Bass and Vocals – Pete Trewavas
Guitars and Vocals – Roine Stolt
Keyboards and Vocals – Neal Morse
Drums and Vocals – Mike Portnoy
Your English is under all pig? Dann geht’s hier ab zur deutschen Übersetzung.
Transatlantic has a new mammoth work on the market called The Absolute Universe and I had the pleasure to talk to their guitar player and singer Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings, The Tangent, Kaipa, The Sea Within, Anderson/Stolt). It’s always good to see that one of your favorite musicians is also a pleasant and down-to-earth guy. Let’s go to some nice talk about good music …
Time For Metal / Florian W.: First of all: Are you and your family healthy, any issues with Covid?
Good things first: He and his family are healthy. Before we started the interview Roine and I talked a lot about Covid, politics, and the actual situation in general. Maybe some answers are too personal, so I decided to keep them out of the final text.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: Before we talk about the new records, my first question is: Who came up with the idea for Transatlantic and the band name over 20 years ago?
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: The band name? I think we already had started working on the first album and we recorded that in America. Then we went home, I went home to Sweden, Pete went home to England and we were doing overdubs. We got a record deal with InsideOut and started talking about the album and gotta have a band name. We already had the photos from the session in America and didn’t have a band name and didn’t have any cover art. Then I was talking to a friend of mine Per Nordin, someone I know from way back. He sometimes plays around with some computer graphics and does things in a program called Bryce, where you can create strange different surreal worlds. I think he sent me the album cover for the first Transatlantic just randomly, it wasn’t meant to be Transatlantic. He just sometimes sent me something, to get an opinion. I opened it up and said, oh that looks great. I called him and said, maybe we’re in a position, where we might need some artwork for the album and send it to the guys and see if they like it. So I did and they did like it. I talked some more to my friend Per and said we’re putting the album together and probably gonna use your art, but we don’t have any band name yet. Then he spontaneously said, well I think you should call it Transatlantic because look at it, you’re two guys from America, you’re one guy in England and one guy in Sweden – it is Transatlantic. I thought that’s not bad and at that point, we started talking also other band names. I remember that the name Second Nature came up at one point, as you know Flying Colors (with Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy) have an album called Second Nature, probably something that popped up later. But we couldn’t agree on a good band name. When Per came up with the artwork and said Transatlantic is a great band name, all the other guys said, yes it is.
So that’s the story of the artwork and the band name. I designed the logotype which is the same as on the new album, but I think Per helped me a little bit to understand Photoshop better because I wanted to do certain things with the lettering and the shading between the red and the yellow. I had the idea, but Per was the guy who was dealing with it for a while.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: So Neal came upon the Flying Colors many years after (almost 15 years) this discussion and thought Second Nature could be a great name for an album?
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: I think it was Mike who came up with the idea of Second Nature at the time we were talking about Transatlantic, but maybe it stuck in Neal‘s mind.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: Who of the guys in Transatlantic had the idea to record something together before the very first album?
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: I think it started with the fact that Mike Portnoy contacted Neal Morse and said, hey I’m Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater, I heard your album The Light (Spock’s Beard) and I really like it. This started the communication between Mike and Neal. Probably a couple of months later Mike said, yeah let’s do something together, write an album, or do just some songs together. That’s how it started. They were playing around with ideas and needed a bass player. Mike said that he likes the bass player in Marillion, Pete Trewavas. And I have to say that I wasn’t meant to be in the band because I think the initial idea was to have Jim Matheos from Fates Warning being the guitar player. For whatever reason, he couldn’t do it and then I think Neal suggested me because I’ve been in contact with him trying to help Spock’s Beard to get some addresses for gigs in Europe at the time. You have to go back to the very first Spock’s Beard era. Flower Kings was trying to get gigs in America and Spock’s Beard was trying to get gigs in Europe, we were trying to help each other a little bit. So Neal suggested me to it, and at the time Mike had gotten Stardust We Are (Flower Kings album) because someone told me that Dream Theater was playing one of the songs, Circus Brimstone a kind of weird instrumental track that they were playing before every concert. So he was aware of The Flower Kings, too, and this is pretty much the story of how it all came together for the very first album.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: In the early 2000s it seemed like your days had more than 24 hours because you were busy with the renewed Kaipa, The Flower Kings, of course, The Tangent, and then Transatlantic came up. How did you manage the situation?
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: To be honest, some of these projects were consuming more time. As for Kaipa, it was more like I was tracking guitars, it wasn’t a band that played live. The keyboarder (Hans Lundin) asked me to play some guitar, which I did, probably took me about five days. The Tangent was something else, it was just Andy Tillison who contacted me to see if I could play some guitar on a recording he was doing. It was with programmed drums, the bass was played on a synth or a sampler and he just wanted to have my guitar on a few tracks. I listened to the music and I could hear something interesting and I said, well I can do it, but I would suggest if you would make it proper you should bring in a real drummer and a real bass player. He didn’t know anyone who could do this for the quality and the standard he was looking for. I said well, I have some friends, in my band, I have a great drummer, Zoltan Csörsz, and I’m sure if I asked him, he can track the drums for the album. They did it in the studio of the bass player Jonas Reingold (The Flower Kings) and then it became very natural to ask him because the drums were tracked and he asked, do you want a real bass on it. It went from being a low-profile project with bringing in Zoltan, Jonas, and David Jackson (Van Der Graaf Generator) on saxophone to a proper mix. I suggested sending it to our record label InsideOut, maybe they’re interested and they were. Suddenly it became more like a higher profile project and started to sell quite bits of albums. So it was a big push to the Progressive Rock on an international level. It didn’t take a lot of time, so my main focus was still on The Flower Kings, and with Transatlantic we were already into album number two, which was Bridge Across Forever.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: So it’s not like you were in four bands that wanted 24/7 of Roine Stolt?
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: Not really, the main part of my involvement was still with The Flower Kings, but yes, I went to America to record with Transatlantic and yes, I did go on a tour with The Tangent. But that’s about it. There are still 365 days a year and I squeezed it in, in a good way. It takes some planning but it works.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: Why I came up with the question is, that every time when I read the discography of guys like you or Neal or especially Mike, I think, so many records and so many tours – where did they get the time?
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: I have to be honest, it takes some planning. On a personal level, you have to decide whether you wanna be away a lot from your family. When I started the thing with The Flower Kings my kids were really small. So I had to decide, how much I wanna be out touring. I think I could never do what Mike did, because he was out touring all the time. For me touring in a year altogether was maybe 60 or 70 days, the rest of the year I was home, working, and available for the family. It can be done, if it‘s well planned, you can go out touring. The other thing is, sometimes touring could bring in some money, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you have to weigh things up, do I really wanna go out and don’t make any money, or do I wanna go out touring and make some really good money because that’s a way to support your family, too. Just keep things floating, I wouldn’t say, oh I’m not gonna tour. If there’s an offer then I look at it and see how much money do I make, what time of the year is the tour, what kind of venues, does it help the band. There are a lot of different things to take in. For me it’s not like, I’m gonna tour, no matter what. I know bands who do that kind of crazy tours, they sleep on the floor, they live crazy lives and drinking and drugging just to keep going for another couple of months. Then you look back and say, wow what happened there, was it fun? I don’t know. I think it’s really up to each and everyone how you wanna deal with your musicianship and focus – when you wanna do it, how you wanna do it and what are the conditions and then I can decide. I like being a musician, I like to play live but there has to be some good promotion and some reasonable conditions to provide for the family.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: You’re a musician maybe your whole life and I think your family is ok with it and your wife knows about it.
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: She’s been fantastic. I have to remind myself how fantastic my wife has been over the years. I’ve been very serious about it, I never went into drinking and drugging too much, I’ve never done crazy things or spent some crazy loads of money. I think she trusts me. It’s kind of family first, but also music first [laughs]. As you say, I’ve been doing this for a very long time, I know all the pitfalls, I know all the craziness that can happen, so I just try to enjoy being on the road with the right people and having the right kind of fun.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: One of my favorite Transatlantic moments is the part in My New World when you start singing, with the nice little keys in the background. What’s the story behind the song? Or what’s your opinion after so many years?
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: Anyway, I think it’s a good song. I mean I don’t listen back to albums that much really, but when you hear it sometimes it’s like, oh! To be honest, I don’t know where it came from, I think actually what happened was, when I got that call or the guys emailed me and said, do you wanna come over and record in America? We are putting together this band that later became Transatlantic and I said, yeah that’s sounds interesting. I needed to bring in some kind of music because that’s what they expected. It was like, oh you write songs, yeah I write songs. That would be cool with your songs, Neals Songs, and a mix of this and that. So I just looked at what I had, the ideas I had. My New World was a piece that was probably a little bit shorter and then I looked at it and expanded it a little bit before I sent it off as a demo to the guys. The lyrics are not about a real person it’s more like a made-up story about someone who got lost in the hippie era. I’m sure I met a couple of them over the years. Sometimes they come to a concert and you can see these people were real hippies back then in the 60s and now they’re in their seventies, old and grey and they smoked a lot of pot and had a lot of strange food that they did grow – these certain kinds of people. I kind of like them a bit because it was a great time. I was lucky to be at the right age when everything happened with all the pop festivals and Woodstock. It was a beautiful time. I wasn’t a hippie, I never smoked dope. The music that happened at the time was very interesting and the whole peace and love movement was a good thing. There are a lot of good things coming out of it, you could see it in America, you could see it in Sweden and many different places around the world. That probably was the initial idea when I wrote the lyrics for it – just a made-up story.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: So you said you’re not a kind of a pot-smoking hippie. You like the musical way but you haven’t to do anything that’s „normal“ for the people back in the days.
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: I’ve been there, I’ve seen it, I had pot-smoking friends. I’ve seen the upsides and the downsides of it and I was always interested in the music. I love Jimi Hendrix, I love Frank Zappa or bands like Vanilla Fudge and later also the fusion bands that came up like Miles Davis, Weather Report. So I like the expression and the freedom the music went with bands like King Crimson, Yes, and even Genesis at times. That was interesting for me. My mind was always set trying to be a better guitar player, trying to be a better writer, trying to understand music more, and to do that you also need to open your mind to jazz, classical music, electronic music, pop music, and whatever ragga, Indian music, African music, the rhythm, and the blues. I’ve tried to keep an open mind always to any kind of music and any expression.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: When I was a teenager at maybe 14 or 15 I was a metalhead and everything but metal sucked. Later I made up my mind and I discovered so much music from the 60s and 70s, newer bands, unknown bands, and stuff like that.
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: Sometimes it’s like a path you’re on it and you’re really into metal music and then you’re open up and hear a band like Opeth for instance [great band!]. They are a great band and the way they went from death metal with growling to what they are now incorporating Swedish folk music and prog [and some German Krautrock]. You can go a certain way, you can find new music, you go from listening to pure metal and then suddenly you find yourself listening to Pink Floyd and enjoying it. Whatever you thought it was awful ten years ago and say, well I can listen to that singer now or that type of drumming, because it doesn’t have to be that double-bass kind of drumming. You can listen to a jazz drummer, you can listen to a guitar player that doesn’t play a thousand notes a minute. It’s an interesting journey.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: There was great music in the 60s and 70s but there is also great music in 2021 – let’s talk about The Absolute Universe: In my review, I made a comparison to the Lord Of The Rings Movies. First, you saw the cinema version (The Breath Of Life) and everything is fine, but then there’s an extended version (Forevermore) and this one goes a little deeper …
What was your first reaction, when Neal came up with his idea of a shorter version?
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: The initial reaction … [long pause] I mean everything started with the recording in Sweden 2019, so it’s a long time ago. What was recorded in Sweden is the Forevermore version. I’ve been living with that for a while when Neal months, months later came up with the idea of cutting it down. So I didn’t fully understand why we hadn’t heard his hesitation about the length of the album or the construction of the songs. To me, it seemed just very strange why this didn’t come up earlier because if it had, then maybe we could have done it differently. But anyway I just tried to take it in and understand and see how we go about this. As probably mentioned somewhere else we had a Skype call and we talked about it and weren’t in agreement. I felt that there was a natural flow in what is now Forevermore because that’s the way we had recorded it. Everything felt very natural and there were also certain songs like Rainbow Sky that I spontaneously liked because there was a very natural flow and it was catchy. Some other parts got lifted out of it and I felt that we needed all that was in there. But anyway we were on the Skype call and then I came up with the idea we can do both. We can keep the album as it was but we leave it up to Neal to cut down to his version of how he thinks the album should be cut. So that‘s basically where we ended up and then Mike said, oh then Roine you can have your idea of how to mix the Forevermore version and what kind of guitar, synth, percussions, and stuff you want in that one. So Neal had free range to cut out stuff because he also thought there was too much guitar [raises his voice] which of course is wrong. After all, there can never be too much guitar, right? [laughs] There can actually be too much guitar but anyway in reality I felt that what we had sounded great, so I wanted to stay with it. I was kind of, please don’t cut too much. This was probably a good solution to have both versions and everyone is happy in the end. Coming out of this with some kind of good feeling about ok, we made that album but we also made that album. Now it’s up to the people who buy the album to listen to the album whatever they wanna listen to or they can have the big black box (The Ultimate Edition) and there is yet a third version which is a combination of both, so even longer. There’s plenty and in the end, everyone should be happy.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: To be honest, I prefer Forevermore because your guitar playing seems to be unleashed. Maybe I’ve never heard much more guitar playing from you in a record. Did you feel free to put as much guitar in „your“ version as you want?
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: Frankly, after we had that talk it wasn’t like I went back and put in more guitar, the guitar was already there. Before the discussion even came up, before Neal said, I wanna cut it down, my guitars were already there months before that.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: So you hadn’t added any guitar playing in this version?
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: No, nothing. It’s just like you end up in a very strange situation where one guy in a band says, I think you’re playing too much guitar. I couldn’t respond to that because if I respond to, it sounds like I’m trying to push my instrument or my part of the recording like, oh Roine wants more of Roine. I don’t want more of Roine, I want the music to be alive, I want it to be vibrant, I want it to feel exciting. If one guy says, I think you are playing just too much, there’s no way I can answer that because whatever I say is gonna sound wrong. It’s like I say, I think it’s too many drums or bass playing. I would never say to Pete that he’s playing too much bass. I think he should just play straighter or tone it down a bit, play basic notes because my feeling is that in this band everyone plays whatever they wanna play. That’s the excitement of the band, that’s the excitement of each and everyone putting in their part and make a good mix out of it. I mean just look back because over the years listening to music you hear all the bands and you hear all the little parts that people put in. You mentioned Pink Floyd, I mentioned Yes and I think about Yes without Steve Howe. I’m not saying every little bit he put in is great but there’s a lot of great playing he put in. If they had a producer or someone else in the band saying, I wanna cut out your guitar here, then Yes albums would sound very different and I think it would have been a great loss. That’s my sort of standpoint. I think the only reason I agree with this, is that I could have Forevermore because that’s my vision of an exciting album and an album that is alive. If someone else wanna make another mix where they cut out vocals, guitars, bass, synth, or whatever that doesn’t bother me because [laughs] we still have both versions. I know what version I’m gonna listen to. I’m really happy that so many people have been so positive about the Forevermore version.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: I agree as you said it’s like someone‘s missing. If I only heard The Breath Of Life and there wasn’t any Forevermore version, I think it wouldn’t be my favorite record of Transatlantic. I fell in love with Transatlantic over 20 years ago because every musician puts all of his playing styles in it. There is no limitation, there are songs over 30 minutes. It’s not like in a „normal“ band where you have limitations. Most people I’ve talked to prefer the Forevermore version and it feels like it’s the right thing.
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: I think that’s the basic idea, as you say. I think Mike is right, it’s kind of the trademark Transatlantic being more of everything. A little bit overblown but there’s something in the overblown idea. I mean there’s too much drumming, bass playing, guitar playing, a lot of singing, all of us are singing with lots of harmonies and all these little details. That is also because the music is sometimes a little bit straightforward, sometimes a little bit more complicated or proggy. I think the perfect blend is there and I think if you just give it free-range the music blooms and that’s where we are at our very, very best. That’s also the reason we’ve never even discussed the possibility of taking an outside producer. Because an outside producer would start to cut stuff to make a commercial record. I’m not saying that maybe we could do an even more commercial record but I think the band in its health is a success, we’re selling lots of albums. Of course, you can be greedy and say, oh we can sell even more if we make it more straightforward or more poppy and try to find another audience. But I think the reality is, the audience that Transatlantic has, is old prog guys like me that been digging Pink Floyd, Yes and all that and also guys like you, younger people that come in from whatever [long pause] Iron Maiden.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: I came into Transatlantic because my favorite band at that point was Dream Theater and I wanted to hear everything of Mike Portnoy‘s stuff. It brought me to much more music. I already knew Marillion, then I discovered The Flower Kings and Spock’s Beard. It’s perfect when you discover more music after just one record.
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: I think it’s very important to know your audience because you can be greedy and you can go for trying to sell more albums. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Because you lose your old audience by changing too much or making an album that’s not that exciting, just in the hopes that you’re trying to reach out to someone like a broader audience. But you lose your old audience and you didn’t gain the new audience that you were hoping for. In my life, it’s like I’m every day grateful to be able to do this. Even like going out of Sweden and play shows, it’s like magic after all these years. I’ve been doing this for quite a while and I’m just thinking you take nothing for granted. Whatever you get a call from Steve Hackett (ex-Genesis), he said, can you come out and play with me for a year. I was playing bass with Steve Hackett, playing old Genesis songs. Or get a call from Jon Anderson (ex-Yes) and he said, let’s make an album together. These people I listened to as a teenager. I think by playing safe you never get there, you have to go out and be ready to risk something. To be honest you can’t be calculating too much. That’s my standpoint and I’m gonna stand by it [laughs] because I’m old enough to have the backbone to say, this is what I wanna do, I believe in this and I also believe in the audience. I believe that the audience is smart enough to take in stuff like this. I believe the audience would be perfectly ok to take in two albums of Forevermore. That’s why I pushed a little bit for that.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: As you mentioned, there is a third version called The Ultimate Edition. My copy unfortunately didn’t arrive yet. What can fans expect of this one?
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: To be honest, I haven’t sat through it. I have the big black box, I haven’t opened it, I’m not sure if I’m gonna open it. Probably let it stay like it is because, I don’t know, they made a couple of thousand copies and I have one. The thing is if I understand right this third version is a combination of both albums and even longer. It has also visual images, so it’s like a DVD [actually a Blu-ray] with some spaced-out visuals. If you have a sound system like a 5.1 system you can listen to it in a 5.1 mix, the full-length version. There is no new music, there is a section where I sang initially completely different lyrics over some of Neals songs. I think that’s on the super long version. It’s just like put together cleverly by Rich Mouser who did the mix with some magic, putting all the pieces together. I don’t envy him because it’s a mammoth work, putting all this together and knowing how to take all the Pro Tool files, glue everything together and make it consistent.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: I saw some of the visuals on the Facebook page of Neal Morse. Seems like a cool trip.
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: I’ve seen most of it, I haven’t seen it in high definition though. It’s more like we got to send something in a huge file. You can’t start downloading 40 GB or whatever. But I think it has some great moments actually and some moments that are ok but the visuals put a different dimension to the music, I think it’s really entertaining and good value for money. Even if I have to say that the big black box is quite expensive. But if you’re a collector [Yes, I am!] you gotta have it before it’s gone.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: You worked again with Rich Mouser. The first time I listened to the new material I thought: Yes, unmistakable Transatlantic. But after a while my thoughts were like: He put something on top of it. What’s your opinion on the mix?
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: Well, I think that over time you developed as a mixer. I would also say, without tooting my own horn too much here [laughs] but for this album, I decided certain things that were important for me. One of them was guarding the Forevermore version making sure that all the guitars stayed, making sure that the initial performances stayed. But I also decided that this time I’m not gonna sit back and wait for Rich Mousers mixes and then just approve it. I’m gonna go in and I’m gonna listen to his mixes. So I send him a mail and said, hey Rich is it ok with you as you go along with the mixes. He said, yes send me MP3 files and I can have a quick listen and then I can come up with hopefully constructive comments – so he did. For this album, I wouldn’t say I was babysitting him but I offered my advice or my opinion for certain things like how you’re panning acoustic guitar to this side, the tambourine to that side, take up the synth bass a little bit, take up the vocal harmonies here or cut out the vocal harmonies here. Drums was another thing because the drum sound from the beginning was kind of metal, sounding a bit like a Dream Theater mix if you know what I mean.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: The typical Mike Portnoy metal sound.
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: The funny thing is that Mike Portnoy likes a bit of the old-school drum sounds when he’s listening to music. He loves Jellyfish and he loves The Beatles of course, some of the other bands like Bigelf. The vintage-sounding thing. Knowing that I just said to Rich that maybe this time we should make the kick drum less of a metal kickdrum, take down the treble, make it smaller, and use a little bit more of the room mics. The aim was more like the sound of a Queen album or like an old Genesis album or Yes or something like that. So you have more organic sounds from the tomtoms, of the room, of the cymbals, and also bringing up the bass guitar. I think this is probably the loudest bass guitar on any Transatlantic album.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: Yeah, the bass rips through the mix.
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: It rips! If you listen to a Neal Morse album you can sometimes hear the bass and it’s the same guy mixing. That’s another philosophy to have the bass but you didn’t push it to the front. In this case, I was thinking, well there’s a history of prog rock. All the way back to The Who, John Entwistle was a great bass player, then Chris Squire of Yes, John Wetton of King Crimson. You have the bass in your face, there’s a growl in the bass, there’s lots of midrange and treble. If someone likes Pete Trewavas who is a great bass player I think he should be heard, the bass should be a little more in your face.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: That’s what I hate about most modern metal songs, because every time it’s like, where is the bass player? Even in Dream Theater, John Myung is a great bass player and you can’t almost hear him.
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: [laughs] I know, I’ve heard them live and I was wondering, did they even put the bass through the PA system. It was just like kick drum and guitar. This is more like a tradition coming back from The Beatles because you could hear almost every bass line of Paul McCartney. That was my idea anyway. I worked with Rich without stepping on anyone’s toes, trying to suggest stuff, made long lists of stuff that I wanna change in the mix. Taking that time, because it’s a great album and I think it would be a shame if the mix would be halfway there. The songs are good, the arrangements are good and it’s important to have every part in it. Whether the bass is super important or distorted. I even took Pete’s basses as he sends them to me and I re-amped them here, to get these sounds that stand out a little bit more. Looking back now I think it was worth the extra work because when I’m listening to it now I’m so happy that I went the extra mile, did that, and also being in contact with Rich Mouser through all the mix up to the mastering. [I’m happy about it, too]
Time For Metal / Florian W.: Most times you were mentioned as the flower power guy. On the Absolute Universe, you show your darker side with a song called Owl Howl. What was your intention?
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: It’s usually very spontaneous. Owl Howl was a riff I had. Usually, when I write songs it’s not I sit down and write for a specific band. It was more like I was writing songs and I had a big pile of songs. The Owl Howl guitar riff and the music itself I had lying around but I wasn’t sure if it’s gonna be an instrumental or if it should be a vocal thing. Before we gathered to start writing the music in Sweden I just sat down with the microphone. I just opened the microphone and I took what came up in my head. Probably there had been something on the TV, it could be something about politics, Donald Trump doing his tricks and you get a little bit mad about how crazy the world is at that point. The way humanity sometimes went completely wrong, being greedy, being selfish, not caring about each other, not caring about the environment, and caring about money. You can feel the greed all the time and you can see how the politics play out. We have tensions in Europe, you can see it in America or South America, etc. So probably I just sat down as I do it these days, I just spontaneously sang something to the song. Thinking that I can change this later if I feel I need another lyric or text I can always change it later. But I have something to display my idea to the guys. That’s how it came together and probably many of the other songs, too. Much of what I do with The Flower Kings also.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: So you‘re recording all the time and say, ok let’s save this and see if you can use it later
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: Yeah, a little bit like that. Usually, I used to have paper and pen, write down a few phrases, and then I sing them. But nowadays I just put up a microphone, listen to the music and record what enters my mind spontaneously. Because I trust that kind of inspiration, just like music, just like whatever I’m playing. The guitars I’m playing on the album are not like I sit down and think about fancy guitar lines and solos that I’m gonna play to impress people. I just play whatever comes up in my mind. I do the same thing with the lyrics and just trust that there’s a reason why it comes up in my mind. I can always go back later to change if I don’t like it. But it stayed, this is what I had already when we came into the studio together to record the basics for the Transatlantic record and it just stayed there until the finished album.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: One of my favorite songs from the new record is The Darkness In The Light. In the beginning, you can hear a barking dog. The first time I thought: „Oh no, the neighbor dog is barking in front of my window.“ So, what’s the story about the barking dog?
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: The barking dog is also in the house today. It’s my oldest son’s dog and the dog is called Yoshi. Yoshi is sometimes here because my son works as a tattoo artist. Sometimes he needs to have free time when he has long sessions for a big motive on the leg, chest, or back and he works for hours and hours. Then Yoshi is here, we take care of him, and sometimes he comes into the studio to show his interest in my music [laughs]. So he just comes in and said, oh I’m hungry. Probably the bark you hear is Yoshi coming in and telling me, [with a high voice] I’m hungry, give me food.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: A repeating theme on The Absolute Universe is the Belong theme. How important is it to belong to something or someone these days – these crazy days?
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: I think it’s incredibly important, the more you think about it. Because if you don’t belong to anything, it’s like you’re lost in space. You belong to something, a football team, a family, everyone belongs to a family, sometimes more or less successful to be honest. I’ve been lucky, I have a great family. You belong to a certain style of music, you dress up in black cause you’re up to death metal bands or you dress up like a cowboy and you belong to people who dance to country music. Maybe you belong to people who go to the Alps and go skiing and you have your friends around. Many things you can belong to. I think there’s a kind of a good feeling to know that you have people thinking almost like you about music, books, films or politics. I’m sure the people that were storming the Capitol in Washington, felt they belong to the little tribe of Donald Trump. I can understand it. The same thing is when you belong to a religious community, that also might be very important. If you have your friends there, it can be anything. The more you belong to something, the wider your connection is, it can be anything. It can be with your style of music, your football team, or people who meet on Thursday and talk about food [laughs]. People who color their hair red, blue, or have tattoos. That’s the basic thing, to be able to connect to others in the world around you is incredibly important. The Belong theme, the little thing that I sang, wasn’t there from the beginning. I just put it in and someone said, oh shall we keep that? I said that we should keep it because I think it’s kind of a little hook, it kind of raises a question. It’s meant to be there, so it stayed and I’m happy with it.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: Let’s take a trip back to the beginning of The Flower Kings. You started a retro-prog band at a time when on one side the Gothenburg Death metal scene exploded and on the other side successful careers of classic Metal bands like Hammerfall started. Are you ok with the role of an outsider?
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: When you live in Sweden the dominating feel of the music industry is not the likes of Hammerfall or even Meshuggah. In the general media like TV or newspapers in Sweden, they are almost as underground as The Flower Kings.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: If I point at any random metalhead in Germany, he is immediately able to name almost 50 metal bands from Sweden. So it’s like a point of view from the metal scene in Germany?
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: We are aware of it. When I started The Flower Kings, I wasn’t aware of it and I think Hammerfall hadn’t started at that time. Most likely Meshuggah was already making albums but I wasn’t aware of it. I was aware of a couple of Swedish prog bands like Änglagård or Anekdoten. These bands played kind of retro-prog but the dominating music scene was pop music, typical Swedish pop and dance music. That’s what you’ve seen on TV or in newspapers. All the bands that you’ve mentioned, you can make a long list of metal bands, we weren’t aware of them. They were sort of underground as much as we felt underground. Who is crazy enough to start a progressive rock band in 1994? Yes was making crappy music at the time, Genesis was lost to pop, King Crimson wasn’t happening, I think, and if they happened, it wasn’t connected to the beginning of King Crimson. To be honest, I didn’t feel that there was a scene until we’ve done maybe two albums. We came into making Retropolis (1996), then I understood that we get some press from America, we get some radio airplay in England and the Netherlands. Japan shows interest, suddenly we were invited to play in Japan and it just goes on and on. Then we get contacted by InsideOut and I turned them down the first time. I said no because we were selling lots of albums and they wanted to take over. I said we’re doing fine [laughs] we can manage this. Then it just blew up, I had to deal with just dealing and selling albums every day and make sure that 600 albums go to the Netherlands, 300 go to Germany, 150 to Italy. I realized that I can’t make music if I have to sit here with my own label and make sure to sell the albums. We’ve gotta make new albums. The second time they offered, I said yes to InsideOut and we’ve been with them since then, which is a good thing. They’ve been growing, they signing lots of great bands all the time and now even Dream Theater.
Time For Metal / Florian W.:
I think half of my CDs and vinyl are from InsideOut.
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: They did something right, most of the artists at InsideOut are probably happy because most of them are still there. Now they have signed Kansas, Dream Theater, Sons Of Apollo and they have other things like Arjen Lucassen, Devin Townsend, Neal Morse Band, The Flower Kings, The Tangent, and stuff like that.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: Are you into the music of some heavier Swedish bands or more Prog stuff like newer Opeth, Pain Of Salvation, or the underrated Andromeda?
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: I know a couple of the guys in Andromeda. To be honest it’s not like I’m sitting around and listening to lots of music at all by any band, not metal, not pop music because I work all the time and I don’t have much time to listen. I’ve listened to Pain Of Salvation, Daniel Gildenlöw is an incredibly strong vocalist. I followed Opeth from the time they were a death metal band. I actually listen to it, I don’t particularly like the death growl thing but it doesn’t bother me, it’s ok, it’s not something I would do [Growls in Transatlantic would be sick!]. I could hear it through the melodic stuff, even on the earlier Opeth albums. They got Fredrik Åkesson on guitar, he’s a fantastic guitar player, the new drummer [Martin „Axe“ Axenrot since 2006 already] and everything. It’s a fantastic band, I really enjoy them. It’s not like I’m sitting around and listening to their albums all the time but I definitely like MikaelÅkerfeldt as a singer. I think he’s got a fantastic voice, very natural in his clean voice, not the death growl thing. When he is singing in his normal voice, I can’t find any fault in his voice. He doesn’t try to sing like someone else or to be someone else, he sounds very much like him. This band I listen to more than other metal bands but I keep an eye open. To be very honest, I tend to go back to Deep Purple because they had a swing to the music. The drumming, the guitar playing from Ritchie Blackmore, even Steve Morse has some great playing and I always loved Ian Gillan because he’s one of my favorite metal singers. I like Led Zeppelin too, maybe a little bit less than Deep Purple. I can see the original style of Led Zeppelin, they made some really good songs but it’s a completely different kind of production – much more scaled-down, much more natural. Some of the modern metal bands suffer a little bit from too much editing. When you play drums and you start chupping up every hit from the kick drum or the snare drum and making them sound even then you start trying to create a drum machine-sounding drum track. Listen to John Bonham or Ian Paice, they got a certain swing and a certain style, that sounds much more powerful to my ears.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: I listen to a lot of modern metal bands for our magazine. When I talk or write to the bands, I always say that their drums don’t have to sound like a drum machine.
I once saw Deep Purple live, I was the youngest guy in the crowd [Whoop, whoop] and I thought that the drummer can’t be over seventy years old, he was so great.
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: It’s a life of drumming, a life of confidence in knowing that my style is good enough. In Led Zeppelin, John Bonham died unfortunately but these guys had confidence that their playing was right for the band and it was enough. I think if you’re now producing a metal album, start worrying about being not tight enough, start chupping up drum tracks and start tuning the vocals because you can’t sing in pitch, then you’re constructing something that isn’t real. When you play it live, you’ve gotta deliver anyway. If you can’t deliver in the studio without fixing too much, cutting, pasting, or tuning then you’re in a band that’s not good enough. But if you have a band like Opeth, they sound like they sound. They are more like Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin, when you listen to the album it’s not fixed, they’re not trying to be better than they are. They are confident in whatever they produce on an album is good enough and it works.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: When I discovered Opeth back in the days, I was a death metal guy, I was familiar with growls and the first thing I thought was that can’t be the same guy singing the growls and the cleans. There have to be two guys singing these parts. Their guitars sound more open, more natural, not as the down-tuned djent guys nowadays.
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: I think it all comes down to because Mikael is running the show with Opeth, mostly I would say. His idea of good music works because he’s out there, he’s going to record fairs, he’s searching for some odd German Krautrock or some obscure English bands that sold like 400 copies of their albums way back in 1981 or something like that. He’s searching all the time for something different and odd. He’s brave enough to mix those ideas into the music of Opeth. It serves him very well because it just works. If you look at them, they’re all fantastic musicians, look at Frederik, he’s a fantastic guitar player. He’s very tasteful, he’s not shredding for shredding’s sake, I believe. There’s always a melody and there’s always a great guitar sound, always a few singing notes played with great taste, style, and sound. I feel like Opeth is a grown-up band that knows very well what they are aiming for and what they wanna do. That’s why it works, that’s why they are working on an international level.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: I always wondered about the bands Mikael came up with when I read interviews with him. It’s like, what bands are you talking about? He comes up with great underground bands. When I’m talking to Opeth fans now it’s kinda sad, because many of them say: „Bring back the growls, no more prog „, and stuff like that.
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: I think his mind is made up and it works. It doesn’t matter, maybe they lose a bit of the hardcore metal fans but in the end, they gain some prog fans. And obviously, before the shutdown, they were out touring and they were playing mid-sized concert halls or venues and everything works out good for them. They’re doing something right. [Man, we talked a lot about Opeth]
Time For Metal / Florian W.: At the age of 17, you joined Kaipa. You worked and toured with so many great musicians. Do you still have personal goals for your musical future?
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: The goals are probably a bit modest, it’s not like I say, oh I’m gonna join The Rolling Stones or I’m gonna work with Bruce Springsteen, that’s not really what I’m thinking. If I can keep going, be healthy, be alive and write more music, I’m quite happy. Honestly, I feel that you end up in a place where you might be unhappy if you think all the time about the needs for a better-selling album, or a bigger crowd on the next tour, or reaching out to more people. In reality, we are already reaching out to a lot of people, we play great shows. The last shows we did, we went to Japan (with The Flower Kings) playing two sold-out shows with maybe 600 or 700 people each night which is ok. Would I like to have 7000 people? Yeah if it worked. It’s probably better to know your audience to be able to make your music without any compromises and be happy with whatever you get. To be honest when I was a teenager, as you said starting with Kaipa at 17, before that I didn’t even think I make one album. I didn’t even think I once go outside of Sweden and play one show. That’s the reality of the 15-year-old Roine and here I am almost 50 years later. I’ve done all this, been so many times to the United States, Canada, South America, five times to Japan, I think. Europe I can’t even count so many times I’ve been playing here. Sometimes playing big concert halls on the tour with Steve Hackett. So what else is there, is there something I aim to do before I call it a day? I don’t know, it’s not like I regret anything or think that I should have done this, or I should have been more in the spotlight.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: And you can remember almost everything because you never went into the drug scene. So you didn’t have any blackouts in the 60s and 70s.
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: Exactly. There’s nothing you should take for granted and that’s something you have to remind yourself all the time. For every album you release, you have to look at it and say, yeah this is happening, it’s a great album, we‘re happy with it, the band is happy and people seem to like it because they buy it – so it’s a success. You gotta be grateful because there’s nothing like a law of nature that you can make an album. There are so many artists out there making albums and never sell much at all. They sell a couple of hundreds and they really wanna be out there and do what I’m doing, or Neal Morse or Mike Portnoy is doing. All of us are lucky to be here and should be grateful each day for the opportunity that we’ve been served. Maybe it’s meant to be in the stars [laughs]. I have absolutely no idea it’s like, I am here, I’m still alive, I can keep doing music and make more albums. It‘s all great, for me, the future looks bright. That’s where I am personally when I look back at my entire musical career.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: Yes and I’m grateful too because it‘s not that often that I can talk to one of my favorite musicians. Thanks again for your time, it was a pleasure to talk to you. I wish you all the best. Hope there’s lots of Roine Stolt stuff coming up and I hope you’re coming to Germany when the stages are open again.
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: We keep all fingers crossed. You never know, the best is just wait and see how things develop. So we’ll see.
Time For Metal / Florian W.: Do you finally have some words for our readers at Time For Metal?
Transatlantic / Roine Stolt: Not really [laughs] because I think we covered quite a bit already. So I think they know me a little bit better now.