Posted March, 2012
Photo by Joey Pippin
When you mention the Progressive Rock genre to a baby boomer, bands such as Yes, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, early Genesis, King Crimson, Moody Blues, Pink Floyd and Emerson, Lake and Palmer easily come to mind. Today, bands such as Transatlantic, Spock’s Beard, Dream Theater would be the top of mind names in today’s prog rock genre.
Imagine, if you will, putting together members of – oh, let’s say – each of today’s dominant prog rock bands (with a couple of highly talented and successful artists in for additional flavor) and put them under the superior talents of a world class producer. Do you think such a band would pass the “fan test” of acceptability?
If so, you would be absolutely correct. In fact, it would do so with Flying Colors. Wait, I mean Flying Colors the band and not a figure of speech or expression.
To say that Flying Colors is the new prog rock super group would not be an overstatement in the slightest. Consider who makes up this incredible band: Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple), Casey McPherson (Alpha Rev, Endochine), Dave LaRue (Dixie Dregs, The Steve Morse Band), Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Transatlantic) and Neal Morse (Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic). Put this nuclear powerhouse of musical talent under the incredible production talent of Peter Collins (Rush, Alice Cooper, Bon Jovi, Indigo Girls, Suicidal Tendencies) and one is assured of an explosion of awesome creativity resulting in sound of epic proportions.
I received my review copy of the debut Flying Colors CD last month and have been savoring it ever since. I won’t repeat my thoughts about that album but you can read the Boomerocity review here. That said, as stoked as I am about this album, imagine my “stokedness” when the opportunity presented itself to interview the keyboardist for Flying Colors, the multi-talented Neal Morse.
I called Neal up at his Nashville area home. Immediately friendly and engaging, our conversation got off to an incredibly upbeat start. We began by discussing how the group’s debut album was different for him than all of the other projects he has been involved with.
“Oh, well, there are a lot of things on Flying Colors that are completely unique from my life and career. One of them is it’s the first time I’ve ever been produced – like ever! I’ve always been the producer or collaborator on everything that I’ve worked on. The Transatlantic stuff it says ‘Produced by Transatlantic’.
“So, that was a trip – to have some English dude (Peter Collins) on the other side of the glass going (speaking in a bang-on British accent), ‘Oh, yes, can you try it again? Maybe, perhaps, with a bit more feeling?’ – you know, that whole kind of thing. He was very funny. He’d go, ‘Alright, chaps, this one’s for England and the Queen’ and stuff like that. It was really a lot of fun. He had a lot of really great opinions. It was much more collaborative all the way through than anything I’ve ever done before, either.
“For example, the lyrics were all Casey, Peter and I – we all got together when Casey came to Nashville to do his lead vocals. We talked about every lyric. That never happened before. With Spock’s Beard, I pretty much wrote everything. We’d change it a little bit but I don’t think we ever changed any lyrics – hardly ever. Transatlantic was really the same. They just let me say whatever I wanted to say.
“So, this (Flying Colors) was really unique. Casey was different. Working with a singer like him was really cool – really different. And Casey is very particular about lyrics in a way that has kind of changed me. Casey likes to have imagery in every line. He wants to have something cool and different about everything that he sings or else he’s not into it.
“I’m not really like that. I’ll have the imagery and cool things but sometimes I sing stuff because I like the way it sounds. I don’t look into the lyrics with a magnifying glass that these guys both did. That was an interesting and cool learning experience for me.”
With that all being said, I asked Neal if it was hard for him to let go of the control of the production and creative process.
“Sometimes. There were a few times when it was difficult to let go. But I’ve learned from some of my other collaborations that the whole thing becomes a process of letting go. You have to stay kind of unattached – especially when there are so many cooks in the kitchen. For me, as a Believer, I felt that God wanted me to do this project. So the last thing I would want to do is squelch someone else because I felt that God wanted me to be there to work with them and their gifts. So, it was really interesting and very cool.”
Knowing that some of the Boomerocity readers are big Transatlantic fans, I had to ask Neal what he felt Transatlantic fans will like about the Flying Colors disc and what they might think is noticeably different between them.
“Well, I think Flying Colors is really different from Transatlantic. I think what they’ll like about it is the musicality of it, the playing – the players are all amazing. Everybody seems to dig Casey’s voice a lot. I think anybody who loves good music is going to like it. So far, it’s getting outrageous reviews. There’s a lot of interesting music. Infinite Fire is the prog epic of the album even though it’s not as long as anything Transatlantic has done. It’s got a certain epic quality to it. I think they’ll enjoy that. A lot of the songs are really strong. I think anybody who loves good music will love it.”
Long ago I gave up on asking artists what their favorite song on their latest album is so I didn’t ask Neal that question. However, I did ask him if he could point to only one song off of Flying Colors that could be listened to as a sample before one were to decide whether to buy it, what song would he point them to?
“I guess I would pick Kayla. I think it has all of the good Flying Colors elements. That was Casey’s verse and then we collaborated together on the chorus. I think I did the bridge part and then Steve Morse constructed his solo. Of course, we all worked and shaped the whole thing. I think it’s a nice piece.”
With such a great debut album, fans will naturally want to catch these guys live. From what Neal shared, we may have to be a bit of a wait.
“We’re trying to (organize some performances). It’s really between Steve’s Deep Purple schedule and Mike’s Adrenaline Mob and other projects and them finding a window. So far, they haven’t been able to find one, which is kind of a bummer. We’re hopeful. I’m just praying about it and am hopeful that something will happen. If it’s supposed to happen, then it will happen and it will be great. Right now, we’re watching and waiting to see what the record will do, do interviews and support the release and just hoping for the best.”
As Neal unashamedly let be known early in our conversation, he is a Christian. His solo work has been predominantly religious in theme. For those of you who think that Christian music is still relegated to the old Southern Gospel quartet style of singing, think again. Neal is among the best and most innovative singer/songwriter/musicians in that market. He has worked with such stellar CCM musicians as guitarist, Phil Keaggy. I’m a huge Phil Keaggy fan so, naturally, I asked if he and Phil were going to work together again.
“We talk every once in awhile. We’ve been trying to get together to work on something. He’s pretty busy and I’m pretty busy but we’d love to. He’s amazing! I’ve been working on The Making of ‘One’ DVD – my inner-circle, my subscription thing – with some Phil Keaggy footage in there.”
Staying on the subject of Morse’s faith, I wondered what the reaction has been to the proclamation of his faith and how his faith has affected his work and creativity.
“It’s been amazingly positive. I think God’s put me in a pretty unique position to be able to sing some very straight forward Christian lyrics to largely secular audiences. I think that’s extraordinary. How many people get to do that? They eat it up! My friend put it a good way. He said, ‘If you feed them enough music that they love, they’ll swallow Christ along with it and not even realize it.’ It’s been an awesome thing.
“I’m always praying for the Lord to show me what he wants me to do with whoever he wants me to do it with. It’s just that daily walk of faith. There isn’t really any ‘how-to’ – I’m always testing the waters, praying, writing songs, seeking the Lord, and I don’t always know what He’s doing or how He’s going to do it. Sometimes it’s hard to make decisions about what to do. I don’t really operate that way so much as I try to trust that what He’s giving me is the right thing and I just keep moving forward with that. It’s an adventure. It’s a great adventure!”
My pre-interview research on Neal led me to interviews and CD reviews within the Christian press. As might be expected, when one doesn’t espouse a particular theological nuance, one “sect” or another will express their displeasure and place their labels on the person they disagree with. Not surprisingly, I found reaction to those interviews and reviews that indicate Morse has suffered the same treatment. I asked him about that.
“The people in the secular world that I’ve offended and the people in the Christian that I’ve offended – they just, basically, don’t have me come or they just don’t come to my concerts. There have been some people who have wanted to work against what I’m doing but they do it all behind the scenes; they talk to other people and every once in awhile I find out about something but it’s pretty rare. Usually I just give it all to the Lord anyway so I’m like, ‘Well, that’s interesting. I’ll pray about that.’ You know what I mean? There isn’t really much that I can do about those things except give it over to Him.
“But, I haven’t encountered very much. A little bit sometimes but, like I said, it’s kind of a hush-hush kind of thing. A lot of times people are actually very kind. They’ll visit me and be very kind to me. Then, as they’re leaving, they’ll give me a book on Christology, giving me the message – in their view – that they’re wanting to help me to have the ‘correct view’. I appreciate that. Operating in love is the premium thing.”
While we wait to see what kind of touring Flying Colors is going to do, Neal certainly isn’t letting the grass grow under his feet as he has some interesting things in the hopper.
“I’ve got a new album in the works that will be released in the fall. It’s going to be called Momentum. Also, we’re going to have a Cover to Cover Part 2 that’s coming out in May. Gotta keep things going!”
You can keep up with Neal Morse and Flying Colors at the following websites: