Flotsam and Jetsam just unleashed their fourteenth studio album, Blood In The Water, earlier this year, and kicked off their first U.S tour since before the pandemic last month, with more dates to be announced. Metal Contraband’s Chelsea spoke with guitarist Michael Gilbert for a phoner around the time of the album release, to talk about the current lineup, some of the ideas behind Blood In The Water and its artwork and production, and the plans for new music already on the horizon. Check it out below.
Michael: I want to tell you I’m super thankful that you’re taking the time and you’re interested in Blood In The Water and everything, and hanging out with me for a bit, thank you so much.
Chelsea: Oh hell yeah, absolutely, and thank you for doing interviews, this is a really killer new album from Flotsam and Jetsam, super excited about it, so I’m looking forward to talking with you about it.
So of course, Blood In The Water, that’s at the forefront now for Flotsam and Jetsam, you’re absolutely killing it at metal radio, and getting a lot of hype about it otherwise, so maybe just start off by talking about how you followed up on the last album, The End of Chaos, and what led you into this new one?
Yeah, we were terrified actually, making this record, because that was a successful record for us, The End of Chaos, did really well. We got a lot of great, great reviews. So when we got home and started recording again, started writing, we were like, “Oh…that’s what we got to follow up to now? Okay”. And when everything started coming together, we realized we had something that was going to be at least equal to it, but in my opinion, I know it’s my band and I’m pushing this record and stuff, but I believe this is actually the best record we’ve ever done, so I’m so proud of the guys in my band and what has happened with Blood In The Water. I can’t even explain how proud I am of these guys, I’m very thankful.
Aw, that’s awesome. Definitely a great achievement for you guys, you’ve been going for quite a while now, Flotsam and Jetsam has a legacy in your own right, and now for something brand-new to be coming out and absolutely hitting on it is killer. So what song was kind of the starting point of this record, the first thing that you guys got together and did and said, “All right, we’ve got a new album in the making here”?
You know, we tend to write a lot of songs before we start ticking with what’s actually going to go on the record. And I think Steve, the other guitar player, and I, that’s usually where the songwriting starts is with our riffs, and then it gets kind of farmed out to the rest of the guys when we have a basic structure of it. But we each had about 25 songs that we sent to Eric “A.K.”, our singer, and he kind of decides whether he can fit some vocal melodies over it, and some verses, and these are the 12 that we got back that we decided to work on, that seemed like they were possibly the best tracks. I don’t even know what was the very first one out of the gate, where the starting point was. It might have been “Blood In The Water” or “Brace For Impact”, I’m thinking it was one of those two, but there was so many of them!
Yeah, that’s especially good to have so much going in and then you can narrow it down, rather than trying to scrape for it at the end.
Yeah, and I’ve had that happen too, where we’ve done records and we’re scraping for it, and that’s an awful feeling. ‘Cause you’re under the gun and the pressure doesn’t work well with that, when you’re trying to create. It’s more of a hindrance than anything.
Speaking of hindrances, though, did you have any trouble getting this stuff together with the whole lockdown/pandemic situation? Did you maybe already have some stuff locked in before that happened?
We started sometime just before the pandemic hit, and as horrible as the pandemic is — or, was, it’s becoming a “was” now – it was kind of a blessing for us, because we were pushed for an earlier release date because we were supposed to go out with Accept, and support Blood In The Water in January 2021, but since that got pushed back, we got to put a little bit more time into it, and do a few other things. Steve and I have this rivalry going, this guitar player thing where we’re just trying to top each other all the time, so that got even more intense. We have beers every Thursday, but we still “hate” each other for the guitar playing, you know?
So it’s a friendly rivalry?
Oh, totally, yeah. At the end of the day, we go and have beers, you know? I think he pushes me to become a better player, and I hope I push him to become a better player, too. It’s a good rivalry.
That’s awesome, yeah, sometimes you just need somebody to help push your creativity, because — I’m not saying you specifically, but in general with musicians – it can be kind of hard to push yourself sometimes. If you can play something and go, “All right, I think I can live with that”, but then somebody else comes along and pushes you further and you’re like, “All right, now I’ve got to step up my game”.
That’s exactly how it worked out! It’s healthy, it’s very healthy. We’ve got great chemistry in the band. We’ve got Ken Mary, he played with Alice Cooper, he’s the drummer, the Swiss army knife of our band, where he can write lyrics, he can write songs, he can play monstrous drums, he’s a funny guy. That’s a big thing, too, is having the personalities in the band where everybody gets along. I like all these guys, I don’t want to beat any of them up or anything like that like in the past. We’re having a great time, you know? These last three records that we’ve done has really come to a head with Blood In The Water, and I don’t see it letting up anytime soon. Even with the stuff that we’re seeing in the future, what’s coming next down the pipe, there’s a lot of great things going on with Flotsam and Jetsam right now.
That’s very exciting to hear, but yeah, that whole beating each other up thing is the old-school thrash kind of attitude, I feel like a lot of classic thrash bands, you guys have kind of chilled out a little these days, hanging out, having some beers and playing now.
*laughs* Oh yeah, I definitely don’t want to get anybody in a headlock anymore, that’s not the way to go.
I love the “anymore” on that.
Well, as of yesterday, I don’t want to get anyone in a headlock. *laughs*
Okay, so recently though *laughs*. Also, the record was produced with Jacob Hansen, and you’ve worked with him before, and of course, he’s got a whole reputation in the metal world himself, so can you talk about that dynamic of working with him?
Yeah, that dude has locked on to what we’re doing. He did The End of Chaos, he mixed it and mastered it, and we thought he did a great job, so we had to book him to do Blood In The Water, because he’s pretty sought after right now, he’s a busy guy. And he made some time for us and what was really cool about it is, a lot of times when you’re sending your music over to somebody to mix, you’re picking all this stuff apart in their mix like, “Oh, the guitars need to come up” or “the vocals need to come up”, this and that. None of that with Jacob Hansen. There was only two mixes that he did and he was finished, and we’re like, “hey, the guy knocked it out of the park”, we didn’t even have to put a list together for this dude, he was just killer. Totally locked on to what we’re doing. And he’s a mix artist, he’s great at what he does.
That’s super cool. I mean, especially if you guys already have such a great dynamic in the band, to add somebody in who really gets that, that’s awesome. And of course, you did just add a new bassist into the mix as well, not even that long ago, how do you feel that kind of changed up the dynamic of the band?
Well, when certain members aren’t seeing eye to eye on things, people have different visions and stuff like that, it’s okay. People grow and they grow away from things, and that’s what happened. But luckily we were in a place with Bill Bodily, he was filling in for the last guy on a lot of tour dates in 2019, so it was kind of a no-brainer for us, you know? As soon as Michael Spencer left, it was obviously given to Bill, because we have that chemistry, just what you were talking about, that chemistry is a huge factor in it.
That’s perfect, that’s definitely what you look for and as long as there’s no bad blood and rumors spreading over the internet of who’s leaving who, that’s where you want to keep it, you know? Just, “this person moved on, now we’ve got a new one, and it’s cool”.
There is no bad blood in the water, I will tell you that.
Ha, hah. *ba dum tss*
Can I say that pun?
*laughs* It’s perfect.
Now, you guys were alongside Overkill in Europe for a time in 2019, so I’m curious because, of course you had Jason Bittner as your drummer for quite a while there, and all of a sudden when he moved onto Overkill, you guys were touring with Overkill, so how was that? You guys still touring together, just not in the same band.
Complete chaos, oh my god, so much fun. That was one of the best tours I’ve been on, because it was like a family. It was just really cool. I’m really surprised there was no jail time involved on that tour. *laughs* Ken Mary, when Jason left and went to Overkill, he was going to fill in for one of the tours following that, and then I played with him for about maybe 35 seconds, and I was like, “This guy’s got to be in the band”. I mean, there was no doubt about it, this dude fits. He’s got the chemistry, just killer, killer drummer.
It sounds like that tour was not the “End” of Chaos, but just the start.
*laughs* Yep, absolutely.
We’re going to see how many Flotsam and Jetsam puns we can squeeze into this interview, man, we got 20 minutes for it, let’s go. But also, coming back to the current record, Blood In The Water, there’s been quite a few music videos as well, so can you tell me about the making of those?
Yeah! You know, we used a different producer this time – well, there was three videos, Andy Pilkington did the second video, which was “Blood In The Water”, then “Burn The Sky” – it’s kind of confusing because “Burn The Sky” and “Brace For Impact” were done by a guy named Lance Gergar and I think he did a great job on it. He incorporated all the stuff that we’ve never done with the backgrounds and the fire, and he did explosions in our video which turned out really cool. And then Andy Pilkington did the title track, which was a lyric video, and his company’s called Very Metal Art, and he did a killer job. He does all of our lyric videos, and both of those guys are ultra talented in what they do.
Nice, yeah, it’s funny how lyric videos have taken on this whole identity of their own in recent years. Back when you guys were first doing records and stuff, music videos were the prime focus, but now with YouTube, lyric videos are everywhere, but then they become this whole art form in and of themselves, and a different way to express the song, which is cool.
Yeah, totally. And Andy’s got a way of doing that. He designed our record cover, too. We were originally going to call the album Brace For Impact, but that got shelved. We sent all the songs to Andy and he goes, “Dudes, you guys should use “Blood In The Water”, let’s try that. And he kind of gave us a treatment for it, and he was right, it’s pretty cool, you know? So we went with that.
And you’ve also been with AFM Records for quite some time now, since the self-titled record in 2016, so what do you think being on that particular label has done for the Flotsam and Jetsam experience?
Well, it’s been a home base. Every band needs a home base. I think back in the day when we were moving around between major labels and stuff like that, I think that may have done some damage. Just having a home base for your band and there’s a nucleus of what we do, and for our publicity, promotions, marketing, of course they do all the distribution for our records and stuff like that. They’re super supportive. AFM stands for “All For Metal”, so you can’t go wrong with a label name like that, right?
Literally, perfect. Going back a little bit, before you guys did sign to AFM, you had that record Ugly Noise, and it certainly wasn’t Ugly Noise, it was killer thrash, but you guys kind of self-made that album in a way, you had some fan contributions and everything. I was just curious about the production of that one, did you guys do all the recording and production yourself for that one?
Yeah, we did. And that was kind of the reemergence, I guess, of the band. There was about a ten-year time period where there was a lot of different member changes and just crazy stuff, the torch wasn’t being carried correctly, and A.K. had called me back, and said “dude, we’ve got to get you back in the band”. I had stepped out for a little while, for some personal reasons, but I came back to the band and it just seemed to start going again. It was like, “Okay, here we go, let’s do it again”. And just since then, it’s been kind of on an upward trajectory until Blood In The Water, and now it’s on super upward trajectory. Can barely say that word today – “Trajectory”.
Name of the new Flotsam and Jetsam record.
*laughs* I like that.
Aside from you stepping out of the band for a little while, which – personal reasons, totally cool, nobody’s trying to dig into that – but the band as a whole had a kind of hiatus for a while there. Since the last few albums, it seems like you said, you guys are just kind of rolling full force, and you’ve got new music on the horizon. Things looking up on the Flotsam and Jetsam camp.
Yeah, I’ve got to chalk it up to the chemistry of the lineup. It’s just unbelievably great working with these guys, an I’m not just saying that because I like them or because we’re doing an interview. I truly like these guys, even if I wasn’t in a band with them, I’d still hang out with them. But that makes it even more fun to go on tour with your friends. I’ve been in bands where you don’t like each other, and that sucks, man. You can’t get anything done, and obviously the final product, your record, is going to suffer when you’re not happy, you know? So the chemistry is equally as important as the talent in the band, and I’m very fortunate to play with these four other guys, they’re all ultra-talented.
Absolutely, and yeah, that’s so important. From the fan perspective, they only see you guys for a couple of hours each night when you’re on stage, and then maybe after, at the merch table or whatever you guys do, meet-and-greets. They only get you for a small chunk of each day, but then a lot don’t realize how much time you guys have to physically spend together when you’re on tour. All these hours of travel and you’ve got to be able to more than just tolerate each other at that point.
Yeah, we have a joke about the boxing gloves on the bus, we like to keep two pairs of boxing gloves by the door because at some point, we’re going to want to go out there and duke it out and then it’ll be over, and then we can get back on the bus and everybody can go on their way. It’s pretty funny.
Yeah, I mean, good to have on hand, you’ve got to let out the frustrations sometimes, you know? And…I didn’t even mean that pun on purpose, have it “on hand”.
*laughs* That was good.
Thanks. *laughs* So like we’ve been saying, there’s no question that Flotsam and Jetsam has quite the legacy, so what are some songs that have stuck with you personally over the years, whether it’s favorites from playing live, or maybe even tracks that you want to perform live, but haven’t really gotten to in a while?
You know, there’s two that we always have to do no matter what, and that’s “Hammerhead” off the first record, and then the title track off the second record, “No Place For Disgrace”. If we don’t do those two songs, we get some angry people at the end of the show going, “why didn’t you play that”? So those always go over great, they create a frenzy of people getting into it. So those are two of my older favorites, but what I’m really looking forward to is the stuff that’s on the new record and what the reaction’s going to be. Because so far, the reviews…one of the reviews that I read was, they said it was “relentless”, and they had to take a break when they were listening to the record. And I have to throw my fists up in the air and go, “that’s the kind of review that I want”. When you make a record that people are saying is relentless, you’re doing something right if you’re in a metal band. If that’s the case, I want to see the reaction of people when we play “Blood In The Water” or “Brace For Impact”, or something off the new record. They’re already requesting stuff off The End of Chaos, and we’re just amazed that people are requesting our new stuff, because a lot of fans of our status, older bands, they want to hear the classic stuff, you know? So I’m proud that we’re writing music that’s relevant right now.
It is, and that’s especially what’s so important about a band that has a legacy behind them of any kind, or maybe gets grouped into a kind of scene, like an “old-school thrash” type of thing. It’s cool to see a band staying current in the sense that you still sound like yourselves, you can still tell that this is a Flotsam and Jetsam record, you have a signature sound in there, but at the same time, it’s very modern. It doesn’t sound like you’re trying to go back to No Place For Disgrace or Doomsday for the Deceiver and recreate those records, you’re definitely still sounding very modern and current between the production and what you guys are actually writing yourselves.
Yeah, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. We don’t want to keep going back and playing all the old old stuff because that’s all we got, you know? We want to keep it new, fresh, but even more importantly than that, we want people to like it. We want them to smell the blood in the water is what we want. *laughs*
There it is. So that being said, what is currently next on the horizon for Flotsam and Jetsam?
Well, we’ve got some tour dates that are coming up. Some United States shows, and then we’ve got Europe in January and February with Accept, and then we come back and we do an East Coast tour…God, I wish I could tell you guys what it is! I’m so excited about it. But that’s what’s going on right now, and then the festivals over in Europe next summer.
This is honestly so refreshing, because the whole past year of doing interviews has been like, “Okay, so what’s coming up?”, “Well…I don’t know, we’ll see when we get back on tour”. But now this is so great that everyone now is like, “All right, we’ve got tour dates, we can actually give you the dates, we can tell you when”. It’s happening for real now, so it’s super exciting.
It is, and I can’t wait to get out there and play for people, and it’s going to be even more of a frenzy than before the pandemic, it’s going to be great when everything opens up and people are just able to be themselves and do what they do at a metal show.
Oh absolutely, everybody’s just got this pent-up heavy metal energy going on, so it’s just going to be unleashed around the world real soon, which is super cool. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Michael, it’s been awesome getting to know more about the new record. Definitely looking forward to seeing you guys out live, and seeing what you have up next for us.
Chelsea, thank you, man. I’m very grateful you did the interview with us and you’re supporting Blood In The Water. Thank you so much.
Absolutely, thanks so much!