Flotsam and Jetsam Interview

Flotsam and Jetsam

AFM Records

Arizona thrashers Flotsam and Jetsam came into the metal world at the height of thrash in 1986. That year was arguably the best year in the history of the genre. Three of the Big Four issued seminal releases with Reign in Blood, Master of Puppets and Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? Sodom, Destruction, Kreator, Metal Church and Dark Angel were just a few bands who also released hall of fame-worthy material. Flotsam and Jetsam’s Doomsday for the Deceiver was another benchmark in the annals of thrash metal history. It is considered one of the greatest debut albums of all time.

After said album, Jason Newsted left for Metallica, but the band continued to write kick ass albums such as No Place For Disgrace (1988), Cuatro (1992) and the 2016 self-titled album. Now, after 35 years of wearing the Flotsam tag, they return with The End of Chaos. Flotsam and Jetsam could tour on the weight of their first two records alone, but the band has pushed forward. Original members Eric A.K. and Michael Gilbert have progressed in their crafts. A.K. nailed the vocals with his glass-breaking high-pitched vocals. His chorus lines are unforgettable. Gilbert feels his guitar playing is the most complex, the best of his career. It strikes the perfect balance between aggression and melody. Read further as Gilbert details the making of The End of Chaos.

Darren Cowan: When did you start writing The End of Chaos?
Michael Gilbert: We don’t ever stop writing. When we finished our last record (self-titled), we actually had stuff left over from that. Revisiting some of it, we decided to just keep going and see what we could come up with. I started writing another 50 guitar riffs to prepare for The End of Chaos. It was something like that. Our song writing process is pretty different from what it used to be. Steve Conley and I usually write the guitar riffs, half-ass arrange something and send it off to [Eric] A.K. Then he takes the ones he feels he can make a strong chorus and verse and then runs with it. The other ones get put on a back burner until he finishes his strong ones. I gotta hand it to the guy, he’s one of my best friends in the world, and he just knocked it out of the park with chorus lines. His vocal abilities are just skyrocketing. He’s so kick ass!

His highs really take him to the next level.
Oh yeah! We joke with him, you know, it’s like the vise grips in the balls (laughs).

What gear did you use to record the album?
It’s funny. I’ve been a Mesa Boogie guy for years and years. I actually profiled all my Boogie stuff into Kemper amplifiers. The KPA amplifiers go right into your studio. No microphone, you plug it directly in. No fuss, no muss and you’re good to go. Steve has the same thing. He’s profiled all his amps like that. We both use our home studios. Ken Mary, our new drummer, has a studio with an SSL board, so we do vocals and drums at his studio, guitar tracks and vocals at my studio with Steve. It’s kind of a mishmash of stuff we’re doing these days. It’s the beauty of technology, I guess.

The dueling solos are smooth on the record. This is the second album you recorded with Steve Conley. How have you built chemistry between you two?
He’s an ultra-talented guitar player. Bringing him in has been a really healthy competition for me. He plays a lot different. I’m a guitarist who picks all my notes. He’s a guy who has a good legato. He picks a lot of his notes, too. We both have completely different styles, but we feed off it. It’s healthy competition. I’ve spoken in a couple interviews about how we’re sending our solos back and forth to each other and getting each other’s feedback on it. I’ll send him something I played; he’ll put a solo on it and send it back to me. This mother fucker! Now I have to step up my game and write something else. Then we end up battling a little bit. In the end, I feel this is some of my best guitar work. I’m super proud of myself and I’m super proud of what Steve has done. I think it’s the best guitar work ever on a Flotsam and Jetsam record.

Ken Mary replaced Jason Bittner on drums. Please tell our readers about bringing him into the fold.
Jason Bittner left. He went on to the Overkill band. People probably know who they are. East Coast, New Jersey/New York band, so that kind of made sense for Jason to do that. When he did that, there were no hard feelings. Congratulations to him. They are doing quite well right now, which is cool. Ken Mary came in and nailed it within the first ten second of playing the first song. I knew he was going to be the guy. He’s a super soft-spoken guy, a funny dude, but it’s complete mayhem when he plays drums. He’s a monster drummer. I don’t know if you’ve checked out his resume. He’s been in Alice Cooper, Fifth Angel and about 50 other projects (Accept). He’s not only a great drummer, but he can sing, he’s a producer, a mixer. He does everything. He’s a jack of all trades. He’s good at everything.

Fans got three previews of the album by way of “Recover,” “Demolition Man,” and “Control.” You mentioned how strong the chorus lines are. The chorus and pre-chorus of “Recover” relates strong rhythms and vocal harmonies. How did these parts come together?
The vocal harmony stuff, that’s an A.K. thing. He makes it tough for us because we have to sing these harmonies behind him. He’ll have some amazing runs and then I think, “Dude, now I have to sing and play that behind you!” He has tons and tons of vocal training, so he knows exactly what he’s doing. I can’t even… There are no words to describe when you’re hearing his vocal lines. Jaw hitting the floor. I’m not just saying that because he’s one of my best friends, he really is an ultra-talented dude.

The second single came by way of a music video. Please run us through the making of “Demolition Man.”
We had a bunch of treatments for that from a few producers. Jeremy Tremp also did one of our videos from the previous record. He had a great storyline. It’s kind of like the old Firestarter movie from back in the ‘80s. The girl could start fires (with her mind). We thought it was cool the guy was trying to use this little girl’s powers to kill the rat in the video. She’s like, fuck you! I’m just going to kill you! I’m not killing the rat. The rat’s cool. We thought that was kind of cool. With videos today, you have to put something in it to keep people interested, so Jeremy does a good job keeping things subtle. You might have to watch the video once or twice to figure out what’s going on with it. He’s definitely a talented producer. I’m super satisfied with it, as well as the rest of the guys in the band.

Do you have a favorite song on the record?
My favorite song is “Control” because it is a bitch to play! It is the hardest Flotsam song I’ve ever played. It’s a nightmare but it’s fun. It’s very challenging. I guess that’s why I do it, to stay challenged. If you’re up there doing just bar chords, G, D, or A, that gets boring.

Flotzilla returns on the cover art. The monster hasn’t graced a Flotsam and Jetsam album since your debut, Doomsday for the Deceiver. Why bring him back now?
We do so much touring in Europe, and all the fans over there love it. They’re super in tuned with the metal scene. It’s sad, we only tour the U.S. every two years, but we’re trying to bring that to every year. We’re in Europe three or four times out of the year. They’re telling us to bring the lizard back, he’s awesome. This year we decided to do it. People are digging it. We’re going back to the old school, revisiting our lizard roots (laughs).

Flotsam and Jetsam have been rocking out for 35 years. What was it like being in a thrash band in 1984 compared to now?
Totally segregated back then. You played in a thrash band and very few people understood. You wore a jean jacket without sleeves and you walk into a Circle K or a restaurant and people are like, “what the hell? It has patches on it? He’s a hoodlum. He’s here to rob me. He’s going to kill me.” That was the vibe back then, but it seems really accepted now with the resurgence of metal. There are a lot of new fans, which I’m grateful for. Really, the difference is being more accepted. I hear “Seek and Destroy” on mainstream radio. Back then I would never hear that. There was a time when newer Metallica fans didn’t even know what Kill ‘Em All was. That was a monument in history for me. It’s what we do and what we like.

Was Kill ‘Em All a highly influential album for you?
Oh yeah! The first time I heard Metallica was “Hit the Lights.” Honestly, it changed everything for me. That was just what I wanted to do. I was totally blown away with how heavy it was and the speed of it. That was it for me. Brainwashed (laughs).

You released your debut full length Doomsday for the Deceiver in 1986. This was arguably the best year in the history of thrash. So many great albums were released including Master of Puppets, Reign in Blood, Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? and Darkness Descends. What was it like releasing your first record during such an exciting time in the annals of metal?
We weren’t trying to get famous. That was so far out of our thoughts. It was just cool to be in Hollywood. We made a record. We’re on a record label. We were doing shows. We went to Europe. It was just weird to have people who know us coming from all over. We were just a local band and then all of a sudden, things started taking off, as much as it could. It’s a lot different now because we didn’t have the social media, the technology to get to underground stuff as easily. “Underground” is the perfect word. I was just speechless with everything that was going on and how it happened. It was cool all the people I met.

Were you pen pals or tape traders with a lot of these now-famous bands?
No, not really. My thing was AC/DC. I had people who sent me old, bootleg VHS videos of AC/DC. The pen pal stuff was [Jason] Newsted. He was really, really good at that and kept in touch with people. That was the way to do it back then. He did the footwork on the phone, sent letters and mailed them. He would be at the post office once a week mailing all his stuff.

Jason Newsted contributed a lot to Doomsday for the Deceiver. What did you take away with his being in the band? He left the band, but he left his mark, too.
He and I had chemistry for song writing. When we began writing the riffs and working on some of the songs, there was definitely chemistry. When he left it was like losing a brother. There are no hard feelings. Congrats, he was able to go to Metallica. It was really cool. It was a great opportunity. We were so tight. We used to rehearse every day. When you’re so tight with someone and then they were gone, you get a new guy in. It’s just kind of weird. That’s my take on it. It just didn’t feel right. I can’t say it never felt right again because it takes a bit of a learning curve to get accustomed to someone else’s style. The chemistry always came back with other song writers, for sure.

Do you have tour plans?
Yes! We are going out with Overkill, Destruction and Meshiaak in March in Europe. So that’s going to be about a month long. Then we come back to the States and have a couple weeks off. Then, we start a United States tour and hit it hard here. After that, back over to Europe for more festivals. Hopefully, we’ll come back here and hit the places we didn’t hit the first time around. We have a big year coming up. We’re going to be really busy.

(interview published January 23, 2019)

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