You are a big name in contemporary progressive rock, primarily with your own band The Flower Kings and in the prog-supergroup Transatlantic, together with Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), Neal Morse (Spock´s Beard) and Peter Trewavas (Marillion)). What would you say are the biggest differences between these bands?
– Well, of course The Flower Kings is pretty much my baby. I started it and the only original member left. I also run TFK as a company where I finance all activities – but all members have their say and can help shape the music and the touring ideas etc.
– Transatlantic is more of a four part democracy, myself and Neal Morse are the main writers and lyricists, but we all contribute with ideas and suggestions as for the live activities etc. It´s a more difficult-to-move-project. The members have a lot of other things on their plate, other bands, etc, so I tend to not rely on any touring. I take it as a bonus, if and when it happens. But yes, it is surely a lucrative venture for us (me), we sell lots of albums and concert tickets.
As a guitarist with roots in the 70s progressive rock, you have a great bluesy bite in your tone, which you did not least show on your solo album Wall Street Voodoo. Is it something that has become a bit more of in recent years?
– Well, in reality the guitar journey started much earlier for me way before I understood what was to be called "Progressive Rock". So I probably started off as a modest blues guitarist even before I knew prog.
– My first guitar-hero was Jimi Hendrix in 1966 and a few months later Robin Trower, on Procol Harums first album. Jimi and Robin both blues players and then a year later discovering Peter Green, perhaps the finest blues guitarist of that era.
– My interest for prog rock (and fusion) guitarists came with the likes of Frank Zappa, Robert Fripp and Georg Wadenius. Then a long line of contemporary prog/fusion giants: Steve Howe (Yes), Steve Hackett (Genesis), Bill Connors (Return To Forever) , Jeff Beck etc. Not to mention Allan Holdsworth whom I saw live with the band Tempest back in 1973 and was floored!
A really good and interesting guitar solo, in your opinion, how to get it?
– Almost impossible to tell. It can be in so many different styles. Hendrix´s ‘meltdown’ with feedbacks or Pat Metheny’s slow buildup of dextrous fluid solos. Jeff Beck has also a totally elegant vibe, always right. Even (Steve) Lukather build very intense stuff at times. So does Derek Trucks, but with slide playing. I love them all!
– The only thing I care not much for is shredding for shreds sake. A million notes from hell does not impress me at all. Speed is not beauty, but it can be part of it, as in the case of Allan Holdsworth´s fluid legato assaults and sometimes McLaughlin´s acoustic work.
– Personally I never plan or speculate in my guitar solos. I always just push record and play whatever comes to mind. Maybe do a few retakes but generally not cut much these days. I’d rather come back and re-try another day. Same with sound. I use whatever amp is set up that day; an Orange 30 head, Mesa Boogie or my Marshall JTM 45. Just push it with a booster or a good distortion pedal.
How do you get your sound? What do you use live and in the studio?
– Again difficult to tell! I think I tweak until I get ”my” tone. Normally, what is at hand. For sure I do prefer tube amps. My first amp was a AC30 Vox. Now I’ve got a few Orange 30 watt amps, a Mesa Boogie, a Fender Vibrolux, a Marshall JTM 45. Also got a bundle of pedals and controllers. Latest one is a a valve preamp, Victory Countess, which I brought to Japan last month for some concerts and plugged in to two Vox AC 30’s. Sounded fab to me! Singing tones without the annoying midcrunch from modern Marshalls etc. My Mesa Boogie ‘Transatlantic’ 45 watt also sounds great for all studio work. It can do anything from Tweed to Vox AC and Rectifier tones of course. My Marshall plexi surely sounds great too but is very loud. Those 45 watts will kill any room!
One of your main guitars, a Fender Thinline Telecaster, is modified with the True Temperament Fretting System. You've been using it for a couple of years now. What is your opinion of TT?
– Yes, that guitar is the no. 1 to go to! I had it modified by the inventor of True Temperament: Anders Thidell. Was super happy with it, so he modified my relic Strat too and my Gibson ES 335. A masterwork – love them all – and wish I could afford it for all my guitars: electric and acoustic. For live and studio use I think every guitar player should get one. There is no way back – trust me!
If you were to design your own signature guitar, what would it be like?
– Hey, I actually did that! My JET guitar was halfway built by an American luthier, Jeffrey Earl. He made it to my specifications – quite expensive, approx. 45000 SEK – handbuilt including an acoustic pickup, tremolo bar, chambered body etc. A great sounding guitar, aiming to be like a LP of age.
– If I did it now it would probably be a Tele, or a Tele with Les Paul wood configuration; maple top on a chambered mahogany body with chambered F-hole, mini humbuckers or P90´s, a True Temperament maple fretboard – of course! 24 frets, locking tuners… so it’ll be pretty much as my Tele… maybe add a Parker or Floyd Rose tremolo.
– Some of Ola Strandbergs guitars are very interesting. I’ll dig deeper into that. He’s from my home town (Uppsala, Sweden) and I’m happy to see the progress and success of his ideas.
Speaking of the progressive rock of the 70s, you have in recent years played with two of your old musical heroes: Jon Anderson (Yes) and Steve Hackett (Genesis). How come?
– Yes, and that’s a bit weird. I played an outdoor festival in Germany some ten years ago and Steve Hackett suddenly appears and presented himself at my breakfast table. That was surreal! Then we got to play a few times, he guested with my band and one day he called me and asked if I wanted to join him for a tour – as bass player(!), plus some 12-string guitar. So I ended up there for a year, doing almost hundred shows in US and Europe!
– The Yes vocalist Jon Anderson I met at a cruise! He joined for a late show and we played about one hour of Yes music in mid Carribean on the boat deck – stars above! We got on really well and the record label suggested we do an album together. Once Jon got that offer he sent me stuff within hours and we just went on to do what became Anderson/Stolt Invention Of Knowledge. He’s just the sweetest guy. A bit hippie but also super focused. He knows well what he look for in music and never stop until he get there, so I think we both realized we were ”brothers” (in arms) in a way.
What was it like playing Mike Rutherford's fantastic basslines in Steve Hackett's band during his excellent Genesis Revisited tour of 2015?
– Oh, that was great fun! I particularly liked to play the old Genesis songs from the early albums. Original Genesis bassman Mike Rutherford is a very underrated bass player. His stuff is very inventive and different, even if you can trace some McCartney in there. I enjoyed playing bass onstage, first time in a long long time. Steve treated me really well.
Your playing agenda seems to be more than full: The Flower Kings, Transatlantic, Anderson/Stolt, The Sea Within, Kaipa da Capo, Agents of Mercy, plus other projects. How can you handle everything?
– It´s different every year, it can be hundred or thirty gigs a year. I try to be open to all suggestions and to keep learning from others, so I usually say yes to proposals to play live or join tours or album projects.
The Flower Kings released a new album at the end of 2019. Is that going to be your main activity in 2020. Or what else will happen during the year?
– I do think that is the case, it will be a lot of TFK activity, new album recording etc. I’m also in the process of finishing a brand new album with Transatlantic and if God will there may be another The Sea Within-album with the fabulous drummer Marco Minneman. I´m also finding time to finish the second album together with Jon Anderson we’re sort of halfways.
– Next few weeks I will have some activity with a new band constellation with my brother Michael plus guitarist Jonas Isaksson, drummer Micke ”Syd” Anderson and bassman Robban Ivanson. We’ve put together more of a pop/rock unit. That’ll great fun for me!
– Then I’ll be off to USA play Cruise To The Edge – a big festival in the Caribbean, with hosts Yes, plus Marillion, Steve Lukather, Simon Phillips, Tony Levin & Pat Mastelotto, Jordan Rudess, Kings X. Ulf Zackrisson©
Photo: Lilian Forsberg