Flotsam and Jetsam Drift Era Biography 2

The rock and roll gods must have been feeling particularly frisky on that fateful day about 10 years ago, when five young metalheads from Phoenix, Arizona, got together and decided to call their new band Flotsam and Jetsam. You see, the guys never intended for their name to become such a graphic description of the states of the band members' lives. If that were true, they would have picked a name like Rolling in Money or, maybe, Best Kissers in the World.

But, throughout the past decade (particularly in the last two or three years), fate has seen fit to treat MCA Records artists Flotsam and Jetsam like their namesakes -- the band's turbulent and troubled history sometimes reads like a rock and roll version of the Biblical story of Job. Vocalist Eric AK, guitarists Mike Gilbert and Edward Carlson, bassist Jason Ward and drummer Kelly Smith have been cursed with seemingly every kind of personal and professional misfortune short of raining frogs and rivers of blood.

O.k., o.k., so it's not all that bad. But it hasn't been smooth sailing for the Flots. "We literally have been the floating wreckage of the music business for the last 10 years or so," says bass player Jason Ward, only half-jokingly. "It's been pretty crazy, but we're still floatin' along."

Indeed, throughout Flotsam and Jetsam's five-album career, the band has always Seemed to be in a constant state of flux. They've gone through bass players almost as often as Spinal Tap went through drummers. (Current bassist Ward is the fourth Flots bassist, and the only one to last through two albums.) But that's not all. For the first few years of their careers, the Flots were ignominiously bounced from one record company to another -- debuting on Metal Blade Records in 1986 (Doomsday For the Deceiver), and then hopping over to Elektra in 1988 (No Peace For Disgrace) before finally settling down roots at MCA Records. The band debuted on MCA in 1990, with When the Storm Comes Down; then released their breakthrough album, Cuatro, in 1992; and delivered their current LP, Drift, earlier this year.

However, locating a record label that the band could call home turned out to be merely the first in a growing litany of problems for the Flots. At the end of the band's Cuatro tour, Ward lost his brother, Jeff, a drummer for Nine Inch Nails, Ministry and several other industrial bands. (Drift is dedicated to Jeff Ward, with the wish that he "find the peace on the other side that he could never find here.") Then, on top of that, drummer Kelly Smith went through a nasty, time-consuming divorce. "We've had to deal with death, divorce, deceit, difficult business decision, bad timing -- yet this band will not die," Ward says proudly. "Kelly said it best -- he's never seen a band more resemble its name than we do."

Of course, the chaos of the band members' lives couldn't help but reflect on the band's music. Flotsam and Jetsam, however, chose to view these setbacks as challenges, and drew more closely together as a unit, and as friends. During the summer of 1994, the five Flots gathered at a small studio in the middle of a pecan farm outside of El Paso, Texas (more on that later), determined to make the most creative album of their career. Drift is not only the best-sounding Flots record ever, but also served as a healthy artistic outlet for an extremely frustrating period in their lives. "Drift stems from what for us was a pretty reflective year,"Ward explains. "For me personally, I had a lot of things I needed to say. It was therapeutic for me to write these songs."

"The most interesting aspect of the new record," Ward continues, "is, when you know a little bit about what the band has been through, you start to understand where we're coming from, as far as what these songs say and what they mean. Coming off our last tour, which was our most successful to date, then having all kinds of personal things happen to us in the midst of all that... Sometimes even success takes its toll on your personal life. What we wound up doing is writing a lot of songs right from the heart."

"This band needed to do that. We had been writing music together for so long. With Drift, for the first time ever, we really did go deep down and dig up the guts and put them on the plate for everyone. It makes the record that much more special to us. No matter what it does -- if it sells a million copies or it sells 10 copies -- we had the satisfaction of putting those songs together."

A big reason for the album's sonic success is the stellar production work of Neil Kernon. Drift is the second Flots record he's produced (following Cuatro). "Neil's been another piece of the pie as to why our last two records have been so successful," Ward says. Michael Barbiero, who mixed the album, was another piece. Barbiero's resume includes mixing for Metallica, Guns 'N Roses and other big-name rock bands. "Michael's expertise added an extra oomph' to this record," Ward says. "On Drift, for the first time, the band is hitting on all cylinders. Every member of the band is solid, we've got a great producer, a great manager, a great label -- we're pretty psyched about this record!"

They're not the only ones. Rock radio has been drawn to Drift like bears to honey. Drift's first single, "Smoked Out", was garnering airplay from its first day of release. The success of "Smoked Out"is a true example of poetic justice for this much- beleaguered band, and provides a perfect musical opportunity to strike back at all the shit that has recently hit the Flots' collective fan. "The message of "Smoked Out' is something that everyone can relate to -- as you go through life, you're going to run across people who are dishonest,"Ward explains. "It's a little bit different style for us, but it still keeps our heaviness. This is that song for people who have been burned."

In addition to "Smoked Out,"Drift includes some of the most unique and adventurous new songs ever waxed by the Flotsmen, including " Empty Air " with its mysterious, mid-Eastern-influenced melody; " Destructive Signs " a cautionary tale packed with wicked wordplay and spiked with the unexpected instrumental flavoring of a Spanish guitar; "12 Year Old With a Gun,"a courageously told elegy of violence and frustration; plus such typically rockin' Flots tunes as "Me,""Pick a Window,""Missing,""Blindside,""Remember"and "Poet's Tell."

The "Smoked Out" video is an equally satisfying affair. Directed by Thomas P. Mignone (who also directed Cuatro's infamous interactive video for 1992's "Wading Through the Darknessū), the "Smoked Out" video features the Flots in their element. Ward explains: "We had about 300 kids on the project, which was crazy. I don't know who's idea it was to put kids in front of cameras. We spent about four days filming in Phoenix, Arizona, right here in our little jamming spot. That's going to be our whole new image this year -- which is practically no image -- to recreate our jamming pad wherever we go on the road, straight down to beer bottles and the garbage strewn across the floor. We're just going to go out and be ourselves."

But what, the reader is now wondering, about the damn pecan farm in El Paso? Well, it seems that the band's "little producer pal"(as Ward joking refers to Kernon) has a little pal of his own named Tony Rancich, who owns a huge pecan farm (which Ward says is "probably bigger than the state of Utah") just outside the city of El Paso, Texas. Rancich, having made his fortune in nuts, naturally decided to take up the recording arts as a hobby, so he cleared off some space on his ranch and built a little state-of-the-art recording studio, complete with eight or nine bedrooms, live-in maid service and a full kitchen staff.

"Each one of us got our own room,"Ward remembers. "We just hung out there for three months and recorded Drift in the middle of this pecan farm. It gave the whole project a different atmosphere than going to Hollyweird, doing the L.A. scene and paying through the nose for studio time. It was very therapeutic in so many ways for the band to get away from everyone else and just go out in the middle of this farm and deal with nothing but writing and playing our music. I actually spent less time recording my tracks on Drift, simply because I was more relaxed and able to go at my own pace. It was great. All we did was wake up, jam and go back to sleep when we're done -- and have some wonderful snacks in between. I think we're probably going to record all our albums there from now on."

For the immediate future, however, Flotsam and Jetsam are going to hit the road, with a vengeance. "One of the things that we haven't done in the past is go out and do a year and a half of touring,"Ward explains. "I think we really need to do that. We need to get out there and play as much as we possibly can in every place we can on the whole planet. That's really our main goal at this point -- to stay on the road until people get so tired of Drift that they'll want to kick us off the stage."

The band would also like to hop the pond over to Europe and the Far East. "We've always had a steady fan base over in Europe, Japan and Australia,"Ward says. "We get fan mail from all four corners of the earth. Some of our biggest fan base is in Germany!

"We're going to make it our own personal venture to get out there,"Ward concludes, "whether we have to get on a surfboard and paddle our way across the Atlantic, or whatever it takes. Just call us the ambassadors of rock for MCA Records!"