Interviews


The following Interview was conducted by Keith "The Bastard" Zalinger and comes from "The Koffin" #34", May 31, 1999. For more info on "The Koffin" e-zine visit their web site at http://members.aol.com/thekoffin/home/koffin.htm

Interview with Craig Nielsen, drummer of Flotsam and Jetsam.

The Koffin: Could you update as to what's new with Flotsam and Jetsam since the release of 'High'?

Craig Nielsen: Since the release of High, let's see, besides me and Mark [Simpson, guitar] being hired into the band, it's improved. If you ask anyone in this band, I think everyone thinks that this is a better time for the band than back then. High was a pretty bad time for the band. Kelly Smith and Mike Gilbert were leaving, they were on a new record label, and a lot of negative stuff going on. So I guess everyone in this band would say that this is a much better time and it's getting better everyday. The relationship between the band members is great and we're looking forward to the future.

TK: You guys have a new album out called 'Unnatural Selection'. Care to tell our readers more about the name?

CN: The name was Jason Ward's[bass player] idea. It was his way of describing how bands like ours were able to be out there at all in such an anti-metal musical climate. To be out there and to be able to maintain a very loyal fan base, to tour around the world and not just a few cities in America. We were sitting there one day, having a beer and it was just his way of describing it - unnatural selection. I think we were talking and something about natural selection was brought up and that's what started the conversation and then this was unnatural selection that bands like Flotsam and Jetsam are out there recording records and going around the world.

TK: Flotsam and Jetsam, I would say, are one of the few bands from the first wave of thrash bands that are still around now. How do you feel about the band being continually treated as underdogs, not getting nearly enough recognition, even compared to bands like Testament.

CN: It's a sort of frustration, but really when it comes right down to it, there's so much competition in this music scene. Sometimes it bothered people more than others in the band because; face it, there's a lot of great music out there. I believe that the cream rises to the top. I don't think that it's an accident some bands become more popular than others and certainly we put out good music but other bands, I imagine, also do too. Sometimes, you have to account for trends and in the last five years, the trend has been, for bands like us, with that kind of vocal style, I don't want to call it death metal. Eric AK's singing style puts Flotsam and Jetsam in a certain style of music in people's mind and if Eric AK was singing like the Cookie Monster like 79 million other bands out there, we might be more popular, because that's what kids seem to like nowadays. If you look at all the bands in heavy metal that are a little bit more successful, they generally tend to have an even thrashier vocal style and the people who would like Flotsam and Jetsam are definitely not the people that prefer death metal or speed metal or black metal. It seems like death metal and black metal are just running away with popularity right now and we'll never be that way, so hopefully people will get tired of it because the scene is flooded with singers that sound all the same. Eric AK has a melodic voice and so you have to want to hear melodic heavy metal to get into a band like Flotsam and Jetsam. Until that style of music comes back around, we'd still be in the underground, so to speak. I don't think that it's a sign that people don't like the band's songs, it's just that the trend is more toward the more death style.

TK: Speaking of trends, right around now, there's some sort of thrash revival, with bands like the Haunted getting back to that 80's sound. Have you experienced any effects because of it at all? CN: We're all aware of the trend. There definitely is a thrash revival going on just because when we go see shows, we're aware of how many people are at any given show and we all have friends in the business that know other promoters and managers out there. Anything, whatever the style is, so long as it's metal in some form, is experiencing a revival, that's good news for metal in general. It's just I'm more scared if are just forgetting the whole scene of metal in general. If it's thrash that seems to be making a comeback, death, or black metal, whatever it is, as long as it's metal, it's a positive for the whole scene.

TK: When you guys were putting out the album, what was the mentality. Was it just to put out something that would make people say "Yeah! THAT's Flotsam and Jetsam!" or was it to try to push the limits and see how far you could go with the sound?

CN: What we wanted to do was just try something different. Usually, when Flotsam and Jetsam recorded a record, they spent more time in the writing process and more time in the recording process and more time in the mixing process. For instance, Quattro and High[or was that 'Drift' - K], both those records, they wrote those songs for over six months, recorded them for a few months, mixed them for a month, and spent all this money on these records because they were on MCA and what they wanted to do differently this time was get together quickly, see how creative we can be in short amount of time to try and capture a spontaneous sound. So [Unnatural Selection] wasn't overly thought out, I'll tell you that. It wasn't very thought out for a reason. We wanted to go in there and force creativity in a short amount of time and see what happens and this was the result. We didn't spend a lot of time in the mixing and the recording. We just wanted to capture good songs that come from the heart in a short amount of time. As far as the other parts of what were going on in the band, we were parting ways with the manager and that was part of what was going on at the same time. There was a whirlwind of emotion plus it was the first time Mark and I were recording with the band so there was a lot of attention on me and Mark on what our contribution would be and dealing with the manager issues. I would say it came out the way it did - spontaneous, everyone feels that it's a fresher sound- not because we wanted to push any limits, we just wanted to see how quality material we could put out in a short amount of time. I guess it is pushing the limit just because we wanted to work with a little timeframe instead of a lot.

TK: Flotsam and Jetsam has had a number of personnel changes in the past, do you think this has been a bane or boon to the band's creative process.

CN: I must say I can't really agree with the subject because the band has been around for fifteen years. Yes, they have had a couple of bass players - they had Jason Newsted who went to Metallica, then they have Troy for a record before he went to Prong, and then there was Jason Ward. When you have a band for fifteen years, I could name, if I thought about it, twenty other bands that had far more personnel changes. Flotsam and Jetsam has basically had the original lineup minus the bass player for every one of their six records until now. Everyone puts this emphasis on this revolving door of band members and I totally disagree. They had completely the original lineup except for Jason Ward and he's been there for almost eight years now. How many bands can go eight years with the same lineup? I would say that the band was pretty much the original band up until last year. Everyone I've talked to has mentioned this revolving door, but that's not really the case. With me and Mark coming into the band, I would say that Mark Simpson is a young guy. He's in his early twenties and he listens to a lot of current music. His songwriting influences probably shows that. He has a more current style. Me, I'm not trying to improve on Kelly Smith. Kelly Smith was an amazing drummer. He's very musical and creative and it would be hard to improve on what he did. The only thing that I do differently is I don't really hit as much and I hit a little bit harder. With me on the drums, it sounds more straight-ahead and less busy. The difference between Mark Simpson and Mike Gilbert is that Mike was a little bit more traditional metal and Mark is a little bit more rhythmic. Mike was more "right" heavy metal and Mark Simpson has a little bit more groove than I. I'm not saying which is better, but it definitely changes the sound distinctly. I wouldn't call it better or worse. If anything, I'd say we sound a little bit more current compared to everything else!

TK: Do you guys have any touring plans for Unnatural Selection?

CN: We have an agent right now who's booking for us. We just don't know if we're going to Europe first and then America or America first and then Europe. We were offered an Italian festival with America in June then we're supposed to find out in the next couple of days if we're going to get to play the Dynamo. If we book the Dynamo and we do the Italian festival, we'd be in Europe in June. Europe's actually has to be in June no matter what, so it just comes down to if the States are going to be in May or in July. We're definitely going on tour. We just don't know if we're going to Europe first.

TK: Final thoughts?

CN: Not really. Just that Flotsam and Jetsam definitely has a great record around the corner. When we wrote this one, the label wanted to have the album out within a certain amount of time. Basically we came back from tour and one month later we started writing this record and one moth after that we started recording. I'm not saying that we're not happy with it, because we are. I just know that the talent in this band is going to the next record that we do. We're going to spend more time and think it out more. That's not necessarily better, but for the fans of Flotsam and Jetsam, they can definitely expect some really great material in the future. This band really likes each other, we've found a way to get along consistently, and we know how to spend time away from each other so we don't burn out on each other. For any fans of Flotsam and Jetsam, they can be confident that future records will be very, very strong.

~Interview by Dang Vu~