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Progressive Rock Interviews

Neal Morse

Interviewed by Josh Turner
Interview with Neal Morse from 2005


MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

I recently watched your Testimony DVD, and I was very impressed with it. I was just wondering, how did you actually put that band together?
I prayed a lot. I really did. I prayed a lot. I wanted it to be the house that god built, you know.
MSJ: Yeah.
Uh, and the Psalm says, "let the lord build the house they that labor in vain." So, I prayed a lot and, uh, like I said, yeah, I'm repeating myself, then different things happened, you know. Of course Mike and some of the guys that I've, you know, when I quit Spock's Beard, I'm going back to when I first started writing the Testimony album, it would have been November of 2002 I believe and, uh, I began to pray like well, lord, you know, I feel like you've called me out of Spock's Beard and Transatlantic, you know, who do you want me to be playing with or, you know, do you want me to quit music or what's the deal, you know. And then I began to pray. The lord would lead me, because I was getting all this incredible influx of ideas, and they were very proggy ideas and the time I started to write the Testimony album, I knew it was just a gusher of stuff, I mean, it was like man, I filled up like six 90 minute cassette tapes of ideas in about a month or something.
MSJ: Wow!
You know, so I was like okay, I'm getting this direction, but who should play with me, you know, and then Eric Brenton called me up out of the blue, because he heard, he had become a Christian years before, we knew each other in the eighties and, he got my number from a mutual friend and called me up and said, hey, oh yeah, you Christian, me Christian kind of thing, you know. And we just started, got talking about old times and, you know, mutual friends in Orange County and I started to think wait a minute now, you play violin, and I was hearing all those string parts already, you know, from Testimony that I was working on. You play violin and flute and guitar and a classical guitar and, you know, all this stuff. He's like oh yeah, I'm also playing pedal steel and mandolin these days too. I'm like wow and I just immediately started to pray, well, grant it Lord, you know, there's a way. So I flew him out to play strings on the album, and I hoped that maybe he'd get, something would hook him out here, you know, the Lord would lead him out here. And, so that's what happened, so the Lord led him out here and so we started playing together and so that's how Eric came in. Then Mike of course I knew. Bert was somebody who I didn't even know played, played keyboards, but I made his reacquaintance when we went to do that Yellow Matter Custard gig with Mike at the Modern Drummer Festival and I was looking. When you're in a spiritual place, you know, it's like I'm looking all the time for what's God trying to do, you know. Who does he want me to talk to or what's my purpose for being here, you know. So, I didn't know what was going on - what purpose might have been for being in New York except for having a great time playing with some great people. But, then Bert sort of sidled up to me during that time and said {he starts to whisper}, hey man, you know, I want you to know I'm really into what you're doing, you know, and, you know, I'm a Christian and I was like, oh really, that's cool and I play too. See, I've always known him as the tech, but, he was telling me, yeah, oh yeah, I play too, so if you ever need me playing. I'm like oh, okay, and I had planned to use this other keyboard player and he dropped out on me like at the beginning of September, which was really kind of short notice cause we have this showcase to do, Tower Records thing, beginning like three weeks from then. Like at the end of September, and so we were trying to do it like without an additional keyboard player and then without another vocal and it was really kind of hard, but I was praying about it. I remember it very clearly. I was praying about it and I was running and I was like well, Lord, what am I going to do? Show us what keyboard player, show me what keyboard player you want, you know, this is your gig, you know, and I felt very clearly just like Bert! I was like really, Bert? Bert! {he laughs} Oh man, anyway, I said well, Bert, come down and audition, you know? I never heard him play or sing. So, he drove all the way down to Nashville from Rhode Island, and he walked in. This is two days before the Tower Records showcase and we're like well, I guess we can't do June cause nobody can do the high part or I guess we can't do Wind at My Back because nobody can sing the high part. He walks in and not only does he have all the keyboard parts, he's got this really high voice and he knows all the high parts to those songs, cause he's really, he's a Spock's Beard fan, so he just walked in, and we all just went whoa! Yeah, that's perfect, great, you know, and so that's just a little bit. I have a testimony about pretty much everybody in the band like that. It's like some kind of, you know, God, God guidance thing that lead to it, you know, so that's probably more than you wanted to know.
MSJ: No, that's fine. {he laughs} Actually, I didn't get a chance to see that concert and there's a lot of people who didn't get a chance to see it who would have really wanted to see that. Are there any plans at this time for other tours?
Across the US particularly it's very difficult and expensive, but you know, we may do a few selected gigs.
MSJ: Okay.
I don't think it will ever be like the Testimony tour was. That was just a very special time, a very special group of people, you know? I mean, it just so happened to work out that all these busy guys, including Rich Mouser, the sound engineer, who's booked like all the time, happened to have that time free. In fact, John Krovoza, the cellist, I never met, I hadn't met him or heard him play, and I had to like just decide and book his flight. He came in like three weeks before the first gig in Europe like at the end of October he came in at the recommendation of Eric. And Eric just gave him such a high recommendation and when I talked to John on the phone he was like, well, you know, I prayed about it and it's kind of miraculous that my schedule is cleared out, and I really feel like the Lord really wants me to do this, so yeah, I'll. I'll do it if you'll jump out and say if I will. {I laugh} So, I went okay, never met you, booking the flight. {he laughs} And, how great was he? I mean, wow, he was great and what a great spirit, you know. We just, we just all got along so great. It was fabulous.

MSJ: I've been listening to this new album and I really enjoy it, but I just wondered what does the title "One" mean, and what's the album about?
Well, "One" means unity of the spirit, you know? Jesus prayed, "Gather make them one even as you and I are one." So, the idea is there's a separation that happens in the beginning, and it's all about getting back with God, you know, and that Christ is the way to get back into unity with God. That's essentially in a nutshell, that's what the album is about.
MSJ: I've recently gotten a hold of the new Spock's Beard album {Octane} and I just want to get your opinion about it? Have you had a chance to hear it and what do you think?
Yeah, I think it's really good, man. Did you like it?
MSJ: Oh yeah.
Oh good, I'm glad. You're the first person I've talked to about it besides the guys in the band. I haven't heard anybody else's opinion, but I think it's really cool, you know, I think particularly the very beginning of the album is just great. It's really powerful, but there's a bunch of killer stuff all throughout, you know? I emailed the guys after I listened to it over the holidays and said, "Congratulations, it's great."
MSJ: I'm just surprised that they were able to create something like this without you, and I was almost thinking that you might have even had a part in it.
No… No, but I'm thrilled, man. Well, one thing I felt when I quit the band, mostly, I prayed for about eight months about it before I actually went through with it, you know? Cause it was one of the biggest decisions of my life, and, as I prayed about it, I was like I was just crying out. I mean, I wept about it for a long time, you know, it was like oh, what's going to happen to the guys, you know? I was so worried about them. The Lord just kept saying to me, "they're going to be alright, they're going to be alright. It's going to be okay. Trust me, it's going to be alright." I couldn't see how, but, you know, I felt like they were going to prosper. I felt that, you know, way back then, man, I couldn't see how it could all work out, but, I'm not really surprised. When I heard it, I went oh man, yeah, great, and that's a great thing, you know, that's great for them, too. They get to partake of the joy, more of the joy of the actual creating, you know, now that I'm gone. Because I took up a lot of that space, {he laughs} you know. So now they get to step into that, which is just great cause that's my favorite part. That's where the joy is in making records for me is, it's really, it's really in the part when for me that happens when nobody else is around. I write usually by myself, you know, and the writing part is definitely my favorite part, so I'm really glad they're getting to do more of that. I mean, they did that before, you know, not like they never did, but they're getting to do more of it. I think it's great.
MSJ: You just come up with so many good songs, and I'm just wondering if you can explain how your process actually works. How do you actually brainstorm your ideas and actually turn them into music?
Well, generally when I'm writing a prog album, I have a lot of snippets of ideas, you know? I have like this piece and that piece and this piece. Sometimes it is just like hundreds of pieces, and then the challenge is to fit it together into some kind of idea, some kind of cohesive album, you know? With Testimony it was kind of easy, becauseI was telling my story, and then it was just a matter of what to leave in, what to leave out. But with, Snow particularly, that was a real hard concept album to write, because I had to make up a whole story. One wasn't really difficult, because the story was already written thousands of years ago essentially, you know, but how to say it and I got stuck kind of musically and lyrically. I just kind of got stuck a little bit. I had a little bit of, I guess, writer's block although I don't know if I'd really call it bad. I feel like that God wanted to include others in it. I think sometimes he doesn't give us everything so that we will include others in it, because that's just kind of, you know, his nature. He wants us to include each other, you know, and so I'm really grateful that he led me to collaborate with those guys cause it was a special time.
MSJ: Testimony deals with your faith and then One kind of deals with the faith of a fictional character, and I'm wondering, what do you have planned next?
Well, One doesn't really deal with the faith of a fictional character. That's really not correct. Testimony would be like if I got up in church and giving my testimony or telling my story. One is sort of like if I was to get up and almost like give a teaching or something. One is sort of like explaining, trying, attempting anyway, to explain some things about God and man and Christ and what it means, you know, to be separated and united with, and then reunited with God and, you know, kind of going through like, taking the story of the prodigal son and amplifying it out into an album in a way, you know? So, I don't really say it is about fictional characters cause I think it's very real. So, you get my point?

MSJ: Yeah.
I'm not singing. I'm singing from the point of view of one of mankind when man's singing, "I can't see your throne, so I will build my own."
MSJ: So what do you have planned next?
I don't know. I'm doing some worship music right now to take with me on, I'm going to Europe to visit some churches and do some like worship services and things, which I've never done anything like that before, totally new thing and I'm making a CD of some of the songs that I think I may be doing there, , to give away to people there. So, I'm doing that now, but that's not like a new project. And there's a kind of Christian pop album that I started a couple years ago that I'm going to finish and probably release at some point this year, but I also have in mind, a big project, a big proggy project, but it's a secret.
MSJ: Okay, but for the most part, you're going to be staying with prog for awhile, right?
Well, I don't know, I have to dig into this thing. It's just like an idea that I've got right now, and I've got just a little bit of music for it, but not much. It's too early to tell, but I'm working on it with some other people. We're keeping it under wraps right now.
MSJ: I consider your work very original. You seem to pull influences from everywhere, but the person who seems to influence you the most is probably yourself. You've got a distinct sound and a lot of people, I mean, you've influenced a lot of other people and it's kind of hard to draw comparisons from your work to other work and I'm just wondering if you could explain who you consider to be your musical influences?
Oh well, thank you. You should talk to those guys at the Dutch Progressive Rock Pages. I'm just kidding. The first question I think that they asked me was "why do you feel the need to repeat yourself over and over again?" I was like, well, uh, I really didn't know I was, but, uh, anyway, um, yeah, it's just funny, the differing opinions that are out there, um, how do I, what was the last question, I'm sorry?
MSJ: Who do you consider…
Oh, my influences.
MSJ: Yeah, your musical influences?
Well, in my prog writing, I'm influenced by all the big prog guys I think. You know, Yes and ELP and Genesis and Gentle Giant, King Crimsom, um, I'm probably forgetting someone. I'm probably influenced by like a lot of the, some of the sort of more musical American artists like, I don't know, Crosby, Stills, and Nash and Steely Dan and, uh, I don't know, there's a lot of different influences in there, you know, a little Bowie and a little bit of The Who and Pink Floyd. Alittle bit of the singer-songwriter guys like Marc Cohn and, even Elton John. You know, just all kinds, all sorts of different influences in there. Oh, and The Beatles primarily.
MSJ: I was recently listening to Kansas' Song for America. I could kind of see that there might be a relationship to that and some of your work, maybe in Transatlantic.
Yeah, I don't think about that, but I got really into that album when I was young. It's kind of like you throw all this stuff in the pot when you're young and it just kind of just sort of comes out, you know, and you make your own stew kind of thing.
MSJ: How did you actually decide when you were growing up that you wanted to be involved in music?
Well, music in my house when I was growing up was the thing. My dad was a choir director and a music teacher, so I always wanted to, quote on quote, make it in music.Making it in music was all I ever really wanted to do ever. I was never conflicted about it.
MSJ: A lot of your most interesting work is a collaboration that you've done with other artists out there like Mike Portnoy or Roine Stolt, and I'm just wondering who else do you have in mind to work with, do you have any idea at this time?
I don't know, I always just pray about those things and try to see where the Lord's leading, you know? Cause he's the master conductor, you know? {I laugh} I'm just a piano player.
MSJ: Would there be any chance of you working with Roine Stolt again maybe in the future?
It's possible.
MSJ: Because he basically told me that he's waiting by the phone for the call.
Oh, is that right?
MSJ: Yeah.
Oh, that's so sweet. That's nice.
MSJ: Do you see any chance of a Spock's Beard or Transatlantic reunion at some point?
There's a chance. It's possible. There's no bad feelings between any of us, but I don't have any plans for that, myself, at this time.
MSJ: What's the last CD that you purchased?
Oh gosh, I hardly ever buy CD's. It's terrible. I don't have hardly enough time to like listen to the CD's that people send me and I think the last CD I actually purchased was the Hi-Lo's Suddenly it's the Hi-Lo's. That was a jazz vocal group my uncle was in and I bought all The Hi-Lo's stuff. I firmly recommend The Hi-Lo's Happen to Folk Songs. It's killer.
MSJ: What's the last concert that you attended as a fan?
I'm asking my wife. Well, I went to see Yes when we were on the Transatlantic tour. That was incredible. I've been to see people since then. Oh, I went to see King's X. I went and saw King's X here. That was the last concert I've been to, yeah.

I went to see Phil Keaggy. I get out every now and again, you know. Um, who else have I gone to see? I love to go to a pit concert. It's wonderful. I love to go to the Nashville Symphony. It's great. Hey, can you hold on for a minute?

MSJ: What would you say is your favorite movie?
It's a Wonderful Life.
MSJ: What is your favorite TV show?
Oooh, wow, I don't watch that much TV. Well, my favorite is probably still like really early Star Trek. I love early Star Trek.

MSJ: Would you say you have a favorite book?
Well that would have to be The Bible, brother.
MSJ: Do you have any pets?
Oh, you know, it's an interesting thing, we have lots of dogs around this house, but we don't actually have any dogs. They don't have fences out here, so we have dogs, but none of them are ours.

MSJ: Are they wild dogs or neighbor's dogs?
They're neighbor's dogs. Yeah, I had a dog for many, many years that I loved as much as my own life, but he died about four years ago, and I haven't gotten another pet since.
MSJ: Is there anything you'd like to say to your fans at this time?
Thanks as always for all your love and support and, I would say, love God with your life.
 
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