More than twenty years after his first release with Spock´s Beard, Neal Morse is still covering new ground.
His new solo album, “Life and Times”, is due for release on February 16 via his own label, Radiant Records, and will surprise the fans of his work with the Neal Morse Band, Flying Colors or Transatlantic. Quite a departure from prog or from his worship albums, “Life and Times” is a singer/songwriter release which shows the observational side of Neal. Most lyrics show how he sees the world around him and situations which may seem ordinary at a first glance, but assume a special meaning with Neal´s interesting takes.
Sonically, the album sounds NOTHING like you would expect from someone known as a prog mastermind: short songs, with pop sensibilities and choruses that wouldn´t sound out of place on a John Mayer or Jack Johnson album. A quick look at the song titles should give an overview of the album feel and atmosphere: “Livin´ Lightly”, “You + Me + Everything” and “Good Love Is On The Way”. The only time where things get dark is on the song selected to be in the first video of this release, “He Died At Home”. A poignant song, it deals with the death of a soldier, and it is also a personal story experienced by Neal. Check out the video below:
Neal is preparing for an intimate set of shows in North America and Europe and took some time talking to us and discussing this release.
Lotsofmuzik – Congratulations on the release of another solo album “LIFE AND TIMES”! It seems your main inspiration for your solo albums are slice-of- life portraits and observations, and judging by the main themes in the album, you´re in a happy place in your life right now!
Neal Morse – Literally so!
Lotsofmuzik – “Manchester”, “Selfie in the Square”, “Wave On the Ocean”…most songs on the album are feel good kind of songs, and yet the song chosen for a video was the poignant “He Died at Home”. Tell us a bit about the choice of that song to be the first “single”.
NM – We had shot three performance videos: “He Died At Home”, “Livin´ Lightly” and “JoAnna”. We were really excited about “He Died At Home”, because the guy we wrote the song about, William Busbee, his mother sent me video footage and photos of him when he was a little kid, and this made the video so powerful! A friend of mine said that December might be a good time to release that video because people have time off to sit and reflect, so
that was why we released that one first. I didn´t know if I should perform or even record that song – it´s just so gut-wrenching, and very different from the rest of the album. And then I played it at the Inner Circle concert at Morsefest in September, and it really had a tremendous impact – many people talked about it, and I did feel that impact. So I was encouraged about
that, and thinking that maybe this song would really make an impact and help people that have post-traumatic stress disorder to know that they´re not alone, and maybe it would help them just to hear that story.
Lotsofmuzik – I noticed a couple of songs have a country flavor. Do you find that living in Nashville, the mecca of country music, contributed to that?
NM – I don´t listen to country music all that much. The one song “Old Alabama” was written in the early 90s´. I was dating a girl then that was a country singer, and I wrote a few songs for her. That was actually one of the reasons why I moved to Nashville: I was floundering in L.A. and I thought maybe I could get some songs cut in Nashville. That never happened of course, but I found the whole rest of my life here [laughs]. So I have some old country songs, some of which I still really like, and “Old Alabama” was one of them. I always wanted to do a proper recording of it, and so I´m really thankful to be able to do that. Some of the other ones [on the
album] are honestly more influenced by Neil Young, John Mayer, Graham Nash…some of their records that I like and sit back to listen to have some country-flavored stuff. James Taylor, Jackson Browne…and I really like some of John Mayer´s acoustic albums.
Lotsofmuzik – One piece of information that´s missing from the press releases is what other musicians played with you on this record?
NM – The drummer is Scott Williamson, and he also really helped me arrange and choose the songs. I had about 19 songs originally, and I think we tracked 15, and then I had to choose the best 12 out of those, and it was really hard. I wanted it to be a shorter album, I feel like singer/songwriter albums should be shorter, but it was just hard for me to cut songs because I like them all so much. Richard Brimsfield is a local bass player, I played all the guitars and keys, Chris Carmichael on strings, and I got some local students to play the horns – the same young people that played at Morsefest, and they did a great job. My son Will is singing some backup
vocals and Julie Harrison of course is singing lead on “Old Alabama”.
Lotsofmuzik – You´ve just done Cruise to the Edge, and are ready now to embark on a few solo dates until June. How are the preparations for the tour going?
NM – I´m coming to Europe in June, and touring the US and Canada in a few days. I wanted to make it easier this time – going out for the weekend and coming back, and not doing a crazy eight months on the road kind of tour. I usually come back and rest on Mondays and Tuesdays, fly out on Wednesdays and come back on Sunday for church. This is the first time I´m doing it this way – with no crew, just me and a friend going out, and I´m really excited about it. I think is going to be really fun, and each night it´s going to be different. I´ll have different guests in different cities, and we´ll have more of a real non-theatrical production, but an intimate sharing of who I am and what´s going on with me and telling the stories behind the songs.
Lotsofmuzik – With the preparations for a new tour, have you had time to rediscover songs you had forgotten about on your other singer/songwriter albums?
NM – Some of them, yeah, but we´ll have mostly new songs, and some sprinkling of songs from my catalog. Not every night, but I´ll be doing a little bit of Transatlantic, a little bit of Spock´s Beard, and maybe even a Flying Colors song here and there. I have a lot of stuff I wanna share! Just like the album, it´s gonna be hard to keep it short, because I don´t think a
concert like that should be very long either. I want this to be what I call a “wife-friendly tour” [laughs]. Bring your wife, bring your kids! [laughs]
Lotsofmuzik – I certainly won´t miss your date here in Toronto. And since you mentioned Flying Colors, what are the other plans for 2018? Could you give us an update on the recording of the NMB album and Flying Colors 3?
NM – Flying Colors 3 is still waiting in the wings. We are working on the new Neal Morse Band – that´s one of the things I´m doing this week while I´m home. But it´s kind of funny because I´m juggling things in my mind. A lot of my mind is on “Life and Times” and the upcoming concerts, so I have to shut that off and think about the Neal Morse Band and what would sound good in it. I feel like God is really helping me!
Lotsofmuzik – Speaking of juggling multiple things, how do you know which one of your projects a song is going to fit in when you find the inspiration to write a new one?
NM – It is a great challenge! And it´s very instinctive, it´s really just kind of feeling your way. A lot of times I feel like a bloodhound in the woods, sort of sniffing my way trying to find God’s perfect will in all of this music! [laughs]. Finding out what should be in and what should be out [of a record] is a challenge because sometimes there is so much good stuff…this is a good problem to have, but the challenge is to try to refine it, and do only the great things. A lot of the things that I write are good, but good just isn´t good enough. Everything has to be fully inspired, really touching deep, and whatever the purpose of the piece is, it´s gotta really do that. I need to feel like it´s not just good, but it´s the very best that you can do.
Lotsofmuzik – As a Christian, does it bother you that people who are not of the Christian faith listen to your songs? I know you´re a devoted Christian, and that most of his solo albums touch the Christian topic one way or the other, would you be open to writing an album of a different subject?
NM – I love that non-Christian people listen to my music and are blessed by it! I don´t have a problem with that at all, I feel very blessed to be a part of that. Actually, “Life and Times” is an album that is neither Christian nor prog. It´s kinda funny that I´m known as the Christian prog guy, right? And this album is a complete departure from that! [laughs]. But judging by the
reviews so far, it seems like it´s really finding a home in people´s hearts, so I’m thrilled!
Lotsofmuzik – You´re with Mike Portnoy [drums, Sons of Apollo, The Winery Dogs] on a couple of bands – Transatlantic, Neal Morse Band, Flying Colors…and at least from what is shown in the media, you guys have completely opposite personalities. He´s had some abrasive exchanges in social media in the past, but do you guys discuss that at all? And how did he become one of your best friends, both of you being of completely different personalities?
NM – Most of the time we´re very simpatico, and we´re very in sync. Sometimes we butt heads like all artists do. It has never really affected our friendship though…I think I can safely say for both of us that we really enjoy each other. We´re very different but we also have a lot of common ground, our sense of humor is similar. I´m pretty aggressive also…we´re both “let´s go for it, seize the day” kind of people at the end of the day. I think we really appreciate that about each other. It´s hard to explain why you have feelings for the people that you do, I just have this very special feeling for Mike, and he´s been such a good loyal friend as well as collaborator over the years, and I´m very grateful for my friendship with him.
Lotsofmuzik – Any plans of ever doing a Morsefest out of USA? Let’s say Europe, South America?
NM – Not yet, it´s been challenging enough just to do one here! Not that we haven´t talked about it, but so far we´re just trying to do one here every year and trying to figure that out.
Lotsofmuzik – Have you ever considered doing an album or a song in a foreign language? Spanish for example?
NM – Sure, I´d be up for that if the opportunity presented itself. But singing in a different language is quite tough when it´s not your mother tongue!
Lotsofmuzik – At this stage in your career you have so many albums to draw from in any project or band you´ve been involved with – how do you put together your setlists?
NM – I lean on Mike a lot for that if he´s involved in it! He´s really got a gift in that. You kind of learn over time about what people are gifted in, and it´s important to lean on other people´s gifts when you recognize that they´re stronger in it. There´s been a lot of times [discussing setlists] when I thought “Mike, that´s too long, or that´s too this, or too that!”. Then we´ll get out there and play it, and we´ll come back in the dressing room, and I´ll say “dude, you called it!”, and he´ll say “why do you ever doubt me!” [laughs]. And when I´m on my own [to choose a setlist] I pray a lot. I´ll be praying a lot before each of these concerts, trying to find out what´s
really going to move the group of people in the venue on that particular night. Every group of people is a little different, and every evening is a little different. I don´t want to get into a program, I´d rather try to move spontaneously and in the spirit.
Lotsofmuzik – What were your main influences as a musician when you first started, and do you find yourself influenced by more contemporary musicians these days?
NM – My primary influence when I was young was The Beatles, and then I moved to the hard rock stuff, like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Then I saw Yes opening for Black Sabbath and it totally changed my life! They had Bill Bruford and Rick Wakeman, I was 12 years old. I was influenced by a lot of different things. Even during that time, I was influenced by Crosby Stills& Nash, Steely Dan, Simon & Garfunkel…and more recently, as I mentioned, John Mayer has been quite an influence. I really like his songwriting a lot. Of anybody in the last ten years, he´s been influencing me more than anybody else.
Lotsofmuzik – Thank you for your time, and I hope I´ll catch you on the road in 2018!
NM – God bless you, and take care!
While Neal is still adding dates on this tour, the current tour schedule is as follows:
2/17: Nashville, TN
2/20: Cambridge, MA
2/22: Sellersville, PA
2/23 New York, NY
2/24: Asbury Park, NJ
3/17: Denver, CO
3/22: Decatur, GA
3/23: Charlotte, NC
3/28: Mesa, AZ
3/30: Whittier, CA
4/3: San Francisco, CA
4/5: Portland, OR
4/6: Seattle, WA
4/7: Salt Lake City, UT
4/11: Cleveland, OH
4/12: Evanston, IL
4/13: St. Louis, MO
4/14: Milwaukee, WI
4/18: Quebec City, QUE.
4/19: Montreal, QUE.
4/21: Toronto, ONT.
6/5: Stockholm, SE
6/6: Sandefjord, NO
6/8: Milan, IT
6/9: Pratteln, CH
6/11: Verviers, BE
6/12: Tilburg, NL
6/13: Utrecht, NL
6/14: Köln, DE
6/15: Bochum, DE
6/16: Aschaffenburg, DE
6/18: Sheffield, UK
6/19: York, UK
6/20: Glasgow, UK
6/21: Leicester, UK
6/22: London, UK
“Life and Times” is set for release on February 16 2018 via Radiant Records. The tracklist is shown below:
1. Livin’ Lightly
2. Good Love Is On The Way
4. Selfie In The Square
5. He Died At Home
6. She’s Changed Her Mind
7. Wave On The Ocean
8. You + Me + Everything
10. Lay Low
11. Old Alabama
12. If I Only Had a Day
Produced by Neal Morse.
All songs written by Neal Morse except Manchester written by Neal Morse and Geoff Bailie.
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