Never one to sit still, Neal Morse always has a new project. This time, it’s a new solo album called The Dreamer – Joseph: Part One. The record is a typically amazing Morse work that features a loaded cast of singers and musicians that help tell the story that inspired Joseph & The Amazing Technicolored Dreamcoat. Neal recently took some time to talk about the record with me.
Please press the PLAY icon below for the MisplacedStraws Conversation with Neal Morse:
On creating stories rather than typical albums – Well, the funny thing is I remember years ago a guy named Greg Walker, who was the guy who helped us put out our very first Spock’s Beard album. I remember right around maybe our third or fourth record, he’s like, “When are you going to do your concept album? ” And I remember saying, “Oh man, that’s so trite. I don’t want to do a concept album. A prog band doing a concept album. It’s just so predictable”. Anyway, the funny thing was then, Snow just wanted to be a concept album. Sometimes you can want something to be something, and it wants to be something else. I think it’s well documented the arguing in the Neal Morse Band between me and Mike (Portnoy) about Similitude of a Dream, whether it was going to be a double or not. He just felt like it needed to be a single and I felt like it wanted to be a double and the music called it forth. I don’t want to have it be about like, “Oh, what, who was right?” Mike was very gracious about ultimately. The music has to go where it wants to go. So I would just say on all these albums I’ve done, I don’t even know how many concept albums now. I’ve lost count of a few. Well, and it turned out that they were the ones that touch people the deepest. The thing that’s great about it as a writer, in particular a Christian person that’s writing music, rather than just writing worship music, which I love to do, the thing that’s really interesting as a writer about driving into these stories is that you can write themes for the bad guy, and the struggle and I can dig into what it was like for me. How did I feel when I felt separated from God? What was that like? And how can I write that? To me that makes the happy ending, even more moving than just like, “Oh God, so good. And we love you so much”, which is all of course true. But I enjoy the story. Giving my testimony, from my Testimony albums, which we’re doing at Morse Fest, next week. There’s something about a story. If you think about it, Jesus taught in stories, a parable is a story. So, we ought to as well. That’s what a concept album is. You’re telling a story. In a whole album. It’s like a musical only a little different, but a similar flavor.
On what draws him to the Joseph story even though the musical already exists – Well, I have a confession to make. I’ve never heard the Technicolor Dreamcoat. I lived on Jesus Christ Superstar. I know every nuance of that. There’s some influence from Jesus Christ Superstar on Joseph: Part One and Part Two. What draws me to the Joseph story again and again is, there’s so much in it. It’s such a great example of my favorite thing. The concept that if you do good, even when wrong is done to you, if you will serve and help, even those that are hurting, Joseph goes into the prison where he shouldn’t be and decides he’s just going to help them. He does so much help for them that they wind up turning it all over to him. It’s like everywhere he goes, they put him in charge. Because he’s just awesome. He serves with a good heart. Even though he would have every reason just to tell them to take a hike. I just love that as a way of thinking about living. Are you willing to serve when things aren’t going your way? When you’re not being treated well, are you willing to serve the people who are treating you badly? I just think that’s really compelling. Also, the way that if you’ll do that, if you’ll work on other people’s problems, God will work on your problem. Joseph’s problem is that his family’s destroyed, his brothers have betrayed him, he can’t forgive them. Their relationship is dead, really. While Joseph is doing good to his oppressors, God is orchestrating this whole thing with his family in a land that he knows not of. I just love the idea that if we’ll do good to others, God will work on our issues and do good to us.
On not having to worry about the musical version while creating his own – No, I’m sorry, I need to listen to it. I apologize to everyone who’s a big fan of that. I just started randomly, like most of the things that I’ve written like that. Usually it starts somewhere and I started thinking about him. The beginning of the Joseph story to me really is him having those dreams when he’s young. So I started, the first thing I wrote, I think was “A Million Miles Away”, about his dreams. Then that led into “Burns Like A Wheel”, what is the brother’s response? Then “Liar, Liar”, more of the brother’s response, and then, “Let’s throw him in the pit”. You’re just following the story really, which wasn’t that difficult to write. I think it was a little bit later where I started to get a little bogged down. The whole restoration between him and his brothers, even when you read it, it gets a little bit gobbledygook. I left out some of that stuff because it just gets so complicated. I don’t need to go into it, but just the whole thing with him getting reconciled with his brothers gets kind of dicey. It was kind of a funny thing to just put the big happy ending in there. But I figured I had to just cut it off and give a happy ending because it goes on further, but I just felt like, “Okay, it’s over two hours. We gotta wrap this thing up.”
On when we can expect Part Two – Well, I just signed off on it last night. I just got the final mixes last night and signed off on the whole thing this morning, actually, even the CD ID points and the whole thing. They’re going to release it, I believe, in February of next year.
On if he plans projects in advance or just goes where the music takes him – No, I don’t. If you look at my lyric book, a lot of times it’s seasonal. I’ll write little things in between here and there, but many times it’s like, “Okay, now I’m working on this project. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom”. Then there’ll be a time when there aren’t any lyrics because that’s when I’m making the record, tracking it and all of the mountain of work that it is to actually (record). It’s one thing to write stuff. It’s a whole other thing to implement it and make the record. That’s many months of work kind of thing, especially with a project like this. Joseph: Part One and Two, man, just about did me in. Whose idea was this? It’s one thing to think of something, “Oh yeah, there should be a choir part here and, oh yeah, horns should come in.” It’s another thing to, even if you’re file sharing, you would still have to like write it all and feed everybody exactly what they’re supposed to do. It’s a mountain. Yes, but I’m really thankful. I’m really thankful. I’m not complaining. I’m really, I’m very, very happy with how these albums have turned out.
On if he ever feels pushback from fans or critics when he goes from secular to spiritual music – I don’t know. My wife’s Facebook got hacked. Ever since then, I have no idea what anybody’s saying about anything. I’ve been trying to get back in touch. I’d like to know what people are thinking. I don’t know what they’re thinking, or how they’re responding really. I haven’t personally found that. There probably are people that feel that way. I try to make my records not particularly preachy. I don’t know. I think people understand that I’m just trying to do what I feel the Lord wants me to do. The reason why I like to do things that are spiritually compelling, shall we say. It’s because I simply have found that that’s the best stuff in life. I mean, I think, I think the Holy Spirit, Spirit of God, however you want to put it, the gifts of the Spirit are love, peace, joy, it’s just the best stuff there is. So anything I can do to help people to receive that or get in touch with that part of themselves, I think that’s the greatest gift that you could give. Don’t hang me for this, but it’s better than music. Well, it’s like the giver of music. We worship the giver. The giver is greater than the gift, right? The music’s this wonderful gift. I don’t think anybody would have to be convinced of how much I love it. The Lord and what he can do in people’s lives, what he’s done and what he’s doing and what he’s going to do in my life, in my family’s life, I just want people to be as blessed as they can be.
On telling the story without being “preachy” – Each album is a little bit different too. I try to leave it open. I mean, who wants a closed story? A story should be like, where do you find yourself in it? I did at the end of this, at the end of Joseph: Part Two, I rewrote it right towards the end, I re-sang it and I wrote it like it was a little bit like of an epilogue, the last song. I don’t want to spoil it because it won’t come out till next year, but it’s a little kind of like, “So, I’ve told this whole story So, how about you? Where are you at? You know Can you, can you find yourself in this?” I’d be interested to see what you think of that one.
On what fans can expect from this year’s Morse Fest – They know they can expect Testimony and Testimony 2, with strings and horns and bells and whistles and background singers, a really good performance of it. I think what people probably don’t know about Morse Fest is that it’s turned into its own thing. It’s more than a music festival. It’s like a music festival combined with a kind of homecoming or something. It’s turned into like this community thing. A lot of people have become really good friends. Everybody’s getting together again. It’s a little bit of a spiritual retreat. We have these VIP sessions where we play games and Q& A, there’s a whole different kind of feeling, a different kind of level of sharing, I guess you might say. So I hope they can find a way to be there, there’s also, we’re going to be live streaming. You can get the live stream for both nights and so you can watch all the Morse Fest stuff without ever leaving your couch.
On if he has any touring plans – I don’t. The only shows that I have are Morse Fest and Morse Fest Europe. That’s all that’s booked right now. Oh, no, that’s not true. Cruise to the Edge with Flying Colors next March. So yeah, that’s going to be amazing. I don’t think there’s any cabins left. Are there? I think there might be. So if anybody’s interested, check into that.