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Spock's Beard

In november van dit jaar zag de 2-CD/2-DVD box-set ‘Snow Live’ van de Amerikaanse prog-metal formatie Spock’s Beard het levenslicht en daarmee gingen twee langgekoesterde wensen van de vele fans in vervulling. Het uit 2002 stammende concept-album ‘Snow’ werd integraal op het podium gespeeld, maar wellicht nog belangrijker was dat voormalig bandleider en belangrijkste songwriter Neal Morse deelnam aan deze gebeurtenis. Reden genoeg voor Lords Of Metal om contact te zoeken met Neal om te achterhalen waarom hij (tijdelijk) teruggekeerd was bij Spock’s Beard en waarom men besloten had om de vijftien jaar oude plaat ‘Snow’ middels deze prachtig vormgegeven box nieuw leven in te blazen.

Door: Sjak | Archiveer onder prog / sympho metal

Hi Neal, the original ‘Snow’ studio album was release in 2002. What this that album mean for Spock’s Beard?
It’s was a hard album to write as while we were doing it I was already feeling that after finishing the album I would quit the band. That made it a hard time for me and it was a hard time for the other guys after it was done, so I think the ‘Snow’ album is associated with some pain for all of us. As a person I was changing and undergoing a real metamorphosis at that time in my relationship with God and as a result of that a lot of the material that I wrote in those days had to do with Jesus. It was a challenge to make this material suited for Spock’s Beard and therefore it took us two years to finish the record. I know that the album means a lot to a lot of people and, although it’s not my personal favorite Spock’s Beard record, there are many great songs on offer making it the favorite Spock’s Beard album for a big part of the fans.

As a song writer it was a difficult album for you to write, but what are you looking for in a great song while writing?
A song just has to feel right as it’s a very intuitive process. For a concept album like ‘Snow’ you have to have a lot of good themes and you have to have a story. It’s very difficult to write a two hours piece that keeps people engaged from start to finish, so that made it quite a challenge.

Why did you have the urge at that time to release a concept album in the first place?
We didn’t really wanted to go in that direction at first as I remember us discussing it. At that time we hadn’t done a double album before, but a lot of the prog fans were asking for something special like an extensive double concept album. As it was more or less expected from us, at first we didn’t want do go for it but we had problems in getting the material to fit on one disc. So I said to the guys that the story was still incomplete when we were having about sixty minutes of material and as such we didn’t have another option than to go for the “expected” double CD concept album, which became our biggest selling album up to that point.

Shortly thereafter you decided to leave the band and go your own way, so when did you come up with the idea to do a couple of reunion shows in 2016 to perform the whole ‘Snow’ album integrally?
Different people in the band had been talking about it for years and Nick had already sent an e-mail about this a little over seven years ago. At that time it didn’t feel like it really fit as we were all still too busy with other things, but in 2016 I had some free time in the spring and summer period. I asked the other guys if they were still interested in doing a couple of shows together and they were.

Did you immediately plan to have both the old and new line-up playing together or did that idea started to take shape later on?
I don’t remember exactly whose idea it was, but the plan for this was established during our discussions later on. We thought that the idea to include all members was a great one as it provided us with lots of opportunities to showcase the capabilities of all the Spock’s Beard band members and I didn’t have to sing the whole album myself. All three lead singers sang together in the closing song ‘Falling For Forever’, which made it a great way to finish the show.

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The shows took place in Germany at the Night Of The Prog festival and in the US at your own festival the Morsefest, so why did you pick these two locations in particular?
In the beginning we were only going to do Morsefest, but we got a really nice offer to play at the Night Of The Prog festival a couple of weeks later. It wasn’t going to hurt what we were already doing, so we all agreed that it would be nice to do this extra festival show. The European audience that night made it a beautiful experience for us.

How did you get started with the Morsefest happening to begin with?
First of all I want everybody to know that I did not name the festival Morsefest, because it sounds rather egotistical. In the beginning the pastor of my church asked me to do a concert for the church, but I had my doubts because I don’t have a lot of fans in Nashville. When talking to my wife about it, she stated that if I was going to do it, I should make it something special like a whole weekend happening so that people would fly in to participate in the event. This idea really got me excited and I decided to create this special event, which became the first Morsefest festival.

When did all the participants start with the preparations for these two shows?
The preparations for the event was started about nine months out, as a lot of stuff needs to be arranged before you can do a complex production like ‘Snow’ in a live situation.

How was it to be on the same stage again after so many years?
It was a really fun experience and even at the rehearsals we had a lot of fun playing together again. It proved that you tend to forget how everybody sounds after a while and it was great to discover those elements again.

Did you immediately decide to record the Morsefest show for a 2-CD/2-DVD-release?
Yeah, we released every Morsefest and the material from the festival sold pretty well, so we definitely wanted to film it and share it.

As you had so much fun together again, will you be doing more of these reunion shows in future or was this a one-time affair?
Oh…I don’t have a crystal ball so you never know what will happen in the future. But we will definitely not do these kind of things on a very regular basis. If it will happen again, it will be more of a one-off thing.

How do you look back on the actual end result yourself?
Frankly, all I can say is WOW, because it is filmed so well and also sound-wise it sounds incredible. We worked with an amazing video company who really made it a terrific production.

The package has been released on November 11th, so what have been the first reactions to this album?
The first reactions have been great. I’ve been getting e-mails from people from all over the world thanking us for what they call “the most wonderful thing ever”. People have been really grateful and so am I.

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This album was released via your own label Radiant Records. Why was that done as the regular Spock’s Beard albums are released via Inside Out Music?
I decided to put my records out through my own label about two years ago now because of business reasons. I wanted to have a distribution deal and Inside Out didn’t want to do this. Metal Blade was willing to go for a distribution deal and therefore we ended up with them as our partner and so far so good.

On the DVD there’s also behind the scenes feature about the making of ‘Snow Live’. Who came up with the idea to film this?
The reason is that we just love to share all the cool things that are going on. We just enjoy doing that and also the film crew loved to do something more than just the concert. It shows a whole weekend of fellowship and being together and that’s actually the secret of the whole festival.

’Snow Live’ is packaged is a very nice box-set. Who was responsible for the design of this and what was the assignment that was given?
The 56-page artbook was the brainchild of Joel Barrios, being the guy who took all the photos during the festival. He deserves almost all the credit for it. Thomas Ewerhard did the artwork for the DVD-version and the vinyl and the Blu-ray. Both did an amazing job in my opinion.

Now the album is out, what are your plans for the (near-by) future? What does Neal Morse as a musician have in store for us?
I made a singer-songwriter album called ‘Life And Times’ and the first video for that is coming out next week. The official release date will be February 16th of 2018 and pre-orders will start December 12th. I will be doing some intimate solo concerts to support the album somewhere next year as well. Next to this I’m also writing new material for the Neal Morse Band, which is going to be recorded in January for a release in the fall of 2018. So that’s the stuff that’s in the cue.

You’ve been in the scene for a very long time already and have worked with a lot of great musicians. Which artists have made the biggest impact and impression on you during all those years?
My primary influences are still the same like The Beatles, Yes, Genesis, Peter Gabriel and all the English prog bands like Jethro Tull, ELP, King Crimson and Gentle Giant to name just a few. As far as people that I’ve worked with Mike Portnoy would be one of the primary influences on my writing, just like all the guys in the Neal Morse Band, all the guys in Flying Colors and all the guys in Transatlantic. Every piece of music that I come in contact with goes into the soup and comes out as a flavor.

What have been the absolute highlights for you during your career?
Playing with Spock’s Beard in the London Astoria, the ‘Testimony’ tour, Transatlantic at High Voltage with Steve Hackett, singing with Jon Anderson on the Prog Nation cruise and the last Neal Morse Band tour have been absolute highlights for me.

Okay Neal, I would like to thank you for your willingness to answer my questions. Is there anything that we didn’t cover that you want to express to our readers?
I will be doing some solo concerts in Europe, so watch for those and God bless you all!

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