Before the '80s thrash metal icons Flotsam and Jetsam play live in Lodnon for the first time in over a quarter of a century, eGigs manages to squeeze in some time with bassist Michael Spencer who discusses the new material from the band due later this year in addition to life in Flotsam in 2015.
How are you?
How has the tour been?
Good! The first four days were in Greece and pretty cool, a little different to what we have here since there is different gear for every show. Awesome shows, lots of stage diving.
Flotsam and Jetsam were supposed to play London in 2006 and it was cancelled.
Yeah and the band came back in 2010 and did two shows in Greece and eight in Germany.
So why have you been avoiding the UK, aside from Bloodstock Festival last year?
Last time the band played in London, I want to say '88 or '89, I was in the band up until '87 when we came over and played at the Hammersmith Odeon so it seems like the UK has been hard for the band to get back and play as much as we want to play here.
Do you know why?
I don't know if that's just the luck of the draw that they've had. That's why we're surprised that we're actually playing Glasgow; we're finally playing Scotland but we're not going into Ireland. Why don't we go round the promoters in the area and the clubs willing to book us and we can work on a schedule that works for them?
It's good that you've just got more than a London date. When a lot of bands come to the UK, they just play an exclusive London show and that's it.
We tried to get in on Saxon's tour last year – they had maybe 12-15 shows and I think Skid Row might have been doing all their European stuff and they didn't have a band but they ended up picking, I guess, a local UK band.
At least you get a headlining slot this time round.
Yes, twice as much time.
Last year, the band recently re-recorded 'No Place for Disgrace'. How was that?
Cool, at least from my perspective to actually play on an album, which I should have played on back then because I co-wrote three of the songs with the band and spent 6-8 months working on the material before they actually recorded it and I got kicked out of the band. I had an issue with their personal manager at the time and I felt he had too much of a say in the band. The band as five guys could have done everything without his constant input. He had a great relationship with Jason Newsted and the guys felt: “If he's good enough for Jason, he's good enough for us.” So to be able to re-record it with today's technology was kind of cool. We got hit because it got taken away from the original masterpiece that people don't want to be touched but the band doesn't have any rights to that album or to those songs so the only way to gain some rights to the material is to actually record it.
Were you worried about some of the fans being upset that you re-recorded a classic?
Not really because there's always going to be people who have negative things to say no matter what it is. There are people who love it to death even though some of the tempos are slower. We just appreciate the fans who like what we did with it. The whole goal wasn't to remake the masterpiece, it was to say here's how we feel this stuff today.
Why did you decide to re-record it now?
Just straight for the fact to get some ownership for the songs. That and the fact that people have been wanting the band to remaster it but if you don't have the tracks for the original files, you can't remaster something you can't get hold of. Elektra Records has been really hesitant on even trying to look for the tapes. So it's more effort than it's worth so we decided to re-record it and it felt like we brought it back to life a little bit and it helped out for us doing Keep it True last year. We've got a set that's basically the first two albums; we call it The No Place for Deceivers set, so if festivals want to request that, we'll play just those two albums and make it work.
When you were looking at re-recording it, were there parts of the songs that you knew you wanted to change straight away?
Yeah, I think more of it was tonality. Even when they recorded it, before it went in for mastering and mixing, everybody in the band had said the guitar tones were heavier and after it got mixed and mastered, they were like: “What did you do to our guitar tone?” Michael [Gilbert, guitarist] is real particular about his tone so that's not what he had envisioned but at the time, it went off with all that music that has that '80s thrash sound – people think that's a great tone but Michael was like: “That's not what I heard though when I recorded our tracks.” It was heavier so they thought they had lost the heaviness before mixing and mastering. That was one of the things that really bothered them, it was like: “What happened to our mix?” because they don't really have control over that. People love it but they never heard the demo tapes to say: “Oh, that's really the tone you were looking for. There's a lot of, I don't know if it's called flange, there's some effect on there that's real overbearing but still the music is real fun to play. It was actually real cool to revisit the songs, even tunes that we're not playing live. In my case, I'm the new guy on the recording so that aspect was me taking a little bit of the style that I've done since I've left the band and done other things musically and playing back on Kelly's [David-smith, ex-drummer] groove because as far as drumming, he's probably the most groove-oriented metal drummer to play with so it's real easy to create pockets and play without playing exactly everything the guitar player does. That's kind of fun to play off as a team a little more.
What effect did the modern technology have on these '80 songs this time around?
Just being able to have us virtually self-produce it ourselves. We go out and go to a studio and have an engineer track all the drums and we can import all those files in once they have had all the drum edits done to them and can track everything else at Michael's home studio and that way, you have a little more control over where it's going and timing on when you can get things done.
I heard there was talk of new songs being collecting together – some leftovers from the '80s days of Flotsam and Jetsam – that you are planning on putting out on a new release. Have you got any information on this forthcoming album?
Yeah, we have 17 tunes tracked already with drums, six tracked with guitars and bass and there are four of them that were written back in '86-87 that were the things I wrote. Two of them would have been songs that would have ended up on 'No Place…' if I would have stayed with them. So we might at least revisit those and one or two of the others as bonus tracks or an EP because we have too many songs for an album and it's not like any of them are necessarily filler songs because we had 22-24 and we've already shaved those off so we have 17 strong songs.
The band has had a varied career with so many different sounds. What do these new tracks sound like?
Some are old school, some have a modern sound. We all have different influences but the whole goal is to still have the energy. Michael's into Slipknot and Rammstein and industrial stuff too so he's always been a sample guy, even after 'No Place…' so on our third and fourth albums, they were doing sample tracks even back then so nothing's really changed in that respect. The goal has always been heavy and never to take away from that – slow tempo, fast tempo. With Jason in the band, Jason's got a lot of energy, he's a pretty fierce player so it's kinda cool what he's laid down for the songs and you start hearing all the bass and hear everything put on that and hear a new rhythm aspect because he doesn't play like Kelly so that's kind of fun to hear all those pieces get put together for new music.
When will this album be released?
We're hoping October or November. The tours that we have in Europe are affecting us being productive but we're gonna be back in the US for three and a half weeks before we come back to Europe for another two and a half weeks so that makes it harder for us to be even more productive on the album than we should be but it's not like we want to cancel the tours. The goal is to put out good music and album sales is just a different beast anyway these days.
Absolutely. Flotsam and Jetsam have been going consistently since the '80s whereas a lot of thrash metal bands broke up and reunited at some point. What do you think that you did that other thrash metal bands at the time didn't to retain your staying power?
I don't know. I think it's more of a passion of the musicians and the band willing to make the effort and keep being creative musically and not wanting to say: “I'm done with this.” The band had line-up changes, different guitar players that came in; Michael just came in, played for a tour and bounced back out so all of the original members always wanted to stay plugged in. It's all a matter of juggling the music life and juggling real life. It's not like it's a career that you can live on at the moment. The musical climate is very different, very hard because you have to keep the machine going.
How is touring with the band now compared to the '80s? How has the Internet affected that?
The social media is actually cool because it allows you to stay plugged in and get a little more one-on-one conversations with people. I've always been surprised at people who post a question on the Flotsam page and then are surprised whenever somebody answers: “I never get an answer from any band!” I'm happy to chat with you. It's not like we're writing novels back and forth.
How was touring on the road back in the '80s?
Back then, that was the band members' jobs. You're not necessarily working a full time job while you're out there touring and spend a lot more time on the road. We were major label based so we had the backing, the tour support. Economically, it was different from the record label aspect also. That's usually not there anymore. Younger bands have to do buy-ons where they buy on to a tour. Whether you're playing Ozzfest in America or playing a festival in Greece, there are Greek bands that get charged to pay a Greek festival versus the promotors just willing to bring a local band on. Or for a hundred euros, they have to buy their way on to a bigger fest. It's an investment so somebody must see it as some kind of financial benefit if they're going to say: “I'm going to invest three grand to do this tour and hopefully it helps us to the point where we can start eventually getting paid to do tours and make some people know about it. It's almost like in California and you have the Dot Com and Silicon Valley tech companies have all these investors throw up a tonne of money and if it happens to be the next big Apple or Microsoft or Norton Antivirus and it takes off, that investment those guys made…so that's what it's like. Definitely not the same money as Apple but it's still that same investment, either for themselves or they have people making the investment because they believe in the band.
Do you think there are people that try to take advantage of younger bands who don't know how it works? Are there record labels preying on younger bands?
Yeah but that's always been there, even back in the day. It's all a matter of whatever they can get you for, for the least amount of expense, they're doing good business. That's the kind of thing – "We're helping you in a place where you don't have any other offers or the experience so you're handcuffed to us for two or three albums but after that, then you guys can go out."
Do you know if Flotsam and Jetsam were ever in that position?
No they had a good contract with Metal Blade, good relationship with Metal Blade guys, which is why they ended up going back after a while. When they got signed to Elektra records, it was basically the A&R rep that signed Metallica and Metal Church to the label who also loved Flotsam. He was actually also key for helping Jason join Metallica because Michael Alago already had a relationship with Jason and thought: “I really love the band and really love your playing,” and threw that out there and did the networking. When I joined the band, he came out and saw us and said: “Alright. You guys are still solid.” And we ended up signing the contract with Elektra. He leaves and Elektra doesn't know what to do with Flotsam. Michael's at MCA so he picks them up at MCA so you're following someone who believes in you but back then, you had a record label who was willing to throw tens of hundreds of thousands of dollars into you. Whereas that slower: “Alright, we'll give you three albums to build you up” – they don't do that anymore. If you don't sell on your first album, you might get dropped. Record labels aren't going to invest in a band like that. The market has totally changed. It took Judas Priest four or five albums to get ramped up. There would be no Judas Priest. They didn't even develop their sound until 'Hell Bent for Leather' then they became the Judas Priest that everybody loved, then there was 'British Steel'. So had they stopped at 'Rocka Rolla'[laughs], they wouldn't be the Judas Priest that we know.
That's the end of the questions. Do you have any final words for the readers?
No, just happy for the support everybody provides the band and hope they like the new music that's coming out. Looking forward to playing live out here more. I'm a big fan of the UK, came out here in 2009.
Where did you go?
We stayed here for four nights in London, did one night in Liverpool – did a Beatles tour [laughs]. But this is nice, we went to Camden Town today and I wish I brought my wife to this place. There's a lot of steampunk stuff and my son's really big into steampunk.
It's very different!
Taking advantage of it while we're here.
Thanks for the interview.