Eric A.K. Knutson is the singer of the Phoenix, Arizona thrash metal band Flotsam and Jetsam. He fills out the lineup along with original guitarist Michael Gilbert, who left the band in 1999 and came back in 2010. Then there is Michael Spencer, who was their bassist after Jason Newsted left to join Metallica, and was with the band from 1987-‘88 and rejoined in 2014. Guitarist Steve Conley joined the group in 2014. Ken Mary is their drummer and joined the band in 2018.
Their first few albums were Doomsday for the Deceiver, No Place for Disgrace, and When the Storm Comes Down. A.K. has been singing since he was 5 and is 53 now. He joined the band in 1982 and has been the singer of Flotsam ever since. He discussed how Ken Mary joined the band as well as some of the things he has been a part of that he has enjoyed. A.K. spoke about the writing of various songs from the album such as Control, Demolition Man, Slowly Insane, and Unwelcome Surprise. I inquired about what it was like performing at last year’s Japanese Assault Fest.
A.K. gave recommendations on which albums new fans of Flotsam should pick up to get into the band. We finished the dialogue by discussing the drastic change record promotion has taken from the 1980s to the present day. Their new album End of Chaos was released on Jan. 18, 2019 on AFM Records.
What is it like being a heavy metal musician in Arizona right now?
For us it’s really good. We are one of the big-wigs in the musician pool here. There are a lot of really good bands who should be recognized that are from the valley here. I get excited to go out and see them once in a while. I know a few bands here. Images of Eden is a good band. There are so many of them here. Howitzer is another really great band.
You chose Ken Mary to be your new drummer. What are some of your favorite bands he has drummed with?
I really didn’t know Ken Mary until he was suggested to be our drummer. I had no idea who he was. It wasn’t until our guitar player Steve Conley suggested him that I looked him up and saw what he has done. He has a really huge career behind himself. I don’t know which House of Lords album I like. I like one of the Fifth Angel albums he was on. I dig all the Alice Cooper stuff he has done. He had a very big part of making those albums cool.
With the way your band writes music, did this dynamic change at all once Ken joined you guys?
Not really. I was a little frightened of the dynamic change possibility. He pretty much stepped in, took our vibe and ran with it. He is a very versatile drummer.
What was the first song from End of Chaos that he worked on with you guys?
I don’t know what the first one was, but I remember with “Control” I had a lot of troubles writing the melody lines and the lyrics for that one. I called Ken up and asked if he had had any fresh ideas for me. He came up with the melody line and the lyrics for that song. Once they were good enough that I didn’t need to change it, I jumped in and ran with them.
What’s going on out there in the world that you find the most inspiration for when it came to the writing of lyrics for this album?
Right now the hot topics are politics and immigration and stuff like that. I have little jabs in each song. They can be basically construed as up to date current events. There is nothing that comes out and says this is the way I believe about this, or this is the way you should think about this. It is just little jabs here and there.
Listening to the lyrics of “Demolition Man,” I almost wonder were you guys taking inspiration from that Sylvester Stallone movie?
[Laughs] No, but that’s a good one. I am part owner of a construction company. When I was listening to that song trying to come up with melody line and lyrics, we happened to be demoing someone’s kitchen. We were ripping things apart and blowing things up. I was thinking hey these are good lyrics I am going to use them.
I dug “Slowly Insane” the most for its wild apocalyptic feel. Who was most responsible for the writing of that track?
Except for “Control,” I did all of the lyrics. I believe that was a song by our guitarist Michael Gilbert. I don’t remember for sure. Mike and Steve both wrote me about 20 songs each. I had to thumb through them. I figured hey this is really cool; I better get started working on this. I thumbed through the 40 songs again. As soon as one caught my ear. When we got up to about 15 songs, I quit listening to them at that point.
Where did the inspiration for “Unwelcome Surprise” come from?
It’s a bit of a takeoff from an Alison Morrissette song. It’s basically you win the lottery and die the next day kind of situation. It’s all kind of little irritancies that happen to me.
What was it like before attending the Japanese Assault Fest back in November?
We practiced about once. It had been about 15 or 16 years since I had been to Japan before that. That was with a completely different lineup of the band. We kind of jumped and hung on to see how the crowd reacted since we haven’t been there in forever. There wasn’t really a lot of preparation for that except to make sure our song choices were going to be received well over there. We used to hang out with fans that would show up to the hotel room and wait for us all day. I enjoyed hanging out with the fans a lot. Every time I went down to the lobby there would be another couple of fans waiting for us to sign stuff and talk to me.
Can you tell me what it was like to be in a promotional cycle for an album in the Eighties versus what that is like now?
[Laughs] Big difference. In the Eighties we were on MCA Records and they were just dumping money all over the place. We left there probably owing them a few million dollars when it was all said and done. Now, you are lucky to get 10-grand to make a record, much less anything to push it with. It is a huge dollar difference.
At the same time, it is a little easier because of social media and the internet. Back in the Eighties when we were doing this it was all word of mouth and record store and radio promotion. Now, you can post a few things and reach just as many people.
For the young fans out there just have discovered your band what would be 3 releases that you would recommend they check out first?
First, get the new one, End of Chaos, 2014’s self-titled, and probably 1995’s Drift. Fanwise, our biggest albums are our very first two: 1986’s Doomsday for the Deceiver, and 1988’s No Place for Disgrace. Those have always been the fan-favorites. As far as writing and performing I like the new one, the last one, and Drift.
You should catch one of their shows in the tristate area. They play The Voltage Lounge in Philadelphia on May 21, The Gramercy Theatre in New York City on May 22, Dingbatz in Clifton, N.J. on May 23, and the Chance Theater in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. on May 24.