THE STORY BEHIND... Agents Of Mercy

“We never felt any pressure; we found it a very relaxed album to do”

(Text & live pictures by Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen)

Things do not always turn out the way you’ve planned them. This happened to Flower Kings-guitarist Roine Stolt, when he had the idea of recording a low-key acoustic album. He asked singer Nad Sylvan from Swedish band Unifaun to record some vocal parts for this special album. This collaboration became the birth of a new project: Agents Of Mercy. I asked both Roine and Nad how this all came about.

Why did you call the project Agents Of Mercy and who are the fading ghosts of twilight?

Roine Stolt: “The name Agents Of Mercy just came to my mind one morning. I wrote it down and I thought it to be a good band or project name. I still liked it after a few weeks, so I asked Nad and he agreed. I also asked a few American friends and they said that it sounded cool and a bit mysterious, so we left it that way. ’The fading ghosts of twilight’ is a phrase from one of the songs. It means the mysterious half dream, half-conscious visions we all sometimes have when your mind’s playing tricks with you. We were trying to convey a certain atmosphere for this album. For us, the atmosphere was more important than showing technical instrumentations.”

When did you start thinking about an Agents Of Mercy album and was it difficult to record?

Roine: "I got the idea in January 2008. I had some time left so I was going through all the material I'd been writing over the past few years. I tried to label the music into different categories like acoustic guitar tunes, jazz fusion & afro, seventies prog, orchestral rock, hymns, beat, pop and so on. At first, I wanted to write an acoustic album, but at that time it was a rather casual idea.”

Nad Sylvan: “Roine needed a break with The Flower Kings (TFK), or perhaps I should say TFK needed a break in order to do other things. That was in August 2008. For me, this album was a very easy thing to do. I had just finished the Unifaun album with Bonamici, which took about four years. We finished the Agents Of Mercy album in about four months!”

Roine: “We never felt any pressure; we found it a very relaxed album to do.”

You said that you initially wanted to create an acoustic album, a low-key acoustic project. Why didn’t you?

Roine: “Yes, I decided to work on an acoustic album, since I'd never released one before. That seemed a giant step away from the quite dense and bombastic music on The Sum Of No Evil, the latest TFK-album. I began with that acoustic project in early summer 2008, I kept on going and eventually it slipped into this project with Nad instead. Sometimes it is wise to do the things that come in a natural way.”

When Nad joined the project, it moved towards music inspired by early Genesis and other bands from that era. Do you agree?

Roine: “I saw the name Unifaun popping up on a few places on the internet and I just viewed their MySpace page to listen to a few snippets. I instantly liked it and especially the quality of Nad's voice. His timbre reminded me of some of my favourite singers like Steve Winwood, Gary Brooker, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins and sometimes I even heard slight traces of John Lennon and Cat Stevens. I contacted Nad to tell him that I was working on an acoustic album and that I wanted him to do the lead vocals on a few tracks. In the end, it turned out to be a more symphonic rock album. Eventually, Nad did all the lead and most of the backing vocals. We both enjoyed working together. Our voices sound quite nice and intertwine very well.”

Nad: “I think Roine has a soft spot for both early Genesis stuff and The Beatles. He liked my vocals on the Unifaun album, which is also Genesis-homage. My involvement in the project probably triggered Roine to come up with songs he had stashed away for TFK. It didn’t take long before everything changed from being a Stolt solo album to a brand new project.”

Roine, how did you meet Nad and how big is his influence on the album?

Roine: “In fact I met Nad first when he attended a concert of TFK in 2006. Afterwards he told me that he was working on a progressive rock album. The next time we met was when the Unifaun-album was just about to be released. Nad’s influence on this album is mostly related to the lead and backing vocals. Nad added a lot in the choir and backing vocal tracks. He was very helpful with mixing the album, sending me notes on a daily basis about things that could be improved.”

Nad: “It’s true that I did most of the vocal arrangements, but with initial hints from Roine. He had some basic ideas, which I developed, sometimes without asking him first. I’m very sensitive when it comes to musical balance between instruments and vocals, so I just gave my opinion about every song. (laughing) Roine reacted extremely humble and he agreed on almost all the changes I suggested.”

Keyboard player Biggo Zelfries is an unknown name in the prog scene. Can you tell me more about him?

Nad: “You have to ask Roine about him. I have no idea who this guy is.”

Roine: “I discovered Biggo on an album he sent me. He played in a Beatles tribute band called Walrus Farm. Biggo teaches piano and violin, he loves progressive rock music and his family, but he hates flying. He is a very melodic pianist and very talented.”


Why did you record his parts in New York City?

Roine: “All the Americans involved recorded their tracks in the USA and so did Biggo. Nowadays it is easy to send the recordings via the internet. They all have studios so they recorded their track at home or in their garage. We communicated through e-mail and that worked out fine. They all exerted themselves to get the tunes right.”

Pat Mastelotto and Zoltan Csörsz formerly played with TFK, but how did you get Spock’s Beard live drummer Jimmy Keegan on four album tracks?

Roine: “Early 2008 TFK was looking for a new drummer and we contacted Jimmy, but that didn’t work, because of the geographical complications. Nevertheless, I respect him very much as a musician and I love his live work with Spock’s Beard. On the live DVD, his drumming is awesome. He just beats the shit out of the drums. He also played on Santana’s Supernatural.

Zoltan is no longer a member of TFK, but you still collaborate in the studio on several recordings. Can you explain this?

Roine: “I like the way Zoltan plays and I couldn’t resist asking Zoltan to play on a few tracks. It makes me happy to hear him play, but unfortunately, I cannot ask him again to be a member of TFK, because he and Tomas Bodin didn’t get along so well. Since this was my own project, I could do what I wanted to do without any conflicts. He recorded his parts in his own studio and delivered great drumming. I could work with him any day. Zoltan is a nice guy, but he was a bit misunderstood in TFK, I suppose. Looking back, I find it a bit sad and unfair, cause it was not only Zoltan's fault. Sometimes you just have to accept that people are different and have different backgrounds and needs in life.”

Almost every TFK-member who began a project of his own asked Jonas Reingold to play the bass parts. Tomas Bodin once told me that he is just like Gillette: The Best You Can Get. Do you share this opinion?

Roine: “Of course I do. Jonas is a great player and he’s very serious about his commitments. He always delivers work out of the top drawer, especially on fretless bass. However, this time I wanted to play some bass parts myself. Jonas played on two tracks and I played on the other ten songs to get a sound that differs from the last TFK-albums.”

Does this project have a musical concept or just single tracks with different stories?

Nad: “It looks like the album could have a concept feel, but unintentional. It surely is no Lamb Lies Down On Broadway! However, there is a lot of semi-religious stuff in there and Mercy & Mercury, the last track on the album, is summing it all up by taking out different sentences from a couple of tracks on the album.”

Roine: “Well, I feel that there is a loose thread. The songs may have a theme of dreams, daydreams or even nightmares. Call it snapshots if you like; short stories of imaginary people and their lives in a modern society that’s getting colder and focused on success and money only.”

The artwork is beautifully done by Silas Toball. It reminded me of Venice. How did you get in touch with him?

Roine: “Some years ago Silas Toball was introduced to me when TFK did a concert in Switzerland. Afterwards I discovered his goblin design page on the internet and I contacted him.”

Why did you release the album on your own Foxtrot Label and not on InsideOut?

Roine: “Next question please... No, I just wanted to stay independent this time to see how that works out. By selling a lot via the internet, we get a better money flow.”

I read that you will perform at the Night Of The Prog Festival IV in July 2009. Who will join you on the Loreley stage?

Roine: "We consider it an honour to be there and it would be fun to perform in front of a large audience of at least a couple of thousand people. The Loreley is a lovely place along the river Rhine, great time in July. Besides Nad and me, we’ll play together with Jonas Reingold (bass guitar) and Lalle Larson (keyboards). We are now busy recruiting the other band members. I am really looking forward to that concert.”

Will you do more live shows?

Roine: “Yes, of course! We will probably do a package tour in late September with Karmakanic. (Both Karmacanic and Agents Of Mercy will perform on the third edition of Symforce on September 27 in Tilburg, The Netherlands, edt). It’s going to be great fun, more like one big family. Many singers and players are helping to reproduce both repertoires.”

Can we enjoy more Agents Of Mercy albums? Will this project become a real band?

Nad: “It’s most likely that a follow-up album will appear in 2010 and then we’ll both write the songs.”

Roine: “Yeah, we will certainly do another album. I don't know when or if this project will become what you call a real band. That depends whether the people involved are willing to play the music, but time will tell.”

Can we expect another low-key acoustic album from you in the vein of Ready To Fly from the AOM-album?

Roine: “Yes, I will probably finish that acoustic album later this year, but it will contain more folky tunes than on the AOM album.”

What are your plans for the future? Another project or a new Flower Kings album?

Roine: “I will soon fly to the USA to start working on a new album, a secret project. Jonas and I have already started an afro-fusion album that will include a few more high profile top players in the genre. I can tell you that one of them has played with Chick Corea for many years! He has done a few tracks already and it sounds amazingly good. TFK might come together again, but not until 2010.”

Thanks both for your time and for answering my questions!

Roine and Nad: “You’re welcome!”

More info:

Album review
MySpace Agents Of Mercy

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