FLOTSAM AND JETSAM – "Our Whole Career Has Been Rehearsal For Where We Are Now"
June 15, 2021, a month ago
Arizona-based thrash veterans Flotsam And Jetsam have been hammering their way forward for 40 years now, yet they have often been overshadowed by their peers in Metallica, Exodus, Megadeth, Testament and Death Angel. They certainly have a loyal following but remain unnoticed by a large portion of metaldom. The band made its mark right out of the gate with the legendary Doomsday For The Deceiver in 1986, having travelled a seemingly even road of highs and lows ever since; until the release of The End Of Chaos in 2019, an unexpected throwdown with maximum impact. To say it surprised people is an understatement. The strength of the album carried over into the making of Flotsam And Jetsam's latest offering, Blood In The Water, which boasts the exact same no-holds-barred intensity. And although you could argue the point, it may have contributed to getting the band a coveted spot supporting Accept on tour in Europe in early 2022. Either way, frontman Eric "A.K." Knutson couldn't be happier.
"On the self-titled record (released in 2016), which was right before The End Of Chaos, we had Jason Bittner (drums) in the band, and his playing style kind of gave us a booster shot," he says, offering his thoughts on where Flotsam And Jetsam found their new momentum. "All of a sudden we were playing faster, we were thinking meaner, we were hungrier, and then he went to Overkill and we got Ken Mary (Alice Cooper, Impellitteri) into the band. Ken's drumming is just ridiculous (laughs). He's a super pro guy and he's been doing this forever - one of the nicest guys you ever want to meet - and he also had that same drive and hunger. We're in a really good spot right now as far as momentum goes and being a cohesive unit."
Knutson agrees that Blood In The Water picks up where The End Of Chaos left off, which is exactly what the band needed to happen. So, yes indeed, there was pressure going in.
"We were really worried about that when we started writing this record. We knew we had to top The End Of Chaos; otherwise why bother even putting one out. That was in our heads when we started writing so I'm sure that had a lot to do with the intensity on this new one. We started with leftovers from The End Of Chaos that didn't make it to the record, and we didn't end up using any of them (laughs). This is all brand new stuff. But that's always how we start; by working on stuff we didn't work on hard enough for the previous record. Sometimes we use a couple of them, sometimes we don't, but this time not only did we not use any of the leftovers, we wrote 10 or 15 more songs that we didn't use. Music was just pouring out of guitarists Steve (Conley) and Mike (Gilbert). It was amazing."
Gilbert and Conley came into their own as a writing team on The End Of Chaos, their shredhead antics blowing diehard Flotsam And Jetsam fans away as well as attracting the attention of metalheads that had watched the legendary band from afar for years with a "So what?" mentality.
"Back in the day I could count on a couple of the guys in the band maybe writing one song each, and Mike Gilbert would write everything else," says Knutson. "So I've always counted on Mike to be the songwriter. Then we brought Steve Conley into the band (in 2016) and he's a writing machine. Between him and Mike I've got 50 songs to choose from when it comes to time to record an album, and that's a really nice problem to have."
Sporting song titles like "Burn The Sky", "Cry For The Dead", "Too Many Lives", "A Place To Die" and the title track, Blood In The Water comes in crushingly heavy as an ode to death and destruction. Knutson's mindset at the time of writing is easily explained.
"Well, it's metal (laughs). It's kind of a cross between the mood that the world is in now because of the pandemic, and just wanting to make a metal record. Back when ...And Justice For All (Metallica) came out, or Holy Diver (Dio), I just remember being excited for a month just playing those songs over and over and over again. We really miss that feeling, so that's kind of what we went for with these songs. For me, some of them are more fun to sing than others, of course. 'Cry For The Dead' is one of those songs that I don't have to worry about what my throat's doing, and I can emotionally and romantically get into it while I'm singing. I can lose myself in that song."
Fourteen albums almost as many line-up changes since their 1981 inception, Flotsam And Jetsam's evolution is unquestionable. For Knutson, who joined in 1982, the band that recorded Blood In The Water is stronger and better overall than the one that recorded Doomsday For The Deceiver (1986), Drift (1995) or The Cold (2010).
"Mike's writing styles and solos have always been the same since the first record, so that's a comfortable spot for me that I've always had," says Knutson. "But even this line-up that we have now, when we're playing the old stuff live it's a completely different animal. There's more groove, more intensity, the solos are better.... it's a completely different thing yet somehow it's the same old Flotsam at the same time, which is cool."
Asked if there are any Flotsam And Jetsam albums – not including Blood In The Water – that hold a special place in his heart, Knutson says it goes in stages.
"For a while Drift was my favourite. It was our second record with Neil Kernon (producer), the songs were really professional sounding, and there's a lot of singing on it that I love to do. Drift was my favourite for a long time, probably until The Cold came out. And that one was my favourite until The End Of Chaos. And The End Of Chaos is still up there but the new one has joined it."
Knutson has gone on record several times doing press for Blood In The Water stating that he feels Flotsam And Jetsam have been overshadowed Testament, Exodus and Death Angel even though they have all been around for a similar amount of time. But, he says, The End Of Chaos and Blood In The Water are the game changers.
"We feel like our whole career has been rehearsal for where we are now. We never got to that spot where other bands that are the same age and same genre have gotten. We've been constantly going for 40 years. Not only are we still hungry - maybe even hungrier now than ever - it feels like it's our turn. We're really working our asses off to get that push. Every one of us. Over the course of our career we've had that rock star thing going on sometimes: 'The album is out, now it's the label's problem. And if they don't do a good job it's not our fault.' Well, it's also our fault if we don't help. It's my band. I've got to do everything I can to get this album to as many people as I can."
"We don't have delusions of grandeur," Knutson adds. "When the first record came out I thought I'd made it (laughs). I thought I was going to be the world's biggest rock star with a different could Lamborghini for every day of the week (laughs). We don't have those delusions anymore.
I'd like to maybe not have to have another job when I get home from touring, but other than that just staying on the road is fine with me. That's all I need."