Flotsam And Jetsam drummer Kelly Smith talks to LRI about touring, new deal with Metal Blade and much more
Flotsam and Jetsam are thrash metal legends who have consistently made great records and played amazing live shows yet somehow managed to remain under the radar of a lot of people for reasons unknown. Kelly Smith started the band back in the early 80s, settled into a lineup (famously including bassist Jason Newsted) and recorded a series of killer thrash albums for labels like Metal Blade, Elektra and MCA while enduring a few lineup shuffles along the way. Now it could be said that the band’s potential has never been higher as they are back with Brian Slagel and the venerable Metal Blade and have an amazingly strong album to unleash to a wider audience with April release of “Ugly Noise” (title track featured below). Kelly Smith took the time to talk to us about the band’s recent tour with Testament, recording their new album independently, the old days on Metal Blade and much more, read on…
Legendary Rock Interviews: Thanks for talking to us Kelly..it is always nice to interview thrash legends! How much fun did you guys having rolling around and thrashing it up with Overkill and Testament?
Kelly: The fan response was amazing for us. We are out at the merch booth every night now so we can connect with our fans since we have not been out on the road in the United States in many years.
LRI: Your latest album, UGLY NOISE is amazing, you put it out independently but it is set to be widely released through Metal Blade this April. I must say “Ugly Noise” is yet another testimony to the ability and staying power of classic thrash acts. This album is heavy as you would hope for but isn’t afraid to take chances and has lots of melody. It sounds like you guys really enjoyed making it, is that the case?
Kelly: This was a new process for us this time around. We took on a totally new approach to our writing from the start. The enjoyment came from the process of writing the songs and sharing the process with the fans on Pledge Music. I am not sure about you but when I make something it starts with an idea then it goes to paper then it goes to design and then the physical realm. When we first start off it is very raw in form and we go with how it feels to us. Does it move us in any way? Then Mike will lay down some pre-production tracks, demos, and I take that and start adding my ideas for rhythms.
From there is goes back to Mike again and apply any changes that need to be made, all the while AK is getting ideas for his parts. Once we have a frame work then Ed starts to mold into the process of adding colors and highlights, leads and overlays. The bass comes in to lay down the meat of the low end. Once we have a solid structure we are now in full pre-production mode and we all just listen and play to the songs refining them for final production. Every record the songs evolve all the way up to the last minute. Once we are done there is a big sigh of relief and sense of accomplishment.
LRI: In this day and age albums just don’t sell the way they used to whether you are Exumer or even a band like AC/DC or Metallica. Still, in some respects there are some positives to releasing an album under the conditions these days aren’t there?
Kelly: Freedom to chose how you want to be represented is the main thing and ownership of our music. I have struggled with the whole download thing. I get it, as a kid I shared my music when I made a cassette from my LP so I could listen to my music in my car or share it with a friend. Seems harmless really because back in those days people weren’t able to market worldwide and share one file with millions in a click. The upside about it is this, people are getting our music and then they show up for us live. Hey if you want to steal our music buy some merchandise at the shows. This is our job and if someone kept coming to your boss and stealing your check you wouldn’t want to go to work any more right? We all have families and lives outside of music. We need to eat just like you. So, does working outside the box of a record label free a band up to be able to do exactly what they want and create something more immediate? Yes, mainly the freedom to chose who and what is being done with your music and ownership.
LRI: Going way back here, when you guys first released “Doomsday For The Deceiver” for Metal Blade it was the first record in the history of KERRANG magazine to hit a 6K rating. Being that Kerrang is/ was the bible of metal how did that effect you guys as a band and did the response to that album overseas really help you moving forward?
Kelly: I remember that time it was an amazing time for us!! We were on the forefront of thrash with some of the greats. We were shocked at the 6k rating and were also very proud of that accomplishment. It helped us set our mark in the world. I think in the long run it also helped Jason get to Metallica as well.
LRI: Flotsam had some pretty damn impressive tours back in the day and were a part of some great bills. I would have to imagine that your tour with King Diamond HAD to be interesting. How did the band go over with the King’s audiences and what kind of crazy shit did you see from his fans?
Kelly: The fans have always stood by us no matter where we play or whom we play with. A lot of fans would come to the shows dressed up as King. Fans are very loyal to their bands and they believe strongly in some form of a lyric or feeling that drives them to react in funny ways to some but appropriate to the bands messages.
LRI: You guys made three great records in the early 90s for MCA Records who have gained a reputation for driving bands insane. Were those years particularly challenging? Did you or the label go into the relationship with the best intentions?
Kelly: We had a great team of people at MCA actually and they spent a lot of money on promotions. It took a lot of work on the part of our manager to squeeze that out of them. They stood behind us as much as they could. There were changes in our organization that disrupted some of our relations there. Also some internal changes at MCA as well and they decided to move on without us. I think we always go in with good intentions, if you are not sure who your kissing then why are you kissing them?
LRI: Eric A.K. left the group at one time to pursue a country act which, I have to admit, takes extraordinary balls. This was at a time where it was getting real hard to find a footing in the metal scene in general so it also made some sense. I have often wondered, are there a lot of unexpected influences on the sound of F&J like country, jazz, or things that people might not be aware of on first listen?
Kelly: For the most part there is no avenue of music we won’t look at or listen to. Everything in our lives influences what we write about in our music. The rule is to remain teachable and open or you end up in a rut.
LRI: I will probably get hate letters if I don’t ask if you guys have heard your former bassist Jason Newsted’s new “METAL” album or if you ever hear from him or cross paths. Is it pretty cool to you that he is still interested in making heavy music?
Kelly: No I haven’t. We don’t speak too much any more but anyone who can still make music and have fun doing it; that is a cool thing.
LRI: You have had a pretty good relationship with so many of the people considered to be cornerstones of the metal genre. Do you think that it still holds true that the metal fans and bands have a strong bond and a true interest in each other that is seldom seen in other forms of music??
Kelly: Absolutely!! There are no fans like metal fans!
LRI: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us and let everyone know what’s going on. Are there any other immediate plans for your 2013, what do you see the band doing this summer and the rest of this year?
Kelly: Thanks to you as well! This is shaping up to be an eventful year for us. We have signed a distribution deal with Metal Blade Records which will be releasing “Ugly Noise” to the world starting in April 2013. The tour with Testament just ended on Feb. 28th. We will be doing some writing and planning for about a month then after the release of Ugly Noise we will embark on a worldwide tour to support it. We are headlining the Warriors of Metal festival at the end of June and prior to that playing a festival in our home town called the UFest. We expect all to show up when we arrive to your city or country with horns high. We want to meet you all and say thank you for all you have done over the years. Your loyalty can not be repaid it has no price. Flots til death!