About Me

Interview with Flotsam and Jetsam

When talking about Thrash Metal, the first names that come up are frequently Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax or Megadeth. Or maybe Death Angel, Overkill, Kreator and Destruction. There is, however, one name that is frequently underrated but has certainly left a deep and unmistakable mark. That would be Flotsam and Jetsam, of course. They released a new album this June called “Blood in the Water” and we took this opportunity to talk to drummer Ken Mary (ex-ACCEPT & ALICE COOPER).

M.I. - Hi Ken, thank you so much for granting us this interview, it’s a great pleasure for all of us here at the Metal Imperium team, how are you holding up against this COVID-19 virus that has been ravaging every country so far? 

Hi! Well, we’re doing fairly well in Arizona, which is where I live, where we had some of the worst cases per capita in the World, and I have tons and tons of friends who have had it and have gotten sick. Most of them were sick for a few days and were fine. It had a very different response in every person, but we’ve been holding up well and no one in my immediate family has gotten it. So, so far, we’ve been good.

M.I. - So, no cases in the band?

Actually, we did have cases in the band. Mike Gilbert and Steve Conley had it. They both did okay, Mike told me it took him about 5 weeks before he felt really good again; Steve was sick for a few days, and he was okay. His girlfriend though couldn’t get off the couch for like 2 weeks, it was pretty rough on her. The singer’s mom, for example, was in the hospital for 8 weeks, she had a very bad bout, but she’s older as well, which makes it more difficult.

M.I. - I believe all the lockdown restrictions have been heavy for all of us during the last year. What have you been doing during those times? How have you kept yourself busy during the lockdown periods?

That’s interesting, because it hasn’t been a problem staying busy (laughs). We had a record to do, and I think a lot of the things we had about COVID ended up in the record to a large degree. There’s a great deal of anger, a great deal of angst, there’s some sadness, there’s some different emotions that certainly pushed through on to the record. Honestly, it makes for a very powerful album, it may have helped our record be more than what it would’ve been in my opinion.

M.I. - I believe “Cry for the Dead” may have something to do with it, right?

It does, yeah, well, I mean you’d have to talk to AK, those are his lyrics, but from what I understand, that’s exactly what he’s talking about. He’s talking about that you can’t go on without the ones that you love, and we certainly know a lot of people that have lost a lot of loved ones in 2021, regardless of whether it was COVID or not. There’s been a lot of people that passed on and I had some very good friends of mine (two of them) that passed on and neither case was COVID. But it’s sad to say goodbye no matter what the reason is. And for my close friends, I can tell you this: I do miss them very, very much. Every day I wake up and I’m like “wow, I can’t talk to that person anymore”, I can’t say “Hey, you know, let’s meet at the studio” or whatever, and you just can’t do that anymore, it’s an odd feeling.

M.I. - I’m sorry to hear that. Alright, talking about something more cheerful, so, “Blood in the Water” is the title for the new album, released this June, tell us all about it, how hyped are you about the release and what can you tell us about it?

Well, we’re very excited about it. “Blood in the Water” is the title track of the record and it’s probably one of the most aggressive Flotsam songs ever. It’s about 220 beats a minute, it’s sort of a “smash you in the face” kind of song and the whole record is sort of like that, except for the one song you mentioned “Cry for the Dead”. There’s one song of that, and then there’s 11 that will pound you into the ground. And it wasn’t necessarily something we planned, it just came out and it was very aggressive, but again, what I can tell you is that we really poured our thoughts, emotions and all of our being into it. We didn’t put anything on the album that we didn’t love. I mean, we had a lot of songs for this record and we could have made it a 20-song album if we wanted to, we had a lot of extra material, a lot of extra songs, but that’s pretty much what we did on the album “The End of Chaos” as well, which was very successful, so we wanted to follow that same formula with this album. When I say formula, I mean the formula of not putting anything on that you don’t personally love. We look at it like this: if we don’t love it, why should anybody else love it, you know? We do music that we love, that we feel is powerful, that represents the band and the music well and, hopefully, we have a million fans that agree (laughs).

M.I. - Exactly, I mean, we actually had the chance to listen to the new album, and I have to say it was quite a pleasant experience with great, fast, solid and very melodic tracks like “Walls”, “Burn the Sky” and, of course, “Blood in the Water” to name a few. What inspired you to create this new album?

Like we talked about already, we all went through a very weird period, you know? We weren’t able to tour, we weren’t able to reach out to the fans, except over the Internet, of course – but it’s a very different thing for us. We had a year worth of dates that were cancelled and that was a very difficult thing, because we’re not just used to staying at home for that long, so it was a change, and we just figured “well, we’re home, so why don’t we take all of this emotion and just put it into this record?”. So, for us I think that’s how it affected us, it made us really take the time and spend some time making what, hopefully, people consider some great music. I mean, hopefully everyone loves it as much as we do.

M.I. - Is there any track you like a bit more than all the others? Any favorites?

Well, it’s really tough to say. There are certain songs in which I was more involved and there’s some songs we took some chances on. There’s a song called “7 Seconds to the End of the World” which is the last track of the album and that’s something I brought in on keyboards and then had Steve Conley put down the guitars and it was a song I took some chances, put some orchestration in. I mean, I did some orchestration on other songs too, but I think that’s the first time there’s ever been keys, vocals and orchestration, so we took some chances there. I love “Blood in the Water”, “Brace for Impact”, “Burn the Sky”, “Cry for the Dead”. I mean, if I’m being 100% honest, there are no songs on this record that I don’t enjoy listening to. And that’s unusual for me, because I’ve been involved in so many songs on so many records, and usually when you’re done with the album you don’t want to hear it ever again, and this is one of the albums that I’ve worked on and played on, and helped write…
You know, by the time you’re done recording, you’ve heard it several hundred times (laughs). It’s easy to get sick of it and I still enjoy listening to it. So that just shows you that I really love the music, I love the tracks and I love what was created.

M.I. - As far as we can tell, Flotsam and Jetsam have released 2 videos, one for “Burn the Sky” and the other for “Blood in the Water”. What reactions have you been getting for the videos? Are there any plans to release any more videos in a near future? 

Yeah, we have recently released “Brace for Impact”. Honestly, the reactions have been incredible, and the fans really seem to love and connect with this album, and I think it’s because of its sheer aggression. I mean, for a metal album, it’s an aggressive record. I’ve heard a lot of metal records in my time, and this is one of the most aggressive I think I’ve heard. I mean it’s a very “in your face” sort of album that never lets up, and I think the fans love that. So far, the reaction has been incredible, we’ve had incredible comments just talking about how amazing the songs are, so yeah, so far it has been super positive, which is amazing.

M.I. - I bet you’re pretty stoked to get the show on the road and start promoting “Blood in the Water” with some live performances. Are there any dates already scheduled or is COVID still stopping you from playing live?

Things are starting to open up a bit in the States, and we’ve talked a little bit about doing some shows like a short run – maybe ten days, two weeks or three weeks, something like that – in the United States. We have been talking with our agent overseas, and from what we understand (maybe you can tell me about your country), it seems things are still very locked down. Is that pretty much the case?

M.I. - Yeah, it is. So far, in Portugal, the restrictions have been getting lifted a bit, step by step, but we’re still pretty much restricted everywhere. I mean, I’ve seen some live shows with people wearing masks and just sitting in their chair, and it’s a really different kind of vibe in my opinion, but it’s possible. I think we still need to see how it progresses.

Yeah, that’s what we’re kind of looking at. We have thought about maybe January 2022 and that should be the start of some touring, but right now the agents are still concerned about it, so we’re not completely sure if that’s going to happen or not. I guess we’ll see, and we’ll be watching carefully to see how everything goes.

M.I. - Actually, one of the last live shows I’ve seen was one that featured Flotsam and Jetsam, back in September 2018, in Porto. It featured Overkill and Destruction as well. I don’t know if you remember that one?

Yeah, I do! Such beautiful city! I remember it very well, we went to dinner, there was a restaurant on the waterfront, there was a big bridge we walked over. Such a beautiful country and I do remember the show actually, just because it’s a city that stuck out on the tour because of its beauty. We’ve been around all parts of Europe, and I even told my wife “When it’s time to retire, maybe we might want to look at Porto”, you know?

M.I. - Really? (laughs)

I’m not joking! I’m totally serious! I mean, you have beaches, a beautiful ocean, the waterfront, it was incredible, and people were so nice, which, you know, in the United States it’s not always like that. Depending on where you’re at, it might be a completely different thing. But we definitely appreciated the city, and the people… great country!

M.I. - And it was an amazing show, great performances, it was a truly electrifying atmosphere. I was there with my girlfriend and a couple of friends, great, great night. What memories do you have from playing here in Portugal? Any plans to play here again anytime soon?

We certainly would love to play there. That’s the whole thing… we would love to play all the time (laughs), but yeah would love to be there as soon as possible but it’s not always up to us. That is the only problem. Sometimes it has to do with other factors, like which tours you get to be on and what bands are you going to be playing with and when they’re going to tour, all these kinds of things. If it was up to us, we would be there now!

M.I. - Speaking about Destruction, this is something we’ve asked Schmier sometime ago, but since you’re here, now I’m asking you the same question, a question that has been debated by fans for ages, but… what would you consider to be the biggest difference that separates the German Thrash Metal vs the American Thrash Metal?

Well, that’s a good question! I’m not really sure that I feel that they’re that different. I feel like, in terms of the music, we’re kind of brothers, you know what I mean? We all have the same influences and some of the same things in terms of the aggression of the music. I’m not sure what the difference is, what did Schmier say about it?

M.I. - Well, he was kind of joking about it. What he really said – and I quote – it was that “the German Thrash Metal did not sell out”. But he said that respectfully! (laughs)

(Laughs) That’s a funny thing to say! Well, I don’t think Flotsam have sold out, I mean we have been very aggressive the entire career, especially in the last three albums. I think that my favorite Flotsam albums are the first two and the last three, but if you look at where the band is now – and I’m saying this as a Flotsam fan, even though it’s obviously difficult to take yourself out since you’re a part of it – I know what music I like and I do think that Flotsam is making the best music of its career. The last three are some of the best Flotsam albums ever. I love the first two as well, but these last three, if anything, I think the band has been ramping it up. It seems to me that it’s getting better.

M.I. - Now about you in particular, you have actually embraced the challenge to be a part of Flotsam and Jetsam precisely in 2017, how have been these last 4 years with the band and how has been to work with the guys and how have you been fitting in?

It’s been really great, I think it’s a family. And like with any family, sometimes you have little spats and we’re no different. We’re a band with a lot of strong opinion and ideas, so once in a while we fight, but we’re brothers and I think I fit in extremely well. I mean, I come from the same era as these guys, I was influenced by the same bands and for me it was very easy. We even are from the same area – Arizona – except for Bill, he’s from Pennsylvania. The way I see it, we’re all brothers and brothers fight, but not that often and most of the time we have a great time together and we have a great time touring, and we like being around each other, writing together and performing. So, if you ask anybody, we’ll fight for each other, take care of each other…we’re a gang, a gang of guys (laughs).

M.I. - You have a very impressive resumé, having worked with Alice Cooper, Accept and Fifth Angel. What would you consider to be your proudest achievement so far?

That’s always a tough one. It’s a tough thing to say because there are so many great moments for every band I’ve been in. There are so many projects, so many great players… it’s really difficult for me to point out my crowning achievement or something like that. I mean, I have really enjoyed all of the different bands I have worked in and all the different people that I have worked with. I have been very blessed with time with these people, and I even met some of the best friends, some of my great friends are musicians and we’re long-life friends because of the bands we worked in, so I am not able to pinpoint an achievement in particular.

M.I. - Flotsam and Jetsam are considered legends in the industry just as well. After so many years in the business, where do you find the creativity to keep going?

That’s a great question. In Flotsam, I think that the energy sort of comes from each other. There’s always a spark that starts the writing process, then the whole band works in the process, and it turns into something that we either go with it or throw it away. So, I think that the thing that really keeps the fires burning, so to speak, is really just the energy from the other members, everybody has their artistic input, and everybody is bringing something to the table, so it’s very easy to get inspired in an environment where somebody can bring in something and it’s great! I think that’s really the key, just working with each other and being inspired by what everybody is bringing to the table, and I think that’s part of the magic of what happened in the last couple of records.

M.I. - So, the writing process really is something that flows very well…

It is! I’m going to be honest. Some people always say “Oh, this was a hard album, we had to work so hard, and it was so difficult”. And with us it’s not like that at all (laughs)! These ideas just start flowing and then people take them and add things, coming up with things to enhance them. It’s not a long process, I mean we did this very and the last album very quickly! So, I think that for us, so far, the chemistry between this group of guys is kind of special. Like, I’ve been in a lot of bands, and I do think that the chemistry that’s involved in this is something that is very unique, and it just seems to flow, and it just does not seem to be difficult, which is a bit unusual. I mean, making any album, there’s usually songs that are a fight that you need to work at and that’s just not this band, I mean this band just flows and there’s great chemistry.

M.I. - Is there any other goal left to achieve for you as a band?

Absolutely! I mean, we feel like Flotsam has been one of those bands that, just like you said, is legendary and that everybody knows about it. But, it’s one of those bands that has been around for a very long time and maybe there are some bands out there that had their day in the sun, like Megadeth, Anthrax, Metallica, Testament, and you go down the list and you find so many bands that started at the same time that have really had their day in the sun, so we’re hoping that Flotsam is going to be like Motorhead for example. Like, Motorhead was always iconic, they were always legendary, but they didn’t really have a huge or massive success until the end of their career, that’s when they really started to take off, and we’re hoping that with Flotsam is going to be the same thing.

M.I. - As one of the hard-working metal musicians in the industry, it’s easy to imagine you as a role model for many young drummers out there, what would you like to tell them? What do they need to get to your level?

I think that one thing is to always respect the music. I think that happens when you start out, you know. I’ve never auditioned for a band yet that I haven’t gotten the gig, and that’s because I respect the music and I know the music when I walk in. I learn the songs and I spend time getting to know the music from the band and getting familiar with what the band is about and what the people are like. So, the important thing to do is, first of all, be good at your craft, spend the time and get great at what you do, and then aside from that is to really pay attention; when you’re in a new project, a new musical group, learn the songs, take the time and be able to play stuff. I mean, when I’m playing the old material, I try to get close to what Kelly did on the early albums, because that’s being respectful to the music. And it’s the same with the new songs, so just be respectful with the band that you’re in and try to do your absolute best. Those are the things that I would try to pass on.

M.I. - Ken, I know that live shows may still be a bit far off, but we are certainly eager to see you on our stages again. Is there anything would like to say to all our fans in Portugal?

Yes, I miss you all and who knows, I may move there! Maybe retiring in Porto! Just tell the fans that we love them, we miss them and that we really hope they enjoy this new record!

M.I. - Alright, thank you so much for your time, congratulations on the new album, it sounds great! It’s been a huge honor. Hope to see you soon, cheers!

Thank you much, it was an honor to do the interview, and thank for taking the time to do that! Have a great day!

For Portuguese version, click here

Interview by João Guevara