Merely hours after their triumphant performance at NEARfest 2003, Pete Pardo sat down with both Roine Stolt and Tomas Bodin to discuss the new CD Unfold the Future, their short tour of the US, and the secrets behind the essence of The Flower Kings.
Their music is described as epic, symphonic, daring, sometimes pompous, but always progressive. This is The Flower Kings, Sweden's leading prog export, and one of the bands at the forefront of the modern progressive rock scene. While most groups take years to put together and release a CD, The Flower Kings have managed over the last ten years to put together one memorable album after another, many of them even in the double album format (which is pretty much unheard of in this day and age), and usually in the span of a year or so apart. This is a pretty incredible feat actually. Here, in the early morning after their rousing set the day before at NEARfest in Trenton, NJ, I spent some time with The Flower Kings two prominent members Stolt and Bodin (both softspoken and genuine fellows I might add) on the grassy knoll of the Patriot War Memorial Theater, getting some sun and talking prog-rock.
Sea of Tranquility: Did you anticipate that the new CD would once again be another double album?
Roine Stolt: When we realized that we had lots of material it just worked out that way. Nowadays, both Tomas and I and the rest of the band work on sketching songs, which leaves a lot of leftovers that we can go back to and reshape later on.
SoT: I think you are one of the few bands that can do that successfully these days.
R.S.: Well, many bands can do it, but I'm not sure about the quality! (laughs)
SoT: Yeah, absolutely! (laughs)
R.S.: I'm sure that there are also people who think that the Flower Kings should do single albums, and that our double albums are just filler, but we never ever think of our songs as filler. Each piece helps make the dynamic of the whole album. We think it would be boring to stick to just traditional symphonic rock, arranging lots of epics after epic. What we try to do is include all the elements and all the influences that we have, which is quite a few actually.
Tomas Bodin: There's a misunderstanding I think, where people in general think it's harder to write an epic song, but sometimes it's more difficult to write a solid, shorter piece. The key to writing a good epic song is all in the collaboration. We combine a lot of both, shorter songs and longer pieces.
R.S.: Well, if you ask me, I think it's more difficult to write an epic, and write a good one. If I look at the time I spent writing "The Truth Will Set You Free" or "Stardust We Are", or the other big one that Tomas and I wrote, it's a lot of time we spent on them. Trying different things, putting in, taking out, stretching tempos, stretching the sections, writing and re-writing, it's just an awful lot of time. That's often the main reason the CD's take as long as they do, making the epics work. Songs like "Kings Prayer" or "Chicken Farmer Song" are like 4 to 6 minute long songs, and I remember it taking maybe half an hour to write them. From their you go in an adjust the song, make it fit into the concept of the whole album. I still think we need these kinds of songs on The Flower Kings records, because only having long, complicated, prog-fusion songs is not what I want The Flower Kings to be. I want the band to represent all the music that I have been influenced by since I was a kid, like rock, jazz, classical, and even folk. Basically just about everything.
SoT: It's funny; you mentioned jazz-there's a couple of instrumental songs on the new CD that are very jazz- oriented, almost in the style of Miles Davis. Is that something you are going to experiment with more in the future?
R.S.: It's hard to tell. There's always been that element of "improvising" in the band. I think now that we have Zoltan Csorsz (drums) and Jonas Reingold (bass ) in the band, I mean Zoltan has been playing jazz since he was a kid…
SoT: Yeah, you can tell!
R.S: Yeah, you can! So, it comes natural for them to play in a jazz style. When we asked our last drummer to play something that was close to jazz, he became horrified! He was a great drummer, but just didn't know how to play jazz. So I think the ability for The Flower Kings to play jazzy material was always there, but with Zoltan and Jonas in the band it becomes easier for us to do it. Tomas and I have guys in the band now who have a very broad taste in music.
SoT: How has reaction been to the new CD? Are sales going well now since you have been affiliated with InsideOut?
R.S.: Sales have been good, even considering that it is a double album. InsideOut has told us that generally sales figures for most bands on most labels are going down right now, but ours are going up. So for us it is a success. We've had some positive reactions to the new album, especially like you mentioned before, to the jazzy parts, as well as from fans of heavy rock. There have been some articles and reviews in European heavy rock, or hard rock magazines, and after all, two of our main influences are Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin.
SoT: Most people wouldn't expect to see The Flower Kings in Kerrang…
R.S.: Right, but it's been good exposure. Now that we made another double album, they probably like Space Revolver or Rainmaker better, as it was a bit heavier, something that they could listen to (hard rock fans.) With Unfold the Future, trying to get those fans through "The Truth Will Set You Free" is a challenge, as there's not many heavy elements to it. We really take it to the limit in this one with jazz-fusion and epics. I've read a few reviews where they say "…I cannot listen to this….these guys cannot write songs….they need a songwriter….blah, blah, blah." (laughs) I guess what they are looking for is the stereotypical prog-metal band, which is exactly what I am not looking for at this very moment!
SoT: Well, you have to stick to your guns!
R.S.: Yeah, I think so!
SoT: What are your favorite songs on the new CD?
R.S.: Let Tomas answer this one, because I have no favorites, I never have.
T.B. : Well, I think "The Truth Will Set You Free" is a really nice song…
SoT: It went over great here live at NEARfest.
T.B: Yeah, I really like that one. As far as a prog song, 'The Devil's Playground" is quite interesting, and a more commercial song that I like, is perhaps "Genie in a Bottle."
SoT: As far as the tour, how is that going and how long will it last?
R.S.: Nine shows actually. We started out in Pittsburgh, and then went to Montreal, then to New York, now Trenton, and the next gig is also here in New Jersey. I believe we also have a show in Virginia coming up. So far the crowds have been pretty good, and the shows have gone well.
SoT: You have Daniel Gildenlow (Pain of Salvation) and Hasse Bruniusson on the tour with you. Are they ever going to be permanent members of the band?
R.S: Well, Hasse has always been a part of the band, but we've never brought him out on stage, more for economical reasons because it's very costly to have him travel around, so we have to cut out someone…
T.B.: It has to be the percussion player! (laughs)
R. S.: It would be hard to play without the keyboards, or guitar. It's sad, but that's the way it is. In Europe now it's going better and better, so in the future we hope to always have a full line-up like this. We brought in Daniel on the last album to do some vocals, to add something fresh and new. He has an interesting voice I think. It's also nice to have him up on stage because he plays guitar, keyboards, drums, and has nice rhythm.
SoT: I think live he also adds a nice element vocally, as there are now three of you (Stolt, Gildenlow, and Hasse Froberg) singing which gives off a richer sound.
R.S.: Yeah, I agree, that's really the main thing. Hasse Bruniusson cannot sing, I mean he CAN sing, but his voice is, kind of ….(laughs)
SoT: Well, just to have him up there with you, I mean, he's such a character…
R.S.: He is. I was a little bit annoyed at the show yesterday, because I though the lights should have been on Hasse a little bit more. I always have fun just watching him.
SoT: Do you think the NEARfest set went well?
R.S.: I would say under the circumstances, considering we had little sleep, and not enough time for sound check (the crew was really running around) that it went well.
SoT: Would you have liked to play longer?
R.S.: I mean, we normally do. We would have liked a proper sound check and the chance to play two hours, because now we play four songs, all long songs, and one or two more songs can easily be another thirty minutes! So with all the influences and styles that we have in the music, to make the picture complete we could have used a little more time to stretch out.
SoT: I see you are using Parker Fly guitars now. What other equipment are you using these days?
R.S.: For this tour I am using a new Vox amp, plus a few new pedals. I haven't really had the time to program everything, so I'm really not completely satisfied with the sound. There's not much I can do right now, and I can always go back to my old equipment anyway!
SoT: Tomas, how about you-what kinds of keyboards are you using?
T.B.: I am using a variety, but mostly Swedish keyboards with samplers. For the tour I have to use a sort of reduced rig for traveling purposes, but in Europe I bring more out with me.
SoT: What's going on with Transatlantic and Kaipa?
R.S.: Transatlantic is put on ice now that Neal has decided on a different path. If there ever was to be a third album I'm ready, but we cannot do it without Neal. As far as Kaipa goes, we just finished mastering the new album (Keyholder) a week ago. It's due in September on Inside Out, and is along the lines of the previous album, but altogether better and more dynamic, certainly more interesting to my tastes. I'm also performing on an album that will also feature Peter Jackson from Van Der Graaf Generator, his first rock album that he has recorded on since leaving VDGG. We also have a Flower Kings DVD in the works.