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Interviews   

TALKING ABOUT GOD WITH NEAL MORSE


A few years ago, Neal Morse left Spock’s Beard and distanced himself from the music industry to devote himself to God. Since then, given what his faith has brought him,it has become extremely difficult to write about anything else than his relationship with God, in his albums. Together, we talked about this relationship. With no gratuitous preaching on his side, Neal Morse believes that faith lies within someone and is personal, making it important to distinguish God from some religions, which are “really men-based, and not God-based”.

We also used this occasion to take the pulse of his relationship with Spock’s Beard, and of the future of a possible collaboration with his former colleagues, as well as with Transatlantic.

Interview.

« My goal is simply to do what I feel God wants me to do. I hope that people receive good things from it, that they would find their own path to God through what I’m doing and that I could be the help in some way. But I don’t really know how it’ll all work out. You don’t know exactly what God have in mind when you feel like he wants you to do something. »

Radio Metal : Testimony II is, as its name suggests, the follow-up of your first album, Testimony. Did you plan to do a follow-up in 2003, when you wrote this first Testimony ?

Neal Morse : In the back of my mind, I did think that maybe I would do a Testimony II at some point. On Testimony I, there were quite a few things that I didn’t write about, like my daughter Jayda’s healing when she was a little girl, or quitting the Eric Burdon band and quitting Spock’s Beard… There’s quite a bit that I didn’t covered on the first record. I remember thinking about it back then, I just didn’t know when it would actually happen.

This first album narrated the story of your relationship with religion. It must have seriously evolved to generate a complete album as a follow-up…

You know, it’s an on-going story. It’s like your relationship with your girlfriend or your wife: in the same way, my relationship with God is an on-going story. There’re landmarks and a lot more to tell on-goingly. This album Testimony II really covers a lot of things that happened to me between 1996 and 2002.

Did you witness other miracles like the one you talk about in Testimony Live, about your daughter?

I don’t think there isn’t been anything quite that dramatic, but I’ve experienced a lot of amazing things, a lot of really amazing miracles. It’s not always the big healings and that kind of things, sometimes, it’s just ideas that otherwise wouldn’t happen to your mind at particular times. I spoke in church the other day, and talked on the end of the Book Of John, and this young man came up to me and said: “That is so amazing, just this morning I was reading the same passages that you were talking on…” It’s a little thing, but I’m grateful for all those little miracles from God.

Why did you wait for so long to release a follow-up to the first Testimony album?

I don’t know. It just never felt like the right time. A friend of mine had big ideas in October or November, and I wasn’t sure what they were supposed to be and how to fit it all together. Then a friend of mine emailed me and said “hey have you thought of making a Testimony II?” I hadn’t been thinking about that, but I thought “well, maybe that’s the direction this music should take” I started to think about it and to work on it, and I began to feel like it was the right thing, so… it just felt like it was the right time.

« [Religion is] all about you, your heart, and your relationship with God »

You left Spock’s Beard years ago to dedicate your life to God. All the music you’ve written since deals with religion. What goal did you try to reach through your music? Do you just want to share your faith or do you hope to convert those who’re listening to your music?

My goal is simply to do what I feel God wants me to do. I hope that people receive good things from it, that they would find their own path to God through what I’m doing and that I could be the help in some way. But I don’t really know how it’ll all work out. You don’t know exactly what God have in mind when you feel like he wants you to do something. You can think “ok, I’m setting out to do this, so maybe I could convert people to christianity” or something, and that would be wonderful, but maybe he’s trying to reach one of the musicians in the band, it might be all for one person to hear and to be encouraged. So here’s the goal.

Since you have a very important relationship with religion, have you ever considered playing live in a church?

I’ve done that quite a bit! I did church services in some places in Europe. It’s been a real blessing. I love to play in churches, but I like to play in regular places too.

How did the people react? Prog rock is not the kind of music you use to hear in a church…

How did the people react? Prog rock is not the kind of music you use to hear in a church…

In France, we have a big hard-rock and metal festival called the Hellfest. Every year, we see some Christian organizations protesting against it because they pretend it’s a festival of satanic nature. Some politicians even tried to shut it down this year, although there’s never been any problem… What are your toughts about that?

I don’t know! I don’t know that festival. Say the name again?

The “Hellfest”.

[he laughs] Oh, I think it’s funny. People try to shut it down because they think it’s a bad influence?

Yeah, because they think it’s satanic. There’re hundred of hard-rock and metal bands and people think they all are anti-christian and satanist.

Well, I think that there’ll always be those kind of gatherings. I’m more interested in perceiving God myself, and I wouldn’t get involved and try to shut down something that I thought was satanic like that. Let people do their thing and express themselves, and when they’ll be ready to come to God, then hopefully they will.

So you think that religion is something that has to remain very personal?

Oh yes. It’s all about you, your heart, and your relationship with God. That’s the whole point. Jesus said “I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly”. It’s finding this abundant life in God for yourself. That’s what I’m interested in.

Most of the metal bands who use this imagery do it with humor, or ironically. Don’t you think that maybe some believers like irony, or a certain sense of provocation?

Sure, yeah. A certain sense of humour is great, I think we need more of that, it’s good, as long as it stays in good taste and doesn’t hurt anybody.

« I don’t believe in a God who would have the crusades… I think that a lot of times, what we call religion is really men-based, and not God-based. »

Because of all the crimes and conflicts that happen in the name of God or for the sake of religious beliefs, more and more people think that religion causes more harm than good. What would you answer to those who think that?

I would say that in many cases they’re right! I don’t believe in that kind of a God either. I don’t believe in a God who would have the crusades… I think that a lot of times, what we call religion is really men-based, and not God-based.

It sounds like you believe in God, but not in religion and all the stuff that there’s behind that.

It depends on which religion and which church. I think a lot of mainstream church is, like I said, men-based and not really God-based, even though they say they’re God-based. But I believe very strongly in the true church, in the true living God, Jesus… I believe in that very strongly, but I think the world is full of false religion as well.

Let’s talk a bit about Transatlantic, because The Whirlwind, the last album, talks about religion. It’s made of one unique epic song, and overall, the music tends to sounds like what you do with your own band. What do you have in Transatlantic that you can’t have in your solo band?

I feel like Transatlantic is unique in its own thing. Everybody brings something quite unique to the table, and I feel like The Whirlwind is very different. If you heard the original version of the demo that I did of something called “The Whirlwind”, what we had been releasing called “The Whirlwind” with Translatantic is almost a completely different piece of music. It’s just a unique thing, with all the influences of all the guys… I think it’s very special, and I feel honored to be part of it.

Why did you feel the need to call the guys back in order to make another Translatlantic record that many years after the latest album?

That’s a good question. There was a lot of different things that happened during these years. There’s been a couple of years during which I’ve been thinking about it. I felt like it was first planted in my mind by a friend of mine, Todd Barrow from church that isn’t even a fan. He had this concept about the whirlwind from the Bible. He said “you should write a piece called “The Whirlwind” and have Transatlantic record it.” That was so out of the blue for him to say that. I looked at him like “what are you talking about?”, but that’s one of the things that stayed in my mind. Sometimes God speaks to us through other people. Sometimes people say something and I just really feel like that was God trying to communicate something to me. That’s what I felt about that. And then about a year after that, I had lunch with this guy that I hadn’t seen for a while, and he started talking to me about doing this Transatlantic album and encouraging me to do it. I just prayed about it for a while and thought that was what God wanted me to do. So I called up the guys and…

Would you consider doing more records after The Whirlwind?

Yeah, sure. Who knows?

And would you consider having Daniel Gildenlöw contribute to a Transatlantic studio album?

I sure would consider it!

Would the fact that Daniel Gildenlöw isn’t a believer be a problem in case of an eventual recruitment? Is sharing your faith necessary to play by your side in Transatlantic or in your solo project?

No, I just have to feel like God wants me to do it with whoever I’m with. The Transatlantics are not believers and in the Steve Morse project thing that I’m doing, they are mostly non-believers too. Some are believers and some not. It depends on what I’m feeling at the time.

[About Spock’s Beard] »I think that’s really cool they struck out on their own without a label and kinda went guerilla on it. […]We’ll see what happens. I just take life day by day and do what things I think to do. I’ll definitely be seeing the guy this summer and we’ll see what happen. »

What are your relationship with the Spock’s Beard guys now?

Good, we’re gonna be on some of the same festivals this summer, so we’re talking about doing some songs together…

On stage?

Yeah, as well.

And maybe a featuring on a studio album? Is that possible?

Oh yeah! You know, they’re featured on Testimony II. There’re part where the guys from Spock’s Beard are singing in the song “Time Changer”. That’s them. In a sense, there’s the audio reunion of Spock’s Beard on Testimony II.

You left Spock’s Beard right after the release of the album Snow. This album is seen by the fans as a true masterpiece, possibly the best album by the band, but Spock’s Beard actually never had the chance to promote this album live. Would you consider playing this album with your ex-colleagues in a special event?

We’ve talked about it. We discussed it, but it never seemed to be feeling like the right time for everybody. There’re been different times when we thought about maybe getting together to do that and filming it and having a Snow dvd of it… But it never happened so far. I’m sure you would’ve know if it had, but yes. It has been discussed, but it hadn’t happened yet.

What is your opinion on the way they evolved, and on the fact that Nick [D’Virgilio] had become the lead singer?

I think it’s really good, I’m really happy for them. They did their last album on their own. I think that’s really cool they struck out on their own without a label and kinda went guerilla on it. I think they did a wonderful job and I’m so glad that this record was particularly so well received.

I guess you’ve had enough of being asked if there would be a chance to see you again in Spock’s Beard, but it wasn’t planned either to see Transatlantic back on stage, so it’s legitimate to ask: is it still out of the question?

Well, we’ll see what happens. I don’t really know. I just take life day by day and do what things I think to do. I’ll definitely be seeing the guy this summer and we’ll see what happen.

Interview conducted on april, 20th, 2011 by phone.

Transcription : Chloé

Neal Morse’s Website : www.nealmorse.com



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