INTERVIEW: Neal Morse

Picture it. Neal Morse has just jumped in a cab to go grab some dinner. The radio’s playing, the driver’s talking, and Peter from I Heart Guitar calls to chat about your very special, unique Australian tour which comprises of just two spontaneous acoustic shows before you head off on holiday. (Those shows are Friday, January 31 at the Evelyn Hotel in Melbourne and Saturday, February 1 at Crowbar in Sydney. Tickets here.). And it actually turns out to be a pretty cool talk.

I Heart Guitar: This is a really interesting tour and I think, you know, a rare chance to see you playing in a format that we don’t often get to see you in.

Neal Morse: Yeah, yeah. It’s really an intimate thing. You know, you get an opportunity to be more spontaneous than you can as a band, you know, a lot of times the band shows are great, but you know, they pretty much have to have a set list and know exactly what you’re going to do and what doesn’t work. And you have the video guides and all that stuff that production need to know what to do with this. But with this I can be more spontaneous.

I Heart Guitar: Yeah. I mean it’s something I’ve seen a few more people do these days and I guess it’s one of those things where as the music industry changes and there’s less money to be made, less of a living, I don’t want to say less money cause that makes it sound materialistic. That’s a good living to be made from releasing music. But there are more opportunities to present it in different ways. Like you know, Devin Townsend has just done an acoustic tour followed by like a live band followed by one show with a very specific metal lineup. Now he’s about to do another tour with a whole different band all for the same album, re-contextualized and over and over just to kind of see where he can take it now. Whereas I guess once upon a time, you know, bands might have put out the record and then toured the same show for two years.

Neal Morse: Right. Yeah, that’s true. Let’s see. Let’s just depends on the level of at and what’s your feeling to do, you know what I mean? I’m just glad to be able to come down here and have an audience to play my music for. I enjoy doing the solo thing and I enjoy doing the band things a lot too, you know, so I can understand why people would do a lot of different things, you know, because it’s just fun to mix it up, you know?

I Heart Guitar: You know, something that’s always kind of stuck in my mind about you is I can never tell who your audience is because so many different people rave about you, you know? And it’s like I’m a guitar nerd and I know who Joe Satriani’s audience is. But yours, I have no idea cause it’s like everyone.

Neal Morse: Well, yeah. You know, uh, mostly it seems like it’s mostly the prog audience but there’s some, there’s some overlap there with some other genres for sure.

I Heart Guitar: I think there are prog fans who only listened to a very narrow definition of prog, and maybe they’re musicians and think of things very critically from that point of view. And then there are others who are drawn to the genre because of the genre itself and how expansive it can be. And I think you get a lot of the second kind.

Neal Morse: You know, I used to think that about projects that if it wasn’t, you know, odd type signature, they wouldn’t accept it. And I found that I really, the opposite is true. There’s a lot of them who have really embraced a lot of my more quote-unquote ‘normal’ songs. And so I think everybody appreciates a good solid. I like that.

I Heart Guitar: So, being a guitar site, my readers are huge guitar nerds like me. So what do you play? Like what do you bring with you with a show like this?

Neal Morse: Oh, well you know this time because I’m going on vacation, actually right after this, so I asked if I could play the opening act guy’s guitar, so I didn’t bring a guitar or a keyboard actually! So I’m using all borrowed or rented stuff. All I did was bring pedals about like a little looper pedal and an inline tuner and a compressor. So if I want to solo above the loop, it’ll cut. And uh, that’s pretty much it. But I think it’s going to be really cool cause it’s it’s all about the material.

I Heart Guitar: Are you much of a collector of guitars and stuff?

Neal Morse: [To his wife in the cab] He’s asking if I’m much of a collector of guitars! I have quite a few. But you know, you never have all the ones that you really want. Yeah. I like, for example, I’ve never owned a Taylor. I mean that’s just not right, you know, but I don’t have a Taylor.

I Heart Guitar: Do you have any guitars that have interesting stories behind them? Any, you know, pawn shop finds or strange, serendipitous gifts or anything like that?

Neal Morse: Well that sort of blonde Strat that I usually play live. My brother Richard found it out of the Recycler, the nused newspaper in LA. He got that for like 150 bucks for like a birthday present. And the girlfriend that I had at the time bought that guitar for me in the 80s and all of that distress on there is, I actually inflicted it all! So it’s a real deal. You know, I, I play a lot of other guitars in studio, but for live, that one’s just home. Sometimes guitars are just home, you know?

INTERVIEW: Geoff Tate

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Hardline Media proudly present Geoff Tate’s Operation: Mindcrime! The legendary frontman returns to Australia with his band to perform the classic concept album “Operation Mindcrime” in its entirety, and much more. I caught up with Geoff on the eve of the tour to talk about what’s what, and my favourite Queensryche album, Promised Land.

I Heart Guitar: So first of all, I was really excited to get the chance to interview you again. We spoke, jeez, years ago for the Gibson guitars website once, and I remember that that chat for me was at like 4:00 AM and we had a great old talk. But yeah,, you’re coming to Australia and I can’t wait!

Geoff Tate: Yeah, I’ll be there. Uh, it’s, I guess a few weeks in February. I think it’s going to be my fourth time in Australia.

I Heart Guitar: Yeah, I know the first time I ever saw Queensryche was on my birthday in Melbourne in 2005, 2006? It was the Operation: Mindcrime tour, which takes us to this new tour. Of course Operation: Mindcrime is something for a signature for you and that’s kind of the, the main focus of this tour. You probably get this question a lot, but how has that album changed for you over the years? Like there are things on there that still very much matter today, just in different forms.

Geoff Tate: Yeah, that’s crazy. We were just talking about that at that rehearsal tonight, talking with some of the guys from my band about how some of these lyrics just really, uh, you know, they, they still kind of stand up today, you know, the subject matter is similar or same and uh, like I guess it’s because, you know, the album is, um, deals with a lot of social issues and, and also with, um, kind of classic themes of, um, human beings and how we, uh, tend to try to dominate each other oftentimes in those are classic subjects that, uh, you know, I don’t know if we’ll ever, ever get, I’d be different as a species, you know, we’re pretty much kind of stuck in our ways, you know, but I think a lot of, lot of the, lot of the themes, yeah, they’d definitely stand up today, you know?

I Heart Guitar: Yeah. Especially in terms of not just people in power, but people in power, manipulating people who aren’t in power, but making them think they’re getting something out of it when they’re really being used.

Geoff Tate: Yeah. That’s a classic thing right there!

I Heart Guitar: So I’ve been watching a lot of videos in preparation for this interview of the current guys you’ve been playing with. And I’ve got to say like, you really seem to be inhabiting this material. You’re not just reciting it. And every time I see you play, every time I see a video of you on stage, you, you’re not, you’re not just reciting these songs, you are performing them in the moment. You’re not necessarily singing things the same way twice, but it’s still the song and it feels like it’s very real to you.

Geoff Tate: Yeah, it is very real. Yeah. And I honestly don’t know any other way to approach it other than what it is. That’s just me being me, you know? But, uh, I have to say I’ve really enjoyed, um, the last year or two of playing this record again and uh, you know, presenting it for people. And I’m quite surprised that the tour has lasted as long as it has. In fact, Australia, it will be the last shows that we’ll, um, we’ll be playing it. In fact, we weren’t, we were planning on being finished a tour with this album quite a while ago, but it just keeps having more and more leg, you know, to it, uh, promoters keep calling and wanting it, you know, and so I’ve, I’ve got to put, got to do something else now. So I’ve started getting ready to start the Empire, 30 year anniversary tour that starts in February. So, um, funny enough, I’m starting that in Norway of all places and then we finished that leg and we fly directly to Australia where we perform the last shows for operation Mindcrime. Then we, uh, go back to I think Sweden and start there and go back to our other set of the 30 year anniversary for Empire. We’re going to be flip flopping a little bit.

I Heart Guitar: Yeah. Yeah. I’m looking forward to when you get to Promised Land! That record was huge for me.

Geoff Tate: Oh wow! Yeah. Yeah. I love that album a lot. Yeah. I was just actually this weekend, this weekend, I was just up in San Juan Island where we recorded the Promised Land album and I was sort of reminiscing to some friends and my family was with me about all the places where we recorded and what we did while we were there and showing them some of the locations, you know, it was kind of fun going kind of going back to time

I Heart Guitar: What does that album mean to you now? Like it went so deep lyrically into a lot of things and to me it was like a new sound that was, you know, it was dark, it was aggressive, it wasn’t quite as, as pop oriented as, you know, as empire was. Did it feel like you were kind of treading new ground at the time?

Geoff Tate: Uh, yeah, it did. It felt like, um, well we hadn’t actually made music together as a band for, Oh, I guess three years. We took time off and just sort of tried to adjust to our, new surroundings that we found ourselves and after the success of Mindcrime and Empire. And I think that we were very separate, you know, as people and had moved on and from each other and, and you know, people had started, got married, started families, um, had divorces in that period of time. And we started up new businesses, took up hobbies, had children, you know, all kinds of life happened in that period of time. And so really, you know, to get the band sort of back into the headspace and creating, we decided to go to this remote Island and live up there and, and you know, make music again, in a studio that we built, and kind of tried to make the record in a real organic way. So that was the goal, really is to sort of come back together and see what we could, we could do again. I think the record was about that. It was about exploring what we had been through over the last few years and where we were at generally at at the moment, how we had progressed or declined or, you know, what was, what was feeding our inspiration at that point, uwas really the discovery, you know, really was, trying to find out what had been going on, you know. And, uh, so the album has a lot of, uh, I guess maybe more introspective soul searching kind of songs on it. And I think it’s the first record that we ever made in my mind that sort of captured a mood and kind of stuck with it, you know, which I wanted to.

I Heart Guitar: Well it’s interesting too because a lot of bands would come out of like a really big success like Empire and the next album would have been very literally about, “Oh yeah, the music industry is a hideous bitch goddess” and all this. Whereas as you said, it was more introspective, I guess it was about how you felt about what was going on rather than just describing what was going on, which there are so many albums out there like that which are like “Oh, I’m disillusioned because the music industry is different to how I thought it would be at this level.” But instead you didn’t do songs specifically saying, you know, “this is where our careers are at.” It was, “this is how I’m feeling.” And so that I think allows people to apply their own experiences to it, even though their experiences might be nothing like, what inspired it.

Geoff Tate: Yeah. That’s an interesting way of looking at it. A lot of people thought it was just too fucking melancholy.

TOUR DATES:

THUR 30 JAN – BRISBANE – THE ZOO

FRI 31 JAN – SYDNEY – MANNING

SAT 1 FEB – MELBOURNE – CROXTON

TICKETS and VIP M&G ON SALE NOW: www.hardlinemedia.net

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Mark Holcomb

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Yngwie

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