By Andrew Catania
Flotsam and Jetsam have been heavyweights in the metal scene for 30 years. Jason Newsted was in FlotJet before he joined Metallica. Their scorching riffs, power drumming, and screaming vocals make FloJet a must for any metal head. There 2016 self-titled record on their new label, AFM records, goes back to FloJet’s old sound that made them the powerhouse they were in the 80’s. I interviewed guitarists Michael Gilbert and Steve Conley separately to discuss their new album, label, tour and the future of FloJet. Here’s my interview with Michael Gilbert.
With your 2016 album, you guys have gone back to your original roots. I’m not saying your past work is not good but this album is strong.
Yes, we took a lot of time with it, you know we had 18 songs, to begin with. We dissected those you know we got together in a room. Everybody flew in we got together and just kind of old school and hashed them out and arranged them and I honestly think that there’s a ‘that has to happen’ there’s a lot of bands that don’t do that, they just put songs on a record then they go out and they play. The energy level’s not there when they play live. But if you’re all together in a room you can sense the energy and stuff like that where it’s going to need the work and arrangements and everything and we took the best 12 with the energy and worked those the best we could
Who produced this?
A lot of people. Steve Conley did engineering, he did the drums, recorded the drums. He did guitar engineering, vocal engineering, I did engineering, vocal engineering, guitar. Steve and I probably did the basic tracks and then it was mixed by Chris Collier. Yes, he did a fantastic job
How long did it take you guys to write this out with the new line up?
All together about 6 months. It was going slow you know because we were doing dates too at the same time. We’d fly off to Europe for a week and once you do that it takes a little to get the ball rolling again you know to get in writing mode so those little hiccups they make a difference in time factors.
When you guys had a little split there in 2009/2010 is that right?
2009 & 2010?
Spencer when did I leave the band? He’s better at dates than me
1997 – 2007 or 2008 or something like that
That’s when you came back because when I
He gave me 50 bucks and begged me to come back
There we go! That’s good!!
No, I’m just kidding
Was this each an individual effort to write the songs? With you the songwriter? Who does the lyrics? Who does the songs?
Really, it’s always been everybody brings something to the table you know, brings a riff or something and it snowballs after that everybody keeps working it up. These days Steve and I would write a riff, Spencer had some riffs left over from 1987 which he brought to the table for this
That’s when you left Flo Jet?
Yes, and then Steve and I do you know most of the writing. We’re just, it gets passed around like a dirty whore basically and everybody puts their two cents in you know, I don’t like this part. A.K. would do vocals on it and say can you change this part around? You know then we’d all get together and we’d hash them out and arrange them together and it just seems to work out well for us. It’s not like the old days when you’d go to rehearsal and you’d rehearse for three hours and come out with a song you know.
This is your first record for your new label. How is it working out for you guys? Have they given you what you guys have needed to do what you need to do?
Yes. Talk about the royal treatment, AFM is killer about it. They came to us. You know we had several other offers for this record and they came to us basically for the storyboards you know ‘this is what we want to do with this record and this is what’s going to happen over the next year’ nobody else brought that so you can’t say no to it and plus it’s just their offer, in general, was really good for us you know where nobody else was offering the same thing, it just wasn’t close not even in comparison.
That’s good they treat me well. I was reading you had an article about Les Paul is that what it is? You are pretty much playing Les Paul’s. Have you played anything else?
Yes. Ok here’s the story on this. This last trip we were in Greece and I was looking out the airplane window, and the baggage handler was treating my Les Paul bad he threw it a couple of times and missed the cargo thing that it was supposed to go in. It didn’t hit the ground he caught it in time but he threw back up there again, so I said you know what? That guitar is done! I’m going to buy a couple of cheap guitars just for the road and take those out in case they get fucked up you know. So, I ended up calling up Jackson, and they just sent me one the same day we left on this tour which is a King V, and I’ve been playing that a lot and just trying to get used to the V’s again. I used to play V’s way back in the day, Gibson V’s. Gibson, I can’t get a hold of them to do anything with them you know. I love their guitars, I love the flying V’s and stuff like that, but I don’t know. The Jackson stuff is good right now.
Are you endorsed by them?
Jackson? Just artist pricing. I’m not endorsed yet if they want to give me an endorsement I would roll with that I think.
So no signature guitar coming out for you next to Randy Rhoads up on NAMM?
Call up Jackson tell them to get a signature for me
I was just like wait a minute because I was looking at pictures and I saw you did not have a Gibson in your hand and I was like, there’s got to be a story around that. That’s why I wanted to ask you about that
Yes because the Greek baggage handler, the guitar is called the Unicorn my Les Paul. Because I took it to the shop to have the frets done and the guy when he was done with it, he comes out he was on his knees, he comes out, and he goes something is wrong with it. Yes, he never goes ever sell this guitar or part with this guitar. I said I know. He goes there is nothing like this. This is the best Gibson I’ve ever played. It’s the best sounding Gibson, and he goes its a ’93 right? I said yeah man it’s a great year for them. It’s a 1960 reissue, and ’93 was just a great year fucking killer guitar!
What is your rig consisting of these days?
Yes, you know what? We’d do all these Europe trips and stuff like that we’d get these amps, we don’t know what we’re going to get when we get there. So, Kemper seemed like the most logical thing. They fit in the airplane, very easy to take around, it’s super light and they sound kick ass. There’s so many presets in the thing that is just killer and plus you can profile your own rig at home. You know what they are right?
Are you endorsing them now or is that something you guys has kind of been doing because of all the overseas trips?
Nope. I’d love to have a Kemper endorsement, yes, I’d do that. So far nothing in the makes on that
What’s your pedal board like?
It’s the Kemper Pedal Board.
You’ve got the Kemper’s too?
Yes! It’s the easiest thing, one cat5 cable you’ve got your tuner everything is right there, you just plug in
And the sound is good?
Even in the states?
Oh yes! You don’t even need a mic just a direct signal and it sounds kick ass
Did you use Boogie in the past?
Hey you know being a player of tube amps you don’t want to admit to it that it sounds fucking killer. I didn’t want to either I used Boogie stuff. I’ve used Boogie for 30 years and then I heard this thing and I was like wow it’s got gain for miles and miles and miles with it. You know I profiled all my Boogie stuff in there and take my Boogie stuff inside my Kemper inside of a USB.
So you’re playing just your Jackson Flying V?
My Les Paul is with me because that’s my backup guitar right now. I’ll probably order a couple more V’s from Jackson and put that thing in a glass case with an alarm on it
You probably are. I can see this conversation in a year from now, I’ll see you in Guitar Player or Dustin will send me a flyer saying that Jackson’s proudly endorsed you
That would be cool
The last tour that you guys were in you were using Gibson specifically for that, too right?
Yes. The Les Paul Standard and I was taking my Flying V with me as my back up and then I did some research on that guitar. I was endorsed by Gibson back in the day back in 1998 they gave me that Flying V
I remember that
That guitar’s worth like thousands now
I was 14 years old. You know how old I feel now? Fourteen years old I was seeing you guys at the Agora Ballroom in West Hartford CT
You know what? It’s weird because I remember gigs like that. It was raining and there was a leak in the roof and Dave Mustaine came in and he grabbed my Flying V he said you need to take this apart because there’s a leak in the roof and it was leaking right down on your guitar
That was the Agora
Your 30th Anniversary is coming up
We’re in it right now
Are you guys going to be on the road pretty much next year?
Yes . 2017 is looking like well we’ve got tentative dates for February in the states and April we’ll be heading back over to Europe. We’re going to be doing festivals over there and after that, who knows. It’s looking like South America for a bit. We’ve never been to South America so it’s a big deal for us
In terms of going other places where you’re going to be do you feel that you guys are trying to regain some of that fan base that you guy’s might have lost over the last few years?
Yes totally. When I joined the band and Kelly came back to the band me and him focused a lot on what can we do to like mend this? What can we do to put a band aid on this and make it what it used to be? Because I do know what necessarily happened with the touring with those guy’s, but I heard from some of the fans, “man I came and saw them two or three times and they had the same setlist” I was like you can’t fucking do that, you know. So, trying to get back to where people know there’s something new out there and it’s not the same set list. It’s very different we’re playing a lot of the old stuff which fans are asking for the old shit and the new stuff too which is amazing to me because you can gauge how good your record is by if they’re asking for that at least, I do. We didn’t have any intention of putting the new stuff in the set at all and after the first two or three shows you know we threw a song in there, and people are there mouthing the words, and I said ok let’s throw another one in there, and they were mouthing the words and I was like what the fucks going on?
But we haven’t had any negative feedback from the record at all
Your album is probably as strong as you guys’ have put out in a long time
I appreciate that thank you!
I have listened to you guys since I was a kid but this album I started listening to it and I bought the cd. I didn’t just get it on Spotify. I went out and bought the cd
I don’t even have a copy of the cd
Sounds just like your old material.
Yes, it’s kind of like that. You know what? It’s game face for me because when people they want to hear the old stuff that’s what I went back to and listened to you know. You’ve got to put yourself in the game. You can’t be listening to the new material, you’ve got to go back to the old school and just kind of, Ok, and everybody in the band did that. It’s going to be your influence for what your writing is going to be so that’s kind of how we put it into perspective, game face I guess.
Why is it that in Europe all the metal bands go over there they’re successful? You guys will go over there you’ll play at Waken in front of 100,000 people, get great receptions. You know, all the thrash bands Exodus, Overkill all you guys. Then when you come over here you’ve got your fans but they don’t go out anymore
They don’t go out, yes. I don’t know. It is totally like that. They have the whole festival season and I think if America caught on to that we could be doing the same thing because it’s so fucking fun. I know there’s a couple people trying to do it here but it hasn’t taken off yet. Are we lazy American’s and were just watching reality shows? I mean geeze!
The best response that I got was that European people tend to hold true with what they grew up with where we are living in the moment.
You know what this fad is, what that fad is
Yes. You know you’re right about that. Next time someone asks me that because I’ve gotten asked a few times, I’m going to say that. You are right about that You know we have a shorter attention span too. They’ll sit down listen to whole records and American’s we don’t have time. We’re all so busy with our day to day stuff, and we’ve got so much shit going on, distractions you know just crazy. You get maybe 8 minutes of somebody’s time you’ve got to catch them within that 8 minutes, or you’re not going to be heard again.
What are you using for guitar picks?
The Dunlop 60’s. I get them from InTune Picks. It’s like a tortex type or whatever. I like those a lot when I bite them it leaves big deep marks in them before I play
Ok because some people like the 2.0’s. A lot of the shredders like those jazz picks
Steve uses those not the thin ones he uses real thick jazz picks
Does he? I was wondering what kind of picks you guy’s use especially with the old music
I pick super hard too
Do you really?
I beat the shit out of my guitar yes. I try to lay off and do more with my left hand and I end up just hammering with my pick you know
So do I see several Jackson purchases in the next few months?
Yes. I’m going to get another one when I get home
OK It’s kind of what I figured
You know Lace pickups I haven’t used them yet but I am going to drop Lace pickups in the one I’m using tonight has got the Jackson Seymour’s in it right now
You like the Seymour’s
They’re real bitey. I’ve never been a Duncan fan but those are the ones that are in there
What have you been using EMG?
EMG’s or my Burstbucker’s and my Les Paul those are fucking great
Which EMG’s do you use?
81 85. I’m kind of anxious to try there’s another make of those King V’s that they have non-active emg’s on them. I’m anxious to try those too to see if they sound a little less edgy. I kind of like that because my Kemper can make up for it
Are you particular about your strings?
10’s. If I break one I put a bigger gauge on there.
You know I was talking to Jeff Loomis the other day he uses fucking 11’s
He’s sick man!
He is absolutely…
Freak of nature
Is he somebody that you talk to regularly?
No. He’s the one that got me my Kemper though. He got me in touch with their A & R guy. I go way back with him because we toured Europe with them
His current band?
No, no like way back in the day it was like 25 years ago, I met him back then. He was still fucking tearing it up then too. I’d watch him every night
So you guys are going to have a few months’ break?
Yes, we need it because we’ve been out for close to three months now.
Do you have any side projects that you’re working on?
I knew you had something going on.
How’d you know that?
Little birdies told me
Yes, I do have something going on. I’ve got 8 tunes written but they’re not arranged right. They’re all in scratch track mode which Easy Drummer I don’t know if you’re aware of all that
Pro Tools I am but Easy drummer I’m not. I’m not like you guy’s where you’re mixing and stuff like that. I mean hook me up with Pro Tools I’ll be ok.
You’ve got to get Easy Drummer 2. You pick a drum beat; do you have any drum software for when you’re writing. Get this it’s a plugin and so when it drops down it opens, and it gives you a list of beats that you can drag over to your session on one of your instrument tracks, and then you can manipulate it any way you want it. It makes writing super easy. I wish I had my stuff up and running right now I’d show you
So these eight tunes are it going to be an instrumental record?
I don’t know yet. I’m more of a scruffy Bon Scott kind of guy. It doesn’t really match with the music I’m playing because it’s super heavy you know. Rob Duke was going to do some stuff on it. You know who Rob is right? He’s from Exodus
Yes, I know him
I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t have a name for it yet either so
You going to release it through your own independent label? You haven’t got that far?
No I haven’t even thought that far packaging the stuff. I’ve got to throw around names you know. I don’t know do you got any good names for it?
Who do you like? Who’s out there you like?
Andy James right now. That guy makes me fucking want to stop playing. Rick Graham have you heard any of his stuff yet?
Yes I have.
He makes it just look easy you know and it’s not, it’s not that easy.
Be sure to check out Flotsam and Jetsam at http://www.flotsam-and-jetsam.com/