DPRP's Dave Baird speaks with
Roine Stolt about Transatlantic's reformation,
the new CD 'The Whirlwind' and many other things
Towards the end of 2009 I caught-up with Roine specifically to discuss the recently reformed Transatlantic and the new CD The Whirlwind. Of course Roine has his fingers in many musical pies so inevitably we also touched on The Flower Kings, Agents of Mercy, Karmakanik, 3rd World Electric, getting up in the night and those tricky Neal Morse lyrics...
DAVE: So Roine, quite a surprise to see Transatlantic back together again, because the last time we spoke to each other Neal Morse really wasn't playing ball..
ROINE: Yeah, I think Transatlantic getting together again was a big surprise for all of us. Actually Mike, Neal and I played together at a festival in the USA in August last year (2008), and it was really nice to meet the guys again in person. We'd been keeping contact by email, and stuff like that, but actually seeing the guys and playing with them was really nice. I think that was maybe the spark that got Neal into thinking "Hmmm, maybe we should do another album after all". So when I got the email from Neal, I think the beginning of January or late December (2008/9) it really was a surprise. I've been thinking and hoping over the years that perhaps there was another album in there somewhere and that we should do it. But as the years went by, just going around, playing with The Flower Kings and meeting fans, the question always came up, like a bit of an inside joke, they shake hands and say "Is there going to be another Transatlantic"? And all I could say was "I don't know, I have no idea, but I hope so". But the chances of it were looking slim and I had probably in a way given up about a year ago, so it really came as a surprise.
DAVE: When we spoke last, in 2006, you had just played on Neal's "?" album which was very close to being a reunion with everyone preset except Pete, who wasn't available at the time.
ROINE: Yeah he was asked to play, but he had other commitments, and I think perhaps he was a little bit hesitant too you know, because it was almost like a Transatlantic album, but not really, so I think he may have had mixed feelings. Of course I played on the album and really enjoyed it. I think it was probably one of Neal's better solo albums with some really strong material. I spoke with Neal on the phone and he said "Just play whatever you want, put in the Roine bits that you usually do". So I played guitar and sang, played percussion and whatever I could come up with and it was a lot of fun. And we'd been keeping in contact over the years, and he has been asking me to join him on stage on a couple of occasions too, but the time hadn't been right until last August.
DAVE: I must admit I wasn't aware of that, what was the event?
ROINE: It was a festival in America called the Three Rivers Progfest, or something like that, in Pittsburgh. It's one of the newer progressive festivals, I mean you have NEARfest and RoSfest, stuff like that, but this is the first time they had this Three Rivers festival, and they had one this year too. At the first one they had Flower Kings and Spock's Beard played there, and they had Neal Morse (laughs), so we were all there and Neal actually played with Spock's Beard.
DAVE: Well there you go, I didn't even know that! So after that Neal emailed with a bunch of MP3's or what?
ROINE: Yeah basically he said he'd been writing music and felt it was something that Transatlantic could do, and how did we feel about doing an album? There was no need for him to ask two times, we'd been wanting it, all of us, Pete, Mike and myself, just waiting, so now Neal said "Do you want to do an album", we all said "yes, of course we want to do an album, let's do it". Then it was of course a question of finding the time and for once that was pretty easy. I knew that Mike had commitments with Dream Theater with an album and tour every year, but we found a time window in April when we started to record the backing tracks and then got together to write and record.
DAVE: So you did actually meet together to do it?
ROINE: Yeah, absolutely, we always played together. We do send files, but that tends to be the overdubs.
DAVE: I guess you must write quite a bit of the music apart and then come together to get it all to gel?
ROINE: Yeah, the thing is that Neal had written stuff, I had written maybe one and a half hours of music, and Pete had half an hour as well. So we just start listening and decide what is the first theme we're going to play, then the next, and start building this big block of music from different parts, some of Pete's, some of Neal's, some of mine, then jamming together and coming up with completely new parts. We worked hard for ten or twelve days I think.
DAVE: Over in Nashville?
ROINE: Not quite in Nashville, but in Tennessee, a place called White House, not where the President lives of course, another White House, it's a small town.
DAVE: One of the interesting things with the album is that you've got some major themes, same as on the previous albums, but you have a lot more. One criticism that may people make is that you used the one main theme on Bridge Across Forever, and you beat it to death.
ROINE: Yeah, maybe that's true, I can't tell...
DAVE: You have the usual opening overture, in Neal's style, but there's a lot of stuff which is obviously written by yourself.
ROINE: Yes, absolutely! I was talking to someone else today who said that we had clearly put in more and it was less about Neal this time. I reflected on that and thought yeah, I think that's true. Looking at The Whirlwind as a piece of music and looking back I think definitely it is. I've read a lot of discussions though where people say the main theme is Neal, but it depends actually on how you look at it as the first bit of music on the album are actually from Pete Trewavas. The funny thing is that when we recorded it, Pete had this piece of music and Mike said "That sounds exactly like a Roine piece", but now in the end people may think it's a Neal piece because it has a flavour similar to what Neal has written before. Then we start putting in new segments, so it goes very fast into a piece of Neal's to a part of mine, back to Pete's, mine, Neal's, then into some jamming we did together.
Mike didn't actually write music, but we did jam stuff and recent things that I wrote vocals for later. Then another one that Pete and Mike just started jamming on a riff I did, then Neal came into the studio and we kept on jamming for a bit, and I added a few chords. They did really odd time stuff that was kind of complicated and we were just trying to figure out what they did. So they played it over and over again, Neal started singing some fake lyrics over the top of it and we were just laughing and having fun, and this become part of "Lay Down Your Life". That's the way we worked for most of the album. Looking back at for instance the first album, "All of the Above", most of it, not all, but most is Neal's and that was more like reproducing a demo that Neal made, we were just playing it and adding little bit. "The Whirlwind" is completely a four member band where of course we worked with pre-written parts, but a big chunk is written in the studio.
DAVE: Well I think that comes across. Although there's quite some diversity, it's a very coherent album, that flows very well and I still think you can hear some individual contributions. For instance I would have said that you wrote "A Man Can Feel", certainly the lyric is yours and not Neal.
ROINE: Yes, that's mine. Basically if I'm singing then it's my lyrics, except for the beginning where I'm singing and that's actually Pete's
DAVE: Then you've got "Evermore", "Pieces of Heaven" and "On the Prowl", all with a strong Roine feel.
ROINE: "On the Prowl" is partly Pete's and mine, but the main part is actually Neal's, "Pieces do Heaven", "Lay Down You Life" - the jam bit - and "Evermore" is all mine. "Is It Really Happening", that's Pete, "The Overture" and the main themes is a mix of everyone's ideas.
DAVE: One of the things that really impresses me on this album, and sorry it's not about you, but it's Pete's bass sound is phenomenal and he's really working with Mike as a great rhythm section.
ROINE: Yeah, finally you can hear it! As a rhythm section they're really full of energy and when we'd finished the 12 - 14 days of the initial basic recording process my initial impression was just "Wow", they put in so much energy each and every day. Mike was really giving everything, so much like he was almost throwing-up after each take, or nearly fainting. I was just amazed, it was almost ten years since we recorded the first album and I think there's progress. Technique of course, but more in terms of playing for the music. He still put in the typical Mike Portnoy stuff, all the fiddly bits, but definitely his best performance for Transatlantic. For the bass, there's probably a lot in the earlier albums, which if they were mixed differently you would hear, especially the first album, the bass was mixed so low, which is kind of a waste because there are lots of great baseline and you just can't hear them.
DAVE: Hey, come on now, you did a remix of that album...
ROINE: Yeah I did a sort of a remix, I took up the bass a bit, but it could have been more, and this is the nice thing with the new album, the bass playing is really great and you can hear it.
DAVE: For the guitar you're playing some nice stuff, some atypical Roine solos ...
ROINE: Yeah well you can't run away from yourself, I mean this is what I do. I try to experiment a little bit, but not too much because between playing what comes naturally and starting to look for things, I prefer to go with what just comes. You've just got to accept that this is the way I play, these are the sounds I like. I like very classical guitar, not too much distortion, not too much effects and stuff like that. I've seen some people writing that they didn't like the guitar sound, it's too dry, there should be more reverb and blah blah blah. Well I don't like to bury the guitar in too many effects. Anyone can play with lots of effects, putting everything on the guitar so it sounds like a big wall of sound. I just like the more natural dry sound, you can hear every note that you play and it leaves more room for other things, keyboards and vocals, stuff like that.
DAVE: I suspect that the comment may have come from a DPRP colleague, Ed Sander, in his review of the album. No need to get all defensive though, I for one like it a lot.
ROINE: Yeah, could be, but I'm not defending, I'm just trying to explain. I sometimes think "how should I approach this", you know every time you do a new album, for instance with The Flower Kings, should I try to look for things that are different, just because they are different? I want to progress, or the audience wants me to progress, but then in the end, after trying things I come back to the classic stuff. I listen to other people, for instance John McCartney has this guitarist, Rusty Anderson, who's playing just guitar into the amp, slightly distorted, and I just love it. Derek Trucks plays his slide guitar into a Fender amp, a little bit of distortion, and that's what I love. I hear a lot of these pro bands playing and it like they always have this Dave Gilmour times ten thing, echoes and reverbs, the guitar is just buried in effect and I think it's sometimes bordering on the tasteless.
If I look into myself I feel I don't like it and I don't want to push myself into trying all different types of weird effects just because of progressing into something or doing something different. But, as I said in the beginning, I am trying to find a nice balance and if something comes up and sounds natural... I did some weird thing, I think on "Lay Down Your Life", it could have been, with an eBow and some feedback, I did it in the basic track and we kept it. It's not a perfect solo, but it's weird and different, and felt natural to do it while we were recording.
DAVE: In fact this was my point - there's plenty of the typical Roine stuff going on, but quite some places where you are using some feedback and other weird noises that I don't recall hearing from you before.
ROINE: Well I've probably done similar that's buried on Flower Kings album's somewhere, but didn't come through in the mix, and also on stage of course. In the end though it's a question of doing what feels good and what feels natural, what you like yourself, then keeping your fingers crossed that other people like it too. As a whole, I think this is the album that I think as far as my own playing goes I am the most happy with. The other albums have parts that I'm really happy with, but parts that I didn't really like playing that much. So I think that my playing, Mike's playing and Pete's is absolutely the best on this album, and as a whole the mix is really good, the sound of the drums and everything. It took a lot of time and Rich (Mouser) would keep sending us MP3 files to listen to, with long lists of comments, he was really great to work with, really receptive, trying to make everyone happy, and in fact I think everyone was happy in the end.
DAVE: How did you approach the playing, were you influenced in any way by anything you've been listening too, or was it all inner inspiration?
ROINE: I think when we get together and start listening to the music, decide to work on a part then again, it's just what comes naturally, but then when we lay down the basic tracks it's time for listening back and contemplating. Neal is doing his overdubs in his studio - Hammond, Moog, Mellotrons, acoustic guitar (he played all the acoustic guitars), vocal bits, adjustments and trying to develop the orchestration of the piece. I'm sitting here in Sweden trying to come up with maybe more elaborate guitar parts, different sounds and trying to improve the piece, even hearing possible Mellotron or Moog stuff, and I just put it in. So we're building up on each side of the Atlantic, building different ideas and seeing how they go together. Some will stay in, some others not. From the skeleton: bass and drums, one guitar and one keyboard, we are building up the orchestration and arrangement with overdubs.
DAVE: And you just have a root idea and work it up from there?
ROINE: Well I don't know how Neal does it, but I think from the way I know him is that he probably has a clear idea of what he wants to put in the piece, more like a traditional thing, Hammond, has to be Hammond here, Moog there. I think when he writes the music he already has an idea of what he wants it to be in the end, "I want strings in this section", so he will bring in real strings etc. For me it's a little bit different because I just try to listen to what's on tape, the drums, bass, vocals, the lyrics. It's almost like watching a movie, you get some kind of image, a story even, you see something. Then you try to fill in the bits that you think are missing and that could be just anything, it's not like I have any finished idea of what kind of guitar, extra keyboard or vocal parts should be in each piece. I just listen, run it for about three minutes from the computer, listen again and again. As soon as an idea comes up, say I want to put in some flute, or Mellotron. Then I listen back, or the next day, or even a week and maybe change it, but I try to go with impulse. If I get an impulse to try something then I just do it. I don't want to do too much thinking about it.
I want it to be intellectual, but I want it more to be a feeling thing, and if I get that feeling then I trust that it will resonate in some way with the people out there. If I don't have that, what else is there? I can't speculate what people might like or what would be the perfect piece, the
fulfilment of orchestrated progressive rock. I have no idea, so all you can do is just listen to the music and when the ideas come up you just put them in and make a decision in the end before you send the files back to the guy who's mixing whatever you think should be in there. Then of course you can have opinions, I mean this poor guy, he had like 160 tracks I think, so it was probably 20 drum and percussion tracks, 2 bass tracks plus synth bass, keyboard tracks I imagine 25, and lots and lots of vocals from
Pete and me, Neal too, acoustic guitars, electric guitars through Leslie, distorted guitars, funky guitars, sound affects...!
DAVE: Mike said recently that you were hoping to go out on the road with the band?
ROINE: Yes, we were talking about it and I don't think it's too early to talk about, but I think they're actually working on it right now, trying to get a schedule for Europe first and, I'm guessing now, about early May (Ed: dates are announced in the meantime).
DAVE: Not so far away then. Now by your standards hasn't the last year been fairly quiet?
ROINE: Well not so silent really, there was Agents of Mercy, this album and another, 3rd World Electric with Jonas and a couple of other guys. So actually it has been three albums, which is more than usual. I also did a tour in Europe and the U.S. with Agents of Mercy and Karmakanic, and of course working at home with music. So really very productive.
DAVE: How did it go with Agents of Mercy?
ROINE: It was great! I said to the guys that I hadn't had that much fun on stage in years actually. It was kind of a weird idea, Jonas and myself we were saying: OK, what's going to happen, TFK is on ice for the moment, and he wanted to do some gigs with Karmakanic, but he wasn't too sure of that and then he just said, "how would I feel about doing a joint tour, Karmakanic and Agents of Mercy?". We kept talking about it and he said that as Agents of Mercy isn't really a band in that sense then how would I feel about playing with Karmakanic, "you add your stuff, then we back you guys up playing Agents of Mercy songs. So we have the same guys on stage playing two different sets from different bands".
So that's what it became in the end, Karmakanic with Nad Silvan, then Karmakanic were backing us. We called it "The Power of Two".
DAVE: Must have been a little weird for you to be the guy hired by Jonas for a change?
ROINE: Well not really, it never felt that way. We were doing it together and I think that was the feeling everyone had. In Europe we were eight persons and in the United States, six. We had a different drummer, Zoltan couldn't play in the U.S. so we had Nick D'Virgilio and also the guitar player from Karmakanic couldn't play so I played. But we felt that it didn't really matter who had written or released the music, who was in whichever band, all that, the prestige was gone and everyone was just there to play the music as well as they could, everyone was helping. It was really fun and the guys were really, really positive when we came back. After a couple of shows when everything starts locking-in it's a great feeling you know.
DAVE: So what's happening with The Flower Kings then?
ROINE: Well as I said, it's put on ice. Now that doesn't mean that it's on ice for ever, just for now. We can't say for how long, but my guess is that we'll probably start working on something at the beginning of 2010 and then hopefully have a release by autumn. That's my guess, but of course it depends on what can change, things can happen with touring and stuff with Transatlantic, Agents of Mercy etc.
DAVE: And are you motivated to do some more Agents of Mercy?
ROINE: Absolutely, in fact we're already talking about it, in fact, already writing songs for the next album. So there will be another album and probably a little bit different because the first album came out of an acoustic session that I did, and a couple of the songs are still in there, but I lifted out a lot of the acoustic and inserted some proggy stuff, ended up with half-half. It's kind of a mellow album, it's not that upbeat or up-tempo. So the way it came together was kind of odd, in the beginning I just intended for Nad to sing on two or three songs as a guest singer, but in the end he sang on most of the songs and it didn't become a Roine Stolt solo album, it became a project. Where we are going now, recording another album with input from Nad, now that we've played live on stage and we know each other, we would probably write a different type of material. Now that we've felt what we can do on stage I don't think it will be as mellow and as soft, probably more expressive, I wouldn't perhaps say rock, but more riffy maybe.
DAVE: Nad has quite a voice.
ROINE: Oh yeah, I like it a lot. It sounds sooooo good in a PA system, I'm jealous. Many people when they sing on a record it sounds great, but once they get on stage with a mic it sounds so, well, I don't know, boomy. I don't know why, but there's something with his voice, it's so clear, with the overtones, it's perfect, to my ears at least. It's the way *I* wanted to sound all the time, but I just don't have that type of voice, and I don't think many others have it either. It's great working together, he's a great guy, very easy to work with, very dedicated and probably very much like myself and Jonas, into many types of music, prog music of course, but they're very open minded. Really into old Motown stuff, pop and experimental, Zappa and you know, whatever, and it's really nice to be working with people like that.
I think it's very much the same case with the guys in Transatlantic, it's not one type of music. We can play fast and hard, but we can also play soft and nice, melodic too, and that's exactly what I like in music in general. I can't say there's any specific style of music that I don't like, I mean there are people out there who don't like death metal because of the growling voices, but I don't see it like that, I just listen and if I like it then I like it. It doesn't matter if it's death metal or nice piano music like Chopin, whatever if it works with me then it works. And it's nice to work with open minded people rather than those that say they are only into jazz, or metal, it's easier too.
DAVE: Indeed. Once upon a time I wouldn't have dreamed of listening to death metal, and then I heard Opeth...
ROINE: Yeah, they're great, they're really good, tight, good production, and what makes it more enjoyable is the contrast between the Swedish, folky, melancholic stuff and the heavy riffing and growling. I don't know if I could take two hours of just growling, but once he starts singing with his normal voice then it's really nice. It's like a mirror, a reflection on life, some days are bad, some days are really nice, you're on a beach, with blue sky, the birds singing, other days it's raining, you lose you job, your wife leaves you or whatever. Great band, I really like them.
DAVE: I had the pleasure to see them on the Prog Nation tour, they were very professional. Talking of live shows, I think the last time I saw you play was the Flower Kings show for the recording of the DVD at Tilburg. What are your reflections on that compared with the first DVD you made?
ROINE: With the first DVD we had a couple of problems that don't really show on the DVD, except perhaps that we look a bit too serious, lots of technical problems that even followed the recording afterwards. Stuff that didn't sync up, I had to manually cut the sound files into hundreds and hundreds of bits just to make it sync. We setup this ourselves, the camera team was there and perhaps we should have spent more time on someone recording the audio, but I thought OK, I can record that, no problem, but I was supposed to play also. There were problems with Thomas' keyboard rig and we had a few other problems. Hasse had the flu and was been in bed the day before, Daniel had been in bed too and I was actually getting sick the exact same day we recorded the DVD. There were a couple of things that just didn't work-out. Looking at it now, I mean we sound good, but we look, I don't know, boring.
The other one we did in Tilburg, we'd just been on tour, this was the last show and normally you could imagine at the last show we'd have the songs down, we'd be tight, but you could be tired. However, for some reason when we did it everything worked-out perfectly. I think we were into the second song and I was wondering, you know normally there's a little bit of tension when there are cameras around, a bigger crowd, and you feel hmmmm, we need to play reasonably tight. I mean you can go back and change some things, but it has to sound good and look decent. But here we were, into the second song and I was thinking, this is too good to be true. We were really tight, everything sounded good, everyone was playing the right notes, the tempos were right and I was just waiting for it to fall apart the next song, or the one after that.
DAVE: But it didn't
ROINE: Well you know there's always something that's going to fuck-up, for everyone, but bands go in and change the DVD afterwards, some even go in and play everything except the drums, which is kind of lame I think. So we were just playing song after song, fairly long songs and each and every one was working. After a while I felt just relaxed and relieved, halfway through the set and everyone seemed relaxed and happy, notes good, tempos good, the technics, cameras and equipment, it was all good.
DAVE: And a very excited crowd too that night
ROINE: Yeah it was a good crowd. The first DVD was like a studio recording session and we invited about 50 people just to give some focus.
DAVE: Tell me, at then end of the show you came our for a final encore of Stardust We Are, and that wasn't rehearsed was it?
ROINE: No, I don't think so...
DAVE: It was great, you don't see this so often in modern music, the crowd forced you back
ROINE: Yeah, but we've played to so many times that somewhere in the back of our heads we had it and everyone was relaxed so we decided just to go out and do it. If it fucked-up then we could always decide to take it out of the DVD, but it didn't!
DAVE: When you look back on your career, what are the highlights for you?
ROINE: Oh, pfffff, I don't know. Looking in the big perspective I would say the last 15 years since The Flower Kings started. I was having a lot of fun in the 70's too with Kaipa, but I was really young. I think I started at 17 and played with them for five years, so I was 22 when I already quit the band.
DAVE: And do you miss Kaipa?
ROINE: No, not really. I mean we did a couple of albums recently and I think Keyholder is a nice album, but I was hoping we'd also go back towards the more 70's sound with lots of Hammond and more folky stuff. I thought the new Kaipa became too technical, too much sequencer and the like, so I like the older Kaipa better, more organic. I don't miss it, but I do think Keyholder is a great album, it's something that I'm proud of, but I wouldn't go back. But the last 15 years with TFK with all the albums, the possibility to go all around the world to Japan, South America, The States, Europe, also the Transatlantic of course and all the other great people I've worked with. I mean just the possibility to work with musicians like Mike Portnoy and Pete Trewawas. Other's I've been working with, Pat Mastelotto, on the fusion album we had Dave Weckl playing the drums, I couldn't even imagine this 10 or 15 years ago, that I could play with Dave Weckl, he was in Chic Corea's band. That was not really possible in my universe!
ROINE: Yes, and I've been blessed with the opportunity to especially play with some great drummers, even people like Zoltan who I rate as a world-class musician.
DAVE: So who is your drummer-of-choice then, this always seems to be an issue?
ROINE: With The Flower Kings?
DAVE: Yes, The Flower Kings...
ROINE: Ahhh, that's a question I almost can't answer. The really 100% honest answer, in fact I wish you hadn't asked, but I don't think it's any secret that I always thought that Zoltan was the best drummer for The Flower Kings.
DAVE: But he can be difficult sometimes?
ROINE: Yeah, we shouldn't lie about that. But there are so many other great drummers out there and other good musicians. I just hope that I can go on working for another 10 - 15 years and there are so many musicians that I'd like to work with if possible. Some of them are younger guys, others are people I've been looking up to since I was a teenager even. This is part of the excitement, you never know what's going to happen next year, you talk about projects and some days everything just falls into place and you end up playing with one of your idols.
DAVE: Do you have anybody in your heart that you would dream of working with?
ROINE: Paul McCartney of course or Peter Gabriel, someone like that, but it's not going to happen, but there are other people I can think of if there's the right kind of project. It's just musicians and everyone is trying to survive, trying to find new and interesting projects and that's my aim for the coming years, to find new projects alongside The Flower Kings and with Transatlantic, hopefully a couple of more albums. To find new projects and musicians, to collaborate with them. I mean recently to be able to work with Lalle Larsson who is, I think, a fantastic keyboard player, one of the absolute best musicians I have ever played with, totally amazing technique.
DAVE: That piano piece he plays on Who's The Boss In The Factory is totally amazing!
ROINE: Yeah and that's just the tip of the iceberg, he's really sick, you know. Besides he's a really, really nice guy and totally dedicated to music. He loves to play and to rehearse, loves just to be there and in the music all the time, everything revolves around music for this guys, so he's great to work with. Every year there's always someone new you meet to work with and it's just fantastic to be able to come across musicians like Jonas and Zoltan, Lalle, just great. Neal and Thomas, Portnoy and so-on.
DAVE: Last time we talked you told me you'd like to do something completely different, like an orchestral work or something?
ROINE: Actually about 15 minutes before I called you I was listening back, for the first time in months, to this orchestral piece I'm working on, which is 20 minutes plus. Just to find out what bits I like, what I need to re-write and develop more. So that's a project which I'm perhaps a little uncertain, not so sure about, what it's going to be, I haven't done it before. I'm not so self-confident when it comes to the orchestration, I need to learn more. But it sounds pretty good, there are some really nice tensions, nice moods in the music. I'm working on it and it has been a couple of years now, but that's something that's probably going to come out in the next couple of years, could be next year (2010), it depends on what happens.
I have that and I have, well I normally have a couple of projects that I work on continuously, unless something comes up, like that fusion thing I was working on together with Jonas - I presented songs and he wrote songs, and it just took off from there, we got Dave Weckl in, and Zoltan, and the guys started recording. That had been lying around for some time also and I hadn't done anything until the time came and then it was just, now, do it! I have other stuff, more like guitar music, more focussed on my playing that I want to try and get ready sometime. It's difficult though, you work on it and you come to the point where... well that's the sort of person I am, I think of it when I go to sleep, I think of it when I wake up, I leave it for a couple of weeks, then when I think of it again and I just try to get the right impulses until the moment comes when I'm ready and I start making the right phone-calls, sending the necessary emails, book studios, drummer and just go with it. I can't just write the music then record it, it tends to lie around in my computer for months, years sometimes until I hit the point where I say "do it" and then it's pretty fast.
So right now I have lots and lots of songs. Possible songs for a new Flower Kings album, possible songs for an Agents of Mercy album, guitar tunes, orchestral piece, some of the acoustic stuff that I've done nothing with and symphonic prog-rock in general that's not linked with any specific project. So it's more like I'm working all the time, writing every now and then, some months more, some less, then I go into a phase where I write every day: get my breakfast, write one or two songs, get it into the computer, leave it, then come back to see how I feel about it. Then when a project comes up, like Transatlantic I do write new stuff, but already had some written that I thought would fit.
DAVE: Well I guess it's a good idea to always have some material floating around?
ROINE: Yeah, when the inspiration is there you should write. If I had started to write only when Neal emailed me to say "let's make a new Transatlantic album" then I'm not sure I could come up with the right stuff just because someone tell me we're recording. I think it's much better if you can write a load of stuff, say ten songs, and out of the ten you can pick two that are really good ones.
DAVE: When you say "writing", do you mean strumming on guitar, sitting at the piano or do you actually write notation?
ROINE: I actually work in Apple Logic, so that does the notation, but in fact we never use that, in TFK and Transatlantic we're always listening. Normally I would say I write on the electric piano or synth. Sometimes on guitar, but mostly on keyboards because it's convenient, I can map out the bass and drums, make a demo, that's what I mean by 'compose'.
DAVE: Noodling around...
ROINE: Yeah, noodling around on the keyboard and finding some nice chords, sometimes I have a melody in my head in the morning when I wake up and I have to go fast into the studio to get it down. Lyrics too, I have to find a piece of paper to scribble them down, otherwise I'll forget it. I'll go to bed and I'll start thinking of something, then I have to get up to go find a piece of paper also to write it down. Sometimes you're able to sit here, be focused and disciplined and write music just like any other daytime job, but other times it just comes from nowhere, I even have a pocket memo, if I'm travelling I can use that.
DAVE: Doesn't sound like you're running out of ideas?
ROINE: Oh no, absolutely not, sometimes you just need to take a break. I don't think I could just be here writing and recording stuff all the time. I find it really refreshing to go out there and play that music from time to time, to know you can still do it, then get back to some paperwork and then back to listening and writing, map out the next steps, next projects and al that.
DAVE: Do you get more pleasure from playing live or recording?
ROINE: Well it's equal in a way, but they're not the same, they are a different kind of thing. When you're writing and recording demos you're alone, it's a different experience. I'm not saying it's not bringing feelings of joy because it can be, when you write something and it all falls into place then it's lifting you up. It's not always like that though, sometimes it's hard work and you've got to find solutions and just get through it.
When you're on stage playing with a band then you can feed off the other musicians' energy, if you've a good drummer and he's playing exciting stuff then you get excited too. Seeing happy faces, people in the audience really enjoying the music, that's energy that you can feed off too. So it's really a different thing. I also really kind of enjoy travelling in the sense of seeing different places, different cities, meeting people, the fans, the promoters sometimes as many of them are actually nice people too, being with the band together, in restaurants, cracking jokes, all that.
DAVE: Not all the time though, with family to get back to
ROINE: Yes of course, I have my two kids, now 20 and 16
DAVE: Coming back to Transatlantic again, the lyrical content, this is often for some people a problem with Neal, with his "Old Testament" style. I don't have the lyrics to read, but I hear hints of this, however I read on the web that people think it's an ecological message, is that true?
ROINE: No I don't think so, not really. What he tried to explain to us, over dinner, was that the Whirlwind was something that he and a friend were talking about. It's something from the Bible, where God or something is talking about this whirlwind. I think it's supposed to be looking at life, the whirlwind that were thrown in, which in a way I can relate to - like we said before, some days are just great and the next day something horrible happens. This is something happening all over the globe, every day and this is supposed to be the Whirlwind, trying to understand what it is and why bad things happen.
In our way of thinking, bad things aren't supposed to happen. Even storms can do damage, but we've got this big storm in our lives which is impossible for us to understand with our human minds. We've been trying to explain this for hundreds of years and we still don't know.
DAVE: I'm not sure we ever will
ROINE: Yeah, definitely! My personal opinion, not Neal's, is that the sooner we can come to the point where we just surrender to the fact that this is just how it is, you know, that's poverty, that's tsunamis, that's planes crashing, people killing each other for money, people getting poisoned or a nuclear plant blowing up in Russia, these things happen. We think it's terrible, which it is, and perhaps some of them could be stopped or prevented, but regardless these things do happen. Sometimes it's because people have greed for money or power.
So I'm thinking that the Whirlwind isn't about global warming, although there may be something in there, a line or two. I'm pretty sure it is something from the Bible that Neal got and thought strongly to write about. However, perhaps the funny thing is that we didn't really use that much of his original material. He sent us a initial demo track, called the Whirlwind, I think it was about 43 minutes long, but we only used a couple of bits from that. In the end he did a few new pieces, like The Rose Coloured Glasses I think, that was just made up on the spot, his father had just died and he put some of that into the lyrics. I had my lyrics that I had been writing here in Sweden and it was before I knew anything about this project, but somehow in the end we managed to put it all together and make it sound like a concept.
Kind of weird really, maybe that's part of the Whirlwind too! I think that's the thing with art, you do it with some kind of conviction and feeling that it should fit together, because you want it to fit together and then suddenly, in most people's eyes it probably will. Yes there will always be some who will also say, no no, that's just 12 songs stuck together, they should have just made separate three minute songs.
In the big picture though, when I'm listening to it, I get the impression that it's one piece with a story although I'm not sure what the story is. And this is a feeling I get too when I listen to many of my
favourite tracks, when I listen to Tales From Topographic Oceans or The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, I don't go into the lyrics and check to see if it all fits together perfectly. Probably, if you look at The Lamb Lies Down then there are some songs that could be separate, but when you put them together in the sequence they were done it has a nice flow and makes for a story, it fits together.
DAVE: Well yes, I think the Whirlwind is very consistent, but without reading the lyrics you can already hear Neal singing about "the master's house" and I think, oh-oh, here we go again...
ROINE: Well it was a little bit of a tricky situation, we didn't want it to be like a Neal Morse Christian album, but on the other hand we didn't want to stop Neal from writing what he felt was important either. It's a very delicate balance for letting Neal sing and play what he believes in, and that's important in music, if you believe in what you're singing, if you believe in what you're playing then it's going to be a good album. If there's someone holding you back saying you can't do this, you can't do that, you can't play this, you can't sing that, you can't sing in that way etc., I don't think that's a good thing.
We didn't talk that much about it, we did a little bit, but everyone was really graceful about it and felt that we needed to give Neal some space to do what he wants to do, then if he goes into too much of the God and Jesus thing, which personally I don't have too big a problem with, although I can imagine some fans do have, then we would probably have talked about the lyrics. I don't think we ever came to that point, so I think the mix of mine, Pete's and Neal's lyrics came out maybe a little bit
Christian, but not too much.
DAVE: Sure, it's not over-bearing, there are hints of it. It's not like listening to Neal's solo CD's where it's like being hit over the head with a big stick
ROINE: Even if you look at the two previous Transatlantic albums you can find stuff there too, similar. In Flower Kings lyrics you may find it too, it comes natural for guys like us. I know it hurts some people so much, I read a lot about Neal's lyrics and sometimes I think, hmmmm, give the guy a break! I can understand what they're saying and people don't like being told what to believe in, but it's about the music and about someone trying to express himself in a way that he feels important.
DAVE: OK Roine, I'm done! That was a long one...
ROINE: Yes, time for dinner
DAVE: Thanks a lot Roine and best wishes
ROINE: Thanks very much!
Interview for DPRP by Dave Baird
Roine Stolt - MySpace
The Flowerkings - Official Website
The Flowerkings - MySpace
Transatlantic Official Website
Agents Of Mercy - MySpace
Kaipa Official Website
DPRP Interview with Roine Stolt in 2006 by Dave Baird
DPRP Interview with Roine Stolt in 2007 by Martien Koolen
DPRP Concert Review: The Flower Kings
DPRP Review: Transatlantic - The Whirlwind (2009)
DPRP Review: The Flower Kings - The Sum Of No Evil (2007)
DPRP Review: The Flower Kings - Paradox Hotel (2006)
DPRP Review: The Flower Kings - Meet The Flower Kings DVD (2003)
DPRP Review: The Flower Kings - Instant Delivery DVD (2006)
DPRP Review: Agents Of Mercy - The Fading Ghosts Of Twilight (2009)
DPRP Review: Roine Stolt - Wall Street Voodoo (2005)
DPRP Review: Karmakanic - Entering The Spectra (2002)
DPRP Review: Karmakanic - Wheel Of Life (2004)
DPRP Review: Karmakanic - Who's The Boss In The Factory (2008)
DPRP Review: Neal Morse - ?