Interview: Guitarist Steve Conley from Flotsam and Jetsam

By Andrew Catania

I had a blast with the guys from FloJet.  Here’s my interview with guitarist Steve Conley.

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How long have you been with the band?

Four years now

What were you doing before FloJet?  I played in a group with Dave Ellefson called F5 for a couple of records, and after that was over, and he went back to Megadeth, I was teaching and getting a lot of musician gigs.

Tell me about growing up what your first interest in the guitar was?

Yes, I got a guitar when I was 15 or something like that, but I didn’t start getting serious to where I could play at all until I was like 17 and got an excellent guitar instructor and started studying and from there I had the bug.  When I jumped into it and started taking lessons that are when I dived into it and  cumbersome practice schedule and stuff

Were you playing metal music when you were younger?  How did that go?

I loved and played everything. I had a wide variety of music that I liked.  I had an uncle that was a musician, and he had an impressive record collection.  He’s probably eight years older than me or something like that.  He would leave stuff out for me if I’d go to my grandparent’s and things like that like check out this new Dio record or this new Halen record I was like wow or see this Jeff Beck record.  You know I got interested in a wide variety of stuff Iron Maiden metal stuff and old guitar stuff like Jeff Beck and things like that Van Halen records

Was there a band that you were in?  What was your first band like?

Oh that would be 1992 my first real band when I played in my guitar teacher actually hooked me up with is older brother who was a pretty famous singer in Phoenix and put me in this group with all these guys that were older than me and-and also it was a melodic rock kind of 80’s thing back then so that would be my first real band

Oh wow.  From there did you just do the Phoenix thing?

Oh yes I played with tons of bands in Phoenix

Did you ever make a break for LA?

No, but is it something looking back now that I wish I had done.  The one reason I didn’t is because the kind of guitar style I liked it died in the 90’s like if you made it up to ’92 right after that nobody really wanted you to play guitar anymore you know.  The whole Seattle thing started happening and it was such a downer and I hated that kind of music.   I wouldn’t even buy a record from that era I don’t own one.  So there was really no hope of having any career playing guitar at that point unless you wanted to try to do something you know like everybody else is doing and I really wasn’t that interested in it.  So I just kept playing doing typical work band stuff.  I played in a couple of original bands with heavier stuff and then I picked up a construction job that I made really good money at so I was miserable doing it.  It was one of those things like what are you going to do you know

When you’re talking up to ’92 are we talking about the shred era you’re talking Yngwie,  Vinnie Moore and all of those guys?

All my favorite guy’s yes

Yes because when the polyester phase came in that is when they all died 

Yes .  Those were my favorite you just named them all my favorite guitar players.  Yes, when that stuff kind of all got killed it was like, what are you going to do?

Which one that I mentioned influenced you the most?

When I discovered Yngwie it was by accident you I absolutely when I heard those first two Yngwie records I had never heard of him.  I bought them when I was back in high school.  It was back in the day when you would go to the record store and try something new it was one of those I’m going to try this and see what this is all about you know and when I got home my jaw just dropped I was like are you kidding me?  So those first couple Yngwie records were massive that playing, it was just unheard of at the time

That’s what happened to me.  I was in elementary school at the time.  I saw the Steeler tape and I couldn’t pronounce his name. I was like who is this Yngwie, Steeler album, I’m like who’s Ron Keel?  And I started playing guitar.

Yes well he’s putting them out himself now so you don’t get the big machine behind everybody but I think he has enough hardcore fans from all over that after all these years he’s probably going to keep all the money and do just fine

His records in Japan go big

Yes, they love that kind of stuff over there.  You know he’s arguably one of the most influential guitar players in the world you know and one of the last breed of guitar hero’s.  There’s not a lot of new guys coming up that are going to fit the guitar hero mold because most of it’s been pondered you know.  That guy, he broke the ground you know

Talk about how you first started coming into Flo-Jet.  How did that happen?  Did you seek them out, did they have auditions?

Well they called me I didn’t know any of the guys and I had met Mike Gilbert we played with a mutual friend in Phoenix and I had met him many many years before this one time my friend Marty Lucas was like hey Mike Gilbert this is me and we met at a bar and just when they were playing like while I was there we just had a quick introduction that was it.  Never talked to the guy or saw him again.  So I get a message on Facebook one night and it was Mike Gilbert he said hey man if you don’t mind give me a call I was like ok.  So I gave him a call and  we chatted for a minute and he was pretty polite in the way he went about it.  It was interesting it wasn’t like hey were auditioning, he was like hey would you want to be interested to just come down and jam one night?  I was kind of like huh that’s interesting it was an interesting way to go about it .  I was like yes, you know why don’t you send me over some songs.  And I have to admit I’m a little bit of a risk because I lived in Phoenix with all those guys that obviously know the band  but I hadn’t been following their career per say so I didn’t know what they had been doing recently.  You know I didn’t know much about the band but one of their older guitar player’s Mark Simpson was a friend of mine and over the years we’d see each other but I hadn’t seen him in a long time either so I knew he was playing in the band.  I didn’t really know what was going on with the band if they were still touring or what.  So you know and you know he sent me some songs over and I was like alright I’ll go down.  What do I have to loose you know I said I’ll go down and check it out and see what the deal was?  I guess Kelly told me Mike had asked a bunch of people they were asking about guitar players and they had been auditioning guys and my name kept coming  up through a bunch of people and then Kelly asked Dave Ellefson some names and then Dave referred me and a couple other guy’s and so then that’s what made him call me.  At first I didn’t think I was actually going to do the gig because I was a working musician playing gig’s and I was doing pretty good with teaching and everything and I didn’t know that those guy’s had been recently doing anything or going on tour in Europe or any of that stuff so my girlfriend asked me, “are you going to do that gig, what do you think?”  I’m like I don’t know I’m going to go check it out and we’ll see what happens you know you know Mike seems like a nice guy.  Then she calls me a few minutes later and says hey can you come down to my office I said yes sure and she pulls up a video on Youtube and it’s them playing in an arena in Poland and she says yes you might want to think a little harder about this and I was like wow when was this like 15 years ago and she goes no 3.  I was like oh ok well cool I had no clue.  I was completely removed from you know what was going on in the music world when I was teaching and playing gig’s in Vegas and doing stuff.  I was kind of somewhat if you want to say I was retired.  I did studio engineering stuff and I was a working musician.  I never had any aspirations of getting any phone calls from anybody or anything  I just figured I was kind of done with all that and so it was pretty interesting

When you got on board with them and you recorded the latest album how much did you contribute to it?  

6 songs

Did you provide 6 songs?  Music, lyrics both?

Yes.  Music and a couple of weird ideas as far as titles and concept ideas of you know one of the songs Seventh Seal I wrote the music for and A. K.’s like, I had working titles he’d be like hey if you have a title for something put it on the song.  Because I was at first like no, no that’s your thing you do whatever you want.  But you know we would have riff 15 riffs 18, and everybody was naming their stuff riff’s, and he goes, and that helps us keep track of things you know if you have an idea for a title put it on the song.  So I had some titles, and  that was one of them he goes what does it mean?  Then I sent him the history channel document on the apocalypse and he wrote a whole thing about it so

This album, and I was just telling Mike, I’m not saying anything about their predecessor albums or anything like that but this album is some of the greatest stuff they’ve done since the mid 80’s

Thank you, we appreciate that

It is.  I was listening to it, and you could hear the old Flo-Jet sound in there, and I know it has something to do with him coming back, and he had some of the songs when he left FloJet in ’87.

Oh yes, Michael Spencer.  He had two songs that were old that were old No Place For Disgrace songs

He brought them in, and you could hear the old Flotsam and Jetsam sound in this new album 

Yes well it was interesting because we didn’t write the songs together they’re all written by each guy by themselves

Really?

Yes

I didn’t know that

Yes, we did not get in a room and we did not play them.  We tried it after everybody wrote their ideas, we all have ProTools and stuff, we would send it around and what ended up happening was right before the record we thought it would be a good idea to at least get into a room and see if we could play through the ideas the best we could.  You know we’d try to learn each other’s riff’s and stuff and just see what it felt like to go in and play the riff’s to see if it sounds like one thing on somebody’s demo let’s just see what it’s like to play it.  So we did spend one day where we had one or two day’s where Jason came in and we got together and played through the ideas and A. K. at that point he didn’t even have lyrics.  Some of them he had lyrics to that are not even on the record they were initial ideas.  Sometimes it was just melodies that he was humming a song idea  but other than that everybody wrote the tunes on their own you know

Wow!

And for me, I tried to copy like the album that I really gravitated towards when we were playing live was No Place For Disgrace I really loved that record.  And I didn’t own it but once I started playing the songs this is what I told Mike this is an incredible guitar album like it was my favorite Flotsam record.  It’s my favorite stuff to play that we play the old stuff and when we would go to Europe we would have the conversation about you know they’ve done Ugly Noise and things like that and I had an outside perspective because I wasn’t in the band.  You know at the time I was kind of like I got in the band and we were playing  but I wasn’t a part of any writing we weren’t doing any writing at first for the first three years.  When we go to Europe, all I hear from the fans is about these 2 records.  They want us to be the first two records.  That’s just my opinion.  If you have fans that still listen to your first two records after 30 years have gone by, you should feel honored.

 

I asked Mike this question that I’ll pose to you.  With the new FloJet record, were you trying to get the old sound of the band on this record?

These songs I wrote were mostly old metal sounding songs.  That’s what I wanted. Going through FloJet’s catalog, there’s a lot of diversity there.  That was the stuff that I like the most.  No Place for Disgrace is my favorite album.

How does it feel playing 30 years of FloJet songs?

I don’t mind playing them; They’re great songs.  It’s an honor for participating in the making of the new album.  I wanted to make sure the contribution  I made would be fantastic.

What is your rig?

I’m using the Kemper like Michael is. I use Tom Anderson Guitar cause you could tune up and down on the fly.  I have a Warmoth Guitars that I have for 22 years.  I built it myself.  There’s something about that guitar.

You’re using some old school luthier that you built.

Kemper pedal board too?

Yes.  I have different amps back home.  A couple of old Marshalls.  I watched some videos on the Kemper.  The sound guys love it.

Are you endorsed by anyone?

I used to work for Crank Amp company.  I guess I’m weird like that.  I don’t go out and look for endorsements.   I know how it is on the other side working for Crank Amp Company, guys calling for days looking for a free amp.

Do you have any side projects going on?

No, not that the moment.  I do some writing with different people.  I’ve written two songs for Geoff Tate’s Operation Mindcrime

Reinventing the Future, I wrote with Dave Ellison and the other song I can’t remember.

How did this happen?

Dave Ellison asked if I wanted to write songs for Operation Mindcrime.

What do you think of the current music scene?  Lack of shredders?

The best guitarists have come out from 93 and earlier.   You’ll never see anyone else like that. Now, with YouTube, you can learn how to play any song where back in the day we had to learn the notes.  There’s a ton of YouTube shredders.  You can find a 12-year-old shredder anywhere.  As a teacher, I think this YouTube type of environment has sucked the soul out of the instrument.

This is the best lineup FloJet has had in a while.  I wish you guys the best of luck!

Thank you, Andrew!

 

You can follow Steve at http://www.steveconleyguitar.com/

 

 

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