If there is any single band that embodies the best of contemporary progressive music, it is the Flower Kings. Albums like "Flower Power" and the current "Space Revolver" are packed with lush instrumentation, pleasingly surprising arrangements, and image-filled lyrics. The force behind this Swedish ensemble is Roine Stolt. Stolt is the chief composer/vocalist/guitarist of the Flower Kings, and caught up with ProgSheet recently to share his thoughts.
Q: What was the first band you ever played in & what kind of material did they play?
RS: I think it was a band with no name , at the age of 12 or 13 , back in the school days . I played bass , well a bass I built myself with 4 detuned guitar strings through a 2 X 4 watt stereo amp ! We played a Jeff Beck tune, a Charles Lloyd tune , a Beatles ("A Day in the Life") tune, a Crimson song ("Pictures of a City") , a Cannonball Adderly tune , "Wild Child" by The Doors , maybe a Hendrix tune, I can't remember - but all were instrumentals. We changed members and name ......often.
I started writing my own songs in '71-72 . Did my first studio recording of two Santana songs 3 years later , together with 2 members of Samla Mammas Manna ....I didn't know them at that time . I have since recorded around 150 records !!!
Q: What was the first progressive song you ever recall hearing?
RS: That depends upon how to define "progressive" .... however , I would say something from The Beatles - "Revolver" ...maybe in '66 . Then later on "Hungry Freaks Daddy" by the Mothers. "A Whiter Shade of Pale" in '67, "I Am the Walrus" and "Strawberry Fields" in '67. Jimi Hendrix ,"Hey Joe" & "Purple Haze " ....Pink Floyd " See Emily Play " ...... The Doors "The End" , King Crimson " 21st Century Schizoid Man " in '69 ... Wow! That blew me away. But my favorites were Procol Harum . First album and "Shine On Brightly" - I played it to pieces , and "A Salty Dog" - an amazing album.
Q: What lead you to decide to write & perform this type of music?
RS: I think what people call progressive music is the sum of my different musical tastes. I like classical music , jazz , film scores , rock , psychedelia , electronics , folk ,blues, church music , ambient . So I guess I mix it in my composing ....and it seems the prog people love it.
Q: What year did the Flower Kings first come together, and what was the first line up?
RS: We did the first gig at a local prog festival on 20th of August 1994. It was just Me, Tomas Bodin , Michael Stolt and Jaime Salazar (plus two friends who guested on acoustic guitars and backing voices on a few songs). For next gig some months later Hasse Bruniusson joined on percussion.
Q: Has it been surprising to you in any way at how quickly the band has been embraced by the progressive music fans?
RS: Well .....no, not really as I in fact felt there was something lacking within the prog scene in mid 90's , maybe too many Genesis or ELP clones and no one really that original . I guess I felt like most prog fans that their old heroes have abandoned the ship , for more commercial music ....but less adventurous.
At the same time I felt it was time for me to focus on something new, as I've been a session musician for years , playing other peoples music. I was ready to bring what I did learn in the session field into " real music." I'm a perfectionist ....so I was quite convinced we could do prog records with a high standard ..... almost like the old prog meisters.
Q: Tell me the concept behind the massive "Garden of Dreams" piece on "Flower Power."
RS: Well, concept sounds a bit pretentious ... We ended up writing a song of about an hour in length! It all started with a 8 minute piece by Tomas Bodin . We said "no limits in style or duration " - we just went on writing . I don't like talking about lyrics but it deals with the "The Garden of Dreams." Meaning something like: we can be our own gardeners of our dreams,our lives our wishes how life will turn out. Basically we're initially in the Garden of Eden. Being born into it , if we play our cards we can have heaven on earth. But if we let the negative forces in , we can destroy our garden. We may stop growing, then going in the downward spiral. So "Don't Let the d'Evil in."
Most of us people in the western world have so much to be grateful for, we are living in a time of all possible wealth. But sometimes we close the door to spirituality. Maybe we need to go back to the tribal stuff: stop commerce; stop chasing money and power, start listening to the sounds of the earth. We need to rediscover the joy of giving - sharing with the unfortunate. It's awfully hard to understand, what is this life? Most guidelines lies hidden in the unconscious I'm sure.
"Indian Summer" is about growing old. Seeing our parents growing old. "The Final Deal " is about dying - not sadly, but in a glorious way. I hope there is such way. I feel if we connect with Mother Earth and accept we're a tiny grain in the cycle of life it can be peaceful dying - a big journey. To whatever world or nothingness . We've left our mark, regardless. All matters.
Q: How did you first meet Tomas Bodin and what do you enjoy most about his keyboard work?
RS: I met Tomas first time back in 1985, he joined my band at that time "STOLT." I think I enjoy most of all his positivism and that he's open to so many musical styles. He has developed a good sense for cool and funny synth and keyboard sounds. He's like a brother in a way.
Q: A lot of progressive and experimental music is bursting forth from Sweden and the Netherlands. Is it an area that just naturally embraces music that's a bit different & pushes boundaries?
RS: About Sweden .....I have no idea why Sweden come up with bands like Anekdoten, Par Lindh, Änglagård, Landberk, Sinkadus, Ritual, Isildurs Bane. Well, maybe the fact we are in general rather well educated in music in Sweden may have an influence, as we knows many different styles including classical and folk, jazz . Most kids learn to play at least one instrument.
Q: While I'm referring to the Flower Kings as a progressive band, I would be curious to know what you think about the band? Are the Flower Kings consciously progressive, or is there no specific intent to the music?
RS: Well , I wouldn't say we're groundbreaking like Beatles, Hendrix or Crimson . OK we try to write in different styles , pushing boundaries a bit, including a diversity of styles and moods, so I guess we're a bit progressive . That's what people call us, so I'm OK with that. And in fact we continue a tradition of progressive music from the 60's & 70's: Zappa, Yes, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Crimson, Beatles, Vanilla Fudge,The Doors.
Q: What bands do you currently enjoy listening to?
RS: Claude Debussy (not exactly a band!!) Hansson & Karlsson (Swedish organ jazz-psychedelia !!!) Chick Corea & Return To Forever "Hymn Of The 7th Galaxy" ....awesome !! Frank Zappa/ Mothers: "Freak Out" + "Roxy & Elsewhere" Miles Davis - "Sketches of Spain" - "Bitches Brew" - "Kind Of Blue" The Beatles - "Anthology 3"
Q: Growing up, what guitarists most inspired your playing?
RS: My first hero was Jimi Hendrix. Then Robin Trower; Carlos Santana; George Wadenius; Peter Green; Frank Zappa; Pat Metheny; Alan Holdsworth; Steve Howe; Fripp....plus some local guys that could handle the axe so coool .
Q: Please tell the readers 6 albums you could not live without.
RS: I could surely live without them ...but I treasure a few ......I just pick from whatever... The Beatles "Magical Mystery Tour" Pat Metheny "Still Life Talking" Yes "Relayer" Genesis "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" Jon Anderson "Olias Of Sunhillow" Miles Davis "Sketches Of Spain"
Q: Was the approach to the songs & recording on "Space Revolver" any different than on previous Flower Kings albums?
RS: No, I don't think they differ that much , we always set out to make a dynamic album with a mix of all the styles we love ourselves within the band, however we also spent a lot of time and money on getting the sound really good , investing in some hi-end recording gear.
Q: How much of an influence on the recordings is producer Don Azzaro?
RS: Don Rules !!!!
Q: You recently played some dates with the Transatlantic project. Can we look forward to a second album & tour?
RS: Sure ...you can !! We're having lot's of fun doing this. Seems like all of the guys, including record companies are into a follow up very soon. We've had great sales so far. We need to follow up in order to make more money... hehe.... just joking. And we'll try doing a European tour beginning of next year since interest in Europe is ever expanding. Seems like we can do a decent tour in mid size venues.
Q: Can we look forward to seeing the Flower Kings perform live in the States any time soon?
RS: Sure. We start a USA tour in mid-September, covering East and West coasts. Check our websites for updates & info.
Q: As we have entered the next century, what do the Flower Kings have in store for us?
RS: Hopefully lots of new interesting and uplifting music and a few words of wisdom on the way , for years to come . It seems like touring is going to happen more frequently in different parts of the world and the record sales are going up all the time so I have great hopes for this little unit . We've had great reviews .....unbelievable in fact. Thanks to all the fans for support. Thanks John for letting me speak out.