With their Nuclear Blast debut “The Cold”, Flotsam and Jetsam have gone back to their roots of playing old school Thrash Metal. They have come back stronger than ever and with this their first new album since 2005, they are sure to please their loyal fan base as well as recruiting new fans. “The Cold“ was the last album with Mark Simpson on guitar. He left the band in friendship and was replaced by the former guitarist Michael Gilbert. Listen for yourself, make sure it is loud, and celebrate Metal The Uniter, Not The Divider!!!
Some days ago I had a telephone chat with Flotsam’s drummer, Craig Nielsen. The time was limited, but in less than 30 minutes we were able to cover the most important topics.
Hi Craig, I’m Tarja. welcome to Metal Shock! How are you doing today?
Thanks Tarja, I’m doing pretty good today. The sun’s shining here in Las Vegas, and it’s not so cold today. So it’s not bad at all.
…talking about your band name, the original name was “Paradox” , then for a short time it was “The Dogz” before the band renamed itself “Flotsam & Jetsam” … can you tell me about these name changes?
I’ve been in the band for 15 years, and unfortunately I wasn’t there during that period. You know I’ve never asked them about the reasons for these name changes.
You joined the band in 1997, Do you remember something about your first concert with Flotsam & Jetsam?
Oh yeah, I do. It was in Phoenix, in the band’s hometown, it was a pretty big club and very packed. You know, the band had had that period a lot of pressure, as Mark Simson and I were hired the same day. So we both had a lot to prove on that show, being our first show together with Flotsam. I remember everything about that show, and it was actually a very good show. lol
Your first album was under Metal Blade, but the following 4 albums you were signed under Elektra Records and MCA. Then again in 1997 saw the returning to Metal Blade. What emotions did you feel when you were offered again a record deal by Metal Blade Records?
You know, in the early years, it makes sense to be with a label like Metal Blade, Brian (Slagel) is a good guy and understands all about the American metal scenes and has a lot of respect here in the States. He does all the things in the best possible way, you know, even if Metal Blade is not a huge label like MCA but it’s a good label to be on. You know, the whole time that Flotsam was with MCA, they didn’t never sent us to Europe for a tour, as Metal Blade did. And we see that to be with a smaller label, as Metal Blade, brings better benefits to a metal band. So, to return to Metal Blade was actually a good move.
In 1986, you released one of the most important thrash metal records in history, “Doomsday for the Deceiver”. You weren’t yet in the band, but do you know something about the feedback from critics and fans?
Well, the album was obviously the most brilliant experience for Flotsam at that time, because of bassist Jason Newsted, who then soon after left Flotsam to join Metallica, so in that way the album’s been connected to Metallica for ever, which was right after their Master of Puppets came out. And the fact that they chose Jason to their band, made everybody listen to “Doomsday for the Deceiver”. Yeah, the fan response was sensational. I don’t know about the critics’ response, but still we get emails from fans saying that the album is the most important trash metal record of all times, in the American Thrash metal scenes. And if you think that the band’s members were still very young when they wrote that record… yeah, there’s a lot of pride in that record!
You were one of the few bands who never gave up, even when, in the 90’s, the thrash metal movement was eclipsed. It was hard to get along all these years?
No it wasn’t. You know, I’ve been in many bands and I can say that we’re getting along better than over the half of them. We don’t spend too much time together, really, when we’re not touring or doing a record, what so ever. So we don’t get sick of each other LOL you know, if we have the differences in opinions or if somebody played bad in a show, nobody’s afraid to turn to him and say: “hey you sucked tonight!” So we don’t have any problems to be honest to each other, you know, both to give and to take opinions. We’ve a really good co-operation, and I truly feel the brotherhood with this band. it’s a very close band, I’d say.
I believe that a reading key of your music is the elasticity of you songwriting. Over the years, you’ve never composed the same things, you have touched speed metal, mosh-thrash, melodic solutions… working several different productions! You are a band with great personality! Was it easy to find agreement on the ideas in the rehearsal room?
Oh yes… more we stayed together in the room creating songs together, more easy it became. And if we’re now talking of The Cold, Mark got at home some very good recording gears, to make the best out of the song, he basically prepared them all into arrangements, and then performed all the guitar parts in the studio, as one and only guitar player in the album, for the first time ever. Those are all Mark’s songs and his arrangements, so there was no real disagreements, we knew he was under something good, right away when we heard the songs. Then Eric “AK”, when he sings, he normally does it or good or great, and in this case he did it great! He had enough time to think what he wanted to sing over the songs… you know, Eric is a kind of a singer and songwriter who doesn’t dominate anybody in the writing process, he trusts Mark, and his come up with the song constructions, and you know, as a singer, he finds easily the vocals and the melodies. But we’re a very “loose” band as far as getting along while we write, there’s really very little disagreement… and if we really don’t like a song, we say it without problems, so we’ll write another song. But in the writing process itself you’ve to trust in your songwriter. You know, if you have too manysong writers to one song, it’s not always so good. Just look the best and biggest bands in the world, what do they have in common? They have only one songwriter…
You are back on board with a really important album, one of the best of 2010, “The Cold”. What are your expectations about it?
Thank-You! But you know, we do not have much expectations, as we don’t know yet whether it’s going to do well in the States or will it do better in Europe? But we know we have a good record, the songs are good, and Eric “AK” has a good performance, but I think what is great in this record that it sounds good! The tones, the mixing… the engineer did a good job, bringing the parts to life, and that’s important. But what’s really important is the vocal, and AK had as much time as he needed to sing exactly what he wanted. I won’t say this is AK’s prior record from the last one, but this time he had more time… and if the artist gets more time, he comes up with the better stuff. And AK was last one to record his parts so he had a lot of time to figure out what he wants to sing. And I think this really makes this record stand out! The songs are great, but what really sticks out is AK. With him I think we’ve one of the most versatile singers out there… he can sing in so many different styles, and when you have a singer like that, you write the songs to compliment his vocals, and not necessary only in one style. You know if we’d written Thrash all the time, AK couldn’t have show his best.
Who mixed the songs?
It was Ralph Patlan. You know, I think he’s remixed almost the whole Megadeath catalogue, he’s done also a lot of work with Michael Schenker, and with others as well. So he had metal experience and he really knew the recording techniques. He also knew how to save time in the studio, so we weren’t wasting any of it. He was really good at what he did and he knew how to get the big metal tones and that’s very important, you know, you have to have the right microphones, you have to know where to place them in the room… during the recording sessions you have to know so many things, and he knew them all. It was a great experience to work with him.
As title track, why did you choose The Cold? Is there any story behind it?
Well, as far as I know, there’s no story related to it. You know, Eric wasn’t the real lyricwriter to the band, until recently. The most of the lyrics were written by other writers. But I don’t believe that he’s really trying to tell some specific stories. But I can say that The Cold is just a song title, one of the 10 songs. And when we saw the album cover art work (by Travis Smith), it really recalled the cold … and we thought we really should call this album “The Cold”. But as said, this happened later, at the first place we hadn’t thought so much the album’s title yet, it happened only after seeing the cover artwork, and it seemed going well with the title, so that’s why “The Cold”.
How would you say that this album is different from other albums of Flotsam?
You know, Mark became our main songwriter for last two records, and I think if you’re a good artist and a creative person, and if you’ve passion for music, you’re only getting better in what you do. And Mark is really good at figuring out how ideas can be put onto a song. But if you don’t have much experience in the studio, it’s not as easy as you may think, you know, to have the idea on how all parts are sounding together. But if you’ve been a bunch of times in studio, only then you can actually imagine, really realistically, how it’s gonna come out. So more experience you have in the studio, the better. So Mark finally hit his big performance as a song writer, you know, he’s the only songwriter for this album, so the this album is his, so to speak. And the fact that he played all the guitar parts on the album, that makes this album different from the other ones. You know, before there were always 2 guitar players, but this time only one, Mark Simson.
Talking about the gigs, what are your tour-plans to support this album?
You know, we wanna wait before booking the tour to Europe, because obviously we wanna see first how people buy this record. And if they buy it, we can get better tour offers. So it doesn’t make any sense to plan it now, as the record is not even out yet. Sure, we’re gonna tour, but the question is when and with whom and in what situations, we’ll decide it later, after the record’s been out for couple of weeks to see the reactions it will bring along.
In March 2010 former and original guitarist Michael Gilbert has rejoined the band, can you tell us about this? And how was it, after 13 years to have him back?
It was like he never left… you know it was a very very smooth return, he remembered the songs perfectly, and at our very first rehearsal he was perfect! I couldn’t believe it, it was like he never stopped playing the songs. Over the past years Michael came up on stage couple of times when we played in Phoenix, actually we’ve done some shows with him and Mark together when Ed couldn’t be there for whatever reasons. So we can say that Michael has been quite around while he wasn’t in the band. And then, when Ed left, obviously the first person we called was Michael. He lives in Phoenix, and it didn’t take any time at all to get him ready to tour. By the way, at that tour we came also to Italy and played in Bologna. Yeah, but the call to Michael was very easy, and he was very happy to come back.
Craig, now a couple of questions to you as a drummer … how long have you played drums, what are your earliest memories, and why did you choose this instrument?
You know, my first memories are when I was extremely young, I was something like 5-6-7 years old. You know, while everybody at that time I listened to Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, I listened to Jethro Tull, ELO and Deep Purple, they all had a really good drummer, I think I was 10 years. You know the drummers really got me interesting to drums. And if I have to go back to the very beginning it was the drummer of Jethro Tull, Barriemore Barlow. At home I was listening to the drums on those songs, and I just knew from the very first moment that I wanna be a drummer. I started to play drums when I was 14, but I became a real drummer only when I was 18 years, when I joined one cover band.
Has it ever happened to you, that in a concert your drum skin breaks, or something like that? and if so, how have you resolved the situation?
Well if it happens on your snare drum, then it’s difficult, as it’s the main drum that you use all the time. But in our shows we have always a drum tech with us, and they’re ready to act if something should break or go wrong. We uses so-called “eye-signals” while playing, I mean, they’re looking to where I indicate with my eyes and they’ll understand right away the problem. And if he’s a good tech, he’s able to fix the problem in a minute. But if you play on a professional level, you always have the techs so you don’t have to deal with these problems in the middle of the show. You know, you just cannot stop the song, whatever happens, so somehow you just have to find the solution, whatever the problem is.
Craig, when you’re touring, I guess, it becomes quite heavy, when you need to play night after night, how do you keep yourself in shape?
That’s a good question… you don’t sleep much on tour, that’s for sure, no matter if you’re in the tour bus, or if you’re in van then you sleep in the hotels, but it’s never so comfortable. And let’s say that if the show ends at 1 o’clock, however you cannot even think to go to sleep before 5 or 6. So you’re lucky if you’re able to sleep 3-4 hours a night. So, it’s not just the playing hard every night, but it’s the playing hard every night without sleeping, and that makes it difficult. I remember that I’ve played 2-3 shows, without sleeping more that 1 hour a night in between. But yet, no matter how tired you are, but when you go up on stage and start playing and knowing that we can never suck because of our reputation of a professional band, you just make it. We have to be as good as we can be, every night, because people expect it from us.
Well, our time is over. Thank you Craig! now I leave to you to say your greetings to our readers …
Thanks to you Tarja. Unfortunately Flotsam hasn’t been playing yet so much in Italy, but I’d like to change that fact. You know, I’m half Italian, and we know that Italians are very warm people, we love it there. So I’d like to say to our Italian fans, that when you go to the shows, please keep telling to promoters asking them to bring Flotsam to Italy! We wanna come there, but we’ve to get tour offers to be able to do so! You know, we were in Turin 14 years ago, and then again in Bologna last year, so only twice in last 15 years… so please spread the word and we’ll be there! lol
Interview by Tarja Virmakari – Photos: flotsam-and-jetsam.com – This is an exclusive interview made originally for Italian webzine Truemetal.it