A Conversation with Prog Rock legend Neal Morse

It’s been 25 years since the debut record from Spock’s Beard redefined modern progressive rock.  Since that time, former Beard leader Neal Morse has forged a path unlike any other.  With more than 50 live and studio releases Neal is the catalyst for the modern prog-rock movement.  Along with long-time bandmates Mike Portnoy and Randy George, they are about to release the third volume in their Cover To Cover series and Neal took some time recently to talk about it.
Please press the PLAY icon for the MisplacedStraws Conversation with Neal Morse:
On how the band started doing covers – Well it became a tradition that when we were done working on the progressive rock epic kind of albums that were really difficult and intricate and so involved, it became kind of a tradition it started in the late nineties with the request from record companies.  I remember the Japanese company would say, “Hey can you give us a bonus track?” And so it started off like that, what can we bang out really quick at the end?   Mike is so into covers, so that became something that we would talk about when we would sit at the table to start ? or Sola Scriptura or whatever. We start talking about the album and then someone would invariably say, “Enough about that, what are we going to cover this time?”  So it started off just with having a little bit of time at the end of the session. If we had time we would do three or four easy songs that we all just enjoy. And that’s how it started out…But by the way, Cover to Cover Three is the first one that we made actually as an album, they weren’t just bonus tracks collected over the years 1:10
On working with Mike Portnoy and Randy George – It’s a real natural thing. We just like a lot of the same stuff. It’s the same with Rich Mouser who mixes our things. I can just say something like, “I’m looking for this snare sound” and they’ll go, “Oh you mean like “Rocky Mountain Way”?”, I’ll go, “Exactly!” They’ll know a lot of times what I’m going for when I don’t even realize it.  So it just works out really well. I think there’s a blending of personalities that work well. Between Mike and I, it’s very well documented that there’s a little bit of friction there sometimes, but I think sometimes that friction creates some of the energy that makes our partnership so great. 5:50
“Baker Street”
On whether he has specific projects in mind when he writes – Sometimes I know right away. But sometimes I’ll write something, like when I wrote “Shine”, for example, I wrote that some three or four years before Transatlantic got together to make the Kaleidoscope album, but I just knew, something in me thought that I should save that for Transatlantic. Sometimes you can just feel that something’s kind of earmarked. But the main difference for me, if I’m writing something for the Neal Morse Band or for myself, a lot of it has to do with the vocals. If I’m writing something for a solo thing for me I will stay in my range. I noticed that like on this new album of mine, Sola Gratia, that’s coming out September 11th, I’ve just got the final mixes just listening in the car,  I noticed that when I’m writing for myself I don’t generally do as many big three-part harmony vocal choruses like we do in the Neal Morse Band. But it’s more of a natural thing, it just seems to kind of happen. I don’t know exactly how it works. 8:10
“It Don’t Come Easy”
On the upcoming Sola Gratia album – It has all the Neal Morse Band guys (Mike Portnoy, Randy George, Bill Hubauer, Eric Gillette) on it. Mike does most of the drums on it, I did I kept my demo drums on one song. Randy’s playing bass on it, Bill’s playing piano and helped me a lot with sound effects and other things and Eric takes a solo or two. The big difference is  I wrote the whole thing. It’s kind of my uh it’s really my Covid album. It’s the first time that we’ve ever made remotely. Mike did the drums at his house and it is kind of an extension of Sola Scriptura and that’s why it’s called Sola Gratia, or Only By Grace in Latin. It is a prog concept album, and it tells the story of Saul’s conversion to Paul from the “Book of Acts”. 9:30
“The Great Adventure”
On how his music differs from traditional Christian Rock – It’s totally different from any Christian music that ever heard because it’s more…first of all it’s progressive rock. Second of all, it’s kind of storytelling  I think people that are not spiritual or not religious can relate to it because they like the music usually, if they do like it. I try to make it very relatable. You know I try to make it more like spiritual pictures and metaphors and things. I try not to hit people over the head with different things that might be a stumbling block. I generally just try to say what I feel like The Lord wants to say through me and this particular piece of music and let the chips fall where they may. 11:10
“Confrontation/The Battle”
On MorseFest 2020 – Well for me, it’s all about the music. So we that was one of the things that I was hoping for when I started writing Sola Gratia. Mike and I have been talking about what we could do this year even before the pandemic back in January we were talking about it and, well, we knew that we had this cover album and so we wanna have a Cover To Cover night, which we’ve never done.  Really do it up right with horns and strings and all of that is gonna be awesome. But then on the second night, we wanted to have Transatlantic or something but that just couldn’t happen because of people’s schedules. Again, this is before the pandemic made everything even more impossible. But then I got inspired and wrote this whole album and I thought, “Man, if I could finish this in time”, and I started talking to Inside Out Records, it’s like, “If I can finish this in time, can we get this released before this date so we can debut it at MorseFest?” And of course, as you know that’s what’s happening. That’s what’s happened.  So for me, that’s the main dish. The main dish is this new album and I know people haven’t really heard it but just trust me, If you like ? or Sola or One or any of those kinds of albums you’re gonna want to be there for this because it’s as good as any of those things, I think. So that’s the main thing and then uh you know we’re going to do all kinds of other things. We can have only a limited amount of people in the room so we also have virtual tickets. People can be in the room but not very many and we still have tickets available for all of those things.  People can go to NealMorse.com and check it out if they want to come. But we’re gonna be doing the Inner-Circle concert and the jam and you know the interviews and the V.I.P. stuff and all the cool stuff that goes along with MorseFest. 13:30
“Pleasant Valley Sunday”
On his Waterfall streaming app –  Well it’s streaming app, so it’s something you have on your phone . If you subscribe then you have access to like some 100 albums that I’ve made and a lot of things that aren’t available anymore, things that are out of print and all the mainstream stuff too, all the Transatlantic, Flying Colors and Neal Morse Band and all my stuff. It’s great because you can access it anywhere. You can actually download the stuff on to your phone so you can listen to it anywhere also. If the phone rings you can pick it up and it’ll pause and then it’ll play again when you’re done you don’t have to get up to change the record, that’s my personal favorite part. 16:55
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