A prolific American multi-instrumentalist and progressive rock composer based in Nashville, Tennessee, Neal Morse developed a love for music at a young age. He formed the quirky-named Spock’s Beard with his brother, Alan, recording “The Light” with what little money they could scrape together. Against all odds, it was a breakout success, sending shock waves through the small genre’s community. Fast forward to today, Morse fronts the Neal Morse Band, his latest musical installment, currently touring through Europe, with a North American summer tour in the pipeline during the months to come. In addition, be sure to check out Morsefest 2015 DVD set, a once-in-a-lifetime live concert that takes you through the entire production.
— — —
Sean Ritchie: Let’s touch on Nashville, Tennessee to start this off. Describe the city and its atmosphere a bit. Where would you tell a first-time visitor to go if they’re coming for the first time?
Neal Morse: I think Nashville is a great city. Recently, in another interview, I realized that I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. When I first moved here I didn’t have the life that I have now. I was basically this down-and-out songwriter, like a lot of people that move here trying to get into the publishing business. That was in 1995, but since then the progressive rock music that I started in Los Angeles before I left has taken off, and now I have an actual career.
The thing that is so special about Nashville for me, is that I travel a lot now because of touring, and the airport is the greatest. It’s the best airport in the world. Very often, more times than not, there’s nobody in the security line. I’ll get from the curb to the gate in no longer than 15 minutes. It’s pretty amazing. So, there’s that and I also need to be near a music center, which really would be LA, Nashville or New York. I draw on the studios, engineers and background music to work on my albums. Between those three, Nashville is definitely the one. A lot of the places everyone goes is Broadway, Second St. where all the musicians are playing 24-hours-a-day and I like Centennial Park a lot. It’s just a cool hang. Nashville’s a very cool hang.
SR: I’ve actually never been, but it’s one if the top American cities on my list. To bring it back a little bit, how did music first initially peak your interest? When did you say to yourself this is what you want to do for your career?
NM: For one thing, my dad was a choir director. Music was really “the thing” in my house as I was growing up. Some families are sports families; we were a music family. The things that really stand out to me were seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Then, when I was 12 years old seeing Yes open for Black Sabbath. I was also in several different types of productions. Music just became my true love at a very young age.
SR: Fantastic. To fast forward a bit, I know you’re new DVD is coming out “Morsefest 2015” at the end of March. When I was reading up on it myself I saw that it was way past the music, and it goes into the production of it behind the scenes. Touch on your excitement for that release.
NM: I’m super excited. First of all, we play two albums in their entirety that are among my favorites, and also among the favorites of the ban, “Sola Scriptura” and the “Question Live” album. We also do a lot of extra stuff. Phil Keaggy joins us, he’s so amazing. Nick D’Virgilio, formally of Spock’s Beard, came and did some songs and played the drums with us, as well. I think the presentation of those albums were absolutely first rate. The Neal Morse Band, the musicians, Mike Portnoy, Eric Gillette, Bill Hubauer — absolutely first rate. The strings, the horns, the choir in the background, the dancers, the percussion, the video screens — the whole is as excellent as we could possibly make it.
SR: I actually watched the trailer that you guys put out. It looks really cool, and I can’t wait to see the release.
NM: Yes, we spared no expense creating this thing. I think that people are going to love it.
SR: That’s amazing. Now, to tie this all into travel, on a broader level how does music and travel fit together for you?
NM: Wow, well I travel a lot and I always take a baby guitar and a small keyboard with me. I practice and I even write music on airplanes quite often actually. I find myself many times writing more when I’m traveling or on vacation, than when I do when I’m home, because [there’s so many other things] to take care of at home. I really enjoy traveling generally. If I get too tired or have too long of a day, it kind of troubles me and I can get a little edgy. We just took a bus tour of America and I enjoyed that. We’re now on a European tour, as well. I really enjoy it.
SR: One of our biggest objectives with SCP is to bring people together while traveling, and there are a lot of parallels with that and music. You travel the world putting together shows doing it with your music. It doesn’t matter where they’re from or what language they speak, they can still listen to the music and be one in that moment. How special is having the ability to congregate people in that way?
NM: It’s incredible, especially for me, I think have the success come rather late in life makes me appreciate it even more. It’s the amazing grace of God every day at every gig. It’s amazing to travel to somewhere like Brazil, begin to play and they all start singing your keyboard melodies. It really is an incredible thing, especially with the progressive rock music, it means so much to the people. The relationship that people have with the music is really deep, and that means a lot to me.
SR: I know that you’re well-traveled, but are there any countries or destinations that you haven’t been to yet, that you still want to hit?
NM: Yes! I have an offer to play in South Africa. I’ve never been there. That’s really fancy to me. I’ve been to Egypt and some other places in Africa, but I think that’s it. I have not been to China. I would like to go there. I haven’t been to many other places in Southeast Asia. I would really like to do that. Australia and New Zealand are two more that I’ve never been either. I have a lot of places that I still have to cover.
SR: I’ve never been to New Zealand either, but the pictures you see of the scenery seem like another world. So, when you do have some downtime and you’re on vacation, are you looking for a beach setting, somewhere in the mountains or in the center of a city somewhere?
NM: Really, I like it all. Definitely more of the beach or mountains, not so much the city. I’m always playing in cities, and my family likes to do things in the city, but more the beach or mountains. We just came back from Vail, Colorado, did some time skiing in the mountains. That’s one of our favorites.
SR: To wrap this up, touch on your excitement for this European tour, playing “Similitude of a Dream”. Then, looking forward, you’re playing a summer tour around the United States, what are you excited about there?
NM: Yeah, we’re touring Europe until April 12th. We have a concert in Tel Aviv, Israel during that time. We’re also going to South America in June. We have more American dates in August. We have Moresfest 2017 coming in September too. It’s going to be a busy couple of months, but it’s nice because it’s spread out.