Few bands who have been musically active for a good three decades can claim to have been as daring, innovative and talented as the Arizona Thrash Metalers Flotsam And Jetsam, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that they feature in their ranks one of the most gifted singer this genre has ever seen – Mr. Eric A.Knutson.
It was with this very man that I managed to arrange an interview on the early evening of the 18th of May, a couple of hours prior to the band hitting the stage of the Underworld and offering us a delightful set based on their classic first two records.
Polite, pleasant and very talkative the band’s front man explained to me the process of re-recording “No Place For Disgrace”, how the whole PledgeMusic platform works and its benefits for his band and finally offered and insight on what to expect from the next Flotsam And Jetsam record that will become available later this year.
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis
- Hi Eric. Thank you so very much for taking the time to do this interview with GRTR! I have been looking forward to talking to you for a very long time as I have been a Flotsam And Jetsam fan since the days of “No Place For Disgrace”.I truly believe that you are one of the best and, sadly, most underrated bands in Thrash Metal as you are amongst the elite few who constantly felt the need to push things forward, no matter the cost. That, in my humble opinion, is the sign of a true artist.
Eric: Thank you.
- I am also very excited as today’s show will mainly feature songs from the band’s first two albums, seeing as you are currently promoting the re-recording of the amazing “No Place For Disgrace”.Now, if I were to be honest with you, at first I was a bit sceptical with regards the idea of re-recording this classic as I did not see the reasoning behind it. Now, however, having heard it numerous times I acknowledge the fine work that went in re-recording and I also understand the necessity behind it, as I believe you had issued with Electra Records not being willing to hand you over the rights of the original recording, hence making any potential re-issue impossible.
Eric: Well, what we wanted really was to remix the record and put it back out again for our fans to enjoy. As you know, we already celebrated the 25th anniversary of the “Doomsday For The Deceiver” by remixing the album and by adding a few extra stuff in it and we kind of wanted to do the same thing for “No Place For Disgrace” but nobody could get a hold of the masters – we don’t even know who owns them at this point (laughs).
Electra Records has been bought and sold so many times that when we asked a few executives “hey, how can we get a hold of the masters” their response was “Flotsam who”? It was that kind of a story!
It would have been such a huge pain to further pursue this that we said “you know what; the technology is so much better these days so let’s re-record the thing”. We sat down and tried to change things a little, tried to beef up some parts and we finally decided that we’d better try to make this sound as true to the original as we possibly can, only with a better production.
We almost got it right where we wanted it; there are a couple of things there that aren’t exactly the same as in the original but most of them are. If you change too much you will be in trouble by the fans (laughs), so we tried to avoid that.
There are a couple of screams I did when we re-recorded the album that my voice was really not good enough to do…actually my voice is much better now so I would like to be able to re-record these parts again but, other than that, we really tried to stay true to the original, you know, just with better sound, better production & better tones.
So, we’re kind of happy with it. There are things I would have liked to make even better still but, it is what it is and, for the most part, the fans are really happy that we didn’t change a lot of parts; we didn’t rework a lot of the songs.
- A couple of days ago I did a singing lesson with my coach and he asked me to bring with me a few songs that I would really like to be able to learn how to sing, so what did I do? I brought him “Suffer The Masses”.Now, as soon as he heard the song his question to me was “are you sure you want to sing this? There’s going to be a lot of hard work involved here” (I laugh). You still have quite an impressive range, however, re-recording an album like “No Place For Disgrace” must have been pretty challenging. Did that not scare you at all?
Eric: It scared the hell out of me and still does! It’s really hard; I’m fifty years old so it’s really hard to get some of that stuff out and, at the time when we were re-recording…when we did the third record “When The Storm Comes Down”
I split one of my vocal chords overworking it and not singing correctly and I have been battling with that ever since! During the re-recording of “No Place For Disgrace” that was really bothering me a lot, so this wasn’t really a good time for me to record but I did it anyway – I put my best effort into it.
Now my throat is a lot better as we have toured a lot and I have worked on issues a lot. I actually went back and did some re-coaching. There’s a guy that I use once in a while; he doesn’t really teach me something that I don’t know but he reminds me of what I should not be doing – stuff that I know but which I simply forget.
So I’ve done that and we’ve done a lot of touring so I really wish I could re-record the vocals again on that thing now as my throat is in so much better condition now. It is pretty tough to get some of that stuff out every night and I sing them completely different to how I did back in the day.
It feels much easier and there’s a lot less stress involved. Back in the day I was Superman, you know? Drinking every night, smoking every night, partying and staying up with no sleep at all and still belting it out. I just cannot do that anymore; I need to take care of myself if I am to do things the correct way. But now that I am, my throat is stronger than it has ever been.
- I would like to discuss the whole PledgeMusic project if that’s OK with you and the reason for that is because I feel that it’s about time that artists take power into their own hands – that they get to decide exactly what happens with their music and their artistic vision.Using this approach to release “Ugly Noise” and the re-recording of “No Place For Disgrace” seems to have really worked well for you. Do you see that as being the same approach to follow for the next Flotsam And Jetsam album? I am asking this as I am fully aware that you’re currently in the process of recording new material.
Eric: You know, a band like us that has an established name already can use a platform like PledgeMusic in order to promote its music. We used to rely on labels to let the world know that there is a new Flotsam record out and we found that labels consistently failed in that area.
They would give us the recording money and we would not make anything back until it was all recouped – all part of a normal record contract garbage. They would say that they were doing some kind of a promotion for it, they would say that they had some kind of a plan but we found that without the promotion, without the plan we sort of reached just as many people, simply by word of mouth, as we did by working with a label.
So we decided that, as a label is not really doing anything for us, why not let our fans be our label and give us the money we need in order to record our music? It really works out great. For new bands that are not that well known you really need to kind of get some marketing plan on top of PledgeMusic.
PledgeMusic is a great idea to get the money, the funding but once it’s finished it becomes your job to get the album out in the public and that’s where a label comes in handy – it’s getting the record out in the public!
For us, because we already have a name, word of mouth works just as good as the labels do, but if you’re an unknown band then you really need some kind of marketing to get it out there and get people to say “hey, here’s a new band”, but as far as the funding and the recording of music is concerned PledgeMusic is great – it’s really the way to go.
Nobody else owns your music but you, nobody else get to decide what happens to it or what amount of money is spent on what…as long as the fans get what they paid for then it’s a great idea.
- It obviously takes a lot of effort off your backs in terms of working on strict deadlines as well, right? In the case of Ugly Noise”, first you recorded the album and then you signed a distribution deal with Metal Blade, right?
Eric: Recording “The Cold” back in 2010 was one of those sad label stories! The label (Driven Music Group) gave us the money to record it, we recorded it, we gave it to the label, they sold the rights to that album to all different countries and labels and by doing that they made their money back so they did not feel the need to further promote it so they just dropped it – the record was dead!
We really did not want that to happen to “Ugly Noise” nor to the remake of “No Place For Disgrace” – that’s another reason why we went to PledgeMusic; so that we get to decide when an album is dead, you know? “The Cold” is one of my favourite records and it really saddens me that it’s dead in the water and that it will not be put out again. The label simply doesn’t care. They got their money back right of the bat – they’re done!
- The band seems to have managed to generate new interest with being out and about, touring and all. With all these new promotional platforms available to you now, do you think there is a way to get albums like “Cuatro” (1992), “Drift” (1995) and “Unnatural Selection” (1999) available again – to give them a new lease of life?
Eric: The best way really at this point to redo those older records without having to re-record them, to make sure that they are put out there in the public and all that, is for a label like Nuclear Blast or somebody like that to buy the rights and put it out. I think it was Nuclear Blast that put “When The Storm Comes Down”, “Cuatro” and “Drift”…
- I believe it was Metal Mind – a label from Poland that did it…
Eric: Yes, you’re right. It was Metal Mind that did it. That was a good thing as we constantly had people asking “how do I get this record”. Metal Mind bought the rights, put out these re-releases and made quite a few people happy as a result.
Putting these albums out by ourselves? I would not know how we could even do that! Maybe do a PledgeMusic thing saying how we would like to be able to re-release these albums? I somehow don’t think that we would get enough interest on PledgeMusic to make the money we need in order to put these albums out again.
So, in that respect, it’s good to have a label like Metal Mind that’s willing to buy our music and put it out and deal with it. We don’t make any money out of it which is fine as it’s not all about money anyway but our fans can finally get a hold on those records now.
I know MCA Records, on which those three records are on, I know that they are not going to re-release them again as these records are tiny light fish in their pond, so that is an instant where we’re thankful to have a label interested.
- I would like to talk a bit more about the period after “When the Storm Comes Down” , as I feel that there was a string of interesting and good quality that were released, with you guys really pushing the boundaries of what constitutes Thrash Metal, but which failed to capture the imagination of either the fans or the music industry.When you look back to the period between 1990 and 2001, do you see that as a time when you managed to release the right albums as the wrong time so to speak?
Eric: Except of maybe the first two albums that we released, the rest have been a struggle to promote for the reasons you explained. Take for instance an album like “Cuatro”; this record came out in 1992 but it should really have been released now!
Most of the songs in “Cuatro” sound like the type of songs that I hear in the radio nowadays, so it seems to me like we’re always at least ten years ahead of what’s coming out. People would initially say things like “oh what’s that – it sounds weird” and ten years later they would go “that style of music is great” but they would sadly be referring to another band – a band clearly influenced by what we did a decade back.
It’s weird; I kind of feel like, especially when it comes to Michael Gilbert’s (guitars) writing, he’s a little bit ahead of his time with regard what’s going to be popular, what’s going to become big. But we go ahead and do things that way anyway as we do things from the heart. We write what we feel and we don’t really care about what’s in time or what’s popular – we put out what we like to hear!
On top of the fans and the label and everything else, we have to be happy with our music – if we’re not then we will never play that live. There are some songs that we did which we hate and which we will never play live (laughs). We don’t like to be like that; we like every song that we put out to be something that we will enjoy playing forever.
- What about the new material that you’re currently working on? What is it that we should expect from you guys? Is it a mixture of old and new? Something completely different?
Eric: This is going to be a really strange record! We have three or four songs…well, to begin with, we wrote something like twenty songs for this record; we’re only going to end up putting twelve on it but we wrote twenty.
Three or four of them sound like they should be on “No Place For Disgrace”…as a matter of fact, two were indeed written for that album but didn’t make it so we kind of revamped them. So there are three or four songs which sound like they should be in that era, three or four which sound like “Cuatro” or “Drift” material, four or five that sound like they could be on “Ugly Noise”…we’ve got a little bit of each era on this one and it’s going to be strange to put them together on one album and make them gel.
What you get is three completely distinct Metal eras in one record, all brand new songs that I really like a lot. Usually there would be a couple of songs on each album that I might recognise as being fillers, b-sides or whatever but such songs will not exist on our next album. Every one of them could easily end up being everybody’s favourite.
Some of these songs feature the hardest vocals that I have ever done; some include the easiest vocals I have ever done, there’s some super intricate guitar work involved sitting next to some easy-listening AC/DC type of riffs…it really is a very strange mix. We’re currently having trouble finding an album title that suits the music on offer, we’re having trouble finding an appropriate album cover so we might end up going with something very simple like the logo and the album title in the end…it’s going to be interesting!
- Personally I would not expect anything less from you guys. Challenging is one word that always described your music as far as I’m concerned and I, for one, am really looking forward for this new album to come out. Do you have vaguely an idea of when we should expect this album to be out?
Eric: Well, when we left home a week or so ago I had one vocal track done with everything else being pretty much finished. So, I just have to go home and finish the vocals, something that I expect to take a couple of weeks, and then it’s all up to mixing and mastering and getting it out there. It shouldn’t be too long; I think we were talking about having it come out in September…we’ll see.
As long as I don’t tear my throat too bad on this tour I should be able to get it done (laughs). It is the mixing that causes problems. Like, for instance, we have a song that sounds exactly like an Iron Maiden tune and it’s called “Iron Maiden” as it is about the actual medieval torture device.
This song has Bruce Dickinson style vocals in it. I thought that, as it sounds like an Iron Maiden tune it might as well has Bruce-style vocals. You’ve got to listen to it; I am sure you’ll go “is that Bruce or Eric singing there”? We have another one that completely reminds me of Megadeth and we tried to throw a little bit of what we love into it, you know? Yes – it’s going to be really interesting. People are either going to love it to death or not ever listen to it again.
- Over the years there has been a steady flow of people joining, and leaving, the band’s ranks. Do you believe that this constant influx of new blood has benefited the band in terms of helping it establish a musically diverse style?
Eric: You know, as far as…when you listen to a guitar player write a song you can kind of hear his personality in it. Every player we’ve ever had in this band almost has the same style of personality – the same goofy sense of humour, the same need for childish banter…every member that’s ever been in this band has been the same way in that regard.
That attitude gives that Flotsam fun feel into our songs. We have the same thing here now except for everybody that’s in the line up right now is extremely seasoned. We’ve all been there before; we all know what we’re in for, we all know what we look for and that everything is not going to be roses.
We’re expecting the worst and hope for the best and that’s what a veteran does, you know? It’s nice to have a band full of veterans that still have that Flotsam personality. We like to party, we like people to go “yeah” when they listen to our music and being on tour and writing new music is really comfortable now.
Everything about this makes me want to keep on doing it even more. We’ve got a crazy line up right now. Michael Gilbert and I are the only true original members I guess, Michael Spencer (bass) was the first guy to replace Jason Newsted (ex Metallica) and helped us write “No Place For Disgrace” – he recorded the album with us and so it’s nice to have him back in the band. The songs that we’ve written for “No Place For Disgrace” that did not make it were his so we decided to revamp all of these.
Then we have Jason Bittner on drums whose past bands have been Shadows Fall and Toxik; he’s not only a veteran but he’s quite revered by many people in the industry. He’s made a lot of friends, he’s a great drummer and he pushed Shadows Fall pretty much to where they are now and he’s got the exact same goofy personality as the rest of us which makes it great having him in the band.
The new guitar player Steve Conley has done a lot of studio work for big names, he did some touring with Dave Jr (bass) from Megadeth, he’s been teaching guitar forever so he’s pretty much a veteran too. He hasn’t done as much touring as we have son when he starts getting tired in the van we try to push him a little bit without trying to break him. He’s an amazing guitar player that matched perfectly with Michael Gilbert. It’s really quite comfortable touring with these guys.
- You mentioned that you have been living this lifestyle for donkey’s years. How do you see the future of this band at this stage? Do you guys take things one step at a time or work on a specific plan?
Eric: There was a time in the late 80s / early 90s that we were making good enough guarantees at the shows to pay bills out home, be comfortable on the road and that was great with us. We are almost back to that point now to where the guarantees are good enough so we can get comfortable being here doing this and if we get to that point again, I’ll stay here doing this forever or until my throat gives up, you know what I mean (laughs)?
Like I said, we’re veterans, I can take care of myself a little better now so I am not walking on stage with my fingers crossed thinking to myself “I really hope that I can sing tonight”. I know when I am in good shape, like I am tonight. If we can get to that point where…we can at least sell out placed like this (note: The Underworld in London) everywhere and be comfortable in a bus and not having to be crammed up in a van or having fans driving us to the next show – if we can live like a touring band then that’s good enough for us and we will stay and do this thing forever.
None of us has his head in the clouds thinking that we’re going to become the next Metallica or anything like that. I am not going to go to LA and buy a new house up to the Beverly Hills anytime soon, you know what I mean? But, being comfortable and being on the road is certainly where we want to be and, so far, it looks like we’re heading towards that direction which is go to the studio, record the new album and get right back on the road again with a smile on our face. That’s what we’re shooting for and things look good indeed for us.
- Eric, what can I say; I wish you guys all the luck in the world. Please know that your fans, myself included, do want you to be out on the road and to record new music. You are an honest band with a true artistic vision and it is band like Flotsam that we desperately need to keep with us no matter the cost. Be always brave and keep doing what you do – we will most certainly love you guys for it. Enjoy tonight’s show.
Eric: Thanks man.
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 30 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 8 September 2020.
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