Blood In The Water, the new album by speed thrash legends Flotsam and Jetsam is obviously one of the highlights of 2021 so far, as you have recently read in the Lee Vickers penned review here. Thanks to Afm Records, Stoyan Tsonev got the opportunity for a phone talk with drums mastermind Ken Mary.
Hello, Ken! It is always a pleasure to end the work day with a talk with one of your musical heroes. First of all, congratulations for the fantastic new Flotsam and Jetsam album. Did you already have the chance to check up some reviews?
–Yes, we’ve been looking at some of the reviews and some of the band response and so far we’ve been very, very happy about the way the album is being received. It seems the people are definitely getting it and enjoying it, so we are very excited about that.
Our website will publish the review of Blood In The Water in a few days and Lee is insisting on doing this review, but in my opinion, this is probably, if not the best in your career, then surely among the top three albums of Flotsam and Jetsam. It is really a fantastic work.
-Oh, thank you very much! We kind of feel that way too. We were very concerned trying to follow up The End Of Chaos, which we think was a very strong record. And we felt concerned, because we put so much into that album, we poured ourselves into that record, and this new one, with Covid, and all that stuff, it brought up a lot of emotions out of us and we put a lot of feeling in the new record. I think you can feel it – it’s a very aggressive album that never lets up. We are very excited about how the fans have been receiving it. You never know how it will be received, you can only hope. This is what we did for The End Of Chaos too – we tried to make the songs that we would love ourselves. And if we really like it, then hopefully we can find 7 million people that can agree with us, hahaha!
There is a line-up change in the bass guitar department. So, how did Bill (Bodily, also of Contrarian) end up in Flotsam?
–Well, Bill toured with us extensively in the United States, since 2017, I think. He actually toured with the band before I was in it, working with Flotsam on and off for many years. So it was a very easy transition, a very natural progression and Bill is a fantastic player and a very nice guy, so it went very, very smoothly.
Ken, the band has been on the rise with quality music since 2016’s eponymous album. So, this gradation in quality continues with Blood In The Water. Is there any particular reason, for you, for this inspirational period in the last five years?
-I’m not sure you can put any finger on anything specifically, I just think there is a chemistry going on within the band in terms of writing. Steve Conley brought in something new, then I also brought something new into the writing, Bill as well and when you bring all of us together it is somehow really working. When you work in a band it’s like a family – how every member contributes has a lot to do with how the end result comes out and this was truly a team effort. I’ve been involved in many albums with many bands and this album really comes forward as a team effort. As far as why it’s different, I am not sure, but as a fan of Flotsam for years, I really love the first two albums and then these last three albums. I’m trying to pull myself outside of it to say that but I’ve worked on many records and usually, by the end of an album, you never want to hear it again, because you’ve heard the songs like 200 times, assembling and putting everything together. And this new album I still enjoy listening to, which is amazing and incredible, considering how many times I’ve heard it!
Ha, this is really nice to hear. Blood In The Water, as you just pointed out, sounds really aggressive, with a crushing production and the rhythm section sounding particularly impressive. Can you tell us more about the recording process, especially in these times of the pandemic. Was it recorded with the whole band in the studio, or you tried something else?
-It was a bit more difficult to get that done. When we started, we had to work separately, because we were in the middle of the pandemic and we also have family members in their late eighties and we had to protect our families. We bounced ideas back and forth and when it came to recording the vocals, that was done in my studio – I have a world class SSL recording studio. AK would be in the tracking room and I would be in the control room, looking at each other through the glass, so that was the only time we saw each other, haha! So yeah, we had to do a lot of remote work and through Skype, but I don’t think it affected us in the way everybody contributed their elements and parts. It was a continuation of the same chemistry we had recording The End Of Chaos. As far as why it turned so aggressive, I think that was a factor of all the things that are going on in the world. We all felt a lot of emotions that we poured onto the album.
The new album is musically really rich and rewarding for the listener, after repeated listens. It combines really aggressive tracks like Blood In The Water, Brace For Impact, Grey Dragon, with some melodic, almost US power metal stuff like The Walls or Cry For The Dead. It is really varied and with lots of musical details. How is the process of “fleshing out” the songs going in the Flotsam camp? Who comes up with the initial idea?
-It’s really varied. Most of the times, Steve or Michael comes in with the basic idea of the song and then AK would add his parts and sometimes I would write some vocals and lyrics. A song like 7 Seconds, for example, I have written on keyboards and when I brought it to the band I wasn’t even sure it was gonna be a Flotsam song. I did all the vocals and melodies and all of that on keyboards and then Steve threw some guitars on it and I presented it to the band and we even had so much material written for the album so far. But Michael and AK heard it said we had to get this on the album. So it’s a variety of the ways things work. Some songs are done by AK and Mike, others are done with me and AK or me and Steve. Everybody is contributing different sections and parts. I know I keep saying the word “chemistry” but there isn’t no other way to describe it. The band I’ve worked with, there is usually a guy who is the main writer, but on this record, there’s a lot of contributions from everybody, so it really was, what I call the epitome of a team effort.
Ken, I am happy that I have the chance to talk with you because you are a legendary name in the music business in your own right. So, can you tell us what was the period in your career you are most proud of, before you joined Flotsam?
-Oh, that’s really tough to say, because I’ve been involved with so many amazing artists and great players over the years. Of course, Alice Cooper rises high on the list, he is a Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame, legendary performer, and I certainly treasure my time working with Alice. I also enjoyed my time in House Of Lords and of course working with Accept, Chris Impellitteri and David Chastain and… I could go on, haha. It is very difficult to name one thing as to what you think is your highest achievement, but those I mentioned are certainly highlights. I also worked with Don Dokken on a record, so there’s a lot of different experiences that I’ve had and I have enjoyed all of them.
When there was an option of two of the band members I could choose from to interview, there was no doubt for me, because I couldn’t miss the chance to also ask a question about one of my favorite bands – Fifth Angel. So, Ken, what is currently going on with Fifth Angel?
-Well, we’ve done some writing and some recording and we’re just talking to the label right now about what they want to do and when they want to do it. It’s funny you said that, because Fifth Angel – I totally blanked on that. I’ve worked on so many things I’m starting to already forget some, hahaha! But Fifth Angel – that’s my high school band, that’s the first record I ever did, so that’s another great experience and a great teacher for me too, because the first Fifth Angel album taught me lessons that I carried through all my life. So, right now, we are on a writing mode and we have some strong material and hopefully it will come out in 2022.
Fingers crossed about that. I want to ask you if there’s a difference in the percussion equipment and drum sets you use with different bands, for example with Fifth Angel and with Flotsam and Jetsam?
-Well, it hasn’t been much difference in terms of equipment. I’m still with Pearl drums, which I’ve been using with even Alice Cooper and House Of Lords. So there’s not much of a difference in the set up or equipment, I’ve been pretty consistent through the years. One thing that differs is the thickness of the cymbals – these days I use thinner cymbals, just cause I think they sound a little bit better. But it is basically very similar to what I used in the eighties in terms of how the drum set is arranged.
You forgot something – you tend to play just a little bit faster in Flotsam, right?
-Hahaha. No, I actually play a LOT faster in Flotsam, hahaha. It’s a lot of fun, you know. I’ve been a fan for years and they asked me to help out on a European tour and I said “sure” because the music is so much fun to play. I really love the opportunity to play a lot faster and to play freely. The thing I love about Flotsam is every musician is playing like crazy. You’ve got crazy guitars, bass lines and vocals and crazy drumming and somehow it all works together and I can’t even tell you how. We are all playing stuff all over the place and somehow it still works musically and it’s a very odd thing. When you break it down and see how much stuff every musician is playing, it seems like it would be way too much and yet somehow musically it all works together, makes sense and sounds cool! It’s a very unique band and I think the music is very exciting.
It is, Ken, indeed it is! So, finally, I have to ask you how is the Covid situation in the US and is there a light in the tunnel and a chance to promote the new album live?
-In the United States thing are a little more open now than in Europe I think. We are already starting to have some shows with social distancing. We are talking of maybe doing a short run of shows in the US in August and then we are supposed to be in Europe with Accept in January 2022. We’ll see what will happen, everybody’s watching very carefully, but certainly that’s the plan anyway.
*Ken Mary cover photo by Tiffany Peters