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Progressive Rock Interviews

Neal Morse

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Neal Morse From 1999
Audio of this Interview is In Our Members Area - along with the full text
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Where did the name for the band come from?
Al and I were having this really weird night out one night, just one of those bizarro David Lynch type evenings. Al said "wow, it`s like we`re in a parallel universe. It`s like Spock has a beard. Wouldn`t that be a funny name for a band, Spock`s Beard." That was about 89 or 90. Then when we were choosing names, around 92, Al made this list, like 2 pages of names. We all voted on them. He snuck Spock`s Beard in as a joke, and it won. Then we were all like, are we going to commit to being known as Spock`s Beard for all eternity, hopefully? Especially our first album, The Light, is kind of like music from a parallel universe. It`s pretty out there, so that was part of it, too.
MSJ: What would you consider to be your major influences?
The big five, Yes, ELP, Genesis, Crimson, Gentle Giant. There`s all that, and then we have some mainstream influences. We have The Beatles; Crosby, Stills and Nash; and Steely Dan. There`s some modern sounding parts. I don`t know who they`re influenced by, but some of the stuff like in Strange World, with sort of the grunge bands, glaring guitars. The chorus of Strange World sounds like some sort of modern Cheap Trick maybe.
MSJ: How do you see the sound of the band having changed from album to album?
With every album, we`ve gotten just a little bit more song oreinted, just a little bit more (I hate to use the word) commercial. Each album has come in like 2% or something. I don`t know really why that is. It`s just sort of a natural thing. Like on the Day For Night album, we had the whole album recorded. I was flying out to LA to record a bonus track for Europe, that they`d asked us to do. I was sitting in my chair at home, watching Wheel Of Fortune or something. I play guitar while I`m watching TV at nights sometime. I started playing, and I came up with Skin, with the melody, the music for it. The next day on the plane, I wrote the lyrics. I presented it to the guys at the sessions. "Do you think we should try this, it`s pretty straight-ahead, but..." They were all like, "Yeah, let`s try it." I wasn`t even sure it was going to be on the record. We did it very fast. We spent such little time on that. Compared to what we spend on the big epics, it was very quick. We were just trying some things to see if we liked it. Then we said, "It`s cool, let`s throw it all on there." That`s why the record is so long. We had done a complete record, and did some extra stuff, just to check it out, and we wound up thinking that it worked, and put it all on.
MSJ: Are there any musicians you would like to work with?
There`s probably a million of them. I don`t know why Chick Corea comes to mind. I don`t think I could work with him. I just want to listen to him, just hang out and listen. I`m actually going to be doing a knock off record with some really great people that I can`t wait to work with. We`re gonna do an album with Mike Portnoy, Roine Stolt from the Flower Kings, Pete Trewavas from Marillion. I`m really excited about working with those guys. It`s going to be awesome. I`ve emailed and spoke with these guys on the phone, but we`ve never met face to face. We`re going to meet at a studio and start going for it.
MSJ: What other spinoff projects are in the works?
I also just completed a solo album which is six pop songs. I hate to use the term "pop" songs. Six regular songs, let`s put it that way. A couple of which I wrote in my early twenties. Some of those songs are almost 20 years old. I`ve been writing songs since I was 14 years old. As a matter of fact, Flow from The Kindness of Strangers, a lot of that I wrote when I was 16 years old, and I sort of reworked it, and made it cooler for the album. Anyway, so I have a pop album coming out in September, I think. We`re looking to release the Portnoy, Roine Stolt, Morse, Trewavas thing, whatever that will be called hopefully in October or November or something like that. It`s what we`re hoping for. Don`t hold me to it, you never know what`s going to happen.
MSJ: Where would you like to see the band a year from now, and where do you expect to see the band a year from now?
I`d love it if we could really break out big. That`s what everybody works for. That`s what we`re working so hard for. This tour is really a lot of work. It`s hard for me to be away from my family, going around making anti-money. We`re going pretty far into the hole to do this tour. It`s a lot of work, and I hope it pays off. Nobody`s got a crystal ball. Where I`d like to see it is selling double platinum albums and playing stadiums. Where I can reasonably see it is, we`ve been on a steady climb. We`ve been like doubling our sales every year, something like that. If we just keep doubling our sales, it`s never going to be enough that way. We need a breakthrough. That`s what we need so that we can all do this full time, and not have to do all our other gigs. That`s what makes it so hard for us to schedule anything is that everyone`s busy making money with other artists and doing other things. We`re all really committed to it. You`ve got to really love these guys, these guys in Spock`s Beard. Dave plays with Eric Burden and Ryo plays with Peabo Bryson. Nick with plays with all kinds of big people, and they have to say "no" to their other gigs. They`re losing money, a lot more money than I am to do this tour. They have to turn down actually paying work to come out here, and really take a chance on something they really believe in. It`s really amazing that they`ll do that.
MSJ: What`s been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
It was a couple days ago. Well, we`ve had a lot of Spinal Tap moments actually, but we went to do an in-store in Rochester, and there was like six people there, and it was very Spinal Tap. "Do you want us to set up mics?" "Don`t even bother." We just sat down and played Suite Judy Blue Eyes or something, a little bit of June, then said, "OK, see you tonight." It was funny. We did a live radio thing in Rochester. It was a Howard Stern kind of show where they have this female sidekick, and the girl went down to the bus where Dave and Ryo were still sleeping with a cell phone and climbed into the bunks with them live on the air. Ryo screams some obscenities, and she was like "delay, delay!"
MSJ: If you weren`t a musician, what would you be doing?
I don`t know. I don`t have any backup. If I was gonna do something else, I`d probably teach music. I could really get into teaching at the college level with orchestras and choirs, writing pieces for them. That would be killer.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought?
Ben Folds Five, maybe. I bought their old one. I really like that. They really capture that live piano energy. You know, on my album, there`s a couple piano bass and drum songs, like piano songs. One one song I even play the drums, but I really admire the way Ben Folds Five captured all that live piano energy, because it`s not easy to do.
MSJ: What was the last concert you attended?
I saw Eric Burden today, cause Dave and Ryo were playing with him. It was fun. It was weird, for me, cause I did the gig for two years. I just stopped doing it last month. It was unusual, I`ve never been in the audience before.
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