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?

NEWS: New releases 29/9/08

Frank Zappa – Joe’s Menage (Vaulternative)
Cryptically, the only information about this one on the Barfko Swill website states: “Newest Corsaga – for NOW! Rare 1975 thrillingness. Be very afraid of being Danish. Or not. Rant & Roll.” However, with pre-orders open now and the first CDs to be dispatched around October 1, we shouldn’t have to wait too long to find out what this one’s all about.

Dream Theater – Chaos in Motion [2 DVD] (Roadrunner)
This release marks Dream Theater’s 12,000th live album and/or DVD. It captures the 2007-08 Chaos In Motion tour. The DVD includes 3 hours of live performance, a behind the scenes documentary, live screen projection films, music videos and a photo gallery. There’s also a 5 disc set limited to 5,000 copies which combines the DVD and 3 audioCDs.

Trivium – Shogun (Roadrunner)
I had the pleasure of hearing early mixes of this one at a listening party attended by the band a few months ago. Some very cool ‘evil waltz’ triplet grooves will invite a few comparisons to Slayer, while Trivium downplays the Metallica influences so prevalent on The Crusade. Lots of hardcore shredding and some very powerful drumming underscore Matt Heafy’s return to demonic screaming, in addition to the more melodic vocal style introduced on the last album.

Neal Morse – Lifeline (Metal Blade)
Former Spock’s Beard guy turned Christian prog artist Neal Morse’s new album features performances by guitarist Paul Bielatowicz, Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy and Ajalon bass player Randy George. Paul Gilbert makes a special appearance on a bonus track. The cover reminds me of Great White’s ‘Hooked’ album, which I’m sure was not the intention. It’s also the 3,057th rock album to feature a song called ‘Leviathan.’

Tom Morello (The Nightwatchman) Rise to Power (Red Int/Red Ink)
Morello’s second album of leftist protest songs, this one gets big points from me for having a song called “The Lights Are On In Spidertown,” and for adding full band electric songs to the acoustic stuff. Morello’s distinctive voice and stripped down song structures are an interesting and valuable departure from the grunt of Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave, and his forthcoming tour will feature both acoustic and electric sets.