The band started off in the mid-80’s as Paradox, then Dogz and onto Flotsam and Jetsam. Kelly corrects me on my timeline: “We went from Paradox to Dreadlox (with an “x”!) and then onto Dogz for about a year and a half. We didn’t really know what we wanted to be, musically, at the time. I can’t really remember why we changed from Dogz. Maybe because a bunch of guys called Dogz was a little derogatory or something.
While we were Paradox, we wrote a song called “Flotsam and Jetsam”. The title came from The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings and it seemed like a good name.”
Doomsday for the Deceiver received six “K”‘s in Kerrang magazine – the first album ever to do so. Kelly remembers it well: “That’s not something you forget! It was amazing! When you get a review like that it really makes you feel you’re doing the right thing and that the band was going to be for the long run.” Well, quite – over 25 years and still going!
So how does Kelly explain the band’s almost non-stop existence? Many bands of that era broke up and reformed after ten or fifteen years apart. Barring a slight slow-down in the 90’s, F&J have never actually stopped being an entity.
“It’s the music and the fans. We love what we’re doing and don’t want to stop. Even when we were recording the new album – I was working on ‘Gitty Up’ and thinking, imagining how it would be to play this song in front of a crowd, maybe a festival.”
“Jason wrote all our lyrics, but not the music. About two thirds of the album was written by Michael, the rest shared. When he left, the publicity had to sell him as the guy who was replacing Cliff Burton so made him out to be Flotsam and Jetsam. The core of the band. This wasn’t true, but we could see why they had to do it. There were no hard feelings – never have been – but it was belittling to the rest of the band.“
So what was it like working with him again on the new album?“It was a great experience. He wasn’t busy at the time, we weren’t sure what he’d be doing. Maybe getting on with his artwork or something. He wrote the lyrics for two of the songs.”
Moving on in the history timeline, can you confirm or deny a story that your second album was going to be called Blessing in Disguise, but that a departing manager allowed Metal Church to use the name for their third album?
“That’s not true, I think it came from something Michael [Spencer] said in an interview when he left the band. No Place For Disgrace was always going to be called No Place For Disgrace. Actually, we did record a song called ‘Blessing in Disguise’ which was on a demo version of the album. I think about 100 copies of it were sold. I’ve looked on eBay and they’re really hot property!”
Cuatro’s change in direction was a result of the band wanting to explore their influences and play a variety of styles. Kelly sites Rush as one major influence, and says that their less guttural vocals and varied catalogue lets them get onto more tours and festivals. While A.K., for instance, is a fan of Slayer he doesn’t have that kind of singing voice.
In 2006, much of the back-catalogue was re-mastered and re-issued. The rights for Doomsday, though, are held by the band’s original management and label (Elektra). Is it ever likely to see the light of day?
“Funny you should mention that. I’ve actually been looking into that recently and we really want to get it back out there. It is available on iTunes, but a lot of people still want a proper copy. The originals are very rare. They turn up on eBay from time to time.
We’ve got a lawyer looking into the rights and stuff at the moment, but even if we have to re-record the whole album we want to make it available again. In fact, we’d really love to do that with all the new production technology and processes we didn’t have the first time around.”
Along with a few other acts – Ginger and Bowling For Soup amongst them – you decided to go with Pledge Music to fund the new album. Why?
“Yeah, Ginger did really well – number nine on Billboard or something! It was our manager who approached us with the idea and we looked into it. Apparently established bands usually get funded early and that’s what happened with us. We put up a 60-day ticker and ended up with 157% of the original amount.
We had no real idea what to expect, but did think of some issues. With the current financial climate and some fans not having credit cards it could mean that some people who’d want to donate wouldn’t be able to. On the other hand, we had one call from a guy asking ‘How much do you need? I’ll fund the whole thing!’ We had to explain that wasn’t how we wanted to do things!
Overall, it gave us more control over the process and a chance to really connect with the fans. Also we own all the rights to the music we created, something we’ve never had before.We got to learn a lot about our own music and the process of making an album. When you sign a deal you just get some money, you don’t see what’s coming in and where it’s going. When you manage it yourself, you know how much everything costs. And if one part is too expensive, you can choose to take your money go with someone else.
It was a lot of work. We had to write and record, organise production, commission artwork…”
So how did you find recording the album? More relaxed than having some record company exec stood over your shoulder telling you that you had a release date to hit?
“Yeah, it was much more laid back. We recorded all the music at home [one of the band has a studio in his house] as and when we were ready to do each part. Much less pressure and I think that comes through in the music. It’s a great album.
For instance, “No More Fun” [from When The Storm Comes Down] was written in the studio because we didn’t have enough good material for the album, so we had to come up with something.”
Do you see the likes of Pledge being a threat to the larger labels, or a way for unsigned bands to get their music out there?
“No, the labels are changing the way they work to fit in with the way the industry is going. Studies show that more people want a physical copy of an album not just a download. You need contacts in press and distribution and other places before you can think about releasing an album.
For an established band, you have these, but distribution of physical copies is still expensive.”
Hence your deal with Metal Blade?
“Yeah, exactly. We’ve been with them before and they’ll handle all the distribution.”
I saw you toured North America recently with Testament. Any thoughts about Europe and the UK?
“The times with the album just didn’t work out right for us to get a European tour in now and we missed the festival schedules. We’re just hitting festival season, but there might be a couple later in the year we could get onto. Failing that, we’re looking at early 2014 to come over to Europe.”
And one final question – do you know the difference between flotsam and jetsam?
“Yes! Flotsam is just floating debris. Junk. Jetsam is stuff that’s been jettisoned or thrown overboard on purpose!”
And Kelly’s reward for full marks in the test is for me to plug the forthcoming album release via Metal Blade. Ugly Noise is out on April 12th-16th depending on which territory you’re in. The title track is below for your listening pleasure.
Huge thanks to Kelly and to Andy at Metal Blade for organising the interview.