Michael Gilbert of Flotsam and Jetsam

Flotsam and Jetsam have a new album out. The self-titled release is the thrash metal pioneers' twelfth album, and sees the band taking on new material as well as reworking demos that go all the way back to their 1988 classic No Place For Disgrace. Guitarist Michael Gilbert sat down for a chat with Gibson.com to talk about the new songs, touring, and all things Les Paul!

You’ve got a new self-titled album coming out on May 20. How was the writing process for this album? Did you come in to the studio with songs already written, or was it a case of where you wrote as a band once you were all together in the same room?

“I hear some bands that lose a vibe or some cases sound a bit disconnected because they never all gather in the same room to write songs together. What we do is write the songs before the rehearsal and really pick them apart at rehearsal time. We have a process at the beginning of creating the actual ideas where it goes into a ProTools session and gets an arrangement with scratch tracks and programmed drums just to get the idea across. From there it gets passed around and everyone adds their input on arrangements and parts. The last step is getting together and playing through them all. We had a total of 18 songs that were on the plate to pick and choose from for this record. We played through all these together in rehearsals and found the strongest songs that have the energy and all the elements that can transition over live. Sometimes songs sound great when they are tracked but just lack something when it’s completed and you run through it at rehearsal. I think it’s an essential part to see what it feels like when everyone’s at full volume and how the song’s energy translates.”

What made you guys go for a self-titled album?

“It was kinda weird how that came about. A unanimous decision among the five of us that just really seemed to work. How often does that happen...five musicians all agreeing on something? lol...We have a really solid line up of strong songwriters and after all the songs were completed it just seemed like this is the one to self title. Our record label, AFM agrees that it just made sense as well. It never seemed like a perfect time until this release. We really have all connected musically in our writing so I think the title is very appropriate.”

I listened to the world premiere of “Iron Maiden” from the upcoming album. That is some heavy stuff, but melodic at the same time.

“We kinda went old school on this. Lots of harmony guitars and classic AK vocals. This is a riff that the other guitarist Steve Conley brought in. It really shows everyone why he is a part of Flotsam. He's a great song writer and he brings a very strong old school vibe with his playing. Writing about the old torture device used in the 14th century always seems appropriate for a metal band so it came together quickly in rehearsals with the heaviness and the galloping guitars. Some songs are like that. They just kind of write themselves and this tune definitely falls into that category.”

I understand you’re a fan of Gibson, and that Les Pauls figure prominently in your live rig?

“My Les Paul Standard was described as the Unicorn guitar by a guitar builder here in Phoenix. I took it for a fret job which I was very nervous about but was much needed, and the repairman said he has never heard or played a Paul quite like that one. I can’t really explain it but I think he hit it right on the nose calling it the Unicorn. It’s an unbelievable guitar and it’s featured on everything that I have worked on since 1994. I also have a white Flying V from 1988 that is amazing. The paint has turned to a bit off white but it adds character. Just looking at it you can tell it has some stories behind it. I also found an SG Standard that I absolutely had to have. Fastest neck of any guitar and sounds great.”

Flotsam and Jetsam

It’s certainly a true testament to the versatility of the Les Paul – musicians of all genres love that Les Paul feel! What made you get a Gibson guitar initially, and when was that?

“The first real guitar I owned was a Gibson Marauder and the rest is history. Once I started on the Gibsons nothing else has matched it. […] I played the Flying V for a very long time but once I got the Les Paul it was difficult to go back to anything else. There is tons of versatility just as you said. Even to this day if I could only chose two guitars to take on the road to do shows, it would be the Les Paul and the V. No question about it. If I could only bring one...well...I would be riding the Unicorn.”

Did I hear correctly that you revisited some old demos during the recording of Flotsam and Jetsam, going all the way back to the No Place for Disgrace sessions?

“Yes, we took some stuff from way back in the day of our second record and pretty much left it as is. These were riffs that our bass player Michael Spencer had in his arsenal that were demoed but never released. A few of the lyrics changed but for the most part the songs had remained true to those days when speed metal was growing in popularity and we were evolving. I think some of the demo actually got bootlegged so there might be someone out there that has that floating around. We ended up revisiting two songs that we decided would work on this album, ‘Forbidden Territories' and ‘Legion Of The Damned.’”

Any plans for a tour in support of the new album?

“This year is going to be a busy one for us with shows. We have the festivals in Europe in the summer and South America and Australia in the works at the moment. Our agent working hard right now to get us in front of everyone this year so we can bring the show to some new places so look out for a Flotsam show coming to you very soon.”

Since this interview took place Flotsam and Jetsam have lined up a European tour that kicks off on August 12 in Villena, Spain. Visit the band's website for more info.

Do you have any favorites from the new album that you ’ re planning to include in the setlist? I imagine it’s a hard to choose what songs to play when you have twelve albums worth of material to pick from?

“The crowd favorite is the title track from our second record, No Place For Disgrace. I love playing this tune because it never fails to raise the energy level of the gig. It’s fun for me to just watch the audience because you never know what’s going to happen. Last year in Europe we had a lot of shows where the wall of death was popular. This is when the audience in front of the stage parts up the middle, and then charge at each other like two armies coming together in battle. So cool to see from the stage and NPFD never fails to spawn a pit or frenzy in front of the stage. It’s a great opener or closer for a set.”

Do you ever sit around and just play guitar for fun when you’re at home, and if so what type of music do you play?

“Always. I’m so inspired by the great players that are out there. Seriously over the top musicians that I have tons of respect for. It’s kind of gone extreme like sports has over the last decade. Remember the first front flip that was done on a motorcycle? Now it’s done all the time these days and I think guitar players are doing the same thing on their instruments. Some of these guys have taken it to a whole new level and are doing things that were not even imaginable 10 years ago just like these extreme athletes. Pretty cool stuff and I think it gives players motivation and a goal to achieve. Lately I’ve been working on Modal stuff. It’s hard to apply it to F and J but I really am inspired by what you can do with it.”

Finally, tying in with the previous question, what bands do you listen to at home? Anything that will surprise all the metal fans out there?

“Probably... I do listen to a lot of metal but my iTunes has some stuff that would surprise you I think. Bonamassa is a source of inspiration for me as well as former Megadeth [guitarist] Chris Poland. I love John Mayer’s bluesy style and tone and his percussive fingerpicking is totally badass. Frank Gambale, DiMeola, anything from the 80s, and I'm into a lot of the Techno Metal.....The list goes on and on. This afternoon was a steady dose of the Dave Matthews Band followed by some Slipknot. Music is playing 24/7 at my house weather is Sirius' Coffee House or Liquid Metal or whatever, but it’s always on.”

Live photo: Julien Chazeeaubenit