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Progressive Rock Interviews

Roine Stolt

Interviewed by Julie Knispel
Interview with Roine Stolt of the Flower Kings From 2008.
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

I know that there's been a lot of stuff going on with you guys recently.  New drummer, the US festival that you guys are going to be playing this late summer / early fall...  So, let's start off, really, by talking about the new guy in the band.  Erik...Hammarstrom, is that how his last name is pronounced?
Yeah, Hammarström.
MSJ: Hammarström, sorry.  The umlaut...
Yeah, yeah, the uh...  Northern European sound.
MSJ: He's a young guy!
Uh...  Well, (laughs) compared to the rest of the guys, maybe.  He's a young guy.  But, I mean, the other drummers we've had, they've been...  I think Zoltan was 24 when he joined the band, and I think Marcus was 23 or 24, and maybe Jaime, something like that, maybe 25.  And Erik is 32.  So he's, compared to the other guys...
MSJ: A little bit older, actually.
Yeah, well, at least when he's entering the Flower Kings as a drummer...
MSJ: What does he bring to the group that maybe the others didn't necessarily bring, or what's different about how he approaches the material?
Well, that's probably too early to tell.
MSJ: OK.
I mean, I wouldn't say that the others didn't deliver.  They did, they were all three great drummers.  And, if you count Pat Mastellotto into that, that's four great drummers.  All these guys played really well, you know.  They had different things that they played really well.  Jaime was very much like a...  basic rock drummer, I would say.  But he could play odd meters and stuff like that too.
MSJ: Right.
He wasn't really much of a jazz drummer, or one for improvising.  Zoltan, on the other hand, was really really good at improvising, but he was quite a solid rock drummer too.  And Marcus was more like a rock drummer, and maybe less of a jazz thing.  But they've all been different.  In Erik's case, I would say it's probably a little bit of everything, you know, a little bit of each of the other drummers, I would say.  He has some jazz stuff going, he can play pop, he even plays in a sort of obscure tango orchestra, here in Sweden...
MSJ: (laughs)
I would say it's kind of in between Astor Piazzola, the Argentinean accordion player, and Frank Zappa, I would say.  So, that's where I first heard him play, and I was impressed by the way he played.  It's kind of soft, and very obscure.  But, he's a really good solid rock drummer too.
MSJ: Excellent.
And he likes progressive rock.  That's something that neither of the other guys really did, they weren't really into progressive rock.
MSJ: Right.
But, it's too early to tell.  We will see.  We will continue playing and doing live shows and hopefully recording something later this year and see what Erik can contribute.  So, maybe ask me the same time next year, I can tell.
MSJ: That sounds like a plan. 

Do you guys have European live dates lined up, or are you still sort of working him in?
Well, we did, actually, we did a tour of 16 dates, I think, in November last year.  So, it's really too early to start doing another European tour.  At least, I mean, like the main European cities, it's too soon.  So, what we're doing, we're doing just a couple of festivals, I think, and that's it.  And then we're going to the United States to do maybe a week, and that includes the festival in Pittsburgh.
MSJ: Oh, so you'll be playing shows around the festival as well...
Yeah, I think that makes sense.  When we're crossing the pond, it seems kind of like a good idea...
MSJ: Absolutely.
...to play a couple of more shows.
MSJ: I assume that's mostly going to be in the sort of eastern US?
Yeah, definitely.  I think, for many reasons.  We just have one week that we can spend in the US, so I think it makes sense to do that, to cover, I would say the New York area, maybe Chicago, Boston area, Pittsburgh, I don't know, whatever.  I think we go down to Florida too.
MSJ: Sounds good!  Any chance of a show at the Proghouse again, or...?
Too early to tell, but maybe.
MSJ: OK.  First off, how has response been to Erik becoming the new drummer, and I guess kind of tied into that and going back a little bit further, how was the response to The Sum of No Evil?
You mean the record?
MSJ: Yes.
Well, from what I've seen, I think...  I mean, the internet is not telling the truth.  But if you just look up the record on Amazon or CDNOW or something, it's lots and lots of really good reviews.  A couple of bad ones also, but most of them very, very high scores.  So it seems like, and also the reactions we've seen on our message boards and stuff like that, people really seem to like the album, you know, they like the fact that we've gone back to more like the style that we played some ten years ago, when we were doing albums like Retropolis and Stardust We Are.
MSJ: Right.
So, stylistically, I think we did the right thing.  But then again, you can always see people complaining, of course.  I think it comes from the fact that some people think it's just the same old thing, you know, once more.  And that's something that's happened to every band.  And they probably, the people that complain, they probably expect a little bit too much, I think.  Because you can look at any band, if you look at whatever, you know, look at Pat Metheny's basically doing the same thing he did some 25 years ago.
MSJ: Right.
(laughs) And I'm fine with that, you know!  And same thing with Peter Gabriel, you look at his albums, it's lots and lots of surprises, you know.  When U2 do a new album, it's pretty much the same, you can tell right away it's U2.  It's basically the same ideas, done slightly in a little bit different way.  But very much, you can recognize the sound, you recognize the way that Edge is playing his guitar, and Adam Clayton is playing his bass, you know, and the singing - you can't get away from who you are, you know.  You have your voice, and you have your way of playing your instrument, and writing songs, of course.  So, I guess part of the criticism that I've seen about The Sum of No Evil is probably just down to, we've done many, many albums, we've been touring a lot, and some people just can't, I don't know, take in that this is what you get if you listen to the Flower Kings, you know.  They expect something completely different, and that's not gonna happen.
MSJ: Well, and the Flower Kings have always been a relatively prolific group.  I mean, you guys release material very frequently.  So if you're a band that releases an album every three years, the changes may seem a little bit more drastic than where there may be a more gradual shift.
Yeah, definitely, definitely.  And, I mean, there's always gonna be people complaining.  But I suppose it's just a handful, and it's, I think, more important to look at how does the fans react that come to the concert, and how does the fans that actually buy the albums react, et cetera et cetera...  So if you don't like the album, you simply don't buy it, and if you buy an album and then think "Flower Kings is not for me anymore," OK, don't buy the next album.  (laughs)  It's very, as I see it, very simple, you know.  I wouldn't buy an album from a band that I don't like.
MSJ: Right.
And I think that, since we've been going for many, many, many years, and doing many albums - as you say, quite prolific, yes, we are - and even have kind of side projects within the band, you know.  Jonas and Tomas, they're doing their albums and I every now and then do an album too.  And both Jonas and myself have been involved in The Tangent, and even in Kaipa, so there's plenty of music, you know, that we probably put our mark on those albums too.  But, I mean, this is what we do, and this is what we do for a living, so I guess there's not much else we can do, than try to write and sing and play as best as we can, you know, and then hope people like it.
MSJ: You're in a little bit of an interesting position, in that your career goes back to the mid-70's with Kaipa.  So you kind of bridge that first generation of prog bands, and the newer, 90's and beyond, sort of resurgence of the symphonic prog sound.  What kind of differences, do you think you can say, really there are in the scene, from what it was when you started out professionally, to where it is today?
 I would say first of all, I believe there's even more bands playing this kind of music today.  And I think the reason might be that the way technology, as far as recording, I think we have seen a change where it's not about getting a record deal anymore.  It's about getting a computer and some music software, and then your band can record their own album.  And you can print it up, or you can sell it over the internet, et cetera, and sell at concerts.  So, there's lots and lots of bands that want to do this kind of music, and you can spend time at home writing and mixing and processing the music for as long as you want without paying any extra money for a very expensive studio.
MSJ: Right.
So, in the times when Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Yes were recording, they were spending lots of money already on making albums like Close to the Edge and Brain Salad Surgery.  It's not the same anymore, you know.  People like me or Neal Morse, we're recording our albums at home.  Or, I would say, most of the overdubs at least.  So, I think that means that there's lots and lots of bands releasing albums.  And it seems to me that in the mid-70's, there were more, like, a distinction between the bands that weren't good enough to get a record deal.  They probably wouldn't survive, you know, they'd break up after half a year, or a year or so.  People would try something else, be in a boogie band or something.
MSJ: Right.
But also the difference was that progressive rock at the time was much of a bigger business, because, like Yes could sell a couple of million albums.  I seem to remember that Rick Wakeman sold 12 million albums of maybe his second or third album.  And that's quite a lot, you know.  (laughs)  So, it's not like that anymore, and you can't really play big arenas, not even the bands like Yes or King Crimson, they can't really play big arenas anymore.  Genesis can, because they play a different kind of music, and they had hits in the 80's.  But with progressive rock, you can't do that anymore.  So it's taken down to a different level, and you can play clubs or small theaters, and you can release albums, and you can sell... probably enough, you know, to keep going.  But we're not really making big money out of playing progressive music today.  More like, if you're clever, and if you can write good songs, and make nice productions and people buy your albums, then you can keep going.  And in the case of bands like Flower
Kings, or Spock's Beard, or Porcupine Tree, you can actually do tours, and just... keep going.
MSJ: ...get by.
Yeah.  Well, as you mentioned, I was in Kaipa in the 70's.  It's kind of, I would say, interesting, or even funny, because sometimes when people talk about the new bands, they talk about the old bands, and they mention the Flower Kings and me, and they mention other bands and say "these two bands, they're just like a carbon copy of the progressive rock from the 70's."  And I...  (laughs)  Honestly, I'm thinking, "well, I was in one of those bands," you know.  I was touring already when Yes did Topographic Oceans, stuff like that.  And I was playing slightly different with Kaipa, maybe more influenced by Swedish folk music, and choral music, and classical music.  But anyway, it's kind of close, what they did, and that was named progressive rock at the time also.  So I was there, you know, in the 70's, and now I'm doing it again.  And I see some young guy who's, like, a reviewer of a Flower Kings album, saying "well, Roine Stolt, writing this music based on whatever Genesis or Yes or King Crimson did," you know
MSJ: Right.  The Flower Kings have always been a very positive band.  You know, the lyrics are very positive and uplifting, and the music always has a very bright, you know, positive sound, for the lack of a better term.  That is intentional, right?
Well...  Yeah.  I don't know, really, but for me probably it's the sum of the influences that made me start writing music, you know. And I think I probably started writing music fairly early, probably the beginning of the 70's I started writing my own music.  And at the time, of course, we'd been all through that Beatles era of, as I see it, mostly positive music.  That's what attracted me to the Beatles in the beginning.  It was some very, I don't know, uplifting feeling when you saw the Beatles playing live, and when there was a new Beatles single released, it was always...  I don't know, I got a great kick out of listening to these guys play, and the way they wrote music and the way they played it, you know, all the energy, the positive energy that they had.  And also, I mean, other music from the 60's, I was a big fan of Burt Bacharach.  (laughs)  And his music was always sunny and positive and happy, in a way, mostly I would say.  So, probably lots of the music that I liked was, you know, very upbeat and positive and sunny and happy.  So, when I started writing music myself, that's probably what I tried to do.
MSJ: Do you think it's still positive to have that today, or have things become just too cynical?
Well, I don't know, I think it's important that there are at least a couple of bands that try to make positive music and to have a positive message, you know, lyrics.  Because even in the progressive rock and the progressive metal scene, it's lots and lots of really good bands, you know.  Really positive, sort of hip, really professional in terms of production and playing and everything, writing...  But if you look at the message, if you look at the actual feel that you get from the music, it's kind of gloomy.  I always say it's...  gloomy and doomy and dark, and not that positive.  So that's where the focus goes for some reason, and sometime, I don't know, I have a feeling that it's something that you're expected to do. There's something about the darker music that, I don't know, maybe attracts a bigger audience.  I don't know.  But it feels like the way Flower Kings write music, play music, and act on stage and everything, is something that's needed, you know.  And even in times when people, you know, mock us, or think we're silly, or like old hippy stuff, whatever they call it, it's like "OK."  Let's wait another ten years and see where this takes us, you know, in the end, what is gonna be. And, I mean, in the end, you can only do what you do, and what you're happy with.  If you're happy with playing this kind of music on record and on stage, then you should do it.  And I can't look at whatever Opeth or Porcupine Tree or whatever other band's doing.  They're successful, fine, good for them.  But that's not my kind of music, so...
MSJ: Gotcha.
So I just need to keep doing what I do, and try to do it as best as I can, and hope that our fans will keep buying our albums.
MSJ: Absolutely.  You know, the Flower Kings really in some ways were sort of the first big prog band to embrace the live concert sharing, with the Plantation.  Have you found that it's brought you any new fans, or expanded the listening base of the group?
That's very difficult to tell, really, because we haven't investigated, really.  I just guess, or just assume, that we have gained new fans by doing so, because for someone who had a friend that they tried to convince them that "I think you should like this band, you should listen to them," then it's very easy to just sign up at the Plantation and then get a couple of shows for free.  Because it's all free.
MSJ: Right.
And you can listen for yourself, and if you can sort of take in and realize that this is live audience recordings, so you're not going to expect a very professional live recording, or a studio quality tape.  So, if you can see through that and listen to the music and you like the songs and like the vibe, OK, then you go and buy a couple of studio albums.  So, I'm sure it helps.  I can't say to what degree, but I'm sure it's gonna help.
MSJ: Good.  You guys are gonna be playing the inaugural Three Rivers Prog Fest, out in Pittsburgh.  And I know Pittsburgh is where Inside/Out USA used to be based out of.  Is there something special about that festival, you know, the idea that you're gonna be playing at the first one, or is it the fact that you're gonna be able to sort of route shows around it that makes it attractive?
Well, in fact, we were asked to, because obviously we know a couple of people in Pittsburgh, because we had our record company there and we had people that we'd been working with in Pittsburgh for quite a while.  So, we were asked to play this festival maybe some...4, 5, 6 months ago, I think.
MSJ: Long before it was actually announced.
Oh, yes.  Oh, yes.  And I waited, and one of the reasons was of course that we had to cancel ROSfest.  I didn't want that to happen again, you know what I mean.  I wanted to be really, really, positively sure that we were gonna play the festival before I said OK.  Anyway, so we were asked to do this, and I didn't know what other bands were gonna play, and then they came back to me a couple of weeks ago, and said "this is what the festival is gonna be, these are the other acts," and some of them are not announced yet.  But they're really good acts, definitely.  So, just looking at the lineup, I said "this looks interesting," and I think we can even attract some of the non-prog audience for this festival.  So, that was one of the motivations for playing.
You'll find an audio interview of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
 
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