(KAIPA, AGENTS OF MERCY, THE FLOWER KINGS, TRANSATLANTIC)
Roine Stolt: “Intelligent prog music could be done in these modern times too”
OP: For me personally the name of this musician is a very special one: the appearance of the Flower Kings on the progressive rock scene was like a discovery of a new dimension of our favorite, but too well-known, world. It was so pleasant to meet with Swedish prog music, from The Flower Kings to Kaipa, The Tangent and the others (and then Transatlantic), and I still gladly follow Roine Stolt’s musical journey. There is no place for any boredom in Roine’s “World of Adventures” – as we can judge by his 2010 activity and 2011 plans as well.
OP: Thank you very much, Roine, for your willingness to do this interview. First of all, we associate your name with The Flower Kings (TFK hereinafter). Is it a pleasant or a bit annoying “tag” for you (since there is a lot of your music besides TFK that you can be proud of as well)?
RS : I guess I'm most well-known for my work in Transatlantic and of course The Flower Kings, but also Agents Of Mercy and Kaipa – and to me it doesn't really matter, I'm just thankful that people recognize my work at all.
OP: Was it your idea to name your band Agents of Mercy (AOM from now on) and what is the band’s mission in music?
RS : Yes, I named the band – I guess it has a meaning similar to The Flower Kings – it has an aura of kindness that I find appealing. I was about to take a break from The Flower Kings at the time and did plan an acoustic solo album, but heard talk about Nad Sylvan on the internet and went to his website on MySpace and instantly liked his voice – as it reminded me of many of my favorite vocalists, like Steve Winwood, Peter Gabriel and Gary Brooker. So we started sending files to each other, and "The Fading Ghosts of Twilight" was born, and turned out to be a bit more than a regular chamber prog album in the end.
OP: I was listening to “Dramarama” with bated breath; it’s more sunny and light than the previous AOM album (which I like very much as well, though). Is it because of the way you have created it? Please tell us about your decision to record the album in an “almost live” manner.
RS : I hope you can hear a real band playing live in a real room, not files sent thru the wire over the Atlantic or such; we were all in the same room playing it live. I guess we spent way more time trying to pick tunes and to cultivate the tunes than what I normally do on a Flower Kings album. The songs were the fundamentals, not the production or gimmicks. We recorded basic tracks for the new album in March this year (2010) and it was really "old school" - no ‘clicktrack’ or sequencers - it was actually just us playing it in real-time! It is indeed a full "retro" studio with old 70's NEVE desks and lots of old microphones and amps, an old Hammond B 3 and a couple of electric pianos and tube amps in that studio. We just rehearsed the songs and all musicians put in their best, whatever ideas came up and it's a killer quintet so it left a mark.
OP: Roine, was it easy to do it or was it difficult? I mean not only the playing in itself, but also the fact that you have recorded the material at one sitting, as if you were at a concert at the time.
RS : To play music is always what it's all about - playing it as a band, not messing around with notes in a computer. I think too many prog bands are too occupied with making their recordings "tight" and tidy today, vacuum-cleaned of any trace of life or irregularities. Much of it sounds very clinical and "in the box" to me, that’s why I appreciate so much doing albums this old way, live, like we did with AOM and also the way Mike and rest of us play on Transatlantic's "The Whirlwind", just blasting away with pure energy, emotion and enthusiasm.
OP: I suppose you had many rehearsals/preparatory sessions before you ventured to record the album, hadn’t you?
RS : Well of course, we had a bit, but not overlong, as you have to remember that these are some of the finest musicians around at the moment.
OP: Will the forthcoming album (it was announced on AOM’s site) be recorded the same way or as usual, with a lot of work in the studio?
RS : Absolutely the same way - we love it - but probably in another studio as we have found a new fantastic top class studio in the countryside with beautiful surroundings and an inspiring studio with lots of air - open and light.
OP: Tell us please about the Agents Of Mercy as a band and about the work in process with other musicians.
RS : I've always been prolific and been writing constantly and we just felt it was a good idea to try and record new songs that were both from my pen and from Nad's, and the fact is we have both Lalle and Jonas as writers too but they didn't write this time for Dramarama. We already plan the next album - we have already been starting to write this year and already in December 2010. I see a great potential for the band, as I think it will grow tremendously these coming years. We want to expand, of course, just like any other band, and I think we do have the potential with the abundance of material and all of us composing. I don't think I will put TFK to rest permanently because that'll be fun to revisit but AOM is such an easy ride with talent and friendship in tandem, it feels so much like home and so friendly with very little ego. We have a few interesting business proposals that I need to take into account very soon - it may take us around the world.
OP: Can Nad Sylvan really sing like Peter Gabriel of Genesis? Was it done purposefully, meaning to find and invite a vocalist with the implied abilities?
RS : If you think about it there are just a few parts or songs on "Fading Ghosts" that are Genesis-like, but I'd imagine that fact Nad Sylvan sang them made it sound as if it was a lost Genesis album cause he sounds like both Gabriel and Collins. We also have a bit more of a British touch than the common Americanized rock you'll hear today. We have stories about British characters like "Roger the Tailor" and "Johnnie Walker" or "Mary Chilton". The "Bacon & Eggs" lyric silliness in ‘Peace United” dates back almost 10 years. There are other phrases that echo early Genesis like “A kingdom selling by the pound,” referring to the old monarchies slowly dissolving and new leadership with less royal extravaganza - now a president is the less iconic figure of a republic who leads the country or perhaps in the future there will be no republic either, just multi-national companies who divide the globe into business territories. But I agree Nad's voice can be a deadringer for both Gabriel and Collins - for good and bad.
OP: Compared to The Fading Ghosts of Twilight (the first AOM album), Dramarama is musically more TFK-like than Genesis-like. Did you want to lessen the Genesis influence this time?
RS : Not really! There was not any intention to make The Fading Ghosts of Twilight "Genesis-like" in the first place. We just picked the most suitable and best songs we have, and I'm sure our heritage shines through Queen, the Beatles, Procol Harum, Yes, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Frank Zappa.
OP: Epic-length compositions, warm guitar sounds and a lot of vintage keyboards (Mellotron, Hammond and Moog)... All these are features of what we’ve come to know as classic prog. However, a lot of reviewers refer those to as “neo” – a label that few modern musicians accept. What do you think about all of this?
RS : I am not sure "neo prog" would be a correct description for AOM – “retro prog" is perhaps more relevant. Neo prog is for me bands like IQ, Arena or Pendragon, and I cannot sense we are in that category, our sound is more "dry" and based on earlier rock history with both blues, the Beatles and psychedelic pop, where "neo prog" seems to build on mid-70's period Pink Floyd and Genesis.
OP: All the TFK demos and remixes at Reverbnation sound excellent. Do you have any plans to release an album that would consist of those?
RS : Thank you - well, I thought it may be interesting for some of my fans, but not many enough to warrant a full release of my demos.
OP: These demos are so romantic and touching, maybe because of your vocals (where they are) and the arrangements as well....I also have a feeling that some of the songs were originally created not by playing on guitar, but on piano or keyboard.
RS : Yes, that moment of pure creation can sometimes spark remarkable performances that have great emotional impact and that are hard to recreate later.
OP: There are many “stories” In Dramarama – The Ballad of Mary Chilton, The Duke of Sadness, Roger the Tailor and even Meet Johnny Walker – about whisky as a “person.” It reminds me of Hans Christian Andersen and Genesis at the same time. Do you like your role of storyteller?
RS : Yes, it seems music is escapism in a way - so why not take the listener on a journey or tell a fictional story?
OP: I think that with TFK’s appearance on the prog-scene the renaissance of the art rock genre has begun. Do you feel that it’s really so? Was there something special in the air at that time?
RS : I have no idea but guess that The Flower King from 1994 showed that intelligent prog music could be done in these modern times too.
OP: The Retropolis album means a lot for me personally (I think it’s musically closer to UK than to Genesis), and I know you often mention it as well. Is it significant for you?
RS : It was actually an album that was easy and playful to record, and it contained plenty of older songs so maybe I didn't foresee that it would be our first international breakthrough.
OP: Roine, what are your favorite albums?
RS : For me some of the later years' best albums were Joni Mitchell’s "Travelogue”, U2’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" and Vangelis’ "Mythodea".
OP: Imagine, if it would be possible to make your variant of the G3 show, which guitarists you would invite to play with you?
RS : That'll be from now 2011: Derek Trucks, Dweezil Zappa and Jeff Beck.
OP: I remember Transatlantic playing the song “The Return of the Giant Hogweed” with Steve Hackett – on HiVo’s stage: what a great and amazing surprise it was! Who had chosen this song, Transatlantic or Steve Hackett? Did you have any communication with Steve on the matter, or was it an absolutely spontaneous idea?
RS : It was us who had recorded it as a bonus track for "The Whirlwind" and I believe Mike suggested it for the HV festival. I had met Steve at the festival in 2009 and we had a bit of contact, so we just suggested it, and he said ‘yes’ and was gracious enough to come down earlier in the day to run through it. It was all great fun, and he's an adorable person and a true musician.
OP: What songs would you choose to play with Peter Gabriel if such an event could be possible?
RS : Something from "The Lamb" maybe. "The Lamia" is a beautiful song... or "Lilywhite Lilith”.
OP: You played many Genesis covers with your bands, from TFK to AOM... What Genesis albums are your favorite ones?
RS : From Nursery Cryme to The Lamb most preferably. But both Trick of The Tail and Wind and Wuthering have a few good tunes too.
OP: Kaipa’s 1976 album is very beautiful. You was only 20 then, but your influence on the band’s musical style was strong and instantly recognizable...
RS : We were carving out a niche there - and I suppose I propelled Kaipa in a direction I wanted it to go, even if the other guys were older than me. I was headstrong!
OP: When did you understand that music is your way, your profession?
RS : Just lately (laughs).
OP: Your fans, myself included, adore your vocals....Will we hear you singing more often in the future?
RS : Possibly yes - I enjoy singing now and then, but my guitar playing is what I enjoy most.
OP: What do you think about the ratings and polls like “TOP-10 albums”, where listeners should choose those and list them as ¹1, ¹2, ¹3, etc?
RS : I don't mind polls - as long as we end up in the top drawer (laughing).
If seriously... We’ve been blessed most of the time, but sometimes it turns out really weird.
OP: It would be funny enough if one beautiful day we would choose and vote for two of your projects’ albums the same year! Roine, what would you recommend to your grateful fans in this case?
RS: Since Transatlantic already has a glowing testimony from followers and fans I'd hope more people would vote for Agents of Mercy and open up their eyes to these musicians.
OP: You head several prestigious polls as the best guitarist, outstripping many famous musicians, such as John Petrucci, for instance. What, to your mind, is the most important thing in guitar playing?
RS : In terms of technique I could not ever dream of getting close to guys like John Petrucci or Allan Holdsworth, so I guess what the fans like about me is my sound and tone and the fact it sounds sincere and directly from the heart - more like a singing voice.
OP: I’m not an expert, but I can’t omit a question about your favorite guitars.
RS : Don't know, but at the present I play a lot on Fender Telecasters and the Gibson ES 335, and a custom built JET guitar is in heavy rotation also, but all of them have special details and modifications so no stock standard guitars. My amps are often Fender - they have a nice classic clean sound and plenty of midrange.
OP: What do you think about your visit to Moscow (in 2007, with TFK)? Would you like to play in Russia again?
RS : We had a great time and enjoyed the visit even if for the chance to be "tourists" in Moscow.
OP: What about a new DVD with Agents of Mercy?
RS : We will most certainly HD videofilm the recording of the new album - for a start - then maybe a show.
OP: Your musical plans are still various, according to your blog: from classical prog (AOM and maybe even TFK) to jazz-fusion (The 3rd World Electric project)....Please tell us about your plans.
RS : Maybe it will be faster if they check the matter at www.agentsofmercy.com (check "news" or “blog”). But the most urgent are new Agents of Mercy and my classical/symphonic album. That one has actually quite a bit of Igor Stravinsky traces, but veers toward Debussy, Wagner and Astor Piazolla too. A really odd piece - I have still work to do on orchestration and a few corrections and adjustments in general, so hopefully a release closer to Christmas 2011.
OP: We wish you a very successful year and looking forward to your new music and releases!