Flotsam and Jetsam Interview

The following interview was conducted by Matt Barber of The Mining Company and is posted with his kind permission.

MB: You guys recently changed two members, right?

JW: Yeah, we actually recorded the record with the same line-up as the last three records, but Mike and Kelly both decided that touring wasn't going to be part of their future plans. So, we went on with a couple of new guys. It was pretty cool. It's good to get some fresh young blood in the band. They are both two maniac players. Our new guitar player is Mark Simpson, who I've been kind of doing a lot of side projects with in Phoenix. One of them is called Frank White and the Spades, which is kind of a comedic Metal act that we've been doing the clubs around there with. Actually, it was kind of funny because Craig, our drummer Craig Neilsen, who used to play with Nevermore, is a real good friend of Nick Menza from Megadeth. And Nick called us when he heard we were auditioning people, and I was having a heck of a time finding anybody to play Kelly Smith's parts, you know. And Nick just left this message on my machine. He was like, "Hey, it's Nick. My friend Craig is coming down this weekend.He's your new drummer. He's better than me. Later." So, it was like, "Alright, whatever.", you know. And it worked out pretty good. He's a real Nick guy, living in the LA area right now, so…

MB: Yeah, I was kind of wondering what type of effect they've had on the band?

JW: I think it's been all positive. I mean, I'm really looking forward to doing a record with these guys, because, you know, they're a little bit younger, a little bit hungrier, and really play well. So, I think for the most part we haven't really taken any steps back, as far as having a player that's not where Mike or Kelly was. And, as a matter of fact, in some cases I think they're even better players. So, it's working out pretty good. I mean, they've only been in the band now for a couple of months, and we are really playing pretty well, now. So, I think we're right where we should be.

MB: Cool. So, how did you first get interested in music?

JW: Well, I guess I've been doing this my whole life, you know. I know for these guys it's pretty much the same story. I mean, how did you get started AK? I don't even know.

AK: I did my first performance, solo performance, when I was five years old in front of a thousand people.

JW: He was such a cute little kid. I've been… you know, I used to play in a drum and bugle core. I don't know if you guys are familiar with that, but DCI. So I was like twelve and I was already touring the States and playing drums when I was a kid. Then I switched over to bass. I've just been playing in bands my whole life. I met up with these guys about eight years ago, and, you know, we've made three records and we're still kicking, so…

MB: Yeah, I was wondering how you originally met up with band?

JW: Just pure chance, you know. It was a weird kind of thing. It's actually kind of long story, but I was in Chicago with my old band, which was just a local act that we were trying to get signed, making demos and stuff, and one of our demos made it out to Phoenix. Some people that they knew, you know, from the local area that we were visiting from Chicago, taking some tapes back. And a couple of people out there that were running a management company winded up giving me a bunch of money to move my band out to Phoenix. And on our way there, they got arrested for being drug dealers. So, it was kind of a weird thing. I arrived in town and I'm like, "Well, I'm in Phoenix. I don't know anybody, and the guy that was our gravy train is in jail." I'm just glad we didn't get more involved in it, you know. It was a weird twist of fate. So, there I am in Phoenix playing with my band just figuring I'll do the same thing as I did in Chicago, and start doing the bar scene. About two months later, these guys got a hold of one of my tapes, and they were looking for a bass player. And the next thing I knew we were making Cuatro. So it kind of happened within a two month period of time. It was pretty nice, you know. I guess everything happens for a reason.

MB: Yeah. Who would you say were some of your biggest influences musically?

JW: For me, personally, I love Rush and Pink Floyd. I really like the way Geddy Lee plays, even though it's kind of different from what we play. We are basically a pretty heavy band. As far as all the heavier stuff, I listen to Judas Priest, and all the stuff that's on the record. If you've seen the new record at all, we kind of did everything in these fonts from all the bands that were real big influences on us growing up. So it's been a spattering of a lot of stuff. But as far as a player goes, I'd definitely have to say Geddy Lee is my idol.

MB: Have you had a chance to hear the new Judas Priest yet?

JW: Not yet. I heard it's really good, from what somebody told me.The new singer is pretty good, so…

MB: I had a chance to interview them two weeks ago.

JW: Oh, yeah. How are they doing? How was their show?

MB: Oh, I didn't get to see them. They're not starting the US until January.

JW: Oh, yeah. So they are doing the press thing

MB: Yeah.

JW: That's cool.

MB: It sounds real good.

AK: I heard a little bit of it the other night.

JW: Oh yeah, how was it?

AK: It's like old Priest, only a little heavier.

JW: Oh, yeah.

MB: Yeah.

JW: Cool. Maybe we can get them to tour with us. That would be great.

MB: I know this is probably the last thing from your mind, but some people are curious that with the new Metallica coming out…

JW: Umm, Hum.

MB: And Jason originally playing with Flotsam…

JW: Umm, hum.

MB: Would you guys ever consider touring with them if the opportunity came up?

JW: Yeah, I think they owe it to us, those bastards. But, you know, what can you do? No, I don't know. They're big rock stars, now. So, you know, I think everything they do has to have corporate sponsorship or something. I don't know. But yeah, I mean, who wouldn't want to open up for Metallica anywhere. I think they're just afraid, because we'd pretty much kick their ass.

MB: You got to tour with Megadeth a few years ago, and that was a fairly large tour…

JW: Yeah that was a lot of fun, too.

MB: I got to see you on that one. But, what's the different between touring on something like that as opposed to something like this, where you are the headliners?

JW: I know it sounds really ridiculous, but I love playing clubs. It's so much cooler, you know. You can get drunk in the bar before hand. You can hang out. And there's people right there, you know. It's more of an informal type of thing. I don't really feel comfortable in the big shed type of tours because you are really separated from the audience, you know. You are this big thing that's going on. When we did the bit outdoor shed tour, I mean, it was awesome to play in front of ten thousand people, but it does take away from some of the interaction that you get from being right there in front of people. To me, that's a lot more fun. So, it sounds stupid, but yeah, I'd love to play a bar packed with four hundred people rather than a coliseum packed with ten thousand, just on the aspect that I want more fun.

MB: For this album, you guys switched from MCA back to Metal Blade. How did that affect you, as far as making the album?

JW: Not really all that much as far as making the record. We've gotten to a point now, after six records, that we're pretty much in control when we get into the studio. MCA used to really try to get involved, and try to mettle in the way we were making records. And we kind of put an end to that, right away. So for the last couple of records, it's really been all us in there. As far as how the record gets promoted, and everything else, that's where it really basically sucks everywhere in the business, you know. I don't really know one label right now that's really just head and shoulders above everybody else. It seems like today, they just kind of rely on their big names, and whatever else can sell for them they'll just take. And there's not much artist development anymore, really. But what I think is the real positive thing about the switch from MCA to Metal Blade is that at least, right now, we are getting the distribution of our stuff over in Europe. As a matter of fact, we are going on tour over there with Anvil and Exciter in November. So that's going to be a really nutty tour over there. I think it's going to be good to finally have some of our records out in Europe. Where as, with MCA, they just blew off the rest of the world, you know. Which kind of sucked, because who knows, we could've sold another two hundred records.

MB: Have you guys toured over in Europe before?

JW: They have, before I joined the band. It was… they had been there a couple of times. And we were just there recently to do the Heavy Odor Was…? Fest, which is a big German Metal Magazine over there, and played with Gamma Ray and a bunch of other nutty German bands. And that was a lot of fun. That was really cool. Those people are really into it. I mean, you get off the plane in Europe and it's like 1982 again. There's people coming up to you and going, "Hey, did you ever heard of this band Iron Maiden? They rule!" It's pretty cool, you know. They had this big festival, and these people were there all day long from like nine in the morning, you know. These people were setting up these little booths with all kinds of bootleg records, and T-shirts, just Metal. Total Death Metal stuff to, you know, Thrash, and all the stuff that was real big in the 80's, and these people were just eating up. It was like a big convention for it. They were there all day, and the ten bands played. We played at like ten o'clock that night and there were still five thousand people there. So it was really a pretty cool thing to see. I'm looking forward to getting back there, you know. We're going to head that tour with Anvil and Exciter, and it should be pretty cool. We'll be doing a couple of other countries, as well.

MB: Do you think we'll ever get back to something like that in the States?

JW: You know, I'm so bewildered right now with the way the music industry is here in the States, that I don't know where it's going to go. Right now, some really bad things have happened to really hurt the industry for a lot of musicians out there. Over the last couple of years, there's been a lot of big chain stores that have been really undercutting the independent guys that used to take the time to promote shows like this one tonight. The mom and pop stores that were the basic way of selling records until Wal-Mart and everyone else started, you know, Circuit City and Electric Avenue and all these big corporate companies. And all of them are suffering, too, because they're not really paying anybody for the music because they're just slamming it out there, you know. So retail really sucks, right now, for everyone that's not on the biggest label where they're getting the biggest push. It's been terrible for us, absolutely terrible. It's never been this bad for us ever to get product out, and to try to let people know about the record. And I don't know what's going to happen in the next couple of years. I know a lot of these big chain record stores are going under, right now. They're going chapter eleven everywhere. And it's going to be kind of weird. I'd like to see it get back to some of the ways it used to be, where the mom and pop stores got to really promote these shows, and really sell the product, but it's just not happening like that on this level.

MB: I notice that right on the front of your album you make a big point of saying that you are a Metal band. Do you feel that a lot of bands today have become afraid to come right out and state that?

JW: No... they probably just bullshit their way in making them think thatthey're the new song in town, you know. It's just… for us, you know, Ithink it would really let down a lot of people if we did try to do something else. And it wouldn't be authentic, anyway. None of us can fake what we do. We're making music that right now isn't really, really industry friendly, and we're not getting radio support because it. Radio just isn't going to play this stuff, for the most part, across the States. So we are already at a disadvantage, if you know what I mean, and instead of playing their game, and trying to really push singles down their throat, and kissing their ass to play the stuff, we just put out the promotional record and said, "F**k you. There it is. You either play it, or f**k off." Basically because, with us right now, we've got nothing to lose, you know. We just needed to go out and restate what we are. And that's what we are. We're a Metal band. So, love it or leave it, man.

MB: If you could script out the next five years for the band, how would they go?

JW: Well, over the next threeweeks we'd sell a half a million records. And then, next month, we'd just catch on. MTV would come around all of a sudden, and…

AK: ...and we'd get our biggerbus back.

JW: Yeah, and then we'd have a really huge bus. Then, eventually, a Flotsam and Jetsam plane. I think that would be really cool, a big jet, Flo-Jet one. That would really be cool. No… you know, I have no idea. This could be our last record. It could be one of the next ten records. I think we'll be around for at least one more, you know. And hopefully we can kind of turn things around for us, here. It's been really rough for us, in the States, to get any kind of solid footing in the market, right now. In Europe, things are going really well. And, like I said, for the first time in ten years we are going to have our stuff distributed over there, and people will know about the record. So if we can go and re-find a fan base over there that can kind of keep us afloat, than yeah, we'll be around forever.

MB: How do the songwriting responsibilities break down in the band? I mean, how do you guys write an album?

JW: Well, it's kind of funny that you mention that. Because, I mean, we got rid of two members this year, and I really felt like we were only able to do that because the major creative force in the band is really me, Ed, and AK, you know. Along with Eric Braverman, our manager, who also writes lyrics with us, and stuff. So our major songwriting team that's been writing for the last three records is still basically intact. I usually will work on the musical aspect of it, Ed kind of does both, and AK and Eric usually will work on the lyrical aspect of it. So it's kind of like two separate constructions going on at one time, all the time. What's really amazing to me, is how well we're able to make it all mesh together. I can be writing a song about something that's real definite in my mind, and these guys will write lyrics for it, and it's like, "Gee, if I could write lyrics, that's pretty much what I'd write." So it's pretty cool, you know. I think we've got a real good team going, as far as being able to put the stuff together.

MB: When you go from album to album, do you look at it all as one continuous work, or do you take each one as an individual release?

JW: I think the last two records kind of tied into each other a little bit. But I don't know. I mean, to tell you the truth, I have no idea where we're going most of the time when we start writing. It's just kind of, "Here's some stuff." Then we shape it. I think a lot of the time, especially over the last couple of years, it's gotten to a point where whatever our mood is, we're going to write about. If we're pissed off, we are going to write some pissed off songs. If we're depressed, we are going to write some depressed songs. If we're horny… well, I don't know if we've written too many horny tunes, but in general, I think its kind of whatever our mindset is, you know. I know from Drift to High, as well as Quattro, all of our mindsets have changed every time. It's like a new experience every time you make a record. Touring is another big adventure. It changes you every time you come out here, so…

MB: You guys are pretty much in the middle of your tour, right?

AK: Middle of the first leg, maybe.

JW: We're about a quarter of the way through. When you look at all of the European dates we've got going, though, we are going to be out until December.

MB: What type of response have you been getting?

JW: I think all of it has been really favorable, from the people that know about it, you know. In some areas of the Southern states it was really pretty difficult to get a hundred people to know about the show, or even know about the record, let alone expect a big crowd. But it's been kind of off and on like that through the Southern states. And once we got up here in the East, we've had some really good shows. At least three hundred, four hundred, five hundred people at each one. It's going to be getting a little bit better, now that the record has been out for a couple of months, and we are kind of out there doing some shows, and we have people who know that there's a record out. I've had fans of ours, that have been fans for ten years, not even know that there's a new record out. So it just kind of goes to show you where the industry is. It's really difficult to let anybody know what's going on. Plus, you know, you are up against five new records that come out every week. Everybody's just… you know, I pity the fool that has to put one out when Celine Dion's new album is coming out. Say, like Celine Dion or Flotsam and Jetsam, and I think we'll lose that race, pretty much, you know.

MB: That kind of makes me think. Are you guys on the Internet at all?

JW: Yeah.

MB: How do you feel about the Net as a way to let people know what's going on?

JW: I think, right now, it's real limited. Because, you know, we've got a number of different web sites dedicated to us, and the label has one, too, and there's all kinds of stuff out there. If you dig you can find information about Flotsam just about anywhere. I know there's like three or four guys that have their own Flotsam and Jetsam web sites, that they just… you know, when they get information they just put it there. But I think it only hits a certain amount of people, you know. At this point, I'd probably estimate around the United States right now, that the number of people that are into this kind of music and have a computer that check out the Internet, it's probably around ten to twenty thousand that have heard about us through the Internet. I think as more people get into it, it will get better. But really, as far as being an effective advertising median, I think some of the other regular print stuff is still better. It's pretty great for our fan club, at least, you know. There are a lot of people out there that have joined the fan club the last year just by being on the Internet. So that's pretty cool.

MB: I just asked because there's always a lot of discussion about the band on the Net. Outside of High, which albums are you guys pulling most of your set out of?

JW: Hmm… We're going to do a bunch off of No Place For Disgrace. We really pretty much try to cover all the records. There's going to be a couple from Doomsday…tonight. Definitely a lot of Quattro, too. These guys love playing that, so…

MB: We were listening to that on the way down.

JW: Oh really.

MB: Yeah.

JW: Cool.

MB: I know one guy who saw you a couple of weeks ago said that you didn't play anything off When the Storm Comes Down, and he wanted to know if you weren't happy with that album?

JW: It's not so much that we aren't happy with it, but it's just one of those records that I think is probably, when you look in retrospect out f the six records, the weakest that we've put out, you know. I think that's been the basic consensus of the band. And when you're looking at an hour and fifteen minutes, sometimes you've got to… you want to put your most popular, and your most fun stuff for us to play in the set. "Suffer The Masses" is a great song. We used to put that in the set. I think this is the first time in ten years, that it's not in the set. Of course, somebody will be like, "Hey, where's 'Suffer The Masses'?", you know. But I think once we come back around for another tour, we'll probably throw some stuff in off that record. It's just really difficult when you are looking at an hour and fifteen minutes and trying promote a new record. You want to play at least half of that, you know. Which takes up half the set. You've got to do all your classics and try to get all the stuff in off the last two records, and right now, we are only doing like two songs off of Drift, I think. And I think like three off of Quatro. And then, you know, three or four scattered ones off the first and second records. So that right away fills up a set list. You're looking at fourteen, maybe fifteen songs by the time the nights over, you know. It's like, "Hey, what do you want me to do? Quit making records?" I'm not looking forward to this nightmare, next year. Then there'll be another record. It will be seven records, you know. We'll do one song off of every record. There you go.

MB: You can't make everybody happy.

JW: Right.

MB: You guys have been having some local bands open up for you, right?

JW: Yeah.

MB: Is there anyone that sticks out in your mind as…

JW: The ones last night were actually horrible. I don’t think I’ve sever seen anybody worse. It wasterrible. No, I mean some of them have been actually kind of funny. You get some kids that are like thirteen years old, and their mom’s out there taking some pictures of them, you know. And you’re just going, "What am I doing here? I’m in Poughkeepsie, New York, and it's talent show night at the Flotsam and Jetsam show." But we’ve had some bands that stick out in my mind. Like in Jacksonville, Florida there was a band, I think they’re called Sack. Yeah, that was their name, Sack.

MB: Good name.

JW: Yeah, they were a lot of fun to party with. I don’t really remember seeing their set, but they were a blast to drink beer with and stuff. They got up on stage and were moshing with us, and being goofy and stuff. That was actually in Lighthouse Point, Florida. So yeah, those guys were maniacs. So if you read this, Sack, you guys are maniacs.

MB: They’ll be glad to hear that. What do you feel is probably the most important ingredient in making good music?

JW: A lot of good drugs. No, I’m just kidding.

MB: Oh man, that sounds like what Gary from Exodus answered to a similar question of mine.

JW: I really don’t know. I mean, it’s hard for me to say what goes through our minds when we’re writing songs, you know. To me, it’s always really amazing. Partially how we wrote this latest record… you know, I spent six months just sitting around partying with my friends. Just being in these little parties, you know. That’s how we kind of started this record. You hear all those people on there in the beginning. Just sitting around with an acoustic and coming up with little riffs here and there. I never really think about which ones are going to be really good ones, or whether or not they are going to make great songs. Then six months later, when you have a finished product, and you get out of the studio, and, you know, some of those little riffs you made up wind up being songs. And good ones at that. You start really freaking out, you know. I mean, I know after this record was done, I sat in the studio and was like, "Whoa, did I just write that? Did I do that?" I always feel like if you’re doing something really good, and it’s flowing well, a lot of times it has a life of its own. There are so many songs on this record that I felt like, when we first started working on them, were really just lame. I’m like, "God, this stuff just sucks. I really don’t like this stuff." But by the time they put lyrics on it, and, you know, Ed had done his magic with the guitar stuff, and we had gotten through really producing the stuff, and recording it, it was stuff that really hit me in the face. It was just weird. A lot of the stuff really imitates life, as well, about what was going on with my life, and how I felt at the time. And when you can do that to yourself, just as the writer, it hits you right here. I don’t know how that happens, you know. I just hope I can keep doing that for three or four more records.

MB: What’s the one thing that you’d most like to accomplish that you haven’t yet?

JW: I’d like to get really huge pectoral muscles. No, just please give me a million dollars. Hmm… I’m not really sure. I mean, I’ve accomplished a lot already. I think all of us in the band are really pretty proud of the stuff that we’ve done. I mean, to hang around for six records, just by itself, is pretty amazing. Especially with knuckleheads like us. But I don’t know. I would like Flotsam to put out one really big record. If we can do that by the time we’re finished, it would really be cool. Not just because of my desires as a musician, and my dreams, but for everybody in the band. If I think there’s ever been a band that deserves it, Flotsam and Jetsam deserves one big Woodstock type tour, you know. And hopefully we’ll do it some day. We’re going to keep working on it.

MB: Outside of music what do you enjoy the most?

JW: Women. No… I like watching movies. I don’t know. I’m a couch potato. I don’t do much more than play music. It’s either go to the bar, or jamming. And even when I’m at home, I’m jamming, you know. And when I’m not doing Flotsam, I’ve got another band that I go and jam with. And him and I do another side project called the Electric Pickles. And when we are around someone with a guitar that wants some help or something in the studio, we do some stuff in the studio.

AK: Then there’s weekend warrior football.

JW: Yeah, we do play some football every now and then. Until somebody gets hurt.

AK: Then the season’s over.

JW: Now that I’m thirty, as of yesterday... Did I just say that on tape? Let’s rewind that, now that I’m twenty-two as of yesterday… Yeah, it was my birthday in Poughkeepsie.

AK: Can’t trust you, now.

JW: Yeah, I’m an old man, now. So I figure if I play any football, I’ll be instantly hurt now that I’m thirty. That’s what happens, you know.