INTERVIEW WITH ERIC A.K. KNUTSON
OF FLOTSAM AND JETSAM
Interview and pics by Arto Lehtinen
Flotsam And Jetsam returned to the summer festival tour with the re-recorded classic NO PLACE FOR DISGRACE album. Metal-Rules.com sat down with frontman vocalist Eric A.K. to talk about the re-recorded classic album and of course the touring life now and then.
REDOING NO PLACE FOR DISGRACE
How did you get the idea to re-do the whole NO PLACE FOR DISGRACE album?
We wanted to remix the album and just put out a Remastered remix. It was on Elektra Records and they have been bought and sold so many times. Since that album came out, nobody had any clue where the masters lurk or who owns them or who even gets a hold of taking. So, we talked to our lawyer, he said, “Forget it, just re-record the whole thing.”
It was easier?
It was not only easier, but we got the chance production-wise to redo things that we wish we would have done differently, to begin with.
Was the money involved in the whole thing – I mean Elektra may have sold a lot of copies – did you get royalties from sold copies ?
Royalties have never really been a factor for us, the royalties are so minimal. It really doesn’t matter. That was really never a factor for redoing it.
There are the old bands from the same era as you like Destruction, Testament and Anthrax, who have redone old classic stuff and the people have been like “Is it now necessary”. But do you think it could ruin the old spirit of the songs, because of the advanced technology?
We really worked hard when we re-recorded this record to try to keep it the spirit of the original record. We try not to change anything significant. We didn’t change any parts of any songs, we didn’t really speed anything up or slow anything down and we tried to be as true to be original as we could. We changed some guitar solos and stuff like that, little flares. But as far as the songs and the order of the songs and the tempos of the songs, we tried to stay as true to be original as we could.
As for the Elton John cover, how did you get the idea to do that cover back in the day and you made a video of it?
We wanted to do a cover. All bands were doing covers and it’s always fun to do somebody else’s song. I think that one was actually suggested by A&R person at Elektra. We all kind of liked Elton John at the time. We all grew up listening to him. We tried it and we liked the way that the heavy guitar went in instead of piano part and all that. So, it wasn’t really we have to do Elton John, it was just that particular song. It kind of sounded cool and we tried to metal it up a little. So, we have pages and pages of cover songs that we would like to try, we have a lot. So, that was just the first one we went to.
How did you feel to sing the old songs like the Elton John song that you haven’t done for years?
We haven’t done the Elton John song in 20 years probably. We practiced it a couple of times before we came out, we are here this time and we are still not going to do it. Our guitar player doesn’t like to do it now, because it’s a little cheesy. We have some of the other cool songs to do. Why would you do that one?
THROUGH ROUGH TIME
The years were very rough with metal in the States in the beginning of the ’90s. Grunge and then death metal came with a real big bang whereas thrash metal bands were struggling. You kept going anyway, but success wasn’t that high.
Yeah. The hardest thing is to see a type of metal, a band that does a type of metal that you can’t stand. Some of the Cookie Monster stuff with a horrible band behind them. They are headlining places that Flotsam can’t even play because we don’t draw enough people, and it’s just like, “Really?”. It’s a little hurtful sometimes, but there is room for every type of metal. There is room for every band, but everybody just needs to be kind of put together in the right way. There is room for all of us; there is a plenty of metal fans around.
You got some major lineup changes as you got new guys in the band. What’s the basic reason why the guys left the band in the first place? A health thing, money thing or something else?
It was basically poor decision making. We had managers and agents that I really believed in and the rest of the band couldn’t stand it. They wanted nothing to do with, so they left. They left me with the whole new band that I had to make up a whole new band, and it worked pretty good for awhile. I kind of used that second Flotsam as a reason to come to Europe, a few times in a year, on holiday. Which was really not a good reason to come here and jam? We should have been working on the career and working on the band. I was really just out here for a holiday. Once I decided to get serious again about the band and the music, then I turned to the original members. I said, “Hey! There is no more managers, there is no more agents. It’s just us, let’s try this again”. They all jumped back onboard.
Except for the one guitar player, because he has problems with his arms. He can’t play. Except for him, we are all original from when Newsted left. So, Michael Spencer was the very first guy when we played new songs. It’s really nice; everybody’s head is in the same direction. It’s really nice; nobody is messed up on drugs or alcoholics in the band.
We are older and wiser and we know what we want a little more. Back in the day it was where is the next ; – Where is the drugs? Where is the alcohol? Where are the women? – without caring about. Now things are a little more important to us. When we are over here instead of spending time going to find some drugs in the nearest bar or trying to pick up. We are outside seeing, seeing the world and doing things we should have been doing back then. So, it’s a lot more fun now.
There was a period in the history of Flotsam And Jetsam when you took a break from the whole metal thing. Did you get fed up with playing metal, because you went to a country music thing with AK’s Corral ?
That was really just the business end of music that I got sick of. I never get sick of metal, I love metal. But I was out on tour, living like a rock star and I go home and have to work my butt off, all day, every day just to catch up for the money that I didn’t make on tour. You are renting a crappy little apartment in a bad part of town just so you can go out on tour and do music, and I just got tired of financially not being appreciated for my craft. So, I sat out one day and said, “What genre of music is making the most money?” So, I did a country record. It didn’t work.
Would you like to do more different kind of music besides metal?
I would like to do every type of music. I like all kinds of music, maybe not rap too much but I like a lot of pop stuff. I like some Rock N Roll stuff. People give me grief all the time because one of my favorite bands is Nickelback. And people are just like, “Really?”. I don’t see what’s wrong with it, but people hate them. So, I’d like to then do that kind of stuff. But metal is where I started, metal is where I’m going to end, it’s always been. My heart is metal music.
BEING ON A LABEL OR INDEPENDENT
Regarding this record label thing – You had an on/off deal with Metal Blade and you have been on major label and then being independent – You are now I guess on Metal Blade?
Kind of, we are distributed by Metal Blade.
Are you still independent band or?
We are still an independent band. We have no label support for recording. We did fresh music, which was basically the fans to buy the album ahead of time. We used that money on the recording and then sent the album when we were done. It turned out really good. It’s kind of nice, there is no labels and agents and management taking their piece out of it. It all goes to recording, we can relax any time, spend it all on production.
For example Obituary had the Kickstarter campaign, collecting the money for recording a new album. They did the album and made a license deal with a record label for doing the promotion. Do you think this kind of “Kickstarter” campaign or being independent is much easier and the way to make money for a band nowadays than being on a label?
No. There is no way to make money for the band. It doesn’t matter if you are on the label or not on the label. We tried it out. We thought maybe we could – If we made $15,000 from the Pledge music we would spend 10 grand recording and have 5,000 put in our pockets. It didn’t work out that way. We spent all 15 on production. So, it’s really not any different from being on a label. You have to have some kind of label behind you, whether it’s distributing or whatever to get onto most of the festivals. You can’t just do it all by yourself. You have to have some kind of known company to say, “Hey! We want band on.” We’ve always worked with Metal Blade in modern fashion or pretty much on every record. The people who worked there they are good friends of ours and they are family business too. So, when we decided we couldn’t distribute this by ourselves we went to Metal Blade. They said, “No Problem. I will distribute for you.” The next record we might go by the way on a label rather than doing it ourselves. It’s a lot of work and at this point we are learning that touring and merchandise is the only way to make any money at all for all ends. It doesn’t matter if you have a label or not to sell merchandize, so we might just do a label next I’m not sure. But we might just do a label, so we don’t have to deal with any of that or anything. The only other thing is that when the two last records. If some freak thing happens and we sell two million copies of them, all that money goes to us and nobody else. If we were on like Metal Blade, a normal record deal says they own everything and all we did was record it. If it should happen, they sold two million copies for some reason. They get all the money and we don’t get anything. So, to think that a Flotsam record is going to sell two million copies all of a sudden for no reason, it’s kind of unrealistic. The only reason that might happen is because we are all getting older, maybe one of us dies and so you sell a bunch of records. But other than that it’s not realistic to think that that’s going to happen. So, we might just go with a label. (laughter)
CREATING NEW FLOTS-HYMNS
You spoke about writing a new album. What kind of process is writing a new album, as you got old members back from the ’80s ?
Yeah. We basically have two sides to Flotsam And Jetsam; there is the old school, first two records side. DRIFT and CUATRO – that’s a whole different side of Flotsam, a little more commercial I think. We never know what direction we are going to go.
Do you feel that you are becoming more of a nostalgia band, because every old school fan when you played at Keep It True Festival, everyone wanted to hear the first two albums ?
There are some albums like, THE COLD, some songs from DRIFT and CUATRO that fans ask for every time. So, we know that there is at least some songs on these records that people love. For the most part metal fans are old school metal fans, and that’s what they want to hear from Flotsam and Jetsam is old school metal because that’s what they are used to. There is a new record, there are a couple of songs that were written for No Place back in ’87 and never made it to the record. That two or three songs is what we are starting with for the new record. So, I’m imagining we are going to go the old school side of Flotsam and Jetsam for the next record and maybe the mixture like going a little commercial and going old school. You never know.
Like killer riff, melodic harmonies what NO PLACE and DOOMSDAY used to present.
Right. Doomsday and No Place were a lot of parts, and the CUATRO DRIFT era was more about hooks. So, I think we are going to have maybe some songs with a lot of hooks somewhere in between the two. We will see how that turns out. We’ve never really planned to do a certain type of music; we just start writing and whatever ends up, what we end up with. But re-recording No Place was a lot of fun. It took us back to some old school ideas. We will have to just wait and see how it turns out.
Do you think it’s a little bit weird that all these old thrash metal bands – In my books I consider Flotsam And Jetsam a speed thrash metal band like Testament etc- have to play a major set of the old songs. Do you think the metal people, even the younger kids, are somehow a little bit too old school?
Maybe. There are a few old school songs that we will never get away with not playing. In NO PLACE we always have to play for, there is some people who throw things at us if we don’t play. We have to always throw some of the older songs in there, we are never going to have a whole audience of people like just want to hear new stuff anywhere you are. There is always going to have to be some old songs in there. But our hope is that there are enough songs on the newer albums that people love enough to want to hear those lines. So, it’s always kind of a guess what songs are people relating to the best. What songs do they want to hear? We’ve learned over the years that you kind of want to put the old school stuff, later on in the set because people are drawn by them. They want to hear the old school stuff. But at the beginning of the set, you can put some of your more melodic, newer stuff in there and you see people enjoying it even though they really don’t know that song very well. You see jamming and go, this is pretty cool. I wonder what album this is on; you may sell a copy of that record the next day. But once they start getting drunk, they want the old school stuff. They don’t care what song you set at the top, they don’t play it. (laughter)
TOURING NOW AND THEN
You are doing the festival tour right now. You toured with Sepultura, and Legion Of The Damned in Europe earlier this year. How was it?
The tour was great. It was kind of different for me because we are used to touring with bands that are the same type of band as the Flotsam too. So there is a lot of competition going on, trying to be better than the band coming on after you. This was quite different because there are four bands on tour, and each band is completely different style than a band before. So, there were no competition everybody has their own little piece of the tour. Mortillery from Canada, it was the first band. They are really good. They are a brand new band with a kind of old school metal with a girl singer. A little competition there. They do their own thing. And then we will play and we are kind of our own entity also, Legion Of The Damned is a little more German metal than everybody else. They are a little more…
A bit of Kreator influence.
Yeah. A little more like serious metal I’d like to call it. And then Sepultura normally sounds like them, they are very Brazilian tribal sounding.
Do you think that this kind of package tour would be more idealistic for a band like Flotsam And Jetsam to tour in the future?
To a certain extent you wouldn’t want to mix two strains of metal together. There is some kinds of bands that, a bunch of screamo-bands. If you put Flotsam in the middle of them, they would just throw stuff at us. We just got added to a new festival, I can’t remember the name of it now. But it’s a bunch of really hardcore bands. I forgot who else was playing, but there is a lot of bands in there with cookie monster vocals, as I like to call them. So that will be interesting to see how we do there.
Do you think for example the tour with Testament is more perfect for you as you recently toured with them ?
Yeah. Testament, Overkill, Flotsam and Forearm, they were from Australia. That was pretty comfortable tour also, except I had the feeling that OverKill was always competing with Testament to try to, who is the bigger band and who is…. I hate that, I just want a nice, relaxing tour. That audience has a great time, the bands have a great time. I like a tour to be – especially a packaged tour like that – to be a show from the start to the very end and not do little shows. To be one big show. If it was up to me, we’d have an MC that talks in between the bands and makes everything together and that’s one big show. That’s the kind of stuff I’d like to do. It all kind of depends; we’ve had a couple of tour offers for us a spot that we turned down because we just didn’t think it would be a good ride for us.
A little bit going back in time to the beginning of 2000 when you played at Thrash Of The Titans with S.O.D., Anthrax etc. I guess there was more like friendship with the bands because it was a benefit show for Chuck Billy and Chuck Schuldiner ?
Yeah, yeah. Because it was the benefit, Chuck Billy and all that. It was really just a big party. It was an excuse for all those bands to get together and have beers together and play some songs. It wasn’t trying to benefit your career at all, it just a night for Chuck Billy.
Is there a band that you get along in a perfect way, that was wonderful and you are still friends?
The latest Sepultura tour was really good; we just saw them at the Metalfest Open Air in Czech. They are great friends. “Hey come on boys, lets drink. Let’s party” And we love them, they love us. Pretty much the entire King Diamond era that we opened up King Diamond on THEM tour, we did almost the whole THEM tour tour. We did a couple of Mercyful Fate tours. That whole lineup for the THEM record, those guys were great. Just amazing. Mikkey Dee and Andy LaRocque, that was a lot of fun. It was a little weird because almost every night we had this much room to play in, because King got set his castles and his cabins. Which is kind of a pain in the ass, but it was fun to watch. So, we have this much room to stand there and explain, but that was just a fun, fun tour. Everybody kind of helped everybody else out. King is a great guy to hang out. He didn’t hang out very much, but he’s a great guy when you do hang out with him. The rest of the band was awesome. I’ve got the name to maybe four or five Motorhead shows since then, because I know Mikkey Dee. That was probably one of the more comfortable tours. We’ve had a lot of tours mainly headlining tours, but still we are not very comfortable. One of the problem we did is it was just too much partying, too much go, go. No showers, no hotels, just a bus. A show after show, after show and no breaks, no time off. The crew hated us. They are the bands and everybody here and everybody just bang, bang.
Flotsam was having a big boost then when thrash metal was really big. What kind of memories do you have from those days?
Not really a lot, because touring in those days it was all about parties and drugs and alcohol and chicks. Most of those memories have gone away. We’ve toured, we’ve played with a lot of bands over the years. We’ve played with the original Riot, just everybody, the original Armored Saint. All kinds, just band after band after band. We did our very first tour was with Megadeath, Sanctuary and Testament out here in Europe. Ever since then it’s been just kind of really cool, tour after really cool tour. We did three tours I think with Megadeth in the States, 190 shows with King Diamond in the States. We’ve done a lot of stuff and the same time we feel like we’ve only toured tiny piece of each year, and most bands tour all year on. We haven’t been lucky enough to rush on to any of the tours, to keep us out there that whole time. So, it’s been kind of frustrating, but we are trying to do things a little different. We had a lot more shows especially in Europe this year, the other before and next year we are hoping to double that amount of shows.
What about the tour with Megadeth, how was it ?
The shows were great, really great. That one tour we did, Megadeth, Korn, Fear Factory. That was really big venues, really nice comfortable tours. Megadeth – We know all those guys, we love all those guys. But they are not our real helpful band, they are not going to go out of their way to help opening band. But they gave us a slot, which is way better than we wanted. They gave us that part on the tour. It was a big comfortable tour. But it was hurting for us, because at the time Korn was just barely coming up. We are out there, at the time we had eight, nine records out and we are out with Korn, it’s the crowd is going crazy and they loved it. And then Korn will come on and make one note from the guitar, and they’ll place just erupt singles nuts, light truss is coming down and security get thrown out. It’s just ridiculous, ridiculous reaction for them. We are like, we are doing this for 20 years and they don’t react like that. That’s a little just hurting. I really liked the Korn guys too. We hang out with them quite a lot.
They helped you out with the recordings?
Yeah. Head – Korn record label is called Javelin music group. It’s been with Flotsam record on that, that was the one in Korn’s album and Dreams Of Death I think was the other record we did with them. He did that because he’s a Flotsam fan from that tour. He liked us a lot and he’s a good guy. He knows what he’s doing. So, its things like that that makes metal a kind of a family affair basically. Its bands trying to help out other bands, even a tiny little piece. Like Megadeth gave us their slot on that tour, that was awesome. Because we have done a few tours with them before, they like us a lot. And that tour came out like, “Hey! Take us out.” Okay.
Gigging and doing festivals is the way that you get more audience and attention nowadays.
Yes. You can also hook up with other bands and other managers in order to get tours together later on down the line, festivals are great. Great, people to see you, great for smooching with other bands, finding the right package and bands to go out to tour with them for the festival, really good for that.
THE OLD SCHOOL ARIZONA THRASH METAL
Your friends Sacred Reich have said “never new album” and it is more like going back to the old school stuff and having fun..
Yeah. Phil from Sacred Reich – I think he’s afraid that he won’t write something as good as what they had back in the day. They’ve got some great albums and that’s pretty big shoes to try to stay in. They have a completely different life, they are not really an active metal band. They just use that for vacation like I did with the other version of Flotsam. That’s really the only reason why they do festivals is to bring wives up to Europe and have some vacation done and spend the holiday. They are a different breed. They probably would not have ever come out here and started playing again. Festivals keep calling and saying, “Hey! You want to…” And they would say no. Then a couple of years later the same festival will call them and say, “Hey! You want to come up, will offer you this much.” No, no. They finally got to the point where they are offering this much money and Sacred Reich go, “Okay. Now we’ll come.” They can’t turn that down. They are only going to be able to ride that for so long; their guarantees are going to go. But especially with now a new record.
I talked to Phil and he said, no way.
And it’s just Phil, the rest of the band wants a new record.
Yeah. It’s just Phil. I have a band with Wiley in Arizona called Human Condition. I have been singing in his band for awhile. I think we are actually doing a show next month, Arizona tour. And that’s all, what they want to do is record. Who wants to be in studio, recording, recording? Phil says, no way. So, we will see. I know Greg Hall wants to record also. So, we will see. They probably will never do another Sacred Reich album, but I know those guys are going to record something with a different name or something.
There was another killer band from Arizona called Atrophy – what happened to them ?
There was a couple of guys in the band I see once in a while, I don’t think they’ve played forever. I’m not really sure; I don’t really keep up with them too much. But I know a group of guys in the band and see them once in a while – hanging out at the bars or whatever. My son is on the security team in the big venues in Arizona, so I’m always at the shows. Eventually I see everybody, one time or another. There are actually guys I see once in a while, they live a couple of hours from where I live. Eventually every band shows up at that venue, where they watch or play or whatever. Atrophy was a good band.
She gave us our start. She owned a club in Arizona. We would play in there, two weekends every month. We played there with Poison before they were anybody, before anybody knew. We opened up for them and we’ve opened up for all kinds of band there. Gloria paid for our first demo, we recorded the METALSHOCK demo. She paid for all that. She’s really a wonderful lady. She’s a really good manager. We’ve never really asked her to manage us. She’s never asked to manage us. So, we’ve just been friends her and that’s it. I don’t know if she doesn’t believe in our band anymore or if she just doesn’t want to take on anymore bands or if it’s like that. But like I said, we’ve never asked and she’s never asked. We are still good friends with her and we are family.
You toured with Sepultura back in the day, didn’t you ?
No. We used to just hang out and drink with them a lot. Fairly good friends with Max, real good friends with Paul. I really don’t have an opinion on which is better, Sepultura with Max or without Max. Soulfly is great, Sepultura is great. I love all bands. But it’s hard for me to kind of get in between there, the little thing they have going on and on. But as far as Gloria goes, we love Gloria and we are all family. She’s got a million kids and they go out on tour with them. We know them all and we love them all, they are good people.
One last question. Do you still fly the flag for metal and what motivates to go on ?
I’m a metal fan, I don’t like all new from the metal bands, which keeps me going as far as writing metal, listening to metal, coming to festivals. I’m going to try to, all the crews, the cruise, metal festivals whether playing or not. Because it was so much fun and we had so many bands, and they are right there in their face. I’m a metal fan as far as that goes. So, that’s going to keep me and the rest of the band going as far as recording until they quit asking us to do festivals and quit asking us to do shows, we are going to keep going.
Alright. Thank you.