Interview by: Robert Cavuoto
The Neal Morse Band will be releasing a double-disc concept album, The Great Adventure on January 25, 2019, on Radiant Records via Metal Blade Worldwide. It’s the follow-up to their 2016’s critically acclaimed The Similitude of a Dream album. The Great Adventure is another progressive rock masterpiece that showcases the band’s ability writing tremendous melodic songs with thought-provoking lyrics. It’s an outstanding effort from such a talented and creative group of musicians. The band consists of Neal Morse (lead vocals, guitars, keyboards), Mike Portnoy (drums, vocals), Randy George (bass), Bill Hubauer (keyboards, vocals), and Eric Gillette (guitars, vocals).
I caught up with Neal to discuss the creative impetus behind the album and what it’s like working with his friend and drummer Mike Portnoy.
Robert Cavuoto: Your new CD, The Great Adventure is brilliant can tell me the history behind it?
Neal Morse: Our 2016 album The Similitude of a Dream was inspired by the book; Pilgrim’s Progress from the 1600s. While on tour for that album I thought about doing a follow-up but realized I didn’t have very much. I had a few extra songs from that album that were never used like “Talking” which was based on one of the characters and “A Love That Never Dies.” I wasn’t sure what we wanted to say or how it could be different then Similitude. I started to read further in Pilgrim’s Progress, and in the second part, the wife of the main character has a change of heart and packs up her kids to go after her husband; taking the same route he did. Unfortunately, I didn’t find much inspiration in it, so I just let it go. Last January the band and I wrote a version of this album that was not a concept album; it was a progressive rock album. It had many of the same themes from the currently completed album just in different pieces. I was rolling with it, just letting it happen, and the band was sounding great. When the smoke cleared after those sessions, Mike wanted to finish it, but I felt it wasn’t what it supposed to be. He ended up having to leave without doing his final drums. I think he regretted it as he wanted to finish it as is. He and I were on the opposite end of the spectrum for the next step; the band was scattered somewhere in between. Mike was booked most of the year, so it was a tough decision to let it go unfinished. I said let’s pray on it; if it’s supposed to be something else, Gods will make a way for it to happen. In between my dates on the Life and Time tour I was coming home to work on it; seeing if I could make it a two-disc album. Using ProTools, I was hacking old stuff out as well as writing new sections. It was a crazy process. I ended up with a two and a half hour version of The Great Adventure. Everybody liked it, and Mike was totally on board, which I thought was a miracle of God [laughing]. The next question was, “When do we have the time to record it?” This was in July, and I thought it would be great if we could have it completed in January 2019 to debut on Cruise to the Edge. Mike’s first available was in August, and we would have to get all our parts done before Morsefest in September plus rehearse the Jesus Musical. We barely pulled it off in time.
When we got together in August, we made more changes as the band had a lot of other great ideas as well. It’s amazing this album got done!
Robert Cavuoto: Certainly not the traditional way albums are written and recorded.
Neal Morse: Eric and Randy had to go home. Bill and I were the only ones here. Mike was asleep; as he doesn’t start before 1:00 pm [laughing]. We had to create everything after Eric’s solo on “The Great Despair” all the way to “A Love that Never Dies.” We had a bunch of musical pieces and knew what we wanted to do but didn’t have it together. Mike was leaving the next day, and he said to us, “You have until this morning to figure it out; otherwise we won’t make it.” We then wrote on the fly and pulled ideas from the original August demo. We had thirty minutes, and in the last five minutes, it all came together. We were like; print it so Mike can do the drums!
Robert Cavuoto: “A Love That Never Dies” is a perfect way to end this album. Tell about saving that song for last.
Neal Morse: We had “A Love That Never Dies” for a long time; we just never knew how to get to it. Writing a concept album is not about having a bunch of good songs. You have to figure out how to make it all work, and that’s the challenge. We always knew that “A Love That Never Dies” would be a great ending.
Robert Cavuoto: There are similarities between the album covers of this CD and The Similitude of a Dream.
Neal Morse: The idea was to make it clear that it is part of the same story.
Robert Cavuoto: It must have been a challenge to get everyone on board for a two-disc album.
Neal Morse: Not only was Mike opposed to it but the band was more opposed to it this time than last time. Bill said to me that maybe this wasn’t the right time for a double album. I think we all felt like it wasn’t the right time including myself. It wasn’t until the January sessions that we all thought it could be The Similitude Part II.
Robert Cavuoto: What is the plan when it comes to touring to support this album; will it be played in its entirety?
Neal Morse: For this tour, we are going to do the album in its entirety plus a few encores. I think it will be as epic as epic can be. We will have videos playing behind us. Last time I did some costume changes which I’ll look to incorporate this time. I have so much going on I haven’t had time to think about the live show. My daughter just got married, I was gone a week working on Flying Colors, and the mix for the Jesus musical is coming out shortly. The live show is next on my list.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about your friendship with Mike and working together musically?
Neal Morse: Musically we are pretty “simpatico” most of the time. We’ve had a few minor musical disagreements on the last few albums. He is a very enthusiastic person who really carries things. We’re a good pairing. I tend to be a little more cautious when it comes to music needing time to digest while Michael will like something immediately and want to play and record it. His enthusiasm has helped us win the day to make these records. He is a brilliant guy who has incredible artistic instincts and musical taste.