Anyone following the Progressive Rock scene knows that the Flower Kings are the most popular of the new era bands. Anyone not familiar with the Prog rock scene would still manage to find a lot of good things in their music. Clicking here will take you to reviews of their albums: The Flower Kings. They’ve released some of the best music ever heard in years. The Kings were founded by front-man Roine Stolt. Stolt is not a newcomer to the scene, having made records since the 70s.
I caught up with Roine, a man very much concerned with the beauty of music and asked him a few questions which he kindly answered.
Guitar Noise: Foremost on people’s minds, I think, when they hear of the Flower Kings is where did the name come from?
Roine Stolt: It was back in 1993 and I had a strong urge to record a prog rock album again, just like I did in the late 70’s, and perhaps to start a prog band. I was writing down a list of names I liked and “The Flower Kings” was simply the best of them. I like it because it sounds so positive and have a slight flavor of the Hippie era around 67′.
GN: The Flower Kings started from your solo album The Flower King. Could you expand on this?
RS: We were asked to play a festival in Sweden on August 20th 1994, just two months after the album was released. I accepted and asked a few friends to join me, including drummer Jaime Salazar from the album.
My brother Michael joined on bass, long time friend Tomas Bodin on keyboard and two other musicians playing guitars on a few tracks. The gig wasn’t that bad . . . or it seemed like we could actually pull off some sort of show with the material so we continued slowly.
Then after the next record we started getting more gig offers. So that the snowball effect was unavoidable we realized after Retropolis that we sort of struck gold and Flower Kings became one of the pioneers and main attractions of the new wave of prog. It slowly became a “business”.
GN: Sweden seems to be producing many great artists lately, is there something in the water? What is, in your opinion, the reason why so many great new artists are coming from Sweden?
RS: It’s probably just because we have good music education and the standard of living permit parents to help buy synths or guitars for their children or just send them to piano or flute lessons. Also we have access to lots of music on CD and on the radio and TV plus there have been fairly much of live music in clubs.
GN: Tell us of your own background. What is your musical background? (Training, formal lessons, etc).
RS: I have NO formal training. I just started listening to records and copy phrases from guys like Hendrix, Peter Green, Carlos Santana, George Wadenius, Robin Trower and others. Then I have learned from listening to ALL kinds of music. I have a good feeling of analyzing music and details so hat has helped me tremendously.
GN: How old were you when you started playing?
RS: I started picking up the guitar at 13. I learned a few chords from a friend and then moved on rapidly churning Deep Purple riffs, then over to Zappa and Robert Fripp.
GN: How old were you when you wrote your first song and why did you start writing your own songs?
RS: Must have been around 14 or 15, I simply hated the idea of writing because everybody else did and besides I loved creating all those weird LP sleeves with imaginary group names.
GN: When did you decide you wanted to be a professional musician?
RS: I never had a realistic plan on being a musician; I could never imagine that when playing in School bands. I sort of stumbled into it, when I was 17 and met a drummer who was in “Ura Kaipa,” a Keyboard based trio that was to be Kaipa when I joined and we rapidly became a full working unit that toured more than 120 gigs a year, plus national radio and TV live shows, recording on the DECCA label.
GN: Do you view recording an album as work or as pleasure?
RS: Both !!
A pleasant work perhaps, but it can get a bit boring when there is all those tiny details that just GOT to be trimmed to perfection. And the rat race trying to outdo ourselves or to outdo our contemporary progfellows.
I think I enjoy most the initial basic track recordings plus the mixing. The in-between things can get boring.
GN: Why is it, do you think, that major labels don’t pick up on a band like the Flower Kings when it’s so obvious you’ve built a huge fan base?
RS: They cannot see the potential. They would probably not recognize a new U2, Sting or Bowie if they walked by. They cannot see basic things like songwriting potential or “quality.” the way I see it.
Flower Kings could never get big as in the 70’s but I’m sure we could easily reach ten times more audience if we had a proper backing from a major label. In a different field, just look at Eva Cassidy and the fact she never got signed by a major label, it’s ridiculous and a f ng crime.
GN: The Flower Kings are famous for the long songs (and thank you very much for doing these!). In all honesty, if a major label wanted to sign you, would you be willing to stop making these long songs in order to “fit” into their own criteria?
RS: NO, we’d probably just cut them into pieces carefully, label it as shorter songs by doing minor cross-fades or such. So then they will have fifteen songs instead of four on a CD and everybody will be happy.
I’d be happy doing shorter songs and hitting a more catchy tone, however we’ll never trade the variations, quality and the fantasy, that’s our trademarks. I DO want to reach out, but with dignity.
GN: When one goes to the Flower Kings website it seems that the guys are always touring or involved in some project or another. When do you find time to record albums?
RS: We just start in a good period and then go on until everyone has done their overdubs etc. It’s not a big problem. We all have computer-based studios, working on EMAGIC software and can work independently.
GN: Do you tend to write and arrange the albums ahead of time or is a lot of it done directly in the studio upon recording?
RS: Both. I write new music to fit the idea of what a new album should be, but also I always have a bank of unrecorded songs or ideas, I just scan to see what would fit the selection and the path we’re going.
If it doesn’t fit Flower Kings if may go on a Transatlantic CD or a Kaipa CD or the other way ’round.
GN: It seems that the sound of the band has been evolving quite a bit. Space Revolver sounded to me like a cross between Genesis and XTC while Unfold the Future, although still has that Genesis like quality, sounds like the album Yes are dreaming of doing. One wonders upon listening to it if Jon Anderson might actually be angry at you for doing what Yes seem unable to do anymore. What is your ultimate goal in the Flower Kings sound?
RS: Thanks, never heard anyone compare us to XTC; that’s cool. About Unfold . . . Well people think like you, that this is what YES should be doing; daring music with much complexity AND beauty. In a way I agree but I fear they are on another path and I still think they do great music and Magnification had a great production too, so had the Symphonic Live DVD.
And I cannot possibly see why Jon Anderson should be “angry” at Flower Kings for making the music we do, maybe just a bit tired of all the fans that want to give him or other Yes member Flower Kings CD’s.
I think Yes are perfectly happy with what they do, on the other hand I’ve many times joked about that I’d love to produce a YES record for them in a “true 70’s style” and I mean true progressive, not The Ladder type of production, although I liked it.
For the Flower Kings the goal is to make the ultimate entertainment and excitement, a record filled with the ultimate in complex polyrhythm, riffing and the absolute beauty in melody and symphonic arrangement.
We’re working on it.
GN: About Transatlantic. Now that Neil Morse is busy on non-music quests, does that mean that Transatlantic is finished?
RS: Transatlantic is on ice right now, we still have a DVD and Live CD release later this year. “Live In Europe.” I’d be happy to do another CD with Transatlantic but I think it’s up to Neal as we hardly can do it with a replacement, he’s such a big part of the overall sound and his voice cannot be replaced.
GN: I have to ask about the guitars (we are Guitar Noise). The guitars Daniel (GildenlÃ¶w of Pain of Salvation who was accompanying the band) and you had during the Montreal show had a distinctive shape. What brand are they?
RS: They are Parker Fly guitars; they’re made in USA in the Boston Area. They are extremely light- weight guitars made of selected wood with a carbon layer to strengthen the neck and back of guitar.
They have a carbon fret board and stainless steel frets. In addition to the designed DiMarzio pickups there is a Fishman bridge piezo system for a total non feedback acoustic system and an active mixer for magnetic and piezo.
They have designed a tremolo bar that’s quite good. All in all an expensive but very good guitar. The other guitars I use in recordings are basically old Gibson guitars and Rickenbacker for 12 strings. My amps are Vox,Tech 21 Marshall, with Marshall 4×12″ cabinets.
GN: What are your thoughts about these guitars?
RS: They are friiikin’ awesome!!! And for free.