Normally, by this time of year, most of you would have made a decision as to which albums you consider as most important for 2013. Well, I strongly suggest that you postpone this exercise until the end of October, as this is when “Desolation Rose”, the latest addition to The Flower Kings’ discography will become available to you.
Mightily impressed by the band’s new offering, I jumped at the opportunity of an interview with the band’s mastermind Roine Stolt; in the half hour that I spent on the phone with him, I learned of the reasons which conspired to make the band’s twelfth album so dark-sounding, of the band’s upcoming performance at the inaugural and impressively billed Progressive Nation At Sea 2014, as well as news about an upcoming Transatlantic album.
A Japanese translation of the interview can be read here
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis
- Hi, Roine. Thank you very much for calling. It is a pleasure to be able to talk to you again so soon about a new The Flower Kings album. Last time we spoke was a little more than a year ago, when you were here in London promoting your previous studio effort “Banks Of Eden”, and during our discussion you did mention that you were not sure as to when the next The Flower Kings album would see the light of day.Now we find you in the stages of promoting a new album entitled “Desolation Rose”, something that makes me feel very happy indeed as it is an impressive musical proposition. Looks like the right chemistry is there and the band’s productive juices are flowing uninterrupted…?
Roine: Yeah. As we discussed before, you can never tell really how these things go. You do your job and if things work they work, you know? You cannot really force yourself musically, you cannot push these creative forces – either you have them or you don’t have them.
As always, working in a band like The Flower Kings where some of the members will have been with the band for two decades next year, which of course is a pretty long time (laughs)…you know, we are not the Rolling Stones or Yes but still, twenty years is a long time.
I mean, in any working relationship there are ups and downs and it seems to me right at the moment to record with the band as we are on an upward trajectory. Since we released the album (note: “Banks Of Eden”) we have been touring in Europe, Japan, the USA and Canada and other placed like Russia so we have been playing a lot together and, for whatever reason, things between us seem to work out. We are one strong working unit.
- Though last year’s touring schedule was very hectic indeed, you did manage to find time to record a new album and that is the very thing that surprised quite a few people, myself included. With your hands tied with live dates and various musical projects, no fan of this band expected a new album so soon. I mean, “Banks Of Eden” did come out after a five year hiatus after all. This is a surprise but a pleasant one indeed.
Roine: Five years is a very long time for a The Flower Kings album to be released because the normal release schedule would be a year in between albums for us – sometimes even less. For us to take a break for four and a half years was unusual.
When we made “Banks Of Eden” last year we didn’t really plan to follow that with another five year break. It was more of a case of us making an album, touring for it and if things worked they worked and that would mean that we could continue with the plan of producing a new album the following year which is, of course, now.
Obviously, things did work. For us it felt pretty natural to just go in the studio and record a new album as we felt that “Banks Of Eden” had kind of run its course and we had been playing these songs over and over again. Going out on a new tour and playing these same songs over again would not be the right thing to do.
So, it was very natural for us to try to write some new songs because, I mean, that’s what we do. We are in a band and we play original music. If we were simply playing cover songs of other artists then we would have a lot of material to choose from. But we have to create our own music and that, for me, is part of the thrill of being in a band like The Flower Kings – the fact that we can create our own little universe of music, sounds and melodies from all that, you know? That’s one of our driving forces. It all comes very natural I would say.
- During our last conversation, while we were analysing “Banks Of Eden”, we did discuss the addition to the band of Felix Lehrmann and you mentioned how his love for bands like Van Halen added much heaviness to the compositions – especially when performed live.“Desolation Rose” is a much heavier album in comparison: pretty much the darkest and heaviest one you have created so far, so I was wondering how much is he personally responsible for the direction that the album took. Is it him that’s at fault or do the rest of you ‘share the blame’!?
Roine: I think that both parties are responsible here. I mean, the way Felix performed behind the drums did add much heaviness to the songs but I think that it was also the fact that we knew that we have a drummer whose playing leans more towards the heavy side of things and who can add this extra power to our songs that made us create the songs that we did.
It is a combination of reasons really: the way he plays, combined with the way that music came out of my head, Jonas’ (note: Reingold/bass) head, Tomas’ (note: Bodin/keys) or Hasse’s (note: Froberg/guitars & vocals) head. It all makes sense when we meet in the studio and we start playing together. Felix plays heavier so we present him with heavier material, you know? We put a little bit of extra distortion on the guitar (laughs).
- Well, I do believe that this extra heaviness suits your music really well. With many Progressive Metal bands stating openly their admiration towards The Flower Kings and with you being involved in projects with various musicians, is it possible that, perhaps on a subconscious level, you could have been influenced by the work of any such bands/artists?
Roine: Hmm…I don’t know really. I would probably lie if I stated that either we or I were influenced by those younger Metal bands as, frankly, I don’t have much time to listen to what they do (laughs).
I have been working, most of the year, like seven days a week. I am not the guy who, come Sunday, will sit back with a cup of tea in his hands and listen to other people’s stuff. It’s pretty much work every day when I am not touring and when I am home I am either writing new music or promoting our stuff like I am doing now through interviews and all.
So, there is not much free time at all and I am not one of these guys who has thousands of different music titles in his iPod (laughs) – I don’t do that. I am quite selective when it comes to my recording collection, the stuff that I like listening to which I am not saying that I do listen on a regular basis, but which I do when I find some free time. I wish I had more time in general, and in specific, more time to listen to new music and discover all those new bands.
It may sound boring but I think that the main influence that I have when it comes to heaviness is probably coming back from way back, from bands like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin – those kinds of bands. You have to remember that I and most of the rest of the guys in the band are over fifty, while Felix is either twenty seven or twenty eight years old. He is, however, a big fan of Van Halen which is also more of a 70s Metal or Hard Rock band.
Our main influences come from the 70s, you know? It’s not like we are ignorant or that we don’t listen to new bands deliberately; if something comes my way, stuff like Meshuggah or Dimmu Borgir or whatever else then of course I will listen to it. I wouldn’t say that I know their music well enough or I wouldn’t say that I know the details of their craft or the names of the band members but if something comes my way and I fall in love with it, I will listen passionately.
Muse is a band that I really like and they are sometimes heavy, sometimes very melodic and sometimes they resemble a little Queen. Queen is another band who has been a major influence on a couple of the members in The Flower Kings.
Hasse is a big, big fan and I have also been a big fan for a couple of years, especially material such as “A Day at the Races” or “A Night at the Opera”. So you have heavy elements there as well as elements of Pop music, sometimes Classical music, so I think…I think that’s pretty much where we are, you know?
We have our roots in the 60s music of The Beatles and of course later on that of Jimi Hendrix – a man who took the distortion levels to new heights and, later on, bands like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, as well as King Crimson who indulges in heaviness too.
- I am not surprised to hear you mention names like Deep Purple as I find that, especially with regards the hammond and minimoog sound and style used, their influence comes across quite clearly.As far as Queen are concerned, influences are also there but perhaps more toned down in comparison. Fans of both these bands will find many things to like about “Desolation Rose” – an album which bares all of the band’s trademark elements but which also uses many exotic ‘spices’ in the making. I would not be surprised at all to find this album feature in the ‘best album’ lists of many fellow journos – I know it will certainly be part of mine.
Roine: I am really happy to hear that because we haven’t yet received any reaction at all. I have, so far, done five or six interviews so there is no clear view just yet as to how much people like it or not.
You sort of feel left hanging there – the record company doesn’t say much. The band members say “Ok, it is a good album” but our wives don’t listen to our music much, our kids don’t listen to it much so we are pretty isolated at the moment. Is it a good album? Do people like it? I have no idea (laughs). If you like it that much then I am happy – it’s a good first step, you know? At least I know one person that really likes the album and that is good (laughs).
- I remember you saying exactly the same thing about “Banks Of Eden” and this album ended up becoming a much loved and universally approved release. I wouldn’t worry too much if I were you.Now, there are a couple of songs which stand out for me and which I would like to dissect with your help, if that’s OK with you. These are “White Tuxedos” and “Dark Fascist Skies”. Tell us how these two beautiful compositions came to life.
Roine: Of course. Starting with “White Tuxedos”: that song came about in the studio where Jonas, our bass player, played a few very simple riffs as a main idea. We started not knowing which song was really going and focused on finding all the right sounds and lyrics for it. So Jonas had a very rough idea of what the main riff and what the song’s structure would be as well as a few vocal parts – that’s all that he had.
Then the lyrics starting taking shape in his head, with him saying how he could visualise a massive yard filled with white crosses, with soldiers coming back from whatever war they fought on, whether it was the Vietnam or the Iraq war, in plastic bags at an airport. These are the elements upon which the main idea of the song was based and that was pretty much all he had (laughs).
To me it look like a dark and not so promising idea but, at the same time, we hadn’t done anything like this before and that is what got me interested in it. I mean, it is really a simple idea which build upon the lyrics and, I would say, the mood of the song. So, this is a song that we ended up building bit by bit and in fact I think what people won’t know is that it’s actually not me playing most of the guitars but it’s Hasse.
We were sitting here together and I did some of the ‘James Bond’ type of guitar (note: at this point Roine re-created a sound for me that’s impossible to describe in words but which was, nevertheless, a highly entertaining one indeed).
So it was actually Hasse and I sitting here in my studio and Hasse was playing the guitar and I was probably down on the carpet tweaking the knobs of this echo pedal, you know? That is how we got all these weird sounds out of it.
So, we had a lot of fun doing that, experimenting into making some truly haunting sounds simply because we thought that this was what the song needed. There are not many keyboards there or many different things happening except for the main vocal line, the guitar riff and those bass lines that we used. It does have this kind of flow, though, which makes it really effective to me at least.
- OK, so who is responsible for these pretty dark opening vocal parts? Are there yours or Hasse’s?
Roine: These were mine. We were running a kind of plugged in software which you can use to actually pitch down, so my voice is pitched down one octave. On the second verse I am having a bit of my natural voice together with the pitched down version of it.
This was something we used in order to create a spooky feeling. As I said, this is a pretty simple song but it is well performed, well produced and it creates the right vibe and feeling – that is why we used the voice of Richard Nixon from the time of the Vietnam war in both the beginning and the end. I would say that this song is a Rock Theatre at its best to me (laughs) as it also has a slight political twist – it’s that good in my book.
- What about “Dark Fascist Skies” then?
Roine: “Dark Fascist Skies” was something that we also pretty much created in the studio. I had all of the guys coming up with ideas. Jonas came up with a riff for the break and we all kept on adding to that so we were all building together this song and at the time that we recorded it we did have a vocal line but we had no lyrics at all.
Sometimes it’s easier when you have a vocal line or a lyric available because the lyric tells you something about the song, what it is about and how it is going to be like. In this case it is actually about the fear of the state controlling people a bit too much, you know? You can place this story anywhere in time: you can place it fifty or sixty years ago, you can place it a couple of years ago or even in the future.
It’s more like a warning sign, about the state in which governments have imposed a bit too much control over people, bugging our phones, watching us through cameras that are placed in every street corner – they control everything.
Cash has disappeared and everything is paid for by a Credit Card which means that, if they wanted, they could shut you down completely. Its main idea was one that I was listening to time and time again when suddenly something just popped up and made me thing to myself: “Ok, this is what the song is going to sound like?”.
I heard something that…you know, how can you say where it is that these ideas come from? I don’t know really. Ideas come up and even you like them and you go with them or you leave them and you keep on searching for something else, you know?
- Wherever it is that these ideas come from, just keep them flowing please!
Roine: Yeah, yeah, yeah (laughs). This is one thing that I learned these last couple of years because, in the early days of The Flower Kings, I could sit down and be my own worst critic, you know?
For hours and hours, weeks and weeks, months and months I would think that nothing was good enough, that I needed to find something that was smarter, something that was better – something more unique, you know?
I was so critical of my own work that I would literally stand still waiting for this amazing song that was going to arrive next week – something which, by the way, never happened. So I think, probably, I learned that if inspiration does come and things feel right just go with it, you know, and then let other people decide otherwise you will go nuts, you know what I mean?
Being in a band is good because you can always send something to the other guys and even if they say: “No, I don’t like this song” or “No, I don’t like that section” - it’s still a good thing to have. I try not to keep things restrictive and impose a form of censorship when it comes to lyrics.
- It sounds like you’re one of those people who find it terribly hard to decide when a song is finally ready, when to stop correcting things. Is that true?
Roine: I was terrible with that in the past but I kind of loosened up a bit recently with everything – with my playing and everything else. I could easily be in the studio and do guitar solos for seven or eight hours, working on the same song, in order to get it perfect! Then it ended up being so perfect that I could not play it live!
I realised that this was not a good idea after all, you know? These days I am more spontaneous. Some of the stuff on the new album, mostly on the bonus tracks, the guitar work is the same that I did for the basic tracks – I never bothered changing anything.
The same thing with Transatlantic: what I do is that I keep as a solo that which was performed on the basic tracks and that is something that I would have never done twenty years ago. Back then I would have worked on it a whole day.
It’s about finally accepting what you are, what you can do and what are the limits that you can reach with your craft. You can try to play like a God but chances are that you can’t. You are just a musician – play something you feel strong for and hopefully somebody will like it.
- That approach explains fully your decision to record both “Banks Of Eden” and “Desolation Rose” live in the studio.
Roine: That is correct. From the early Flower King days we would work our song ideas on the computer, using sequencers and stuff like that. Then we would bring in the drummer who would add his parts, remove some of the keyboard sequenced material and add Hammond melodies instead or electric piano tunes.
I would add my guitar and vocal parts, of course, but effectively everything would be built upon a metronome or a click track. These days, and for the last four or albums, we have been recording everything live with everyone present in the studio, no click tracks or anything like that – just as it would have been if we were to perform these songs live. We realised that we actually sometimes sound better live than on record, so why try to construct something with a record feel if you can do a better job playing live?
- Speaking about live performances: so far the only engagement announced on the band’s website is related to the Progressive Nation At Sea 2014 which takes place between the 18th and the 22nd of February and whose billing is amazing. That is quite a challenging thing, playing Prog Rock exposed to the mercy of the ocean, is it not?
Roine: I know and it will be a ship full of Prog fans that will have paid a lot of money to be there so they will expect the best, you know? It will also, of course, be a ship full of fantastic musicians so you will not want to find yourself in the position of performing a bad show in front of them.
You will want to be really focused and well rehearsed so you will be able to play, I wouldn’t say to impress the others, but at least to be able to play as good as them, you know? We need to make sure that we make The Flower Kings’ sound as good in that setting as we possibly can. We need to step up a bit. In fact, we are having rehearsals in November and December and we are also playing a few gigs in Sweden to learn our new songs and, in between that, I will be going on tour with Transatlantic.
- Please tell me that you are coming to the UK for a few shows!
Roine: Yeah, we will come to the UK. I cannot remember which venue we will be playing…
- That is not important at this moment in time – what is important is that you are coming!
Roine: We will actually also be playing America and Canada with Transatlantic and then we will all end up together on the same boat for the Progressive Nation At Sea 2014. It’s a good thing for us to rehearse as The Flower Kings so much this year because next year there will be not so much free time for me to do that.
With The Flower Kings we have a couple of shows here in Sweden this year, we have the Progressive Nation At Sea 2014 and then we will start a European tour in April that will hopefully take us around the whole of Europe.
We also have received offers to go back to Japan. We haven’t made all our plans for the next year as yet: we take it one thing at the time. First comes the release of the album, a couple of shows here in Sweden, the Progressive Nation At Sea 2014 and then the European tour in April and May. After all that we will see what happens with regards future plans.
- You have mentioned Transatlantic as a project that will occupy your energies in the coming months. Are we to expect a new album anytime soon?
Roine: Oh yes! A new album will be coming end of January 2014 from what I was told. I don’t have a specific date as yet and this is not 100% official but that is what I’ve heard.
- After all that I understand why you don’t have time to listen to any new music, Roine!
Roine: You see (laughs)? I mean today, just before I called you, I was sitting here rehearsing a couple of Yes tunes because we are supposed to play with Jon Anderson, while at the Progressive Nation At Sea 2014, as Transatlantic and what we are talking about here is their old stuff from the 70s. These songs are pretty complicated; they are long and the Steve Howe’s guitar work is not that easy, really. It has a lot of finger picking and stuff that I normally don’t do so I have to start practicing now, actually.
- Good luck with that!
Roine: I know (laughs). It’s going to be fun, you know, playing these song with someone as important as Jon so I am really happy to do it. It will be a lot of work learning that and then I will have to learn all the other The Flower Kings songs for the upcoming tour, following which I will have to learn all the Transatlantic songs so yeah – I keep busy!
- And with Pain Of Salvation also present at the Progressive Nation At Sea 2014 we should not be at all surprised to have Daniel Gildenlow performing a few The Flower Kings tunes with you guys, right?
Roine: I am pretty sure that such a thing will happen!
- I need to start packing my tracksuits and my diving equipment then!
Roine: Yeah (laughs).
- Roine, I don’t think that there’s much more to say, really. You have a great album in “Desolate Rose” and a busy touring schedule in front of you which I hope both will be very successful for you. I want to thank you once again for talking with us and I am looking forward to seeing you here in the UK both with The Flower Kings and Transatlantic.
Roine: Absolutely! Thank you.
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