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Roine Stolt Talks New Flower Kings Album
"Look At You Now" shows off the band's melodic side with less emphasis on intricate soloing.
Thank you for spending part of your day with Michael’s Record Collection. I appreciate every one of you who read this newsletter each week. Words can’t express how much much it means to me to share these stories with you every week.
I’m excited to bring you news this week about one of my favorite modern progressive rock bands — The Flower Kings. The Swedish prog masters are back with a new album that drops Sept. 8 here in the U.S. on Inside Out Music. Band leader, guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Roine Stolt was kind enough to spend an hour with me to talk about the new record and many other topics. You can check out the full interview at the bottom of this newsletter.
Let’s get to this week’ story.
When Roine Stolt released his solo album The Flower King back in 1994, he had no idea that effort would morph into an iconic modern progressive rock band with a career spanning close to 30 years (so far). The Flower King became The Flower Kings, a band that has been at the forefront of the prog genre for three decades, spawning multiple excellent side and solo projects along the way.
The band was a better environment for Stolt’s career in music.
“I really didn’t want to be like a solo artist,” Stolt explained. “And there was never like I had a desire to be the guy calling the shots or, you know, be the star of a band or something like that. You know, I was always happy being just one of the guys in the band, and if there was someone else standing in the front and I was standing in the back, that didn’t bother me.”
The band name came from the title of that 1994 album, which itself came from its excellent, 10-minute title track. The name was a tribute to Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (a.k.a. Carl von Linné), the father of modern taxonomy, who was born not far from where Stolt grew up.
“He was the guy that gave the flowers names,” Stolt said.
Stolt’s subject matter, and the music of The Flower Kings, is often compared to progressive rock legends Yes for several reasons. The music is symphonic in nature, uses rhythmic changes, and the lyrics are positive and often abstract. Stolt leans into the hippie aesthetic of the 1960s music he loved, singing often about peace, love, nature, and other uplifting themes.
The Flower Kings have undergone some lineup changes over the years, but have persevered — and even excelled — in a niche genre. That is due in no small part to the positivity of the band’s music, the inventive playing, the melodic structure of the songs, and just the overall vibe that The Flower Kings project through their music and their personalities.
The 16th studio album by The Flower Kings will drop on Inside Out Music on Sept. 8 in the United States. Look At You Now features a lineup of Stolt (vocals, guitars, keyboards, percussion), his brother Michael (bass, vocals, guitars), Hasse Froberg (vocals, guitars, percussion), and Mirko DeMaio (drums, percussion). Lalle Larsson (keyboards) is also credited and will tour with the band this fall, but he is not listed in the advance credits as a member of the band. Longtime contributor Hasse Bruniusson (percussion) again helped out on the album.
By Flower Kings standards, Look At You Now is a short album, clocking in at an hour and eight minutes long. The band focused on melody and symphonic elements, without a lot of long, intricate, instrumental passages. As such, there is only one epic on the album. Look At You Now closes with the title track, which is just under 12 minutes long and brings back some of the musical themes heard throughout the album. Only one other song (“Stronghold”) out of the 13 tracks even breaks the six-minute mark.
That isn’t to say this isn’t a musically strong album. The playing is less complex and stretched out, but it’s still a Flower Kings album and it sounds like one. A lot of attention to detail went into the songs, as usual.
It’s a comparatively stripped-down approach in consideration beside 2022’s By Royal Decree double album, while retaining the band’s trademark symphonic style. The band zeroed in on melody and vocal harmonies on Look At You Now.
Highlights on the album include lead track “Beginner’s Eyes,” the album’s first single and chronologically the first song that started to take shape. Stolt wrote part of the song as far back as the 1990s.
“That’s something I wrote even before The Flower Kings was an idea, or the idea of the first album,” Stolt said. “At the time, I was probably more in the commercial side of record production. I’d been working with other people and producing other people, and sometimes just playing, being a hired guitar player. It was a time when progressive rock wasn’t the big thing. But I was still writing songs, you know, and this was just one thing that I had and it’s been lying around ever since, and I never developed it.
“But for this one, I found it, and listening back now on some mp3 file I had lying around on a hard drive, I was thinking, ‘Oh, this is quite nice, you know, and maybe I'll send it to the guys and see if they like it.’ And they did. And so they said, ‘Well, that’s a great theme. You know, we should develop that, and so I wrote some lyrics for it.”
“The Dream” is a beautiful and inspiring song that reveals its layers over repeated listens and allows Froberg’s vocals to shine.
There are two instrumentals that bookend the song “Mother Earth.” “Dr. Ribedeaux” is a beautiful lead-in to “Mother Earth,” and “The Queen” allowed Stolt to thank an old friend who taught him his first chords on his father’s guitar. Jorgen Salde plays a gorgeous nylon acoustic guitar intro on “The Queen.”
“That's an old friend of mine, Jorgen,” Stolt said. “That was actually the guy who showed me the first guitar chords. He’s kind of responsible for me (becoming a musician). And we had a band together. But at that time, he was like a classically trained guitar player already then. And then he became a doctor, you know, and he’s spent his time doing music as a hobby, whereas I took off and it became my daytime job.
“My father had a guitar, and when (Salde) came to my house and we were listening to records, he said, ‘Do you play your guitar?’ I said ‘Oh, that’s dad’s guitar,’ you know, and he said, ‘I can show you a few chords.’ So, he showed me a few chords.”
The two played together and began to learn songs, lending each other records. Salde taught Stolt some blues licks and Peter Green riffs, and the two simply took off from there. Ultimately, Stolt came back to Salde and asked him to contribute to “The Queen.”
“I asked him, ‘Can you play the acoustic guitar for this song?’ So he did,” Stolt said. “He was hesitating I think first. He said, ‘Ah, I don’t play professionally, you know.’ I said, ‘Take your time and do it. I think it’s a very nice bookending. You know, you showed me how to play guitar, and now you can play on our album.’ It was a lovely little story.”
One of my favorite tracks on the album is “The Light in Your Eyes,” which is perhaps my favorite Hasse Froberg-voiced song in several years (although he and Stolt share the vocals). DeMaio’s drumming and Stolt’s guitar work also shine throughout the song.
“Day for Peace” is another highlight on the album, with Marjana Semkina from Russian prog/chamber music duo iamthemorning adding her gorgeous vocals to the song.
“I think I sang the demo myself, and then the high vocal parts I think I sang more like a falsetto,” Stolt said. “In the end, I felt like maybe it shouldn’t be falsetto. It was a bit distracting. I was thinking that maybe, given the content of the song and the lyrics and the feel of the song, maybe we could bring in a female voice. And I already knew Marjana, because we had been touring with iamthemorning a couple of years back. So, I knew her voice already and liked it. And I thought that that would probably be a good idea, you know? So I asked her and she agreed to do it, and it just came out like this, which I think is absolutely perfect. It was meant to be like that. I think.”
In symphonic style, the band closes the album with the epic title track, revisiting some of the themes that were introduced throughout the record. It’s the big showpiece, the grand finale, or whatever else you want to call it, but it’s a song that could stand comfortably alongside many of the band’s most beloved epics.
Look At You Now is another fantastic release from The Flower Kings. However, it’s unlikely to change the minds of anyone already acquainted with the band’s music. Those who love The Flower Kings should find plenty to love, while those who haven’t been into them are unlikely to suddenly “get it” when it comes to their brand of positive, symphonic prog. Certainly there’s less of what some detractors call ‘noodling,’ and a bit more streamlined approach to the individual songs. Melody is king throughout, and for me it stands among the best progressive rock albums of 2023 so far.
To keep up with Roine Stolt and The Flower Kings music, visit roinestolt.com.
The Light in Your Eyes
Day for Peace
Look at You Now
For my full interview with Roine Stolt, check out the video below or download / stream Episode 118 of the Michael’s Record Collection podcast. In addition to the new record, Roine talked about his musical background, joining Kaipa and Transatlantic, and a whole lot more.
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