Becoming a music insider drastically changes your point of view on the musicians whose records you listen to. Some turn out exactly like you have imagined them to be, others are major surprises, either pleasant or unpleasant ones. Keyboardist and singer Neal Morse turned out to be exactly like I expected, exactly like the man who creates this kind of diverse and extremely complicated progressive rock with his own band Spock's Beard and a supergroup called Transatlantic that also features Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), Roine Stolt (Flower Kings) and Peter Trewavas (Marillion). Polite and serious, he told me everything I wanted to know about Transatlantic in mere 25 minutes of our telephone conversation. We talked about the band's new album "Bridge Across Forever," Transatlantic's live performances, relations with fans and inside the band and a lot of other things. OK, here it is, the Transatlantic interview.
MetalKings.com: My first question goes about the new album "Bridge Across Forever". I read in an interview last year that the first Transatlantic album was recorded in a week or like 10 days. Was it different this time? Did you again record in a week?
Neal: We did it a bit different this time, we got together to write at my house here. So we wrote together for four days and then we went into the studio here for about a week I think we finished early though. So we spent a little more time this time.
MetalKings.com: Do you think working like this is convenient or would you prefer spending even more time on the record?
Neal: I thought it was pretty good this time. The ideal thing would be if we could get together and, you know, work on the album, do the basic tracks and then kinda go away and do some parts on our own and then come back together, do some vocals and then go apart… you know, in a way that you make a normal record. But we so far apart and it's very expensive and a pain in the neck to get all of us together. So we had to do everything at once, all the things that we can do together. We did the basic tracks and some vocals, and some group vocals, and then we went home with our respective tapes to do overdubs. But I think that it was alright.
MetalKings.com: You have some guest musicians on the record. Did they record together with you at Nashville or did they work with DAT tapes too?
Neal: What do you mean guest musicians - the string quartet?
MetalKings.com: Yes, and also Chris Carmichael and Keith Mears (violin and saxophone respectively - ed.)
Neal: These are the guys that I work with here so they just came to my house and recorded here, yeah.
MetalKings.com: And who are the Elite Choir?
Neal: Oh, that's the choir of my church. But that's a joke, it's not the full choir, it's a small choir that other people sometimes call the Elite Choir, something they pull out for teasing each other.
MetalKings.com: "Bridge Across Forever" has a limited edition again that comes with a second disc containing demos and outtakes. Can you tell me what is the purpose of releasing it?
Neal: Well, it seemed to go well the first time around that we did it, a kind of extra disc with outtakes, and people really liked it, so we did it again. Fans really enjoy getting this extra disc, they like to hear the demos, to know where the stuff came from. We did it because the people enjoyed it, and that's a pin in the haystack.
MetalKings.com: Yes, I agree, it must be very interesting to listen to it. One of the songs featured there is "Smoke On The Water", which is not an obvious choice for a cover version for a band like Transatlantic. Why did you decide to do it?
Neal: Well, we didn't decide to do it. I'm playing drums on that, we're just messing around. We have engineers running DAT tapes all the time in the studio, so we can have references to what we're doing. Sometimes you have an idea for a piece of music and then you may forget exactly how it goes, so we can run the DAT back to hear it. You know, we were fooling around with that thing, Pete's playing organ, and I'm playing drums and Mike's playing bass and something like that. It's kind of a joke but it was fun.
MetalKings.com: The second disc also has an interactive section on it. Unfortunately, I don't own this version of the disc, so I would like to ask you what is there, what is on the interactive section?
Neal: You know, I haven't watched it! (cracks) I don't know! I need to do it, I need to watch it.
MetalKings.com: I would like to ask a question about your live performances. As far as I understand, you are going on a tour through Europe in November, right?
MetalKings.com: What songs are you going to perform? Songs from the first record, from the second record or something else?
Neal: I think it will be a mixed bag. We're gonna center it around the stuff from this new record, it is mostly what we'll do, but then we're gonna do some stuff from the live record ["Live In America" - ed.] and a few surprises, of course.
MetalKings.com: I remember reading your interview about a year ago, where you said that you would like the other three members of Transatlantic to be more involved in the songwriting process on the next album. Did it happen that way on "Bridge Across Forever?"
Neal: Yes, I think so, Mike and Pete were more involved in it, there are more Pete's themes, so I laid back more. It was really a lot more fun making this record for that too, for I wasn't zealous about everything. Yeah, I think we did get everybody more involved.
MetalKings.com: As I listen to the record I see some parts that are a sort of continuation of each other, like you have the "Motherless Children" section on "Duel With The Devil" and at the end of "Suite Charlotte Pike". Did you want to make a concept record?
Neal: Well, that was Mike's idea, actually. Mike wanted to have a sort of inter-song themes, he even wanted to have inter-album themes, like he wanted to take parts from the first album and follow them on that album. (cracks) That would have really been, you know, bizarre! But that was Mike's idea, he wanted to have those different themes flowing throughout the album.
MetalKings.com: "Bridge Across Forever" was released through Radiant Records. Did you look for a bigger company to release it or are you satisfied working with them?
Neal: Well, Radiant Records is my company.
MetalKings.com: Oh! I didn't know that, I'm sorry.
Neal: It's OK. And in Europe it's on Inside Out.
MetalKings.com: But are you planning to get a major deal for, maybe, a third Transatlantic record?
Neal: Oh yes, I imagine that we will. I think we've all been enjoying it, and it's a pretty popular thing, so let's see if we still like each other after we do this tour. (laughs)
MetalKings.com: So there aren't any plans for the third record, uh?
Neal: Well, there's nothing planned, but I think we're tending to.
MetalKings.com: You know, I would like to ask you something. You have your own band Spock's Beard, you have Transatlantic, you release solo records and you also own a record company. How do you find time for so many occupations? Do you ever sleep at all?
Neal: (laughs) Ah yes! And I actually have just gone camping with my family and I slept a lot. You wanna ask my wife? Actually, she thinks I'm a bit of a workaholic, but I don't think that I am. I've been taking a lot of time off lately, and writing the new Spock's Beard album. If you do music for a life, there is a lot that you can do.
MetalKings.com: So are you planning to release a new Spock's Beard album next year?
Neal: Yes, we're planning, but we wanna see how the record comes out and kind of let it develop on its own. Some of the albums have their own time frame, they might not want to be done in a time that they think that they should be done, but yes, we're planning on that.
MetalKings.com: I'd like to ask you about live records. As far as I remember, Spock's Beard has six live records and Transatlantic also has a live CD. Why do you do so many of them? Do you ant to capture a certain moments of history through the years? Do you do them for yourself mainly or for the fans?
Neal: Basically it is for the sake of the fans. Most of the live records have been for two reasons - the fans want it and the band needs money for tour support or something. That wasn't the case of Transatlantic. Transatlantic was like that we had some tapes from the American tour, and I figured that the fans would want it. I prefer a situation when these albums are not in record shops, when they are special fan items, you know. But Inside Out wanted to put it out in Europe, and we decided to have a live album. But basically it was because fans wanted me, they requested me through e-mail, they got to have it.
MetalKings.com: I see that you perform songs by The Beatles on every bonus disc (for Transatlantic albums) and on the live record. Are The Beatles of any special importance to you?
Neal: Oh, I think so. On all Transatlantic records The Beatles are the primary influence. They were my favorite band when I was a little kid and they are like my musical parents. The Beatles' influences are flying out of my mouth whether I am aware of them or not. We are The Beatles' fans, basically.
MetalKings.com: Is there a chance of seeing you live with Transatlantic or Spock's Beard in Russia, in Moscow?
Neal: Well, I hope so, that would be cool, that would be really great. Depends on how many records we sell there. But man, you can help us out.
MetalKings.com: So it depends on record sales, right?
Neal: I think so, yeah, depends on how many people they think are gonna show up.
MetalKings.com: In Russia we've had great problems with live shows due to the terrorist plane attacks on New York and Washington. Many shows have been cancelled here, but you are still embarking on the European tour that requires a transatlantic flight. Aren't you afraid that anything might happen?
Neal: Yes I am. A part of me is hoping that something would happen that I won't have to go.
MetalKings.com: You are going to be in Europe in November and do an entire tour. Who is going to be a support band?
Neal: There is no support, there is just us.
MetalKings.com: How long are you going to play?
Neal: For like two hours.
MetalKings.com: The problem is that I've never heard "Live In America" and I don't know what your shows are like. Do you prefer to improvise on the stage or do you stick to album versions because there is a lot of improvisation already?
Neal: Well… I like to do a bit of both. I like to generally stick to the album if that's the way I think it should be, and I like to stretch sections out, because I think that's important for the fans too, they don't want to hear it just… It's funny some people want to hear it like on the record, but some of them want to hear you stretch out. So we basically gonna do what we wanna do (laughs).
MetalKings.com: Let's go back to your last album, actually, to its title track "Bridge Across Forever". I like this song a lot, what was the inspiration for it?
Neal: I wrote that song a long time ago, so I don't exactly remember what was it. I have read Richard Bach's book "Bridge Across Forever" and I think it was influenced by that, but also I've read the book "The Bridges Of Madison County" and I was influenced by that too, this is kind of spiritual, etherial kind of love story, and I was influenced by that.
MetalKings.com: Transatlantic has a very good and informative web-site which is run by the same person who runs the Dream Theater web-site. Do you think that the Internet is important for the promotion of the band?
Neal: It's really important. I mean, we don't get any radio play, definitely, so it's pretty much the Internet and the press, you know. The Internet is like vital, it's really great for us prog bands, it's how we get around.
MetalKings.com: But the Internet has different sides, I mean, it has mp3s and audio files, which are easily to transmit. Actually you can find the entire bonus disc for "Bridge Across Forever" on the Internet for free.
Neal: Huh… I didn't know it. (pause) I think it's the downside of the Internet, obviously, that people can downloads stuff for free, but I don't think that it's good, I don't think that people want it, our fans anyway. People wanna have the real deal, they wanna have the actual item, you know what I mean? They wanna have the 32-page color booklet and the digi-book, they want the whole package. I don't think it's really hurting us much.
MetalKings.com: What's your own relation to the Internet? Do you communicate through e-mail or visit fans pages?
Neal: Not as much as I should.
MetalKings.com: So if somebody writes to you saying, "hi, I'm your biggest fan," will you reply to him at once or will it take some time?
Neal: Oh, my wife actually goes through a lot of that stuff, which is great. She goes to the thoughts list, through e-mail lists and she lets me know if there is something important in there, something that I should reply to. I really appreciate that, it's really good that she does that, because I don't really have the time, or let's put it this way - I don't want to spend the time that way, I should be writing, I figure, rather than entering e-mails, you know what I mean? Not the best use of my time. She checks out that stuff for me, which is great.
MetalKings.com: Would you like to play with any other famous musician in a superproject like Transatlantic or as a session musician? Are there any plans for any other collaboration outside Spock's Beard?
Neal: Oh, I've talked about some things, but it looks like nothing of that will come true. I'd like to do an album with Steve Morse, for example, and my older brother, this Morse, Morse & Morse album or something, you know, and I once liked these ideas for other projects, and I think that would be fun. But nothing survived or looks like it's actually gonna come true. My hands are full as it is, I don't really need any more projects.
MetalKings.com: Yes, I see. What are you listening to these days? What are your favorite records at the moment?
Neal: What am I listening to? I'm listening to the new Flower Kings (band of Roine Stolt, Transatlantic's guitarist - ed.) quite a bit, and… (pause) What have I been listening to? Oh, let's see. (apparently looks through his record collection) I've been listening to Ben Folds (not sure about the name - ed.), I've been listening to a Christian author by the name of Chris Rice. I like Derek Sherinian's solo album. Actually I've been listening to a bunch of Christmas music, as I gotta pick the Christmas music for my church choir.
MetalKings.com: Would you agree that a person who listens to a lot of music by other people cannot create anything original on his own?
Neal: Oh, I don't think that that's true. I mean, you gotta be inspired, other people's music can inspire you to go further with your own music. I don't think that that's true at all.
MetalKings.com: You know, I asked that because many musicians say in interviews that they do not listen to anything, that they prefer to compose on their own, or that they do not listen to anything similar to what they create, but rather to other styles.
Neal: I can see that too. I usually don't listen to a lot of music in the same style as what I'm working on. It seems more relaxing and more interesting and you don't get burned down in your own vein. I find out quite often that I wanna listen to a completely different style of music, so I can relate to it as well. But I don't think it harms you to listen to anybody else's music.
MetalKings.com: The bonus disc to "Bridge Across Forever" has a track called "Dance With The Devil". Is it the early version of "Duel With The Devil" that ended up on the original CD?
Neal: Yeas, it's a complete reworking. "Dance With The Devil" is the original demo that I'd done several years ago, and "Duel With The Devil" is what happened to it after Transatlantic got to it, which is like a completely different thing.
MetalKings.com: OK, our time about to run out. Do you have anything to say to your Russia fans, to the people who love your music over here?
Neal: Oh, I'm glad you're there, I'm glad you exist, I can't wait to come over and play for you. May you got wonderful, I'm glad you're listening over there.
MetalKings.com: One last question. Do you describe your music as progressive? Many people object when the term is applied to their works.
Neal: I don't mind describing my music as progressive. I mean, progressive music is some of my favorite music ever. I describe it that way.
MetalKings.com: What is your own definition of the style that Transatlantic is playing? Do you have any or do you prefer to leave it to critics and journalists?
Neal: I guest I'd better leave it to other people, but yeah, I describe it as classic progressive rock, "progressive" meaning a lot of time signature changes and many different themes, symphonic and thematic, you know. That's what I mean by "progressive", I would say that Transatlantic is very progressive.
MetalKings.com: OK, Neal, thank you very much for answering to my questions. I hope to see you on tour someday and good luck with both Spock's Beard and Transatlantic.
Roman The Maniac (MetalKings.ru)
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