The Neal Morse Band’s Randy George: The Progarchy Interview

The Neal Morse Band, Innocence & DangerInside Out Music, August 27, 2021
Tracks: 
CD 1: 1. Do It All Again (08:55) 2. Bird On A Wire (07:22) 3. Your Place In The Sun (04:12) 4. Another Story To Tell (04:50) 5. The Way It Had To Be (07:14) 6. Emergence (03:12) 7. Not Afraid Pt 1 (04:53) 8. Bridge Over Troubled Water (08:08)
CD2: 9. Not Afraid Pt 2 (19:32) 10.Beyond The Years (31:22)

Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Randy George from the Neal Morse Band about their upcoming album, Innocence & Danger. What an album! After back-to-back double concept albums, the band decided to make an album of independent songs. It’s still a double album, but it’s very digestible.

Innocence & Danger has quickly risen to one of my favorite albums of the year, and Randy George’s brilliant bass playing has a lot to do with that. His bass is more prominent in the mix, and it really shines opposite Mike Portnoy’s drums in the rhythm section. I think Neal Morse’s vocals also deserve a mention as they are the best they have sounded in years. Maybe that’s due to a lack of touring over the past year+, but he (and everyone else) sound great. The vocal harmonies are turned up to the max, and the prog is in full force. But don’t be surprised if you hear a few other surprise elements in the music – something we talk a bit about in the interview below. Oh, and “Beyond the Years,” the album’s 31-minute epic, may be the best long song I’ve heard from Neal Morse and company.

This interview was conducted on July 21, 2021 via Zoom. There was quite a bit of scratchiness in the Zoom audio, so I’ve decided to spare you that and just give you the transcript, which was edited lightly for readability. The interview is pretty wide ranging. We start with an update on the last year and a half for Randy before we go into a deep dive of the album. Then we discuss some of Randy’s influences as a musician before we talk a bit about the history of prog, it’s place in the music world, and how the future will look back on their music. 

NealMorseBand_2

Bryan: Thanks for joining me here for Progarchy. I really appreciate you taking the time.

Randy: Yeah! Happy to do it.

Bryan: It’s been tough career-wise for musicians without being able to tour. How’ve you been in that regard?

Randy: Well, you know, I guess we’re all feeling it to some degree. I guess as a function of where I live it hasn’t really been that bad. We had done that Cover to Cover 3 CD, and it was wrapped and delivered to the label before the pandemic hit. There were some videos that needed to be [made]. We wanted to do videos, so there were a few videos, and I did a couple of those. And then Neal [Morse] did Sola Gratia. I recorded that and then we did videos for that. Then we did Morsefest in September, and my wife and I have been playing locally since September, pretty much twice a month or three times a month ever since last September.

In a lot of ways, yeah we had to wear masks a little more during the time, but for the most part we kept busy. We felt it most right at the beginning. Everybody was sort of freaked out, got shut down March through July or whatever. Then people started to open up a bit. So initially everyone was a little bit like, wow, there’s nowhere to go. But we both work from home. We really didn’t travel outside very much. We’re here on our own little plot. Plenty to keep us busy here. But yeah I watched it from a distance. I’m sure for some people it was really hard, and it sucks that it had to happen like that. I look forward to the end.

Bryan: Yeah I think everybody does. Morsefest was one of the first – definitely one of the biggest in the prog world of concerts that came back in person. That was kind of exciting because it was a glimmer of hope after so many months of nothing at all live-wise.

Randy: People will always find a way.

Bryan: Yeah exactly. I’ve had a chance to listen to Innocence and Danger a little bit over the last couple of days. It’s a fantastic album. It feels like a little bit of a different direction, especially after the last two concept albums. Can you tell me about how the album came together?

Randy: Well, the whole thing – we were going to start working on Innocence & Danger way back in the beginning of 2020. We initially signed a record deal with Inside Out. Then the pandemic hit. Mike [Portnoy] was really busy with Sons of Apollo, and we didn’t really have any clear cut date in mind that we could get together and do this. So quite honestly between signing the deal and getting in the studio to do this, it was more than a year. We did in January come together at Neal’s house and wrote the whole thing in about twelve days and tracked the drums and took it home and developed it over the next couple months, and Rich [Mouser] mixed it.

We went into it not having a lot of pre-written material. Neal didn’t have anything. Bill [Hubauer] and I both brought recorded ideas that were predominantly raw ideas that could be developed rather than finished demos that already had a lot of development to them. The Neal Morse Band tends to – no matter what you bring in, they want to redo it. So we kind of, it’s easier to bring in ideas that they can all sort of get their head into and write with. Some of it is much easier to do that, between Bill and I and Eric [Gillette], we have plenty of musical stuff. Neal, of course, he may not have come in with anything, but he gets up early in the morning and he’ll start writing and work on ideas then we end up working on them the same day or the next day. So Neal does actually write a fair amount of stuff. He just doesn’t always go into the session with all of it prepared, unless it’s a concept thing were he has an idea. We knew this wasn’t going to be another concept album. We just wanted to do an album of songs. We felt it was the right time for that.

Bryan: Was that in January of this year?

Randy: Yeah that was January of 2021. It was pretty much done by April as far as everybody’s personal tracks and getting it mixed and stuff. When we take it home, everybody sort of does their bit based on the scratch ideas that we put down when we wrote it and developing it, seeing that, “oh this would be cooler if we did this.” A lot of times everybody gets it, checks it out, somebody pitches an idea, then everybody sort of adjusts their tracks to match. Occasionally we’ll do some rearrangement. We might add stuff, add drums or take away drums. This verse needs to go around again. I think this space here should be longer, I think maybe there should be something right before it. A lot of little things that can happen like that. Somebody has to initially mock it up and then send out new tracks – new drum tracks and new instrument tracks. Then everybody edits their bit to match. That kind of stuff happens, and then the vocals same thing. There’ll be a lot of “hey I’d like to hear Eric do the verse,” or “I’d like to hear Bill on that chorus.” Several guys might do the same part and listen to them all and decide which one works best. That kind of stuff happens when we take it home.

Bryan: When did the lyrics come together? I imagine the music comes first with you guys throwing around ideas. With this not being a concept album, did the lyrics come a bit differently than the last couple of albums?

Randy: Probably not because the process is the same. The only thing that makes the difference is the last couple of albums were concepts where you’re carrying through a storyline and you’re writing to a storyline. You take that away and it’s still the same process. You still gotta sit down and write lyrics to the music. That’s something Neal is particularly really good at. After we got home, I think the first thing Neal did is write lyrics, and I think he wrote most of them. There were some ideas in place already. Neal got at least a first draft of all the lyrics so we had a sense of the songs so we can hear somebody singing it.

Neal will often mock up vocals the way he’s hearing the harmonies and everything. He’ll do these mockups where he’ll do all the parts, and then once all that’s in place, he’ll do his instruments. The other guys will begin, “Bill this is your part, Eric this is your part, Mike this is your part,” for vocals. Mike will track stuff like vocals at home, and percussion. Occasionally he’ll record a drum track at home if he needs to. There’s one thing he recorded at home. I can’t remember what it was. He added some drums to something that originally didn’t have it. By the time we got to the end we felt it needed drums. I think it’s “I’m Not Afraid Part 1.” “Send it over and I’ll do it from here.” He’s got a setup at home where he can track, so he added those later.

Bryan: That makes sense since that’s a quieter song as a precursor to the longer 20 minute “I’m Not Afraid Part 2.”

Randy: Yeah. That was one of Neal’s things that he came up with during the week – a result of some of his early morning sessions. He wrote “Not Afraid Part 1” and then Part 2. At least a lot of the ideas in Part 2, most of the ideas he had sketched out and we put it all together. We wrote some of it as we went too. There was sometimes “where are we going to go know. Oh you know Randy had that idea. Why don’t we try Randy’s whatever idea.” I don’t know what name it was given at that point. We put all those bits and pieces on a whiteboard. Mike sort of gives them a name. He loves being the organizer. In a lot of ways Mike produces, he sits back and produces. He does a lot of what a producer does.

Bryan: He was pretty well known for that in Dream Theater too back in the day, so that’s interesting to hear that he’s stepped into that role in the Neal Morse Band as well.

Randy: Yeah he always kind of has. It’s a collaboration, but Mike is really good at listening to what’s going on. He won’t say anything until he has something to say about it like – It’s different when we’re still writing, because he’s working on drum things. When we’re not necessarily working on something drum-wise and we’re trying to iron out a chorus, or where does this go from here, musical stuff that maybe Neal and Bill will be talking about, sometimes Mike will offer up arrangement suggestions on, you know, “what if we took Bill’s idea and married it with that other thing,” you know, that kind of thing. There’s a lot of that going on. We all sort of do that too. It’s a self-produced album. The process involves everybody.

Bryan: What stood out to me in the promo material the label sent us – you mentioned there was a greater level of collaboration on this record, and it sounds that way in the finished product. There’s a bit more diversity. It sounds a little bit less like a regular Neal Morse solo album, and it sounds like something completely different compared to the last couple of albums.

Randy: When you’re doing an album of just songs, standalone songs, it’s a lot easier to do because you’re not writing to a storyline. There’s not a big element that’s sort of driving the writing process. You’re just writing songs. “Oh that’s cool, we could do something with that, let’s try that.” And you end up writing a song. It’s a lot freer. It’s a more freeing experience. I can play a demo. “Oh that sounds good, why don’t we work with that?” “Bird on a Wire” – [hums a part of the song] that whole thing was one of my demos, and I played it, and Neal was like “Ok I like this. That could be cool. Let’s work with it. Let’s play it.” Basically what we ended up with is where it went. Yeah, the heavy guitar riffing is Eric. Those were all Eric’s ideas. The “I have a fire” section I think was Bill’s, and Bill “I’m thinking, this is what I’m hearing, why don’t we try this” [hums a bit]. And he’d play that. You sort of build pieces. “Ok we got this much. Now where are we gonna go.” The more pieces you build, “oh we should come back to this, or we should do this again. Let’s do this, but let’s do it slower, bigger.” Things like that. A lot of the same writing process goes into it just the same as if it were a double concept album. The only difference is you’re just freer in being able to take a piece of music and run with it and not feel like it has to connect up and be part of something bigger. It can stand on its own.

“Bird on a Wire” Music Video – YouTube

Bryan: Right. In that regard, is it a little bit easier to write a 30 minute long standalone track than it is to write 15 songs that are all supposed to be connected thematically?

Randy: It’s the same process. A lot of it has to do with feeling your way through it so you kind of know that this should end here and go into something else. When you’re doing a thirty minute epic, that can be the same thing. A double concept can be very much the exact same thing. Like a string of songs that are interwoven by music. I think like with “Beyond the Years,” there were different sections, being a thirty minute song. Bill had about 17 minutes of it demoed up. That’s one of the big things he brought in. Already he sort of had a cool thing going on in it. About 17 minutes of it he had demoed up, and we were able to use most of that. We only had to write in a few places.

We got to a point, “ok, where do we go from here.” I threw out that [hums a bass line from “Beyond the Years”] – you know the whole chromatic thing. Neal was just looking at me funny – he was just smiling like “What’s that?” I’m like, “I don’t know. I was just making it up.” He’s like, “Oh, can we use that? I think that’s exactly what it needs right here. You just throw out something, and it goes in that direction. Then all of the sudden, you know, “oh there’s supposed to be a bass solo here.” And then Mike starts playing some really crazy drum line. And you kind of feel out all the sections, how long should these things go, and you get to a point where [hums another bass line] – the heavy chunky stuff, and then Eric does the long solo. Once you sort of get these things going, and there’s the solo here, he does the solo. Then Bill has some way to come out of it, there’s this huge [hums] and lands. Then you fall back into one of your earlier choruses or themes, which you now do slower and bigger. It’s more grandiose.

Within the song everything ties together, but it doesn’t have to connect to any other song. That’s the difference. In a concept album, it might be like you’re writing to a story line, but before there’s a break there, there’s a little more of a story, and you’ll keep writing, and pretty soon you’re up to 45 minutes before there’s a break. Disc 1, disc 2, and broken into parts. The natural breaks where you can create parts, because you’re not titling them as songs, per se. You’re just titling them as parts of the story, which have subtitles that relate to the lyrics. When you’re doing just a 30 minute epic, you’re not really thinking about all that. You can do that, but it’s strictly conceptual. You’re not really writing to a conceptual idea; you just have a really long song. But as long as you keep bringing back the familiar themes throughout, then people have a sense of continuity, that you’re still in the same song. On a concept album, that might not be necessary. You just do something up to a point, and then you never get back to it. You go onto the next one and the next one, and you’re not really worried about encapsulating them into a song that you think of as a song, because it’s a part and different things are happening and you’re going in the story, so you don’t have to think in song form. You think in short song forms and then tie them all together with music. That’s probably the big difference. It’s much freer when you’re just doing standalone songs because you don’t have to think about a lot of that.

Bryan: The bass solo in “Beyond the Years” is fantastic. The bass throughout the whole album felt like it was, maybe this is just because I was listening to the record as I was preparing for this interview, so maybe I was noticing the bass more, but it felt like it was more prominent in the mix than it was on the last few albums. I don’t know if that’s true or not – might just be what I heard with this interview in mind.

Randy: I deliberately did a few things differently. Some of it is an experiment and really trying to discover what works, what doesn’t work. It’s an ongoing process. So yeah some of the bass in this will stand out a little more than before because it was like, I’ve got different tones available now. I’ll let Rich pick and choose how he wants to do it. I’ve got four different sources, a couple different Sansamp and a dry feed from the Avalon. So there’s four tracks of bass all that sound different from each other. It’s a lot of mix and match, pushing up faders together, seeing which tracks blend, and where do you put this one and that one. A lot of playing around, so a lot of times I would do a sub mix of the sounds that I liked in the arrangement that I like, as far as where each on sat to create a bigger sound that’s made up of smaller parts. I would send Rich a track like that throughout the song where I would mix different sounds myself. And then send him all the individual sounds, so if my particular sub mix didn’t work as well in his studio when he’s listening back and trying to mix it, he might go back to the original and decide that he likes maybe just this track by itself, it worked better. A lot of that was Rich’s doing. I didn’t necessarily know which, “what’s this one, what did you use for this?” And sometimes I was just like, wow this is really killer. Like “Not Afraid Part 2” particularly was really great. It was just one of the four sounds.

Bryan: Were the four tones any different than what you’ve used in the past?

Randy: Two of them are what I’ve always used. I added two more. It’s a different Sansamp that they came out with with two different channels. I was trying to see what worked. Trying to find certain frequency ranges that the particular Sansamp might, it would push a little more with it, just to give, always trying to change up sound a little bit. Seems impossible to find another bass that’ll work as well. I just like playing with different sound on the instrument that I always play. Try to see with whatever sounds I can come up with that work in the context of this music. That’s really what it always comes down to. Does it work in the context of this music? Any number of basses can work for me just fine, but will it work in the Neal Morse Band? That’s always big, especially when you’re in the studio. Live it’s a little less critical. But in the studio, yeah, try to find the sound that works. My sound has always been sort of just right, because it has to sit in a ton of keyboard layers. Doubled up guitar. There’s so much going on, and it would just disappear. If I wasn’t looking after it, it would be swallowed up.

Bryan: When you’re playing with a drummer like Mike, when you guys are the rhythm section – he’s a big drummer. He’s known for that big sound – to be able to work into that. It sounds great, but that’s gotta be a challenge.

Randy: Yeah. I use different basses. I use fretless on a lot of songs. I think I used fretless on “Not Afraid Part 1” and “The Way it Had to Be.” I think those are the two I used fretless. I don’t think there was anything else I used fretless on. “Your Place in the Sun” was my ’65 Wilkins P bass, and sounds more of a P bass with flatwound strings kind of vibe. It’s fun to really depart… when we do a song that I can depart from the whole Sansamp Spector sound – I always love moments when I get to do that. That’s kind of nice.

Bryan: It seemed like there was a departure from – some of the past albums there was a little bit of a metal flare, and I didn’t get that vibe as much on this record, but then on some of the shorter tracks I could hear almost a Beatles vibe and then, one of them, it’s almost a Supertramp sound. I picked up on that and thought “oh this is great.” It brought in that kind of pop texture, but it was still totally prog. It still had that complexity you guys are known for, but bringing in those elements.

Randy: It’s an interesting blend. I think we tried to just sort of run the spectrum. The most poppy song on the album is “Your Place in the Sun,” and then “Another Story to Tell,” which is the one that probably reminded you of Supertramp.

Bryan: Yup.

Randy: Much more poppy song. Then there’s “Not Afraid Part 1,” which is very Neal-esque. Not unlike songs like “Supernatural,” for instance. And then he did a nice little guitar soliloquy, which he does before “Not Afraid.” “The Way It Had to Be.” Very Pink Floydy kind of vibe. We wrote that in the original writing sessions for The Great Adventure. It was one of those songs that got lost in the shuffle, and it didn’t get used. Everybody really liked it at the time. We just lost track of it for a while. Then when we found that we had got to 90 minutes of music on this new album, we realized that it was probably just going to end up being a double CD. The only way to do that was to add a little more, because we didn’t quite have enough for two, and we didn’t want to do the bonus disc thing. Bill had mentioned, “hey you know there’s that song from the writing session we never used. Why don’t we look at that.” And they pulled it out, Mike put down some drums. It ended up being really cool. I think it’s a great song. Like I said, we wrote it and we liked it. We just lost track of it in the shuffle. That was nice, and then they sat down and forged the “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” arrangement. They did that basically to try to stretch it out, to make enough for two decent discs that aren’t too long to listen to, each. Try not to do the 79 minute CD thing again [laughs].

Bryan: It’s one of the nice things I think about it not being a concept album and it being individual songs is you can take it in in spurts. You don’t feel compelled to sit down and listen to it all in one go. You can take it little bit by little bit, especially with “Beyond the Years.” That’s kind of a standalone thing to digest on its own.

Randy: “Beyond the Years” was definitely our epic. It’s about as prog as it gets. There’s some really great stuff on it. I really love, I’m trying to think of what it’s called. “Watercolor sky” section. They’e subtitled, I believe. I’d have to look at the album. I think “Beyond the Years” is subtitled, like bands used to do. One of them is called “Watercolor Sky.” I love that section. It’s got a Trick of the Tail era Genesis feel to it. It was really cool. The whole song is really good, but that was one of my favorite standout parts in that particular song.

Bryan: There’s a beautiful organ section in there too. Reminds me of Yes in a lot of ways.

Randy: The “Close to the Edge” section. [Laughs]

Bryan: [Laughs] Yeah exactly.

Randy: We’ve got more than one of those. There was one of those on The Great Adventure too. Those moments will always come around. The classic Close to the Edge moment, there’s the Genesis part, there’s the Gentle Giant vocal thing. Those references are always gonna, we’re never gonna get away from that because that’s what fed into it to begin with. That’s how we ended here, so it’s not like we should be surprised, right.

Bryan: Yeah. Those vocal harmonies, like you said, that picked up multiple times on the record. It sounds so great.

Randy: In the past we’ve done – well yeah, there is that one very much like that, and that’s also in “Beyond the Years.” I love that. That’s right out of the “Watercolor Sky” part. And then at the end there’s a whole other one at the end that reminds me of an 80s Yes kind of thing. Long vocal passage that, because it was going to repeat, and Neal felt it needed something more. If it’s gonna repeat it needs something more in there. It didn’t quite feel enough, so Bill wrote that last vocal thing, and they put that in there. We’re a prog band, I guess. We’re too old to change now. [Laughs]

Bryan: That’s right, and the fans wouldn’t want you to, right? [Laughs]

Randy: I hope not. [Laughs] We love it.

Bryan: That’s a good segue to – I wanted to ask you a little bit about some of your personal influences as a bassist. Obviously I’m imagining Chris Squire is a big influence, but I was wondering if there are any other big influences in your life as a musician?

Randy: Things that tend to surface sometimes surprise me because of where I think they probably came from. It’s not always the bass player. I sometimes do Steve Howe type riffs on bass. It would be an idea I heard Steve Howe do or remind me of something that Steve Howe did.

Same with Steve Morse. When I was younger I really – until then Chris Squire was the only thing, and then I discovered the Dixie Dregs, which gave me a whole new thing to sink my teeth into. I tended to learn more of the guitar riffs. Obviously there was unison riffs they played and those were great, but most of them were written by Steve. Andy [West] is really great too, and the stuff I hear him play that’s full-on Andy’s ideas that are in the Dregs, you know, where Steve didn’t have something rhythm that he wanted to play and he gave Andy space to be Andy – there’s a lot of great stuff in that too. So it’s like, here’s another bass player who plays with a pick and fast riffs.

Rush – Geddy [Lee]. Geddy is always going to be a formidable influence, but it’s not just Geddy. Neil [Peart] and Alex [Lifeson] too. I tended to break down the bands and paid attention to each individual guy and what he was doing. It wasn’t just like I listened to it for the bass. I loved how everything worked together. I kind of look for that in whatever I’m doing and respond to it in that fashion.

A lot of things influence me. Moody Blues really comes through in my writing, which is really strange because I never tried to sound or write like the Moody Blues. It’s a very organic thing because I listened to them at such a young age. I tend to approach songs similarly. I hear things that I really like and I think, “Aww I wish I had written that. I wish I could write something like that.” I’ve tried to write different things, but you hear a little bit of everything that I listen to. They rear their heads in everything I do. It could be anything from a guitar riff to a keyboard riff to even a vocal thing. It’s just how I hear something and how I reference the things I’m hearing as to how it reminds me of this, to think about what somebody did in that and maybe try something similar and see how it all works.

With Neal’s stuff, I’ve sort of just fallen into my own way of approaching Neal Morse songs and music because I’ve been doing it for quite a while and it’s all sort of very organic and natural now. I don’t have to think quite as hard. It’s Eric Gillette riffs that kill me. I have to work really hard to learn Eric’s riffs. he’s the one that’s got insane chops, so that pushes you a lot. I don’t mind doing it. It makes me a better player, but it’s very challenging. It’s taken a long time to settle into my groove with Neal, so it’s very natural now. Some of that stuff [Eric’s riffs] can be really, wow, it’s really challenging. And even Neal still writes stuff that’s very challenging.

Bryan: You’ve been with Neal now for over fifteen years?

Randy: Eighteen years.

Bryan: That’s a long time.

Randy: 2003.

Bryan: Wow I didn’t realize it went back that far.

Randy: Isn’t it crazy? I figured we’d – I don’t know. I’m glad we’re still doing it all this time later. The band will still keep going as long as we can do it. I’m really glad in that respect because we’re contributing to the tapestry of progressive rock music in our time. 100 years from now will they look back and remember our music? Will anybody take an interest in it 100 years from now, and what form would that take if they did? Just the same as we in school, if you go to college now, they’re referencing Eric Copeland and Stravinsky, people who lived within the last century. 300 years later they’re still doing Bach, they’re still doing Mozart. Those were the music forms of the time, so with all the music now it’s like, how much of it is still going to be referenced or even being performed in 100 years. A symphony orchestra is going to start doing Rolling Stones? [Laughs] It’s interesting to think about how it’s gonna endure. For now we just do the best we can. As long as people keep enjoying what we’re doing, we’ll probably keep doing it.

Bryan: It’s cool how as a band you’re able to take those various disparate influences – something like Yes and the Beatles and all that and pull that together and make something new that you can still kind of pick out, “oh this reminds me of that,” but when you listen closely, it really doesn’t sound quite like that. It has those elements, but it’s something completely new.

Randy: See if you had this conversation with the Yes guys back when they were starting out – think about all the music that played into theirs, and it’s funny how they interpreted it. McCartney 3,2,1 on Hulu is really fascinating in that respect. Paul talks a lot about, and he will reference a song by Little Richard and then he’ll play the Beatles song, and you realize they’re playing the exact same thing. It’s the same chord progressions, the same rhythmic figures, and they did that a lot, but you would never have made that correlation on your own because you accept the Beatles – they had this sound and you may not have listened to a lot of the things they did [listen to], so you don’t necessarily recognize those elements in their music.

One hundred years from now if somebody listens to our music, it will be interesting to think about what they might think we listened to or what inspired us to do this music at that time. What was going on at that time that inspired us. Will they see, “oh they grew up listening to Emerson Lake & Palmer, Gentle Giant, Genesis,” you know, music history. I don’t know if we’ll actually end up in anybody’s music history 100 years from now, but you know, I think you have to look at what has endured until now and why it has endured. I don’t know. It’s hard to know what the thing that’s going to be that’s really going to last. But we’ve lasted a long time doing what we’re doing. It’s changed a bit, but it’s stayed the same a lot. You just do what you do, and it becomes your catalog. When it’s over, it’s over and off it goes to the ages.

Bryan: It seems like this kind of music has more staying power, at least amongst fans than say top 40 music does. The people who listen to top 40 will keep listening to whatever’s new. They’re not going to keep listening to that old stuff. Prog fans are pretty dedicated. We’re still listening to the old stuff. You’ve got younger people like me who go back and listen to the old stuff as well as absorb the new.

Randy: There’s been a shift in progressive rock over the last 20 years. A lot of guys now say progressive rock they’re thinking something that sounds like Dream Theater and such. More heavy, chunky, guitar-driven shredding kind of stuff. It’s its own thing, but it’s that generation’s perception of the music. They’re doing it with pop, because really a lot of it comes from a pop mentality where you’ve got this very Beatles-esque quality to the music, and you can hear it very much in the poppier songs. Neal and Mike both are such huge Beatles fans. That element of pop does filter into our music. We made that thing heavy. We took that mentality, that theory, and made it heavier and more symphonic. However the younger generation is taking the idea of going out of the creative lines the mainstream has drawn and doing that with the music they play, which is obviously much heavier and the influence is much heavier metal bands – Judas Priest, Metallica, a lot of the 90s bands, maybe Nirvana, Soundgarden. A lot of the younger kids grew up listening to a lot of that. That was what colored their world of the day. And Dream Theater was an up and coming band at that time. There was a lot to play into that.

It goes through shifts. The whole Beatles-theory prog, you know, the 60s throughout the 70s, has been embraced over the last 30 years by our generation, sooner or later it’s going to disappear because our generation is going to be gone. The younger generation is going to come up and they’re going to have what they do. That’s going to be the thing that’s going to be around for a long time. Just like now we think back to the 50s and we think, “wow that’s a really long time ago. The 40s, wow, that’s a really long time ago.” I don’t know if the further time goes the less relevant people will probably see you. Our generation will hold onto it. We’ll be dying with The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. [Jokingly] “Give me my copy of the Lamb quick before I go.” When we’re gone, it’ll be gone. That style, that particular… hopefully there will be some younger cats that really keep it alive. That’s why I say, people hear it years later, “Oh that’s an interesting musical sound. Why don’t we do something like that. Why don’t we do a concert of that music.” Because in that day that stuff may be just far removed from people’s minds. That happens. Sure it gets recorded somewhere, and people looking for it will find it, but sooner or later everything fades. Things fade over the years. We keep it alive as best we can. Hope the younger cats will keep it alive, but time waits for no one. It just keeps on moving.

Bryan: It’s different I think with, since the advent of recorded music and being able to play back a specific recording – that’s a whole different world than say having an orchestra playing Bach or Handel or something like that, where that’s how that music stayed alive – where other people kept playing it. You have cover bands today – Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd cover bands, but it’s a different kind of animal. I wonder moving forward how that’s going to look.

Randy: That’s the funny thing because I think there will always be a Zeppelin tribute band somewhere. Led Zeppelin is one of those bands that will in impact younger generations for ages to come.

Bryan: That energy.

Randy: I think it’s younger generations hopefully, if – the better educated they are, the more likely they are to find and enjoy this kind of music because it’s cerebral. There’s a lot of rockers and they hate this kind of stuff because it’s just not their thing. But it’s funny how when you find the real deal, it’s kind of like there’s a thing they [more mainstream rockers] do that I can’t do. My brain doesn’t work that way. I would try to play this more perfect, you know. I wouldn’t be so loose and greasy with it. Some guys just have a natural way of that. It’s all about the character. Hendrix had this character, this thing, and people loved it. He didn’t need a ton of stuff. Just him and bass and drums, but he could tell the whole story within that, and it’s been embraced for decades. Beatles were the same way, not being a huge outfit, they were able to make music that will definitely outlive all of them and us, probably.

There will always be people who will probably do it. Prog has always been such an always down here, hidden back. That’s kind of how it is in the mainstream. If you look at the mainstream today it’s like, where’s all the musicians? It’s not about music. There’s plenty of good musicians. They’re all good musicians some of the guys who get hired to play for pop stars. They’re very capable, but it’s not about that or them. It’s about one singer wearing costumes and dancing. It’s a show. Bands – the Rolling Stones, the Whos, the Zeppelins, Beatles of the world where they just became superstars for that thing they did. It’s hard to find that anymore.

Bryan: It really is. You don’t see a lot of younger bands being able to breach that level of success that those earlier guys did.

Randy: Different age. Different day and age. Back then, we didn’t have enough information to tell us that there was this much more. If you can look into the future in 1970 seeing what music would be like in 2010, for instance, you’d be like, “wow nobody would believe this. This was huge, why don’t we try this.” In this day and age, you might get that information, even implement it, there’s not guarantee it would catch on.

Rock ‘n roll was the same thing. When they first started doing it, most people didn’t take it seriously. They thought, “no one is going to like this.” It’s noisy, it just wasn’t what people were used to. People hate change. They love what they’re used to. Throw a wrench in that and people get a little weird about it. Certain kind of people will be the real kind of music fans – they get it and might thrive in that. But it did take and it evolved throughout the 60s and 70s. The instruments evolved. Something happened in the 80s. It got really plastic. In the 90s they turned that around and said the heck with all the plastic stuff. Bring back our guitars and just play some guitar. They had the right idea. By the 2000s, Disney had taken over the world.

But we’re still doing it. We’re underground. We have our own network and companies, even record labels – we’re signed to Sony. Sony is Inside Out. Record labels said let’s just buy up all the record labels. That way we don’t have to worry about genretizing the music. We just buy the existing record label that does that and fund them and let them do that because they already know that market. It’s significant because progressive rock has been kept alive by our generation long enough that it’s grown. Our generation became computer programmers, the geeks, and have plenty of money. They have no problem buying all the crazy products.

Back in 1971, who had the album with the CDs and the deluxe package with the DVD? They couldn’t even comprehend those packages. You got a record album in a sleeve. It was a beautiful thing. You didn’t know there could be more, so we accepted that. We hated when it changed and when it went away to the point now we’re old enough to – let’s go find the stuff and bring it back [laughs] – vinyl, it’s come back because our generation got tired of all the other formats. Some are great, some aren’t. There was just no replacement for the sound of vinyl when you’re in the room, right? Even if you have one of those Magnavox console stereos – there was a sound. It had a sound. It’s great.

Bryan: I’ll ask one more question before I let you go – about touring. You’ve got Morsefest coming up, but do you have any tour plans that are starting to solidify now that things are maybe sorta starting to open up. I know we’re seeing some places closing back down.

Randy: We released the tour dates. We’re going to use Morsefest to kick off the tour. Morsefest is going to be two nights of music, so there’s a lot of music. Right out of Morsefest we head off to the first show in Seattle, and then we have a string of shows after that in the US. I think there’s about 9 more shows. That will be starting basically from Morsefest and continue for the next couple of weeks. We’re going to Europe in May. With Europe, we had to push it out. That’s the plan.

Bryan: That’s great. Thanks so much for your time tonight. You’ve been very generous. It was great talking about the album. It’s fantastic, and I know the fans will enjoy it.

Randy: We hope so. We’re very happy with it.

Bryan: I’ll let you go. Thanks again for your time. Have a good night.

Randy: Thanks, Bryan. Take care.

Bryan: Bye.


Check out the band’s webpage for tour dates: https://www.nealmorse.com/2021/06/18/nmbtourdates/
Album out August 27 – Pre-order links: https://thenealmorseband.lnk.to/InnocenceAndDangerID

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