Before playing theirLondon show in support of latest album 'Desolation Rose', Roine Stolt from Swedish prog rockers The Flower Kings takes some time out to chat to eGigs about their latest studio effort and Stolt's first time on a cruise ship as part of the Progressive Nation at Sea festival.
How are you?
To be honest, I'm okay but I'm a bit paranoid. I'm at least singing back to normal. There was at least one show where I sounded like Lou Reed. I think it was probably the tour bus, you know, a dusty tour bus going back and forth around Europe and the company should have serviced it and cleaned the air conditioning and so on.
How has the tour been so far?
It's been good so far. I've been touring for a while now. Before this, I was at home for two weeks and before that I was on tour with Transatlantic. Most of this year feels like I haven't been home much but it's coming to an end soon in a week from now.
Let's talk about last year's 'Desolation Rose'. How did the audience and critics react to it?
I'm not the guy who goes on the Internet to look up reviews and stuff. It seems to me that reviews have been really good. You can never tell. You produce an album and you think you have something great coming out and then for whatever reason, the critics don't like it and you can't understand why or the other way round; you make an album and you're not sure if it's a very good album and you just leave it out there for the critics to kill and they love it!
Were there any albums that you thought the critics wouldn't like but actually really got behind?
To be honest, with the last two albums, I didn't know really. We took a break for almost five years, four and a half years, and I wasn't sure. It just felt like maybe the band died after 15 years or burnt out. Sometimes it just doesn't matter what you do; the critics or the fans just decide: I don't love the band anymore. Normally when you produce an album, you're trying to do the best you can, write the best songs you can, according to your understanding of your music and the world and everything, but sometimes you're like How did they not like it? You're very insecure about it. You just put it out there. You can never tell beforehand if it flies or not. This one did! I don't know about sales or anything yet but I don't think I've seen even one bad review.
How would you say this album compares or contrasts to previous material from The Flower Kings?
In a way, maybe it's a bit more experimental, maybe a bit more mainstream - you see both sides of it really -Experimental in the sense that when we made the album, we got together in the studio with less requirements of songs. Normally, I do a demo that has all the bits and all the lyrics; this time, we did more bits and pieces, hoping that we could piece it together rather than one guy writing the songs, presenting them and the rest of the bands producing them. Not in a bad sense but it made some of the songs like more arrangements together, within whatever progressive rock, there's room for that kind of thing. If you're writing pop songs, you can't really pick things and put it together. It's very abrupt but we're talking progressive rock now. Frank Zappa or Genesis they just took bits and pieces. In the big picture, it's us writing the songs, playing the songs, so we can't really get away from that.
What's the story behind the title 'Desolation Rose'? There's also the song 'Desolation Road'.
I think it came from the track and I think that particular track Id' written before we went into the studio so we pretty much played the song. It's a short song. When we had what we thought we could assemble a full album, we were looking at the songs and the lyrics and you try to find the title of the song. I don't know if it was me or someone else who said: What about 'Desolation Road'? The song is named 'Desolation Road' but it sounded like a movie title or something or even like a heavy metal band or something. I'm thinking the mix between the word 'desolation' is dark and dreary and 'rose' is nice the contrast is interesting. Hasse [Fröberg] and Jonas [Reingold] said No, I think that sounds weird. 'Desolation Road' is much cooler. Thomas [Bodin] said: 'Desolation Rose'! That's it! and I felt that too. Felix [Lehrmann] didn't have an opinion and we went with 'Desolation Rose'. Also when we put together the artwork, I can't remember if the rose was there in the beginning. The artwork in a way is a little bit dark and gloomy and I thought maybe we need some colour somewhere, maybe the colour in the rose. It's those things that some fans don't even care about.
Did you record this album live in the studio?
We did record it live. We were sitting around in the studio and it's a big, very nice studio in Sweden and it's just like in the old days the drum kit in the room and all the guys are sitting around. There's not like a computer or click track, we're just counting just like we're playing the stage but of course when wehave all the tracks and we record it to reel to reel tape and put it on the computer so we can have the computer files and bring them home to our home studios so we can sit down with peace and quiet and listen how can we work on this piece? What kind of synthesiser sound does it need? What are the vocal arrangements?I would say it's recorded live but of course there are tweaks.
This is the second album that you released in a row, like you used to, after your break. Do you feel constantly inspiredwhen you're releasing albums this frequently every year? Do you always have new material on the go? Are you constantly writing?
I wouldn't say I'm constantly writing. Neither of us are constantly writing. I've never felt personally that there's any shortage of material really. Let's put it this way, I never feel like I'm sitting down to write music and coming up with nothing. In a perfect world, I probably would be sitting down in the dressing room with my computer because things come up but I don't have a problem really. Things come up, things that I want to realise and I try to remember them. I'm usually quite disciplined. When I wake up, I work in the morning around nine and then I can go on until midnight, five or six days a week. Usually, I come up with two or three hours of music and then you have to cut out the interesting bits and show the rest of the guys or when its with Transatlantic and I'm with the rest of the guys, I send them a tape or files over the Internet and they have to listen. Writing and coming up with ideas is fine. I think it's more like producing to finish that's when it takes time, getting everyone on board to be happy with it.
Why did you take those four and a half years off from 2007?
I don't know. It was just a feeling that when a band goes on and on, doing an album, doing a tour, doing an album, doing a tour, you see the guys in the band aren't into it. They're doing it because I asked them to do it or because they needed money but they're somewhere else. It's not like they're really happy about it or excited by it. I remember a couple of times, I said to my wife I don't feel bad but going down to the tour bus, I feel empty. I don't want to do it because when I walk on the tour bus, there's going to be four guys sitting there and they're not on board. They're on board physically but mentally, they're somewhere else. It didn't feel right. I remember we were in Finland and before the show - before a soundcheck maybe - we went to lunch. Maybe I shocked them because I said: Guys, this is the last show we'll do for a while. What? For how long? What do you mean, two weeks? I don't know. Maybe half a year, maybe a year, maybe five years. I'm not saying we're stopping the band forever. Then I tried to explain what I felt. After a while, the coin dropped and they realised what was going on. Frankly, I think more bands should take a break because they're running empty and I didn't want to end up in that. We'll see. It's scary in a way but if I was really into making money, I wouldn't do this, I'd do something else. It's a way of life. You've got to do something that you're truly happy with. Nowadays, you can open your computer and look at your account, you see all the numbers and it looks nice but what does it matter? If you have the money and you have enough, it's fine but if you have more or want more on the time, I don't think that's the road to happiness really.
No way. Judging by your prolific nature, is it possible to expect another Flower Kings album by the end of this year?
Hm I don't know. We haven't talked about it. I think the first step would be to write songs and see if we have something interesting and everyone is on board and happy about it. Maybe we'll wait until next year but I don't know. We'll see.
So nothing certain yet.
No but we'll see. I'm fine. It's exciting to not know. Because I also did this tour with Transatlantic, I made some money out of it so I don't need to go out there and play or do a new album. I can relax a bit, wait and see when inspiration comes, try to get excited about it and get everyone on board.
How was touring with Transatlantic this year?
It was good and it was amazing as far as the audience and attendance [were concerned]. We went down to South America for the first time and it was amazing. Apart from the flying, waiting at airports is terrible but for the audience, I think it was a great thing for them to finally see the band live in Mexico and Chile and those places so that was good. The European tour was good and we recorded the Cologne show. We did the Prog Cruise on the boat that was good. We had fun. Also, some of the guests we had on the boat Adrian Belew from Kings Crimson, John Anderson from Yes and Thijs van Leer from Focus that was fun. It was a great crowd, lots of bands. I didn't get to see many bands, I wish I could but we had thirty five to forty minutes of Yes music that we needed to learn and I was in my cabin while the sun was shining rehearsing. The stuff is so complicated and we wanted to do it right of us and also for John too, to have a backing band that could play the songs right. We were rehearsing for two and a half hours and we were running through some of the shorter songs and he said: Hey guys. I don't know, maybe we don't want a 'Topographic' song, that's like twenty minutes long. It's going to be too much. I said: Why don't we try it? We should try it. We've been rehearsing anyway, and it was probably the one that sounded the best. We did one more run through and in the evening, I think it went fine. Still, it's an extra forty minutes of music that we needed to learn, apart from the Transatlantic songs and I've never been on a cruise before. I enjoyed it! It was different.
How was writing Transatlantic's new album 'Kaleidoscope' for you?
It's pretty much similar to what we've done before. It's the same formula; we get together - it's pretty much what I described with The Flower Kings we have bits and pieces of different songs from me, Neal [Morse] and Pete [Trewavas] and try and piece them together. It wasn't really different. It was pretty much the same formula with different songs, of course.
Both Transatlantic and The Flower Kings have a nostalgic '70s prog rock sound to them. How do you feel about the modern prog rock scene?
I should listen [to them more] really but that would probably cover some of the more obscure bands that I even know the name of and even some more famous bands like Muse is a bit prog, they have elements of it and Tool and the followers, Dream Theater and the Dream Theater clones, the metal and bands like Opeth. It's more like prog metal but not really metal it's almost more prog! So I'm thinking there are definitely young bands. We had some of them on the boat and they're interesting. They work in very different ways to us guys because we build our music on whatever The Beatles, Kings Crimson, Genesis and those kinds of bands. Some of the younger bands are probably coming from the metal scene - anything from Metallica to Dream Theater, guitar-based music, more aggressive music - and I think it's all fine. I'd like to see some younger bands come up with new ideas so we're not stuck with the old, trying to sound like King Crimson or something like that. I'm curious [to see] where it's going.
Sweden has a very rich heritage of prog rock bands. Could you explain this geographical fascination with prog rock?
No, I don't think I have the answer but I'm guessing it has something to do with the standard of living, which is really high in Sweden. Parents may have money to provide their kid with whatever drum kit or electrical guitar and send them to music school, which in Sweden, I think we have musical schools in all sorts. We have the traditional ones where you go and play piano or the recorder. Then you have more modern music schools where you can actually go and play drums and learn electric guitar and you can play in groups or ensembles to jazz fusion. You have teachers that understand. It's not like the old piano teacher anymore. It's young guys teaching guitar to whoever wants to play like Yngwe Malmsteen or whoever. They can and I think the parents have money to provide the kids with whatever these deals are. It can be in the basement of their house so they can bring their friends to rehearse and stuff so I think that helps. All around you have the Internet or Youtube, you can look up how to play the drums and watch the Mike Portnoy drum video and instructional videos. I think Sweden has a lot of progressive rock people and we also have lots of metal bands, metal and hardcore bands that are richer outside of Sweden, selling albums. Meshuggah are touring America but there's not much talk about it in Swedish papers but they're there. They're selling albums and they're playing shows. Altogether, it seems like Sweden doesn't only have the pop thing like Abba. The guys that write for Britney Spears and Robbie Williams and people like that, there are a group of people like that, like Max Martin. They're writing for everybody Celine Dion and Britney Spears lots of money coming in. We havea jazz scene, a metal scene and a progressive rock scene.
What are the future plans for The Flower Kings?
I don't think we have a plan, really. We're just trying to see how it goes and what it feels like when we finish the tour. All the guys have different projects that we work with so once we get home, we'll have some rest. If you feel like I want to write some music, and come up with something exciting, you just make a phone call and say: What do you guys think? Should we try and record something in September? but I wouldn't really decide now because if we decide to go into the studio in September or October then it's like what if we don't come with anything interesting so I'd rather just have it open for now. That's the way we're living looking into next year, I have no idea. I just trust that something comes up, which is fine.
Yeah, sounds like you could do with a bit of a rest and catch up with friends and family.
Thank you very much for the interview, Roine.