Roine Stolt - photo by Lilian Forsberg

Roine Stolt – The Flower Kings

With a new album from The Flower Kings, Look At You Now, due for imminent release, TPA’s Graham Thomas speaks with mainman Roine Stolt about recent happenings in the world of the Flower King…

So, Roine, a new Flower Kings album, Look At You Now. Let me ask you about it. Line-up changes: I know Jonas Reingold has been edging out for the last couple of albums and your brother Michael has been coming in on bass. Is that process complete now?

You never know, but it is what it is. Things come into play. Covid was weird and scary for all of us, but even before that, Jonas accepted the gig with Steve Hackett, you know? We had to wait for him to be free, which was usually near Christmas time, which wasn’t perfect for us.

Steve’s tours roll on and on don’t they?

Yeah, I was with Hackett for a tour as well, from the middle of August to the middle of December I was at home for four days, you know?

That must have been a bit strange for you playing bass?

No, not at all. I started as a bass player, I own a Rickenbacker bass, and I’ve been playing bass a long long time. My daytime job is to play guitar, and some keyboards. I also own two drum kits, but I don’t play that well. Anyway, it got to a point where we felt that we shouldn’t just be waiting for Jonas.

So Michael is back in the fold?


What about Zach (Kamins, US based keyboard player)? I was a bit more surprised by that. Was it down to geography?

It is down to geography, and I hate to say, but it’s down to money. Shipping gear, and hotels. I mean if he comes here (Sweden) to rehearse, he has to fly, he has to ship his gear, and we have the hotels. We could have got a return flight to USA from Sweden for maybe $600 if we were lucky, but now it’s twice the price. It proved to be not the best solution. We are still friends and everything.

The Flower Kings, photo by Lilian Forsberg

So your old friend from Agents of Mercy Lalle Larson is in the band – well, is he in the band, or is he just helping out?

We prefer not to say ‘you’re in the band’, I mean as a joke I say I don’t even know if I’m in the band! Maybe the band could carry on without Roine…

I don’t think that could ever happen…

Oh you never know! But you work when you can, you work with who is available, or happy to be in the band. He’s an amazing player, and also very easy going.

The first track on the album is Beginner’s Eyes, I just realised that it predates The Flower Kings?

Oh yes, it probably goes back to 1992? The first computers we had were the Ataris, you remember, you could save stuff up to maybe 40 megabytes or something like that?! Bill Gates was thinking that people will have computers and they will have like 100 megabytes, you could save everything! Now we talk about gigabytes or terabytes, it’s a different time. Anyway, when my first son was born I wanted to take some time off, and I got this computer and I sat at home making music, so the first track on the album came from that time. And my son is 33 now!

The next thing I noticed about the album is that it’s all on one disc! The last couple have spilled over onto a second disc. I wondered if they might have done better if they’d been pared down to single discs, and you’ve done that this time. Was that deliberate?

It was, it was. The reason we did double CDs so many times in the past is there were so many ideas floating around, and different band members with songs, we didn’t want to go through the process of kicking out songs we liked. And people can listen to the music any way they want, they can just listen to their favourite song only, or make a playlist. Most people these days listen on their phone or computer, and then you make your playlist of the songs you like. So we thought people could just make their own version of a Flower Kings album and kick out the songs they don’t like!

That’s exactly what I do!

And I’m ok with that because a song which some people hate might be someone else’s favourite song. That’s progressive rock, some people might say Styx is the best progressive rock band ever, and someone else will say they hate Styx, but King Crimson are the best, but only when they are improvising. So that’s how it is with progressive rock, we’ve done all that.

The Flower Kings, photo by Varg Lund

Another thing about the new album is that they tend to be shorter songs. I’ve noticed on some prog fan forums, if a new album doesn’t contain a 20-minute epic, they aren’t going to listen to it!

That’s been going on for the last 20 years, since fan forums appeared online. Some fans see a new album from a prog band, and it has a 25-minute song, and they don’t even need to listen to it, they know it’s going to be their favourite album. And then I’m thinking in terms of food – is more always better? You have 55 potatoes, that must have been the best meal of your life! The same with booze, sometimes a little is enough. When we did the album Flower Power, we had a song called Garden of Dreams. That was actually a collection of songs, that wasn’t like a big song, it was made of bits and pieces, myself and Tomas Bodin wrote that song, and we were coming into the studio daily bringing pieces we’d written, and we started jamming and putting the pieces together, and before long we had a 35-minute piece, and then it grew to 40-minutes, and so on. The reality is that in Garden of Dreams what you have isn’t an hour long song, but maybe 20 or 25 different songs joined together. And now, looking at this album (Look At You Now), it’s the same thing. We used the same technique, we used several melodic themes, that you can hear in one song, then hear in another song, and repeating lyrical themes. The only difference is that we’ve separated them technically into different songs, and you can choose to listen to individual songs.

I do like the recurring themes actually, it works well.

When people listen, they might hear me play a guitar theme on one song which used to be a vocal theme on another song. This is a little more difficult to detect, but there’s more stuff to discover, you know, hidden bits.

It’s very striking artwork on the cover of the new album, where did that come from?

That came about because I got a Facebook message from someone, a guy in Canada, who said his father had died, and had been the biggest Flower Kings fan ever. There are lots of ‘the biggest Flower Kings fans’ all around, but anyway, his father used to fly aeroplanes and do stunt flying. So this guy was grieving and listening to his father’s favourite music, so he contacted me, and when he did, he also sent a couple of images. So I replied to his message, and he sent me some more images because I liked them. When we are talking about album artwork, usually the music comes first and then the record company says we need to think about some artwork. So I remembered this guy, and wondered if he might have something that would fit, you know, something not too dark or too detailed, and this image with the eye and the flower and heart, there was just something about it, it was gentle and we liked the colours. And I’m thinking that if we used it as a backdrop on stage, that would look great. So we used it, and some other stuff of his on the back cover. So it came in a different way to usual.

So, the tour; you have gigs coming up and I assume you’ll be playing some of the new album?

We will play some new songs, while also concentrating mainly on the first five albums, including songs from Retropolis and Back in the World of Adventures, Flower Power and Space Revolver.

Great! Can we just go back a bit? I remember reading an interview with you a few years ago and The Flower Kings were on hold, and you sounded not that motivated to continue with the band. That has obviously changed, so what triggered your renewed interest in TFK?

I think there were a number of things which triggered that. I think the idea of TFK was kind of worn out, I’d done it for so many years doing the same thing. Then there was various band members putting in less energy, and everyone wanting to do their own solo projects and stuff, and I’m sitting here trying to organise a tour and organising new recordings and they come in and say ‘yes I can do that, and what’s the payment?’ It can be heartbreaking in a way because I put so much effort into this, it’s been the centre of my musical life for thirty years now, and if people aren’t motivated, I have to ask ‘am I going to do this to keep them going’, you know? Do I have the responsibility, I mean they have other jobs, solo projects, so if they want to do that, maybe this was the time to do it?

The Flower Kings, photo by Lilian Forsberg

So do you have a fully motivated band behind you now?

Oh yes, I mean we came back for a few years and did two albums, Banks of Eden and Desolation Rose, but it ended up in the same point actually. So I stopped. But then we came back again, because I got this offer from a promoter in South America who wanted me to come and play a show as TFK, and I said ‘well there is no Flower Kings at the moment’. I’d been doing The Sea Within and Transatlantic, and the thing with Jon Anderson, and I was happy doing that, but when I got this offer, I felt different because we hadn’t been to South America for a long time, and they were offering quite good money, so there was no band, but I said maybe I could ask some of the guys to help me and play some Flower Kings music. So that’s what happened, and then at that time Zach Kamins came in, and Mirko Demaio from Italy, and Hasse Fröberg of course, and Jonas Reingold, and we went down there, played, and it was fun again. The motive has to be that it must be fun.

So turning to your various other projects, the last thing I saw you in was Transatlantic on the last tour, and that was very much billed as the final time for the band. Is that right, has the band run its course?

I think so, and actually maybe I’m the reason why. I said before the tour that I would do it, and let’s have a great tour, but there’s so much time consumed by Transatlantic. It’s four guys, each with their own projects and bands, and there is so much waiting time. When we work on an album, it’s like half a year before anyone can do the first overdub! The way we work is really weird and strange, and not really fulfilling for me personally.

Well it’s pretty strange recording a new album and releasing two different versions of it!

Yeah, that’s it, the album took so much time. I did my parts, then the other guys did their overdubs, we did a mix, then Neal Morse came back and said he didn’t think the album was perfect, and he’d written some new songs. So that was a weird situation, and we had a Skype conversation about the two versions, and Mike Portnoy said ‘hey, we can do both’. We could do the album as it was intended, and they called it ‘the Roine version’ – it wasn’t, it was the original band green version. Then Neal did the lilac version, which was shorter with the new songs.

I like them both, but for me the original longer version seems to gel better. It contains some songs which Neal got rid of which to me is some of the best stuff!

I know! I know! What can you say, that’s the way the band works. It should be about concentrating on the music, but…

OK, is there anything else that Roine Stolt is working on other than TFK, or is that your sole outlet at the moment?

Right now, mainly TFK, but every now and then someone will send me something and ask me to play guitar on a song, and I do that. There’s also some music that’s been lying around for a time now that is supposed to be the second album with Jon Anderson. We work on it on and off, and in between he’s working on maybe three or four other projects. He came to Sweden recently and did a show in my home town Uppsala, with his band from the school of rock. So I met up with him and said ‘let’s finish this album’. But mainly I’m working on promoting the new Flower Kings album, doing interviews and prepping for the tour. During the Summer though I also did some recording with the drummer with Jethro Tull. Not the current drummer, but Doane Perry who was the drummer for about 15 years. So Doane and a friend of his, Vince DiCola who does mainly film score music, a keyboard player, they wrote music together, and I’ve been in contact with them for about 15 years actually, and we always talked about doing something together. He came back to me earlier this year and said we have these songs, maybe you could listen and maybe add some guitar, and I ended up playing on the whole album. They have lots of other people on it, Steve Hackett, Tony Levin I think, Lee Sklar, and it’s a great symphonic piece of music. I don’t know what to compare it to, it’s sometimes experimental, and sometimes very melodic. Great playing from everyone, so that’s something I’m excited about.

You mentioned The Sea Within earlier, that was a terrific project. Would you be interested in continuing that?

I would be interested, but it all collapsed. Even in the recording, Daniel Gildenlöw walked out because apparently he’d been misled to think it was a different kind of album in his mind. I don’t understand anything, but we got in Casey MacPherson, and we did a couple of live shows actually, but for the shows we didn’t even have Jonas for the first gig at Loreley. Jonas went to join the Steve Hackett band, even in the middle of recording the album, which was a total downer for me personally. You know you’re working on something, and you open your computer, and see ‘woah, Jonas Reingold just joined Steve Hackett’s band’ and we were about to launch the album and go on tour.

That’s a shame because there was some good music on that.

Oh it was great. Daniel and Casey are great singers, love them both, and Marco Minnemann – what a drummer!

So mentioning all these famous names, how incestuous is Prog?! Everyone seems to know everyone else and play on their records.

The Flower Kings tour posterIt is, but I have to say that I always try to, not look at other bands, but if I want to recruit someone, I don’t look for a prog keyboardist or a prog drummer, I look elsewhere, going for a metal drummer or a jazz drummer to add something new. I’ve had musicians who’ve never heard Genesis or Pink Floyd. When Zoltan Csörsz joined us, he knew Queen, he didn’t know Genesis or Yes! I think it’s interesting because you push them to play odd time metres and symphonic music, and fusion music and they grow, and find out things about themselves they didn’t know, and sound a bit different.

Finally, TFK music is so full of positivity and optimism, and in today’s world, we need that don’t we?

I know what you’re saying, I try to start each day being positive, then you hear the news and it drags you down, but we do our best!

Well thanks for talking to The Progressive Aspect, all the best.

[The Flower Kings tour Europe and the UK in October, including dates in Southampton on the 19th and London on the 20th, and you can read Graham’s review of new album Look At You Now HERE.]

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