DPRP's Dave Baird speaks with
"Just before the release of Who's The Boss In The Factory, DPRP's Dave Baird caught-up with Karmakanic's main man (and Flower Kings bassist) Jonas Reingold to discuss the new album, the state of prog, The Flower Kings, life as a bass player and poker playing."
D: Hi Jonas, how are you this evening?
J: Beautiful, I'm doing quite good.
D: The third Karmakanic album, it is quite different from the previous two, a more symphonic and relaxed vibe about it?
J: That's maybe true, one of my goals when I went into the studio to record it was to keep it simple, not in terms of arrangements and performance by the musicians but to keep it like there is actually a rock band standing there and playing the music. This is because I believe that both albums, "Entering The Spectra" and "The Wheel Of Life", was more of a studio production.
D: Interesting that you say that but coming from a listeners perspective you don't really notice that but what really does stand out is that on the first two CD's you have some very technical tracks, "One Whole Half" on "Entering The Spectra" and "Do You Want To Tango" on "The Wheel Of Life" - both very convoluted tracks with a lot of shredding, this appears to be absent on "Who's The Boss In The Factory".
J: Well we have some small section, especially in the first track "Send A Message From The Heart", a couple of fusion niche sections?
D: No ten-minute complete shred-outs though?
J: But you never know what will come up when you start to compose for a new album. I think it's the fingerprint of who we are at the time we start composing, maybe it would sound totally different tomorrow. I never decide or make a formula or something, I just compose and see what happens.
D: Despite the differences of course you can see where it has come from.
J: Well I grow and develop, the first record was 2002, now we are in 2008.
D: It was 1999 when you first started?
J: Yes but it wasn't released until 2002.
D: On this album we've got Zoltan (Csörsz) again on drums which is interesting because you've been playing with Jamie (Salazar) recently with The Tangent, not any more of course... It's a bit strange with Zoltan because he seems to fall-out with Roine quite a bit.
J: Yeah, are you thinking of the reason he left The Flower Kings?
D: Well several times now.
J: Zoltan's kind of a complex guy, if you treat him right and take him the way he is... I personally don't have any problems with Zoltan and he has always been a true friend of mine and we work really good when we play music together. So you know I never had a problem with Zoltan...
D: Obviously or you wouldn't keep using him on your albums.
J: No, I couldn't think of a better drummer.
D: Well he's got this very distinctive style, he has this great laconic groove going on.
J: Yeah, to be able to play with Karmakanic you really have to have a loose touch, you have to be able to turn a coin - start to play jazz then all of a sudden play a solid rock groove, not many drummers, in Sweden at least, can do that. Vinnie Colaiuta was not available and he's too expensive so I couldn't call him...
D: He's your favourite drummer? I really don't know his stuff.
J: Oh he played a lot with Frank Zappa.
D: What about Terry Bozzio then?
J: Yeah, he's great too.
D: Too expensive just to carry all his drums around...
J: Yeah, probably you need to have a truck just for the drum-kit... But Zoltan is perfect for me, and musically I think that Zoltan and The Flower Kings were the perfect match. However when you're dealing with the personalities in a band, you also have to have a nice time travelling together, you spend a lot of hours in the tour bus...
D: Roine said that he was a lovely guy but that he just didn't get along with some people. It can't of been that bad though because he brought him back for an album.
J: It's not like they are shooting at one another or anything.
D: He was very diplomatic. So again on this album you have Göran Edman, he used to play with Yngwie Malmsteen, right? I saw him live on the Eclipse tour. Now this is quite a change...
J: if course I can't 100% speak for Göran but I think the main reason he played with Yngwie was because of the money, he needed a job and Yngwie could provide two years of steady work. He has never been a fan of this type of music, he grew up in the late 60's with all the symphonic progressive rock, a big fan of Gentle Giant, Yes and Genesis, all those bands David Bowie, Mott The Hoople, so he's not actually a hard rocker even though he has been on very many heavy metal albums.
D: If you listen to his singing with Yngwie, it's the more ballady stuff where he's coming across much better rather than the harder songs.
J: But it's tough you know to make a living in the music business, sometimes you take a gig you don't like because you've got to pay the rent.
D: I guess you are one of the few prog rock artists to be able to make a living out of it?
J: Yes but it's tough, maybe I could make a living just from progressive rock if I wanted to but I try to mix up my life a bit. I'm running a recording studio, producing other stuff and I'm writing songs here for a popular band in Sweden called "The Poodles", least year I got two gold records for it. It has nothing to do with progressive rock, but it pays the bills.
D: Are you still playing on some jazz records?
J: Yes but you know there are not many gigs out there for jazz musicians so it's really, really tough, I would say even more tough than playing progressive rock. It's really a small scene, you have to be so good to make a living on jazz music, have good management, In Sweden I don't think it's many musicians that making a living just on jazz.
D: Is that the limited audience, maybe it's better in The States for instance?
J: No, it's tough for the Americans as well, I talked to a couple of good jazz players, really top-notch players and they are getting like $60 - $70 for a gig playing in New York. That's why they are coming over to Europe in the summer to play festivals, the pay is much better.
D: OK, coming back to Karmakanic, on top of the core band you have some other musicians
J: Indeed, Andy Tillison playing organ, Theo Travis on sax...
D: Is Andy only playing organ?
J: No I think he's playing some Moog stuff also.
D: Yeah, because there's a solo in "Let In Hollywood" that sounds just like him.
J: Tomas Bodin playing some keyboard stuff, Lelo Nika accordion player who has played with Joe Zawinul, a couple of guitar players - Sven Cirnsky, a blues guitar player who's on "Two Blocks From The Edge" and Krister Jonsson who is also a friend of mine from Sweden
D: Lalle Larsson?
J: Yeah, he's in the core band
D: So the core band plays on every track with guests adding on top?
J: Yeah, that's right
D: Well you're probably going to hate me for saying this, but there are times when it sounds quite Flower-Kingsy...
J: Yeah but I think it's natural because I contribute for The Flower Kings as a musician and composer. We collaborate together, Roine is sending me files and I'm coming with input. So that's how we sound and if I'm making a Karmakanic record and Tomas Bodin is playing some keyboards, Roine is doing some mixing, I'm on the bass so there are times it is going to sound like The Flower Kings.
D: Well it's not all the time but for instance the beginning of "Send A Message" and a lot of Krister's symphonic guitar playing for instance. Of course it could be that a lot of Flower Kings fans are also looking for it?
J: Probably, you know The Flower Kings have a well established sound in the modern world of progressive rock and I'm part of that sound. It's like Steve Wilson does a song with No Man but it's still sounds a bit like Porcupine Tree.
D: Sure, successful musician tend to have a distinctive sound and Jonas Reingold always sounds like Jonas Reingold.
J: Well I never think in those terms, I'm always just trying to make the best music I can and if it sounds like The Flower Kings or Jimi Hendrix or whatever I don't really care.
D: Who's doing all the writing, yourself?
J: I'm writing all the music of course. My wife, Inger, and I are writing the lyrics together, she's a good lyricist you know.
D: Do you present nearly complete songs to the band or just main themes etc?
J: I come with the song, definite beginning and ending but the stuff in the middle, solos, sections, maybe Zoltan has a better suggestion for some drum parts. I have the basic structure, the melody, chords, all worked out, the arrangements, the colour of the track, we work that out together, the character of the track
D: So you do give the musicians some freedom?
J: Yes, "Eternally Part 1" is actually a Lalle Larsson composition, I asked him to just improvise with the feeling that he got from "Eternally Part 2". He played for an hour in my studio then I picked the parts that I thought were most suitable for the song
D: It's a beautiful piece.
J: Yes, he's a great piano player but I had nothing to do with the writing.
D: Indeed he seems very accomplished, I had a lot of problems trying to distinguish which parts he and Tomas are playing.
J: Tomas is not playing any piano, he's doing the production keyboards: pads, sounds effects, layers, strings, stuff like that.
D: When were Andy Tillison's keyboard parts recorded?
J: I think it was about a year ago.
D: Ah, before the split then. How is it now with Andy, I know you wrote on The Tangent's website that it was perhaps a logical move for you anyway.
J: Well when you're forty years old like myself you have to make choices, you can't do everything in life, you have to take certain paths and I think it was time for us to split. I thought we had done everything we could have done, I couldn't see any development on The Tangent scene, I couldn't see increasing ticket or record sales, it was like we came to a dead-end. We had some disagreements musically too so it was time to leave.
D: Well it was a shame that so few people attended the last tour.
J: Well I think it was for several reasons, the promotion behind the tour perhaps and well I don't think the prog scene is what it was a few years back, getting older you know.
D: Well I don't know, if you can find the right fan base you can do OK. Look at Tilburg 013 a couple of years back, The Flower Kings got a large audience for the DVD and Porcupine Tree, you mentioned them earlier, they just sold out two consecutive nights at Tilburg.
J: Yeah but Porcupine Tree are in a division of their own now, they are a big band.
D: Sure, but even only say five years back they were also a niche prog band so it can happen.
J: Yes sure, something did happen there.
D: Coming back to the record a bit and the style of your bass playing, you seem to be playing less fret-less, more fretted.
J: Yes, maybe that's true, but I also think it has to do with the songs. I never write the songs on my electric bass, I always compose on the piano or my guitar. The way the song turns out gives me a feeling of how I should play the bass. It's more about the songs, my role on bass in Karmakanic is more to support the songs I write, in fact that's what I'm always trying to do, also with The Flower Kings, support the song, that's my main role.
D: With Karmakanic, do you enjoy being the boss?
J: I try not to think about who's in charge or making the calls, I'm just trying to make good music. In Karmakanic it just happens to be me writing the songs, calling the guys and organising things. Excepting that I think we are all on equal terms, the guys turn up at the studio and I'll say to them, "Play whatever you want", I trust them.
D: Surely it brings extra stress, some people like to be in charge, others not
J: Sure but I try not to put any extra energy into those things, when we go out on tour and stuff and I have to be the head of the band it can be kind of stressful - you are the one that people are coming up to asking things: I'm hungry, when are we stopping, I have to go to the bathroom, blah blah blah, and this can be really stressful, you're the one with the money, you're taking care of things. That's the band leader's role I think. Sometimes it is nice just to be the bass player.
D: You and I are about the same age, we were probably sitting in our bedrooms around the same time listening to Yes and Gentle Giant, both of us learning to play bass. To be honest, I went nowhere but you have actually been very successful, how does that feel? When you're mentioned in the same circles as Pastorius and Squire, is that satisfying?
J: Of course, they are my big heroes. When Chris Squire came to our show in England last November, watched the show and then came backstage and talked to me, it was a big honour; one of my big heroes comes to my show, life is great! I wish Jaco Pastorius could show up.
D: It would be a bit scary if he did!
J: Yeah. Of course you feel honoured but what you also have to remember and keep in mind is that me, as a musician, hasn't come for free. I started to play violin when I was eight years old and switched to guitar, then bass, then want to the music university. I spent eight years in school and practised so many hours, from the age of 19 to 21 I probably practised 10 or 12 hours per day learning all those tracks and guitar solos, trying to duplicate them on the bass. If I add all the hours I put into my instruments I could be ten times a doctor. I know my shit so well because I practised so hard and if you add a little bit of talent to that then you will be successful and make a living. They say that it's five percent talent and the rest is just hard work.
D: And you're no different.
J: Yeah, I've worked my way up and done so many shitty gigs. The last five to seven years I have been able to go around the world and play some big stages, festivals and stuff like that.
D: Have you achieved everything you would like? Do you have goals or just go day by day? Where would you like to go from here?
J: Yeah of course you will always want to expand your universe by selling more records and secure your pension. I would also like to expand artistically; before I go to the grave I would like to record with a symphony orchestra, play with some different musicians. Actually I want to play with a lot of musicians, so the list is endless what I want to do and I don't think I will ever achieve all those goals.
D: You did use strings on "Eternity Part 2"?
J: Yes, real strings but I would like to play together with a symphony orchestra, that would be really nice, to be in the same room rather than four strings that are dubbed a few times. I have actually played with a symphony orchestra a couple of times in my life as a bass player but I would like to play solo bass pieces with the orchestra backing.
D: Maybe you could ask Göran to have a word with Yngwie, he likes to play with orchestras too. Did you see that DVD?
J: Well I've seen clips from it...
D: There's a lot of notes.
J: Yeah well that's what he's good at!
D: How's it going now with The Flower Kings, you have two new members...
J: Good, we're getting there I think. It's always hard for a new member to grasp the material - long songs with difficult arrangements, but we did a couple of gigs in The States and now a couple in Europe, and I think we are starting to sound quite good again.
D: Any plans to go into the studio to record?
J: No, we are having a small intermission right now, I think we've been over represented for a while, there has been a lot of Flower Kings in the last five years and I think everybody in the band needs a break from it, the audience needs a break too. So now Tomas is working on a new album and Roine has several projects in the pipeline. I have my Karmakanic and my poker playing.
D: Poker!? That's a good way to lose money I should imagine?
J: Perhaps but I'm doing quite well. It's funny, I said to my wife that here I am spending my whole life trying to learn and develop music and I pick up
poker - I've been playing for about two years - and I'm earning more money from that than the music. Ironic really.
D: Maybe it's not quite as satisfying, maybe you don't get the buzz, or maybe you do?
J: It's fun, totally different of course compared to music so it's good to have something else too.
D: Are you still teaching?
J: I never taught, but I wrote a program for the university once. Sometimes I'm doing master-classes, I come to a place and there are twenty students there so I talk about the bass or whatever.
D: And plans to tour with Karmakanic?
J: Perhaps, I have a couple of festival proposals, have to wait and see. If the reception of the CD is good then I will probably do something, but you know I have played for a long time and I know that it's no use to just go out and play a club tour with no people, I must have a purpose. If "Yes" is calling us and asking us to support them on their 40th Anniversary Tour then of course I'm going to accept because I'll get exposure to a lot of people, widen the horizon a bit. Otherwise it's no use to go and play in front of 40 people any more.
D: You lose a lot of money too.
J: Yes, it's expensive, but never say never, if the record sells 500,000 copies then I would go out on the road.
D: Nah, you'd just retire.
J: First go on tour, then retire.
D: OK, anything you'd like to add.
J: Well listen carefully to the new album, there's a lot of detail hiding in the shade.
D: Initial impressions are that it's less accessible than the first two albums and needs some plays to appreciate. Maybe less technical but complex nevertheless.
J: Yeah, it's more progressive so take your time listening...
D: OK Jonas, it has been a pleasure talking to you once again, best wishes with the album, family and band.
J: Thanks very much, bye.
INTERVIEW FOR DPRP BY
The Official Jonas Reingold Website
The Official Jonas Reingold MySpace Page
The Official Karmakanic Website
The Flower Kings Official Website
The Tangent Official Website
The Kaipa Official Website
DPRP Review of Karmakanic's Entering The Spectra (2002)
DPRP Review of Karmakanic's Wheel Of Life (2004)
DPRP Review of Karmakanic's Who's The Boss In The Factory (2008)