Thursday, May 3, 2007

Neal Morse

@ Wiki
Neal Morse (born on August 2, 1960 in Van Nuys, California) is a prolific American multi-instrumentalist and progressive rock composer based in Nashville, Tennessee. He is known for his musical versatility and his writing and recording output.

Morse grew up in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. His father was a choral director. Morse started to play the piano at the age of five and started to learn to play the guitar soon after that. During his twenties he wrote two musicals (Hit Man and Homeland), did some session jobs, tried to get a deal as a singer/songwriter in Los Angeles, and recorded a few country and western demos with his brother Richard.

With Spock's Beard
After about ten years, Morse grew tired of the Los Angeles music scene and traveled through Europe for several years, busking and playing in small clubs. On his return to the U.S. he formed the band Spock's Beard with his brother Alan. Their first album, The Light, was moderately successful. Spock's Beard would soon become one of the more successful progressive rock bands of the late nineties (along with Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, and The Flower Kings).

With Transatlantic
While Morse was with Spock's Beard, he also released two solo albums which contain mostly straightforward rock music. In 2000, Neal joined Dream Theater's Mike Portnoy, Flower Kings' Roine Stolt and Marillion's Pete Trewavas to form the supergroup Transatlantic, with which he released two studio albums, SMPTe and Bridge Across Forever, and two live albums, Live in Europe and Live In America.

Going solo
Morse became a born again Christian and in 2002. He left both Spock's Beard and Transatlantic immediately following the release of the Spock's Beard album Snow. The period leading to this decision is described on the solo album Testimony (2003), an epic, introspective composition which features Kerry Livgren of Kansas and Mike Portnoy. One part of his conversion to Christianity, omitted from Testimony but described in full on Testimony Live, was that his daughter Jayda had been diagnosed as having a hole in her heart that required open-heart surgery. Neal says that after prayer, Jayda is now well and the heart is normal.

On May 18, 2003, Morse also took part in Portnoy's Yellow Matter Custard, a Beatles cover band, which later released a double-CD and DVD.

In 2004, Morse wrote and recorded a new concept album featuring Portnoy and Randy George (on bass guitar). Guitar virtuoso Phil Keaggy made a guest appearance on guitar and vocals. The album, titled One, is about man's relationship with God from his Christian perspective and was released on November 2, 2004.

In 2005, Morse released two non-prog Christian albums. In January, Morse recorded Lead Me Lord with the Christian Gospel Temple Choir, his children, and his friends. Morse wrote about half of the tracks. This was released in February and is available for a donation. In July, Morse released God Won't Give Up, which was written around the Snow period. This is a pop album similar to It's Not Too Late, but with Christian lyrics.

In the summer of 2005, a member of his church approached Morse to tell him that he should make an album based on the tabernacle and that he should keep it a secret. Morse mentioned that he was working on a secret project before he had written a note or was convinced that he should do the project, and mentioning it during a radio interview created enough buzz to convince him to make the album. There was a contest on his message board to guess the participants, theme, and meaning of the album based on a series of clues. The secret project was finally revealed to be ? (also known as The Question Mark album, rumoured to be influenced in title by The White Album) and is about the tabernacle in the wilderness and the tabernacle of the heart. The main band is Neal, Mike Portnoy, and Randy George with guests Mark Leniger, Alan Morse, Roine Stolt, Steve Hackett, and Jordan Rudess.

In early 2007 Morse released his latest Christian Progressive rock album entitled "Sola Scriptura" which is a concept album detailing the life and struggles of the German theologist Martin Luther. Mike Portnoy and Randy George once again teamed up with Morse for this album, and were also joined by guest musician Paul Gilbert (of Racer-X and Mr. Big) who played guitar parts for a few of the songs from the album.

Immediately following the release of "Sola Scriptura", Morse released an acoustic folk album entitled "Songs From The Highway".

Morse's Christian-themed albums seem to be part of a new sub-genre of progressive rock called 'Cprog'.

Guest appearances
Morse has been a guest musician on several 2005 albums, including Ajalon's Threshold Of Eternity, Roine Stolt's Wallstreet Voodoo, Salem Hill's Mimi's Magic Moment, and Mark Leniger's Walk on Water. Neal Morse tracks have also appeared on the CPR Volume 1 (2004), CPR Volume 2, and The Tsunami Projekt anthologies. Morse was also participated in recording the ProgAID single "All Around The World." The profits for both The Tsunami Projekt and the ProgAID single were donated for victims' relief from the 2004 Asian Tsunami. Earlier, in 2000, Morse provided vocals for the song The First Man On Earth on The Universal Migrator Part 1: The Dream Sequencer, one of Arjen Anthony Lucassen's Ayreon albums.

Christian progressive rock albums
* Testimony (September 2003)
* One (November 2004)
* ? (November 2005)
* Sola Scriptura (March 2007)

Non-progressive rock albums
* Neal Morse (October 1999)
* Merry Christmas From The Morse Family (2000)
* It's Not Too Late (June 2001)
* God Won't Give Up (July 2005)
* Lead Me Lord (Worship Sessions Volume 1) (August 2005)
* Send the Fire (Worship Sessions Volume 2) (March 2006)
* Cover to Cover (September 2006)
* Songs From The Highway (March 2007)

* The Transatlantic Demos (2003)
* The One Demos (2007)

* Testimony Live (DVD, July 2004)

Inner Circle (fan club)
* Inner Circle CD #1 (May 2005)
* Inner Circle DVD #1 (July 2005)
* Inner Circle CD #3 - Live In Berlin (September 2005)
* Hit Man (November 2005)
* Whispers in the Wind - Acoustic Improvisations (January 2006)
* Neal Morse in the 80's! (March 2006)
* The Europe Winter 2006 Church Tour DVD (May 2006)
* Hodgepodge (July 2006)
* Question Mark & Beyond - Tour of Europe 2006 DVD (October 2006)
* Live at the Kings Center DVD (October 2006)
* Let's Polka (October 2006)
* With a Little Help from My Friends (January 2007)
* Homeland (March 2007)

Collaborations and guest appearances
* Windows - Mr. Bongo (1988) (Background vocals)
* Stephen Longfellow Fiske - Stephen Longfellow Fiske (1991) (Acoustic & electric guitar, background vocals)
* Paul Voudouris - The Flame Within (Keyboards)
* Peter White - Excusez-moi (1991) (Vocals)
* Al Stewart - Famous last words (1993) (Backing vocals)
* Paul Voudouris - It Takes Two (1993) (Piano)
* Peter White - Promenade (1993) (Background vocals)
* Paul Voudouris - Nothing But the Truth (1997) (Piano)
* Eric Burdon's i Band - The Official Live Bootleg - Vol II (1998) (Keyboards, guitar)
* Ayreon - The Dream Sequencer (2000) (Vocals and co-wrote lyrics on "The First Man On Earth")
* Yellow Matter Custard - Live in NYC (album) (double Live album) (2003) (Lead vocals and co-producer)
* Debbie Bresee - Song of the Overcomer (Sep 2004) (Co-producer)
* ProgAID - All Around The World (EP) (Mar 2005) (Vocals)
* Yellow Matter Custard - Live in NYC (DVD) (May 2005) (Lead vocals and co-producer)
* Ajalon - On The Threshold Of Eternity (Aug 2005) (Vocals on title track)
* Roine Stolt - Wallstreet Voodoo (Nov 2005) (Lead vocals on "Head Above Water", "Everyone Wants To Rule The World", and "Remember"; background vocals on "The Observer" and "All About The Money"; and hammond organ)
* Salem Hill - Mimi's Magic Moment (Nov 2005) (Vocals on "The Joy Gem")
* Mark Leniger - Walk on Water (Nov 2005) (Producer, keyboards, guitar, and bass guitar)
* Al Stewart - Just Yesterday (2005) (Backing vocals)
* Wade Brown Trio (Wade Brown, Neal Morse, and Chris Griffith) - Wade Brown Trio (Sings, plays, and producer)
* Richard Morse - Rychyrd (Jan 2006) (Producer and solos)
* Randy George - Mirrors and Memories (2006, forthcoming)
* Alan Morse - 4 O'Clock & Hysteria (2007) (Co-producer, co-writer, keyboards)

* Various Artists - CalProg 2004 The Authorized Bootleg (Includes 7 unaccompanied live tracks)
* Various Artists - CPR Volume 1 (Apr 2004) (Contributed single version of "I Am Willing" from Testimony)
* Various Artists - CPR Volume 2 (Jun 2005) (Contributed "Reunion" from One)
* Various Artists - The Tsunami Projekt (Mar 2005) (Contributed "Tell Me Annabelle" which was later included on Inner Circle CD #1)
* Various Artists - After The Storm (Jan 2006) (Contributed previously unreleased live version of "Sleeping Jesus" recorded at CalProg 2003) =>>>>>>>>>>>

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Neal Morse Interview

Story/Interview by Chris Beck @ Hard Music Magazine
How many of us, if we were at the top of our profession, would quit what we were doing and choose to do something else? Be honest, it would be very hard to remove yourself from something that you’ve worked so hard to attain, especially when there are no guarantees that you would be successful at whatever it is you do next. That is exactly what Neal Morse did a few years ago. On faith, he left Spock’s Beard, one of the best, if not the best, progressive rock bands at the time. Leaving behind the band’s success as defined by the world’s standards Neal heeded God’s calling and pursued a solo career. Having just released his third solo album since leaving the band, it seems that things have turned out well. We recently caught up with Neal to discuss the new album and to reflect back on his music career.

Chris Beck: Your new album just came out. Why don’t you go ahead and tell us a little bit about it, specifically the writing and recording process.
Neal Morse: Well, let’s see, the writing and recording process. It all started with a visit from a friend. He dropped by about December of last year, so almost a year ago he stopped by the house. He said, “Hey, I’ve been praying and I felt like the Lord laid it on my heart to come over here and talk to you about this idea that I have about doing a rock concept album about the tabernacle in the wilderness.” And so I said, "I don’t really want to do another concept album."

Your first two solo albums are concept albums, after all.
Yeah, Testimony and One, but he was really excited about it and he was like, "Yeah, make it mysterious. Testimony and One are good, but it would be really cool ... it’s more intriguing to people if you veil it. You know, the way the Old Testament veils its ... all this symbolism, but it’s kind of hidden and you really have to search it out. See if you can get people interested in searching things out." The whole thing about this album, it originally was called My Secret Project and that was all inspired by my friend, Paul. I didn’t think I was really going to do it. At the time that we had that conversation, he said, “Yeah, next time try this. Next time you’re talking to somebody and they ask you what you’re working on next, tell them ‘it’s a secret and just watch what happens.’” I was like, “Oh man, that’s not going to work.” But the next time I was doing the interview, I had kind of forgotten about it – it was about three weeks later, and it just kind of came out of my mouth, “Oh, it’s a secret, you know,” and the guy stopped and said, “Oh, I’m intrigued.” And so then I became committed, once I said that, I was like, 'Well, I better come up with something really good.' And then I feel like the Lord really helped me. It was several months later – I didn’t write a note to him for months after that and there was already sort of a little bit of a buzz happening about what is Neal’s secret project. And so I just began to feel like it was right, it was the right thing, so then I wrote the whole thing in about ten days. I came back from Europe last February and just began to really write it in earnest. I sat there with the tape recorder at my piano, really, and just wrote the whole thing. Then we recorded it – we did the basic tracking at the end of May, so between February and May was the writing and the demo phase. I demoed the whole thing and sent it to Mike and Randy to see what they thought, and then they came out and then they put their two cents, or ten cents, in. And then I finished the album by the end of July.

It is interesting, the concept of the tabernacle. It seems like a fairly specific concept to base an album on. You do a very good job of relating the temple or the tabernacle to us as Christians by the end of the album, but do you feel it has turned out well – the message that you wanted to convey on the album?
Well, I think if you really dig, if people will really dig into those Scriptures that I put in the booklet, and really hook into all those things, there’s a lot of ... there’s some real deep stuff in there. I mean, not of mine. I’m not, like, bragging or anything, but there’s some... I think there’s some pretty meaty...You know, Paul talks about how, 'I fed you with milk, because you couldn’t stand the meat.' I think there’s some meat for people if they’re hungry for meat. There’s some hidden in that album, there’s some pretty juicy stuff.

How exactly do you pronounce the album title? Is it “The Question” or “Question Mark?”
I call it Question Mark.

Why did you decide to name it Question Mark as opposed to some of the other titles you had mentioned?
Well, it was all about this searching out thing. I wanted people to search it out for themselves. I think it’s much more powerful when you discover something for yourself, rather than if somebody just gives you something or tells you about something. If you feel like you really discovered it, it’s a lot more powerful.

Now, as we just mentioned, this is your third main solo album, all of which have been concept albums. Can we maybe expect a non-concept album in the future? Do you like to write that way generally?
Well, I guess I do now. I didn’t before. I really have resisted it in the older days. Back in the old days of Spock’s Beard, people I remember were saying, 'You guys need to do a big concept record. I mean, come on, you’re a prog band, what’s the deal?' So we finally did one, you know, with Snow and then I guess I couldn’t get it out of my system, because I have not made a regular progressive rock album – that wasn’t a concept album – since the year 2000 or so.

On Question Mark, you do have a couple songs on there that are a little bit heavier. I noticed, specifically, “In The Fire” and “Solid as the Sun.” There are some riffs on there that are pretty heavy. Is that something that you set out to do with this album, or did that just happen in the writing process?
It just kind of happened. It happens in the recording process a lot of times, because, like, I got this really good amp. I borrowed this really good guitar. When you can get those sounds, and they sound really good, you want to turn them up. And a lot of times in the past my guitar sounds just weren’t that good, so I didn’t really want to turn them up that much.

Similar to your other solo albums, Question Mark was self produced. Have you considered working with other producers in the past, or maybe on future albums?
I never have really had the opportunity. I don’t even know what it’s like to really be produced.

Even with Spock’s Beard, it wasn’t done that way?
No, no, I really produced that along with the rest of the band. But you know, I was really the overseer of the thing, that’s how I see the producer’s role. I’ve never actually formally worked with a producer. It would be an interesting thing to try one day.

Might be interesting to see what the music turns out to be.
Yeah, I don’t know, it might be torture.

Or you may learn some new things.
I might learn some new things, amen.

On Question Mark, you brought in, as you typically have, studio musicians like Mike Portnoy, or Phil Keaggy and Kerry Livgren in the past as well. Is this the way you like to work? Do you ever see yourself having a full time band?
I don’t know that’s something to pray about really. In each step I kind of just, you know, I take the next step that feels right. It’s an interesting possibility. I haven’t really thought about having a regular band, because I don’t really have that much for them to do. It’s not like I’m a big touring guy.

Well, do you have any plans to tour with this album?
We don’t have a plan, for one, you know that’s another thing I’m praying about. I’d like to avoid doing the standard music business thing. I don’t want to do things because that’s the way generally people do it. I want to do things that are of God, and inspired by Him, so I’m just kind of waiting on the Lord about that touring thing. I’d love to, but you know I don’t want to do it unless He’s in it.

We mentioned Spock’s Beard. There are some people that would say that you left that band kind of at its peak of its popularity and success. How do you feel about that?
Yeah, I guess it was. It was growing all the time a little bit, you know a little bit every year it seemed like it was and you know it’s a disappointing thing business wise for all of us, you know. I mean I’d like to be selling, it’s nice to sell a lot of records and I don’t sell as much records as I did then, and they don’t either. But you know I’m not about sales or I would have stayed there.

So do you have any regrets at all about leaving the band or maybe some regrets about things that happened when you left the band?
No, not really. I feel like it was right and it was the right time and God knew, and He led me every step of the way. I mean every step of the way. Even when I went, when I flew out there, the morning I was flying out there to tell them, I had no idea how it was going to happen. I was just praying, “God, how am I going to tell them?” You know, in a restaurant or something? The place where we normally record was one big room. I didn’t want to tell them in front of like the engineer and stuff. You know, we had to be alone. So anyways the last minute the studio we always, always recorded in was booked, and so Nick said “Oh, well, there’s this other place I’ve been wanting to try, this friend of mine has.” So, the bottom line is I get there, and this place has a separate upper room lounge. I saw it, and I just went, “Oh, wow.”

Perfect setting.
I really felt like the Lord was just leading all the way, you know, in every facet of it.

Did it come as a shock to the band at the time?
Yeah. I mean it was a shock to me too in a way. I mean, although I had many months to pray about it and you know grieve about it and everything before that, it was still, it’s still like, I don’t know if you’ve ever had that kind of experience where you’re...

Where the Lord’s called you to do something or lead you to do something and you’re not sure if you want to do it?
Well...I don’t know if it’s a matter of your want, if you’re feeling His desire, but you’re still wondering if you’re really going to go through with it.

Yet you take the comfort that you know you’re doing the right thing because that’s what He wants you to do.
Yeah, but you’re still not sure the whole time whether you’re really going to do it or not, maybe something will happen, and it will you know change at the last minute or maybe you’ll chicken out. Up until the last minute I was still thinking, “Am I really going to do this?”

Unfortunately flesh often I guess wins more often than it should, right?
Yeah, sometimes.

Well, I guess after you left Spock’s Beard, your first major solo album was Testimony, which is kind of your life story from your early days to your conversion to Christianity. Knowing that people would be listening to that throughout the years over and over, how hard was it to write that album?
Oh, well, that was a real joy. I mean, I’d been struggling, one of the struggles in writing Snow was how do I take all this stuff that’s in my heart and veil it so that nobody knows it’s overtly a Christian album? You know, how do I take “Love Beyond Words” and “Wind at My Back” and how can we make this a Spock’s Beard album? And so there were times when it was a little bit frustrating because I couldn’t just say what I wanted to say. So in Testimony, I really just said what I wanted to say purely and I really felt again like it was just a real gift from God to be able to do that and the way that it all poured out, what a gift it was. I’m just grateful to the Lord that He blessed me. Just the experience of writing that album was wonderful.

Sounds great. It’s interesting you talk about veiling the lyrics on Snow. I’ve wondered, you’ve obviously gained many new fans with your solo work, yet I’m sure a lot of your fans are from the base from your Transatlantic or Spock’s Beard days. Your lyrics are now quite bold. The message is very, I mean, there’s hidden messages in there as you say, but there’s also very blatant messages. How have those fans, some of your older fans if you will, reacted to your current lyrics?
Well, surprisingly, a lot of them were really very into it. There’s a lot of people that are, they’ll even say, I’m not a Christian, and I’m not generally, I don’t like Christian music, but I’m really into this, and so it’s amazing, you know, really how great everybody’s been.

Well, I think Christian music as a whole is improving, but I think that people hear limited pieces of it and they get the feeling, gee, this isn’t the same quality that I might hear on the radio or that I’m generally listening to, so that might be part of their reaction, because your music tends to be of a higher quality, but in a limited sub-genre of Christian music. How do you view now the prog rock sub-genre of Christian music? Is it growing?
Yeah, it’s growing, it sure is. You know, I always say, I’m just grateful that there is any kind of...I was grateful in the olden days that there was, when people say, “Well, what do you think of the prog rock scene?” I’m just glad that it exits. I spent so many years just floundering around with no audience, you know, I’m just always grateful if anybody cares anywhere, so I think it’s wonderful that there’s people that are really enthusiastic about what I’m doing. There’s other people that are doing it, that are doing some really good things. I think Randy George’s band Ajalon, Carl Groves’ Salem Hill has some very good things, Glass Hammer has some good Christian oriented things and of course Kerry Livgren’s stuff is great. I’m probably forgetting some, but you know, there’s some people doing some really good work out there, so it’s encouraging.

Neal, how do you view the music you create? Is it art? Is it a way to make a living? Is it a ministry?
Well, I mean, how I view it, is I guess maybe it’s different. It’s like a calling. There’s ministry involved, and I’m real interested in that, and I think that’s part of the calling, but part of it is just you know the gift that God planted in me. I’m trying to use it as purely as I can and I’ve always been like that really. I’ve always been trying to write whatever it is, just, basically, let yourself be used as an instrument, and kind of let go, and let God write through you, you know, so it’s really not even, when I’m writing and stuff, I’m not really thinking about any of those things, like about myself, or even really about other people. I’m trying to let God work through me and say whatever He wants to say to people. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant or anything.

Well, no, if you’ve got the gift...
It’s as honest as I can be about it. I’m not really trying to do anything in particular.

Are you involved with any other ministries, such as at your church or anything like that?
Oh yeah, I’m real involved in my church. I direct the choir at the church and I’m involved in music and play bass for the church band, and speak every now and again. At our church, we have kind of an open forum.

How’s that?
Anybody who feels moved in the Holy Ghost can get up and speak.

What church do you go to?
It’s called Christian Gospel Temple. Actually, Some of our services are now being I think put online at, I think. But yeah, it’s powerful. It’s not what you would expect, I mean, from me. You might think that I’d be going to some real rockin’ church. I used to go to some rockin’ churches, but I didn’t really feel anything that much. And then I talked about that on Testimony, stepping into this old fashioned church and feeling kind of out of place. But that’s the place where the Lord has planted me, and the place where I feel the Spirit consistently the strongest. The Lord’s really dealing with us there. It’s awesome.

With the albums that you create, can you make a living from doing that? Do you work outside your music career?
I am able to support myself and my family through just doing music.

I think that’s important. A lot of the readers out there might think, well hey, we’re going to work a couple of hours a night on this demo, or whatnot, but there’s just no way we can ever “make it” or make a living from this. I think it’s encouraging to know that some people in the Christian industry actually can do that. It’s a limited number, I’m sure, but some can.

Outside of your recent solo albums, what are your favorite albums that you sang on and why?
Favorite albums probably Beware of Darkness with Spock’s Beard, I think Bridge Across Forever from Transatlantic, and what else? I think this new Roine Stolt album that I sang on, the guy from the Flower Kings, came to me and I recently sang on his solo album.

How long do you see yourself creating prog rock? Do you feel like you’re just getting on a roll now? You’ve kind of obviously had a career shift here a few years ago, a significant one. Do you see yourself doing this for a while?
I don’t know. I try not to see myself. I try to let the Lord, you know, lead. I don’t know. I think one of the things that makes me a really boring interview is that I don’t usually have answers to those things, because I don’t feel like God really works that way with us. I heard something great when I was it was actually during the time when I was in the valley of decision about whether or not to quit Spock’s Beard and Transatlantic a guy said at my church, “The Lord doesn’t give us a flood lamp for our future, He gives us a light for our next step.” You know, as the Psalms say, His Word is a light unto my pathway and a lamp unto my footsteps. So he said, yeah, if we’re foolish enough to just take that next step with Him...he was tying it in with that Scripture about the foolish things of the world confound the wise, 1 Corinthians, and if we’re foolish enough to take that next step with Him, He’ll lead us through all the way. Like at that time, I felt like the Lord was like, just take this next step, and then await further instructions. That’s pretty much where I’m at all the time. I’m just taking the next step whatever it is that’s in front of me. So I don’t know what’s going to come next.

I was going to ask that. The new album just came out, obviously, but do you feel like, what is the next step for you?
Well, I’ve just written some music for my choir at church, and we’re going to do the chorale program at Christmas, so next is Christmas.

Just around the corner...
So, we’ll be doing that, and then I’ll be probably working on some new music, and we’ll see where that leads us.

What’s the story on the Inner Circle? Why did you start that?
On my web site,, I ‘ve got something called the Inner Circle that people can join and get specialty CDs and like, for example, this month we sent out, I wrote a Broadway musical in the early 90’s. Things like that--really rare specialty items and things so I like to let people know about that.

Neal, any last words for the readers of Heaven’s Metal?
Well, God bless you all. Praise the Lord with your life. You’ll be glad. It’s good. It’s the best life you can live.

© Copyright 2006, HM Magazine. All rights reserved =>>>>>>>>>>>

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