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No Parking Space For Disgrace: An Exclusive Interview With ERIC AK And MICHAEL GILBERT Of FLOTSAM AND JETSAM

By Andrew Depedro, Ottawa Corespondent
Friday, July 5, 2019 @ 11:13 AM


"We are broadening our horizons and trying to reach different people instead of this whole circle of just thrash. There’s lots of genres of good music out there."

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Like the long narrowing streets of Sainte Catherine Street they were tasked with navigating their enormous tour bus through to get to their show at Montreal’s Foufonnes Electriques, legendary Phoenix, Arizona thrashers FLOTSAM AND JETSAM have coursed their own path to stardom throughout the past 30+ years following their breakthrough 1986 rager Doomsday For The Deceiver. And while they’ve seen their fair share of past members enter and exit the lineup to more varying degrees of success, frontman Eric AK and guitarist Michael Gilbert remain committed to playing and touring to everyone that they possibly can – and they won’t rule out any future collaborations either. Talkin’ about industrial music, their own musical versatility, and all about that famous bassist-turned-artist back in May!

KNAC.COM: Welcome back to Montreal. How’s the tour going so far?

GILBERT: So far, it’s been better than expected. The shows, the attendance have been great, fantastic…people know the words to the new album that we’re out supporting right now. We really can’t ask for anything more than that, y’know?

KNAC.COM: Cool.

AK: We’ve had a lot of new fans that we met on the last HAMMERFALL tour that we did, and everybody seems to be singing along to the new record, which is kinda nice.

KNAC.COM: Okay, that’s good. And speaking of the new record, The End Of Chaos, which had just came out late last year, it also marks the debut of your new drummer Ken Mary, who has played with notable bands such as ALICE COOPER, ACCEPT, FIFTH ANGEL and IMPELLITTERI, to name a few bands. And I believe he also replaced previous drummer Jason Bittner, formerly of SHADOWS FALL, but he played with you guys a bit before he ended up going with OVERKILL. How did Ken’s introduction into the band come about?

AK: One of our guitar players, Steve Conley, does a lot of producing and studio work with Ken at his studio, so when we needed a drummer, we just kinda asked him “Are you interested?”. And Ken was up for the challenge.

GILBERT: He was originally, he was gonna be just a sit-in for a tour, and after that tour, we all just had decided “Man, this guy just fuckin’ kicks ass! What should we do?”. And we ended up just asking him. I mean, we all knew that as soon as he started playing the drums that he was gonna be the guy. Because, I mean, we were terrified when Bittner left, like “Who’s gonna fil this guy’s shoes?”, y’know? Ken Mary’s done a great job. He’s a phenomenal drummer.

KNAC.COM: Yeah…actually, I had heard some tracks from the new album and he is definitely a monster on the skins for sure and he makes for a very good fit with the band although I did like Bittner’s work with the band too, but he seems to be so active that it’s impossible for him to be tied down to just one band, I suppose. But anyway, I just wanted to congratulate you on the success of the new album too, and also because it comes with a bit of a different songwriting process compared to how you’ve approached crafting lyrics on previous songs from past albums. So how did this process come about on past albums?

AK: (thinking) Wow…y’know, the guitar players gave me, I think, about 40-something songs altogether, and we just kinda went through the ones that we liked the riffs the best on, concentrated on 15 to 20 of ‘em, and got it down to 14 finally when we recorded. So it was very fast, and the writing process didn’t take very long at all. I mean, we just kinda whipped right through ‘em. But I had so many songs to choose from, it was really kinda nice when you start working on a song and, like, “this is just not doin’ it for me”, you can put it aside and go to the next one. I had a lot to choose from, I had a lot to work on, and for some reason, it went pretty quick for us.

KNAC.COM: That’s great. I know you had mentioned that you were never much of a politically-themed band but you just tended to write about anything and everything, I guess, that kinda appealed to you. Was that how you felt had become a bit more prominent when you did The End Of Chaos compared to your previous albums?

AK: There were so many songs to choose from on this one that I would tell these guys “when you send me a song, put a title on it”, and they would put a title on it and I would try to run with that title and write lyrics to whatever they would come up with for a title and that made the process a little easier too. I didn’t really need to think about what to write about. I just had to figure out what to write….I think that sped up the process quite a bit.

GILBERT: We’d do some joking around with him too, like, sometimes we’d send him a title that says, like “Fuck You, AK”, and that would be the working title of the song. (laughter in the background). Or “Suck My Dick”, y’know? (more background laughter). He’s gotta write about it, so, y’know, make it a little difficult for him to write about bullshit like that.

KNAC.COM: (laughing) So, it’s kinda like riffing it, I guess, so to speak. Just throw it in the air and let’s see what comes from it, I guess.

GILBERT: (pointing to Eric) Yeah, his songwriting as a lyricist is leaps and bounds awesome. I’m fuckin’ proud of this guy here. He writes some great lyrics and chorus lines, verses, and stuff like that, how he put it into the songs, it’s amazing, I’m super proud of him.

KNAC.COM: I remember when I discovered FLOTSAM AND JETSAM around high school as well, like I think the one song that really stood out for me has always been “I Live You Die” just because of those insane screeches that you did; that was wild! And of course, the subject matter helped suit it because the more I delved into the song, the more I discovered that it was all about the persecution of Christians during the Roman era. Was the whole history just something that appealed to you?

AK: Most of our songs are not really pro or con. They’re just stories, they just tell kinda what happened. It doesn’t say that we are for or against anything, they’re just stories about what I’ve read about in history and stuff like that. That particular song was written so many years ago (laughs). I think actually (Jason) Newsted did the lyrics on that one.

GILBERT: Yeah, that was the one that started it off for us pretty much.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, that was also the other way that I found out about FLOTSAM AND JETSAM, pretty much was when Jason Newsted was in the band before he left for METALLICA. What is with this band and not being able to retain musicians named Jason in it? (jokingly)

GILBERT: I dunno, we’re like the Triple A of baseball (laughs). We spawn musicians to go to other bands (laughs).

AK: Yeah, we train ‘em and then they go. (laughs) Somewhere else usually.

GILBERT: They get bumped up to the big leagues. (laughter)

KNAC.COM: Well, I still say that you’re kind of in the big leagues yourselves. I mean, to be honest with you, as one of the bands from the 80’s thrash scene, also obviously boasting of having Jason Newsted in your lineup when you first started out, and FLOTSAM AND JJETSAM eventually took on a reputation as being more of a musically flexible band over time, because you’ve toured with so many diverse metal bands ranging from OVERKILL to DESTRUCTION, even going more back in the day, you used to tour with bands like D.R.I., DEATH ANGEL, ACID REIGN, even Canadian bands too like ANVIL and EXCITER and even more recent bands too, like HAMMERFALL and also NERVOSA. How have you been able to broaden your horizons outside of contemporary thrash?

GILBERT: HAMMERFALL was actually the big broadening of our horizons. We’d never toured with a band like that. So for us to do it – they’re a power metal band, Vikings and stuff like that – and for that to kind of merge with a speed metal band, I think that’s pretty amazing, so we gained a lot of new fans, and, plus The End Of Chaos has a little bit of a power metal vibe to it as well, with some of the choruses and stuff like that. So we are broadening our horizons and trying to reach different people instead of this whole circle of just thrash. There’s lots of genres of good music out there.

KNAC.COM: Oh, yeah, for sure. Like, when I was listening to it earlier on the way over here I was just blown away by how a lot of these songs just really had a bit of the SYMPHONY X and NEVERMORE vibe to it. It was impressive, like the playing was very reminiscent of Jeff Loomis and also Michael Romeo. I just thought it was pretty impressive.

GILBERT: My favorite guitar player on the planet is Jeff Loomis.

KNAC.COM: I’ve seen Jeff Loomis live. He’d started doing his own solo thing and then he ended up joining ARCH ENEMY.

GILBERT: Second favorite next to Steve Conley! (laughing)

KNAC.COM: Of course! (turning to Eric) Your thoughts?

AK: We got lucky earlier in our career touring with pretty big names. We did probably 220 shows with MEGADETH, we’ve done 90 shows with KING DIAMOND. We were out there supporting some of the big names and that really put us on a level playing field with bands like DEATH ANGEL and EXCITER, stuff like that, whereas we were maybe an opening band at one point, opening for bigger bands like that put us on another level where we could headline on our own.

KNAC.COM: There’s also another question that I want to ask. Recently, you did a recent reissue of your debut album No Place For Disgrace back in 2014. How did that go about? I know that it had to be related to some sort of milestone, I guess.

GILBERT: It was definitely a milestone. So, for the fans that liked the record, I mean, there are a lot of people that don’t want remasters, they’re adamant that they have to have the original sound from day one and first pressing and stuff like that, but we still want to give a packaging that we give, y’know, how many years we’ve been in the business and how long the release has still been around. So we decided to release that for the fans.

KNAC.COM: That’s a good thing, because I know there’s been a trend with some bands that would usually just try to re-record the original album, but sometimes the results can be a bit mixed. Like, for example, I guess you heard about Zakk Wylde, with his other band – not BLACK LABEL SOCIETY, but ZAKK SABBATH, where he’s trying to do his own tribute to BLACK SABBATH, but he was planning on re-recording the original Black Sabbath album with his masters and probably his solos. What was your opinion on that?

GILBERT: SABBATH is timeless music, Zakk is a great incredible guitar player, and if people are interested in him playing some cover songs, then I think that’s great for Zakk.

AK: We don’t really like to cover bands except for ourselves (laughing). I mean, we’re basically a FLOTSAM AND JETSAM cover band now (laughing).

KNAC.COM: But you do have some very notable covers. You did the Elton John classic “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” and up until recently, I didn’t know that the song “Fork Boy” was actually a cover by LARD. How did that cover come about?

GILBERT: There’s also “Fairies Wear Boots” too which we covered. And that’s a B-side to…”Swatting At Flies”?

AK: Yep. “Swatting At Flies”.

GILBERT: If you’ve ever seen the red vinyl for “Swatting At Flies”, on the other side you’re gonna get the BLACK SABBATH song.

KNAC.COM: Cool.

GILBERT: “Fork Boy”…that was a different rendition of FLOTSAM AND JETSAM. There were some different members on that cover.

AK: Yeah...”Fork Boy”...we had Jason Ward in the band and his brother was the drummer for NINE INCH NAILS at the time, and Jason was very into LARD kinda stuff, some NINE INCH MAILS and all that, so he really loved that song and we wanted to do a cover just because, and pushed hard for that tune and it actually came out pretty cool.

KNAC.COM: I thought it was pretty cool because I didn’t even think for a moment that it was really was a cover. I mean, at the time, I think it was a trend for a lot of metal bands to try their hand at industrial music, and it kinda produced some mixed results, but you’re one of the few bands that managed to get away with it pretty decently, or at least pretty subtly, if you catch what I’m saying, because that’s not a kind of music genre which people can suddenly just get into right away.

GILBERT: Well, moreso now than usual though, because back in the day, like, NINE INCH NAILS, when they were out, MINISTRY, too, very repetitive, angry, fuckin’ angry music, but people were locked onto it. Now, you see MINISTRY shirts everywhere and before people would be like “what the fuck is this shit”, y’know? But I love the repetition of that LARD song, it’s all repetition building up on anger and just tons of energy.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, sometimes the heaviest songs are the ones that don’t have to end up sounding the loudest. I mean, there’s only so much cacophony you can include in a song until the message just gets very, very worn out. I mean, I wasn’t much of a MINISTRY fan myself until they started doing “Jesus Built My Hotrod” and “New World Order”.

AK: I saw MINISTRY in Phoenix and they had a chain link fence going from the stage straight to the ceiling right in front of the band and the crowd would just climb up this chain link fence all night long and just dive back into the crowd, climb up again and dive back in. That was pretty interesting. Y’know, MINISTRY, they’re kinda their own thing, so...

KNAC.COM: Would you ever consider collaborating with the members of MINISTRY if the opportunity arose?

AK: (enthusiastically) Oh, we’ll pretty much play with anybody if they have some great ideas for songs. We’re not metal snobs or anything, y’know.

GILBERT: (enthusiastically) I would love to write a song with Al Jourgensen! Fuckin’ fantastic!

KNAC.COM: I’ve heard a lot of stories about Al Jourgensen. He can be rather eccentric. I think there was a story about him one time when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards came over to his house one time, I think, to Al’s house in Chicago, and Al was completely passed out, I think, during his big heroin phase, so I think they just helped themselves to, like, the wine cabinet and shot some pool and then they were like “see ya later, Al”. (laughing) Or something like that. I don’t know how that whole story went, but coming from Al, if he ever remembered it, that’d be something else.

GILBERT: I love rock ‘n roll stories like this! That’s fuckin’ badass!

KNAC.COM: I remember the funniest ROLLING STONES story I heard at the time, I think, the members were in their dressing room, doing their regular ROLLING STONES stuff, and someone said “quick, you’d better get rid of all of your shit, the police are coming!”. So they ended up flushing all of their drugs down the toilet and in comes Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland! (laughter) And that was a true story! And everyone was shocked! “THAT Police?” That was like $700,000 flushed down the toilet!

GILBERT and AK: HA HA HA!

KNAC.COM: Anyway, I just have one last question which is also about collaborations: If there was ever the opportunity that you and Jason Newsted were to do a reunion, what would your thoughts be?

AK: I would play with Jason. He’s always been a friend of ours, he’s a great bass player, a pretty damn good songwriter, and there’s really no reason not to. We still love him, he still loves us, so, but y’know, Jason’s got so many other things goin’ on in his life that the timing has never really been right for him to get together with us.

KNAC.COM: Yeah…he’s an artist now, I think, who occasionally dabbles in music. I think an artist, like a painting artist has more appeal to him now, I guess. But who knows? I mean, reunions like these are slowly becoming a lot more commonplace, now that our genre is starting to get older and older over time, so some people are just saying “maybe now’s the time”.

GILBERT: Actually, he asked me to join the NEWSTED project when that was starting to take off, but I couldn’t do it. Had other obligations with FLOTSAM. If there was a way I could’ve done both of them, I would’ve. Jason and I have always been…as far as music collaborations, we’ve always been a little bit connected, so I would welcome an opportunity to work with him. He’s got a lot of credits on the Ugly Noise album, because he was coming back, he had just quit METALLICA and he was doing some other things and he was doing some stuff with us. So, yeah, I’m with Eric on that. Michael Spencer is our bass player, but I would always welcome a collaboration with Newsted just because of the musical connection I have with him.

KNAC.COM: Fair enough, because Newsted is also one of those very versatile musicians as well. He can play with pretty much anyone, so who knows?

GILBERT: And as an artist, he is a phenomenal painter, I will say that.

http://www.flotsam-and-jetsam.com/
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