Neal Morse

By Grace Alone: A Conversation With Neal Morse

Scary man with scythe is the winter snow.

Neal Morse, Sola Gratia, September 11, 2020, Inside Out Music

Tracks: 1. Preface (01:28), 2. Overture (05:59), 3. In The Name Of The Lord (04:27), 4. Ballyhoo (The Chosen Ones) (02:43), 5. March Of The Pharisees (01:40), 6. Building A Wall (05:01), 7. Sola Intermezzo (02:10), 8. Overflow (06:27), 9. Warmer Than The Sunshine (03:22), 10. Never Change (07:52), 11. Seemingly Sincere (09:34), 12. The Light On The Road To Damascus (03:26), 13. The Glory Of The Lord (06:17), 14. Now I Can See/The Great Commission (05:17)

Last Saturday, August 29, 2020, I had the great opportunity to talk to the magnificent Neal Morse about his new solo album, Sola Gratia. Morse is perhaps the most ubiquitous artist of “third wave” progressive rock. You’d be hard pressed to find contemporary progressive rock artists that aren’t influenced by him in some way. His latest solo effort proves why. The lyrical and musical songwriting is in peak form.

As a sequel to 2007’s Sola Scriptura, this album finds Morse exploring the story of the Apostle Paul’s conversion from a persecutor of Christians to the faith’s most ardent missionary. It is a profound story of God’s grace. Morse explores the drama of this story as Paul (then called Saul) wrestles with the newly founded Christian church and the sincerity of its followers. While Paul is on his way to Damascus to persecute more Christians, Jesus appears to him. Paul then converts and repents. The album ends with Paul converting and glorifying God, leaving us on a cliffhanger of sorts for a possible part 2 in the future.

The album pulls a few lyrical and musical highlights from Sola Scriptura, but, as Morse says in the interview below, they are merely sprinklings. It is enough to be familiar without sounding like a retread. The music gives room for the listener to breathe and think about the lyrics, which makes this an enjoyable album to return to. At just over an hour long it isn’t a chore to return to as a double album might be. The music has its expected complexity with the usual suspects playing on the album – primarily Mike Portnoy and Randy George – but the lyrics are the highlight here. There are a lot of calm moments that allow you to reflect. I found that quite appealing about the album, and it has quickly become one of my favorite Neal Morse solo albums.

But enough of that. The interview covers the background of the album, how it was written, and its connections to Sola Scriptura. We talked a bit about Paul, and Transatlantic and Flying Colors came up a few times as well.

Neal Morse at keyboards

Neal: Hello.

Bryan: Hi, this is Bryan from Progarchy.

Neal: Hey how you doing man?

Bryan: Good how are you?

Neal: Good! Good good.

Bryan: Thanks so much for your time this morning. I really appreciate it. I know you’re a busy man.

Neal: Well, you know, got a couple things going on. That’s alright. I’m sure you do too.

Bryan: Well I don’t have an album coming out every month. [laughs]

Neal: [Laughs] Yeah.

Bryan: So tell me about the background for your upcoming album, Sola Gratia. I’ve had a chance to listen to it several times, and it’s fantastic.

Neal: Oh thanks man. Thanks, I’m glad you like it. Well I mean I started getting these ideas while I was on vacation – sort of half vacation half work actually. We did some gigs down in Australia, and then we took a trip to New Zealand and I was just getting a flood of ideas.

Continue reading “By Grace Alone: A Conversation With Neal Morse”

Premiere: International Prog Rock Outfit UMAE Premiere “Drift” Single

UMÆ - Drift

International progressive rock outfit UMÆ have previously launched two singles via PROG Magazine and, and coming today exclusively via Progarchy is the third single from the upcoming full-length debut “Lost in the View.” A new single titled “Drift” can be streamed below.

Vocalist and guitarist Anthony Cliplef, guitarist and backing vocalist Guðjón Sveinsson, and drummer Samy-George Salib have gathered a line-up of guest musicians for the debut album, with singer John Wesley (solo, Porcupine Tree), guitarist Eric Gillette (Neal Morse Band, Mike Portnoy’s Shattered Fortress), keyboardist Adam Holzman (Steven Wilson, Miles Davis), and bassist Conner Green (Haken) being the most prominent names. 

About “Drift,” Anthony Cliplef commented: “I wrote the outro section years ago, on guitar. The outro and the rest of the song remained as two separate pieces for a long time, until I coincidentally played them back-to-back. From there, this became the seed of another track which Guðjón and I would collaborate on. I had lyrics for the outro, which were never used, however, the melody was still viable. We ended up putting in an ebow line using that very melody I had in mind, which G’s string arrangement would echo towards the end. In this track, Conner returns on bass, with an inspired bass line, brilliantly reflecting some of the vocal melody in the verses, and bolstering the building power of the outro. Jamison Smeltz, lays down an amazing sax solo towards the end, backed by a powerful string arrangement and rising tension on all instruments.

Guðjón Sveinsson adds: “Compared to the previous singles, this track displays more of the melancholic feel that is strewn around the album. Building up from stripped down verses to a grand ending, it gives off a range of related, yet distinct emotions.

“Lost in the View” is to be launched on January 3rd. Stream “Drift” below, and visit UMÆ’s official website for more information. Follow the band on Facebook and Instagram.


Interview with UMÆ


Now here is an interesting and promising new Prog band. UMÆ is an internation trio featuring guitarist Guðjón Sveinsson, singer/guitarist Anthony Cliplef, and drummer Samy George-Salib. The band has recently launched a debut single “Turn Back Time” via Prog Magazine which features guest contributions by John Wesley (Porcuine Tree) and Haken bassist Conner Green. Their debut album “Lost in the View” is out in December, and beside mentioned gentlemen it also features Adam Holzman (Steven Wilson, Miles Davis) and Eric Gillette (Neal Morse Band). 

Read an interview with Anthony and Guðjón below.

Hello! Thanks for responding to this interview. How have you guys been lately?

G: We’ve been great thank you! Excited for the release, and hard at work preparing for it.

How might you introduce yourselves to new potential listeners?

A: UMÆ is an experience; emotional; meaningful; energetic; somber; melancholic. We are all over the board, but I swear it is cohesive. [laughs]

What inspired the name of the band — UMÆ?

A: Guðjón and I were spitballing a lot of ideas during the demoing phase, some more jokingly than others, but we settled on this one, which uses Icelandic characters, but doesn’t mean anything in Icelandic. I like the idea of a word that isn’t already defined. It gives us the opportunity to define it by the music and artwork we create and associate with it.

How did UMÆ initially form as a creative unit?

A: Well, I went on a trip to a prog festival, where I ended up meeting and playing music with Guðjón, Samy, and many other people. We all had similar interests in music, and we all enjoyed sharing the stage together.

After I returned home from the trip, I was inspired by the jamming, so I decided to contact Guðjón about possibly collaborating on some music. I sent some rough demos, he shared some examples of his own, we shared bands with each other. From there, we laid out plans for me to travel across the ocean to Iceland and start writing. Very soon we sent demos over to Samy and convinced him to commit to the project.

Lost in the View album art

You are about to release a debut album titled “Lost in the View.” Where did the inspiration for it come from and how did you go about the whole process of writing and recording it?

G: In essence it just comes down to our love of music, and willingness to create. It’s hard to pinpoint a specific inspiration for the exact music featured on the album. Some of it was written well before we started working on it together, as far back as 10 years, which was the case for the already-released single “Turn Back Time”. The lyrical concept came as a sort of reaction to the music, and we soon found ourselves writing around that concept.

Over the 6 initial weeks that Anth spent in Iceland, we recorded and arranged demos for the whole album. We started in my living room; plugged in a guitar and played whatever was on our minds. In about three weeks we already had the basis to all the songs. The remaining three weeks were spent arranging the song structures, filling in blanks and sculpting the general vision for the sound of the record. Some of these early demo recordings even made it into the final product. We focused on retaining the initial feeling we got from each and every part, and enhancing it further with the arrangements, and later on lyrics.

The recording process took place literally over the world. We recorded drums with Samy in Toronto over an intense 3 day session. Over the course of a year, we’ve built the layers on top of these bed tracks, with recording taking place in 4 locations in Iceland, 5 different home studios in the US, and more recently, in Sweden. We’ve been tweaking and adding stuff along the way down to these very last days.

UMÆ is a trio in its core but the upcoming full-length release features quite a number of guest musicians, including John Wesley (Porcupine Tree), Conner Green (Haken), Adam Holzman (Steven Wilson) and Eric Gillette (Neal Morse Band). How did the collaboration with each of them come about? How much did they actually contribute in the writing phase?

G: Once the music started coming together, we soon started looking at people that we thought would be a good fit for various parts of the album. We had a good feeling about the music, and decided to aim high from the get-go.

Fairly early in the process we reached out to Conner, who was up for the task, and eventually played on most of the album. At that time all the foundations to the songs were already laid out on guitar and drums, along with some of the main melodies. We left it up to him to interpret the bass parts, and were really happy with the end results.

On the keyboard front, most of the album features Magnús Jóhann, a brilliant young player from Iceland who we worked closely with. On two of the heavier songs however, we wanted to try a little different “flavor”, and figured Adam Holzman might be good fit. So we contacted him; thankfully he was up for it and was able to find a time within his touring schedule to record it. Similarly there the songs were already laid out, and we presented our rough idea of the sounds we were going for. His take on it ended up being just right.

We wrote and recorded all the vocals initially, but didn’t feel our voices were the right fit for certain songs. Samy had encountered John Wesley around the time we were exploring options for these songs, and presented the idea of his involvement. He was up for giving it a shot, and when we heard his take on “Turn Back Time” we were immediately sold.

On one of the tracks we entertained the idea of having a guest solo spot. Eric Gillette responded quickly to our inquiry, and before we knew it we had a killer solo in our hands! He’s such an amazing player, and we’re really stoked to have him appear on the track.

What can be expected from the upcoming album? Would you say the released single for “Turn Back Time” is an accurate sample?

G: Yes and no. The track contains some of the main themes from the album, and lyrically is somewhat representative of the concept, but definitely does not cover the wide range of influences we tap into throughout the album. It’s a good start of the journey that gets a nod here and there, but the atmosphere shifts to a bleaker tone as the album progresses.

What’s your songwriting process like?

A: Guðjón kind of touched on that already, but I’ll elaborate a bit. When I compose a piece from beginning to end, like our aforementioned single, I typically work from a melody and or chord idea, and sometimes just a rhythmic idea. I like to use programming software to document the guitar I’ve come up with, then build the other instruments around it. It’s all midi programmed, but it gives me a good sense of what the song could sound like.

When Guðjón and I were co-writing songs, there were many times where he had a riff or two, I had a riff or two, we placed them in order, and basically connected the dots by filling in the middle. Sometimes we had no idea how we were going to make two parts connect, but we managed to pull them together. So that’s a bit of a deeper glimpse into the process.

What are your ultimate hopes for UMÆ as a band?

G: Hopefully we’ll eventually manage to make a living out of making and performing music. Anything beyond that is a bonus really.

I’m kidding, world domination of course.

Do you have any bigger plans for the future?

G: Bigger? For sure, although we can’t really say much at this point, other than that these plans are currently in formation.

The last words are yours.

A: To keep up with UMÆ, our single releases, album release, touring plans, and all other major news, go to

Thanks for having us on this interview!


Stay in touch with UMÆ by following them on Facebook and Instagram.

The Neal Morse Band Live – 2017 Tour Kickoff

The Tour T-Shirt

A fired-up and ready-to-rock Neal Morse Band kicked off its 2017 Similitude Of A Dream Tour last night at RockeTown in Nashville, TN. They performed the entire album before an ecstatic crowd, most of whom knew every word of the 2-disc magnum opus.

This was a different kind of show than Neal and his band mates have performed before. It’s clear that they want the album as a whole to take center stage, and not the musicians themselves. For instance, Neal did not even address the audience until after Shortcut To Salvation, which was in the second half of the set. Mike spoke briefly before Freedom Song. Other than those breaks, the focus was entirely on the songs.

The performance began with a darkly cowled Neal singing Long Day off to the side, illuminated with a handheld light. Then the entire group exploded into Overture, and we were off on an adventure through all kinds of trials and tribulations. Throughout the show stunning videos complemented the songs, and Neal wore various masks and outfits.

As a group, Neal, Mike, Randy, Bill, and Eric have melded into a mighty musical force. When Randy George and Mike Portnoy lock into their groove, the result is ferocious thunder. Eric Gillette has matured into an extraordinary guitarist and vocalist (give him more lead vocals!), and Bill Hubauer’s keyboards and vocals are always rock-solid. Neal, of course, is the consummate showman – singing, pulling off amazing guitar solos, and mugging for the crowd before every keyboard showcase.

But the real star of the evening was The Similitude of a Dream. Everything was done in service to the tale of a pilgrim on a spiritual journey – one that went from the City Of Destruction through doubt, fear, confusion, sloth, and battle until he reaches the shining city on a hill. When I first heard TSOAD, I liked it, but I wasn’t knocked out – it was just too sprawling a work for me to take in. After last night’s performance, I get it now. It all holds together as a unified work of art, and it is a beautiful allegory.

Highlights of the show were So Far Gone, where everyone takes a turn on lead vocals; a very moving Breath of Angels, which ended the first half; Shortcut to Salvation; a heavy Man in the Iron Cage; an all-acoustic Freedom Song; and the concluding Broken Sky/Long Day. By the end, everyone was wrung out and happy.

For an encore, the band tore through rip-roaring renditions of Momentum, Agenda, and The Call. Lasting nearly three hours, it was a very satisfying evening. The boys travel to Seattle and other parts west before heading up to Canada and then over to Europe and Israel. If there is any way you can catch this show, do it – it’s an amazing visual and musical experience.

Tour details can be found here.

Neal Morse Band Announce Epic Concept Album: “The Similitude of a Dream”

a072010e-c952-475b-955f-0d3386f1fcc7Courtesy of the folks over at Prog, the Neal Morse Band officially announced their upcoming double concept album, The Similitude of a Dream. According to Morse, the concept is loosely based upon the beginning of John Bunyan’s classic story, Pilgrim’s Progress. The first song released, “Long Day/Overture,” features both the quiet and proggy sides of Neal Morse’s career. From the get-go, this song captures your attention and leaves you wanting more. It is definitely one of the proggiest new songs I’ve heard this year.

The Neal Morse Band is made up of, obviously, Neal Morse, as well as Mike Portnoy, Randy George (bass), Bill Hubauer (keyboards), and Eric Gillette, who is quickly proving himself to be one of the best guitarists in the prog world.

Mike Portnoy has said that this is the greatest album of his entire career, even surpassing Dream Theater’s classic Scenes From a Memory. He has gone so far as to compare The Similitude of a Dream to The Who’s Tommy, Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Those are bold words, and time will certainly judge whether or not those statements are true. If the first song is any indication, though, this album may very well be the best yet by Neal Morse.

The album is set for release on November 11, but you can pre-order the album from Radiant Records now:

The band embarks on a four month tour across the US, Canada, and Europe (and a show in Israel) in the beginning of 2017.


Progarchy Radio Episode 8

prog radio.001
Episode 8.

Welcome to our eighth podcast, recorded June 14, 2016.  This 2+ hour podcast features music from Cosmograf, Frost*, District 97, Steve Hackett, Gandalf’s Fist, Eric Gillette, Talk Talk, Traffic, Ordinary Psycho, Miles Davis, and Tears for Fears.

Eric Gillette’s Second Solo Album: May 2, 2016

Eric Gillette Announces New Solo Album
“The Great Unknown”
We are excited to announce the upcoming release of Eric Gillette’s new solo album,
“The Great Unknown”, featuring Eric on Lead Vocals and Guitar, as well as an incredible collection of musicians including the extraordinary Thomas Lang on Drums. The group is rounded out by Haken members, Diego Tejeida on Keyboards, and Connor Green on Bass.
“The Great Unknown”, due out on May 2, 2016, boasts 7 original tracks, including
the 18 minute epic “Escape” and is produced by Eric Gillette and Chris Thompson,
in partnership with T4 Music.
 The album will be mastered by audio genius, Rich Mouser (Transatlantic, Spock’s Beard, Neal Morse) at Mouse House Studio.

Available in April for worldwide pre-sale, through
Releasing worldwide on May 2, 2016!

Sign up for Eric’s newsletter to receive the latest updates and exclusive deals at

and follow Eric on Facebook at: EricGiletteMusic
and on Twitter at: @EricGillette 

Freedom is Coming: MorseFest 2015

A review of MorseFest, 2015 (Friday night only)

With apologies--photos taken from an older iPhone. Not great quality.
With apologies–photos taken from an older iPhone. Not great quality.

Last Friday, September 4, as soon as I’d finished teaching my freshmen courses on Western Civilization, my wife, Dedra, and I got into the car and drove 8 hours south to Cross Plains, Tennessee, site of MorseFest 2015.  We had originally hoped to attend the entire weekend, but family necessities prevented this.  We were only going to be able to attend Friday night.

We made it by 7 (aided by a time change, gaining an hour), and found ourselves at a rather nice, contemporary Protestant church, just south of the Kentucky border.  Even walking across the parking lot, my wife and I realized this would not be the normal prog crowd.  Indeed, a huge variety of peoples was walking into the church—including lots of elderly women, immaculately dressed.  We had seen the Neal Morse Band play live in Denver in February to the usual prog crowd of mostly middle aged men.

As we walked into the lobby in Tennesse, we found fellow progarchist, Tad Wert, waiting for us.  He’s always a delight, and we thoroughly enjoyed our short time with him.

Ticketed, we took our seats toward the back of the church.  The church itself, as mentioned above, was quite nice, and quite comfortable.  By the time we sat, it was already mostly full with only the random open chair.  The three of us caught up with one another, and I even had a moment to introduce myself to Morse’s manager, Chris Thompson, president of Radiant.  I’ve corresponded and talked with Chris for over three years now, but we’d never met in actual person.  Lots of folks wanted to meet him, so I just got a quick hello in.

Chris was, frankly, everything I’d expected.  As warm and kind as he is proficient.  THIS is the man you want by your side, through thick and thin.  I already loved the guy, but actually meeting him and getting a rather spontaneous bear hug was one of many highlights of the weekend.  I’m truly sorry I didn’t get to spend more time with him.  He, of course, had a job to do, and he did it brilliantly.  He’s actually fun to watch work, as they guy so expertly takes charge and as a meter for excellence that runs higher than one rarely sees.  Thompson is the embodiment of joyful, purposeful intensity.

At 7:30, guitarist Phil Keaggy opened, playing for roughly 45 minutes.  I knew of Keaggy by name only, but I found his playing quite good and captivating.  He played roughly six songs, including two covers.  One cover was of the Beatles and another of Bob Dylan.  Keaggy was also quite funny and self-depreciating.  Certainly, the audience appreciated his humor and talents.  His guitar work, it must be noted, is rich and full bodied.  My favorite of his pieces was one called “Salvation Army Band.”

MorseFest, New Life Fellowship Church, Cross Plains, Tennessee.
MorseFest, New Life Fellowship Church, Cross Plains, Tennessee.

After a fifteen minute break, the Neal Morse Band took the stage, opening with the first two tracks off of THE GRAND EXPERIMENT (Radiant, 2015), “The Call”  and “The Grand Experiment.”  I had no idea Morse would play these.  The bill had advertised the full “?” album (Radiant, 2005), and I’d assumed this would be it.  No, I was very wrong.  The band’s third track was “Go the Way You Go” by Spock’s Beard.  Eric Gillette, an extraordinary talent by any measure, even walked into the audience and played a blistering solo.

As this point, I should note the crowd again.  Here, we were.  In a contemporary and comfortable Protestant Church.  The crowd adored Neal Morse and every member on the stage.  This was family, not an audience.  Elderly women and men—impeccably dressed—sat throughout the crowd, some in wheel chairs.  Kids listened for a while and then slept on the floor.  About 1/3 of the crowd raised their hands throughout the concert in what I assume is typical Pentecostal fashion, while another 1/3 head banged.  It was incredible.  Absolutely incredible.  The energy in that room was astounding for the entirety of the concert.  Absolutely incredible and astounding! Head-banging Pentecostals.

Our common denominator: we all consider Neal Morse one of the most gifted and charismatic artists on this earth.  His talent and his life are, to put it simply, nothing short of infectious. 

The next three tracks were “MacArthur Park,” “Whole Nother Trip,” and “New Jerusalem.”  The first and third are from the b-side disk of THE GRAND EXPERIMENT, and the middle track was from Morse’s second solo album, way back in the late 1990s.

For me, the highlight of the entire concert was “New Jerusalem.”  This is not only my favorite song on THE GRAND EXPERIMENT, it might very well be the finest thing Neal has ever written.  I was sorely disappointed the band didn’t play it in Denver, though I’d expected as much.  When it began in Cross Plains, I looked to my wife—in utter disbelief—and muttered, “no way.”  In fact, it probably took me a full minute to accept the band was playing it.

After these six tracks, the band played the entirety of the 2005 “?” album.

A few thoughts, in no particular order.

  • First, as many times as I’ve seen Morse and Portnoy play live, I’ve never seen them play this well.  There was nothing but love between the two men, and they so ably led the rest of the band as well as the audience.
  • Second, this setting was so intimate, that it was as though Morse had invited five hundred of his closest friends to his living room.
  • Third, and equally astounding to the music, was the film and light show.  Granted, good Protestant churches know how to do media well.  This church was no exception.  But, what made it so memorably good was the quality of the film made just for this concert (a one-off, it should be remembered).  The visuals were top-notch, Hollywood A-list quality.  The overall theme of the accompanying film was neo-psychedelia but carrying with it an intense Christian aura.  Imagine Franco Zeffirelli directing Charleton Heston but with Matrix-like special effects and you can somewhat imagine how good the accompanying film and light show were.  Kudos to whoever produced this.  Chris, was it you?
  • Fourth, staging.  One of the most interesting things Morse did was add new people to the concert as the music continued.  At first, it was just the five members of the Neal Morse Band.  Then, slowly, extra guitarists, string players, horn players, a flautist, percussionists, and a choir joined.  All of this built up in the first set to the climax with the playing of New Jerusalem.  By the end of that song, I couldn’t even count how many people were playing on stage.  Overwhelming and wonderfully so.
  • Fifth, I loved every moment of “?”  I’ve owned and listened to the album since the day it came out.  I’m not sure I’d understood it or its immense beauty, however, until seeing it played live.  I felt as though I was living for 58 minutes in the heart of a profound mystery with all existential questions being properly answered by love.  As with the album, Pastor Steve Farmer (this was in his church) came out and gave a brief homily.  It was appropriate and quite moving.

So, in sum: possibly the best prog experience of forty years of prog experiences.  I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to attend the rest of the weekend.  I won’t make this mistake again.  If I could, I’d already order my tickets for the next decade of MorseFests.