I am not going to lie to you guys: I absolutely adore Flotsam &
Jetsam! One of the few second generation Thrash Metal bands from
the US who continued producing diverse and often quite
challenging music, especially at times like the mid-90s when
Thrash was dead to most people, these five lads from Phoenix in
sunny Arizona are still totally devoted to releasing good
If what you need is evidence, just listen to their latest opus,
entitled 'The Cold' and you will understand exactly what makes
their tenth studio album an absolute must-have.
Much to my delight, I managed to arrange an interview with the
bandís drummer Craig Nielsen, during which we discussed all
things 'The Cold', the current situation with regards Metal
music in the States and the bandís future plans! Flots till
Hi Craig. I am really pleased to be doing this interview with a
member of Flotsam & Jetsam and in doing so help promote your
latest effort 'The Cold'. I have been following the bandís
career since the days of 'No Place For Disgrace' and I am happy
to say that, having listened to your latest effort, you sound
stronger than ever! Excitement is back, not only within the
ranks of Flotsam & Jetsam, but within the ranks of the media.
Craig: Well, thank you very much! We took the appropriate
amount of time to write the songs this time round. Mark
(Simpson: guitar) has become tremendously better in
understanding how the riffs from his head can be translated into
the studio. It takes a songwriter a few records I think in order
to get used to how ideas can get across into the final
recording. So, Mark has some tremendous ideas that in his head
knew how to get them on tape exactly as he imagined and this
comes with time in the studio, so this was a perfect timing for
I believe that there was a five year gap between 'The Cold' and
your previous album 'Dreams Of Death', right? Talking about it,
'Dreams Of Death' was quite an enjoyable album, but, and I hope
that you will take this the right way, was not the kind of album
that would make me sing along to every single composition as
'The Cold' is capable of doing. This new album has totally
dominated my thoughts and that has not happened for quite some
time really. What can I say Ė I am genuinely excited here!
Craig: You are right, it did take us five years since the
release of Dreams Of Death' in order to create our next album as
Mark really started writing the songs for the new record three
years ago. He started writing songs and he did it slowly and
then I actually tracked the drums for this record August over
two years ago! It was as a result of various reasons that our
recordís recording process and mixing got delayed. I could go on
forever about this but the bottom line is that it was not to be
a five year gap between albums Ė the gap was only really meant
to be a two year one.
Before I make any question directly related to 'The Cold' I want
to ask what is happening with the band as I am aware that there
have been some line-up changes recently. In the past there were
some really significant changed happening, with Eric (A.K
Knutson: vocals) leaving, so I am always slightly scared when I
hear the term Ďline-up changeí in relation with Flotsam &
Jetsam. A few people are probably wondering, myself included,
what is the atmosphere in the band nowadays.
Craig: Look, Yiannis - Eric left very briefly at the time of
'My God' tour (2001) and that was a long time ago. He left for
less than six months as he was very disillusioned with a few
things that had to do with Flotsam & Jetsam and others of a more
personal nature. He wanted to make some changes! This didnít
last very long as he came back very quickly.
As for other changes, Ed Carlson (guitars) left and was replaced
by Michael Gilbert (guitars). We did some touring with another
bass player at some point just because Jason (Ward) has a
scheduling problem Ė he simply couldnít do the last European
tour which was two weeks, and so we replaced Jason for those
shows. Jason never left the band; he simply couldnít do those
shows which had been booked for a while.
Something came up in his life and he simply couldnít go, so we
hired some guy from Phoenix (Arizona) to do these shows Ė no big
deal. We came back and nothing else has changed for the last
fifteen years since Mark and I got hired; we were hired on the
So, there are no other changes other than for Ed leaving and
being replaced by another original guitarist Michael Gilbert,
however neither Ed or Michael had anything to do with the songs
on 'The Cold' Ė thatís 100% Mark Simpsonsí playing and Mark
Simpsonsí recording; no other guitar players have recorded
anything on that record by Mark.
The record was made in the transition of Ed deciding ... you
know, Ed became sober and made some very positive changes to his
life. Unfortunately for some musicians when they become sober,
they find it difficult to go on tour and be around people who
party non-stop, as things become a bit lonely for the sober guy.
So Ed decided that he wanted to make a change and Michael
Gilbert was more than happy to come and re-claim his position as
the original guitar player in the band. That transition came
very smoothly and Michael never forgot apparently how to play
any of the older songs. When he came we thought that it would
take a little while for him to come up to speed but it didnít.
He was already there!
He was very, very surprising as to how well he played those
songs after all these years away! With respect to your question
about how all this affected the new songs, nothing to do with
any change of players had anything to do with this record,
because this record was always Mark Simpson from start to finish
as far as guitar playing is concerned!
Flotsam & Jetsam have always been classified as a Thrash Metal
band, a description that is quite justified in some ways, but,
going back in time, you were one of the first bands of the
Ďsecond generationí US Thrash Metal scene that decided to
incorporate non-Thrash elements in your music.
The band was always quite daring in such respect, plenty
evidence of which can be found in albums such as 'Unnatural
Selection' (1999) Ė your debut release as a member of Flotsam &
Jetsam. 'The Cold' proves again that this successful mixture of
Heavy & Thrash elements is still there, so is it accurate to
continue describing you guys as a Thrash Metal outfit?
Craig: Well, we separate our work in two sections: our live
shows and our studio albums. During our live shows we have to
give people what they want and as you have correctly pointed
out, especially in Europe, they want to listen to mostly songs
from the first four records and we are glad to give them that!
Live I would call us very much a Thrash Metal band as eighty per
cent of our set is Thrash and we play songs probably faster than
they were originally recorded and they were used to be performed
back in the day!
So, we still Thrash with the best of them live, but when we go
to do a record and we have a singer like Eric, he sets the tone
that you donít have to limit yourself!
Heís so diverse and he can bring out so many different moods
through his vocals that Mark is smart enough to have that always
in mind when he is writing Ė that we donít have to be one style
all the time because we could have limitations with our vocalist
There are absolutely no limits with Eric! If you hear songs like
ĎBathing In Redí from 'Dreams Of Death' you understand that heís
so useful in so many different utilities that it would be a
shame if we were to only write Thrash songs!
Itís not like weíre tired of playing Thrash, but we play so much
of it live that we look forward to the opportunity in the studio
to create more Ďmoodsí; in that sense we are like the Pink Floyd
of Heavy Metal (laughs).
What an amazing parallel! What really gets me is that, when you
made all those innovations, most people were very closed minded
and critical; nowadays, any band which attempts such things is
hailed as unique and visionary ... itís quite annoying to me as
a fan of Flotsam & Jetsam really!
Craig: Well, without Eric such things would not have been
possible! Letís face it, he is what makes all things possible! I
have been in the band with him for fourteen years and I never
cease to be amazed by the guy!
I have heard a lot of his Country stuff that never got signed
and released and if you could hear him sing Country music you
would be blown away! I have never heard him attempt to do
anything that he couldnít do.
He sings Frank Sinatra beautifully ... I donít know ... I have
never heard him attempt to do anything that he couldnít do.
Strangely he thinks that Chad (Croeger: vocals) from Nickelback
is a great singer and ever since he said that I have been
listening to Chad a lot more and Chad really is a great singer
(laughs). So Eric seems to listen to some people that wouldnít
be traditionally on his ĎMetal Idolsí list.
That is a good attitude to have, especially when such elements
work wonders in the bandís music. I mean, 'The Cold' is such a
varied and exciting album, thereís something for everyone there
... you guys have done an amazing job here! I cannot stop
listening to it!
Craig: And you played it to other people that feel the same
Well, England is a difficult nut to crack but there are a few
people here who have already expressed their admiration for 'The
Craig: Wow, thatís good to know! How often do you get shows
There is a Metal gig almost every other day. When was the last
time that you guys played in the UK? Must have been a long time
in order for you to ask such a question!
Craig: We never played the UK ever! The other members did a
few short dates with Megadeth back in the early days of the
bandís career, so this is a very emotional issue for me and the
other members of the band as this line up really wants to play
in the UK. We just have to find the right source to book us
shows, because, apparently you need a local UK agents for such
Craig, as I said before, I believe that 'The Cold' is quite a
varied album; however, I feel that there is an underlying theme
connecting these ten great compositions.
When reading the lyrics of each song, thatís when I get that
feeling more strongly. Songs like 'Hypocrite' and 'Better Off
Dead', which is in my opinion one of the best Flotsam & Jetsam
songs ever recorded all express feelings of angst and anger
towards something! Who are you guys mad at? Is Eric the right
person to ask such a question?
Craig: Eric has become recently the main lyricist; he never
was before until the last couple of records. He had help on
lyrics always and heís only been the main lyricist on this new
album and on 'Dreams Of Death' really.
Whatever lyrics you have read come directly from him, heís not
reading somebody elseís lyrics, and I think that probably has a
lot to do with the emotion behind it! Eric would probably tell
you that there are many reasons why you feel all the rage and
anger that you hear in our album and, for the record, he hasnít
had an easy life!
Put it this way, heís raising a family, he has two beautiful
kids and a beautiful wife, he got caught up in the American Real
Estate disaster and thereís a lot of trouble in his life as a
consequence! He works hard to do the right thing and raise his
family and heís always struggling and struggling. So he has a
lot of struggle and probably a lot of frustration and, as an
artist, he conveys these feelings when he sings!
I am a member of a cult legendary band, we write good quality
music that sticks out in peopleís minds, we have a very loyal
fan base that enables us to continue touring and making records
... I mean game over! How many bands have only one or two
records offered to them by a label and then you never hear from
What about the rest of the members in the band? What is Flotsam
& Jetsam to you? I am asking that question because I understand
that today, with the way the music industry operates; it is kind
of difficult to base your whole future simply on a band.
Craig: As you are asking me personally, I will give you just
my answer. I set out ... I am from Connecticut and moved to
Hollywood in 1990 and slogged it out in Hollywood for many
years, gaining a reputation as an up and coming Metal drummer.
I didnít know anybody in Flotsam & Jetsam but I knew Nick
Menza, the then drummer of Megadeth who happened to know that
the band was looking for a drummer. He recommended me and, ever
since that day, I have accomplished every single goal that I set
out for myself when leaving home.
For me, Flotsam & Jetsam ... I knew thousands of musicians from
Hollywood that never had the opportunity to fulfil their dream
unfortunately Ė many good musicians who had all the right
ingredients and who gave their whole but which, for one reason
or another, did not succeed! I never have to say that about my
life, so for me, it has been a validation that the belief I had
in myself when I left home and the reputation and belief that I
had on myself during those key years in Hollywood put me in
front of the right people and that, when the opportunity
presented itself, I was recommended and I was able to fulfil all
I was always the guy who wanted to go on tour and see the world!
I have managed to play in eighteen different countries so far
so, personally, Flotsam & Jetsam has been the vehicle for me to
accomplish every personal dream I have ever set for myself.
Without wanting to sound over dramatic, I owe tremendous amounts
to this band in that I can go on to my middle age knowing that I
have accomplished all those goals.
I am a member of a cult legendary band, we write good quality
music that sticks out in peopleís minds, we have a very loyal
fan base that enables us to continue touring and making records
... I mean game over! How many bands have only one or two
records offered to them by a label and then you never hear from
Our career, I think, will last as long as we want to; as long as
we continue to write good music and have a fire for live shows
we can live up this dream forever!
I certainly hope so!
Craig: I cannot say enough about what this band has done for
And I cannot say enough about what your music has done for me
and for many other people who proudly claim to be your fans!
Craig: Thank you. I know that Mark and I am sure that Eric
and Jason will feel the same kinship for you saying that,
because you are the reason why we keep doing this! We are not
doing it for the money obviously, so itís for the fans! We
developed this legacy and there are fans that really look
forward to our new records as such, so thatís why we do them!
OK, back to the album then! What we have here is ten beautiful
songs, some of which are quite demanding in terms of
You, being the drummer, are the one who physically has to endure
more hardships and to sweat more than everybody else in the
band. Which are the songs from the new album that you found to
be the trickiest to perform in the studio and which are the ones
that you feel closest to?
Craig: Well, the Thrashier songs are the ones that require
more effort obviously. Some people can play mid-tempo emotional
music easily from the heart which is easy; songs like 'The Cold'
and the slower ones ... if you play them long enough, it
eventually feels like using auto pilot. You have to have the
right feel, of course, and the feel will come to those who have
You wonít have to put too much worry into the technique - in
simple song arrangements you depend on the heart to bring out a
memorable part. As far as which were the trickiest in the
studio, I have to mention sings like 'Blackened Eyes Staring'
and 'Falling Short', you know Ė the faster ones.
Thereís so much technical music being put out these days that
you donít want to sound sloppy ... now that you have bands like
Meshuggah and All That Remains, all these bands which have
perfect sounding drums, that triggered sound, that digital sound
perfection, you have to be in that league or you then sound
sloppy in comparison.
So, in creating the Thrashier parts and to sound competitive
with whatís going on today, you really have to think about what
youíre going to play and that does not come out as Ďold-schoolí
because there are so many great-sounding drum parts these days
on records that youíd better be on top of your game if you want
to be relevant!
So, I tend to worry more about the thrashier songs, but I think
that what I have working for me is that when we do play a slow
song, I have a good feel for it and that is something that
cannot be taught and you cannot necessarily get out of the
A feel is something that an engineer cannot necessarily create!
They can create perfection but they cannot create feel! As far
as the thrashier songs are concerned, I donít pretend to be
Tomas from Meshuggah or anything like that! I am trying to stay
in the same ball park with the best that are out there.
You, as a band, have a vast experience with regards working in
the studio. With regards the recording of 'The Cold' how much
freedom was given to your producer and engineer in order to
bring to life this product of yours?
Craig: In this case, with this record, we really put our
faith in our engineer, because the engineer had been hired by
Dave Mustaine to re-mix pretty much the entire Megadeth back
catalogue. He worked with Michael Schenker, worked with Dave
Mustaine and he was pretty much the most qualified person in
Phoenix. He knew his gear very well, was very good at ProTools
and thus was able to accelerate the recording process.
The record ended up taking two years to make but that wasnít
because of the recording itself Ė it was because Ralph, that was
his name, ended up getting hired by 'Head' from Korn, who owns
our label. Brian 'Head' Welch ended up hiring Ralph to do a lot
of things on his recordings and on his live stuff.
There was a kind of conflict of interest as our label kind of
hijacked our engineer for Headís project and that delayed the
mixing and some of the recording for 'The Cold' but as far as
the reason we wanted Ralph in the first place is because we
totally believed in his ear and his technique and so we allowed
him quite a bit of leeway in carving out the sound Ė even making
parts suggestions here and there when thinking what would give
the best atmosphere in any given part.
He made suggestions and a lot of times we agreed with him. I
mean, heís a musician and not a bona fide producer letís say,
but had a lot of useful information, was very good at his
ProTools and his recording, so we had all faith in him, one
hundred per cent! So really what youíre hearing at the end is
very much his sound vision!
Craig, it seems to me that Flotsam & Jetsam have always had more
support in Europe than in the States, right?
Craig: Well, in fact, during the MCA era, MCA never released 'Cuatro'
and 'Drift' in Europe and if they did, they never put the band
out on tour and neither did Electra. So there was always a
problem with Europe Ė always with this band!
These labels gave the band a bunch of money to create records
and make videos, a lot of support here in the States, but they
did not consider Europe as something that they had to
concentrate on apparently!
Metal Blade was OK with respects to
Europe, Crash, with which we released 'Dreams Of Death' and the
Japanese DVD, was absorbed into Driven so itís basically the
same label and they have real problems with Europe Ė they have
no distribution there!
We just found out that our record on Amazon is 25 Euro in Europe
and people find it hard to find it anywhere! The label donít
have a good excuse for it; they have a very good distribution in
the States, as Driven collaborates with Warner Brothers and that
is as good as it gets, but they donít have a good distribution
arrangement for Europe. That really sucks because we are getting
really good reviews in Europe and we are going to continue
getting good reviews!
I have done interviews with people who tell me what the reviews
are going to be like and I know that it would make a lot of
sense for our record to be available in Europe right now. The
label knows that too but thereís nothing that we can do to make
that happen Ė they have to do it!
I know exactly what youíre talking about as it took me a good
month to get my hands on a copy! Amazon was the only place where
I could order it from and it took three attempts (two
cancellations) before I managed to have a copy shipped to me.
Very annoying indeed, but as a fan I was determined to succeed;
I am not sure, however, that someone that is not too attached to
you guys will bother to go through all that, you know what I
mean? Anyway, my question would be with regards the choice of
label but you kind of answered that!
Craig: Well, Crash folded into the new entity that was
Driven and which was one third owned by the guy who owned Crash,
one third owned by 'Head' from Korn and one third by some other
It was Headís relationship with the industry that made it an
attractive thing, because we went from having pretty bad
distribution in the States through Crash to have great
distribution in the States with Warner Brothers because of their
relationship with Head. So, you know, itís a give and take with
some positive and negative!
Then, a good question would be how Flotsam & Jetsam are
currently perceived in the States nowadays? The US is a slightly
Ďtemperamentalí market & certainly not as loyal as that in
Europe! Europe always supported Heavy Metal music, something
that cannot always be said about America.
I am aware that things
have improved a lot these last three or four years, but have
they improved to the point of making you really confident about
the albumís potential success in the States?
Craig: Hmm ... the album has been picked up by some serious
satellite radio stations which have twenty million subscribers.
They picked it up a couple of weeks ago an since then the record
sales in the States have doubled, so that is something. Itís
getting a few requests on that radio and that is a good format.
Before satellite radio Metal had no chance in the States on
radio Ė all there was was college radio; some little college
programs that played Metal two hours on a Saturday and now you
can listen to that stuff twenty four hours a day through a
satellite to which twenty million people subscribe to!
So really, the potential exposure, if you can get on that
programme, is pretty outstanding! I donít know the numbers per
se, how they compare to those of others, but Warner Brothers did
not expect so many sales, especially as the climate of record
buying is so horrible in the States right now.
But, as far as Metal in general in the States is concerned, what
happened is that fans got spoiled and they expect three or four
headliners on the same bill or they donít come out! It used to
be that, you as the headliner would go out and play with local
talent wherever you were and that was good enough Ė you could
expect a decent show. Now, kids donít come out for one
Like if Exodus went out or Nevermore and they didnít have
another good band to tour with, the show would not be nearly as
good as if they were to go out together! But the problem is
that, when you package up headliners, everybody wants to get
paid and nobody can get paid what they want and it becomes a
logistics nightmare. I would hope that the labels would figure
Metal bands here do well when they are packaged up and do not do
well when theyíre not. I would think that there would be more
effort from record labels to put together festival type things
like you find in every country in Europe in the summer.
I would hope that the United States would catch on to that but,
in fact, fewer and fewer festivals are being put on in the
States instead of more. I think that they got it all wrong; I
think that Metal would still do very well here if labels were to
get smart and package up big shows and get more people to come
out so that the bands that are out there to perform can actually
earn a living out of what they are doing. Nobody has yet stepped
up and thought creatively about how to maximize potential.
There are three hundred million people here and I am sure that
Metal would do well if they packaged up tours better. Now the
best you can do is to have two or three bands to come in one
bill and thatís what people would come out for. But if you were
to put together seven or eight bands, as in a typical European
festival, I think that they will really go for that here. Nobody
has thought of doing that yet!
Very strange, especially as your country has given birth to some
really amazing and pretty popular acts!
I think that people who are listening to 'The Cold', if
they find themselves drawn to it, itís because thereís
not a lot of bands out there that are doing what we are
doing, and we are not doing anything mysterious.
Craig, what is the audience that Flotsam & Jetsam is targeting
these days? Back in the 80s and early 90s the boundaries were
quite set and pretty unsurpassable, as Thrashers would only
really listen to Thrash. Is todayís open-mindedness by the fans
beneficial to your band?
Craig: You know, when you listen to our record against all
the other records that have come out there, we sound like ... we
are not re-inventing the wheel here, OK? There is nothing really
mysterious about what we are doing. There are a few old school
bands left like Iron Maiden with singers that are versatile ...
we stand out today because of the fact that there are not too
many bands with the vocal ability that we have with Eric A.K
which allows us to experiment more with our music. I cannot
remember us really having sat down during a creative meeting and
deliberately having said 'letís go after this core audience over
We just realise which are our best features! We have a bass
player who plays melody instead of following the rhythm guitar
parts; I donít necessarily follow the rhythm guitars parts by
trying to play off of them. We have a lot of musical technique
between us all and we have a great singer, so that means that
the options are pretty limitless. I think that people who are
listening to 'The Cold', if they find themselves drawn to it,
itís because thereís not a lot of bands out there that are doing
what we are doing, and we are not doing anything mysterious.
We are playing old-school music, but without making it
We are playing old-school music, but without making it sound
boring. Even band like Iron Maiden seem to be happy playing one
specific style and thus pigeonholing themselves ... we are not
doing that! We will do something that is very mellow, something
that is very Thrashy and then something mid-tempo as 'Better Off
Dead' and then create something pretty much like Alice In Chains
sounding as we did with 'Secret Life'. We will put five or six
different flavours on the record and I donít know many bands
that are doing that!
Even Opeth, who are one of my favourite bands, they play either
sad/sombre melodic stuff, or fast Thrashy bits with Death Metal
growls. They execute this transition perfectly, but the moods
they work with are either sad or aggressive Death Metal style!
Even some of my favourite bands that seem quite versatile, at
the end of their record you hear just a couple of things going
With Flotsam& Jetsam, you hear more than a couple of things
going on. I think that thatís what we are doing right! What we
are doing is not the most original style of music but what we do
is very effective for that style and also thereís not a lot of
competition right now!
Could it be that massive selling bands such as Opeth have more
to lose by becoming something that their fans are not used to
and thus refrain from doing so, whereas Flotsam & Jetsam, with a
smaller but more devoted fan base, find it easier to indulge in
Craig: As far as Opeth are concerned, I believe that as they
evolve at the moment, they are going to become the most creative
band ever; hopefully they will go in the right direction.
One of the reasons why I love Flotsam & Jetsam is with regards
the sense of excitement I feel not knowing what you guys are
going to do next as there are no two albums that you guys have
recorded which sound the same!
I want this from a band that I like - I want to be surprised! I
prefer having you release an album that I will eventually not
like rather than having you releasing a copycat effort!
Craig: Rest assured that our next album is not going to
sound at all like 'The Cold' because Mark has a vast number of
ideas. Songs from 'The Cold' did not end up sounding at all like
those featured in 'Dreams Of Death' and songs from 'My God' did
not sound at all like those featured in 'Unnatural Selection'. I
think that you can count on us to never write the same album
I am truly happy to hear that; what I also really want to hear,
though, is that you will come to Europe for live shows. Is there
such a plan? I understand that you recently played in my country
Greece, Spain and a few other places too, but are there any
plans of you coming to Europe for a few more shows?
Craig: Yeah, we are just talking with the agent now. There
are not any dates just yet confirmed but it looks very certain
that we will be coming out there in the summer. We are using the
same agents so we know that we can trust him in what he does.
I am sure that there are not going to be any UK shows because in
order to do that we will have to get an agent who can make that
happen! He will for sure put us on for Holland and Germany ...
but not just the typical countries ... we went to Greece on a
couple of tours before we concentrated on Eastern Europe,
playing cities like Budapest and Prague.
We also went to Poland a couple of times where we shot our DVD
(note: 'Once In A Deathtime') during a Metal Mind sponsored
show. Our best shows, where we seem to have our core following,
tend to be in Holland and Germany.
We did do well in Madrid, Barcelona not as well, but we will
definitely do Spain again! I would love to go back to Greece and
Spain and also to places like Holland, Germany and Belgium! So
yes, I believe that we will be coming there in the summer!
Well, as you wonít be coming to the UK I will make an effort to
come and see you somewhere close by. I have never seen Flotsam &
Jetsam live and that really hurts!
Craig, thank you very much for this interview Ė itís been a real
pleasure talking to you! I wish you all the best for 'The Cold'
and please give my regards to the rest of the guys in the band!
A message to your fans?
Craig: We have pretty much covered everything but I will say
this to our fans: we are one of those bands which know why we
are here and that is only because of our fans at this point!
We hope so very much that we are going to get the chance to play
at a festival in England or do a few UK shows because believe me
when I tell you Ė itís an absolute goal for this band!
We donít take such things lightly Ė we would love to be able to
play for you guys there, so hopefully we can make that happen in
2011! And I also appreciate talking to you too as you sound like
you are a nice person and I am really affected by your comments
Ė I really appreciate that! Alright, brother Ė I am sure we are
going to be talking again in the future!
You bet! Have a nice day!
Craig: You too!
Interview © December 2010 John Stefanis
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