Bart C: Musically, ? seems to me to lie somewhere between Snow, Testimony and Bridge Across Forever, yet it has it's own direction and cohesiveness. In how far did you have or aim for a certain approach when you started?
Neal: Well, there was no masterplan or preconceived idea to depart from the previous records. I just write from the heart or wherever it comes from.
How did the album develop?
It started with a friend coming over to visit me one morning. He said, 'I've been praying and I really feel like God has impressed me with this idea and that I should give it to you! How about a rock concept album about the Tabernacle?' I said, 'Nah, I don't want to do another concept album'. He said, 'This would be different because it could be really mysterious and shadowy, you know, how the old testament is, full of pictures and shadows and mystery'. I said, 'Well, sounds interesting'. Then he said, 'And if anybody asks you what you're working on, tell 'em it's a secret'. I laughed and said, 'Oh, that's corny, that'll never work' and he said, 'Just try it and see'. So, that's how 'the secret project' thing started. Then, a few months went by and a buzz had started about this thing, but I hadn't written a note! A week before we came over [to Holland and Germany, ed.] for our church visiting thing in February I had the idea for the first chorus but that was it. Then when I came home I got this flood of ideas. The rest of the album poured out in about a week. I remember being really moved when I wrote that last piece. Praise God! I knew He was with me.
Which was the chorus that came first?
'And then after all, with our backs against the wall we seek the temple of the Living God', you know, the first thing I sing on the album.
So this time, the lyrics came first and the rest came later?
Not really. The lyrics and music came at the same time for the most part. Testimony was a bit like that too. Very lyrically driven. Not to say the music is secondary at all, just that they poured out together.
Can you explain the lyrical content a bit?
The lyrics are all related to the Tabernacle that Moses and the Israelites built in the wilderness, and then later Solomon built a Temple based on the same design, that came directly from God. There's a lot of ideas put forth in this album but one that I'm really excited about is that this 'Tent of Meeting' is actually picturing God's realm, in heaven, for real. That if they built it correctly God's presence would dwell there, blurring the lines between here and there. Then the question is: what are all these things picturing and how can we have the presence of God in our daily lives today? Where is the 'Tabernacle' today? I'd like to leave people with questions this time, hence the title.
Mike Portnoy and Randy George have become an important part of your sound. Did you know who to get for the thing you had in mind for ?? More particularly, how did you get Jordan Rudess, Roine Stolte, and Steve Hackett?
Well, I loved what Mike and Randy did on One so much, not just their playing but also their musical ideas, that I thought it would be a perfect thing to have them again -- and it was as far as I'm concerned. To tell you the truth, I feel almost dependent on them, I know I need help when it comes to arranging the parts, cutting and pasting and how to end it and all that. Mike is particularly good at that.
The other guys like Roine and Hackett they did their parts in their homes. I sent Roine the whole CD on a computer file and asked him, 'Just do whatever you feel, man' and he did some AMAZING stuff. Like those bongos you hear at the beginning, that's him. He did a bunch of percussion tracks and background vocals as well as some very cool guitar stuff. Jordan and Steve Hackett and my brother Al were all sent stuff and they did their parts at home and sent them in. I never even spoke to Steve! I emailed his manager and we worked things out and we emailed them the music we wanted Steve to solo over and he fedexed us a disc back with his bits on it. It's a brave new world!
Is the idea that you will appear on their albums?
I did swap out with Roine. I'm singing on his new CD Wall Street Voodoo. And I've talked with my brother about maybe doing something on a solo album of his, but we'll see.
On another note, you seem to have spearheaded a new movement of Christian progressive rock with Testimony and One. To what extent are you aware of this and have you interacted with 'Cprog'?
Well, I've hung out with you, and with Randy George and Bill Hammell. All those guys are involved with the Cprog email list right? I didn't know anything about it when I started of course. Thank God for like minded support!
Cprog has become more than an email list, hasn't it? There are CD's, websites, bands, what have you.
Right... I never thought of it like that before, as a movement... But now that you mention it, the CPR Vol. 1 and 2 Cd's are really great, so yeah, come on, call it a movement!
You've contributed to both CPR discs with other bands crossing borders between Christian music and progressive rock. Any collaboration forthcoming on this front?
Not right now, but who knows? I hope it continues of course, the Christian prog thing, but that's really up to the Lord. I'm just trying to follow His instruction as best I can. You know in Psalm 96 it says to 'Sing unto the Lord a new song' and 'Declare his Glory among the Heathen' and the heathen are those who don't know God. So, that's seems like a pretty wide open command to me!
You seem to be on a roll and doing many different things all at the same time. What are the things you have going at the moment and how do you keep it all on track?
I try to do things one at a time, but it doesn't always work out that way. For example, I recently had a flood of ideas for a Christmas program for my church. Like a lot of these things, it started with one song and then another and another!. Anyway, I wanted to finish it before I got into creating the new CD for the 'Inner Circle' [Neal's 'fanclub' series, ed.] which is a CD of the music from Hitman, a musical that I wrote in the early 90's. But, I realized I had to get into the Hitman thing before I could finish the Christmas music, so, I'm kind of working on both right now. I'm also finishing my brother Richard's album. I've also been asked to do a youth service in Cave City with Pastor Barry Nothstine, so I'm trying to figure out the best time for that.
What is Richard's album like?
It's really great! It's a singer-songwriter type album with a wide variety of styles. I play all of the keyboards and most of the guitar parts, except that Phil Keaggy did a solo. It's got songs about God and Skeletons. It's wild.
And the Christmas program?
Just started working on it. It's pretty normal choral type stuff. I'm writing it for my church choir. I'm getting really excited about it. The piece I wrote this morning is a little bit proggy. I hope it doesn't freak anybody out. I guess as long as nobody wears a cape it should be OK.
I'm sure many people in many parts of the world would love to see you perform One and ? live by now. But at the moment you seem to be interested more in serving people with Christian music and not with progressive rock?
Well, we're praying brother! I LOVE to play as you know. And I'm a bit fond of those albums as well. So, it's not really MY interest. That's what I've felt God has been wanting me to do right now. But I am praying a lot about what else He may want me to do. It's all good if He's in it -- if not, well, you know....
No definite plans for playing live then. Are you planning new recordings?
One thing at a time. Right now it's all Christmas. I am praying and considering some live stuff.
I guess my last question should be if there is anything else you wanted to say -- is there something you would have liked to ask yourself?! ;-)
I'd like people to know about the 'Inner Circle' thing for which I'm finishing up the Hitman disc, and it's pretty interesting. I think a lot of people would dig some of these things. Anyway, if anyone is interested they can sign up at www.nealmorse.com. How's that for a plug?
Thanks for this Neal
Thanks to all and lots of love to you crazy Dutch guys!!
Neal Morse Official Website
DPRP Roundtable Review of Neal Morse - ?