DPRP's Joris Donkel speaks with
Flower Kings and Solo Artist Tomas Bodin
about his new release "You Are"
It took 4 years for Tomas Bodin to complete the next album from his planned trilogy.
I talked with him about the new album YOU ARE that ended up as a group product, his musical tastes and the future of The Flower Kings.
This resulted in a very frank and revealing interview; certainly a very interesting one.
JORIS: Hello Tomas, your previous solo album "I AM" was released already back in 2005 and was announced as the first album of a trilogy; why did it take so long to finish the second one in line and why isn't it a real solo album anymore?
TOMAS: Yes I know…it has taken a long time! The production became so much bigger than my first plans. Now it feels like we’ve been cutting away the weak spots all over the album. Hopefully the fans will like it a lot! But to take it from the start…
Back in June 2006, I started to work with "YOU ARE". The first 3 weeks I spent time listening to the old masters, like Beatles, Queen, Electric Light Orchestra, Genesis, Procol Harum, Pink Floyd and 10 CC. You know, back in the old days, this was the music I really loved. So I wanted to make an album in this tradition. I wanted to create this mix of rock, symphonic rock and pop and stay true to the musical ideals from the 70ies. Still it needed to be a production of today! Stereophonic and everything LOL.
The composition and the writing of the lyrics went pretty fast. (another 3 weeks) But I remember that we (The Flower Kings), during this period of time, (2006-2008) also worked with the Paradox Hotel tour (Europe/USA), the Sum of No Evil studio recordings and tour, (Europe/USA) so it was pretty hectic! This of course, resulted in a long production time. Now I think I forgot to mention my instrumental album Cinematograaf, that was released 2008.
I had to spend a lot of time looking for the right singer. I think the singer is the most important part in a band. This is what people will hear first of all. I guess I tried 3-4 guys before Michael Stolt's name came up.
Michael is of course Roine´s brother and he used to be the bass player in The Flower Kings during the period of “World of Adventures”, “Retropolis”, “Stardust we are” and “FlowerPower”. So he is a well known bass player for the prog lovers. Still I think most of the people didn’t know he’s also an excellent singer. At once, I felt this was 100% right! Michael’s voice is very personal and warm. Or as my wife said; “When I hear Michael’s voice I think of cig, sex, whiskey and cello” he he he, damn!!!
Here I also began to form the idea about my own band. I had worked with the drummer Marcus Lilijequist both in The Flower Kings and on my solo’s so he was my first call. Jocke JJ Marsh is such a brilliant guitarist, (been playing with Glenn Hughes, Uli Roth, Chad Smith) and we have had this close musical relationship since 2003. So he was of course on my “Dream Team List”. Now when I met Michael, the final missing piece completed the lineup. During the recording process we all felt that the YOU ARE material was so good. We felt we needed to make a statement, a statement for something new and fresh. This is the reason for us to release “YOU ARE” as a band album.
JORIS: All these other band members are not unfamiliar names to any The Flower Kings fan; will this album be a feast of recognition to them or does it go in a total different musical direction?
TOMAS: If you love music from the 70ies and preferable bands like I said The Beatles, Genesis, Queen a.s.o then you will like this album for sure! For me this is a new direction but of course The Flower Kings fans will recognize some of it. I have been a big part forming the sound in The Flower Kings and that is very much me. So if I create new music for another band I will bring this sound with me. Still I feel the sound on "YOU ARE" is perhaps the one I am most pleased with! Also the songs are really “songs” from the heart. You could actually play them all with one guitar.
JORIS: Where exactly does this band name originate from?
TOMAS: I guess we all are huge Zeppelin fans. They are probably the ultimate rock band! And of course everybody knows the song "Black Dog". This name came up in my head and I started to play with words. "Doggy Style" was really a bad choice, Dog Dog (just stupid)... finally it ended up with Dog King. But then again, it was too close to The Flower Kings. Then one morning at breakfast I just saw this name in neon Eggs & Dogs. It tasted differently!
JORIS: "YOU ARE" is a true concept album on which you deal with some serious topics; can you elaborate a bit on the messages you want to bring across with this album?
TOMAS: The stories I choose to write about are highlighted topics in our day to day life. The stories are about behaviors like anorexia, bulimia, doing drugs, sex addiction… I feel there is a lot shame and guilt involved in this kind of behaviors. Still I believe there is no shame having this kind of problem. It's a damn shame not dealing with it. I am an old alcoholic/drug user but clean since 1987. I joined the AA and that changed my life. In AA we have this 12 step program which is an amazing piece of tool for recovery. This program can also be adopted for other kind of diagnosis like anorexia or sex addiction. Another important thing; I never try to moralize any of the dysfunctional behaviors I write about. I know it's easy to get trapped!
Also another big issue is loneliness! I feel more and more that this modern world isolates people from each other. Internet is good but you will not meet people! You will not be able to get the full picture when “chatting” via internet. Also, step by step we are losing empathy and sense of solidarity. People are more scared about the future and for this reason they are getting more selfish.
JORIS: Is it then your goal to not only please people with your music, but perhaps also offer some support to people in similar need?
TOMAS: He he he, well no I can not be an active support to people with this kind of problems. I would be happy if the lyrics could give people a wakeup call. It's a fact that diagnosis like alcoholism and anorexia are both a sort of “eye” disease. Nobody can see the problem until it's too late!
JORIS: So all the lyrics were written by you or did someone else also contribute some?
TOMAS: Yes they are all written by me. Don't forget, “YOU ARE” started as my own solo project. It was later on we decided to form the band “Eggs & Dogs” around the music. But I know the next “Eggs & Dogs” album will be different. Everybody in the band is all highly creative and good song writers. The next album will be the sum of it!
JORIS: Will this band also embark on a tour promoting the album and prog in general?
TOMAS: Yes we are a touring band? But still very virginal! If we will promote prog in general I don't know but I hope we can be ambassadors for good music!
JORIS: The third album of the trilogy already has a title: "HE SHE IT IS"; will this also be an Eggs & Dogs album or just Tomas Bodin?
TOMAS: I can't say today, but I know that the next Eggs & Dogs album will be with influences from all members. As I said, everybody in the band is a good song writer. I also think we complement each other very well. Still I think we will sound a bit heavier ?
JORIS: When do you expect that this third album will be ready?
TOMAS: Aaaaaaaa I don't know? First we need to check the response from this one!
JORIS: The list of bands that you mentioned as an influence is quite impressive and almost sounds like just name calling to enhance the sales as so often promotion companies do; are there really influences of all these bands to be heard on this album and if so in what way?
TOMAS: Ha ha ha, well I know what you mean, but I truly can say without bull. There are strong influences from the bands I mentioned! On some songs the sound is very Beatles influenced, cello, French horn, electric 12 string. Queen/10cc choirs…., and much, much more. The album is over 77 minutes long without fillers LOL
JORIS: We seem to share a great admiration for the band Muse; why do you like them so much?
TOMAS: I love the drama in the songs.. Great vocals and a brilliant energy! Somehow they manage to touch sadness within myself.
JORIS: The new album of Muse contains some very obvious influences by Queen, another band you mentioned as one of your influences and another preference we share; in what way has Queen influenced you and can we expect bombastic choirs on YOU ARE?
TOMAS: I wanted this music to be very “choir-ish”. I had more or less the choir arrangements in my head but I needed a “choir expert”. Simon Åkesson from Moonsafari is absolutely brilliant when it comes to choirs! He stayed in my house for 2 days and that was 2 days of magic! Such a great guy! He can come up with so many different choir sounds reminding of 10CC, Uriah Heep and much more! But I have also had other people helping me with the choirs. I need to mention Janne Hellman, Leneh and Hasse Fröberg. Also my wife Pernilla and if I dare to say myself?
JORIS: Several members of your family were partly involved in the making of this album as a guest musician; is everybody musically gifted in your family?
TOMAS: Yes they are. Miranda my daughter used to be a pretty good singer. Samuel my oldest son plays guitar and keys. Adam my youngest son plays bass and he also played trumpet some years ago? My wife Pernilla has very good ears. She is a decent drummer even if she never rehearses. She also does some singing!
JORIS: So, will there ever be an album by The Bodin Family?
TOMAS: LOL ... who knows he he he Swedish Family II
JORIS: Your previous solo album "Cinematograaf", that was released in 2008 when actually "YOU ARE" was already long anticipated, brought a really different sound than we were used from you until then. Was this just an intermission or is this a musical direction you also want to continue to explore further in the future?
TOMAS: I think every keyboarder has a perverted dream about making a 100% keyboard album? I did and I am quite pleased with the outcome. It sounds a bit like Vangelis, Jarre and Philip Glass! I got this mail from a guy in Goa India saying that this was his music when he stayed at the beach watching the Indian Ocean!
JORIS: It's indeed quite meditative; were you in such a mood when making that album?
TOMAS: Yes at that time I think I needed to compose that kind of music. Often it's hard to find a forum for this kind of music. I mean I wouldn’t be able to put this music on a regular CD.
JORIS: All The Flower Kings members are very occupied and tied up in several other bands and projects (I stopped counting the bands Roine is involved in); is there still any time left to spend on The Flower Kings in order to record a new album?
TOMAS: Well no, we have no plans in any direction this year and probably 2010 as well. To be honest, I know as little as you about the future for TFK. The one to answer these questions must be Roine. The Flower Kings is his band and he decides what to do and when. I think he will be occupied with developing Agents of Mercy and probably touring Transatlantic!
JORIS: Is it really like that? Big boss Roine making all important decisions in The Flower Kings and all other band members just obey his wishes? No democracy?
TOMAS: Well, we are getting paid by Roine when playing with The Flower Kings both on tour and when working in the studio. So we are not really a band in that sense, we are more like hired guns. Of course, each and everyone can come up with a lot of musical ideas and create a personal part of the sound. But in the end Roine has the final word.
I think there are both pros and cons working with this model. The advantages are of course that you can get very skilled musicians. Also the vision of the band leader will be “followed”. There is no risk the band will create music that is not in the “band” tradition.
The disadvantages; normally, when you have a lot of creativity from different people, the sum of input will create the unique result. If you govern the band from the top there is a bigger risk that the creativity gets drained. The same person is doing the same kind of songs over and over again. Also, I think there is a risk that the band can lose commitment. When everyone is involved on equal terms, I think this will result in a bigger hunger. I know Jonas, Hasse and me are all very productive. But I think we wouldn’t place our “best songs” on a The Flower Kings album. Since we are not getting any royalty we better save those song for our solo projects. This might be the biggest disadvantage.
JORIS: No royalties? Surely you'll get some for the few songs you wrote; not all songs are written by Roine?
TOMAS: Well, no I haven’t got any royalty for any of my songs placed on a The Flower Kings album. I only got some money from NCB/STIM (I don't know what this is called in Holland). But it's just a normal payout to composers. But Roine has paid us to play on the CDs. But I guess this is more like being a session musician. Still I’m thinking about the potential we have in the band. I must say we have a very strong line up composition-wise. It could be a nice album.?
JORIS: I must say this all gives a strong impression that this construction has more cons than pros and does limit the collective creativeness very much! Thinking about it I must say that the last Karmakanic CD and also your Cinematograaf album brought us more musical surprises and innovation than the last The Flower Kings albums; is there not a fear amongst you guys in the The Flower Kings that the band will reach a phase when it will only repeat itself endlessly (following Neal Morse)?
TOMAS: Yes of course we have all been thinking about why we are losing popularity. Still both Jonas and I we have our hands tied. This IS Roine´s world!
JORIS: Apparently, but nevertheless I read in an article on the Background magazine website that Roine couldn't ask Zoltan to be a member of TFK again because you and Zoltan couldn't get along so well! Asking Zoltan to join Agents of Mercy was easier according to Roine since "that is his own project" .It seems Roine himself doesn't consider TFK as his own project as well and considers you as more than just an employee in TFK! Do you both have a different vision about that and what's all that about you blocking Zoltan's return to TFK?
TOMAS: As I said, The Flower Kings is Roine´s own project and I am only an employee? Nothing will change that! But I think things could be better if we were more like a “democracy”. Of course, we all have our own visions about how to govern a band like The Flower Kings. I would like us to have more energy and output on stage. I would like us to be more fun to watch. I think Roine perhaps wants the band to become more progressive, perhaps playing even more complicated music. But as I see it, to be able to play complicated music live, and in the same time create a great output, then you need to rehearse a lot! But sadly to say, we never have this time! When the material is complicated and the songs hard to play, then 100% of the performance is about to play the right notes. I wish we could be something in between.
And talking about Zoltan… Yes I read that article... What you all have to remember is that, from the beginning, it was me who wanted Zoltan to play in The Flower Kings. He played some brilliant drums on my album “Pinup Guru”. At that time he was so full of positivism and energy! I remember that we all got stunned by his technique and great ability to improvise. And I can only agree with Roine. He IS a world class drummer! For a long time everything went so well. Then all of a sudden Zoltan changed. He became more and more negative. He started to criticise the guys in the band and preferably me. At first I ignored it all. I thought this was just a bad period. But step by step, all this turned more and more into an unbearable situation. How can I describe it…? When you are standing on the stage, you need every support you can get! If you get this support from the audience, then this will help you to perform better! That makes sense right? Now, imagine that a band member really dislikes the way you play! What kind of energy will that feed? This was clearly the case. Without any doubts, he really disliked my way of playing. And for me this is alpha/omega! Not, that he must love my way of playing! But as a unit, the band has to be tight on a personal level. The chemistry has to be there. So this is not about – as it says in the article - accepting people being different. This is NOT about different backgrounds. That sounds more like I am a racist or a stiff minded anti-socialized individual. I am not!
Music is not an independent life form separated from the human interaction on stage! Music on stage IS love, peace and understanding! I know it's a cliché but it's the truth. If a band can show this energy and the audience can receive it, then we are talking about magic nights! I'm sure you know what I mean!
At first I just tried to be professional but in the end I actually cried after some gigs. This had gone too far! I told Roine he had to make a choice, Z or ME! Of course I know this was a tricky decision since Roine is a huge fan of Zoltan´s musicianship. But as I see it, this case was not about being a musician; this was all about being friends! Still, I will give Zoltan my admiration. He IS one heck of a drummer! But finally, all this is behind now and I can truly say that I have no hard feelings what so ever! Hopefully this is bilateral!
JORIS: Is all this perhaps an indication that the end of The Flower Kings is looming?
TOMAS: I think we are waiting for Roine to come up with some ideas. I am pretty sure that we all would like to continue to play. Still I personally feel that this “limbo” is perhaps the worst scenario. I get a lot of questions from fans about the The Flower Kings' future and all I can say is that we have to wait and see. Hopefully Roine will come up with something pretty soon.
JORIS: That´s clear; you'll join us all in anticipation about what the future will bring for The Flower Kings and all questions regarding that should be addressed directly to Roine. Knowing all this I think it must feel great to be in total control yourself with your solo albums and the Eggs & Dogs album and not be so dependent as with TFK; it must be a whole different way of working for you?
TOMAS: Well it is different and I can test my own ideas but as a matter of fact, I am more interested in having this ”band” feeling. A lot of inputs and hearts from several people.
JORIS: I'd like to end this interview with two questions about your personal musical taste. Which album from all-time would you wish you you would have made yourself?
TOMAS: Aaaaa hard one ... "Dark side of the moon", or "Sgt Pepper".
JORIS: Which (recent) albums from other artists would you recommend to us all; what are your tips of the month Tomas?
TOMAS: Hmmmm I have been so busy working I haven't caught up lately, however, I have heard the new Frost album ... very nice!
JORIS: I thank you very much for this frank and exclusive interview including some stunning revelations and now I'm gonna listen to YOU ARE (again); the review of this album is also published now on this website!
Tomas Bodin - Official Website
Tomas Bodin - MySpace Page
Eggs & Dogs - MySpace Page
The Flowerkings - Official Website
DPRP Review of I Am (2005)
DPRP Review of Eggs & Dogs You Are (2009)
DPRP Review of Cinematograaf (2008)