Spock’s Beard doesn’t sleep and follows its dream

It is always hard to get back up on your feet after the departure of a leader, let alone two… It is however what Spock’s Beard has managed to do, every single time, with Neal Morse and then Nick D’Virgilio. The band has never given up and has kept on touring and producing albums no matter what. So even though the popularity of this progressive rock act has lowered since its golden age with Neal Morse, Spock’s Beard is back in 2013 with an eleventh album titled Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep, of which the band is more than a little proud. A transitional album where the band hands over the vocals to someone from outside the band for the first time ever: singer Ted Leonard from Enchant.

In the following interview, guitarist Alan Morse – who happens to be Neal’s brother – tells us about this new opus along with many other things.

« People always say stuff about that like: ‘Oh, they should change the name’, but I don’t see why we’d want to do that. »

Radio Metal: Nick D’Virgilio left the band in November 2011. What can you tell us about that? Was it a surprise for you?

Alan Morse (guitar): Well yeah, we had no idea he was even looking for a job! [Laughs] When it turned out that he was going to go and do the gig with Cirque du Soleil, I was pretty shocked! But you know, you can’t blame him, it’s a great gig and he needed to do something like that.

After Neal Morse, it was the second time the frontman left the band. Have you considered giving up and not using the name Spock’s Beard anymore?

Well, not really… People always say stuff about that like: “Oh, they should change the name”, but I don’t see why we’d want to do that because it makes no sense to me. We’re still here after all those years doing the same kind of thing, and we just keep going.

Changing of singer is always difficult. Why did you choose Ted Leonard?

We all knew Ted since we toured with Enchant, and he’s awesome and has a great voice. When we realized it wasn’t going to work with Nick trying to do Cirque du Soleil at the same time, Dave [Meros] who had been working with Ted on a side project asked him if he wanted to do it, and Ted said: “Yeah, okay, that sounds pretty good to me.” That’s pretty much it.

What were the most important criteria when came the time to hire a new singer?

Obviously mainly you have to have a great voice, and to be into this kind of music. Beyond that, of course you have to be compatible with the others on a personal level as well. Ted pretty much fits the bill to a T.

What was Ted’s involvement in the writing and recording of the new album?

That was a little bit of a surprise actually, I didn’t realize he was such a great writer as well and that he had all this material we could use on the record… When that came to light, I was quite pleasantly surprised. That’s just a big plus. I had no idea… Obviously I knew he was a talented guy, but I had no idea he had so much material, some stuff he had already written for us so we can work on. I heard some of it and was like: “This is great! Let’s do this!” That was cool.

“Afterthoughts” is a direct link to the songs “Thoughts” and “Thoughts Part II”, do you think it was important for the band and the fans to create this link between the current band and its roots? Is adding “After” a way to move on and see the future with this line up?

I was writing with Neal and we thought that’d be fun to do another one of this kind. We thought it was a good idea so we went with it. That’s pretty much how we always do it, we don’t do a lot of calculating, we don’t think about it being strategically advantageous or something like that [laughs].

« People tend to think: ‘First of all it’s Neal’s band’ […], then it was Nick’s band… […] Maybe now it’ll be Ted’s band! [Laughs] »

How can you describe Spock’s Beard’s touch? What makes it still sound like Spock’s Beard even after the departure of two important members?

That’s an interesting thing, right? I think it mostly comes from the strong core group we have, and I guess that’s pretty much it. It’s funny because people tend to think: “First of all it’s Neal’s band” and the rest of us is just along for the ride, then it was Nick’s band… I don’t know. Maybe now it’ll be Ted’s band! [Laughs] We all get in there and play our part, we’re all just into this kind of music, I guess that’s why it sounds like Spock’s Beard. It reminds me of – and of course I flatter myself, but hopefully there’s something here – King Crimson who’s been through a lot of lineup changes, but I guess a lot of it sounds a little different over time, but it’s all good, it’s all killer…

Could you tell us more about the title of the album, Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep?

I don’t know the meaning exactly but I’ve always been interested in sleep, dreams, what goes on and what dreams mean… I think it’s kind of fascinating and mysterious. I came across that phrase and it really struck me. It sounded like a cool album title, it’s kind of poetic and it’s beautiful to me and the other guys seemed to like it, so yeah.

What is the role of Stan Ausmus, Rich Mouser and John Boegehold? They’ve worked with the band for a long time now…

Yeah, they’re great guys and good friends. Rich is a real key piece of what you were talking about earlier, about us sounding consistent: having him mixing and engineering everything makes a huge difference in that regard. Stan is a really cool guy, very talented and very generous, and a lot of fun to work with. John’s been around with us since before we were called Spock’s Beard, helping us out with different things. We recorded pieces of our records in his studio and stuff like that. Every time I need a little help, I kind of turn him in and his role has just grown all along, he kind of stepped up and helped us with all kind of stuff, setting up the website, etc.

What led you to produce the album yourself?

Frankly that’s partly financial. If you’re going to have a producer, you’ll have to pay him [laughs], and we’re not exactly wealthy here. Beyond that, I’m not against the idea of using a producer at some point, I think it could be good and we just keep consider doing that, but we never really found somebody that we all felt comfortable with enough that we’d be willing to put our fate in their hands, so to speak. You’re going to give up a lot of control to have a producer – in my opinion, of course, some guys are less concerned with that than others. But we’d really have to have a lot of faith in what they decide and to be willing to let them call shots. A producer would need some pretty strong credibility for us to allow him to do that.

Is this something you want to do again, for Spock’s Beard or other bands?

As we were going along, I think I’ve probably told my wife or other ones: “I’m never doing this again.” [Laughs] This is a lot of work; it took a year, not every single day but it was a lot of work. But I’ll probably do it again, next time… It’s why I’m here, you know [laughs].

« The way things are these days, it’s tough to finance these things and record companies are more tight-fisted in terms of the money they give you. »

The previous album was financed by fans over the Internet. What did you think about the results?

I was really astounded at the response the first time, I didn’t expect it to work as well as it did, I didn’t expect that many people to be willing to put up money upfront like that. I was just really astounded and grateful. It was just fantastic to me that that many people would put up money for something that hadn’t been recorded yet. The fans are awesome to do that. The way things are these days, it’s tough to finance these things and record companies are more tight-fisted in terms of the money they give you so yeah, that’s the best way to go, and thanks to them because if it weren’t for that I don’t know how we could keep on doing records!

Spock’s Beard fans will be glad to know that Neal is involved in this album: he gave you a hand on the songs “Waiting For Me” and “Afterthoughts”. Is there a link with the fact that you, Nick and Dave guested on his Testimony II album?

The deal with Neal is that we’re all still friends! He called us up and said: “Hey guys, do you want to do some stuff on my record?” We said: “Sure, why not”, and then same thing happened with me, I called him up and he spent a couple of days writing with me. He said “Sure” because of course we’re brothers, and he’s a good guy, we’re all friends so… But it’s not like a payback, it’s just because we’re buds.

Don’t you think this could mislead fans by giving them false hope about Neal returning to the band?

Yeah, that always comes up. I guess I just decided it doesn’t matter that much because the main thing is always to make the best record you can, so if you can go out and write something with Neal Morse, why wouldn’t you do it? [Laughs] It just sounded good.

In the mind of many fans, Spock’s Beard is still Neal’s band. Do you feel this or do you feel they’ve accepted it, after ten years without him in the band? What do you want to tell them?

I think we pretty much proved that we can carry on, we don’t need anybody. With what we, me and the guys, have, we can still make pretty kick-ass records. We’ve done it a few times now and with this one I think even more, it may be the very evidence that we can do it. According to me, it’s pretty awesome.

« I can’t have too much guitar for me, but I understand that we have to cut Ryo [Okumoto] some slack and let him play [laughs]. »

Last time we spoke with Neal, two years ago, he told us that you guys have talked about playing together the Snow album, which you have never had the occasion to play live at the time, and make a DVD out of it. He said you guys haven’t found the time to do it yet. So what can you tell us about that? Is there any chance to see this happening?

He said that? [Laughs] Well, I never heard anything about that! Of course people ask about that sometimes but we never really had any serious discussion, not that I know of, about doing that… I think if somebody asked me I might consider it but it would be a heck of a lot of work and that’s a pretty old record by now… But I don’t know. If somebody asked me and had the actual money to do it, then sure [Laughs]… But there’s no real plan to do that at that point, not that I know.

About your own career, you released an album in 2007, 4 O’Clock And Hysteria. Was it a one-shot thing or do we have to expect more from you as a solo artist?

It was pretty much a one-shot thing at that point, I never really thought about doing it again, but who knows? I haven’t thought about possibly doing something like that again, right now of course I’m focused on this record. We’ve been working on it for over a year, that took most of my time. But now that it’s done, who knows? I might have the time and energy to devote myself to something like that. If I did, I don’t think I would do an instrumental record again, I’d probably put some vocals on it. It’d be fun.

It was an instrumental album, you once said that you didn’t want lyrics because you think words are harmful. Can you explain what you meant?

Did I say that? [Laughs] Well, I don’t know about harmful but distracting, yes. Being a guitar player, I can’t focus on it, I don’t like that. But I got more into lyrics the last few years, especially on this record, I really got into writing some of the lyrics and had a lot of fun doing it. Maybe my attitude is changing on that a little bit.

You said you wanted to have fun with your guitar, and no competition with other instrument such as keyboards. Do you think the band has found the good balance between keyboards and guitar on the new album?

There’s still not enough guitar! [Laughs] Yeah, it’s always sort of a balancing act. I can’t have too much guitar for me, but I understand that we have to cut Ryo [Okumoto] some slack and let him play [laughs]. But yeah, I think we got a pretty good balance on this record. It really gives a chance for everybody to step out and do something, and it’s pretty cool. Ted gets to play on some bits, he played some guitar, Jimmy gets to do a lot of stuff and Dave did some solos… We like to give everybody a chance to step out and shine.

Is there any chance to hear an album of the Morse brothers?

[Laughs] Again, who knows what might happen but we don’t really have any plans to do that. I don’t know, I’ve thought about it a few times, we also have another brother Richard who’s also a musician and quite talented… Maybe we’ll do a comedy album, a children record or something, I don’t know.

Interview conducted by phone on March, 20th 2013 by Metal’O Phil.
Questions and introduction: Spaceman.
Transcription: Chloé.

Spock’s Beard’s official website: www.spocksbeard.com

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