Before I wrote about food I wrote about music. For many years I was a columnist, feature writer and reviewer for Progression Magazine: The Journal of Progressive Music. Over the weeks surrounding September 11, 2001 I was on the road with the band, The Flower Kings, for their 2001 U.S. tour for what turned into a cover article for the Summer/Fall 2002 issue. It’s an article I had not revisited for some time until last week. Rereading it I thought it deserved a cyber-home. It was a lot more than I ever thought it would be. While I’d write some aspects of it differently than today it remains an article of which I’m very proud. The experience — and the experience of writing the article — had a lot to do with who I am today.
There was one thing of which I was absolutely certain: I was not going to take Roine Stolt’s deposition. I had my reasons. For one, what sport would there be in that? I’m a lawyer. I take depositions for a living. Why would I want to take a week off from my law practice to take someone’s deposition for free?
For another thing, did the world really need another predictable rock interview? As I sat on the airplane to New York’s Laguardia Airport I was quite sure that I could have written the entire interview from the comfort of my home office without ever meeting Roine Stolt, e-mailed him a draft of the interview, received his sign off on the whole thing and be done with it. I could start the “interview” by “asking” questions about The Flower Kings’ new album, “The Rainmaker.” Roine could “answer” with an explanation about how this is the album that they always wanted to make but never could before. Roine would “tell” how the last time out they were just getting to know then-new bass player Jonas Reingold but that this time they were more comfortable with his playing and he with them because of a year of touring, etc.. Etc., etc., and etc.. He could “point out” how much “energy” there was in the recording of “The Rainmaker,” how it is more “laid back” and sounds “more mature” to his ears. How predictable. How boring.
No. I was not going to take Roine Stolt’s deposition. But what was I going to do? I had no answer. I knew that I wanted the article to be something different. I knew I wanted it to be creative. I knew that I wanted it to be shaped by the events of the week. I would go on tour with The Flower Kings, work the merchandise stand for a week, and write about whatever it was that happened during that time. Something interesting had to happen.
But that method of working has its terrors. There is great security in a script. There is something very comfortable in knowing exactly what you are going to do and what questions you are going to ask. And there is something very frightening in not knowing. What would I write about? What if nothing exciting happens?
I needn’t have worried.
MAG: In many ways “Rainmaker” sounds different than many of the other Flower Kings albums. Was that intentional?
Roine Stolt (RS): That’s a pretty good question because in a way I think it was not intentional. But at the same time I believe that all that I do has some kind of meaning: I have an idea and I try to go in a certain direction. I think its more like I said “Let’s not do this and let’s not do that because I think this has been done before and I don’t want people to think that we’re making the same album all over again.”
MAG: Well, what were you trying not to do with “Rainmaker?”
RS: I was trying not to do too many overdubs and trying to make it possible to play the songs live so that they wouldn’t sound too much different live. Some of the other stuff we’ve done is like layers and layers and layers of keyboards and it’s very complicated for one guy to play. It was the same with the guitars and the vocal harmonies. I tried to cut it down to less overdubs and …
MAG: Maybe that’s why I feel it sounds sort of like an American album…
RS: Is that typical of American albums?
MAG: Well a lot of the American rock, I’ve always found, is less complex on the production side then much British progressive rock.
RS: Maybe, maybe so. So, maybe that’s right. I tried to mix all of the influences that we have with all of the different band members…well, I supppose this record is mostly my composing – it’s all my composing actually. So the ideas came from me and…well…the next album, it will sound different. I wouldn’t say we are going in a particular direction. I suppose it is more like, “this is another album by The Flower Kings and it sounds completely different.” I don’t know; the next album will sound different.
Say this much for The Flower Kings: they made me feel right at home. Within five minutes of first meeting Roine Stolt and the rest of the band on Saturday afternoon, September 8, I was practicing law again. The previous evening the band had performed a gig in Burlington, Vermont at the Club Metronome. They’d been stiffed. Claiming that the proceeds of the gate and the liquor sales from the show were insufficient to cover the band’s guarantee, the owner said he just did not have enough cash on hand to pay the band. Instead he offered a check which, he promised, Bob Snyder (the band’s tour manager) could cash before they left town the next morning. Snyder reluctantly agreed. He had little choice.
The check was rubber. Within minutes I was pressed into action. As new Flower Kings drummer Zoltan Czörsh explored the borrowed drum kit he would be playing that night (his kit was back in Sweden and the new one promised by sponsor Gretsch was apparently hiding in the same place as the funds in the Vermont club-owner’s bank account) I huddled with Snyder to formulate strategies to get the money the band was owed. Ironic as it seemed that I was there practicing law, it was not an altogether bad way to introduce myself to the band. I was helping them. I was on their side.
Besides, it was far more comfortable then trying to get to know the band. I knew how to deal with a client. That was easy. How exactly do you go about dealing with a shy rock star?
And make no mistake about it, Roine Stolt is shy; almost painfully so. As counterintuitive as it may seem, Roine – the songwriter, bandleader, lead guitarist and co-lead singer of the Flower Kings – very clearly found the spotlight an uncomfortable place to be. On stage, behind the veil of klieg lights, a microphone and his ever-present Parker Fly guitar (where other bandmembers would leave their instruments in the U-Haul trailer overnight or during transport, Stolt carried his guitar in a gigbag on his back and never let it out of his sight), he was at home. But in the absence of that protection Stolt held himself separate from others; including other members of the band. Both before and after gigs other Flower Kings would hang out around the stage area and the bar. Not Roine. While he would come out on the stage after a gig to sign autographs and pose for pictures with fans, it always seemed far from his idea of how to spend the moment. And yet Stolt was far from impersonable. His reticence seemed to revolve around people whom he did not know. While he would hold himself apart from strangers, once he became familiar with an individual he would be much freer and even open up.
In contrast, Tomas Bodin – the band’s keyboardist – was the class clown. Boyish and exuberant, Bodin was the ying to Stolt’s yang (or vice versa), the two having worked together on and off over the years between Stolt’s salad days in the seminal Euro-prog outfit Kaipa and his formation of The Flower Kings. On those occasions when he did not have a cigarette hanging from his lips Bodin was sure to be sporting an impish smile that made one wonder who had been the butt of the latest practical joke. His roguish personality lent Bodin a youthful aura that belied his actual age – at least until he began speaking with pride about his University-age daughter taking boxing lessons and beating a would-be mugger senseless.
Hasse Froberg – the band’s second guitar player and co-lead vocalist – was another study in contrasts. The only Flower King with a day job – the others are full time musicians patching together a living between their various musical ventures – Froberg works as a baggage handler at Stockholm airport. That, however did not stop him from performing more gigs annually than any other member of the band. A relatively slight man, the smallest in physical stature in the band, Froberg’s stage presence is huge. His voice is massive; a cross between Greg Lake and Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers. On stage he demands and receives attention – if only for the seeming incongruousness of such a large voice coming from so slight a frame.
Jonas Reingold, who replaced Roine Stolt’s brother Michael as bass player for the Flower Kings, was – along with Bodin – the most gregarious member of the band. Reingold seemed, at times, more comfortable in the audience than backstage. Both before and after the gigs he would hang out up front in the bar with fans and the band’s entourage. A virtuoso bass player with a solid jazz background, it was Reingold’s addition to the band for the “Space Revolver” album that set – perhaps more than anything else – the band’s direction as a live outfit.
Zoltan Csörsz was the baby of the band – both in terms of his age and his length of service. Zoltan, 24, had joined The Flower Kings only three months before after Jaime Salazar’s departure following the recording of “The Rainmaker.” A child prodigy, Zoltan’s family had moved from his native Hungary to Sweden to increase Zoltan’s opportunities for quality musical training. Discovered by Reingold in several Stockholm-area jazz combos, Zoltan received an offer to join the band after playing drums on Tomas Bodin’s solo album.
Within the first several minutes of meeting the band members’ personalities were immediately evident. While Roine greeted my friend Ian Oakley (the band’s trusted webmaster and de facto UK manager) literally with open arms, it would be some time before he would begin to be comfortable around me. It was immediately evident that he knew I had to be there and that was, it seemed, OK with him…but little more. Tomas Bodin greeted Ian with a hearty “Meester Oakley” that harked back to an inside joke from the band’s recent UK tour. Reingold greeted me with an equally hearty “finally I meet the mighty MAGARDINER” – my screen name on the flowerkingsmail yahoogroups (and several other prog-related) e-mail lists. There would be variations on these themes, but the themes themselves would not change.
MAG: Sometimes I’ve begun to think of The Flower Kings’ studio CDs and The Flower Kings’ live performances as almost completely different groups and goals. Is that intentional?
Tomas Bodin (TS): Yes. Quite interesting that you have noticed that because as a group live, I think we add more of our personal styles into the sound whereas on the studio sessions there is an ultimate idea, what we want to achieve with this music, and we play for that goal. But live I think we have more freedom to do what we want. And also, I mean, the fact is that we are living so long distances between us…Jonas and Zoltan are living in the south part of Sweden and Roine and I and Hasse are living in the middle part which means that we don’t see each other that often to do recordings — or at once — so we have sort of an idea on the tape and Zoltan and Jonas record the drums and bass. And then for me I had a lot of keyboards…and that will definitely tell you what direction the sound is going to be like. It is very dominating. But I do agree that there is a distinct difference between The Flower Kings live and The Flower Kings in the studio
MAG: For me a huge part of the live performances – to me the highlight – is the improvised sections. Particularly in the set list that you have been playing on this tour the two long sections in “Garden of Dreams” and – when you do it – the opening jam.
TB: We have a saying in Sweden that goes like this: If you can surprise yourself you can surprise others and then it will become interesting. That is why the improvised parts are so important. Because if we didn’t have the improvising parts then why should we play it? It’s already in the record. It has to be something new every time we play it otherwise it will get very boring.
MAG: Another thing is that this is very different than many prog bands – in fact maybe any prog bands. Other than perhaps King Crimson I can’t think of a prog band that focuses live performances on anything other than giving reproductions of the CDs.
TB: Yah. I think that every group has its own ideal. But we love to jam. It is so easy to grab that edge – so to speak – grab that stick and run with it. It works out fine. Especially now with Zoltan in the group. He is a great improviser and he is very cool. Perhaps we are, with our next CD, going to record it in a new way. We would all get together in the studio at one time – and play it all in one take. It might be better, I don’t know.
While promotional stickers on the band’s new album “The Rainmaker” (which I was selling out in the lobby) touted The Flower Kings as “the Yes for the new millennium,” live the band’s sound veered decidedly toward the jazzy and the jammy…more like the resulting lovechild of a polymorphous perverse orgy among Yes and Genesis, Weather Report and Phish.
The Flower Kings’ New Jersey set opened with “Church of Your Heart,” one of the band’s more accessible pieces. While the song is, on CD, one of the band’s less interesting ones, live it was both tighter and – strangely enough – more fluid at the same time. As The Flower Kings swung into the piece they attacked it with a dynamic control and intensity missing on the studio recording. The band’s jazzier sound was evident almost immediately, particularly in the bass work of Jonas Reingold and the drumming of Zoltan Csörsz. Where former bassist Michael Stolt had been happy to reside at the root, Jonas Reingold was all over the fretboard. Csörsz, for his part, was energetic and mercurial with clearly evident technical abilities but also a strong feel for the groove.
For me, it was Reingold and Csörsz who were the real surprises of the evening. I clearly knew what to expect from Roine Stolt and Tomas Bodin. I thought I had an idea of what I’d see with Hasse Froberg. None of them disappointed that night; nor did any of them surprise. But it was a different story with Reingold and Csörsz. I had heard Reingold on the “Space Revolver” album. I had been told that Csörsz was a particularly strong drummer. But what I heard with my own ears was something altogether different. From almost the beginning of “Church of Your Heart” it was already clear to me that Reingold and Csörsz gave the band a vitality and presence live that I had not anticipated.
“Church of Your Heart” was followed by the epic “Garden of Dreams.” It is, both literally and figuratively, the centerpiece of the band’s live set. Weighing in at about fifty minutes – nearly a full hour on the CD – that was no surprise. The temporal center of the concert figured to fall somewhere in that hour. What was somewhat more of a surprise is the degree to which the song was central to what the band was trying to do live. It was the very heart of the concert. And the very heart of the “Garden of Dreams” live were the two extended improvised sections, different each and every night – sometimes subtly different, sometimes radically so. Everything that a Flower Kings concert is was present in that hour.
And it was very much those improvised sections that contrast The Flower Kings’ live performances from that of other prog acts. Where most prog bands offer up tight live sets that brilliantly capture both the letter and spirit of their CD recordings, no two Flower Kings live performances are ever the same – either as each other or as the album from whence the songs came.
MAG: How do you feel that your inclusion in The Flower Kings has changed the band?
Jonas Reingold:I think I bring a jazzier sound to the group. I started out that way; my
role as a bass player, is to be an improvisational musician. So that’s what I’ve done all of my professional life. Playing jazz and playing some avante garde stuff and play in different styles. And I think Roine has a great knowledge about music and lets us play the way we are. I have no filter on what I can do. I can bring my jazz approach to the group. Which is good, I think because the songs are different every night if you play that way.
MAG: I mentioned to Tomas that to my ears The Flower Kings on CD and in the studio are almost a completely different band than The Flower Kings live.
JR: Yeah, I think this comes from the way we record the CDs. Because we are living 600 or 700 miles from each other. I live 600 miles from Upsalla. We have no time to rehearse. So during our tour the songs from the album – which is almost like an in and out thing doing the record, then we just play it instantly, we have no rehearsal. So I think that is why.
Sunday, September 9 was an off day – no concert in the evening, no obligations that day. Ian, his wife Julie and I spent the day much as I spent many Sundays when I had lived in New York, sampling dim sum in Chinatown, walking untold blocks through the Village and Soho, strolling in Central Park, stopping to catch an impromptu jazz concert. There was something poignant in it for me – wandering a City I’d moved from fifteen years earlier only after coming to the realization that a career as a writer was not in the cards. And there I was again, brought back by an article I was writing. Irony indeed.
The following morning broke with me acutely aware of the 6 ½ hour drive I had ahead of me to Pittsburgh. Ian and Julie – who I was to drop off at the Newark airport – and I piled into the rental car and headed for the Lincoln Tunnel. As we emerged on the other side of the Hudson River and climbed the River’s bluffs I pointed over my left shoulder toward the City.
“Guys,” I said, “take a last look at the Twin Towers.” They did, thinking no more of it then I had of those words. Half an hour later, Ian and Julie were on their way to St. Louis (to rejoin the tour at Lansing, Illinois) and I was on my way to Pittsburgh.
The six remaining hours of the journey yawned in front of me. If the time did not swallow me I felt sure the uncertainty about what I was going to write would. Saturday night’s show had left me with a swirling mass of impressions but none that had come close to coalescing into a coherent idea. And yet that’s exactly what they did over that trip from New York to Pittsburgh. As the three rivers and the tangle of freeways and bridges that mark Pittsburgh greeted me I had already figured out what I was going to write: the article would be about the importance of improvisation to The Flower Kings. I would focus on how this distinguished the band from so many of their prog colleagues and I would compare and contrast that with my own process in writing the article.
As I arrived at the venue in Pittsburgh fans were already lining up for the evening’s gig. As I looked for a way into the venue, having been rebuffed by a locked back door, Zoltan emerged from the front door with an easy, welcoming grin on his face, saying “everyone’s inside – go in!” I did just that, and was immediately greeted by Brian Dorbuck – President of the North American branch of The Flower Kings’ Fan Club – who would be my travel companion for the rest of the tour.
After talking with the band members, dining with Tomas Bodin and Brian, and listening to warm-up act Persephone’s Dream’s soundcheck (I had missed The Flower Kings’ version), the evening settled into what was already becoming a comfortable pattern. Just before the doors opened I – along with Brian — rolled the band’s metal six foot cube travel case up to the merchandise stand and unloaded the various CDs, tour t-shirts and other Flower Kings merchandise and propaganda for sale, arranging and hanging them as attractively and enticingly as possible.
That night, Persephone’s Dream had beaten us to the punch. An interesting band featuring a dynamic, dramatic Siouxee-influenced female punk vocalist in front of what is basically a prog-metal band with a serious Rush complex, Persephone’s Dream had their act together. Where most of the warm-up bands we encountered on this tour pulled out a CD or ten and shyly asked whether I wouldn’t mind terribly selling a couple for them, Persephone’s Dream had already laid out sign up sheets, merchandise lighting, and a full line of Persephone’s Dream merchandise – none more unusual then the black silk thong underwear embroidered with the band’s interlocking reverse “pd” logo. And not only did the band have this array of merchandise, they brought their own salesperson – Phil Wain, vocalist Karin Nicely’s husband.
Business at the merchandise table was brisk that night. As Persephone’s Dream’s warm-up set wound down we had already sold out the last of Roine Stolt’s solo album “Hydrophonia” as well as our full stock of “The Rainmaker” (though reinforcements were on their way). Periodically members of The Flower Kings would stop by to say “Hi” (and, just possibly, to check on sales).
One of those was Zoltan, whose eyes were immediately drawn to the thong underwear. I was seized by an impish urge.
“Zoltan,” I said. He looked back at me with raised eyebrows. “I’ll buy you one of those G-strings if you promise to wear it onstage tonight!”
“What?” he asked. I repeated my offer and he smiled back. “I’ll do it,” he replied, “but only if SHE has worn them.” Zoltan was pointing to Karin Nicely. I heard a stifled laugh to my right. It was Phil Wain. I almost choked.
“Aaaaah, Zoltan? This is her husband.” But Zoltan didn’t hear me, and apparently thought that I hadn’t heard him.
“I will buy them MYSELF if SHE has worn them!”
“This is her husband,” I repeated. Phil, standing next to me, waved at Zoltan.
“Oh.” Zoltan’s face made a very rapid descent into the crimson. Within seconds he was gone only to return on no less than four occasions to issue Phil effusive apologies. Later that evening Karin snuck one of the thongs under her dress, walked up to Zoltan, removed the thong and handed it to him. Zoltan was speechless.
And I went to sleep that night secure in the knowledge that not only did I have a story, I also had a nice little slightly-salacious anecdote to use in that story. It was just the sort of thing that I’d been hoping would happen. I slept well that night. It would be the last time for quite a while.
Tomas Bodin: I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t understand what my eyes saw. And even if I accepted the intellectual fact that this is happening now I couldn’t take it to my heart because it was too much.
Hasse Froberg: It’s hard to get in your head because it seems like a bad movie.
Zoltan Czersc: I can’t believe it. It’s like a bad movie or something. I just can’t have it in my mind that people can do this stuff. Unbelievable. Scary.
Jonas Reingold: It’s scary. Because you take things for granted; that you are supposed to wake up and play a gig…and suddenly it shakes your world. It reminds you that life is not always as you want it to be.
Roine Stolt: It got us thinking about things, traveling around for two days like this and having a family back home. I mean I will get home, I know that…but it makes you think what’s important. If suddenly something happens then everything changes in a moment.
Our first hint was little more than that: a hint. It was just after 8:20 local time in Pittsburgh when Brian and I went to check out at the office of the Red Roof Inn. As I handed the desk clerk my credit card she asked whether I’d heard what happened.
“No,” I said, impatiently. I had not had my morning coffee; a state of affairs that suited me not at all.
“Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center,” she said.
“Weird,” I replied, figuring that a couple of pilots hadn’t had their morning coffee.
The next clue was a bit more substantial. After breakfast we went to drop off my rental car at the Pittsburgh Airport; we would take Brian’s pick up truck, The Beast, for the remainder of the trip. When I pulled up to the rental return the attendant asked me if I was dropping off the car. “Of course,” I said. What did she think I was doing?
“You might want to reconsider, Sir,” she said. “The airport’s closed. It’s what happened at the World Trade Center and there was a plane crash. The whole airport’s shut down.” This really was not making any sense. I sat there in the driver’s seat looking up at her quizzically. Fortunately, seeing Brian and The Beast, the attendant came to my rescue. “Ahh, I see you brought a friend. All I need is your contract.” I handed it to her and walked to The Beast, climbing in, but still not exactly comprehending.
We drove off toward Detroit. It would be another half hour before the next clue. I called home to talk to my wife and daughter.
“Did you hear?” she asked.
“Yes. You mean the planes that hit the World Trade Center?”
“How incredible is that?” she asked.
“Couple planes hit a couple buildings.”
“Michael,” she said. “They collapsed.”
Silence. “They what?”
Six and a half hours later Brian and I arrived in Detroit to find a deserted venue when sound check should have been happening. After killing an hour driving around downtown Detroit, we returned only to find a venue that was still shuttered. This time though, an employee sat in his car out front and assured me that load-in wasn’t scheduled to occur for another half hour. By then I didn’t really believe it.
With the radio blaring minute-by-minute news, Brian and I sat on The Beast’s tailgate, hanging. Brian noticed my discomfort. “You’re not very good at ‘hanging,’ are you?” he asked. And he was right. I wasn’t. And the radio didn’t help very much. The false incredible news (an air raid on Kabul) was virtually indistinguishable from the true – the fact that the World Trade Center no longer existed. I just couldn’t understand that. They’d been there just yesterday. I’d seen them. How do you lose a World Trade Center?
And I didn’t feel much better about the gig that was about to be cancelled. My feelings swirled in a roiling mass. I wanted to be at home. I didn’t want to be “hanging” on a street corner in Detroit that was, quite probably, not the safest place in the world to be. I wanted to be with my family. But if I couldn’t – if I had to be in Detroit (and I did) – I wanted this gig to go on. I was there to write about The Flower Kings and their shows so I should go to gigs and write about The Flower Kings. But what was I doing? Why was I here? Why was a 39 year lawyer from San Diego with a wife and 5 year old daughter in Detroit when the world started to fall apart? And yet how futile was it to be away to write about a gig that wasn’t even going to happen? So it was with relief – but also with a tangible sense of guilt – that I received the news that the Detroit concert had cancelled.
That night, after a tasteless dinner at a nameless diner, Brian and I checked into another Red Roof Inn and turned to CNN and hours of Death & Destruction Television. The images were ones that will haunt for years to come: the plane slicing through the building like butter, the towers collapsing downward upon themselves. My mind had as much trouble accepting them then as it always will. They made no sense. They looked like things that were supposed to happen. Planes just don’t cut through buildings like knives through cheese. Huge buildings just don’t collapse unless they’re imploded intentionally. And yet that, of course, was not what had happened.
But there was one image that grabbed me by the throat. A single image that I recognized and for me held a special terror. It was the billowing grey smoke, tinged with black, juxtaposed against the brilliant blue sky. I had seen that image before. One month shy of ten years before that day I had looked out the window of my house in the Oakland hills and seen smoke billowing just like that. It was the day that my house – and three thousand others – burned down in the Oakland fire. It was an image that had haunted me ever since. And if I hadn’t known already, that image certainly would have told me the same thing it had told me ten years before: things would never again be the same.
It was with that image burned into my mind that I shut my eyes that night and tried to get some sleep. That image – and one other thought: my article, like Elvis, had left the building. The article that only twenty-four hours before had seemed to be in such sharp focus now seemed so thoroughly and completely irrelevant and insignificant.
MAG: Tell me about the gig the other night in Cincinnati?
I was watching the TV all day long and we cancelled one gig and then we went for the next gig and we began to play it. It was a strange feeling at this venue because everybody knew that this day was something very special. I don’t know, but personally I felt when we ended playing this gig I felt a sense of dignity somehow. I don’t know. All the people at this venue had shared something very warm. A once in a lifetime kind of thing. It was very, very special. I felt sorry for all these people who were suffering, but I’m only a human being and it is very hard to take all of this in your heart. It will take a long time for me to digest.
MAG: How did it field taking the stage that night after what had happened?
TB: Hmmm. It was not a happy feeling. It was – I don’t know – it was almost more like a religious thing. I know that we started to play that jam. We didn’t talk about it as a jam at the beginning. We just went for it. I know that during this jam we put a lot of our frustration – we put all of this into it. I don’t know if people heard it. But it felt good to do it.
MAG: For me it was a healing experience. I don’t know if you felt that way.
TB: Yeah. After a while. After I left the stage I felt good feelings inside. So something happened along the way. I don’t know what.
I woke up to the sounds and images of D&D TV to which I’d gone to sleep. Things had not changed. The World Trade Center was still gone. There was still a hole in the Pentagon. The fires still burned.
We hit the road early. Our information, relayed to us over the internet from England, indicated that the Cincinnati gig would be played. At least if I couldn’t go home – and short of renting a car and driving for a week I wasn’t going home until the planes started flying again – I would be able to do what I came to do: follow The Flower Kings and write an article about them.
Six hours later we rolled up to the Barrel House in Cincinnati. As I walked in the door I was greeted with an enormous bear hug by Jonas Reingold, a surprisingly gregarious and wide-eyed “There they are!” from Roine and warm smiles from the rest of the band (except Tomas Bodin who was with booking agent Jim Sfarnas at the hospital seeking treatment for a pinched nerve). It was good to see them, and to them it seemed to be good to see a friendly face.
The Barrel House itself was a puzzling and improbable place, a study in contrasts. It was both large and small. Metallic brewery barrels towered over the bar from behind a false wall, shrinking what was probably a very large building into a small sliver of a bar. An impossibly cramped stage faced the bar over a double row of tables, with seating areas arrayed to the left and right of the stage. It would be called a glorified bar if it had been glorified in the first place. D&D Television blared out from three television sets behind the bar, one to the right of the stage and one to the left, bombarding the claustrophobic space with constant reminders of the context of the day. As soundcheck started I watched as, one by one, the band members walked up to the bar for their fix – of the news, not the brews.
The natural corollary to the awkward configuration of the Barrel House was that Petrus
Kemidsson, the band’s travelling sound man, was faced with a tremendous challenge. All the things that made the place quirky, unusual and improbable also made it a sonic disaster. The verticality of the place funneled the sound up and away from the audience; a sonic chimney. The looming metal brewery barrels produced tinny echoes that did nothing good for the band’s sound. If that weren’t bad enough, the monitors through which the band heard the show onstage (they cannot hear the “front of the house” sound which the audience enjoys) were substandard to say the least. Holed up behind a small desk in a cramped corner near the restrooms Kemidsson was left to deal with these problems – and the fact that he had no keyboardist to soundcheck. But deal with them he did, his hands working the soundboard like Bodin’s on the keyboards.
The big question was whether anyone would show up to the concert. As soundcheck progressed, several fans came through the door. Hours later, few more had joined them. As The Flower Kings prepared to take the stage the so-called “crowd” numbered no more than sixty – less than a third the New Jersey audience and far fewer then necessary to break even on the night even including merchandise sales. Ironically enough the small numbers at the concert were the one break that Kemidsson got the whole night (the addition of warm bodies to a hall usually being the single greatest change between soundcheck and live show).
“Maybe this is not the greatest of days to play music….being on stage,” said Roine as the band took the stage, “but…ahh….we’ll try to play some music for you anyway ‘cause we’ve come a long way and some of you too.” As his voice trailed off his guitar took over and, together with Tomas Bodin’s keyboards formed a widdly backdrop as the band sidled into its opening jam. Days before in Pittsburgh, the jam – which the band used to doublecheck their levels after the opening act had completed their warm up show (and consequently screwed up all the soundcheck’s good work) – had lasted a few short minutes before the band swung into “Sound of Violence.” As I had done in Pittsburgh I planned to use this time as my opportunity to close up the merchandise stand and find myself a nice seat to call my own.
But something was different this night. From the opening swirls of sound and confusion, the jam found form and gathered intensity. This was no longer a supplemental soundcheck; this was music. The band did not want it to end. As I found my seat it was clear that something remarkable was happening. And it continued to happen for over eighteen minutes. Later, when I told Roine how long it had lasted he seemed surprised: “I had no idea. I would have said like five or seven.”
Then, just when it seemed the band had determined that this night there would be no songs, they burst into “Church of Your Heart.” The contrast could neither have been more stark nor more delicious. Out of the roiling, edginess of the jam – the tangible sense of danger and barely controlled chaos – exploded the pure power and order of “Church of Your Heart.” What they both shared was an energy that was beyond anything I’d heard in Pittsburgh or New Jersey. There was a conviction here.
All of which was mere prelude to “Garden of Dreams.” The opening mirrored the beginning of the concert itself with the opening bars of chaos resolving into an ordered powerhouse. It had the palpable feeling of the beginning of an expedition. As the band moved into the first improvised section they recaptured the feeling and focus of that opening soundcheck jam, applying the mind meld they had achieved at the start of the night to “Garden of Dreams.” There was a real power, passion and purpose here. And yet it was not until the second improvisational section that the real revelations started.
Curious as to how the audience was taking it in I looked around the house, scanning from stage right to stage left and a concentration of about six tables. It was then that I noticed that the television set behind this section was still on. The Barrel House had turned off the other sets, but not this one. As I looked back to the stage I noticed something else: Roine was watching the TV monitor. As he played I saw him look to his left over that same section of audience at that same television set and at the images of D&D TV. Later Roine would acknowledge that he was very conscious of those images: “I mean, I couldn’t look away. It was there.”
And he confirmed something else that I had begun to see in that moment: “I’ve seen the images so many times. Still its….like….in a way it became part of the show for me.” This incredible performance that this band was producing under these most difficult of circumstances was not at all unrelated to the images that were blaring from that television set – indeed the performance was spawned by those images.
And it was all driven home to me in one instant and one image. THE image: the billowing grey smoke against the brilliant blue sky. The one that held the terror for me. As I was sitting there amazed at this band’s ability to knit art out of the strands of terror THAT image was the one that came across the monitor. As Roine played, I cried. They were not tears of sadness, terror or fear. They were tears of healing.
Hasse Froberg: It happened and we were here on the road and…we could have cancelled all the shows but I don’t think that would have been the right thing to do. The thought came to my mind, should we really be doing this after what happened? We cancelled Detroit…but we did Cincinnati. After that…well. That was a special night. Everyone in the band was a little bit more tense than usual and we …. the music is very dynamic. And we don’t have the conductor they have in front of a symphony orchestra. You have to know each other, be very close to each other, play slow or soft at the same time. Or the other way. That night we had some magic moments when we were together like one man singing and playing instead of a whole band. There were a couple of times in that show. In a better way than ever before. We were in another mood. It was not just another show.
After Cincinnati I thought that there was little the band could do to surprise me. But two nights later at Shank Hall in Milwaukee the band did succeed in doing so. Aware of what had happened at the Barrel House, what they had achieved, they took a very direct step toward embracing it. In a move that they were not certain of until they played the first notes, they opened the concert not with “Church of Your Heart” or “Sound of Violence” (both of which they played later in the show) but with the opening song from The Rainmaker: “Last Minute on Earth” – an exploration of what thoughts would cross a mind in its last moments of existence. Both Jonas Reingold and Tomas Bodin asked me after soundcheck whether I thought they should really play it. “Of course,” I said. “It’s a testimony to those people. It honors them.” And it did.
And hard as it was for me to believe “Garden of Dreams” climbed new heights. Where Roine’s improvisations often walk the line between jazz and jam band improvisation, his playing during this night’s second improv section was a haunting serenade of hollow, baying feedback. Was it the wail of the lost? Was it the embodiment of our frustration? Was it my imagination? Moments later Hasse Froberg’s vocals echoed the emotion of Roine’s guitar, imploring us “Don’t let the devil in” toward the end of the song. I was sure it was not my imagination.
What I had seen and heard this night and at the Barrel House was an artistic conceit come to life. This was life effecting art effecting life. They had taken all of their frustrations – at what had happened, at their (and by extension, all of our) impotence – and had channeled it all through their talents and their selves. What emerged was something that wordlessly helped things make a little bit more sense.
MAG: How does touring the United States differ from touring Europe?
RS: It’s not totally different. It’s looking at the venues we’re playing. It’s smaller places in America, which is understandable. So far I think we’ve had a good tour and a good turnout.
MAG: We had about 200 in New Jersey and I hope we’ll have a good turnout tonight and tomorrow in Lansing. What are your goals financially when you tour?
RS: To make break-even.
MAG: Is it different here than when you tour in Europe?
RS: No. Not really. It’s about the same situation in Europe. The guys in the band, they get paid anyway. It’s me. I’m actually paying them. I make more money on the record anyway….it’s my record company.
In the end, I took Roine’s deposition…and Tomas’ and Hasse’s and Jonas’ and Zoltan’s. I sat there in my Red Roof Inn hotel room in Milwaukee and wrote out a deposition outline just like I had written out so many deposition outlines in so many hotel rooms before. I would write some questions and then pace, then come back and write some more questions, rinse, repeat. And then, as I had so many times before, I went the next day and took the depositions. I asked the questions. They answered them.
And in the end the answers surprised. It was the same as betting lines on sports events. If the experts knew it all then why would they even need to play the games on Sunday? But play them they do. And depose Roine (and the rest of the band) I did. In the process I learned a thing or three.
And in the end, it seems that Elvis had not left the building after all. In the end I did have a story and the gist of it was the same as I had thought it would be: the power of improvisation and its importance to the band. All that had happened had only made it clearer to me that this was a band that thrived on the edge and in the moment. Improvisation was the essence of what they did live.
No one could possibly question with a straight face that The Flower Kings are Roine Stolt’s band. When the chips are down he is “boss.” But nor could anyone seriously question that The Flower Kings in the studio are a very different band than are The Flower Kings live. And that is precisely by design. On CD, The Flower Kings are very much the brainchild of Roine, the workman. He drops his kids off at school in the morning and then goes to work writing music. At the end of the day he picks his kids up. In a sense it is no different for Roine then anyone else. That Roine is dealing in music, not in stocks and bonds or fruits and vegetables, matters in some senses not at all. The songs he creates are not the result of an occasional bolt out of the blue, but of inspiration tempered by craft and discipline.
And when it comes time to record the album the other band members come in and play their part. But it is, indeed, by and large Roine’s project and Roine’s vision. And consequently, it is also Roine who enjoys the lion’s share of the financial fruits of the band’s recorded efforts. It is Roine’s songs (for the most part), Roine’s record company – and Roine’s band.
Live it is a different matter. Live, The Flower Kings are very much a collaborative affair. And while the band is still Roine’s, at every turn he has made choices that encourage this collaborative process through spontaneity and inclusion. While the public stories of the reasons for the personnel changes have varied, the replacement of original drummer Jaime Salazar by Zoltan Csörsz and original bass player Michael Stolt by Jonas Reingold have certainly resulted in a significant upgrade in the group’s live performances. Whereas Roine’s brother Michael had a majestic sound, creation on the fly was not his strong point. Where Salazar was a highly skilled drummer he was, by all accounts, uncomfortable when asked to leave the script. Improvisation and spontaneous creation are the hallmarks of what Reingold and Csörsz have brought to the band. They both come from the world of jazz and their freedom to roam at the bottom end sets the tone for the band’s live performances. That’s why they’re there.
And as it is in the studio so it is live: the band’s financial relationship on tour reflects the collaborative and inclusive spirit that Stolt is trying to foster. Stolt takes the financial risk meaning that rest of the band gets paid regardless. The effect of this is to disproportionately reward the other members of the band for their work live. They know that when they go on the road they will be paid regardless of whether the tour makes money, breaks even (the goal) or loses money. That’s what Stolt wants them focused on: the band’s live performances.
Consequently, it is live that the band’s songs take on lives of their own. On the albums the song represent Stolt’s vision. The band does not spend enough time rehearsing new material before recording it for the synergy to take effect. Live though, each member of the band has a chance to play with the material and alter it – sometimes subtly, sometimes less so – and to do so on a nightly basis. The songs are thus constantly evolving. Nowhere is that clearer than in “Garden of Dreams.” It is clearly epic in scope on the Flower Power album, but performed live it is a living and breathing inspiration. Every night it is different. Every night, the band members are allowed and encouraged to apply their craft and their selves to the song in different ways.
And in the end it was precisely this that resulted in the revelations of the performances following the tragedy of September 11. Because the members of this band are not asked to give note for note readings of songs but rather to apply themselves to the material anew each and every night it was very close to inevitable that their emotional and intellectual responses to the events of September 11 would find their way into the music. And, cathartically for all concerned, that is precisely what happened.
These five human beings had seen the same things, the same horrors that I – and every other member of the various audiences had. They had witnessed the same terrible thing, struggled to digest the images, and felt the same impotent frustration. Only they had the ability, freedom and courage to make music out of it – to create – and through that creation to heal. And because they did, as I listened to The Flower Kings play on those evenings following September 11, that terror notwithstanding, I realized that there was still beauty in this world.
SIDEBAR NUMBER ONE:
The Flower Kings’ Next Album
MAG: Have you considered the possibility of consciously trying to be more commercial?
RS: It’s kind of difficult because I know that if I focused on doing more songs and less improvising…it’s a fine line. Saying that I’m not trying to be commercial – but I’m trying in a way to be commercial…in the right way. To me in the right way. Because we all want to reach out…but you need to pay the price. I don’t know if I want to trade the quality of what we are doing no, that kind of question that is always coming up when we do a new album or doing what we’re doing on stage. I realize it’s maybe not too commercial. It could be more structured.
MAG: Have you thought of going the other way and going the direction of the jam bands?
RS: I know that’s been mentioned and discussed…yah. Maybe. Somewhere in between, I think. That’s why I liked and like King Crimson. They are somewhere in between. They are very structured sometimes and sometimes they are more open. I don’t know about the 80s Crimson….they were very structured. Almost mathematics to my mind. But now they are back into the less structured.
MAG: Where do you see the next album going?
RS: We need to stop, sit down for a while and think. We need to at least do something that is different in the sense of the sound or the concept. Maybe someone says you need to do a rock opera or something…or someone says you have to do something acoustic or…I don’t know…its interesting. Both of these suggestions.
We’ve been talking for three or four years about guitar, piano and drums and bass and no overdubs, just recording in one take. Trying to avoid overdubs and, if possible, capturing the band playing and not going band and not going back and redoing.
MAG: So you either get a whole song or nothing.
RS: Yes. Yes. That’s right. That’s right. It’s like the Beatles did their records.
MAG: Or Miles Davis.
RS: In the beginning. Yes. Miles Davis. Yes. That sounds interesting. I’m not sure if it’s possible to do that but it should be possible. I don’t know if I’ll like the result. You can never tell until you try it. Another thing is to go and do something very pretentious. A three box set. Like some kind of rock opera or some kind of concept album. That could be interesting too. We haven’t decided, we need to sit down and talk about it and decide what each and every member thinks. We have a new drummer in the band and it will be the first album that Zoltan plays and I’m sure it will affect the way we play. So, we’ll just have to find the environment or the framework. I’m looking into the unknown. I have no idea. We have songs…but tomorrow I can go in and start recording and start doing a more rock oriented album or an instrumental album or a folky-type album.
SIDEBAR NUMBER TWO:
The Flower Kings and Transatlantic
MAG: Is there going to be a third Transatlantic album?
RS: I think so. I think we had lots of fun doing the last one. Then there’s always things that are not so fun, like the mixing process. But I think we can manage. One reason to continue is because I think it actually goes quite well – we’ll see what happens with the new one – but I have a feeling this new one will sell at least as well as the previous one. So that’s one good reason for the band members and the record company to continue with another one. So I’m sure that there will be another one. It’s just difficult to say when. We have to find a time that works for every member of the band. That’s the tricky part both recording and touring.
MAG: How do you decide what’s a Flower Kings song and what’s a Transatlantic song.
RS: I never do. Its more like …. the other. In a way I would say I decide what is a Flower Kings song but I never decide what is a Transatlantic song. What I do is I tape and send it out to the guys and they listen to it and they say “I like this piece and I like that part” and then we start working on it. If they say nothing I listen to it again and if I like it…..like on this album, “Rainmaker,” there are a couple of songs – “Last Minute on Earth” (parts of that one) – were presented to Transatlantic. What else? “City of Angels” and “Elaine” – there may have been other sections as well. I give a tape and they listen to the tape a couple of times and if they like….if they say anything. I use it. They’re not the same band but the music is kind of similar. To me it doesn’t make that much of a difference. I mean, we sell more with Transatlantic, so I make more money from having a song on a Transatlantic album but I really don’t care. I think having the guys play the songs….it sounds different then if Transatlantic played the song. I just keep on writing songs and they may end up on a Transatlantic album or a Flower Kings album. Or someone else’s album.
SIDEBAR NUMBER THREE:
The New Kaipa Album
In the beginning there was Kaipa. In this, the Third Wave of Prog, Sweden may be ground zero. It was not always so. While Sweden has given the world such influential acts as The Flower Kings, Anekdoten. Anglegard and Ayreon it was not until the 90s that Prog became one of Sweden’s leading exports. That is not to say that Prog’s First Wave did not reach Swedish shores. On the contrary, the generation that gave us Genesis, Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and King Crimson also produced a Swedish act: Kaipa.
Featuring a seventeen year old Roine Stolt on guitar (from its third album onward) and the keyboard talents of Hans Lundin, Kaipa produced four albums starting with their eponymous 1975 debut. While the vocals on nearly all of Kaipa’s works are in Swedish the sound of the band was decidedly toward the Camel end of the prog spectrum. Brimming with hammond organ riffs and dueling lead guitars, Kaipa produced a beautiful blend of classical music, Swedish folk, pop and hard rock.
And now Kaipa is back. The new year will see the release of the first new Kaipa album in more than two decades. In addition to returning members Lundin on keyboards and Stolt on guitar, Notes From The Past also features the talents of The Flower Kings’ Jonas Reingold on bass, former Zappa drummer Morgan Agren, and Ritual’s remarkable vocalist (and guitarist) Patrik Lundstrom.
Notes From The Past did not start out as a Kaipa album. When he laid down his bass tracks, Reingold said that he “didn’t know that was what it was supposed to be, a Kaipa album.” It was only when he received his advance copy of the final album that he saw the name on the label and walked up to Stolt. “‘Ah…its says KAIPA, what’s this Roine? ‘Oh yeah, it’s Kaipa!’ I didn’t know that!” As it turns out, neither did Lundin or Stolt. The decision was not made until mid way through the project when Lundin asked Stolt who he felt about calling it a Kaipa project: “half way Hans asked me how I felt about calling it Kaipa, because I had contributed so much to the final result.”
While there is no question that _Notes From The Past_ is, as Stolt terms it, “a Hans-driven project” – all of the album’s songs were originally penned by Lundin – Stolt acted “more like a Producer, surgeon, cutting in his excesses and bombast and executive producer getting a deal for him, plus being the irritating guitarist who change directions for lots of the arrangements.”
The combination of Lundstrom’s vocals – a cross between Freddie Mercury and Michael Hutchence – and Reingold’s jazzy bass, with classic Kaipa sound promises to be most interesting. It will be the ultimate meeting of Sweden’s – and Prog’s – First and Third Waves.
SIDEBAR NUMBER FOUR:
The Flower Kings and The Fans
One hallmark of The Flower Kings is the unusually close relationship between the band and its fans. Prog bands such as Marillion and The Enid before them have, in different manner, related to their fans in ways that broke the traditional paradigm of rock band and rock fans. Marillion, for example, not only had its 1997 tour of North America partially funded by its fans, but now owns the actual tapes for its current album, “Anoraknaphobia,” because production of the album was funded by pre-sales to the core fan base. This has allowed Marillion a much freer hand in negotiating with record labels for distribution.
But The Flower Kings’ relationship with its fandom is somewhat different; somewhat more intimate. For example, the band does not have “roadies.” Other than Petrus Kemidsson, their sound man, the band’s staff consists entirely of its fans. Not only is it fans who staff the merchandise desks, but even the band’s road manager, Rob Palmen, is a fan volunteer. Many, if not most, of the dates on The Flower Kings’ tours are booked by fans.
The medium by which much of this occurs is the internet. Whereas, in the past, bands interacted with their fans primarily through recordings and concerts, The Flower Kings do so as much (if not more) through the internet. At the heart of this is the band’s official web site, www.flower-power.org.uk as well as its quasi-official internet mailing list, www.yahoogroups.com/flowerkingsmail. Indeed, the setlist for the American tour was selected in large part based upon a vote of the fans on the flowerkingsmail list. This, for example, led to the first full live performances of the complete “Stardust We Are” at most of the concerts on the tour.
The close relationship between the band and its fans is also manifested in its Fan Club. Together with the website, the Fan Club also offers a fanzine, “World of Adventures” which features a free annual Fan Club CD consisting of new studio material. Recent fan conventions (in Leeds, UK, and a further US convention ran by fan Christine Holz and the Music News Network) featured intimate settings, and unique sets with largely improvised material and cover tunes – often taken by request from the audience. The fan club is currently organizing a major fan convention for 2002 in Holland where the band plans to record a DVD and live album.
Unlike Marillion, for example, The Flower Kings have not been entirely successful in financially leveraging this close relationship with its fans. As something that grew up organically the band’s close relationship with its fans is not a currency The Flower Kings have actively sought to convert to cash. For example, as was evident from the merchandise stand on the American tour, there is far more demand for the band’s merchandise than there was merchandise to sell. This may change. The band currently plans to take advantage of its presence on the world wide web and its fans’ acute awareness of that presence by developing the official website into a full e-commerce outlet. In addition to Flower Kings albums, the site is expected to sell band members’ solo and side projects as well as an increased range of branded merchandise
SIDEBAR NUMBER FIVE:
The Flower Kings New “Taping” Policy
Perhaps the most tangible evidence of The Flower Kings’ close relationship with its fans was a change in policy which the band announced on December 1, 2001 when the band joined Porcupine Tree and Mike Kennealy’s Beer For Dolphins as the first Prog acts to officially sanction its fans’ non-commercial recording of its shows. The Official Flower Kings Taping Policy The Flower Kings Guidelines and Etiquette for Tapers and CD-Burners is:
It has been and will continue to be The Flower Kings’ policy to treat their fans with the respect they deserve. We understand that once our fans have the entire official material their thirst may still not be satisfied and we realize that with the existence of high quality portable recording equipment many fans are starting to record live performances. In order to try and keep these audience recordings in the fans’ hands and free from commercial ‘‘bootleg’’ trading we therefore now, subject to the following rules, officially condone and encourage fans to tape and FREE trade The Flower Kings live performances. This policy covers audio but excludes video.
- The Flower Kings strongly request that all interested parties purchase all available official Flower Kings recorded merchandise before entering into the audience recording ‘‘tape-trading’’ Flower Kings world.
- The Flower Kings require that no one financially profits from unofficial tapes, sound files and CDs of their music. They ask all fans to help in ‘‘policing’’ this requirement.
- The Flower Kings strongly request that if you at anytime provide a live recording as a ‘‘Newbie’’ introduction to The Flower Kings’ music you also state that if they like the recording, in appreciation for the recording, they in turn purchase an official Flower Kings release.
- Please prominently include, on each Flower Kings tape or CDr produced, a notice to the effect that “This is NOT an official Flower Kings product”.
- If you record any live performance of The Flower Kings (even if you do not intend to distribute the resulting recording) The Flower Kings ask that, in exchange for their recording permission, a (best quality 1:1 digital) copy be sent on DAT/CDR to: Foxtrot Music Box 15070 75015 Uppsala Sweden
- The Flower Kings reserve the right to use any of the audience recordings at any time for The Flower Kings’ commercial benefit. This may be an official release or a ‘‘fan club’’ CD.
- If at any time The Flower Kings release an official live recording (including a ‘‘fan club’’ special) any audience recordings of the concert concerned are immediately removed from trading circulation.
- At this time The Flower Kings do NOT approve sound files to be made available for download other than from their own official internet sites.
- If at any time The Flower Kings find that these rules have been abused, they reserve the right to withdraw their official ‘‘live taping’’ approval. 10. Anyone with internet access wishing to record and FREE trade Flower Kings live recordings is requested to register and join ‘‘Yahoo’’ mailing group ‘‘The Plantation’’. To learn more about the ThePlantation group, please visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ThePlantation
- The Flower Kings reserve the right to change this official policy at any time.
While Stolt describes several motivations for the policy change, one of the key changes is strictly technological: the ready availability of high quality and relatively inexpensive digital tape and minidisc recording equipment. Another main concern on the part of Stolt was that he did not want to “criminalize” his fans: “It’s like lot’s of people smoking joints/pot (we don’t), but they do smoke even in countries where it is illegal, the law doesn’t stop them unless they get caught.” Similarly, Stolt is aware that fans have been taping Flower Kings gigs all along and that no amount of raging against the machine was going to change that.
So, bootlegs will be circulating, not much we can do about it …. but maybe try playing every gig as great and gorgeous as possible, so that everything that will end up on a possible bootleg CD will at least be well performed.
The bottom line, according to Stolt, is “We’re aware that people are trading nevertheless so why give them bad feelings about it.”
Perhaps the most important reason for the change in policy is to cut the bottom out of the bootlegging market. If bootlegs are readily available, who will want to buy them? By making reasonably good quality copies of Flower Kings concerts readily and legally available Stolt has destroyed the commercial bootleg market for their material.