Old School Thrash out in the cold - Craig Nielsen speaks out.
Flotsam and Jetsam like the underdogs of underground U.S. Thrash metal such as Over Kill, Exodus, Death Angel and many more have been around since the early 80's. Some of you well at least most of you will be aware that Jason Newsted ex Metallica was once the bassist in Flotsam before his departure to join Metallica. The band were formed back in early 81by Kelly David-Smith (drums), with Jason Newsted on bass, and soon to follow was 'A.K.' (Eric A. Knutson) on vocals Edward Carlson on guitar, Michael Gilbert also on guitar, to which for the bands debut album 'Doomsday For The Deceiver' was soon released through Metal Blade (Slayer) back in 86. This saw the band making waves in the Thrash Metal scene around Phoenix (Arizona) and was a superb release. It wasn't long before the band after supporting Megadeth around Europe and the UK that the band went into the studio for record the bands 2nd album 'No Place For Disgrace' through Elektra Records, the same label as Metal Church were signed too. With Newsted leaving to join Metallica he was soon replaced by Troy Gregory to which this album was also a smash hard hitting thrash album. Like any band, Flotsam have had their fair shares of line-up changes and with James Rivera (Helstar) joining for live performances and new bassist Jason Ward joining the band later on & Mark Simpson on guitar, with new drummer Craig Nielsen the band are now back and ready to devastate the world of Thrash Metal. Now signed to Nuclear Blast, the band have recently released their new album titled 'Cold', which is a head banger's delight, packed with some awesome guitar riffs and vocals not to forget the pounding drums. I had the pleasure of recently speaking with drummer Craig about the new album and what the future holds for the band. So sit back, grab a beer and turn up you're favourite Flotsam CD and read on.
As this is the 1st time I have interviewed the band I would like to start by asking you which band you were in before joining Flotsam & Jetsam?
"Well I use to be in a band called 'Nevermore' from Seattle, I had joined the band before Van came into the band. After they had made a couple of demo tapes I had moved back to California and it was just I had left they got Van and they got their record deal with Century Media. I had done several shows with them in Seattle and I had also played drums for guitar wizard Alex Masi who recorded several albums with Metal Blade, and now with Lion Music. I played with local bands in L.A., like 'Von Skeletor' which was Nick MeMenza before he joined Megadeth, this band also featured Dave Mustaine guitar tech so Nick got the job with Megadeth and I replaced him for his band. When I 1st joined Flotsam we had the pleasure of playing some shows with Nevermore so for me it was like a reunion, Warrel is a big fan of the band."
Before joining Flotsam which was you're favourite album by the band and why?
"Besides the 1st 2 albums I would have to say my favourite album is 'Cuatro' because I was blown away by the production on the record. It was done by Neil Kernon which had so much die manic range and I'm big into tones and I feel that the tones on that record were fucking amazing with a great studio and a great mix. I think they also put a lot of effort into the album 'Drift' and I feel that a lot of people liked that album, I myself also like that album. That album was released on MCA, it was a great album but the label never put the band out on tour around Europe, which was a shame."
What about albums that you have recorded with the band?
"I would have to say the new album 'The Cold' I have done 4 albums with the band and the 3 other times they were done on tape and we didn't have as much leeway with the pro tools and the last album before the new album was remarked that it wasn't the band album because of the mix to which I would agree with. We didn't have an engineer that was use to working with metal bands and so I felt very apprehensive about the last 3 albums before the 'The Cold' album because engineers always try to fix things later, this is something that I don't like doing been a drummer. I much prefer it to be fixed pretty much right away. If you are working with somebody with a limited budget at the end you have used so much time with the guitars and vocals that when it comes to the mix the engineers don't go back and fulfill their obligation to fix every last thing. It becomes too expensive and too much time consuming to do that. So with the new album I had learnt by my mistakes so this time I made sure I was happy with all the basic tracks so that I didn't have to fix anything later on. I think it took me about 4 days to record the drum tracks for the new album which I am totally happy about for the 1st time, I wanted it to have the correct sound I wanted for the 1st time."
So who are your drum influences?
"Well I was born in 1966 so even before Neil from Rush I was a big Jethro Tull when I was 6yrs old after which came Deep Purple, and when everybody was listening too John Bonham I was listening to Ian Paice's drum licks and even E.L.O. so that made me want to be a drummer. Later on I went through the Neil Peart stages, and for me to understand a great drummer I had to see the band Journey was Steve Smith, that guy was a bad ass drummer man, he was amazing!! Later on I got into the technical thing Deen Castronovo who played with Wild Dogs, and now Journey. These days I like Meshuggah's drummer Thomas Haake as he is a master of odd timing but I feel the best drummer of all time i not a rock drummer. His name is David Weckl, he is a Jazz Fusion drummer from the U.S. and he is the best drummer on the planet and nobody even comes close to him, he is my ultimate favourite."
So how did you hook up with producer Ralph Patlan, who is known for his work with Megadeth?
"Yeah he did the entire back catalogue of Megadeth albums by remixing them. He's also worked with Brian 'Head' Welch formerly with Korn. (Ed: How did you hook up with Brian?). Well Brian is part owner of the label we are on called 'Driven Music' and Ralph had worked with him 1st and then Ralph had became our engineer and then he had to work with Head and if you're going to ask why this album took so long was because Ralph had 2 commitments with Brain and our band. so we decided to hang in there and wait for Ralph to finish doing the 'Head' stuff."
The album artwork was handled by Travis Smith, best known for his work with such bands like Nevermore, Death, Psychotic Waltz, how did you hook up wit him to do the artwork for this album?
"Well we 1st used him for the 'Dreams Of Death' album and if you look at the fairy on 'The Cold' album that is Eric's daughter, with her in a dark and twisted image which was creepy image. Travis had used the background image with the trees and the forest and he is a very creative guy and we didn't tell him what we wanted for the artwork we just told him the title and he did the rest. His art work is pretty much more Death Metal but he does some strong images Jason. I think A.K. (Eric) wanted to get his daughter on the cover and he did make a strong image for the artwork of a little fairy.
So lets talk about the songs on the new album, are they wrote as a team effort or by 1 individual?
" Well Eric had just become the main lyricists for this band with the last 2 albums. before that he had a lot of help with the bands previous albums so he is now the main man for the last 2 albums. Basically Marks Simpson wrote most of the music up until he left the band right after 'The Cold' was recorded. He is a song writer who has a vision who knows what he wants out of a song and he knows how to program the song in the studio. He is great at programming drums in the studio before he presents it to the drummer and the band. So Mark comes up with the ideas and Eric basis the ideas around his songs. I don't even listening to the lyrics so I could not tell you what each song is about!!"
So how did you hook up with your new label Nuclear Blast and who else did you approach before signing to Nuclear Blast?
"Well I had nothing to do with it, it was all taken care of through 'Driven Music' it was Mark from the label who put the deal together with Nuclear Blast and the album isn't out yet but they are a good label, so far I'm doing tones of interviews before it's release. I think the repetition for the label speaks for itself. They know what they are doing, something that a lot of labels don't so I am happy to be working with them.
So when will we see the band touring here in the UK and Europe in 2011?
"It is something that I want to do, play the UK. We had 1 offer from Bloodstock but they offered so little money it just didn't make any sense to play over there, so we were trying to put a whole tour around it but we couldn't as we had tour dates for another month. We would love to play the UK, so anybody who knows of any agents please contacts us."
Will the band be doing another live DVD in the very near future?
"Well we have already done 3 so far, 1 in Poland, 1 in Arizona, and 1 in Tokyo. Not sure when we will be doing another DVD, maybe after the release of this album, only time will tell."
Well Craig thanx for taking your time out and doing the interview, Best of luck with the new CD, do you have anything to say to your fans?
"Yeah thanx for the support, thanx to Friday 13th. We hope you like the new CD and come check us out live if you can."
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Photo's used by Permission of Nuclear Blast.