Working Man's Prog :: Interviews with Hasse Fröberg :: by Dave Baird and Olga Potekhina
The musicians of The Flower Kings band joke that Hasse Froberg "actually does more concerts per year than the rest of the band put together". His musical biography as a member of the rock group has started when he was 10 years old, from the band "HPP3" and then with the "Rampljud", "Spellbound" and "Solid Blue" bands. But first of all we know him as a vocalist and guitarist of the Flower Kings, this Swedish band which is one of the true "icons" of PROG rock style. Every musician of "The Flower Kings" is an integral part of the complete whole harmony of the "Flower Kingdom". But as time between the Past and the Future of TFK still continues, we have a chance to know Hasse Froberg himself much better - with release on August 27 through "Reingold Records" of his own album "FuturePast" by the band called "Hasse Froberg And The Musical Companion" (HFMC). By the way, this stuff is not "The Flower Kings Family’s" typical product! I suppose that this melodic and dynamic music shows personality of the musician very clearly, but I can’t miss many 'extra' questions about it and about its "musical parents and relatives". It’s really great that Hasse took his time for the real "treatise"... He has such a good practice though: his fan’s audience is pleasantly "spoiled" by interesting stories on MySpace’s blog. Hasse even reveals some secrets there – he does the same in these interviews!
~ Interview by Dave Baird ~
DAVE: OK, I'm going to start with a really easy one – so many years now with The Flower Kings (TFK) and suddenly out of the blue a solo album with your own band - tell us all about it...
HASSE: Hi Dave, well I really had to think twice before I decided to do it. First of all, it's not like a picnic to step out of the shadow of "the mighty Kings". Second, I've been a band leader before so I know what it takes. It's hard to get back all that you put in so to speak (meaning time, energy and money etc). Anyway, during my years of touring with TFK, people - or perhaps I should say lots of people - have been asking me: "When will you release an album of your own?" The only answer I could give was: "I don't know", since I didn't have enough songs. In 2008 I started to write more intensively and FuturePast is a result of that. In fact the song "Only my blood" was first written for TFK and the album "The sum of no evil". Later on when Roine played us the material for that very album, it felt so homogeneous so I decided to keep that song for myself and now it ended up on FuturePast. Even the music to "Fallen Empire" was written around 1996 I think, but I didn't have any lyrics. Then one day I heard about the "fiasco" of Lehmann Brothers and such over in the States, which caused the latest global financial crisis. I heard that on the radio news while I had my breakfast and there it was. It was the perfect idea to start writing.
DAVE: When you say that "Only My Blood" came around at the time of "The Sum Of No Evil", was it the lyrics you wrote, or the whole song, melodies and all?
HASSE: Well, to start with. I've written and arranged all of the songs on "FuturePast" including "Only My Blood". When I initially started to write it, I had no clue that I was going to record an album with my own band some years later. Yes I wrote the whole song and I was ready to present it to the guys, when Roine sent me an mp3 with one hour of music. I think we recorded almost all of that for "TSONE" + Thomas' little "crazy" tune "Flight 999". When I heard Roine's music, I felt that "Only My Blood" wouldn't blend in that well with the rest of the material and that was it really. In 2008, when I started to write hysterically, I just rearranged it a little (and I mean a little) and here it is, in all its glory four years after its birth.
DAVE: I remember at the time Roine saying that he was encouraging other TFK members to provide material... Most TFK solo albums tend to feature, well half the TFK members. You seem to have deliberately avoided this on "FuturePast"?
HASSE: Yes that's true Dave. Roine really tried to make us write but as I just said, if he comes with one hour of music, that in my ears really feels like a unit then it feels pointless to show the guys or Roine, as in this case "Only My Blood".
About HFMC and "FuturePast" - well first I had the songs and I built the band after. My first intention was to just use members I've never played with before but I ended up with two old familiar faces and two new ones. In the rhythm department we have my former Spellbound mates Thomsson on bass and Ola Strandberg on drums. Spellbound was a band I started in the eighties. We released a couple of albums in 84 and 85 and did some touring. Later on we released a record for the Japanese market but that must've been in the nineties. On keyboards we have none other than Kjell Haraldsson who's played with names such as "Glenn Hughes", "Michael Schenker" and "Joe Lynn Turner" to name a few. On lead guitar we're blessed to have the youngster in the band, Anton Lindsjö. I could actually be his father (thinking about the age difference). I mean I've always been fortunate to be surrounded by GREAT guitar players (J.J. Marsh, Roine Stolt) and Anton is no exception from the rule. He's not only a great guitarist. He keeps us young (hahaha...) and he keeps us on our toes. No seriously, he's really an asset with his skills and his overall musicianship. In the future I wouldn't mind to collaborate with the guys, when it comes to writing but on "FuturePast" I'm responsible for it.
DAVE: The guitars on the album are great, a very fluid style... It's perhaps inevitable though that "FuturePast" will be compared to TFK. In fact it's less like TFK than many of the solo albums, but there's still a quite some moments of King-ness going on, why do you think that is?
HASSE: Well to start with, since I even have my own name on the album cover this time, it was very important for me to let my influences over the years be evident in the music. This fact has made me really nervous now before the album release. It would have been a lot easier for me if I only loved Genesis and tried to copy them as good as I could, or Iron Maiden or whatever. I have a very wide taste in music and so is the variety of music on "FuturePast". Today when you need to label or categorise everything extremely hard to make it sell, I'm not sure it's a good idea to record an album like that. Hey, what can you do when you have an intention to make an honest, warm, melodic and rocking sounding album? Talking about influences, some of the music I like happens to be the same as Roine's, so I guess that's why you can hear echoes of TFK here and there on "FuturePast". HFMC also has the same line-up and as you said yourself Dave, 16 years with the "Kings" can not go by totally unnoticed. In my ears, if you compare this record with KarmaKanic, Agents of Mercy, Eggs and Dogs and why not Transatlantic. HFMC sounds by far the least like TFK.
DAVE: Indeed, there's a wide range of styles on offer, I must admit being taken by surprise by the metal-ness of "Fallen Empire", is that the rocker inside of you breaking out after all these years of prog? And you're really belting out the heavier sections - have you been able to sing in a different way as it's your own CD or are there no such constraints in TFK?
HASSE: Since the songs are penned by me, it's natural that I write songs with my voice in mind, my kind of singing. When it comes to TFK, I wouldn't say that Roine gives me any restrictions. Then again most of the songs are written by Roine and that means the melodies has his kind of timing and phrasing that I have to adjust to. On "FuturePast", I've used my voice like I've never done before (on record), like in the middle section of "Piece Of The Sky" for instance, or why not the first verse of "Only My Blood", where in my ears I almost sound pretentious, which is just about as far away from my personality that you can get. I think overall this album has a lot more focus on my singing than any of the previous albums I've been involved in. The only voice you hear throughout the whole album is mine. To make it interesting for the listener, you can't sound the same all the time. You have to use your whole register, sing very soft, very aggressive and very melodic, and try to vary the timing as much as possible. I'm not sure I've succeeded with all these things but at least I gave it a "serious" try.
DAVE: You're well known for your crystal clear style with TFK, but here you're getting some good gritty tones too. "Piece Of The Sky" sounds quite Yes-influenced, and there are moments where you're a dead ringer for Jon Anderson.
HASSE: I'm not sure I'm a dead ringer for J.A. I think the fact that we have about the same range and when we're up in the higher register, our voices don't sound as "sharp" as most of the other guys with a high pitch. Maybe that's the answer to your question. The part of "Piece Of The Sky" I guess you're referring to; I deliberately tried to make it sound like something from Led Zeppelin III (the acoustic side). When Petrus and I were mixing the album, I was surprised to hear how much like Yes it sounded. It was a pleasant surprise though.
DAVE: "Piece Of The Sky" is perhaps the most "prog" song on the CD with all its chops and changes, but the whole CD is actually quite eclectic, you've mixed-up quite an array of styles and influences. Was that a deliberate ploy (like the way you tried to change your voice around a bit), or did the songs just come out like that?
HASSE: Just as I mentioned earlier, all these different styles might be hard to digest for some. I've actually been worried what people will think of a song like "Song for July" for instance, or why not the "soul" influences (even though we play it in 7/4) on the verses of "I wouldn't change a thing". On the other hand, if I would have left out those songs, you wouldn't get the complete picture of what HFMC and I are about. The positive thing when you have a debut album like FuturePast (if people tend to like it that is), is the fact that it gives you the freedom to play almost whatever you like on the follow-up CD. For me personally, the great thing with playing in a progressive rock band is that it gives you the opportunity to "stretch out", if you feel that's what the song needs. It might be a solo, or a totally new part for that matter. And yes Dave you're right about the fact that there are a lot of things going on this record, therefore it was very important for me to build a band, to get a sound together. I knew the material I had was very varied, if I would have used session musicians I don't think it would have worked. The key was to make both the band and the songs to sound like a unit. I wouldn't say it was a ploy, I just wanted to use ALL the great stuff that has influenced me over the years, without any boundaries. When I write, I write purely on inspiration. I don't have the power to choose what the song will end up like. I saw on Swedish television a couple of years ago that Benny Andersson even to this day sits in front of his piano between 8 o'clock in the morning 'til 4 o'clock in the afternoon composing. He said that it sometimes could take months, before he wrote something with any "substance". Talk about discipline!
DAVE: I see no issue with the prog audience in digesting that, and I reckon that "Song for July" would make a perfect radio-friendly single though that could go down a storm in the US! So you're viewing this as an ongoing band then rather than a one-off? Does this mean we can expect a tour at some point, perhaps as part of a "Power of Two" type setup?
HASSE: I'm glad you're saying that Dave! Maybe my worrying has been in vain then, let's hope so. I've been very keen from day one that HFMC is NOT a project, it's a new band! The whole idea with a project isn't my cup of tea. I might be old fashioned or romantic or whatever. To me a project is something you do for a certain period of time then you might not be able to realise its full potential. There's often too little time to prepare, too little time to see what will happen. HFMC is a living and breathing band that's actually rehearsing on a regular basis. For the moment we're rehearsing for at least some gigs here in Sweden. I've got a couple lined-up already. We definitely have plans to make a tour later this year, or in the beginning of next year, depending a little on the reaction of the CD. I'm just about to start discussions with another Swedish prog band about doing something together. It's too early to say anything yet but hopefully we can do something, which would be great. I think that would be a very interesting combo. I think the "Power of two" worked out just fine for Roine and Jonas and the lads, but it's not the right medicine for HFMC. The five of us got a sound together and that's the sound that people are going to hear live.
DAVE: Always difficult to pre-judge reaction, but one positive is that you've brought a fresh sound all your own to the table.
HASSE: Thank you Dave. The reason I didn't wanna use my friends in TFK was just that fact. I wanted the whole package to be different from TFK, not just the sound. I have always respected Roine for all he's been doing both musically and business wise, but if you've been playing together for 13 years, you can't agree on everything. This time around, it was time to do it my way so to speak.
DAVE: I suppose for touring and the like, time is the great enemy? Isn't it the case that you still have the dreaded "day job"?
HASSE: Yes that's true, I still work at Arlanda (Stockholm airport). Of course I would love to give all my time and energy to HFMC but that's not the way my reality looks like. I have a family and a house and everything that comes along with
it. Arlanda gives me the possibility to pay my bills and it also gives me the possibility to still play, since I have a very good contact with the staff who's in charge of the company I work for. If I need to get a month of for a tour, no problem they say. It's been that way during my years and tours with the Kings and hopefully in the future as well. Of course the best thing of all would be if this thing would take off and I could do it full time!
DAVE: Well as hobbies go, being a member of TFK in your spare time is pretty good... How was it that you became a member of TKF, did Roine just invite you?
HASSE: One afternoon sometime in 93 or 94 I got a phone call from Roine, who said he needed some help in the studio. 3 hours later I had recorded the choruses on "The flower King" and also some background vocals for some other songs on the album with the same name. I remember the impact the song "The Flower King" had on me. I couldn't get it out of my head for weeks. Before that I'd done some session work for his previous band Stolt and I guess he'd followed my career through the years, since we live in the same city. Later on I also laid down some vocals for the "Retropolis" album and after that I joined the band after the recording of "Stardust We Are". My first ever gig with the band was in Quebec City. I promise you, I'm not exaggerating if I tell you it was almost like a Beatle-mania over there, except for the fact that it was a TFK-mania. The audience and the people went totally nuts when we started to play. When they turned on the lights in the venue after the show, it sounded like a well-attended Premier League match out there, all the people were singing and cheering. What a way to start!
DAVE: I've seen TFK many times live and you always seem to be enjoying yourself a great deal on stage...
HASSE: Yes I've always felt comfortable on stage. 10 times out of 10, I prefer the stage before the studio. I really don't know the reason for this, since I definitely can't dance or something like that. I guess it just gives me a rush of "positive energy", as soon as I hit the stage.
DAVE: Final question - HFMC will be a parallel activity to TFK, you're not thinking to give up that are you?
HASSE: Oh no Dave, I have no plans to give up anything. A lot of people ask me what will happen if Roine would call, at the same time as HFMC were recording a new album or were out on the road. I don't think that would happen, it's just a matter of planning. I mean the rest of the guys in TFK have had "side projects" almost since the stone age and it has never been a problem. I actually keep in contact with both Roine, Thomas and of course Jonas on a regular basis. Since I'm not in charge of TFK, I guess all I can do is wait for the phone to ring. If Roine decides it's time for another turn, I'm definitely up for it. In the meantime, I'm having the time of my life with the lads in HFMC. I just got back from the rehearsal a half an hour ago and the inspiration, the energy and passion for the music these guys have is unbelievable!
Thank you Dave for the interesting and inspiring questions, hope to see you someday soon. Take care.
~ Interview by Olga Potekhina ~
OLGA: First of all I will ask you about the title (name) of the album "FuturePast": what is the future and what is the past for you in music and in your vision of life?
HASSE: Olga, I'm glad you like the album! Well the title is related to the music on "FuturePast". In my opinion I've used all my influences over the years but I've tried to make it sound new and fresh. To me it's not a "retro" sounding album, I'm looking ahead at the future.
OLGA: Are the songs and music completely new, composed especially for the album, or there are also some "unreleased" ideas for TFK?
HASSE: In fact I had TFK in my mind when I wrote "Only My Blood" back in 2006. Later on when Roine showed us the material for "The Sum Of No Evil", I felt that it didn't suit the rest of the material as I thought it was very homogeneous. I also had the music for "Fallen Empire" written about that time, but I couldn't come up with the lyrics until a couple of years later thanks to "Lehmann Brothers" and such, that caused the latest financial crisis. The rest of the songs were written during 2008.
"What you hear on the record is me and where I come from musically. That means it might be too much prog for some? Too heavy for some? Or maybe too much pop for some? If you just put that aside for approximately 72 minutes, feel the energy in the music and I bet it'll make you feel good!" (from Hasse Froberg’s blog)
OLGA: Was it finally difficult to turn from the "The Flower Kings" way - because TFK is so bright and "influential" musical country for all their musicians?
HASSE: I actually don't think that much about it, or analyze it that much. The intention I had with recording FuturePast, was to make it an honest, warm, melodic and rocking album. About the influences, I share some of them with Roine, even if I'm more of a "rocker" than he is (I guess?). I've played with the Kings for 13 years and of course that can't go by totally unnoticed. We also have the same line-up, maybe that's why some parts sounds a little bit like TFK? If you compare HFMC with Karmakanic, Agents of Mercy, Eggs and Dogs or why not even Transatlantic. I think we sound less like TFK than those bands! I was just so happy over the fact that I had started to write again. When I had most of the songs ready, I asked myself: "What the hell is this?" I had a hard time to label the music myself. After a while I named it "Working mans prog". Since it's more about a melody and a feeling than it's about maths and odd beats.
OLGA: The stuff of the new album of HFMC FuturePast is so various and rich. It is so interesting what comes first: the melody line, the chords, guitar riff or you can see all in once, the whole picture?
HASSE: I wrote the music on my acoustic guitar to make sure that the melody comes first! Yes you're right Olga, it's a very varied album and to be honest I've had some sleepless nights because of that. I wondered what the audience would think of a song like for instance "Song for July". On the other hand, If we wouldn't have recorded those songs, you wouldn't get the whole picture of what HFMC is about.
"4 minutes and 30 seconds of music. Did we have a plan? Yes. Did it work? No. After that, we ended up doing this compilation with just one thing in mind." (from Hasse Froberg’s blog)
OLGA: You say that HFMC is not a project but the band. Does it mean that it’s your new musical family? And I can’t miss the question about situation with TFK now ...
HASSE: In my humble opinion, projects is not my cup of tea. I might be old fashioned but a real band is what does it for me. You don't work for a certain period of time and you get the chance to see the band develop. Yes that was the first thing that I told the guys in HFMC, so that they knew what they were dealing with. HFMC is a band not a project. About the TFK camp, guess we're still having our time out. Everybody's been extremely busy, especally Roine but someone whispered in my ear, that he's talking about doing something with the Kings again. I guess only time will tell?
OLGA: Hasse, a decision not to use the brand "Flower Kings family", invited instead "Spellbound" musicians, was this on purpose or not?
HASSE: At first I was looking for members that I've never played with before. When I was asking and looking for that, I could sense that the two old "geezers" Thomsson and Ola was really up for it. To me the social thing is very important within a band and these guys are really down to earth and funny, so I thought what the heck! Kjelle was on my list of wanted players and he said yes immediately. Anton is over 20 years younger than me, I hadn't heard of him and he hadn't heard of me (even though he'd heard of TFK). Anyway I played him my songs and after that I guess he's the most motivated guy of us all. Now in retrospect, the chemistry in the band is almost too good to be true. To use two old familiar faces and two new ones makes a perfect balance.
OLGA: We hope to see all of them soon on the live concerts of HFMC band ! Do you have any plans about stuff to play? Only that new things or maybe some TFK songs, any cover versions?
HASSE: We definitely have plans to play live. We won't do any covers but we will do a couple of TFK songs but I won't reveal which ones it is yet.
"Last night we started to work, with some of the Flower Kings tunes I plan to play live. The fire and the devotion the guys put in was just tremendous!" (from Hasse Froberg’s blog)
OLGA: Would you dare to sing a TFK song at the concert with a leading vocal of Roine, or is it an absolute taboo?
HASSE: The TFK tunes we plan to do, are songs where Roine doesn't sing lead. If that had been the case, I don't think it would've been a problem, not for him and not for me.
OLGA: You are a very artistic performer on the stage, a really expressive showman! Have you always felt free on the stage from early years – I know that you concert biography began at the age of 15 ...
HASSE: I've always preferred the stage before the studio. I've always felt comfortable on stage, I don't know why though. Of course I can get nervous but it's just like positive butterflies inside my stomach.
OLGA: You have had a lot of concerts in different places, different halls. Where do you like to play more – in big concert halls or in small clubs?
HASSE: I always try to think from an audience point of view. Personally if I see a show, I think a venue that can take about 600-1200 people is perfect. You get the feeling of a concert with a massive p-a sound and lights and everything and still you get that "intimate" feeling with the band. Being on stage, you have to play more dynamic and better in clubs or theatres of this size. than bigger halls. The bigger it gets, the easier it is to get away with playing lousy. It gives you the possibility to hide behind a LOUD volume and the event itself !
"…These latest weeks we've been rehearsing quite intensively, playing and arranging the songs for a "live situation". Since FuturePast" was very much recorded live, we've concentrated on finding some "interresting" twists concerning some of the arrangements. We've also tried to work out new endings to the songs. Playing live, it feels so much better if you have a powerful final of the tune, then to leave the audience looking like a questionmark". (from Hasse Froberg’s blog)
OLGA: It’s such an interesting thing that you are not only a brilliant guitar player but … a great soccer coach also (I mean your children’ team , and the gold medal 06/07 ) ! To do this do you sometime have to ran as fast as play the guitar?
HASSE: Today I'm more of a "jogger"! I really like to run in the woods, it's the perfect way to relax. In my early days I competed for the team "Rånäs 4h". I ran 800-3 000 meters.
"Now I feel like Ted Nugent! One minute ago I got back from my running pass in the woods, where I confronted a "Wildboar" (wild hog), or whatever the name is. Guess I better do my running in the town for a while!" (from Hasse Froberg’s blog)
OLGA: Hasse, do your family, your children like your music?
HASSE: I have a daughter and a son and I guess it's not that hip to listen to their dad. They're very good to show new songs to, since they don't have a problem to tell me what they think.
OLGA: If in your childhood you were given a flute with the Ian Anderson’s autograph instead of the guitar with the portraits of Beatles, would it have an influence on your future?
HASSE: Maybe if they had given me a snare drum with Brian Downey, Ian Paice or John Bonham on it! I also played drums when I was a kid. Even to this day, I'm sure I would have been a lot better drummer than I am a guitar player. Today it doesn't really matter since I think of myself as a singer first and foremost. To tell you the truth, the first instrument I played was a "Wooden flute". It was compulsory back then. Everybody had to play it before they could go on with the instrument they initially wanted to play.
OLGA: All of us know about British prog phenomenon, but after TFK appearing all the world paid its attention on Sweden. What can you tell of Swedish musical movement before and now? Has something changed since the times of Samla Mammas Manna to TFK, Beardfish and HFMC?
HASSE: I think a lot of things has changed. People are more aware of everything these days. Back then I guess almost everyone had a more loose approach towards a lot of things. At least that's the way I remember it.
OLGA: Hasse, as you write in your blog,
"It really breaks my heart to see that there's no recordstores around anymore. Being a music geek and record collector with 1 000's and 1 000's of CD's and vinyls, it's really depressing to see the state of the music business".
This situation demands from musicians real feats! For example, you still work at the airport ...
HASSE: I think the modern way of life takes it's toll on everyone including me! Yes I work at the airport, I try to help the kids with their drivers license, at the moment I'm also repainting my house as it needs to get done... All this and lots of other stuff, when all you wanna do is concentrate fully on the music. But all I can say is that you need to be careful with your planning and you have to write everything down, otherwise you'll forget half of the things you were supposed to do!
OLGA: Oh, by the way, about painting: Hasse, I see the beautiful cover art of the album in a "Celtic" style but I can’t find strong "folk" elements in the music. So what do you want to say by this – maybe interlacing of the lines is like an interlacing of the past and future, is it?
HASSE: I couldn't have said it better myself ! It was actually an old friend of mine, Jan Olander who came up with the idea and then did the layout for the cover and the booklet. The idea came to him after he heard the music. "It sounds very "Anglosaxon" he said".
OLGA: There is a very funny photo in the booklet of the HFMC band with you as a frontman. Was it your or Jan Olander’s idea? Was it funny to take all of these photos for the booklet?
HASSE: I came up with the idea of the photos and for the separate one, I ordered the guys to sit or lay in different positions. But I'm tired of all this pics when the guys are standing and trying to look cool!
OLGA: And I like the contrast between these photos and the lyrics! Your poetry can be very serious and touching... What points are the most important for you and you would like to reveal them in your creative work? Environment, love, relationships...
HASSE: I think you just said it Olga. For the first time in my life, I tried to be very "delicate" when I wrote the lyrics. Earlier on, I almost wrote the lyrics just to have something to sing about. This time around I tried to write stuff that's important to me. I've almost always had a hard time to write the lyrics. This time it was different, it was actually quite easy. Some of the lyrics are personal, while some of them are a bit more philosophical. For instance "Piece Of The Sky" could be about your lover but it could also be about your God or whatever it is that you believe in. "Everyday" is about the everyday life I guess most of us people live. Life is not always a party. Most of us are not millionaires and we gotta go up early to work. All I'm trying to say is. Try to see the beauty, even in a dull and regular day.
"If you're happy, music can make you more happy. If you're sad, music can make you even more sad. That's how it works for me". (from Hasse Froberg’s blog)
OLGA: Of course, the main "everyday’s" musical thing for you now is a new album, and hopefully concerts of your group. But maybe you have any other music plans – for example I know of taking part in the project "The Hope" of Mark Trueack (from "Unitopia" band)…
HASSE: That's true - I've said "yes!" to "The Hope" project, now I'm just waiting to hear some music from it. I talk to Truey every now and then and it's gonna be very exiting to see what they and all the rest will come up with!
"For the moment it's interviews and interviews... But I have to say I really like it ! After the LONG birth of "FuturePast", I feel I have a lot to talk about. I can imagine it must be like going to the "shrink", talking to these journalists. I can get everything out of my system, all my thoughts, all my worries." (from Hasse Froberg’s blog)
OLGA: Hasse, we are looking forward to the HFMC concerts and to the new music with you! Much thanks for making the time to talk to me!