by Christophe Pauly
– Senior Photojournalist —
Prior to his recent concert performance Boerderij, in Zoetermeer (Holland), Neal Morse took time to talk with Hardrock Haven’s Christophe Pauly. During the interview Morse talks about his latest solo album The Grand Experiment.
The March 6th performance was filmed and recorded for the next Neal Morse live album and video release.
Hardrock Haven: Hi Neal! Thank you for this interview. You just released The Grand Experiment, your eighth solo album. But this one was quite special to make. First, could you tell me how the recording sessions were like?
Neal Morse: Well, for the first time, I came to the sessions without a lot of material like I normally do.
Hardrock Haven: Were you afraid of this “experiment?”
Neal Morse: I don’t know if “afraid” is the right word. It was an experiment. So you have to experiment and wonder how it will turn out. When you work with different groups of people, after a time, you know how much time you’ll need to do a record with them (like the 10 days for the last Transatlantic). I didn’t know where I was going with this group of guys. I think it’s got to go well because they’re amazing. But when you enter in, you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Sometimes, I wondered how we were going to do it because we didn’t have much time. We began a year ago without Mike and wrote 35 minutes of music then. And when Mike came in, everything began to change. And we grabbed some parts of “that,” and wrote a lot of stuff in the room. And it turned out amazing.
Hardrock Haven: Was it hard to make choices? To select some parts and scratch other ones?
Neal Morse: Well, it was harder for me than it was for the others. Usually, I already have a lot of things that I already like, and I take less time to make selections. And this time, I was wrong. We weren’t sure, so we decided to trust Mike because he’s so enthusiastic during the sessions. Many times, he’s like, “Oh no, this is awesome!” And he’s so enthusiast that he carry us through. Bill helped us also when we had to take some decisions, and we needed that. Because if everybody hesitates, you’re not gonna make a record at all.
Hardrock Haven: When we look at the making of the records you usually do together, Mike is more of the guy who sees the “Big Picture” of the album.
Neal Morse: Yes, definitely. Mike is the “Big Picture” guy. And that’s why our collaborations are so good. He’s the guy who will go to the big chalkboard and will write all his ideas. And I work differently because I just follow the music. And so we complement each other really well.
Hardrock Haven: This album was even better received than the others, and you got really good reviews about it.
Neal Morse: Yes, it’s crazy. I knew from the beginning that something was going on. The first person who heard it was Thomas Waber from Inside Out. And when he likes an album, he’s like: “Well, it’s OK.” (laughs) And this time, he sent me an email and said, “I just listened to the album, and I think it’s the best thing you’ve done since many, many years!” And I was like “Oh, really?” When you’re involved, you just don’t know how the things are going to be received or how great it is. We all listen differently. So that was the first thing that told me something special was going on with this record.
Hardrock Haven: But this one sounds really different and more surprising than the others. Every time we listen to it, we find some details we haven’t noted before, and that’s proof of a good work. The vocals are more important, too, on this record. And we can see and feel the presence of Eric Gilette, who does an incredible job with his guitar.
Neal Morse: Yes, his tone does bring a different dimension, and they all brought something interesting. I didn’t work much more than any of them on this record. So it was funny for me to do it. Usually, the critics say something like “Neal Morse has done it again” (laughs) … Not really this time! I knew that this time, I should just back off and let those people “paint.”
Hardrock Haven: Did you tell them that this time you would like to do an album with a larger contribution of them than before?
Neal Morse: Yes, we actually discussed about it. Randy wanted to do it for years. He was always saying, “We should get together and do an album.” So it’s been thought about for a long time, but this is the first time we did it this way.
Hardrock Haven: And it worked very well, if we look at all those positive reviews.
Neal Morse: Yes, but to me, it was what the Lord wanted. He brought something unique through other people and the process. And finally, it really resonates with people. And I think that’s the important thing: Having something that we all share.
Hardrock Haven: This album begins with vocals singing a message. Was it important for you to deliver a special message on this album?
Neal Morse: I pretty much worked out the lyrics. When I was on the Flying Colors tour, I was always thinking about those lyrics. A lot of this album was also done over the Internet. And everyone contributed on the concepts. Eric brought the “Alive Again” concept, and Bill brought the “Leaving All Behind You” thing.
Hardrock Haven: The way you all put the pieces together is quite interesting.
Neal Morse: Yes, and even more when you’re into the process and you step back to have a look. And you say, “Wow, I think we did it!” I remember of the final mix of “Waterfall.” We did many different mixes of that song because I found the chorus and lyrics weren’t blending right. There was always a part that was too loud, etc. In that song, I sing the melody in the first part of the verse, then Eric sings in the second part of the verse. Bill sings the melody in the chorus. And then Eric sings it again. So the melodies move all around, and sometimesm the mixing guys don’t necessarily get that.
Hardrock Haven: And I saw that you’ve decided to do the Tweetsecret videos like Mike Portnoy. How did you get the idea of doing that?
Neal Morse: I decided to do it because when looked at the app, I thought it was really cool, and I get the idea of doing that for the Inner Circle (Neal’s fan club). I wanted to shoot something and send it to them immediately. If I had to do many manipulations, like upload it somewhere, convert it, I wouldn’t probably do it because I don’t have the time. So I asked my tech staff if we could do that. And they told me we could PROBABLY do that, but it would cost something like $8,000! So I did it with Tweetsecret because I like to share all those kind of funny and crazy things that are going on. And I think people find it interesting that I share with them. I think it’s the same reason why people are on Facebook and Twitter.
Hardrock Haven: It’s a very interesting way to discover how you work on some songs. I remember the video about “Waterfall.”
Neal Morse: I was in Barcelona, singing the chorus. And the lyrics were different then. And it’s funny to think about it because I just find the right four lines so quickly then. Sometimes, it just flows out. Other times, it can take months to find the right words. And it should be so simple! It needs to sound like you didn’t think about it. So, “Waterfall: was a tough one for me. But we finally got it.
Hardrock Haven: Do you plan to do another album with the guys?
Neal Morse: We’ve discussed of that possibility. And my answer is: YES! We’ll definitely do another one! I’m not sure when. I’ve done so many things last year. I don’t want to overload people. So, I don’t know when it will come.
Visit Neal Morse online: http://www.nealmorse.com/