With Kaleidoscope just released and Transatlantic about to hit the road, guitar/vocalist Roine Stolt took a break from tour rehearsals to give TPA a call from sunny LA and to discuss the new album, the bands’ evolution and the upcoming shows…
Interview for The Progressive Aspect by Dave Baird. Progressive Nation at Sea photos by Gerianne Brenters.
Good evening Roine and thank you for speaking to The Progressive Aspect
So, reflections on Transatlantic, forming almost 15 years go, but only four studio albums, and yet you’ve become ubiquitous, with legendary status, how come?
I don’t know. I sense it was almost like legendary status from day one, at least from the second album, but of course we have also released a number of live albums too and we’ve been on and off over the years. This is just the way it works because all the guys in the band have other projects, in general I would say Marillion and, in the case of Mike up until the last couple of years, Dream Theater made it very difficult. It’s just the way we work and then we get together to make music, just when we can to record and tour, in this case European, North American and South American.
And the middle of the sea, too, right?
What prompted you guys to get together this time, who had the lead on that?
I think we’d talking about it for around one and a half years, but there was always some obstacle. Finally the stars are aligned to allow us to get together
Did it follow the usual pattern?
Yeah, pretty much. We followed our regular pattern I would say, from what we’d done for previous albums, or at least the same as the last one. When we get together we don’t have finished songs; we have been some bits and pieces, sections, ideas, then we get together and we talk about it, map it all out and we jam some, and we try to construct something. As you probably can hear, little bits of dibs and dabs, but it’s progressive rock so that’s all open to the way you want to construct songs really, we don’t restrict it to radio-friendly pop songs.
I mean this is what we do. I don’t think it’s entirely new, I don’t think it’s extreme in any kind of way, it’s just a band of four guys, with a certain degree of talent and lots of ideas and we just get together to make music.
Once again, I guess, that your came with a hard-disk full of ideas, you put them in front of the guys. Neal and Pete probably the same and then you some-how meld it all together?
Yes, that’s the way it works and we don’t know beforehand what’s going to happen, we just trust in the, I don’t know, the “forces” or those stars to align – again – that will produce something which is worthy of the name Transatlantic.
So one week in Nashville, right? And you use those sessions to map out the bare-bones structure of the tracks?
Yeah, that’s pretty much what we do, we lay down the backing tracks. So that means that what you hear on the album – 90% of the bass, or maybe 95% and perhaps 25% of the guitars and keyboards. The rest of the guitars, keyboards and the vocals, that all overdubbed stuff in our home studios, where we can spend time trying out things and getting the right sound for the synths, Hammond organ, or whatever – guitar amps, getting the acoustic guitars and the vocals right, the lyrics and all that.
With The Whirlwind it pretty much followed that you composed the sections where you were singing. Is that still the case?
Yeah, I would say nine times out of ten, you know, although sometimes Pete or Mike might be singing some of my pieces, or me singing some of Neal’s, but broadly speaking if you hear my voice then it’s my track. For the instrumental stuff it’s a mix of mine, Neal’s, Pete’s and Mike’s, and sometimes we just sit down and jam it comes out.
Yourself and Neal have very distinctive styles from one another, a signature sound. This might be a bit of an odd question, but you’re always getting constantly compared to your main bands – The Flower Kings in your case and the old Spock’s Beard for Neal. Do you get fed-up with this?
I don’t think much about it really. Sometimes I find it amusing because some critics would say something like “it’s a very weak Flower Kings song”, but suddenly if I do something with Transatlantic they say it’s fantastic *laughs*. I mean if I look at some of the things I’ve done, people can be very critical with The Flower Kings and then everything with Transatlantic is just “amazing”, which isn’t so much frustrating, but more amusing because it shows something about the human soul or mind. I think it shows the power of this band, I think because there are so many interesting persons in this band and it’s like we can do almost anything – which is of course a good thing because that leaves some space for us to try some different things and sometimes it does turn out really good, sometimes not so good perhaps, but as long as other people think it’s fantastic then it’s OK!
I don’t know about Neal and Spock’s Beard, I think that was probably more in the beginning, you know, people compared Spock’s Beard and Transatlantic and they favoured the “old Spock’s Beard days, weren’t they great”. I think in the end that Neal just sounds like Neal and it’s same with my stuff. I would say it does’t really matter what style of music or the level of composition, refinement or quality of it. It’s not like one day I write something really fantastic and the next day I’m writing for another band, Agents of Mercy or whatever and then it will be something sub-standard. I’m always trying to write something fantastic and I’m sure Neal does the same thing; we’re all trying out best, all of the time and sometimes something really great comes out. Of course it can happen when you’ve got all these very talented people around coming with their with their input, their ideas and when you mould them together then something very interesting can materialise with certain combinations.
Coming to the album itself, the opening track, Into the Blue. I’d like to zoom in on the long solo you have in the middle of the track starting around the 13 minute mark. It’s around two minutes and it’s quite dark and moody. I guess this was overdubbed, but how do approach a solo like that? Did you write it, did you have pre-conceived ideas?
No, no, not really. Usually I just set up the amp and microphone in front of the amp. It takes about two minutes to tweak the sound a bit. I choose the guitar I want to use, I think in this case it was a Fender Telecaster and I just start playing with the track. If I’m lucky then I’ll get something after one or two takes, it happens sometimes; normally though it will take me about five takes before I’m happy with it.
This isn’t what I’d call a typical Stolt solo, much moodier…
I would say it’s a different kind of technique. I usually just try to see what the song calls for: clean, moody, spacey and it’s not like I think it out beforehand, I just listen to the song and if the music speaks to me in a certain way they I just try to go with it. I don’t put that much thought into what it’s going to be or plan that much, I just trust the feeling. I trust whatever I hear and whatever comes up, I just do my thing. If it sounds good and I like it then maybe there’s someone else out there who likes it too.
Just after the solo and into the reprise we have Daniel Gildenlöw’s cameo vocal and he sounds absolutely stunning. Why didn’t you use him more on the album?
Yes, he does sound great. I think the general idea, among the rest of the band members, is that we should keep it a four-piece. This isn’t my view, I’m always thinking how we could be better and sometimes I think having Daniel as a permanent band member would be a good thing. They’re probably going to get angry with me saying that, but Daniel’s an enormous talent and we could really lift the roof with him on-board, even as a writer. But this is very much my own personal opinion.
I was more referring to why you didn’t use Daniel more on Kaleidoscope?
I don’t know, maybe I’m not the right person to ask. Perhaps because we know we have to play it like and although Daniel was supposed to be with us, as you know he’s got sick. But in the case where he’s touring with the band I see no reason why he wouldn’t sing more on the album.
And how’s Daniel doing, improving?
He’s going on the right track, but it’s going to be quite a journey, we’re talking not about a couple of weeks, but more a couple of months.
Oh really, because you were talking about him being ready to join the band for the Progressive Nation at Sea?
Yeah, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.
Too bad… As replacement you’ve been working with Ted Leonard from Spock’s Beard, how’s that going?
It’s good, he’s made some remarkable homework coming in this late. I really feel worry for him, there’s so much to learn. Even for us as band members, everyone has so much on their plate. I knew it was going to be like that so I personally started my rehearsing months ago and am doing a little bit each week as I can’t leave it all to the last minute – my brain would go on fire. There’s so much music, so many things. Old music, new music and on top of this we’re also learning Yes songs that we’re supposed to play with Jon Anderson, but that’s another story. And on top of this, I have to learn the Flower Kings stuff too!
It’s one hell of a schedule, how do you remember it all?
I don’t know, I’d rather not think about it really and just keep my finger crossed. I mean it’s just about rehearsing, playing a bit every day. I’m feeling good, yesterday was the second day of rehearsals together and it’s coming together nicely, a bit better. It’s going to be OK, I have confidence.
Just coming back to the album, the second track, Shine, I would label that as a very typical Neal Morse solo piece, but then it has been Transatlantic-ised by the band. What’s the typical process there? I guess Neal will strum the song on acoustic and sing it, then the band take it over and maul it?
Yeah, it was just acoustic with some strings and we just took the song and play it. Decide about the verses, about the chorus, about where to build it up, add the drums, etc. We decided that I should sing the second verse and we just tried to map it out and then someone said, “let’s do a short guitar solo” which turned out to be quite long. We said “let’s not try to play the solo over the same chords as the verse and chorus”, so I suggested a transition to a different key, it needed a lift and it came out really quite long.
And then you’ve got a throw-back to Into the Blue in there too…
Yes, once you’re into the very end of the song and we’re singing (singing) “Shine Shine Shine” etc. and I said, why don’t we put in (singing) “the dreamer and the healer” and I got back the weirdest expression from the guys and like, “What?!”, but I pushed and insisted that underneath the “Shine Shine Shine” we could have another voice in the background with a load of echo singing the “dreamer and the healer” refrain. It makes it more cohesive because you’ve heard it in the beginning and then you come to the next song and you hear it again. That’s the way many progressive have bands worked in the past, even The Beatles did it, they took a phrase from another song and used it in another. This is a game I’m playing all the time, I do it with Transatlantic and I do it all the time with the Flower Kings too, sometimes also with lyrics. As I said, it makes it more cohesive and feel more like one big piece of music, very much like the classical music format.
Black as the Sky, sounds like a Roine Stolt track with a Neal Morse synth line over the top…
Actually you’re not entirely right because the main chord progression was actually Pete Trewavas’. The music is Pete and Mike said the he though I should sing on it, but there was nothing to sing – no melody, no lyrics – so we just recorded Pete’s backing track and then I took it to the hotel room and the next day I presented what I had come up with. I was just signing in the park and and writing the lyrics in my hotel room. Then when it comes to the synth thing, I would say it’s more like a Mike Portnoy creation, yeah, Mike wrote the rhythmic structures it and I put the lead synth lines on top of it.
So really a group effort in the end! Beyond the Sun is one of those beautiful, dreamy Neal pieces, but why is it Rich Mouser playing the slide guitar, why aren’t you playing it?
Well the thing is that Neal and I weren’t in agreement and frankly I said that I didn’t think that song should be on the main album, I thought it should be as a bonus track. I felt that the album would be too long and we already had the one ballad type of song with Shine and I felt that was enough, I’d rather have a shorter album. So we were not in agreement, but they really wanted to do it and they said that they have this theme again and I put it to them that this was the theme from Kaleidoscope. You know there was this plan to have this piece of music glued together with Kaleidoscope, which I didn’t agree with, but I guess that’s not the point.
The thing is that I was sent the music and Neal said that he wanted me to play something like what I did on Bridge Across Forever, which was beautiful I think, but I felt that we were going there one time too much; we’ve done that, let’s not try to make another Bridge Across Forever, because it’s done. In the end I said that the music didn’t speak to me, I couldn’t come up with anything and I said they should just do something with piano. Then a take just showed up with Rich Mousers’ guitar on it and I was just fine with that, not a problem at all. I personally couldn’t find anything inspiring to play on that.
It does work well as a prelude to Kaleidoscope though. The main track itself, there are a lot of ideas and it goes in a lot of different directions. Was this a conscious decision? Hmmm, how to put this…
You don’t have to put it in any way, I totally understand what you’re saying and to me personally the track is sometimes disjointed, but not in a negative way, well it’s Progressive Rock, so you can do whatever you want and there are many examples of disjointed Progressive Rock songs. It is a slightly different style, it takes lots of different twists and turns, and this was just the way we put it together. We could have constructed it differently with a smoother flow of themes, but we didn’t and, well, it is what it is. There’re lots and lots of ideas – Pete’s, Neal’s, Mike’s, mine – we just took those pieces and glued them together and this is the way it turned out.
I feel the track meanders a bit too much at times, do you ever look back yourself on longer tracks you’ve released and wished perhaps you’d have trimmed it a little bit here and there? Bring a bit more focus?
Absolutely, I do it all the time and frankly with both Kaleidoscope as well as Into the Blue, if it was just down to me then I would probably trim five or maybe even ten minutes off, or maybe I’d extend some of the other sections. But we’re four guys, working as a collective and we’re trying to make decisions and sometimes there’s one guy getting his will, sometimes another gets what he wants. I can’t really control the music, I don’t have the final say. It’s the same in The Flower Kings, well maybe there I do have the final say, but I don’t want to steamroller the guys. So even with The Flower Kings – and I have myself made the wrong decisions – our songs are sometimes a bit too long and there are some songs where I think there are sections that should have been left out – we could have made better decisions.
With Transatlantic, when we play it I can feel that maybe some sections are too long while in others I’m thinking “this is beautiful” and should have been developed further. There were some things from the demos that Pete wrote which I though were really great and should have been looked into, but we never did and with four of us there’s someone saying “OK, let’s move on to Roine or Neal Piece” and Pete isn’t the kind of guy to say “hey guys, wait, I’ve written something here”. So sometimes you’re just overwhelmed by the sheer creative flow of things that come up.
So this is how I felt and looking back I think we probably could make a better album, or rather should I say and “even better” album if we had spent, say, four weeks working on it and not just the one. We could have really dug into all the ideas and tried everything out. But this is what we have and all the stuff we have on the album, well some of it will really come to life when we play it live.
On the other hand, if you’ve only got one week then you’ll get a bit more spontaneity in the music. And please don’t ever edit Into the Blue, I think it’s the best track Transatlantic have ever recorded!
Yes, I get the impression from the reviews I’ve seen on the internet too – people are liking that track a lot.
To change track a bit, is Pete one bloody good bass player, or what?
He’s amazing, and this is what I’ve said before, he’s the unsung hero of this band and I was really happy to hear the bass guitar mixed a little bit louder than on the previous albums. You can really hear what he’s playing and I think his playing is amazing. I think he’s absolutely one of the very best. He can definitely stand side-by-side with the likes of Chris Squire, easily.
The cover tracks you’ve chosen this time are quite diverse, but you’ve also included some more well-known pieces. How do you choose them?
I don’t think we picked anything until we were in the studio and the guys were saying, “hey we always do some covers, are we going to do some this time?” and I think I said that we should just concentrate on our own music, but they all said “no, we have to do some covers”. So I went back to the hotel that night and just tried to listen to some songs and I think I came up with the ELO – Can’t Get it out of My Head, Tin Soldier and Silvia, the Focus song and something else I can’t remember. Neal wanted to do And You and I, Mike brought Nights in White Satin and Yellow Brick Road and Pete, Indiscipline.
Indiscipline was quite a surprise – a very interesting version with Neal’s singing.
So you’re just about to hit the road, and the sea, then over to Europe. What are the board plans, covering all albums?
Yeah, pretty much, we’re playing material from all the albums, but as you know, the songs are a but long so it’s a challenge to put together a set list so we have ended up doing a couple of medleys, picking songs from album and combining with a song from another. I think we’re playing everything from the new album.
Two nights at Tilburg, will you be videoing those shows?
Not Tilburg, I think we’re filming in Paris, which is the last show.
And of course the Progressive Nation at Sea as well, this must be something you’re looking forward to?
Yeah, of course, but I have no idea what to expect, I’m just going to go with the flow, so to speak. I’ve never been on a cruise, we’ll see…
I hope no-one gets sea sick…
I’ve thought about that and bought some stuff, just in case.
What about yourself, after the Flower Kings sabbatical you’re back with two albums, busy with Transatlantic, all the creative juices are flowing. What are your further plans?
So it’s going to be Transatlantic for the next two months, then switching to Flower Kings mode at the end of March and we start with a festival in England, HRH in Wales followed with a European tour together with Daniel Gildenlöw, assuming he’s well by then, so a couple of weeks for that and then some more Transatlantic festival shows in June. After that I think I’ll probably be spending time writing for both The Flower Kings and Agents of Mercy with some recording sessions for both in the autumn.
So Agents of Mercy is still a going concern after Nad’s big break with Steve Hackett?
Yeah, Nad will be doing another set of concerts with Steve, most of this year I think, or at least until after summer. That will hopefully give us some time in October/November to work on new material.
The line-up will stay unchanged?
So none of your bands playing Loreley this year?
Well Transatlantic have been asked, but I have not idea how that will turn out. I wouldn’t bet on it because for Mike and Neal to fly over for just one festival, I don’t know if that would work.
Transatlantic would be the most amazing headliner for Night of the Prog, it would be a sell-out.
Yeah, we’ll see what happens.
Thank you very much Roine, as always, for all your time and hope to see you at one of the upcoming shows.
Thank you too!
European Tour Dates
Thu Feb 27, 2014 Madrid, Spain La Rivera
Fri Feb 28, 2014 Barcelona, Spain Razzmatazz 2
Sun Mar 02, 2014 Milan, Italy Alcatraz
Mon Mar 03, 2014 Rome, Italy Orion
Wed Mar 05, 2014 Pratteln, Switzerland Z7
Thu Mar 06, 2014 Karlsruhe, Germany Substage
Fri Mar 07, 2014 Munich, Germany Muffathalle
Sat Mar 08, 2014 Berlin, Germany Astra
Sun Mar 09, 2014 Cologne, Germany E Werk
Tue Mar 11, 2014 Antwerp, Belgium Trix
Wed Mar 12, 2014 London, England The Forum
Thu Mar 13, 2014 Tilburg, Holland 013
Fri Mar 14, 2014 Tilburg, Holland 013
Sat Mar 15, 2014 Paris, France Le Bataclan