Ugly Noises in Glasgow – Flotsam & Jetsam interview

Flotsam & Jetsam - Live at Stereo, Glasgow, UK 20/05/2015

On May 20th, 2015, a crew of die-hard, Scottish thrashers headed out to stereo to do something many thought they would never do on home soil: witness a live performance by Arizonan metal lifers Flotsam And Jetsam. I was barely in school the last time they played up here, and casting a glance around the motley assemblage in attendance, it seems a pretty safe bet that the same applies to most of them. Needless to say, there’s a fair old buzz in the air.

Currently touring Europe in continuing support of 2012’s Ugly Noise album – their 11th over four decades – they have already taken on Greece and are now getting ready to tear Glasgow a new one, on the third date of three UK shows. Vocalist and founding member Eric ‘AK’ Knutson spills forth about how the road has been treating them and the future of F&J. With two countries under their belt, what’s the story so far?

Eric: I’m just out here, pushing away at it. So far it’s really good, y’know, we did four shows in Greece – the people are crazy. It’s constant, the minute the intro tape starts, the stage diving started, and they didn’t stop until we were out of the building. So, the Greek people are crazy, but promoters suck, and venues suck… They ripped us off some money, same old story. England’s been really great so far. Of course we haven’t played here in 30 years. Bloodstock was the last time we played, but before that, it was 1987 or something when we played.

In truth, F&J really seem to be putting in the effort to get around and see people in places they haven’t been for a while. What spurred them to put that into high gear?

Eric: I had a completely different line-up as the band, and it really wasn’t going anywhere. We were out here kind of getting a free vacation, but we weren’t really pushing the band, you know, we were just out here messing around. So, I decided to get some the original members back together and actually make a serious stab at it, bringing the band back to the public.

Right enough, when you’re talking about recorded input, when they did Ugly Noise it was with the exact same line-up which recorded Cuatro, Drift and High, re-united. Comparing the slightly ‘prog’ leanings of both Drift and Ugly Noise, one has to wonder if that was a conscious attempt to recapture that sound.

Eric: Not necessarily that, the sound of those records, but at least the writing style of that line-up. Mike Gilbert, you know, I’ve always loved his song-writing. This new record we’re working on right now is going to be really crazy, because we’ve got a bunch of different song writers on it.

Eric AK Knutson

It’s no big surprise that F&J are writing and planning a new long player while out on the road; they’ve followed a consistent release regimen throughout their entire career, unleashing a new album every few years. What they would like to do in the future may just, however, raise a few eyebrows, and get some juices flowing.

Eric: We’re going to try one every year from now on. We’re going to try to. It is hard work, but studio work is what we love doing more than anything, second to touring, and it doesn’t bother us to put one, two albums out a year, if we could.

As Eric mentions, there is quite a variety of contributors for this next platter, including bassist Michael Spencer, previously with F&J just before the creating the classic No Place For Disgrace.

Eric: It has an influence on the writing. He’s written some songs for the new record, we took some songs that he wrote for ‘No Place…’, that didn’t make it to the record, and we’re revamping those and putting them on the new record, so, yeah, it definitely has different influence, a little more old-school influence for us to have Michael Spencer back.

Going in the other direction, they’ve drafted the drum skills of Shadows Fall’s Jason Pittman, the replace other founding member, Kelly Smith, due to family priorities in his life.

Eric: It’s definitely making our songs a little more energetic. We have places where Kelly would have done, y’know, a single kick type of background, he’s doing four times that on the kick drum, so it’s definitely given us a lot more energy.

And as for the title for this monsterpiece?

Eric: We’re battling with that really hard right now. There are some songs which sound like they should have been on No Place, there’s some songs that sound like they should have been on Drift, there’s some songs that sound like they should have been on Ugly Noise. When you put all those together, we’re really battling as to what to call it, what direction the title should go.

Unlike Dreams Of Death, which had a pretty solid reason for the album title.

Eric: Yes, and every song on that record is basically part of one big story. That one was really easy to name. I’ve always written about stuff that’s ‘death and gore in your sleep’, types of stuff. When I was younger I had a lot of nightmares, for who knows what reasons, now they’re coming back up in lyrics. Which is a good thing I think.

From a band which has been on the go for over thirty years, it is really quite refreshing to see such enthusiasm and motivation; increased touring schedules and multiple, rapid-fire releases on the cards seem more likely for those at the beginning of their career, with the fire of youth behind them.

However, time served is quite the commodity these days, and the passion of fans, both old and new, for classic listening material, seems something that F&J are aware of, and could be the very fuel in the machine which keeps it powering along.

Eric: The way I look at it, we have three different eras of Flotsam. The first three records, the next three after that, and then the last few that we’ve done, are different eras of music I think, and this next record’s going to have all of that on it. I think it’s going to please every phase of Flotsam fan that there is. Yeah, we might end up just self-titling it, I’m not sure…

Interview by Paul Macmillan.

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