THE FLOWER KINGS (Roine Stolt) INTERVIEW
There is a rumour that has been circulating over the years about how warm and pleasant of an interviewee Roine Stolt is – something I was really looking forward to finding out for myself. What better occasion than to talk to the Swedish guitar maestro during the promotional tour of a new The Flower Kings album – the hotly anticipated and truly rewarding musical journey entitled “Banks Of Eden” which will become available mid-June. Following an invitation from Inside Out to come to their nicely located London offices, I met with Roine to talk about all things related to The Flower Kings, dissect to death the definition of “Progressive Rock” and finally to discover that the above-mentioned rumour was indeed very true…
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis
• Hi, Roine. It is a real pleasure having you here in the UK promoting a new The Flower Kings album, especially since it has been a good five years that we have been waiting for it. I am not telling you off, by the way: you have been quite busy these last few years, both in terms of recording music and touring the world. Anyway, welcome back as a member of The Flower Kings.
Roine: Yes (laughs)…I think I already said this earlier today that, looking from the outside and with ‘labels’ in mind, most people say “Ok, The Flower Kings are making another album” or “now Roine is working with Transatlantic” but for me it is pretty much the same, you know? It is different songs, different conditions as far as touring and releasing albums but being in the middle of it it’s…to me it is all the same type of music and my roles in most of these bands are kind of similar: I play the guitar, I sometimes sing and I sometimes write music – sometimes more, sometimes less. So, I think that the main reason for stopping The Flower Kings for that period of time was in order to not fall into the routine of making a new album and doing a new tour each and every year, just for the sake of doing it, you know? I did not want to experience the feeling of getting inside the tour bus thinking “what is happening now – do I want to do this or am I doing it because someone else expects me to do it”? It is at that point that the fun disappears and it becomes like any everyday job. I think that it was probably the right time for us doing it and when we decided to put it on ice for a while, at that point I didn’t know that just a couple of weeks later I would get a call from Neal Morse saying “hey guys, how would you feel about doing a new Transatlantic album”? At the time I said, I think I even joked about with Neal, and said that it must have been the work of God, you know (laughs)?
• That is a good thing that you clarified this and I believe that you will appreciate why some of your fans were pretty baffled by what was happening during that time. The expression “putting on ice” is a terrifying one for any fan, you know?
Roine: It is but I suppose that it is terrifying because you do not say “we are going to stop” or “we are going to put it on ice for a year”. By simply saying “we are putting it on ice” you may mean that you may come back in ten years from now or may not come back at all. I can appreciate that as when The Beatles stopped, I don’t even know if I was thinking back in the day in those very terms but it really felt like things had come to an end and that they were never going to play together again and that was kind of a sad day for me when I found that out, you know? Same thing happened when Peter Gabriel said that he was leaving Genesis; I remember thinking “Ok, these guys will never play together again”. I do think, however, that it is a very different thing looking from the outside than looking in such a situation from the inside, because from the inside you see everything much clearer as you are experiencing things on a daily basis. The fans pick up your album, they go and buy tickets for your show and they do listen and enjoy your music, of course, but the rest of the year and the rest of the time they do other things like go skiing or bowling or even go to the pub with their friends so you could say that we are a tiny little part of their everyday reality or their universe. For me it is like The Flower Kings’ ‘universe’ is a 24/7 experience and if you come to a point when you cannot stand it anymore or you lack the necessary motivation to do things then I believe that it would be very destructive to just keep doing it for the sake of doing this or for the sake of not letting the fans down. I think that, looking back now, it seems like it was the perfect decision to make – at least to me.
• That begs the next question which is this: when the time came for you to get back together with the rest of the guys and say “Ok, now it is time to create a new The Flower Kings album” what was it that changed in your circumstances and psychology that led you to that decision?
Roine: I believe that one of the main factors was simply ‘time’… like…family; you’re home with your family and sometimes you get annoyed with your kids, sometimes you get annoyed with your wife and once you are away, whether on tour or on a business trip, you look at the whole thing in a different light,. You know? You are missing people that you haven’t seen for a while and sometimes you look at them in a different light and I think that as far as playing in the band it is a very intense experience. We may not be working 365 days a year but we do work at least 200 days a year and that is enough – that is a lot of time to spend with the same group of people experiencing all the good things and all the band things and after a while you start to, you know, get annoyed about all the things that do not happen or the shortcomings or whatever difficulties appear when you are working together. Sometimes it is not easy being so close with other people, wanting something completely different or having another opinion. Sometimes you don’t even get an opinion; you get the opinion six months later like in “I told you that you should not have done this like that” and then it is you that gets pissed off saying things like “you should have told me right away”…it is just the way it works whether being in a band or whether you are working in an office. There are always going to be clashes between people with them wanting to do things their own way and you wanting to do things differently. So I think that for band to be able to work together, there’s got to be a, I would say, some kind of motivation that is not entirely money-driven. It’s got to be the type of motivation that is totally focused on the music itself and if things are done for the right reasons then what will probably come out will end up being good music. So, anyway, this is one of the reasons. The other possible reason is that…I think that it’s possible that once you go and make new albums every year and you go on tour every year then people become spoiled – the fans will start taking you for granted. Fans expect a new album every year, they expect a new tour and then you’ve got to do something very spectacular next time in order to get them excited. Suddenly you come to a point that you can play your best songs, you can make tour best album, you can end up playing better than you ever did before but they will still not be satisfied because they will expect something even more spectacular. Then you have come to a point where the dynamics and the chemistry between the audience and the band doesn’t work in full and the only way to end such a relationship that’s sort of ‘gone wrong’ is to say that you stop, you know? I imagine then…just imagine that a band like The Beatles, if they had released more albums, where things would have ended up, you know? What about the twelfth or the fifteenth album, you know? Could they go on and still be very popular? Could they go on and avoid the critics? I don’t think so. I think that it happens to everyone. Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and I am sure that Metallica have done albums that the critics don’t like and the fans don’t like, so I think that it is almost impossible to just go on and on and excite the audience or surprise them every time.
• An interesting point which begs another interesting question. When five years ago you decided to stop with The Flower Kings, was it because you felt that that relationship had reached such a level or was it because you were afraid that things were heading that way?
Roine: I probably was afraid.
• To us as fans it certainly did not feel that you guys were in such a position.
Roine: No, but…and I think that probably very much depended on when you sort of discovered the band…I think for the fans that discovered the band from the very beginning, they probably had already ten albums in their collection and they have felt like “hmm, I think I know what The Flower Kings are all about now – what else is out there” you know? For people who discovered us around 2000 when we made “Space Revolver” and “Unfold The Future” they could probably go on for another three or four albums before they get bored or start to lose interest. I think, it’s just a speculation so, to answer your question, I probably feared that we would soon reach that point so that is one of the reasons why we split up. The other one is because, at that point, we all kind of felt that there must be something else for us, that we just couldn’t keep on doing this but that there are other people to work with – to get inspiration from ‘outside’ instead of just from within the circle. So that is really what happened. We didn’t decide for how long this was to be and, as we said, this can be a scary thing, but we just had to wait and see and I think that probably we reached that point where I was starting to mix the latest DVD bootleg of a tour that we did and I felt like “hmm, this is something that I would really like to play live at least”. So, I started talking to Jonas (note: Reingold – bass) and he told me that he pretty much had the same feeling. I believe that he said “The Flower Kings are a really good band and it is a shame that we don’t play together anymore, a shame that we don’t record any more albums”. So, we were thinking about it for maybe a couple of weeks and then we started contacting the other guys, looking also at the time and all the things that were happening in our lives at that moment and we just felt that the beginning of this year would be a good time if we were to record something. I think that we said something like “Ok, let’s record and if it turns out to be crap then we will not release it”… (laughs)…“but if it turns out to be good then we will do it”. Kind of like “if it works, it works, otherwise let us just keep silent about it – not tell the fans in advance and then have to disappoint them by calling it a day”.
• So you kind of gave yourselves a type of ‘probation period’ to see whether the feeling is still there.
Roine: Yeah, before making anything like an official statement. It would have been weird for us to go and make an official statement like “The Flower Kings are back and we are going to record a new album” and then three weeks later to have to say “no, we are not going to do a new album because it is shit” (laughs). So, we just tried to keep things secret until we felt like this could work.
• I find it quite fascinating that a person of your stature would have such insecurities. You have worked on various projects, you are fairly open minded when it comes to music and I find it fairly strange that there was even a possibility of you believing that you guys could not record a new album together.
Roine: Well, I think that it is…actually what I said to Jonas was that…I think that I said something like “I know I am sure that we can record an album, but I am not sure that we can record an album that we feel is good enough to sort of be our comeback album because the expectations are going to be higher now that we have been away for five years”. It’s always like the album that you come back with will fundamentally raise higher expectations and I still don’t know – I still don’t know…
• Let me tell you; “Banks Of Eden” is a very good album – definitely worth the wait!
Roine: Ok then (laughs). I hope so; I like to think so but you can never tell one hundred per cent – that’s how I feel about it.
• I do understand and hope that the feedback that you have been so far given is quite positive, right?
Roine: Well, yes. I haven’t heard a bad word so far but we still haven’t seen all the reviews that are indeed to come, so…who knows.
• There are certainly many good things to say about “Banks Of Eden” and one I can certainly attest to is that it possesses certain therapeutic properties when it comes to handling stress. I am not sure if you were ever given such a compliment before…
Roine: No, I haven’t actually.
• You see today, I had a really horrible day at work and on my way here I decided to listen to the album one last time and I found the whole experience to have been both enjoyable and relaxing. That is one of the best things I can say about the album. With you guys, technical dexterity is always part of the package but there are also all those refined melodic themes that, after only a couple of spins, one becomes really familiar with and they are the ones that have this soothing effect. It’s like a really familiar environment that one likes to visit when feeling somewhat insecure, you know?
Roine: Aha! Well, once you are sort of in the ‘circle’ of the people who actually fabricate, if I may say so, the music, writing it, recording it, mixing it and, in my case, overseeing all the aspects of the packaging and artwork and all that, then you kind of loose focus. You see, I worked with these things for a couple of months on a daily basis and that sort of completely loosened the concept of “is it a good album”, “is it not”, “is it something that people are going to like”? You don’t even know if you like it yourself! I know that I like a couple of bits but I need much more time in order to get back to it and probably when we will start rehearing the songs in order to play them live, then that is when they will finally start to sink in. That is when I will make up my mind as to whether it is a strong album or not.
• Yes, I guess the ultimate proof will be in six months’ time whether you will feel the urge to listen to it and enjoy it as much as one ought to.
Roine: Yes, of course, and that goes for all the other albums too. I never listen to any of The Flower Kings albums and that is not because I do not think that they are good but it’s just that I believe that they are for other people to listen to and not for me because if I were to be interested in my own music, it would definitely be writing music! I can feel that all the time. I had a flight from Sweden very early this morning and I think that when I woke up, probably after four o’clock in the morning, I had a certain buzz in my head, thinking only of music, and I got a little bit excited about it. I need time; I need time to do this. Tomorrow I need to be in Paris and then I have to get back as there is plenty of paperwork to do. I should make sure that I have at least a couple of days somewhere where I can go though a few new ideas. That is what is exciting for me! I don’t look back much; I look back when I need to re-learn certain parts. Some people think that with The Flower Kings, we know every song by heart…well, we don’t and I don’t think that there is any artist out there that if you ask them to play by heart a song that they recorded that they can. You need to re-learn certain songs again and that is what I am planning on doing, of course. As for the other songs, I simply don’t listen to them. If someone was to play an album while I am there, when in another country doing an interview or whatever, I will listen to it – it’s not like I will be ashamed of it or anything like that… (laughs)…but I wouldn’t just pick the album out by myself, if not for analysing it, the sound, or making some kind of preview for someone like a radio station or something like that. I am perfectly fine with other people listening to my albums – I just sort of…
• …need to disengage yourself and move on, right?
Roine: Yeah, you sort of have to leave it, you have to draw the line and say “Ok, now it’s finished; I have done all that I can to make it a good album, give it a nice packaging and all that and now I have to move onto other things”. These thing may include learning some new songs to play live and some older songs to play live but then I do not look back much on my albums – none of them really. I have already passage that stage; I do not listen to “Banks Of Eden” anymore. I did a couple of months ago when we were making it but now I am more getting excited about writing some new music.
• In Greece we have an old saying that “music is like wine; you have to let it breathe a bit before you get to really discover its rich taste”. You do have to provide such a space. Ok, talking about “Banks Of Eden” in terms of themes and ideas, does the term ‘concept album’ apply to it either to a strict or even a more relaxed sense? I obviously do not have access to the lyrics but there seem to be certain melodies that operate across the whole album, creating a certain feeling of musical connection between the songs on offer.
Roine: I would say that this is maybe a loose style concept album but not a typical concept album as such. There are melodic themes that sort of pop up here and there in different songs and that connects things like in a sort of symphony piece but that is something that was constructed afterwards – it wasn’t there from the beginning. It was added in order to give this album a feeling of a journey, listening to different themes and then some ten or fifteen minutes later you hear the same theme coming up but kind of in a different way or through a different instrument.
• I was actually going to say that I often found a melody later in the album that I felt that I was introduced to in the beginning but in a slightly different way. I actually found that I often had the need to go back and see if it was the exact same theme which was certainly not the case.
Roine: No, it’s not exactly the same melody. This is what they call in classical music ‘a variation on a theme’. So the theme is already there and there are a few alternative themes that pop up in different songs. I believe that there may even be a few lyrical themes coming back, you know, but that is probably how far I would go in naming this a concept album. There was really no such thing as a ‘grand plan’ from the beginning to make this a concept album but there are, of course, even in the lyrics some similarities between different themes. I think that certain people sometimes expect Progressive Rock to be…let’s say…it’s something that is common in Progressive Rock and it’s something that…I don’t know how to put it really…to me it’s kind of expected! For me it’s like I take this magazine (note: Roine lifts the last issue of the Prog magazine) and I read about this new band which has a new album out and the first thing that you see is that it is a concept album about bla, bla, bla, etc. etc. and in my mind it goes like “Ok, I think that I know that; that’s what many, many other bands have done before”. A concept album is like…
• It’s like a selling point for any Progressive band really, isn’t it?
Roine: Yeah! It is a selling point; this is like them saying “Ok, for us to make a concept album it means that it is a good album because it is grand, it is kind of pretentious and if we are lucky then it is a good concept album”. I mean, there are concept albums which I believe that they work, things like “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” by Genesis – I think that this is an excellent concept album and there are a couple of more. “Sgt.Pepper’s…” by The Beatles was probably one of the first concept albums…
• …not in a strict sense though, right?
Roine: Not strictly. I think that, just as Paul McCartney explained, he did set out to do a concept album with a fictitious band called Sgt. Peppers but I believe that this attempt ended after the second song (note: “With A Little Help From My Friends”) then a few songs intervene and break the concept until later when the Sgt. Pepper theme is re-introduced. So yeah, it is set out to be a concept album but they couldn’t really hold it up all through the album, which is fine because in the end it really doesn’t matter – it is music and it is really good music so we listen and we enjoy it and if it is like “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” then it takes on a life of its own so to speak. Same as with Pink Floyd’s “The Fall”. I imagine that we would have enjoyed the music almost as much even if this was not a concept album as it’s again a handful of really good songs and that’s good enough for me, you know?
• It is very interesting for me as a fan to see and realise how certain ideas that for one artist may be restrictive like a concept album can be a focal point and inspiration for another artist or band. I mean, who is right and who is wrong, right?
Roine: I think that there isn’t really a right or a wrong approach when it comes to writing music but, as you have used the word restrictive in that concept, for me I cannot really decide beforehand what it is that I am going to work with, both in terms of lyrics and music. I have a couple of friends that would be happy with doing exactly that and that everything that is outside of the concept they sort of dismiss as not fitting with their main idea. It is as if the concept in itself will make the music better and maybe it does for some people but not for me! I think that the most important thing is the actual content of the songs of the album and then if it’s eight songs that are really good or if it is one long song that is either bad or good, it really doesn’t matter. I mean, once you’re in there and you are listening to the music, you get really into the music then you tend to forget about the reasons and the rules – sometimes you even forget what is the album that you are listening to (laughs). You listen to a Pink Floyd album and you forget it is “The Dark Side Of The Moon” or “Wish You Were Here” or “Animals” or whatever.
• Human nature is fascinating in the sense that we think that we are liberated by listening to music like Prog and, at the same time, we create our own rules to explain and express the genre. Strange really, as it is not supposed to be like that.
Roine: Yeah. I mean the actual word ‘progressive’ suggests that someone is progressing, progressing from something, from one point, to another, from the music that is popular at a certain point to another. You could say that Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention were progressive in 1966 as they really used to freak out people with their music but maybe ten years later, if they were to release the exact same album, then that would not have been progressive, you know what I am saying? That’s because so much has happened at that point and I don’t know whether that would be modern or the music of the future or the music of the past as everything is sort of moving along some kind of timeline and nowadays when we talk about Progressive Rock, most of the music, and that includes The Flower Kings, is not really progressing from either the music that is popular at the moment or the music that was popular at the 70s. There are a few little bits and pieces that are always going to be different than what Jethro Tull and Gentle Giant did in the 70s but there are also many similarities and I don’t even find that the idea of progressing is that important! It could be important if you feel that you’re stuck in a way, if we were sort of forced by a record company to make three and a half minute songs – if we had an initial such hit song and they then expected another such hit song from us in three months’ time and we had to go on tour and make TV shows in support, etc. To have a band that records songs that you don’t love but other people and your record company do; that is when you will probably feel the need to progress, from that point, to do something that’s more than a mere three minute song – it could be a one minute song (laughs)…or a concept of a four vinyl album or whatever. It could be that you would start singing in Eskimo language or play music with four saxophones and a drum kit! That would be a progression from something, you know, but in the case of The Flower Kings I think that we never set out to do Progressive Rock! We just play a mix of the music styles that we like, we are writing the melodies that we can and we play the music that we can play and sometimes because of certain limitations we can’t. I mean, I cannot play like Allan Holdsworth so I simply have to figure out the way that I can play and when we do then that’s when The Flower Kings’ music is sort of created and I don’t find that to be very progressive to be honest, but it doesn’t really matter! I never view a band like Pink Floyd or Genesis as a Progressive band! I wouldn’t; I wouldn’t even say the Dream Theater or Porcupine Tree is progressive because you’ve heard it before – you’ve heard it on their albums as they have done it so many times from one album to another and they are not progressing from one album to another but it is really good music and that’s what matters, I think. I think that that’s also…you’re familiar with their music and if you go and buy their new album, you, I think in your heart you want something that you recognise. Like, you talked about the melodies before; after you listen to the album two or three times you then recognise the melodies and you create some sort of familiarity with them which can then lead to release from stress (laughs) or whatever – it may work in many different ways. That is a wonderful thing if music has that kind of effect, you know, and all of us use music in very different ways! Some people are getting really excited about bands like Rammstein and I get very nervous about listening to Rammstein, to be honest, but I absolutely respect people who get a kick out of listening to it because they obviously find something in the music that sort of gets them excited or relaxed or happy or aggressive…I don’t know. They find something, you know, and in a similar way I find something when I am listening to John Mitchell or Vangelis or something like that, in which case these people would not be able to understand my reaction towards that music. They would most probably say “wow, that is really boring music”. I think that there is a big world of music out there and we can all try to find out little place in it so to speak.
• These past few years we’ve had the pleasure of having you performing some shows here in the UK, mainly with Transatlantic. You played High Voltage festival and also the Shepherd’s Bush Empire where the band’s live DVD was recorded. With regards The Flower Kings, are we going to be given a similar pleasure of having you performing here in the capital during the next few months? Will you be supporting “Banks Of Eden” with a show over here?
Roine: Definitely! The thing is that the tour is for September. The first part of the tour has been booked and it includes three dates in the UK and I should know them but I don’t (laughs).
• That’s OK, as the most important part of the information has already been provided – we know that you will play in the UK.
Roine: Yes, it is a simple case of one looking at our websites, on Facebook etc. So there are three shows and one of them will be in London which I know for sure – I just cannot remember the name of the venue.
• Are you excited about the prospect of playing these live shows with a new drummer in the band?
Roine: Yeah, absolutely, definitely. I believe that this is what will reveal the full potential of this new constellation of The Flower Kings and I have the feeling that it is going to be slightly heavier – a heavier version of the band with more energy involved. Felix (note: Lehrmann) is a great Jazz Fusion drummer also, but the way we play now it feels like it’s going to be…I mean it’s…I had the impression that he was a Jazz Fusion drummer foremost but once we started recording the album and we were talking about music he said that Van Halen was his favourite band I think. We were talking about drummers like Terry Bozzio and stuff like that, and John Bonham of course, so I can sense that there is some sense of heaviness lurking, you know? It’s going to be interesting I think because that’s a path that we haven’t gone into and when I say heaviness I don’t mean Heavy Metal, Death Metal or anything like that. I think of heaviness like in Led Zeppelin; if you really listen to Led Zeppelin there is a lot of heaviness but more in the playing. The guitars are there but they are not really distorted or heavy, what we call Heavy Metal music today. It’s more about dynamics as you have both electric and also acoustic guitars supported by heavy drum themes. Metal bands today use lots of distortion; you often have two guitarists creating a wall of distortion. Led Zeppelin were not like that. They are considered to be one of the greatest Heavy Metal bands and the same with Black Sabbath; some of their stuff is distorted but not as distorted as they are in modern Metal bands. You have Death Metal bands which use that approach to the point where the guitars do not sound like guitars anymore; it is synth sounds coming out of the speakers or like a wall of sound whereby you cannot really define whether it is a guitar that’s creating it. So I think that when I say ‘heavy’ with regards The Flower Kings I refer to the groove, the heaviness in sound and the sound of the drum kit because Felix hits things hard (laughs)! Felix is a really hard hitter, you know! Once you are in the same room you can feel like the heaviness of John Bonham. For some reason this heaviness doesn’t really come through clean into the recording. It could be something with the recording that sort of…I don’t know – in the recording room things sounded much heavier and once they were recorded on tape they didn’t quite come through 100% the way I heard them but I am thinking that once we play these songs live and they come through the stage and the PA system they will sound really heavy. The way he hits the drums; there is lots of muscle there – he’s a big guy (laughs).
• Excellent; I am really looking forward to listening to that. I will wrap things up here as I have been given the nod by your label rep; thanks you very much for this lovely chat – I wish you every success with “Banks Of Eden”.
Roine: Yeah, great. Keep your eyes on our website for more info.
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