Transatlantic are back after many years of hibernation. For their fifth album, the foursome of Neal Morse (keyboards, guitar vocals), Roine Stolt (guitar, vocals), Pete Trewavas (bass, vocals) and Mike Portnoy (drums, vocals) have really gone out to do something a little unusual.
The upcoming release “The Absolute Universe” will be featured in three different versions: one full edition entitled Forevermore, which is what they originally intended to release, an abridged version with many changes from the original album, entitled The Breath of Life, and an “Ultimate Edition”, containing the two versions and a Blu-Ray.
With so many versions to digest and to get familiarized with, “The Absolute Universe” is definitely a feast for the prog fan’s ears, and will keep the listeners completely absorbed by the beautiful melodies, the exquisite riffs and the gorgeous vocal arrangements. Finding out the little differences between the songs on the full version and those on the abridged one might also be a great way to keep oneself busy, especially now with everyone still in quarantine!
Lotsofmuzik collaborator Rodrigo Altaf had sat down with Roine Stolt to discuss the writing and recording of the new album the decision to make a shorter version, his plans for 2021 and much more. Read their chat below:
Lotsofmuzik: Hi Roine! Let’s talk about the new Transatlantic album, The Absolute Universe, which is being released in quite a unique format, right?
Roine Stolt: Yeah, exactly. To the point actually, where I think most of us are not exactly sure what’s in it! [laughs]. It sort of expanded from being an album to being two albums. And I think now being three albums in a strange way, because we made the original album, which is what is now being referred to as Forevermore. And then the idea came up to make a shorter version, but we couldn’t really agree to make the album shorter. So half of the band wanted it to stay in the Forevermore format, and the other half wanted to make it a shorter album. So then Mike came up with the idea of “okay, we can actually make both, so that everyone walks out of this happy”. So that was what happened. And then I think along the way, when we started discussing with the record company about the formats and the third version, that is actually a box with vinyls and CDs and both versions of the album, Forevermore and The Breath of Life, and also a 5.1 remix that contains yet another version. This sounds very complicated, right? [laughs]
Lotsfmuzik: Very much so! I’m following because I have read the press release and I know what you’re referring to, but you’re right.
Roine Stolt: But to go back to the very beginning of the recording last year in September we went in the studio in Sweden and we gathered and tried to pick out all the bits and pieces that we like to sort of shape this album. And then everyone went home, I think. And then there was some time for other touring: Neal and Mike with Flying Colors, I did a tour with the Flower Kings and Marillion did some touring too. Then we were set to finish the album. All these ideas came up and also the idea to actually try to cut the album down to a single album. So that’s what you have in The Breath of Life. But there’s also different versions on the 5.1 mix and a one-and-a-half-hour long video, with lots of cool stuff. And for that one, we actually took different bits and pieces from the recordings that we had for certain songs when we worked on it last year. I had the, the recordings and it felt very empty in certain places. There was no one singing, really. We had different ideas like “this should be like a vocal section” or there was a melody, but there wasn’t any lyrics. So I went on and started singing, to get the better idea of what can I do guitar wise, or how can we orchestrate this, et cetera, et cetera, because I had some time and I wanted to just move on with it and get the album ready.
So I invested a bit in writing some lyrics, singing some leads, et cetera, without knowing what the idea was from rest of the band – who’s going to sing what, et cetera, et cetera, because normally we sort of distribute. If Pete writes a song, he usually sings it. If I write a song, I usually sing it and so on. But what we had after doing the initial sessions in Sweden was pretty much lots of instrumental music with some very sketchy, vocal things, so I just went on and did that. Which means we had, in the end, once Neal sort of got back home from whatever touring, he started working on the music and then he did write his lyrics and his did his lead vocals for pretty much the same sections now.
That meant we had already two versions of the album. And then when we did the 5.1 remix, it was Mike’s idea to just try to use or utilize as much as possible of whatever anyone had written or sung in the material, which makes it even more complicated. So there are sometimes the same songs, but with different lyrics and lead singers. Which is kind of weird, and I don’t know how we felt about it at first, because we could have ended up into endless discussions: “who’s going to sing what”, or “my bit is better than your bit”, et cetera. But I think it was kind of clever to just try to make the best of what we had and try to make something unique of what we had. And this meant we ended up with lots of material in different versions. So we dug bits and pieces from that and created something that feels like a Star Wars epic, unedited version! [laughs]
Lotsofmuzik: It’s a whole saga for sure. And having so many versions of the album and then the third package, like you said, it’s quite a bold move. What kind of commercial considerations or commercial chats did you have with the record company to release something so big?
Roine Stolt: Well, I think there wasn’t much discussion. Usually we send an email to Inside Out and for a band like Transatlantic, that is probably one of the big sellers of Inside Out. I think there isn’t much discussion really. They see the potential and they see that the fan base is very strong and dedicated and they just feel like “yeah, let’s, let’s take a chance on this”. The big black box with The Ultimate Edition, with all the vinyls, and the 5.1 mixes and all that is kind of an heavy item and it’s kind of a expensive item actually.
Lotsofmuzik: It’s substantial for sure!
Roine Stolt: Yeah, but I think by now we know our audience and I think definitely Inside Out knows the prog audience really well, and they probably tried something like this before with the other prog bands. There will be people who want to buy the biggest package they can buy of this album, and then there’s going to be people who will be fine with just the single CD. And that’s ok!
Lotsofmuzik: I think this is the collectors’ and the prog fans’ dream for sure. To have all these versions and try and compare one with the other and what, what has changed between them and whatnot.
Roine Stolt: It could be, I mean, provided that you actually liked the music [laughs]. So I think that’s the starting point. If you have the other Transatlantic albums, if you’ve seen us live and love the musicians in the band, this is definitely a collector’s item. If you have the money, I think probably the big box is something to go for.
Lotsofmuzik: And you wrote most of the material in Sweden and obviously you felt more at home than everyone else in the band during that time. Do you think that somehow had an influence in the end result of the album or not?
Roine Stolt: Not so much. I mean, of course I’ve been working in that studio a lot: I did one Flower Kings album, the Anderson Stolt album, Agents of Mercy and Kaipa. So I think I’ve been there four times before this. That studio in itself is kind of like a home for me, it’s a really good studio. I think what was different is that maybe I went in with a little bit more of an aggressive approach, so to speak. In my other bands and in particularly in the Flower Kings, I’m sort of the motor, the main guy, and I do most of the big decisions for the band, even if it’s a democracy. With Transatlantic, everyone goes in with kind of an aggressive attitude, especially the Americans, because it’s very American to do that: you take what you can take. I noticed that Pete and myself, have more laid back personalities. we talk a little less and we’re more humble. And I think I made a decision that this time I’m going to go in really aggressive. I mean not in a negative way, but more like in a positive way, I’m going to put as much Roine in this recording as possible. I think that what’s unique about Transatlantic is the blend of the characters, the blend of Pete, myself, Neal and Mike, and you get the best of everyone. So then I think it’s important that everyone is represented in a kind of an equal way, and if you’re a modest guy or if you’re more like sitting back and doesn’t say much, then it’s easy that the American side of it sort of takes over. It could just as well become like a Neal Morse Band album with Pete and Roine in it! [laughs]. So anyway, my intention was to go in kind of aggressive and positive. And I think I wrote about one and a half hour of music. We decided last year in spring time around March, or maybe April that we would do this album and, there was plenty of time last summer to just sit around and try to come up with themes and songs, vocal melodies and lyrics and all that. I had this big demo of one and a half hour music, and Pete sent half an hour, 40 minutes of music sometime in June or maybe early July. Neal’s stuff came in a little bit late because I think he had preparations for Morsefest that he does every year. His stuff came in probably end of August or something like that. Maybe even beginning of September. We had lots of material definitely, and more material than we ever had for any other album. So that was a good starting point.
Lotsofmuzik: I see! And this is a question from a fan of yours: did any leftover from the Transatlantic sessions end up in the islands, the album, like the latest album from the flower Kings or not?
Roine Stolt: Yes, it did. I think the opening track Racing with Blinders, I presented that to Transatlantic. From the Ground was another song I presented, and Black Swan and Morning News as well. And then there’s Tangerine, Heart of the Valley, the title track, and Between Hope and Fear. There’s six or seven songs on the Flower Kings albums that I presented to Transatlantic.
Lotsofmuzik: Oh, wow. That’s a lot! When it comes to this Transatlantic album, it’s impossible for us to address all the songs in the time that we have. But let me ask you about “Owl Howl”, which is one of my favorites and has a little bit of a dark feel to it. Can you tell me about that one?
Roine Stolt: That was a riff I had lying around and I wasn’t sure about what to do with it. It could be a singing part, or a starting riff of a song…I usually write a lot of music and then it stays lying around for a while. And then if you go back a couple of weeks later, then you probably can listen with an open mind and you can really judge whether it’s actually any good. So I think that one was just something that was lying around for since last summer, or I may have written it maybe two years ago, something like that. And as you say, there’s something about the rift in itself that is, I wouldn’t say sinister, but it has some kind of a bite or a dark vibe. In my mind I heard some old Procum Harum influence in the song, I can’t remember what song of theirs, but I’m a big fan of the Robin Trower phase of that band. It had that kind of vibe to me. And, and as most of the songs on the album that I sing, I didn’t really sit down and write the lyrics. I just put up a microphone and started singing. And I sing whatever goes through my mind, on that one day or in that phase of life. I’m influenced by the events that you can view on television every day, all the craziness…I think it was just something that came very spontaneously on that song. I try to sort of vacuum clean the subconscious so to speak [laughs], because if I try to sit here and be smart and clever or try to write something like Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell, that would be nice, but then it’s not me. I want to have as much Roine, as much of my personality and my thoughts and my reflections on the time we’re living in, in the songs I sing. And I didn’t really change anything from the demo, it has that theatrical thing which is almost a spoken word, which I quite liked.
Lotsofmuzik: One song that is only on the abridged version and not in the extended one is, is “Can You Feel It”, with that great vocal arrangement where all four of you guys contribute and come singing? Can you tell me about that one?
Roine Stolt: That’s something that came from Neal. I mean, every song is like it’s floating in and out. So that could be a little bit of me, a little bit of Pete, but definitely the vocal thing is actually from Neal. As far as the lyrics, I can’t really answer to that, you’d have to ask him.
Lotsofmuzik: That’s ok…and it does have the Neal stamp, especially in the vocal arrangement!
Roine Stolt: Yeah, definitely! So I think that’s the beauty of it. We all sort of contribute with the very specific styles we have, each and every one of us. And I think that creates the magic of the band.
Lotsofmuzik: I noticed that most on of the songs, from the complete version onto the abridged one, you cut like almost two minutes in length. What would you say is the one that changed the most from the full version to the condensed one?
Roine Stolt: Well, as you say, there are actually some songs that are completely gone. I mean, cut out completely, on The Breath of Life. Mostly the idea was to have it more scaled down. I mean, I got in and played on what we had, I did my guitars here in my studio and went in kind of aggressively, adding a lot of solos, because I was thinking, this is prog, this is what people like. They want to hear all these crazy prog guitars and fills and leads and solos and all that stuff. So I went in kind of aggressively. So that’s probably what’s represented on the longer version, Forevermore. But I think that Neal suggested that some of that stuff would go away. So he probably wanted some of the guitar solo stuff to go away and, and fills and stuff like that. And also we took out some of the orchestration, we cleaned it up some vocal things, made it a more scaled down, smaller version, which is kind of interesting. To be honest, I haven’t really sat down and listened to it because it’s quite a lot of music. I haven’t really sat down and listened back to back to notice how much the difference there is. I think that’s up to the fans to realize and decide, but aside from the different vocalists or the different lyrics and some of the guitar stuff gone on The Breath of Life, I think that version is probably just like a little bit cleaner, it makes void of some orchestrations and the drums are maybe a little bit louder, things like that.
Lotsofmuzik: Okay. And I think for the fans benefit, it’s actually good that you can’t go on tour now and promote this album because there’s a lot to digest. So by the time you’re able to go into a stage, hopefully they will have already absorbed everything, because it does take awhile.
Roine Stolt: Oh yeah, it takes a while, and we haven’t even started looking into it because there’s no use in even trying to start talking to promoters or to booking agents because no one knows really if this is going to happen in half a year, in one year, or if it’s going to happen at all. We don’t know really, but as you say, there’s plenty of time to digest these versions and learn the music. So I would imagine if we get to the point where we actually can play it live, then probably it would be, I would guess a mix of everything. So maybe close to what you have on the 5.1 mix, that’s a combination of everything on both albums actually. Which is a long one, a lot to remember! [laughs]
Lotsofmuzik: Yeah. I mean, you probably create a whole new version of it just to be played live. So here’s your fourth or fifth version right there, right?
Roine Stolt: Oh yeah, totally. I shouldn’t listen to it too much, to be honest. When the time comes, I can just edit a version and have that one fresh and just learn that version and forget about all the others. Or it will be totally chaos! [laughs]
Lotsofmuzik: Well, the last time we spoke, you probably don’t remember, but you were promoting The Sea Within. Can we expect a follow up to that first album anytime soon?
Roine Stolt: We haven’t talked much. We talked about it when we played on, on the ship last year, but that’s many months away. That was, I think February, maybe March. So since then we haven’t talked about it really. And I would imagine to be realistic that if things continue to be kind of sketchy as it is now for any touring or that kind of thing for the beginning of next year or even most of the next year, I would imagine that we could actually go and do a second one. Today you can actually record albums remotely. You don’t have to be in the same room, so we can find a way to record it and just send files. But I would think that that is a possibility for next year, because whatever happens, there’s plenty of time. And if you have time, I can see many different projects materializing next year. And I mean, not, not only for us, but for, I suppose, for every musician the next year is just a big question mark. And then we all have to find out how can we be productive? How can we keep going with the music? So anyone from Paul McCartney to bands like us, we look at next year and say “okay, will there be touring or will there be maybe another album”?
Lotsofmuzik: Can you tell us what else you’re planning for 2021, if at all? What projects do you have in mind?
Roine Stolt: The only thing I know for sure that we started talking already about is a Flower Kings follow up. So I think people already started writing for that one. And this is something that will be ongoing most of springtime, I would guess. But there isn’t a release date or anything set up. It’s more like we go working on something and it’s ready when it’s ready, as we say, it will take time, but the plan is to make more like something that is a bigger piece. Something like we did in the early days, like the bigger songs – 30-minute songs or 60-minute songs, and possibly also orchestrated, with real strings or wind instruments and stuff like that. So that’s the plan for The Flower Kings. Besides that, as you mentioned, a second album from The Sea Within can happen. And I’m hoping we can finish the second album I started with Jon Anderson. It’s halfway done, but that could go anywhere really. I feel the material is really strong, so I think it’s just hard work. We just need to find a form to get all the tracks recorded properly with drums and bass and all that, and decide who’s gonna play what, etcetera, etcetera. So these are the possible three projects for me, personally, that I can see.
Lotsofmuzik: Thank you so much for the interview, and I look forward to seeing you live – maybe on Morsefest next year, who knows? In any case, look forward to seeing you on stage as soon as possible!
Definitely! Thank you sir!
A couple of days ago the band released the video for ‘The World We Used To Know’, taken from ‘The Absolute Universe: Forevermore (Extended Version)’. Watch it now here:
Watch the video for ‘Overture / Reaching For The Sky’, taken from ‘The Absolute Universe: The Breath Of Life (Abridged Version)’ here:
The full list of formats is below, and you can pre-order now here: https://transatlantic.lnk.to/TheAbsoluteUniverse
‘The Absolute Universe: The Breath Of Life (Abridged Version)’
Single CD Edition, Gatefold 2LP+CD, or Digital Album
2. Reaching For The Sky
3. Higher Than The Morning
4. The Darkness In The Light
5. Take Now My Soul
6. Looking For The Light
7. Love Made A Way (Prelude)
8. Owl Howl
11. Can You Feel It
12. Looking For The Light (Reprise)
13. The Greatest Story Never Ends
14. Love Made A Way
‘The Absolute Universe: Forevermore (Extended Version)’
2CD Edition, 3LP+2CD Boxset, or Digital Album
2. Heart Like A Whirlwind
3. Higher Than The Morning
4. The Darkness In The Light
5. Swing High, Swing Low
7. Rainbow Sky
8. Looking For The Light
9. The World We Used To Know
1. The Sun Comes Up Today
2. Love Made A Way (Prelude)
3. Owl Howl
6. Lonesome Rebel
7. Looking For The Light (Reprise)
8. The Greatest Story Never Ends
9. Love Made A Way
‘The Absolute Universe: The Ultimate Edition’
Limited Deluxe Clear 5LP+3CD+Blu-Ray Box-set – contained within a foil-finished lift-off box with extended 16-page LP booklet & 60x60cm poster. Includes both versions of the album over 5LP’s and 3CD’s, plus a Blu-Ray with 5.1 mix & documentary.
1. Overture (5.1 Surround Mix)
2. Reaching For The Sky (5.1 Surround Mix)
3. Higher Than The Morning (5.1 Surround Mix)
4. The Darkness In The Light (5.1 Surround Mix)
5. Take Now My Soul (5.1 Surround Mix)
6. Bully (5.1 Surround Mix)
7. Rainbow Sky (5.1 Surround Mix)
8. Looking For The Light (5.1 Surround Mix)
9. The World We Used To Know (5.1 Surround Mix)
10. The Sun Comes Up Today (5.1 Surround Mix)
11. Love Made A Way (Prelude) (5.1 Surround Mix)
12. Owl Howl (5.1 Surround Mix)
13. Solitude (5.1 Surround Mix)
14. Belong (5.1 Surround Mix)
15. Lonesome Rebel (5.1 Surround Mix)
16. Can You Feel It (5.1 Surround Mix)
17. Looking For The Light (Reprise) (5.1 Surround Mix)
18. The Greatest Story Never Ends (5.1 Surround Mix)
19. Love Made A Way (5.1 Surround Mix)
20. The Making of The Absolute Universe (Documentary)
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