DPRP’s Phil Chelmsford speaks with Jonas Reingold, bass player extraordinaire, about his band Karmakanic, their DPRP recommended new album In a Perfect World, how he writes music and the musicians he’s worked with. We also chat about music in general, Prog and Prog-nerds, his education and much more…. Read on to find out more about one of the nicest, most humble, talented Bass players and qualified musicians in Progressive Rock.
Phil: You have been touring with the Agents of Mercy recently. How’s that been going?
Jonas: It was good.. we drove thru Europe. We played our first gig in Germany then we drove down to Switzerland, played a gig in Holland and we drove all the way up to Helsingborg (Sweden) and then to Norway where we played one gig in Stavanger and 1 gig in Oslo. We played 6 dates in 10 days so it was a lot of driving. I took the Mac (laptop) because you know you have nothing to think about when your inside a car so I measured it and if we had have carried on driving in a straight line with the mileage we covered it would have taken us all the way down to Central Africa or Mongolia if we had gone east. All to play for a couple of hundred people… You must be a nut-case…
Phil: I believe at one point you were talking of coming to visit us here in the UK with that tour?
Jonas: No.. I think we had something going in London but for some reason that I don’t know it never happened. Probably money issues.
Phil: Previously you have toured with both AOM and Karmakanic together, which made sense. How come not this time?? Considering you have just had the new album out?
Jonas: We discussed it, Roine (Stolt) and I, and we decided as I will tour with Karmakanic in 2012, hopefully in the last two weeks in April to the first week of May. I think from a Karmakanic point of view if we did this tour it would too much Karmakanic for Europe. We are not that big so we have to choose our moments carefully.
We made that mistake with the Flower kings… we toured every year, you know, sometimes two times a year for almost 10 years and people got fed up with us so we learn by our mistakes. So I think it was good not to go with Karmakanic on the AOM tour and save it for April/May.
Phil: Then again there are other bands out there that are thriving from playing live, take for example your old stable-mates The Tangent, I’m actually going to see them this week for the 3rd time in a year.
Jonas: Yeah but I think it can be dangerous to do that also as the market is over flooded with Progressive Rock bands at the moment with so many bands playing live and if you’re not careful, or hysterical good, people could get fed up if you tour too much. The first 5, 6 or 7 times its maybe OK but with the Flower Kings we did 15 tours in 10 years which is too much.
Phil: I must admit that is a lot…. I go to lots of gigs myself and, from a fan point of view, sometimes it’s nice to have a break from going to gigs as they can end up all merging into one and you don’t look forward to them quite as much. I went to quite a few in quick succession in the summer and now had a break as they were becoming a chore. Now I’m seeing The Tangent this week (Oct 2011) which is my first gig in about 12 weeks so I’m now really looking forward to it.
Jonas: Yeah I also think so.. in the 90’s I went to a lot of concerts.. almost every week… I went to Jazz clubs, I went to regular concerts, but now days I get a bit tired of standing all the time plus it’s too loud 9 times out of 10 (Phil: I totally agree). I think if I go now it’s something I really want to see… like I always try to catch all the Prog bands when they come to my area in Sweden. I will always catch Alan Holdsworth (he is a favourite of mine) also Kings X I have seen 5 or 7 times I think
Phil: Do you know the guys in any of these bands at all or do you just go along as a fan?
Jonas: I go as a fan… Alan Holdsworth, I have talked to him a couple of times.. so I think he knows about me and also the guys from Kings X probably know about us as we are label mates on Inside-Out.
Phil: Over the last few years Prog is probably as alive as it’s ever been… have you found that your own fan base has steadily increased.
Jonas: I don’t know…
Phil: OK let me put it this way, from the first album up to the latest album, have you found you are selling more?
Jonas: Yes Karmakanic is always selling more and more with every album. I had a meeting with Inside-Out a couple of weeks ago in Dortmund and they are quite happy with the sales of the new album. It even made it into the charts in Holland.. in the bottom end but still in the charts. (Phil – Brilliant!!).. Yeah its great.
Phil: Cool…. Coming on to the album then… In a Perfect World… what a great album I absolutely love it. How happy are you with it?
Jonas: I’m very happy… quite often you get the question is this your best album so far and most artists say ‘Yes it is’. Idon’t say that because I think time will tell what I think about the album because if we are still playing songs from In a Perfect World in 6 or 7 years from now it’s probably a good album… so I think time will tell if it’s a good album or not. It’s very hard to be objective when you’re in the middle of everything and you know, I never listen to an album when it’s finished/out there in the stores unless I need to practice the songs or listen to a section to see what the keyboard did there, you know, for live rehearsals but I never listen to my own music.
Phil: I have heard lots of artists say that and I don’t think there is ever anybody more critical of your own work than yourself probably.
Jonas: No, but what I do feel is a development, compared to the other three albums, was the lyrics I would say. I put a lot of time in the lyrics this time plus that I had a gal in Los Angeles co writing the stuff with me, her name is Julia Olson. So I wrote a synopsis of the lyrics and sent it to her. She had a go with it, I then changed a few things and sent it back. We then sent the lyrics back and forth like that till they were looking something like a finished song. So that was a very good way for me to work as I’m not a native speaker and for me it´s hard to express my ideas in English, I’m writing in English so it should be natural to discuss the lyrics in English, it gives me a whole new dimension on how people interpret my lyrics. For instance I was saying something and she totally misunderstood it because of the barrier between Swedish and American. So for me it was good to dig into the language a little bit deeper and it’s been a great learning process for me. I probably spent 4 months just on the lyrics.
Phil: You said her name was Olson… is she Swedish or of Swedish origin?
Jonas: Yeah she is married to a Swede so she has some Swedish connections but you know she has only visited Sweden twice.
Phil: So talking about the tracks… 1969, the first track, is your stereotypical Karmakanic song that follows straight on from the other albums.
Jonas: Yeah… you know you have to have a song that fans can recognise. If you change too much people will just dismiss the album directly. It will give them 15 minutes of the typical Karmakanic sound so at least our trade mark is on the album. Then you can experiment a bit with things after that. I never think like that when I’m writing the songs but you can feel immediately this is a typical Karmakanic song and the longer you work with a track the more you think this will be the epic of the album and why it is first on the album.
Phil: How to you get your ideas all together to build the structure of a song. Take the first track 1969 as an example… It’s 14mins long, lyrics, main musical theme, instrumental passages etc etc… Where do you start?
Jonas: Normally I start with what I call a good head theme. You need a theme that opens a song and a theme that closes the song. So normally I get the idea of a symphonic theme, the melody which often comes when I’m sitting down on the piano which gives a structure from which you can work from. Once you compose that part then its only hard work for the rest… then you are using the theme, same chords and notes here and there from that theme. For example the soft part in the middle of that song, where Nils is singing, its exactly the same chords as in the beginning so that makes the composition coherent I think…
Sometimes when I hear bad prog (and I’m not saying that 1969 is the book of how you should write a symphonic peace as there are no rules in music) they just put everything into the composition and for me it’s just ridiculous as it shows the guys may be a bit lazy as they are not working with the material they are just like ‘this is cool let’s play this for 2 minutes’ then someone else may have said ‘this is cool now let’s plays this for 2 minutes’ (Phil – it’s dis-jointed) Yeah, Yeah… for me it’s not coherent and if a piece is 15, 20 or 30 minutes it should be coherent and you really need strong themes if you are going to do a mish-mash of everything.
Phil: Yeah I agree with you….
Jonas: If you take bands like YES for example… Awaken is a brilliant example of how to keep the whole flavour and coherence into the whole piece and it is one of the best Progressive rock pieces ever written I think. in my book…
Phil: Just going back to what you said some other bands/artists are like.. I believe that there are those who just write Prog songs on the basis of it being a 20 or 30 minute piece because they believe as a prog band that’s what they are expected to do rather than keeping to the themes of what you mention regardless of if the track turns out to be 5 minutes or 25 minutes… it’s the content that matters… Quality not quantity.
Jonas: Yeah absolutely.. I don’t think you can make relevant music doing it from just a theory, an ideal or a concept you need a good strong melody that you’re working with I think. That’s how I see music… that’s how all the good / big composers, that I respect, write their music… guys like Richard Strauss, Wagner, Mahler, Stravinsky etc.
Phil: I think a sign of a good prog composition is where it has twists, turns, key changes, different time signatures etc played by top musicians but they still make it easy to listen too.
Jonas: Yeah that’s the hard part you know…. Now we are coming to the core of music… it doesn’t matter how complex it is if it has no soul, a strong rhythm or good melody it is just becoming rubbish I think.
So that’s the trick to make meaningful, soulful music that has complexity to it and that’s why it’s so hard to write good songs…. I struggle every day and it’s getting harder with every record I produce to write what I think is a great song. I’m always very respectful and humbled by people that write good songs, even if it’s only 3 minutes. The Beatles for example were the masters of writing good memorable melodies.
Phil: …and doing it in 3 to 3 ½ minutes…
Jonas: Yeah that’s it… they are like the pinnacle of song writing I think…
Phil: …and using probably 3 chords as well….
Jonas: Yeah… and if it’s soulful and has a good balance you don’t even need chords you know…
Phil: OK.. perfect.. well just moving on to the track ‘Turn it up’ from ‘In a Perfect World’ . It’s a great track with a great hook… although I have read criticism of the track online saying it’s not ‘proggy’ enough and it’s too Poppy and too catchy?? I must say I totally dismiss those criticisms as its ridiculous. Having said all that I hear that the song nearly didn’t make the album
Jonas: I was not too keen on that song. After I finished my demo I had maybe 12 or 13 songs and then took away 4 or 5 that I wasn’t going to use. I sent out the demo’s to the guys and Göran (Edman – Vocals) was really into this track as he loves to sing a song like that. He convinced me to keep working on the song and record it. Now I’m glad I did as it gives a great balance between the opening track of 14 minutes with a lot going on following with something very simple as a contrast to the complexity.
If you go on with that level of complexity it’s only the Prog nerds or hard core proggers (Phil – or Prog-Snobs as we like to call them) that will like the album I think. For me when I listen to the album now it’s a good contrast to the complexity.
Phil: I agree.. I think the song sits in there perfectly
Jonas: I have read some good things about the track too (Phil – me too) and think it’s a good eye opener to anyone that may not usually listen to prog… if they hear that song they might think ‘hey if this is progressive rock I might like to check out Karmakanic’ and it’s a way of presenting the music to people who are not yet into progressive rock at all.
Phil: Well let’s face it, Genesis has had hit singles, YES have had hit singles, Pink Floyd etc etc
Jonas: Yeah you need it to survive… to write appealing music to the audience. Having a mix of everything is great for me. For example I’m a big fan of Close to the edge but I’m also a big fan of Big Generator… for me it’s just good music even though a large number of the Prog audience would say it’s just bollocks (laughs) but for me it’s really well produced and it has a great sound. For me when I was a kid and put that record on for the first time and heard ‘Rhythm of love ’that bass kicked in it was just awesome.. I was in heaven.. and I think that is a very well written pop tune, especially compared to music played on the radio today that doesn’t even have any melody.
Phil: That’s a whole discussion on its own isn’t it…. I’m sure us fans of ‘music’ could discuss the rudiments of pop / chart music for a very long time
Jonas: Yeah I’m sure.
Phil: You mentioned previously that you had written several songs that didn’t make the album. How far had you actually gone with those songs?
Jonas: Some made it to the drum session and some didn’t. it’s just good to have a lot of material and I keep it in my vault and you never know.. one day I may go back and listen to the songs and think.. hey that’s kinda good.. and maybe take a part from a song and do something else with it or maybe release a special edition with additional bonus tracks on it.
Phil: Back to ‘In a Perfect World’… the song ‘Can’t take it with you’… a very interesting song with that mix of Latin and metal…. Who’d thought that would ever work on paper… but it does so well…
Jonas: That track was kind of special, normally I don’t write songs like that. I was sitting in my studio composing songs and after 10 days or so you feel like you are composing the same song over and over again. So I told myself write something that you have never written before and see how that would sound like. So I thought of a Cuban Latin groove but do it in 7/8 instead of 4/4 and put a heavy riff on top of it. So I did and kinda liked it immediately, so I started to work on the song, wrote the lyrics and asked Lalle (Larsson) to do something on top of that riff and he composed the marimba piece that goes over the riff which makes it totally out there I think. I have never heard a song like that.
Phil: Yeah it’s certainly original and you have well and truly mixed the two styles together.
Jonas: I think in terms of progressive rock that is a progressive track as it’s never been heard before in that style or mix between styles and to play Latin in 7/8 never happens.
Phil: I just want to talk to you about the last track… ‘When Fear comes to town’ that you wrote about a terrorist attack (suicide bomber I believe) in Sweden
Jonas: We never had it here in Sweden before… a suicide bomber… and it was totally foreign to us. We watch stuff like that on the television then suddenly it happens in our own back yard… in tiny little Sweden. I watched the news when it happened and immediately after watching that I felt I had to write a song about it. That is a good example of a song where the lyrics comes first as the title of the song just popped into my head ‘When fear comes to town’ it is the total opposite to write the melodic theme first as I didn’t pick up the guitar to work on the music until I had written a few lines of the song first.
Phil: So did you write the lyrics for this song completely yourself or did you still have the help of Julia Olson
Jonas: I probably wrote about 90% of those lyrics completely and I sent it to her for a final check.
Phil: Hasn’t your wife helped you with lyrics in the past?
Jonas: Yeah she did… she was very involved in the lyrics on ‘Who’s the boss in the factory’ and ‘Wheel of Life’. My wife is very talented.. she is heavily involved with everything I do, she is working for my record company, she is working with mewhen I’m writing stuff because she is the first audience I have. Every time I write a song I play it to her first, as I trust her a lot, if she says that a song ‘sucks’ then that song is no more and I just drop it.
Phil: Does she listen to progressive music?
Jonas: Hell yeah, we been together over 20 years so of course she heard all the relevant stuff within the prog genre plus she has been touring with Agents of Mercy and when we did the Power of two thing she was singing vocals for both Agents of Mercy and Karmakanic.
Phil: Just going back over your previous albums and the time scales between each… you had a 2 year gap between the first 2 albums then the third there was a 4 year gap… was that due to your other work commitments?
Jonas: Yeah… there was a lot of Flower kings, Tangent, Kaipa… I was involved with several other projects because during that time I was running my studio on a commercial basis so I had a lot of customers coming in and out of the studio but now days I’m only focussing on Progressive Rock at least 90% of my time. So I’m making my living from this now and therefore I have more time to focus on Karmakanic or Agents of Mercy or whatever comes up in the future.
Phil: I notice just looking through the line ups the first Karmakanic album had quite a few people playing on that album.
Jonas: Yeah and even more on Who’s the Boss in the factory.
Phil: Yeah I see that you had loads of musicians on that album… although this latest album you just have the bare band as it were.
Jonas: Yeah… because when you record an album over a long period of time it is very difficult to hold it together because you might come back to a song a year later and not like the guitar solo or the guitar groove or you don’t like the drum parts or whatever and then maybe your original drummer is not available because he is touring with someone else etc so you have to bring in somebody else. I think ‘Who’s the Boss in the Factory’ is a result of that but still its great music. This time I tried to compress the recording time so we got the whole album together in 2 months and that was a record for me although I had worked with the songs for 8 months.
Phil: I think the one person who has been key to the Karmakanic sound, apart from yourself, is the voice of Goran (Edman)
Jonas: Yeah he’s a great singer, first of all, and he is a really humble and down to earth guy. He has no ego, he has no arrogance and therefore I have no reason to ever change that. I love working with the guy and he is just perfect for me.
Phil: You are the only two who have worked together on every album I believe?
Jonas: Yeah, yeah we are.
Phil: I believe Roine (Stolt) was involved with the first 3 albums?
Jonas: Yeah he was heavily involved in the first two albums Entering the Spectra and Wheel of Life. On ‘Who’s the boss in the factory’ he mixed and played on one song.
Phil: Talking about all the musicians you have worked with…. Who might you say has been the most challenging or even enlightening to work with over the years?
Jonas: I don’t know… (laughing)… I think it differs from time to time because any relationship is very organic whether it be with a musician, your wife, your children… it will always be in motion. So sometimes it is very easy to work with a person and sometimes, all of a sudden, its not and that could be because of something that has happened in their life or yours so everything is moving around and I cannot pick out one single person who has been any more challenging that someone else.
I think in terms of positive experience or mind blowing experience would be when we recorded ‘Who’s the Boss in the Factory’ and this accordion player came to me at the studio called Lelo Nika. I knew he was great because he had played with Joe Zawinul of Weather Report (and you don’t get that gig if you’re lousy). It was so shocking as he had never heard the song… I asked him if he wanted to listen to the song first before we start to record… he said ‘no problem I will just play along’… I said Ah! OK! . So he found his spot in the studio and sat down and I set up the mics, checked the sound, the levels and everything and he said ‘Just record me’… so I did.
Amazingly the take on the album is his first take… he recorded that for 3 minutes and then poked his head out from the studio and said ‘if you’re happy I’m happy’. I was in shock as that was the best performance I had ever heard in life and in my studio. He was in the studio for 5 or 7 minutes… that’s all and then he was off. I then just walked around the house for 3 hours not being able to believe what I had experienced. It was amazing, it was crazy… never had I experienced or met someone with so much musicality. For me it’s amazing how anyone can do that… it was just perfect.
Phil: Just moving onto you as a bass player… You very often get rated very highly in bass player polls on websites and magazines etc. That must make you feel good?
Jonas: It does you know… because I work a lot to sound like I do, I practiced a lot when I was younger and it’s always nice toget some recognition for your hard work I think… Normally I say to people I’m not particularly talented, of course I have a musical ear and I know how I want it to sound, but I’m not this raw talent, unlike the guy I spoke about previously (Lelo Nika), but I’m consistent and I know what I want in my playing and I work really hard so for me it’s great to get the recognition because of that. Once I read an interview with John Scofield, the guitar player, and he said ‘I’m not talented It´s just work hard’ and that is so true. Everybody can achieve their goals if they work hard… It’s just a matter of keeping the vision where you want to go and the practicing discipline to get there.
Phil: Well I believe one of the good things about what you do is not to ‘overplay’. This can be a symptom of some Progressive rock where they seem to overplay… i.e. play notes etc for the sake of it..
Jonas: No I like to call my playing ‘Creative overplaying’ (both of us laughing). I do play more notes that a regular rock bass player but I’m trying to support the song in every way. If a song needs a basic bass line I will try to come up with a basic bass line if that’s the right direction to go. Sometimes I just play long notes and do nothing because what matters in the end is to support the song as a bass player. That goes for the drummer or anybody contributing… you got to support the music… A lot of people tend to forget that and overplay when there is not a need to do it.
Phil: Sticking with the Bass player theme… which other bass players do you admire?
Jonas: Of course Chris Squire (Yes).. and I was very honoured a couple of years ago when he turned up to watch the Flower Kings so it was really cool to talk to him after the gig. Of course cats like Jaco Pastorius (Weather Report) he is my musical hero… he revolutionised the bass playing in the 70’s. A couple of other guys would be Billy Sheehan and Jeff Berlin. Of course Paul McCartney is a great pop bass player also I think…
Phil: Some great names there…..
While carrying out research for the interview I found several domain names for websites?? Which is which?? Must be a bit confusing for people looking you up.
Jonas: www.reingoldmusic.com is the only one that has not been updated and that I feel ashamed of because that’s actually my site and I lost all the log in details and keep saying ‘I must take care of that’ and it never happens because other things get in the way… so I always feel bad about it.
There is also a fan site run by a guy in Holland
Phil: I also read that you studied music is that right?
Jonas: Yeah I have a Master’s Degree in music…
Phil: Wow!! So that means you are a proper musician then (laughing)
Jonas: (laughs) Yeah I can tell the Grandmother to somebody that I have studied music and I know my shit (still laughing)…
You know I was 21 when I attended the University here in Sweden and spent 4 years there getting my degree. The reason I went to University is that I couldn’t support myself as a musician many years ago and as you get funding from the Swedish Government to attend university, I spent 4 years there. It’s really hard to get your arse into those schools so you really have to master everything before you start. So once you do get in they can’t really teach you much more in terms of theory etc. its just repetition of what you already know , but they could never teach you to sound good, that you have to do on your own.
Phil: Do you ever teach?
Jonas: Sometimes… I do master-classes, a couple every year. I go to a school and talk to the students. Sometimes I talk about the music industry, how it works, giving tips of what they should focus on as well as normal musical subjects like theory or practicing etc… I’m not teaching bass players only though I’m teaching everything.
Phil: Do you do any master classes for Amp or guitar manufacturers? Do you have any sponsorships/endorsements?
Jonas: Yeah I work with a company in Sweden called EBS, so I have been out with them a couple of times doing small tours of music stores.
Me and Zoltan did something a couple of years ago with an American guy called Don Fomalaro… Zoltan was endorsed by Sabian cymbals and I was endorsed by EBS.
Phil: What do you think you may have done if you had not been a musician?
Jonas: I don’t know but when I was 15 years old I had the choice of studying either Legal stuff or music and I chose music of course… So if I had chosen the other path I may have been earning a lot of money and living in a big house as a Lawyer (laughs) but I think music would have still been with me no matter what I did.
Phil: It must be nice having a job that’s also your hobby?
Jonas: It is, it is… I don’t consider music as a job… it’s a way of life!! and if you can earn some money from it too… it’s even better.
Phil: Just before we wrap-up… (and this is something I ask everyone when I first interview them)… I want to ask you if you know who you share your birthday with… Your birthday is 22nd April? Correct?
Jonas: Yeah that’s correct… A bell rings, is it Neal Peart??…
Phil: No… unfortunately not.. his birthday is in September… (as Phil quickly Googles an answer)…
So musician wise you share it with the violin master Yehudi Menuin, Country star Glen Campbell and Peter Frampton, as well as actor Jack Nicholson
Jonas: Really!! You never know… one day we can throw a big party together (laughing)
Phil: Well Thanks for talking to me for the DPRP website and it’s been an honour talking to someone I consider as my favourite bass player and wish you all the best with this new album.
Jonas: Thank you Phil.. it’s been nice talking to you