Neal Morse interview: "Music, I think should be a real heart to heart communication"

21/09/2012 @ 12:50
There are some musicians that, no matter how many times you’ve talked with, you have always at least one more reason to communicate with again. Even more, when you have to do with one of the most productive musicians in rock music, mr. Neal Morse. His brand new, stellar album "Momentum" was the obvious reason for a short chat about the music it contains and its creator’s non-stop musical adventures.

Hi Neal. Glad to be talking to you again. How are you?
Very well. How are you?

Well it’s ok. We have about 40˚C, but if that was our only problem here we’d be ok.

Ok. They say that you don’t change a winning team. So, it’s once again you, Mike Portnoy and Randy George with a new album "Monument" coming out in a few days. Tell us a few things about it. I personally think it’s great.
Thank you. Well, yeah, "Momentum" is my new album. The release date is September 11th, it features Mike Portnoy and Randy George and it’s kind of like modeled a little bit after my solo album "Lifeline" or Spock’s Beard’s "V". Something like that. It’s got a lot of shorter songs and progressive. You know some of them are progressive and some are more normal, by means of more normal structure kind of songs. Like 5 of those and then the 6th track is really long, a 34 minute prog epic, "World Without End". I don’t know, I think it’s one of the best prog epics that we’ve done together...

Oh, it’s fantastic...
That could be compared to the songs from "Bridge Across Forever" or a track like these.

Neal MorseI was surprised to read that you had no music in your mind before you started recording the new album and there was an outburst of creativity in the studio. So, how long did it take you to compose and arrange all this music?
Well, I had a few ideas. I think I had "Smoke And Mirrors" from November and I think I had a little bit of an idea like the chorus of "Weathering Sky", but most of the album came in about two weeks. From January 7th to two weeks after that . Then, I demoed to step up and  I sent it to Mike and Randy and they came at the last week of January, so we begun the process of reworking everything and making an album out of it.

Well, I guess the time others musicians need to write a single song is enough for you to write a whole album...
Hahaha! Well, you know, when the inspiration is coming you can write the greatest record even in a week. It’s all pouring out. I felt I had this outpouring of creativity and inspiration. Of course, I give all the glory to God. He helped me to create this album and I’m grateful.

Neal MorseLet’s take each song at a time. "Momentum" is the title track and a very characteristic song of yours. You also chose it to be the preview single and you did a videoclip. If I am not mistaken your last video must have been "All On A Sunday" from "V".
Well, yeah, in a way it’s the first actual video that we went on locations and I was acting like I was singing the song and stuff. That started because Randy George had made the making of "Momentum" to be in the special edition and he had these music videos and as I watched them I thought 'man, they need some space'. You know it was all inside the studio and it was feeling a little claustrophobic, like we needed to get outside, so I asked my son Chad if he would shoot me outside and that was the beginning of the "Momentum" video. I’m really happy with the way it came out, it’s getting a lot of views and it’s generating some excitement for the album and that’s what it was made for.

Ok. I don’t know if you remember but on one of our previous interviews I suggested you wrote "Thoughts Pt.3". Well, you overdid it I guess as you went straight to No.5. Really, what happened to no.3 and no.4 and what’s troubling your mind this time?
Haha! Well, I don’t know! You‘ll have to look forward for pt.3 and pt.4 on Spock’s Beard albums. They had done a "Thoughts" and I had forgotten that I had worked with my brother Alan on a framework for a "Thoughts" kind of song. So, when I realized that I had written a new track like that for "Momentum" we had some issues as we had a few "Thoughts" songs and I just decided that we choose our number later and they can have the earlier number. I was thinking of actually calling our something else, but I don’t think it worked. It’s obviously a "Thoughts" song, you know, the lyrics, the music and everything. And then I had the idea to put references to the early "Thoughts" songs in the beginning. In the beginning what you hear is the beginning of "Thoughts pt.1" and "Thoughts pt.2". Not the beginning of "Thoughts pt.2", the beginning of "Thoughts pt.1" and then the string section from the middle of "Thoughts pt.2". Anyway, I’m really happy with the way it turned out and we called it pt.5 just to be weird...

Neal Morse(laughs) I love almost all of your ballads and your acoustic guitar playing as well, so "Smoke And Mirrors" could be no exception to that. This type of songs seems to come so natural to you. How many of them have you written in your career? I bet more than a hundred...
Oh, I don’t know. I think it’s is own kind of songs. I guess it’s a little bit in the same vein as "Distance To The Sun" (ed: from Spock's Beard's "Day For Night"). I think I like these kind of songs. I feel that albums need quieter songs, easier songs, acoustic guitar songs. You know, the songs that give you a little break to breathe. There’s too many fast riffs and too much slamming music, I feel like you need a little fine between to extenuate the rocking parts. And I think "Smoke And Mirrors" came out really good, the lyrics are really great. My friend Chris Thompson did a really nice job on the lyrics and I also like the way this one came out.

With "Weathering Sky" I think you go back to attempts you did with songs like "All On A Sunday" or "Skin" or "June". I’d call it progressive pop. The only difference now is -I guess- that you do it because you enjoy this type of songs, while in the past you cared mostly about them becoming hits in more mainstream audience. Is that right?
I guess so… Yeah. I think I always liked writing straight ahead pop songs. I like the way of each song and each idea. Every idea is almost something like children, there’s something that a song has to be. I don’t want to make it a prog song beyond what it wants to be. I thought that "Weathering Sky" is just as it wants to be. And it’s proggy enough, it’s got that little riff, I think the intro riff is really cool, I think it sticks together really-really naturally and I think it’s rocking enough. Yeah, I think probably it is one of this pop prog songs.

Neal MorseMy favorite track on the album is "Freak". The strings arrangement brought "Eleanor Rigby" to my mind and then the lyrics made me think of "Snow". It could be him -the main character of the concept- telling these words, couldn’t it?
That’s interesting! I hadn’t thought about that. You know, when I was writing "Freak" it was like an adventure. I had no idea what it was about or where it was going. I’m really glad you liked it. A lot of the reviewers are mentioning it as one that they liked the best. That’s really cool. I never know that either, I never know what tracks are going to jump out for people. The whole music is like a real adventure. We don’t know what we’re doing or even when I started writing the lyrics for "Freak" I didn’t know what the song was about, I didn’t know where it was going. So I discovered that almost as the listener discovers it. I’m really happy with the way it came out and I wasn’t expecting it to come out as 'Beatle-ish' as it is. When Chris Carmichael did the strings, then I did the vocals and it came out very Beatles like and I didn’t expect that, but I’m very happy with it. It came out really cool.

So, there’s a Flying Colors tour coming soon. You’ll be playing some gigs and I’d like you to tell me about it. Maybe give an extra motivation for someone who has to travel to see these shows... (editor: the interview took place in August)
Well, it’s going to be great. What a great band! What a different band! I think it’s going to be interesting, different and unique. I can’t say a lot, but there’s going to be a big setlist. Mike Portnoy is in charge of the setlist, he’s the setlist king and all I can say is that it’s going to be great.

Neal MorseI did an interview with Roine Stolt about a month ago and he practically said that it’s a matter of time until you get together to start a new Transatlantic journey. Although I love all your works, Transatlantic is something else for me. It’s beyond words, so I can’t really wait. Anything new on that?
We’re really waiting for people’s schedules to make it possible for us to get together. We’re waiting for Pete and Mike mainly if they have time. It seems that it will happen, we’ll find the time as we’re really looking forward to it.

May I guess early next year?
Yeah, we hope so.

Then, I was given a task to write a buyer’s guide for Neal Morse and it’s been a real headache. As I can only choose two masterpieces and two cornerstones among all the albums you’ve been on, would you like to suggest me the ones or would you like me to tell you the ones I’ve picked and tell me if you agree?
You can tell me yours...

I suggested Transatlantic's "The Whirlwind" and Spock's Beard's "Snow" as masterpieces, while "Testimony" and "SMPTe" as cornerstones of your career...

Neal MorseDo you agree?
Ohhh, I don’t know... (laughs). There’s so much music that I really love...

Yeah, me too (laughs)...
It’s really hard, but I’m really glad that you came up with these...

Well since I mentioned it in the masterpieces, I believe "Snow" has been a victim of changes. I think at some time it deserves to get a full concept show production on stage. Wouldn’t it be fantastic? Would you consider doing something like that?
It’s something that’s been discussed. It never really has come together yet. I don’t know... I just take one day at a time...

So, I believe that by now, no one is having a hard time accepting your lyrics about religion. Then, I never had any problem with your lyrics, but I like them more when you let them a little more ambiguous. Firstly, because the lyrics are getting a little repetitive sometimes and secondly because I like to be able to find or explain some things myself. For example see "Snow" or "Whirlwind" which are deeply spiritual albums. What are your thoughts about that?
I think it’s good. I like both things. I like to speak very directly some times and I like to speak in mystery and kind of open for people to think about it as well. I’m glad to be able to do both at the same time and I’m happy for whatever speaks to people. You know, lots of different people have different albums that they love and speak to them. I think you have all these different directions. It’s like food. People love all kinds of different foods and so I’m glad that you can judge by those records.

Neal MorseNeal, there are many musicians creating music that pleases the ears, but seeing the discussions among your fans, your music fills also their hearts and their souls. That’s a big difference. How do you feel about that?
Well, ain’t that wonderful? I think this is what it’s really all about. It’s about music from the heart to the heart. Music, I think should be a real heart to heart communication. I am really grateful that over the years people have been touched by the music I’ve made.

Do you get that feedback, that a lot of people are inspired by your music?
Yes, that’s wonderful. Praise the lord.

Neal MorseOk, no need to waste more of your time. One last thing, although I know it’s getting tiring each time. Do we stand any chance this time to see you playing live here? Is there any progress at all since the last time we talked?
I haven’t seen any offers from Greece. We are trying to put together the tour for Europe, for "Momentum" and I am definitely interesting in going to places that I’ve never been to, like Greece. Do you know anyone that can do it?

I’ll see what I can do. All I can say is that I receive a lot of great feedback for your music from fans here and I think there are enough people who would love to see you...
Let me know...

Ok. Is there anything else you’d like to add to this conversation?
Oh, I just want to say thank you, thank you to all the fans in Greece and God bless you.