Eric “A.K.” Knutson of Flotsam and Jetsam – Doing it from the Heart!
Interview by Robert Cavuoto
Flotsam and Jetsam is a band from Phoenix, Arizona with a legacy that goes back well over 30 years. It’s hard to believe that their debut album release, Doomsday for The Deceiver, came out in the summer of 1986. Fast-forward 30 years and several member changes the band is now back and re-energized with Eric “AK” Knutson, Mike Gilbert, Michael Spencer, Steve Conley and Jason Bittner, essentially a new band with a 30-year history.
After their 2015 European tour the band took this new found energy and focused on writing another new CD. What started as 18 rough ideas turned into an album’s worth of killer material. The end result is the self- titled Flotsam and Jetsam CD due out May 20th. It showcases five very distinct personalities and influences coming together for the common goal of creating another soon to be metal classic.
I caught up with vocalist, Eric “A.K.” Knutson, to talk about their latest release, the band’s legacy, and the sacrifices made along the way.
Robert Cavuoto: Congrats on the new CD, the band sounds great! Which song would you say has your biggest imprint on it?
Eric “A.K.” Knutson: That’s a tough one, maybe “Verge of Tragedy” that one is a little more from the heart than the other ones. It’s basically about anxiety attacks and depression. My daughter and wife suffer from that. So that was my inspiration.
Robert: Your lyrics are always so prophetic as they craft an interesting story, tell me about that approach?
Eric “A.K.” Knutson: I really don’t give too much of an opinion in my lyrics. I like to tell a story but leave everything up to each individual to view the song. When I write a religious song, it’s basically informative, it’s not pro or con, it’s not for or against. The same things about Hitler or history it’s all informational. It’s what we read about and then put to music.
Robert: When writing, tell me about what inspired you when you started the band and what inspires you now. How has it has changed?
Eric “A.K.” Knutson: Back in the 80s and into the 90s when I was writing lyrics all I was thinking about was “What were people going to think is cool and really sink their teeth into.” The last few CDs have really been written from my heart and I hope that someone connects with it.
Robert: How are you affected when fans come up to you and tell you how inspirational your music or lyrics are to them? Maybe it helped them get through a difficult period of their life.
Eric “A.K.” Knutson: That happens a lot and makes up for all the money that I don’t make in this industry [laughing]. The one or two hours on stage are really why I do all this. It’s a powerful thing to be up on stage. Most of my career that’s all I’ve gotten paid – to have that power on stage and people thinking our songs are cool. When someone comes up to me and tells me that they listened to a song every day to get them through a divorce or a hard time that means more to me than anything else. That something I wrote touched someone in a positive way is amazing to me.
Robert: I’m sure you have had to make sacrifices whether emotional, physical, or financial to keep Flotsam and Jetsam going strong for over 30 years. Tell me about some of those sacrifices?
Eric “A.K.” Knutson: Really my family sacrifices more than me. When we are on the road the band barely made enough to scrape by. I have a wife, kids and bills to pay so it gets to a point where you either have to come off the road or the family has to sacrifice a bit. It’s really a give and take. The family doesn’t mind scraping a little here and there so I can go out with the band. When I get home I try to make as much money as possible so they don’t have to suffer any more [laughing].
Robert: What do you think of bands who continue to say CD after CD that they are getting back to their roots while Flotsam and Jetsam have never left their roots?
Eric “A.K.” Knutson: That really comes down to me listen to Flotsam more than anybody! I listen to early albums and new albums – countless songs a day. You have to love your music to really do that. If you don’t love your music or at the very least be entertained by your songs than I you really shouldn’t be putting them out for other people to be entertained. You have to love and stand behind what you put out. All I can hope is that other people like it too.
Robert: Knowing that you’re always listening to your music; do you have the opportunity to re-explore forgotten songs to perform live?
Eric “A.K.” Knutson: I wish I had more power over the set list [laughing]. The rest of the guys in the band would hate me because I would pick all the songs they don’t like to play. We are bound by our fans to play what they want to hear, songs that we can’t get away without performing. Then we get requests and try to hit them up as much as possible. That usually leaves only two or three songs in the set that I can pick. I have to contend with the band members going “I don’t like that one or that one is too slow.” So I really don’t have a lot of power.
Robert: What will you play off the new CD; I’m hoping “Iron Maiden” or “Seventh Seal”?
Eric “A.K.” Knutson: I think we have to do “Iron Maiden” as it is our first music video and got the biggest buzz so far. We will probably do one of the faster-heaver one like “Taser.” “Seventh Seal” was one of the first songs we wrote and was a lot of fun to write and sing. From day one I was planning that to be the opening track on the CD.
Robert: You’ve had several member changes since the 80s, how has that impacted the band over the years?
Eric “A.K.” Knutson: A lot of different writing styles. That Flotsam sound has just adapted a bit to the new players. When I get my vocals on them, it sounds like Flotsam again. It’s a neat thing as well as it keeps be from getting board. I’ve never had any schleps in the band who didn’t do anything. Everyone has pulled their weigh with playing, writing, and doing business stuff.
Robert: Are you content with the public’s perception of Flotsam and Jetsam’s place within Thrash Metal history?
Eric “A.K.” Knutson: In history yes, in present and future I’m not content, I want to move forward, hit more people, and do as much with this band as I possibly can. I’ve learned to love our history and be part of it rather than just being talked about being in it. You either have to embrace your past or hide it from everybody [laughing]. To learn from it and be better for it.
Robert: What is the difference between performing now compared to in your twenties?
Eric “A.K.” Knutson: Just my view on everything has changed. Touring is still a pain in the butt yet you love it at the same time. I’m out there for different reason now. Back in the day I was out there to see how many drugs I could do, how many women I could hook up with, and how drunk I could get. None of that comes in to play now [laughing]. It’s a completely different lifestyle. I’m out here now because I love being on stage and playing our music. Our fans are killer people that support us and they get pretty nuts. There is always somebody leaving on a stretcher. They are great fans and great people to hang out with.
Robert: When you look back on your career from the early days, what’s the most important thing you have learned?
Eric “A.K.” Knutson: Don’t rely on someone else to take care of your money! To know the business side and know where your money is going. If you don’t know, then you deserve what you get. You have to look into things and learn where the royalties are going and what the split is. If you don’t, you’re going to be sitting on the couch one day wondering why the other guys in your band are all driving nice cars and you’re staring at a bicycle. It also gives you another reason to be out there doing it if you’re making money! The bigger the band or the bigger the buzz surrounding the band, the dumber they are about their own business.