I had the honor of connecting with Neal Morse, the pontiff of Progressive Rock, prior to the release of the fourth album from NMB (Neal Morse Band) entitled Innocence & Danger. The two-disc set will release on August 27, 2021. Members include Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Bill Hubauer, Eric Gillette, and Randy George. Without further ado, join us as we’re exchanging greetings and salutations…
AUGUST 4, 2021
DAVID COLEMAN: Hello, Neal. How are you doing?
NEAL MORSE: Good. How are you?
DAVID COLEMAN: Ahh…pretty good, thank you. First of all, I’d like to say that I’m really enjoying the album.
NEAL MORSE: Good!
DAVID COLEMAN: I just finished my album review late yesterday and it posted to the JesusWired website today. I think you guys will enjoy the review…hopefully.
NEAL MORSE: Excellent. Glad you liked it.
DAVID COLEMAN: First, I have to ask an essential question. What’s the best breakfast cereal to eat while watching Bob Ross on the tour bus after a show?
NEAL MORSE: Oh, well that would have to be Blueberry Frosted Mini-Wheats. I hope I’m getting that right. That’s not my thing. I don’t do that. Bill does that.
DAVID COLEMAN: Typically when I do these interviews with you I’ll go to the Facebook forum and ask if anyone has any questions they’d like me to ask. So Bill threw that one out there and I figured it was an inside joke.
NEAL MORSE: Yeah, totally. It’s just so funny. What could be less rock & roll than Bob Ross and a bowl of Mini-Wheats?
DAVID COLEMAN: Bob was so mellow. I guess he’s deceased now. Is that true?
NEAL MORSE: Yeah, that’s true.
DAVID COLEMAN: Yeah, I thought so.
NEAL MORSE: Everyone’s kind of amped from the gig and a lot of times we hang out in the green room afterwards. The wi-fi is better than on the bus. And so, many times we don’t get on the bus until one in the morning and then we’re ready to chill. We’re ready to kind of wind down and get to sleep because we’ve got a lot of work to do the next day. But especially Bill because he works remotely for Adobe while he’s on tour.
DAVID COLEMAN: Wow! That must be tough.
NEAL MORSE: Yeah. Sleep is imperative.
DAVID COLEMAN: I read that much of the inspiration for the album came from Bill and Randy. How did the writing for this album differ from that of previous Neal Morse Band albums?
NEAL MORSE: Well, I don’t think I brought in much for The Grand Experiment. But I think this is the first time I brought in nothing in advance. That was a little different. It left more room; it gave more space to the other guys, which is great. And it makes the album have a little different flavor because of that, which is also great. All of the things we wanted to do I think we accomplished. The only thing that we didn’t accomplish that we wanted to accomplish was making a single disc.
DAVID COLEMAN: Well, I’m very thankful that you didn’t because, for me, I like the long pieces with all the twists and turns. And there wasn’t a whole lot of that on disc one. So it was nice to have those two epic pieces on disc two.
NEAL MORSE: Oh, cool. Actually, let me say a little more about the previous question. I want to clarify. My answer made it sound like I didn’t write anything on this album or I didn’t contribute. I definitely did. I think the other guys would verify. I don’t want to sound like I’m a slacker. I wrote a lot of stuff in the mornings before everybody showed up.
DAVID COLEMAN: How do you think this album relates in a head-to-head comparison to previous NMB albums?
NEAL MORSE: Man, I don’t know. I really don’t. Every album is its own animal; its own thing. I’ve read where some people have said one album is the greatest album this guy’s ever made or something and I’ll think “oh really, that’s not the one I’d pick at all.” It’s hard to gauge. I love it. But, I love most of the albums I write. It’s one of those “time will tell” kind of things, I guess. Years down the road when you put it on you get a little more perspective. It’s right up there.
DAVID COLEMAN: What’s the concept you’re trying to get across with the title Innocence & Danger?
NEAL MORSE: I don’t know (laughs).
DAVID COLEMAN: (laughs) I read that it was just something you sang over the top of a part when you were in the creation process. So I just didn’t know if there was any actual meaning behind it or if you worked toward putting some meaning into the lyrics as you wrote the songs.
NEAL MORSE: No. We wrote all the songs and had the album nearly mixed while still trying to decide on the album’s title. We had a hard time agreeing and then I think Randy threw out the idea. He’d been listening to the lyrics and trying to pull out lines that would be cool. He threw out Innocence & Danger which is something that just came out of my mouth on a song from The Great Adventure sessions – “The Way It Had to Be.” So it was just something that came out of my mouth three or four years ago. Randy suggested it and everybody said, “Hooray! Let’s eat!” It’s okay. I don’t know if it sounds like a classic album. But I’ve warmed up to it since then especially when I saw what Paper Heart did with the album cover. It makes it look like one side would be light and the other side would be darkness. It’s not really like that, though. It’s just that one side has shorter songs and the other side has longer songs.
DAVID COLEMAN: So the side with the longer songs is the dangerous side, huh? (laughs)
NEAL MORSE: Yeah. (laughs) It’s more of a challenging listen because of the length. But not for prog fans. Prog fans are like…that’s what they live for. So there you go.
DAVID COLEMAN: Do you have a favorite song on the album?
NEAL MORSE: I don’t know. I’ve been going between different ones. I really like “Do It All Again” a lot. And I’m just crazy about “Not Afraid, Pt. 2.” I really like the way that one turned out.
DAVID COLEMAN: I just read Scott Medina’s review on SonicPerspectives. He mentioned Styx in regard to that song. I also mentioned Styx in my review as well. There was something about the vocal parts and the keyboards behind them which really brought Styx to my mind. Not that it was derivative. It’s just something about the harmonies which screamed “Styx” in my brain. The thought was “now I want to go listen to some old Styx albums.” I thought it was interesting that we both picked up on that.
Did you have any challenges related to the recording of Innocence & Danger?
NEAL MORSE: Not really. It was very easy. It was really a very easy flow. There weren’t a lot of disagreements. There wasn’t a ton of editing after the fact. There was some. But nothing like on the last Transatlantic album. The last Transatlantic album was the gift that kept on going forever. That was really hard. That’s why it took us so long to put it out. This new NMB album was like a breath of fresh air for me because it was so easy. We had a lot of fun doing it and it didn’t seem like there were a lot of problems along the way. I wrote the lyrics in like four days. It just kind of really flowed out. Awesome.
DAVID COLEMAN: What do you like about recording a concept album?
NEAL MORSE: I like writing the stories. Particularly, as a lyricist, I like having a story to frame up what I’m singing about. Sometimes I get a little uncomfortable now just singing about nothing; like just freely associating. Or maybe I think I’m singing about nothing but I am. Maybe it has tremendous meaning but I don’t know. That could be good, too. The good thing about having a concept is that it will drive the music and the lyrics forward. Like, what’s the next thing that happens in the story? Oh, the guy goes to this scary place so we need some creepy music. Having that kind of framework is its own kind of challenge because then you’re bound to the story.
DAVID COLEMAN: You kind of answered the follow-up question I was going to ask which was what do you dislike about recording a concept album? So we’ll just continue on. What do you like and dislike about touring?
NEAL MORSE: Oh, well…it’s the same thing that Dan Fogelberg said: “the audiences are heavenly but the traveling is hell.” Not always, though. I’m not someone who hates travel. My wife and I travel quite a bit. I don’t mind being on buses or planes. It’s pretty cool. If the weather’s nice I get to take a walk around these different cities. I’ve had some really good times on tour. It’s been very beneficial. I write a lot of music and lyrics when I’m on tour. So it’s not bad. It’s hard on the voice. And your body tends to get really tired if you’re doing a lot of shows in a row. I don’t always sleep that well on tour, either.
DAVID COLEMAN: For lack of a better word, do you have any preshow “rituals” that you undertake before every show?
NEAL MORSE: I do a lot of prayer and vocal warmups. We get together and talk about where we’re at. We’ll sing sometimes. Try not to eat too much pizza before the gig. Again, I like to go for a good, long walk.
DAVID COLEMAN: Any hint on songs that we might expect for the Great Medley on this tour?
NEAL MORSE: I don’t know. I haven’t seen a set list for the single dates yet. I know what we’re doing at MorseFest 2021. We’re doing Friday night – Innocence; Saturday night – Danger. So Friday night is all the shorter songs from the album and from the catalog. Saturday night is going to be all epics. But I don’t know what the set list for the single nights is yet. I leave that up to Mike, actually. I call him the “Master of the Setlist.” I try to let people’s gifts work and stay out of the way. If somebody’s really gifted at something I let ‘em work and don’t get in their way. He’s kind of the organizer. He’s the one who gets a dry erase board and writes down everybody’s ideas. And then adds the check mark after we use them. Sometimes you get to a place in a piece and it’s like, “I don’t know where we should go from here, any ideas?” And we can look up at the board. He’s also the one that many times will do the track listing. He and Bill worked on the track listing for this record and I totally trust him with that as well. Once the music’s there…I mean, I care about track listing. But, you know, I can trust him. It was kind of a difficult decision on this album because there were a lot of different ways you could arrange the songs. And there was a lot of debate about whether we should separate them out. I think that was another thing that really helped with the title. We had talked about having four short songs and a long song on each disc to break up the longer pieces. And so, when this album title came down it really fit the song order that we’d already chosen.
DAVID COLEMAN: I’m a huge fan of Rush. Neil Peart was the guy who inspired me to be a drummer. They’ve been my favorite band since then…
NEAL MORSE: (interrupts) You’re the only person on the planet that’s ever said that!
DAVID COLEMAN: (laughs). Yeah, me and virtually every other drummer on the planet. In my past interviews with you, you’ve mentioned some of the bands that influenced you. I was wondering if you were ever a fan of Rush and if they ever influenced you in any way.
NEAL MORSE: Well, you know. Not so much. When they came on the scene it was later. I was sort of dispensational in my listening habits. So I was really into all the prog stuff from ’71 to ’75 or ’76 maybe, at the latest. After that, I was in kind of a punk band. When all the New Wave stuff started happening, I was listening to Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello…and stuff like that. So I wasn’t that into Rush. You know, I really like the playing, though. And I met Geddy Lee. He was a very nice guy.
DAVID COLEMAN: Do you foresee more from Flying Colors in the future?
NEAL MORSE: Yeah, I hope so. It’s one of those things. We just connect every once in a while. “Hey, you want to make record?” Someone sends an email out. I don’t know. We haven’t talked about it. But we all surely love the band and love each other. I’m sure there’ll be another one coming down the pike someday.
DAVID COLEMAN: Do you have any plans to release your back catalog on vinyl? So that would be albums like Question Mark (?), One, Sola Scriptura, Testimony 2, all those kind of things…
NEAL MORSE: Yeah, we need to do that. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. If I do it myself, it’s time consuming. It takes like nine months to get vinyl made. I wouldn’t want to do a bunch of them. I’d want to do like five hundred, probably, unless the labels were distributing it, just straight through my website, I don’t even know if I’d sell five hundred. I’ll think about that. We have Testimony on vinyl here at the Radiant shop. That one you can get now.
DAVID COLEMAN: Do you have plans to remix and/or remaster some of the older albums?
NEAL MORSE: No, I don’t have any plans. I’m always writing the next thing. I don’t ever have plans to work on older things.
DAVID COLEMAN: Do you plan on continuing the Sola catalog (which would include titles like Solus Christus, Sola Fide, Soli Deo Gloria)?
NEAL MORSE: Again, you know, I don’t know. I’m always writing; I always have the next projects that are on the docket but I’m not thinking too far out. I would guess that probably there will be more.
DAVID COLEMAN: Many fans really enjoyed the Life & Times shows. I think they liked the intimacy of those events. Do you have any plans on doing something like that again in the future?
NEAL MORSE: Not at the moment. But I would like to do that again when the time seems right. Around the end of 2019 I was talking to my agent about booking some of those and had even penciled in some but then I kept feeling a “no” inside. So I told him “nah”…and it was a really good thing because it was in April of 2020 that we were totally locked down here. I didn’t even leave the house for a month and that was when I recorded Sola Gratia. So, when it feels like the right time I’d love to do that again. It was a real joy.
DAVID COLEMAN: This might be a difficult question for you but if you could narrate your own legacy what would it be?
NEAL MORSE: (sings) “Only Jesus. I don’t want to leave a legacy. I don’t care if they remember me.” You want people to tap into the eternal power of God and be lifted up in His spirit; and live eternally with the Lord. That’s what I would hope to have taken part in. It might sound corny to some people but I think it’s really true. I was in a church in Los Angeles once and this older man got up and sang a song. The chorus was “only what you do for Christ will last.” At first, I didn’t think much of the song. I didn’t like his voice (laughs). But I thought about it. Only what you do for Christ will last beyond this life; beyond this world. I always try to keep that in mind. Now that doesn’t mean that everything that I ever write or every conversation that I ever have is always going to be about Jesus. But He is the most important thing. And my favorite scripture, the one that I put on most of the albums and things that I sign, is Matthew 6:33 which states “seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all things will be added unto you.” I’ve found that to be true. If I always put God first in everything I’m doing even when it doesn’t seem like it’s going to turn out, in the long run it turns out better than I ever could have imagined.
DAVID COLEMAN: I don’t find it corny at all. When you look at life from the perspective of eternity, you realize that, if Christianity is the truth…which I believe it is; and you believe it is, then there’s far more reason to be centered in that than any other thing. Music is the vehicle by which you express your opinions; and your thoughts; and your truths. I only believe there’s one truth, but you know what I mean. As far as you’re concerned, you sing about Jesus and eternity…and things like that. A lot of people just don’t get that. They think that this life is all there is and they have to go out there and do all the wrong things so that they’ll be happy. But those things don’t make people happy. They make people miserable. When you really focus on the eternal and other people, that’s when you find the most fulfillment in life.
DAVID COLEMAN: Do you have any teasers for who might be appearing in the future?
NEAL MORSE: Yeah. Let’s see what we’ve got coming up. Ted Leonard and Bill Hubauer.
DAVID COLEMAN: Before the interview I did with you for The Great Adventure, I did a lot of research and read a lot about Bill. He seems like a pretty incredible guy; all the different instruments he can play; I found some videos of him. I guess they were auditions for the band. I was really impressed. I’m a drummer who can dabble with some other instruments, but I always get a little jealous when I meet people who can play really well on a lot of different instruments. It’s definitely a gift.
DAVID COLEMAN: Whatever happened to the “Music Appreciation” segments that you were doing?
NEAL MORSE: Oh, well most of the time they got taken down because I wasn’t authorized to use the music.
DAVID COLEMAN: It seems like if you’re pointing to something and you’re using your video to actually promote that music, it seems like they would want that to be something that got out there?
NEAL MORSE: They probably would if they’d watched it.
DAVID COLEMAN: That’s unfortunate. I found them amusing and entertaining. It was funny watching somebody that you respect as a musician…seeing that they’re just as much a fan of other people’s music as you are. That’s why I like the clips on YouTube that are reaction videos. There’s one guy with a show called The Daily Doug. He’s a classical composer and people recommend songs for him to review. Somebody recommended Spock’s Beard’s “At the End of the Day” from V. He was really impressed with the song and, near the end of the video, he said “I think I have a new favorite band.”
Is there anything on your heart about what we’re seeing in the world today that you’d like to share?
NEAL MORSE: Oh, I don’t know. I’m just praying for everybody; praying for our world with the pandemic and also all the division. Just praying about all that stuff and that the Lord would help us do the right things.
DAVID COLEMAN: Yeah, it’s really disappointing to see. I grew up in South Florida. There were so many different people from different places. For the most part, we all got along. I had a lot of friends in school who were much different from me – Black, Asian, Hispanic. It didn’t matter. If you liked the person, you liked them. You just got along. I don’t understand all the division and the hatred. It’s just ludicrous to me. It’s really about the person; it’s about the way they treat others; respect others, and all those kinds of things. But I guess that’s more of a Christian perspective than one that’s being presented these days…which is anti-Christ. It’s very disappointing; very tense.
NEAL MORSE: The sad thing is that, generally, Christians are not better along these lines as far as I can tell. The statistics are not in Christians’ favor about a lot of things like divorce or hating others that are different than you. I always tell people that the Christian principle which is primary to me is, as the Apostle Paul says, the goal of this whole thing is love issued out of a pure heart. And that’s the whole point. If there’s anything that causes me, you, or anyone else to be angry with people or not have a loving heart toward them then, whatever it is, we should put those things aside.
DAVID COLEMAN: I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with politics. I finally realized that I need to back away from this stuff. I’m barely paying attention to politics at this point. I can’t say that it’s removed all the anxiety and anger that I’ve had, but it’s taken a pretty big chunk out of it. I’m trying to focus on other things. Like you were saying earlier, find the things that are essential in life and work toward the eternal. If we’re doing that we’re going to end up a lot happier. When we’re focusing on others rather than ourselves, that’s when we find the most joy.
NEAL MORSE: It’s really our only goal.
DAVID COLEMAN: Should be, anyway. Like you said, a lot of Christians are really distracted and they get caught up in worldly perspectives. And, you know, I’m guilty. I realize that and that’s what I’m trying to back away from.
NEAL MORSE: I’m guilty, too.
DAVID COLEMAN: Well, Neal, our time’s up. I truly appreciate your time today. I’m always looking forward to new music from you. I also look forward to more opportunities to do reviews and interviews for new projects.
NEAL MORSE: The only other thing I’d like to mention is that, if people want to sign up for my streaming service, they can go to waterfallstreaming.com.
DAVID COLEMAN: I’ll include that information with the interview. Thanks again, Neal.