The year of 2016 could be considered the year of ‘80s metal. If you just stop and think about it, we’ve experienced quality releases this year by: Flotsam and Jetsam, Megadeth, Fates Warning, Testament, Anthrax and Metal Church just to name a few. Everyone is buzzing about the new Metallica and the table finally appears to be set for a metal renaissance. While we can probably identify a multitude of reasons for why this may have occurred, I think the love of music is most likely the strongest contributing factor.
Flotsam and Jetsam has been entertaining fans across the globe since 1981. A reputable act that has never wavered, churning out quality metal year after year. Now it appears the dream has begun to come full circle. Flotsam has returned with some new blood and a self-titled release that rivals their classic material. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Eric “A.K.” Knutson (vocals), Michael Gilbert (guitars) and Jason Bittner (drums) about their new album, Iron Maiden and marijuana legalization. Check out some excerpts from my 11/15/16 interview:
David Halbe: Is there any special meaning to your current release being self-titled? Can it be considered a statement, a reflection of the band today, perhaps?
Eric “A.K.” Knutson: All of the above and you know it does kind of make a little bit of a statement. The songs sound like they’re from our whole career, from the first couple of records to the middle as well as the brand new, it sounds like there’s a little piece of that on the record. So that was one reason to self-title it and we’ve always wanted to self-title one but somebody always came up with a cool title so we never got to and it’s also kind of a rebirth of the Flotsam brand. New members, new blood, new energy. A new love for touring, everything’s new, the songs are new, the record is new. We just kind of thought we could subconsciously start over by doing a self-titled record.
Dave: Makes sense, what was the thought process behind calling a song “Iron Maiden”? There’s been a ton of press about the non-cover song…many consider it a homage played in the vein of Maiden, was that the intention?
Eric: The only thought that Iron Maiden (the band) had in making that song is that when Steve [Conley, guitars, Flotsam & Jetsam] sent it to me, it sounded like an Iron Maiden song.
Michael Gilbert: Any time you have dual guitar harmonies that’s going to scream Iron Maiden.
Dave: I agree but people have just been going nuts over it. I’ve listened to it, I’ve watched the lyric video a couple of times, I don’t really see it.
Eric: You know when I tried to come up with the vocal melodies for that song, no matter which way I tried to do it I sounded like Bruce Dickinson.
Eric: So I said fuck it and kind of just went for it.
Dave: (Laughs) That’s awesome!
Michael: There was no way we could get away with it. This is obviously going to sound like an Iron Maiden song.
Eric: And then when it came to lyrics I didn’t want it to have anything to do with the band. I looked up what an Iron Maiden was and found out it was a casket filled with blades and I thought cool, that’s what it’s about.
Dave: Nice, so your current label AFM Records, has released three lyric videos and a performance video for this release. How important are music videos and other social media outlets to the band?
Jason Bittner: Social media is extremely important for the band.
Michael: I think in this day and age music videos aren’t really as important because there isn’t a platform like MTV playing them anymore but they are important to the point where you can get YouTube viewings and stuff so it can be useful in that way but I don’t think they’re as valuable as they used to be back in the day.
Dave: I think today’s videos give you a chance to get your name and face out there again and again.
Jason: That’s because nowadays you’re here today, gone later today.
Dave: How important is the relationship between proper marketing and a successful tour?
Eric: You might as well not be on tour if you don’t have some kind of proper marketing, there’s going to be nobody there.
Jason: You play a show that has bad marketing and only sixty people end up showing up. Your numbers show. The rest of the promoters in the area all know, even people in the rest of the country, they’re looking at that going, ‘wow they only drew sixty’ and that’s the promoter’s fault for not getting out there and letting people know.
Dave: I agree, everything begins with the setup.
Michael: It’s a chain reaction.
Jason: Our guarantees start going down, it gets harder for us to play places.
Dave: So you’ve got to be really careful then with who you go into business with.
Michael: Oh, yeah.
Dave: Flotsam & Jetsam has been active in some form since 1981 – when does a band earn the moniker of legendary?
Eric: Geez, I don’t know.
Dave: I don’t mean legendary in terms of age, I mean revered.
Eric: Geez man, when you sleep with an audience maybe.
Jason: I guess that would make you legendary.
Dave: I’d like to think that it’s when a name brings a certain expectation when you go and see a certain act play.
Jason: Under that definition, I’d say if you survive over thirty years that definitely qualifies you as legendary.
Dave: I agree one hundred percent.
Eric: I think our problem right now is we kind of raised the bar on ourselves. People are going to expect this show every time so we’re stuck (laughs) trying to go out there and kick ass every time.
Michael: There’s two types of legendary right? Legendary shit and legendary good.
Michael: So a band might be considered legendary but they may not be in a good category for you or me.
Dave: So the definition is biased by the individual, I agree. With 12 studio albums – how difficult has it become to create a ‘proper’ set-list?
Eric: It’s actually really easy but it’s becoming difficult to please everybody in the audience. Everybody’s got something they want to hear and I’m like, “Come on man, we’ve got over a hundred and forty songs!” (Laughs) we can’t do them all.
Jason: We’re trying to keep a nice mix of old and new, we’re playing some Doomsday [for the Deceiver] stuff because it’s the thirty-year anniversary for that and of course we’re going to push the new record.
Dave: Hell yeah! So when you look at the new material do you think of it like this may be my one chance to play these new songs for yourself and for your hardcore fans, knowing they might not make the setlist next time?
Dave: So for that regard seeing you represent and certain tours makes it even better.
Eric: It’s so much fun playing the new stuff because it’s stuff we haven’t been playing for thirty years.
Michael: Our last record kind of opened my eyes in regards to that. The previous record’s tour people only wanted to hear our first two records. I mean we’d ask the fans, “Do you want to hear some new shit?” and they’d be like “No!” They wanna hear just the first two records but with this last record, they’re asking for the new material and they even know the words to the new tunes.
Dave: Kick ass!
Michael: You’ve got to look at that and be like “OK”, because you know those guys are into the ‘old school shit.’
Dave: I think re-launched has brought in a lot of new fans.
Michael: Right and that’s how I like to gauge the success of a record and under those terms this record has been very successful.
Dave: I agree with that a hundred percent.
Jason: This last tour we were opening with “The Seventh Seal” the opening track off of our new record and there were certain places we played where as soon as Steve played the opening note people started cheering and we were like “Woah! They actually know it; alright, cool!”
Dave: That’s awesome! How’s it been on this tour, you’re only a half-dozen or so dates in so far right?
Jason: This is the eighth show in I think, the fans have definitely been picking it up.
Dave: Sometimes it takes like a year or so to get your new material out there, even though social media is what it is.
Eric: That’s true, an album can take off slowly or sometimes an album can die in a couple of months.
Dave: For sure.
Eric: You really never know what the hell is going on, all you can do it keep pushing it.
Dave: Fuck yeah! I read some members of the band recently opened a marijuana dispensary, what can you tell me about that?
Jason: We opened a medical cannabis dispensary.
Dave: You did that to try and make some money?
Jason: It’s a business venture for Michael [Spencer, bass] and I. A good friend of mine is one of the owners of Sick Drummer magazine which is one of the biggest online drum magazines in the world. He is also a cultivator and we started talking about business ventures and stuff. We eventually decided we were going to open up a little dispensary of our own. It’s up in Ukiah, California and it’s been going pretty good so far.
Jason: Basically it’s another way for us to make some sort of income when we’re not on the road, we’re not a band that can afford to stay at home and do nothing. “Oh! We made enough money on tour to stay home!” We can’t afford to do that, so for us this is just another avenue.
Dave: So what do you think about the legalization vote finding acceptance in so many states?
Jason: We’re a little skeptical about that right now to be quite honest with you. It could go either way. We’re ready for it to go legal in California, the point is we want to establish our business a little bit more before it does. It’s gonna be one of two things but we’re hoping it’s gonna go legal and our business will go through the roof because then anybody can come in off the street and purchase.
Jason: Or it’s gonna be a thing where if it goes legal then every Tom, Dick and Harry is going to have a dispensary, they’re going to pop up on every street corner. The market will become saturated. It’s gonna be like tattoo shops, remember in the early ‘90s there were a few tattoo shops here and there? And now everywhere you look – tattoo shop after tattoo shop.
Dave: But again just like in metal you’ve become established in the beginning, you beat the bandwagon.
Jason: Exactly, if you have a place that has good product and good staff then the name makes you the tops in that area, that’s just what happened with Revolution Emporium. As long as we maintain that level of excellence we should be okay.
Dave: Anything coming up after this current tour you’d like to mention?
Jason: We have this tour that runs until December 9th and then we’re going to do a second leg that’s going to encompass some of the markets we missed this time around. We’re going to go up to Canada and that’s going to cover us through February and then in March we’re back to Europe for another headliner.
Dave: Holy shit. You guys are booked up.
Jason: And then probably South America after that if all goes well. Maybe some European festivals.
Dave: Then hopefully write another record?
Jason: We’re probably gonna be doing that anyway, we already have some ideas. That’s all in the midst of all the touring we’ve been doing.
Dave: That’s great.
Jason: We’re looking to be pretty busy so that’s nice.
Dave: Sounds like it. Well, thanks very much for your time.
Everyone: Thank you.