Alan Morse, An Engineer of Arts

Is there any need for me to introduce one of the men behind one of the most important prog bands in recent years? I suppose it wouldn’t hurt: Alan Morse, ladies and gentlemen! I had an opportunity to ask him some questions about SB’s new album, some previous releases, his connection with martial artist Chuck Norris and so on. So, put your favorite Spock’s Beard album in the deck, get comfortable, and read the words of Mr. Morse.

Nick: Hello Alan. Thanks for agreeing to this interview. How are you doing?

Alan: I’m doing well, very busy. It just started raining, very strange for LA! I’m really excited about the new CD, people really seem to be liking it. And I like it too!

Nick: So, Spock’s Beard is back on track, with brand new album “X”, which is by the way your 10th album. What can we expect from this record? 4 years since your previous selftitled album, what changed since then, and what are the reasons for taking that long to releasing a new album?

Spock's Beard - XAlan: Wow, has it been 4 years?! No particular reason to take so long. It does take a long time to make a record, but not that long! There have been a lot of changes since then, we’re on a different record label. In fact, we didn’t even have a label until this record was done. Our awesome loyal fans preordered enough CDs to finance making it, so off we went!

Nick: How long did the recording process take? Please, tell us something more about the technical side of the new album.

Alan: I guess it was about 6 months or so since we started really recording. We already had pretty good demos of everything. If you count the time demoing everything, it was probably 2-3 years in the making! And if you count writing, 5-10 years, since some bits were written long ago!It’s a long, and frankly often tedious process making a record these days. There’s a lot of tweaking, getting everything sounding right. One of the most fun parts is recording the strings and horns. It’s so cool to hear the real thing, the sounds you heard in your head actually coming out! But then there’s all the EQing and processing, seems to take forever!

Nick: Did anything change in the process of creating a song/album in Spock’s Beard? Or have you used some formula that has been in place since the early era? How much has Neal’s departure changed the recording process?

Alan: It’s pretty much the same process as we’ve always done, except that the technology is very different now. We used to have to all huddle around the mixing board and tweak knobs as it went along. Now you can do most of it in the computer, so if you don’t like something, you can go back and fix it. This is both good and bad, because now it’s hard to know when to stop! Before you’d just have to live with stuff that was “good enough”.As far as Neal leaving, the difference is that it’s more democratic, also a blessing and a curse! It’s much more difficult when you have four or five guys with more or less equal say weighing in on something, rather than one guy pretty much having the final say. Now mostly the writers on the particular song have the final say, but we all have much more input in general.

Nick: Have you started to use a pick, haha? By the way, how come you don’t use pick while you play? I suppose that you’re tired of answering this question, but I’m sure people would like to know it. :) Also, isn’t hard for you to play a tour without using the pick, doesn’t it hurt?

Alan: Nope, still pretty much pick free, although sometimes I will use one in the studio – reluctantly – to get a particular sound, especially on acoustic bits. Alan MorseOn tour I get an acrylic finger nail put on – I get some interesting looks at nail shops! That makes it a lot easier. I used to bleed on my guitar, it was messy and painful. I started playing fingerstyle because I started out playing upright bass and learned to pluck the strings on that. Then when I learned guitar I learned fingerpicking. So it was just a lot easier to keep going that way than to learn a whole new way of playing.

Nick: Let’s get back to the music. I’d say “Spock’s Beard” was a pretty heavy album that had a lot of hard rock elements. Does the new album follow the direction of the previous one, or there will be more classic stuff, consisted of the elements from your early records? Some kind of retrospect to “The Light” or “The Kindness of Strangers”, maybe? Where would you place “X” in comparison with previous albums?

Alan: I was trying to go for a more “classic Spock’s” thing, like our earlier work. I’m not sure if we did that, but I’m really happy with how it turned out. I think it’s one of our best, I really like it. There’s more stuff that really gives me chills on this record than there has been for a long time. I hope people out there agree, so far it seems to be going that way.

Nick: I guess this would be tough question for you, but what’s your favorite SB album? Also, do you have a favorite song, which you play live with some specific emotion? What’s the most difficult song of Spock’s Beard to play live for you?

Alan: Surprisingly,The Light is still pretty hard to pull off, mostly because of all the sound changes I have to do – switching between loud & clean & really effected stuff on the fly. Also The Doorway has some acoustic stuff that’s just out there on its own, that’s pretty challenging.  Especially if the lighting isn’t good, I can’t see what I’m playing!

Spock's BeardNick: There’s a part in “As Far As The Mind Can See” called “Stream Of Unconsciousness”, maybe it will be silly to ask, does this one have anything to do with Dream Theater’s instrumental from “Train of Thought” called “Stream of Consciousness”?

Alan: I don’t think it really has anything to do with that. It’s sort of a pun or play on words. John (Boegehold) likes to do that sort of thing. I don’t think I’ve heard Stream of Consciousness, I should check it out, DT’s awesome!

Nick: I notice “Octane” is probably the album that polarized critics the most. Some consider it to be a weak album, while others think it was a huge hit. Why is that? Seems like “Octane” is a record which is deeply under the shadow of “Feel Euphoria”.

Alan: I liked Octane, but I can see why people might not have liked it so much. Maybe too much straight ahead rock? That’s partly why I wanted to go full Prog on this record, get back to what we’re known for. I guess we were trying to grow beyond the Prog niche a bit, reach some new fans. Plus I personally like straight ahead hard rock. But this time, we went proggier, if that’s a word! I’m really pleased with it.

Nick: Speaking of “Feel Euphoria”, this album was compared by many to Genesis’ “A Trick of the Tail”, as Nick D’Virgilio took all lead vocals after Neal’s departure. How do you see this situation now?

Alan: Well, it just seemed the right thing to do at the time, and actually, I think it was. Nick’s got a great voice & wanted to go for it, so why not? We weren’t trying to “do a Genesis”, it just worked out that way.

Nick: More parallels can be made to Genesis because “Feel Euphoria” is an album which has been welcomed and received very well, similarly to how “A Trick of the Tail” is one of the albums which has reached top positions on chart lists all around the world. Was that hard to continue without Neal on lead vocals, as well without his presence in the process of creating?

Alan: Oh yeah, it was a shock. But I actually really enjoyed making that record, it was kind of new and exciting. But was a big adjustment!

Nick: “Spock’s Beard” contains “As Far As The Mind Can See”, which is a more then 15 minutes. Is there such aSpock's Beard in 2005 long epic on “X” or maybe even longer than “The Great Nothing” from “V”? I am sure a lot of fans will be expecting something big on the new album.

Alan: There are a couple of pretty long ones one the new one, but I don’t really care about that so much. I mean, it’s not a contest who can write the longest piece. For me it’s much more about writing something good, that flows, that makes some sense. That has some structure to it, a beginning, middle and end. If it wants to be long, then cool, but I don’t set out to write any particular length, although it seems to be a very big deal to some people…

Nick: You released your first solo album “Four O’Clock and Hysteria” in 2007, and it seemed like no one expected you to make a jazz fusion album. It showed a side of you that we’ve never heard before and I consider this album as a homage to classic 70’s fusion albums. Tell us something more about this album. Where did you get the idea to make this?

Four O'Clock and HysteriaAlan: I decided to make a solo record, and after a while I thought it would be fun to do all instrumentals and not have to worry about vocals. I don’t sing all that great, and my favorite parts are always the guitar solos, so why not? Plus I always loved all those old Jeff Beck records, so I guess I decided to make my own.  I really love that record, it’s one of my favorites!

Nick: “Four O’Clock and Hysteria” is an album where you gathers best of DiMeola, Zappa, Vai, Lukather with addition of your own recognizable touch. What musicians influenced you in its creation? Did I get any of the right names?

Alan: Well, you missed the most obvious one, Jeff Beck, but yeah, I like all those guys. Zappa especially. There’s maybe some Satriani influence in there, and a bit of Adrian Belew. So yeah, all of the above!

Nick: Can we expect second solo album from you some time soon?

Alan: I’ve been thinking about it, but it’s a big commitment. I may have to do another one. I went on a lyric writing binge a few years ago & I have notebooks full of stuff. It would have to have vocals on it, which would be fun. Who knows?

Nick: This would be probably interesting for our visitors: It’s known that you have worked with martial artist Chuck Noriss. Would you please tell us more about that? As you probably know there’s a joke told about him somewhere on the internet every two minutes, would you say any of them are based on reality?

Alan: Well, I played on a track for him but I never actually met him. I guess that’s why I’m still alive! It was interesting. He’s better at martial arts Alan Morsethan music. But he’s better at music than I am at martial arts!

Nick: You’ve also worked on a couple film-related projects/soundtracks. What was that experience like?

Alan: Mostly really fun. I really enjoyed doing that kind of stuff, it was creative and fun and challenging. I’d love to do it again, but it’s not very likely!

Nick: You are mainly a guitarist, but also you played several more instruments. What are they, which one is hardest to play, and which one is the most fun to play?

Alan: Oh, I play a bit of a lot of things – cello, saw, theremin, ukulele, whatever! A friend gave me a handmade 4 string banjo I really like playing. It might make an appearance on a record sometime!The Theremin is probably the hardest to play. Those things are really a bitch to control, very hard to stay on pitch. It took a million takes to get one decent useable track. I like stuff with frets, it’s way easier. I don’t know how violinists do it, very hard to play in tune.

Nick: Aside from being a musician you also happen to be an electrical engineer. Is it hard to manage being part of a decently high-profile band that does a lot of touring as well as a job like this?

Alan: Sometimes it’s tricky, but we don’t really tour that much. There are long periods where we don’t do much of anything, and then flurries of activity, like right now! It’s good having both, because I can make a decent living and still go off and play rock star now & then. A good balance.

Nick: Would you name 5 albums that have influenced you throughout your career?

Alan: Gosh, pick any five Beatles records! Or five Bowies. I guess I’d have to pick Sgt Pepper, Alladin Sane, A Night at the Opera, Blow by Blow, and a Charlie Parker record.

Nick: Do you have anything to say for our visitors?

Alan: Thanks for indulging us all these years, it’s really been a great ride. Couldn’t do it without you all. And please buy the records, it’s a lot of work to just have people pirate them, that’s really uncool.

Nick: Thank you Alan for being part of this interview. All the best with upcoming album and tour, hope to see you some time on the European tour.

Alan: Love to see you, everybody come out & say hello!

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.
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