The status of Phoenix thrashers Flotsam And Jetsam has been up in the air as of late, with slander amongst band members finding its way onto the message boards of the group's official web site, leaving fans and the metal world in general questioning the actual status of the group. The band's all set to release their latest record "Dreams Of Death", which is considered to be a major comeback for the F&J team. Recently, the group has cancelled plans to perform at the Louder Harder Faster music festival in Allentown, PA due to apparent in-fighting about live performances outside of Phoenix AZ. In the following interview, Flotsam And Jetsam drummer Craig Nielsen gives a bit of foreshadowing in regard to touring concerns as well as describing the content of the new disc. We at The Gauntlet hope can't wait to hear the new record and hope that the band will patch things up as soon as possible and get back to rocking in front of metal audiences in the very near future...
The Gauntlet: What is the status of the band as of right now? You're back with Eric and have a major
appearance scheduled for the opening night of Louder Harder Faster in Allentown.
Craig Nielsen: Yeah, he doesn't want to any touring, but for special shows or a festival like this or others that may come down the way. Or, in particular, Japan. Our recent trip to Japan was just awesome, we really loved it, so we'd love to go there over and over again. But, he's got a lot of responsibilities, he has taken on a couple of mortgages and he's got two kids and the whole thing. He's got a good job, every time in the past, when he would leave to go on tour, he would come back and have to find a new job and there's just so many times that you can do that. So he's not going to be doing any extended touring. We still may be interested if it were a "right singer came along" situation. That really hasn't been discussed, since we're focusing on the record. But, Eric will always do any records that we do.
The Gauntlet: Is the band currently putting the final touches on "Dreams Of Death"?
Craig Nielsen: The last day of mixing is either today or tomorrow and then we master it this week and we're done.
The Gauntlet: Does the album's title have any tie-ins to the song from "No Place For Disgrace"?
Craig Nielsen: This was all Eric's idea. Eric started writing the lyrics that had a similar theme running through them. I do not like to use the words "concept record" myself, but lyrically, there's a similar sort of recurring theme that he's dreaming that he's killing people that he loves and he started writing with this lyrical approach and it all fit into the concept of "Dreams Of Death", so it's an interesting tie-in for the older Flotsam fans who will get a kick out of that. Plus, what really sealed it was that we hired Travis Smith, who had done Iced Earth and Nevermore covers to think of a visual concept for "Dreams Of Death" and what he came up with was so cool, it was just like "Yeah, yeah, man - that's the stuff, that's it! Because the cover is fucking awesome, that's what everybody in the band feels and the cover art definitely sealed the title and made it seem like that was the direction the record was supposed to go. So the record should be done this week, absolutely done and ready for packaging.
The Gauntlet: What can you tell us about the direction of the record?
Craig Nielsen: Yeah, the band's twenty years older, but we're all metalheads. When we play live we probably play more older material for a band that has as many records as we do, compared to other bands that are out there on tour. Name them; I won't because that's not the point. But the fact of the matter is that we pay more tribute to our old thrash style than most bands of our age. When we play the songs live, we actually play them faster than they were originally recorded. What I'm getting at is we definitely still know how to thrash. We do it every night live that we play and we're like a totally intense thrash band live. But, when we go into the studio, especially with Mark Simpson at the helm, writing a lot of songs now, the bands that I like personally today like Opeth and Porcupine Tree. I like them because they go from way fucking heavy then down to some spacey vibe. I like that. It's just me. So, Mark Simpson likes it too and on this record, even on "My God", we have a couple instrumental pieces and they are like tie-ins to songs that have these very atmospheric sorts of qualities to them, rather than just pounding away with riffs. I mean, there are so many bands that are doing that, that's well covered. What bands aren't doing so much is experimenting. You know you're good when you can carry a melodic instrumental and it doesn't get boring. It's along the lines of "My God", in that it had faster songs and a couple of mid-tempo pieces and a couple of strange instrumental things and so does this one. But the heavy ones on this record are probably heavier than the ones on the last few records, but we still don't go heavy for the entire record. It's really intense but not bombastic, big chord, riffing and leads. We aren't afraid to space out a little bit.
The Gauntlet: You're aiming to achieve a more dynamic performance.
Craig Nielsen: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, my two personal favorite songs on the record happen to be the most dynamic. Not as speed riffing oriented. That does not mean I am becoming less of a metal guy. It just means when you go into the studio and you have the right engineer and you have the right concept behind what you're doing melodically, for me it's so much more rewarding to listen back to intense melody as opposed to speed riffing. I've been hearing speed riffing since I was fifteen years old. It's not that it's not intense. I love it, I play it. We play it every time we play live. But when you can lay down this pocket, you're a heavy metal band and all of a sudden you've got this pocket of grooving instrumental like passage. That to me is where I feel like "Wow! This is fucking awesome!" And melody in playback and you hear these walls of guitar melodies and its like "Fuck yeah!" I'm really getting into that more. So is everybody in the band.
The Gauntlet: Is Eric still hitting the really high notes on the recordings?
Craig Nielsen: On the recordings, he tends to not ever want to write that way. He is not writing with the high notes in mind. I don't think there's hardly any high notes on this record. But, he'll still go out there live and sing the originals with the high notes. We have a DVD that we're going to release eventually here; it's probably going to be the next release, a show from Japan. We played a show in Tokyo and it came out very, very well and it was edited quickly and you'll see Eric hit every fucking high note like "Escape From Within" and "Doomsday", all of them, hitting them very strong. So he does hit all of those notes but he doesn't write with that in mind.
The Gauntlet: What songs do you plan to include in the set for Louder Harder Faster?
Craig Nielsen: Probably a lot of the old ones and "Quattro", probably one or two from the recent records, but the Pennsylvania set is pretty short, so probably a lot of the old stuff because I don't know that we have any more time than that.
The Gauntlet: So what can we expect to hear from the new album?
Craig Nielsen: The record won't be out then; I doubt we'll play anything from it. We could preview something, I guess, but when you only have 45 minutes, you want to slam the people with things that they know.
The Gauntlet: Can you go into a little detail in regard to some of the new tracks?
Craig Nielsen: "Bathing in Red", that's the more atmospheric one that I have been telling you about, with vocals, that's one that I think is incredible an incredible fucking song. You know, like total radio, not in a gay way, but just for Flotsam, if there was ever any fucking song that we have done together that should be on the radio, that's the one.
The Gauntlet: Was there ever any official talk of Jason Nested coming back into the Flotsam family?
Craig Nielsen: I've heard that talk. I don't know why Jason hasn't wanted to do that. I'm not dissing what he does now, but it makes more sense than what he's doing now unless he's got some things in the works that I don't know about. But after Ozzy, of all the things that were on the table, Echobrain, Voivod, whatever other things, it seems to make more sense than anything he's doing now. You would think it would be a natural foregone conclusion that he would want to do a show with Flotsam or something like that, so it's ultimately something that he's gonna have to initiate. But I know that he's been in Phoenix and I know that he's hung out with Eric and Ed. He was always best friends with Kelly Smith, of anybody in the band. He has come into Phoenix, mostly to see Kelly, but I know there was a recent time when he hung out with Eric and Ed. On top of that, he came back to Phoenix, on other business, and hung out and I am sure that the topic came up after a few beers in an offhand way. Jason Ward is out bass player, I am sure if Jason Newsted ever wanted to do anything with us it would be a one off or a novelty. But, that would be cool. But if he wanted to come back as a permanent bass player, there's really no need for it because Jason Ward shreds.
The Gauntlet: Even if the band won't be touring, will you still be playing other festivals?
Craig Nielsen: We're looking to play big events, if Crash or whoever can get on the phone and make it happen that we play on Wacken next year or Dynamo or one of the fifty other festivals that go on, we'll do that but we want to reach a lot of people at once. But if you don't have a label where the relationship is there pulling for you, it just doesn't happen. You can't just as a band call them and say, "Hey will you buy us tickets?" It doesn't happen like that.
The Gauntlet: Do you think that there are just too many labels and bands out there for the popularity of the music?
Craig Nielsen: Yeah man, it seems that way. The cream rises to the top, so if people don't buy this Flotsam record, it will be because they didn't like it. If they do buy it, then it will be because they liked it. People will become aware it's out and if they have an interest, they'll hear it. It's gonna do what it's gonna do.
The Gauntlet: Well it seems like buying records is an activity that the younger crowd seems to participate in, but are there really that many thirty year old guys out there today rushing out to get metal albums anymore? It seems no matter what, for a band to do well, you have to reach that younger fan group in some manner.
Craig Nielsen: Do you like Porcupine Tree?
The Gauntlet: Yeah, I like Porcupine Tree.
The Gauntlet: What of the talk that you are interested in possibly joining another band that is willing to tour?
Craig Nielsen: Yes. The answer is yes. But even for me, I kind of got spoiled in Flotsam because I never went through that phase where I had to go out in a van and drive one hundred and seventy-five miles in the middle of the night. In the Midwest, that's the way it gets, hundreds and hundreds of miles in the winter with some guy driving that's half asleep and half drunk, all of that old school shit, I'm just past that shit. If it means that I don't tour because of it. What I am saying is that I want to join a band that has got some shit going on; I think I bring something to the table. And you'll see, in Pennsylvania, I'm fucking hitting harder than ever in my life and all that shit. So I just want to be in a good band that has some resources, that's traveling like they should. It's just a fucking grind going out there. These kids, they'll play anywhere. I have this friend from Phoenix, he went from Phoenix to Jack Koshick's festival in Milwaukee and then back, you know? Just to go play a show at five in the afternoon at the Metalfest. It's like "Fuck that", you know? I'm in my thirties.
The Gauntlet: What is it that you would like to leave us with that you feel should really be getting out to the people?
Craig Nielsen: That we're one of the originators of thrash. Along with Exodus, Testament, Slayer, Metallica and Megadeth, we're in the top ten bands that formed that scene. So it's imperative that they go out and listen to that shit and those other bands so that they know where their roots come from. Thrash is an entirely American invention. Whereas, you can say that heavy metal was somewhat derivative of what was going on in England, thrash was a morphing of styles that became an American art form and it's really, really important that they learn and hear as much of it as they can, Flotsam included. I would like to think that we're among the very best of the bands that did it. That's why Metallica took Jason Newsted. Obviously, they had some respect for the beginnings of Flotsam And Jetsam and with good reason. That's very special material and it continues to be a special band. That's why I would think they would want to listen to Flotsam and these bands that helped to usher in a whole domestic scene that wasn't fucking something derivative of something that was going on somewhere else first.