“I can’t look into myself and say why I stopped for that long. That’s too complicated. It was just a feeling I had”: When Roine Stolt brought back The Flower Kings via Banks Of Eden

The Flower Kings
(Image credit: Press)

In 2008 multi-tasking Swedish prog renaissance man Roine Stolt put The Flower Kings on ice. The band returned to action in 2012 with 11th album Banks Of Eden. That year Stolt told Prog why they’d taken a break and discussed the ups and downs of being in three different groups at the same time.

The Flower Kings are back. There was no absolute declaration of a split, of course, but when guitarist/vocalist Roine Stolt blogged about a “short intermission for what might be labelled TFK” in November 2008, many fans went into mourning.

A retrospective live DVD and double-CD package entitled Tour Kaputt was released in May 2011. Then an official Flower Kings page appeared on Facebook in October, and those same fans had new hope. They figured the activity had to mean good news. They weren’t wrong.

In February 2012, a press statement announced vague details of a new Flower Kings album. But it also included definite confirmation of a reunion gig, with Stolt, bass guitarist Jonas Reingold, keyboard player Tomas Bodin and guitarist/vocalist Hasse Fröberg joined by a new young drummer, 26-year-old Berliner Felix Lehrmann.

Then in April we discovered  the album was called Banks Of Eden and would be quintessential Flower Kings fare. But still one question remained unanswered: why did the band get put on hold in the first place? 

“We never did any big announcement or anything,” says Stolt. “There are lots of ways of getting the news out, whether on Facebook or MySpace or whatever, and I think we just said, ‘We are taking a break.’ We couldn’t say for how long – half a year, a year, 10 years – but it would be until it feels right to come back and write some new music, release a new album and play live onstage again.

“We’d been going since 1994, and after 10 or 11 albums and a couple of live albums and DVDs, we were just on autopilot,” he continues. “Everyone was expecting another album – the guys in the band, the audience, everyone – so a little bit of the excitement was taken away, and it’s a dangerous thing when you just go on making music. But there are other options, and one option is to stop for a while and work with other people, get inspired again and do different things. And that’s what happened with The Flower Kings.”

For The Love Of God - YouTube For The Love Of God - YouTube
Watch On

As well as carrying on playing guitar with international prog supergroup Transatlantic, Stolt continued to work with The Flower Kings’ bassist Jonas Reingold in both Karmakanik and Agents Of Mercy, making three albums with each group. Clearly they didn’t hate each other, then.

“Jonas and I have been playing all the time and in almost daily contact,” Stolt explains. ”Sometimes we call each other three or four times a day! So there’s been discussions going on. He may have asked me a couple of years ago, ‘How do you feel about The Flower Kings?’ Either you feel inspired to write something or you don’t.”

Ask Metallica to write a prog rock song and it’s still going to sound like Metallica

No amount of badgering from fans or bandmates changed Stolt’s mind about getting the old band back together. Instead, it was a little bit of related work that whetted his appetite for more. “We released a live DVD called Tour Kaputt a year ago,” he says. 

“I was actually editing the film and mixing the music, and it’s possible that at that moment I felt like, ‘Maybe we should get together and do a couple of shows or even record an album.’ Then I probably started talking with Jonas and he felt the same way so we contacted the other guys.”

Does Stolt have any idea why the break was so long though? Judging by The Flower Kings’ history, five years is usually at least four albums worth of output. He pauses for thought. “We never said, ‘Let’s wait four or five years’ – we just stopped and waited to see what would happen. I can’t really tell why. I can’t look into myself and say why I stopped for that long. That’s probably too complicated. It was just a feeling I had.”

Pandemonium - YouTube Pandemonium - YouTube
Watch On

Luckily for everyone, Stolt finally got that feeling and it was strong enough to start writing a new album. Banks Of Eden is the result, and the official spiel accompanying it crows about how the music contains all the trademarks of The Flower Kings and celebrates their position as one of the world’s leading modern prog bands. A beautifully self-deprecating teaser trailer doesn’t contradict any of this – but there must be something new about the band’s 11th album, otherwise what was the point of taking time off to refresh their sensibilities?

“It’s probably easier for the fans to say what’s new than me, because you try to do something a little bit different, but you can’t really run away from yourself,” he replies. “You are what you are – and I think that goes for just about any artist. Ask Metallica to write a prog rock song and it’s still going to sound like Metallica. Once you have a singer, you recognise the voice, the guitarist doing the riffing or their solos in a certain way, or a keyboard favouring certain types of sounds. It’s really hard to get away from that, even if you really try.

“I think it’s a question of balance to make something that works live onstage, that people will buy tickets to see the band play and that people will download or go buy [the record] in the shop,” he says, with the practicality of a man who’s been around the block and knows exactly what’s what. “With the history of The Flower Kings it’s been about melodic, symphonic progressive rock. Sometimes more riffing and sometimes a little bit softer, and I think for the new album, it’s probably more of the same.”

I don’t think I could envision that we would go play in the United States, Japan or South America… I just thought we might go and play in Stockholm

So how has the break helped Stolt personally? “I’ve basically been playing the same style of music but with different people and in different venues,” he says. “It’s very much been business as usual – but at the same time there’s been a kind of freshness playing with other people.”

Surely playing with Transatlantic is a very different experience, both musically and in terms of popularity? “I never really regarded Transatlantic to be metal,” he says. “Sure, Mike Portnoy was coming from Dream Theater, and that’s supposed to be some sort of prog metal; but the music in Transatlantic – as I saw it – is progressive rock. Sometimes it’s symphonic and sometimes it’s with acoustic guitars, and the melodies that Neal Morse writes are almost like sing-along melodies. 

”There’s a little bit of hard riffing but not all the time. So in my mind it’s not really that different from what I’m doing. There’s been riffing in The Flower Kings and Agents Of Mercy, especially in the latest album. The main difference for me is that it’s on a different level in terms of sales and how many people come to the concerts.” 

For Those About To Drown - YouTube For Those About To Drown - YouTube
Watch On

It might seem as if he’s spreading himself a bit thin – certainly one of the reasons why he felt it necessary to pause TFK – but having clearly thought hard about his career and how he approaches each project, he’s also aware of the benefits of being involved in three different organisations.

“The good thing is that there’s always some sort of activity with one of the bands,” he says. “If it’s not The Flower Kings, it’s going to be Transatlantic, and if it’s not Transatlantic, it’s going to be Agents Of Mercy. I think it’s a good thing – if it’s The Flower Kings all year long and every year, we’ll end up in the same situation where we’ll just keep doing albums and tours one after another, and the freshness is gone.”

It must get slightly confusing sometimes, though. “It gets to a point when you’re standing onstage and you have to remind yourself what band you’re actually playing in,” he chuckles. “You lose yourself in the music.”

With 11 albums over 18 years, The Flower Kings are absolutely Stolt’s major project. While his early work with Kaipa is held up as some of Sweden’s finest symphonic prog, it’s TFK who have toured internationally and sold enough records to sustain a career.

There are bits of Coldplay or Muse in our music, but it seems that most fans don’t really detect it

“The very, very first album [1994’s The Flower King], I don’t think there even was a band,” he says. “It was just me and a couple of friends. After a couple of gigs it was clear that we actually could play the music live. We started doing albums and then we got into doing double albums; we’re kind of famous for doing double albums. But I don’t think I could envision that we would go and play in the United States or Japan or South America at that point. I just thought we might go and play in Stockholm.”

How about the fact that TFK are seen as one of the premier Swedish rock bands of all time – and that Stolt is held in high esteem worldwide? Being asked to join Transatlantic was no accident, of course, he had the pedigree. “It feels good,” he laughs, before adding: “With just about anything, when something is really good and the sun is shining, you always expect it to stop shining in half an hour.

“I record and compose music that is considered to be a little bit weird and not that commercial,” he continues. “I can make a living out of it, and I can play with musicians from around the world and be in interesting projects. In a way it feels like it could stop any day – so it’s good to just be happy with what you have and hope it goes on for a couple more years.”

Rising the Imperial - YouTube Rising the Imperial - YouTube
Watch On

Having been in and around it for almost four decades, how healthy does Stolt feel the prog scene is at the moment? “The situation right now is that you can actually tour,” he says. “There are a number of prog festivals coming up, and there is Prog magazine in the UK, of course. I would say there are actually more prog rock bands today than there were in the 70s. Then you had Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, ELP, Focus, and you had to be really, really good to get a deal on a record label.”

What is it, then, that keeps The Flower Kings in so much demand? All the way through their hiatus, their fans were clamouring for more. What’s the secret? “We just write songs,” he laughs. “We’re inspired by lots of music from back then – bands like Fleetwood Mac or Led Zeppelin – but we’re also inspired by music that’s more recent. 

”There are bits of Coldplay or Muse in our music as well but it seems that most fans don’t really detect it. If say that I think we’re a modern prog band, someone else will say we’re just like the second Gentle Giant album or we sound like Focus’s first album. I’m sure we do.

“There are also bits of Swedish folk music. Maybe people don’t detect it, because they haven’t heard Swedish folk music. I think people coming from South America or Japan find the folklore influence in the music very exotic and interesting, so I think it’s a mix of everything – but I would agree that The Flower Kings is more of a symphonic rock band.”

That’s the secret, then. If you’re an aspiring prog band, Roine Stolt reckons that – a vast breadth of influences aside – you should “just write songs.” In all fairness, it’s worked out pretty well for The Flower Kings.