Since 1980, progressive rock multi-instrumentalist Neal Morse has graced stages across the globe with his unique brand of transcendental rock and roll. Neal first found success in 1992 when he formed the world-renowned prog rock band, Spock’s Beard, with his brother Alan Morse (vocals, guitar), John Ballard (bass) and Nick D’Virgilio (drums). Often regarded as an original pioneer of progressive rock music, Spock’s Beard’s prolific history has seen 12 studio albums over the course of two decades, and the band shows no signs of slowing down, as they recently announced in March they will start recording new material in late May / early June.
In addition to Spock’s Beard, Neal Morse is also the front man of his own group, the Neal Morse Band, which just recently completed “the road called home tour,” spanning four dates in Buenos Aires, Santiago, Sao Paulo, and Mexico City. For each show this year, the Neal Morse Band has performed the entirety of their 2016 album The Similitude of a Dream, which features 23 original songs across a 2-disc set. The band is currently returning stateside and kicks off a North American tour on August 17th in St. Paul, MN at the Amsterdam Ball and Hall. On August 22nd the tour routes the band to New York City’s storied Gramercy Theatre where Neal, Mike Portnoy (drums), Randy George (bass), Bill Hubauer (keys), and Eric Gillette (guitar) will deliver a set complete with stage visuals, rotating costumes, and quality progressive rock music. Ahead of the show we caught up with Neal to discuss the band’s world travels, their New York City performance, and much more. Tickets to the Gramercy Theatre are still available and can be purchased here.
CEG: Hey Neal, thanks for taking some time here to catch up with us amidst your busy summer schedule. To kick things off, you’re performing in New York with your band at the Gramercy Theatre on August 22. If you would, tell us a bit about your history performing in the city, and what it’s like playing in such a monstrous music market.
Neal Morse: Never had a bad gig in New York! It’s one of those things – there are certain places where I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad gig I can remember. Paris is like that too. NYC was great the first time we played it with Spock’s, it was great the last time I played there with the NMB and every show in between has been the same way. It’s just a great city with great fans, and there’s such an energy and buzz there. We get caught up in it and always have amazing gigs in the City. Thanks to all the great fans! Not to mention the pizza…
CEG: How are your plans and set lists coming along for the Gramercy Theatre? What can we expect from the band on August 22?
NM: This whole year with very few exceptions we’re playing the entire Similitude of a Dream album plus encores. It’s very theatrical and I’ll be doing some costume changes, some Peter Gabriel-esque mask wearing and things along those lines. It is a high-level production concert with video, killer lighting and arguably the best musicians in the world.
CEG: The band has had an incredibly busy year of touring so far, performing all across the globe in cities like Dallas, Oslo, and even Tel Aviv. What’s been one of your personal favorite moments on the road so far in 2017?
NM: Seeing Mike Portnoy at 7am! No, that would be one of the worst moments on the tour! **laughs** Seriously, it’s difficult to pick, but I guess I might say the Tilburg show in Holland was one of the very best.
CEG: The band’s most recent release was a 2 DVD, 4 CD package titled “Morsefest 2015,” which documents your multi-day Prog Rock event that took place in 2015 on September 4 & 5 in your hometown of Cross Plains, Tennessee. How would you describe the multi-disc package to someone who hasn’t seen or listened to it yet?
NM: The Morsefest 2015 package is a super deluxe live album package with two nights of two separate concept albums being played by the Neal Morse Band with special guests and a cast of thousands! This is the one where we pull out all the stops. We had a horns, strings, orchestral percussion, dancers, and even an actual choir! Featuring Mike Portnoy and the guys, it is the ultimate version of these albums (Question Mark & Sola Scriprtura) that are among the favorites of my audience. Also the video and audio production is first rate. I think anyone who loves music would enjoy this deluxe set.
CEG: Looking ahead, you have multiple international tour dates scheduled before performing the Gramercy Theatre. What country and/or city are you most looking forward to performing in?
NM: Well, we are in São Paulo, Brazil today so I guess São Paulo, Brazil! Actually, I’m looking forward to every concert because every night is new and really special to me.
CEG: Your friend and frequent collaborator, Mike Portnoy, is performing with his band, Shattered Fortress, about a month after your Gramercy Theatre show at Irving Plaza. For those not familiar, tell us about your relationship and history with Mike.
NM: Mike and I have been making records together for almost 20 years now. It’s amazing that it’s been that long since he contacted me about joining him on a side project which became the Prog supergroup Transatlantic. Since then we have done numerous projects together including Flying Colors, Yellow Matter Custard, and of course the Neal Morse Band. I think people enjoy the chemistry that we have partly because we are so different but we somehow gel together and make really interesting music. Plus we are good friends and that helps a lot too!
CEG: Finally, I’m always interested to hear about new music. What can you share with us about new material you and your band are currently working on?
NM: Right now we are just focused on this tour. I have some ideas floating around in my head for a future album but we have not begun to work on them together yet. I can’t wait until we create something new but this album is still very fresh and we are super excited to be playing it in New York City!
CEG: Thanks, Neal!