours/ festivals, or just special memories that remain forever embedded in you?

Eric AK: Wow, that’s a tough one. As much of my Flotsam career as I remember, I’m really fond of all of it. There’s some highlights, playing and opening up for certain bands that I grew up with. Everybody on the planet pretty much- we did a big festival with Whitesnake, Rik Emmett was there playing and I was saying in a couple of minutes, the dude from Triumph is going to be playing and singing right where I was. Those are cool moments that you are going to remember forever. Fans traveling thousands of miles just to see a show because that’s going to be their one opportunity to see us. Those are big moments I remember a lot.

Dead Rhetoric: Being one of the veterans of the metal scene, where do you see the state of things in terms of structure and support compared to your early beginnings in the 1980’s?

Eric AK: Structure and support… you kind of have to create that for yourself. There are some record labels that are trying really hard but the internet has made it tough for everybody to make the kind of living that everybody did back in the day. It’s the same now for everybody, just things are downsized a bit. If you love music, you love music- it doesn’t matter if you are making ten cents or ten million dollars, one dollar is better than the other but you still love music either way. You create support, you have to tell them what is going on, you get out your story and let them decide if you deserve the support or not.

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