Flotsam & Jetsam are very much alive and about in the world of metal, three decades into their career. Drummer Kelly David-Smith connects with long-time Flotz fan Philippe on Skype to answer a few questions about the new album, Jason Newsted and the good, olde days.
Kelly: Hi, Philippe. How are you ?
Philippe: Hi, Kelly. Good morning I should say. Thank you very much to be here for powerofmetal.dk. We are metal and music fans, not professional journalists.
Kelly: OK. Awesome!
Philippe: «The Cold» is for me a real bomb full of killing riffs and fantastic songs. After a few listens I feel that «Ugly Noise» is more direct, more get to the point , and perfect for live performances. Can you describe «Ugly Noise»?
Kelly: «Ugly Noise» was exactly what you said : getting to the point, getting to the song. When you look at stuff we did like on «Drift», «Cuatro» and previously, there was leads over vocals, many music parts on each other, where everybody shines at the same time.
«Ugly Noise» is more about writing direct and memorable songs; when Eric A.K. is singing there is no lead, bass solo or drum solo.
Philippe: You are one of the founding members of Flotsam & Jetsam. Michael Gilbert and you took a long break after «High» in 1997. What did you do?
Kelly: When I left the band my life had a lot of things that needed to be worked on. I was recently divorced. My son was 4-5 years old and I didn't have time to know him that well because of the music stuff. I didn't have much of a life outside of music.
There was a lot of things that happened in that time. My father passed away. My sister commited suicide.
So I took the time to rebuild my life. I have a family now, four kids, another career which helps when I can't do music.
After I left it wasn't my place to come back and say «OK, I'm ready». Craig Nielsen had a position and I wasn't about to challenge that. I just kept in contact with the guys and when Eric A.K. called me to rejoin the band, I said «Let's go».
Philippe: Did Mark Simpson and Craig Nielsen decide to stop?
Kelly: Mark Simpson left before Craig did, both in a friendly way. Eric asked Mike Gilbert to come back as the original guy for probably the last Flotsam & Jetsam record.
It was also Eric's concept when he came to me. But from this point the perspective changed : we kind of reenergized from «Ugly Noise». We have already started to write songs for a new record. The engine is definitely not down.
Philippe: So Michael and you are now back for good?
Kelly: I hope. As long as people like you, fans like you keep coming back, we're here.
Philippe: What are your feelings here a couple of days before «Ugly Noise» release? Are you nervous?
Kelly: Oh, no. I am excited. We released actually the record in December through Pledge Music. The reactions we had so far from the fans have been really good. I think we got 95% of positive responses. We had recently a tour with Testament and Overkill and fans were actually singing some of the new songs.
Philippe: How did Jason Newsted collaborate on the composition of the new songs?
Kelly: Initially we had many songs in a can. Jason came out and jammed with us on «Doomsday for the Deceiver»'s stuff. We had a lot of fun. We set up some music together. He wrote lyrics for a couple of songs.
Philippe: Speaking of Jason: did you listen to his new material? And if so, what do you think of it?
Kelly: I have only heard one song. I mean it's what Jason has always wanted to be and do. To me it sounds like Motörhead a little bit. I'm glad he has found something for himself, to satisfy his needs. Everything he has done has always been for somebody else. In Flotsam there was still four other guys with an opinion. In Metallica he didn't really have the possibility to have an opinion. It was always somebody else's band, in Voivod, even in Echobrain. I hope is going to find what he's looking for.
Philippe: The creation of «Ugly Noise» has been linked to Pledge Music in order to involve more of your fans and also to help Children’s Miracle Network. Can you tell me a little bit more about it?
Kelly: We never owned our records or had the rights, and that's the case for many bands. It was important for Mike and me when we rejoined to see what was going on for the band. Pledge Music gives us the possibility to own our music and to control what happens with our music. The other goal was to reestablish links with our fans, to regain the connection with them, to talk to them, to answer their questions.
Pledge Music gives also the possibility to donate a part of the fans' pledge to a charity organization. Most charities like Red Cross you don't know where that money is going. We chose Children’s Miracle Network because they raise funds for children hospital in every cities in the United States and the money goes to the hospital in the area where the money was raised (here, to Phoenix Children Hospital), in order to cover the medical expenses and attentions the kids need. It goes to a local cause and it is a kind of win-win deal.
Pledge Music was actually launched in England [by Benji Rogers, an independent musician from London – the ed]. When we started with them there was 52 other bands. It's spreading. I know B.B. King has done a re-release of a bunch of its stuff (Nb: B.B. King's Career Spanning Boxed Set).
Some bands are working with other crowd funding platforms, like kickstarter, which is not as specific as Pledge Music, with anything from starting a business to video creating. Kickstarter is more for new bands, Pledge Music more for established bands.
Philippe: Your career spans over more than 30 years. What are you the most proud of? Do you have any regrets?
Kelly: As far as «Ugly Noise» there are no regrets. We are proud of everything we've done for this record, the first one where everything about it has been done by us: the cover, the music, the liner notes... To me it's our best record.
Philippe: I would to like to stay a bit in the past, before going back to present and future. Can you give me three words that spring to mind when I show you...
Kelly: Samurai. Classic. No Place... more than three words but...
Philippe: … that's ok (laughs).
When the Storm Comes Down - 1990
Philippe: High - 1997
Unnatural Selection - 1999 and My God - 2001
Different - Mark Simpson - I like the song «My God».
Arizona and Norway connect via Skype for a metal talk...
Arizona and Norway connect via Skype for a metal talk...
Philippe: I have also this (shows «Once in a Deathtime»). Can we expect a new DVD soon?
Kelly: We have a possible video shoot coming up here within a month or so, from the show we had in Phoenix. Our plan is also to use footages recorded during the tour with Testament and Overkill. You can expect a DVD release in a near future. I can't say when or what the title is, but that's in our plans.
Philippe: I have already pre-ordered «Ugly Noise». I guess the majority of metal fans prefer a CD in a nice digipack to mp3 files, just like me. What do you think of the internet and the download revolution?
Kelly: Initially it was a kind of a threat. Many people think the downloads and the sharing things are no big deals, but when a kid recorded a song from a CD to a cassette, it didn't go to a thousand or million people. Now it is possible with one click.
The benefit today for me is that people are getting our music. Based on location, availability, it is true that not everybody can get music through stores. As long they can get our music that's great, that means we get more fans, more fans come to the shows, and we can maybe become a bigger band. We want to grow. When the people come to the show, when they buy something, they support us. It is what we do and want to do for a living. Everybody has to earn money to make a living. If you love Flotsam and our music that helps us out, you know.
Philippe: I was a teenager when Flotsam & Jetsam, Testament, Death Angel, Exodus, Kreator, Voivod, Megadeth, Anthrax, Metallica, Slayer and many more came into my life. All of these bands are still there and always by my side, you could say, with new records and shows. Do you think you are survivors or is metal a cure for old age, sickness and death?
Kelly: (Laughs) It is not just metal, but music saved my life. When I got my drum set at eleven years old, there was stuff going on in my life. Children have to deal with bullies at school, parents' divorce... They can have a lot of pain unfortunately. When I put on my headphones when I was a kid and started to play Kiss, Judas Priest or April Wine, that made me able to leave my house, my situation, to dream and gave me hope. Music is the cure for everything to me.
Philippe: I couldn't agree more. I have seen all the bands I mentioned before live many times. I have never had the chance to see your shows, though. Will you come back to Europe soon?
Kelly: We missed the Europe schedule for festivals. We are hoping we can plan something for the end of the year and probably for 2014, because «Ugly Noise» needs a little time to sink in. We will get better opportunities next year to jump on festivals in a good position.
Philippe: Overkill is coming soon near my place, at Grimstad (Bluebox, 3. May, 2013). I was hoping to see you there...
Kelly: No, the tour was already planned, you know.
Philippe: You should come to the south of Norway. We have here in Arendal a great festival, Hovefestivalen, in the end of June, beginning of July, with all kind of music styles.
Kelly: I would love to. I am Irish, English and Norwegian. I don't know where from in Norway. I have to ask my mum who has done all the research.
Philippe: As musician, especially as drummer, can you tell me about your influences?
Kelly: I grew up with Neil Peart, my main inluence throughout all time.
Philippe: Rush is actually another band I dream of seeing live.
Kelly: The first time I saw Rush was on «Permanent Waves» tour. April Wine's drummer Jerry Mercer. When it comes to metal: Charlie Benante, Dave Lombardo, people like that.
Philippe: Do you follow the new metal scene? Are you impressed by some youngster bands?
Kelly: Truthfully there are very few right now. In the 90s, big labels were around to find kind of alternative metal bands, playing what I call «cookie monster» metal with growling and barking I am not a big fan of. There's a few I love like Slipknot or Stone Sour. I love the classics like Slayer.
To me, I can tell the difference because of the vocals. I grew up in a time when each band had a distinct singer, very easy to tell who was singing: Scorpions, MSG, Y & T, Motörhead, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden. Today I don't see that, I don't see a lot of diversity. There wasn't forty categories of metal: you played heavy metal.
Philippe: In a way it is a kind of easy for you to say when you have one of the best metal singers in the world (laughs). I love Eric A.K.'s fantastic voice.
Kelly: Thank you very much. I'll tell him.
Philippe: Thank you very much again, Kelly, say hello to the other Flotsam guys and good luck.
Kelly: Thanks to you. Bye, Philippe.
Interviewed by Philippe Leconte