“It says a lot for an older band to make a great record this late in their career. I mean, nobody expects you to make a great record they just expect you to keep putting out subpar records and go out on tour.”
Dedication to art can be equated to honing your skills in a craft but with one glaring exception, inventiveness. Creativity is an essential ingredient of inspiration; new ground is broken when talent and imagination collide.
Flotsam and Jetsam have been breaking new ground for years. From a one-time pioneer. To a tragic tale of misfortune. This band has truly run the gambit of success. Like the rebirth of the Phoenix, the final chapter of this celebrated moniker is far from over. Riding the wings of the success of their self-titled effort (2016), Flotsam and Jetsam have returned with a highly anticipated follow up, The End of Chaos.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Flotsam guitarist, Steve Conley about this unexpected comeback. Please enjoy some excerpts of my 1/15/19 interview where we discuss the new record, music videos and Flotzilla!
David Halbe: What’s the meaning behind the new album title?
Steve Conley: It is actually kind of a play on two titles. There’s a song on the new record called “The End” and we were originally going to call the record that and then the label (AFM Records) and everybody was like wait a minute, what are you trying to say with this, that this is the last Flotsam record? We think you’re sending your fans a weird message and so then we said let’s just call it The End of Chaos. We think of the world as a kind of a chaotic place and it would be great if we can get to the end of the chaos.
Dave: I haven’t seen Flotzilla grace a Flotsam and Jetsam album cover since Doomsday for the Deceiver, what prompted his return?
Steve: The Flotzilla mascot really came about because of our youth, if you go back to the classic Iron Maiden album covers, we ate that stuff up as kids.
Dave: Oh Yea.
Steve: So we thought, let’s bring back the Flotsam mascot. When we brought him back our merch really went up in sales. Those Flotzilla shirts really sold. It just made sense to go ahead and put him on the album. It ties in nicely with the new merch as well as the show backdrops and whatnot.
Dave: Kick ass! People love Fotzilla! It’s a really cool album cover. Is he really dragging the statue of liberty in the pool of fire?
Steve: That was the artist. We said we wanted to see Flotzilla destroying some stuff in a big city. We threw the idea out there and he just ran with it. There are no political intentions behind it. We wanted it to be someplace like New York, a big city, and that’s what he sent back to us. We’re all okay with it.
Dave: Ok, I get what you’re saying.
Steve: A lot of times that stuff is solely in the hands of the artist. The bands don’t really have as much input on the album cover as people might think. They’re trying to interpret what the band meant when they said what they wanted.
Dave: When you have an artist do a cover, do you normally send them a copy of your album to listen to?
Steve: Absolutely, yea they listen to it. We tell them the concept we had in mind and then we let them run with it. It’s a hand off and if you happen to be vague in your idea, you’re trusting that they can do their thing. It’s a situation where you’re really stuck with what you get.
We really wanted it to be an old school looking cover. I’ve actually seen some people online complaining about it, saying the album cover looks terrible. I guess they missed the point, it was supposed to look like an old album cover from the ‘80s.
Dave: I dig it, I personally like the album cover. Flotzilla is a part of Flotsam and Jetsam lore. The self-titled release really put the band back in the spotlight. With the stakes so high, did you change your mind set during the recording process?
Steve: No but we had conversations. As a band, we sometimes ponder why the band isn’t bigger or what can we do to be better at what we’re doing. Some self-reflection, one day I looked at A.K. (Eric Knutson – Vocals) and I said man, the last record we did the fans liked it a lot, the press liked it a lot, but I said, I’ve got some bad news for you guys, this next record has to be even better than the last one.
Dave: (Laughs) You said that? Holy fuck!
Steve: If you really want to move forward, you’ve got to push harder than you have ever pushed before.
Steve: It says a lot for an older band to make a great record this late in their career. I mean, nobody expects you to make a great record they just expect you to keep putting out subpar records and go out on tour and a lot of our ‘hero bands’ that’s what they do. It gets harder to muster up the fire when you’re fifty years old. You have to dig deep if you want to keep your fans and earn some new ones, you’ve got to do something special and that’s what we really shot for.
Dave: I think you accomplished that, it’s a heavier record than the last one that’s for sure. Did any of this ideology have something to do with the pushing back of the release date? I noticed the original release date was November 2018.
Steve: No. What happened with that was the guy who we got to mix the album Jacob Hansen, he’s a really busy dude. We kept missing our window of opportunity, he’d get another project, we’d be on tour. I don’t want to listen to mixes on a tour bus, I want to listen to them at home. We were missing some deadlines, so the label said, let’s just push this date back a bit. They heard the record and they liked it a lot and I think they saw the potential for it. They wanted to have some more time to promote it, launch it in a way that they knew it would do well.
Dave: I think that was smart thinking by the label, why rush greatness. So, who came up with the concept for the “Demolition Man” video?
Steve: The guy who came up with the idea for the video was actually the director. He threw some ideas out, we had some ourselves, but he was just like, I’ve got a different spin on this and he wanted to make things a bit more interesting from a video perspective instead of having some guy hanging out at a construction site blowing stuff up.
Steve: We already knew how that was going to look so we went with his idea.
Steve: We don’t have anything planned yet but I guess if the record starts doing well and AFM (AFM Records) wants to pay for another video we would entertain that of course. As of right now, not that I know of.
Dave: Well, what I’m thinking is after the March dates in Europe, you’ve got about a month off in April, then you guys start up again with a full blown US tour for May and June. In between would be a great time to build the hype again with a new video before you guys hit the road.
Steve: That’s a smart idea absolutely, but it’s really up to them, if they want to write the check.
Dave: Understood. So last time you played Chicago, I noticed your setlist held a bunch of new tracks. Can we expect a similar selection this time around? For you personally, is it more exciting for you playing this new material live?
Steve: Absolutely, I’ve been in the band six years now. It’s obviously fun for me to play stuff I was part of but I’ve got to say I love playing No Place For Disgrace songs.
Dave: Hell Yea, “Hard on You”, “I Live You Die”. Those are classics!
Steve: For sure, and we play a lot of that stuff live but we are going to be playing new stuff. A lot of guys in this band have been here a long time and they’ve played those old tracks tons and tons of times so. On this next tour everybody is going to see a bit of a change. Now in America, we have a ninety-minute set so that will include a lot of the older stuff, the stuff that people expect to hear. In Europe, as openers, I think it’s going to be a heavy dose of new, a lot of tracks off the last two albums.
Dave: I think that’s a great plan, a lot of people really liked that last album. I was surprised how many people knew the lyrics.
Steve: Yea, but I think it took a while. The first time we came around and played those songs people were like huh? But the next time we came around they were calling for those tracks by name. I think it’s a good idea to play a lot of the new stuff because if you don’t play it live, it can’t become a classic like the old songs. Those songs became classics because they were played a lot.
Dave: Bobby Blitz (Overkill – Vocals) told me one time that a new record tour is a chance for the fan to see the band play tracks they might never play again, if a particular song doesn’t make the setlist next time around.
Steve: That’s very true.
Dave: So, you have NAMM fest later this month and then the tour begins in Europe with Overkill in March. Will the band use the month of February to plan and rehearse?
Steve: We have some guys in the band that live out of town, so we get together a couple weekends before. We’re all really prepared so it doesn’t take long for us to get back in the groove. We’ll get together and practice three, four maybe five times then usually one more time right before we leave. If we do that, typically by the third show the band is clicking.
Dave: Excellent. Do you feel you need to practice more this time around, with Jason’s (Jason Bittner – Drums) departure and Ken’s addition?
Steve: I worked with Ken (Ken Mary – Drums) before in the studio. We’ve done a bunch of projects together. He lives in Phoenix which makes it easy for us to practice. He’s a monster player and the logistics made sense. He really liked the last record and showed interest in doing it, so we decided to give it a go and so far, it has been good.
Dave: What happened with Jason? I saw he joined Overkill. When I interviewed the band live (2016) I got the impression he was a big part of what you guys were doing. I was surprised to hear he left, there’s no ill will, I assume?
Steve: He’s a great friend of ours and he’s the reason we got the Overkill tour.
Dave: Really? That’s awesome!
Steve: Yea he got thrown a bone and was asked to join the band. Overkill is a bigger band than Flotsam and Jetsam, they travel easier than we do, he makes some more money than he would with Flotsam. It was a better opportunity for him and it’s one he should take. It was fine with us.
Dave: I saw you announced the US tour (May/June) but not any supporting acts, have you decided who will be included in that package?
Steve: As far as supporting bands go, they’re planning on going with local talent.
Steve: I’m not sure exactly what’s going on with that. There is a band scheduled for the east coast trek, a group called Dead By Wednesday. The promoters were ok with not having another band on the package.
Dave: The Flotsam and Jetsam name will draw fans. The new album is great. Thanks for your time today Steve, best of luck with the upcoming tour.
Steve: No problem. Thank you.
Flotsam & Jetsam are:
- Michael Gilbert – Guitars
- Ken Mary – Drums
- Eric ‘A.K.’ Knutson – Vocals
- Steve Conley – Guitars
- Michael Spencer – Bass