The tireless Neal Morse is back on Music Waves, this time to evoke the return of Transatlantic with the release of their new album, "The Absolute Universe".
DARIALYS - 29.01.2021 -
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Who will stop the inexhaustible inspiration of our friend Neal Morse? In addition to releasing a new solo album every year, the multi-instrumentalist recently illustrated himself with Flying Colors and the excellent studio album "Third Degree". But above all, 2021 will mark the return to the forefront of Transatlantic, a progressive rock supergroup and its dream team built around Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), Pete Trewavas (Marillion), Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings, Kaipa), and Neal Morse. The keyboardist will thus come back on the release of this new album in a rather particular format, but also on his faith in the Catholic religion which guides him in the composition day after day.

Usually we start all our interviews by asking the musicians what question they have been asked too often. The last time, you told us that the question we always ask you was "When will a new Transatlantic album be released? ». Well I guess the journalists are going to leave you alone with that for a while now! (Laughs).

Neal: (Laughs) Don't worry about me! Anyway, we've got the answer now!

Exactly! And you are here today to promote your new album with Transatlantic, "The Absolute Universe". This album exists in 3 editions: "The Breath Of Life (Abridged Version)", "Forevermore (Extended Version)" and "The Ultimate Edition". In a few words, can you explain us what are the differences between these editions, and why did you choose to make 3 of them ? This is something quite new...

Neal: Well, to make a long story short: we had written those versions, and we were struggling to figure out which one was the best. I kind of withdrew from the group for a while because I got sick. I didn't have Covid at that time, but I was really sick. So I was a bit absent for a while. I listened to the album again afterwards, and as often I feel like the work is not quite finished. But this time, beforehand, I already wanted the album to be long. I already wanted to make it a double album. There was so much music! Roine (Stolt, from The Flower Kings, on guitar) had written 1 hour , I had 45 minutes, Pete (Trewavas, from Marillion, the bass player) had about 20 minutes of demos. We really had a lot to do, and on top of that, we wrote music together when we met in Sweden! So I told myself from the beginning that if we wanted to fit it all together, it had to be a double album.

And after being sick, how do you feel today? Do you feel better?

Neal: Oh yes! I'm fine now. I got sick a couple of times in 2020. I tested negative for Covid, and then in October I tested positive! That was special, I'm glad it's over. I am much better now.

Hopefully you'll be in great shape next year to get back on stage!

Neal: Oh yeah, I hope so! But to get back to the point, I've started working on the short edition. But it's hard to take out parts because things are written in a certain globality. It's structured. And I was really excited to work on it in the end! (Laughs). Mike (Portnoy, the drummer, editor's note) said: "And why don't we release all the editions at the same time? ». So we made that decision and the label gave us the green light. From then on, we wanted to make versions that were as different from each other as possible. So the version "The Breathe Of Life (Abridged Version' )" is different. The songs are different, the lyrics are different. There are different musical passages and there are things that are on the long version that you don't find at all on the short one. It's unprecedented, it was pretty crazy. 


(Laughs) Yes it's clear! At the beginning, Transatlantic was a simple side project but now, for many fans, it has become a band in its own right just as important as The Neal Morse Band for example. Because of this change of status, did you feel some pressure when you released this album?

Neal : Frankly no. The pressure I feel when writing an album is to make each song what it should be. It's an adventure! You don't know how it's going to go. The creative process is very unpredictable. The only pressure I had was to do something that was the best I could do.

Making double-albums has become a standard for you. Why have you released so many recently? Do you think it goes with the epic side of your music ?

Neal : Yes, I do. You have to take the music to where it wants to go. Writing a double album doesn't really make sense, except on a creative level. It's not financially advantageous. You do it if you think it's good for the music. But it's two or three times as much work! For Transatlantic, we tried to make the best album possible, hence all these versions, changes, etc.

But on the other hand, by releasing a lot of double albums in a short time, aren't you afraid that your fans won't be able to follow your rhythm ?

Neal: Oh I don't know! I hope they can! As an artist you know, I think we have to put ourselves outside of that. You don't have to wonder what people are going to think of the album you're working on, you don't have to wonder if it's going to sell well, that kind of thing. You just have to play the music you have in your head.

Yes, otherwise you're not really free to play your own music, if you have to adapt to the potential demands of the audience.

Neal : Yes, the important thing is to make music that we find ourselves very good. Then hopefully people will like it too! I'm not very good at predicting whether fans will like one album more than another. Mike, he's good at it, he has the spirit of a fan, much more than I do. I lean on him on that from time to time. For example, I tell him, "What do you think we should do as a set list? What do you think people are going to be waiting for? ». 

We heard that you were interested in doing a sequel to your album "The Whirlwind". Why this and why "The Whirlwind" in particular?

Neal: That was the feeling I had at one point when I was doing my demos in 2018, I think, or early 2019. There are a lot of winks to that album in my lyrics. I told the other guys in the band about it but they weren't that excited about it. There are a few winks in the end but that's it. Mike says that this album is the spiritual companion of "The Whirlwind", without being a sequel.

So is there a concept, a common thread behind this new album?

Neal: I don't know! In Transatlantic, everyone writes the lyrics of the passages they sing. In the beginning, I wrote based on "The Whirlwind". But as time went on, I started writing personal stories that happened to me. When I was in my twenties, I was interested in the "virtue of selfishness", a movement led by the author Ayn Rand. So there are references to that. There are references to my conversion to Christianity on some of the songs. And when we wrote the new versions of songs on the short edition, I wrote lyrics about the pandemic. There are lyrics about a lot of subjects, you should ask others what they wrote about. But the overall message is that we are in complicated times, in a kind of storm. But there are good days ahead.

And this album also marks the return of the famous blimp on all your covers, except on the previous album, "Kaleidoscope". What does it mean?

Neal : I don't know how it all started. One of the artists we worked with a long time ago introduced us to the airship in the first place. In Transatlantic, everyone is dealing with a different aspect, and Mike is the one who takes care of the artworks and the videos. I know there are a lot of e-mails about this. There must be hundreds of them circulating between us, the label and so on. But anyway it's more of a subject that Mike takes care of!

The format of this new album is similar to your album "Jesus Christ The Exorcist", an album that looks like a rock opera like we used to do in the 70s. What attracted you in this exercise?

Neal : Some of my favorite albums are rock operas: "Tommy" (by The Who), "Jesus Christ Superstar" (by Andrew Lloyd Webber), "Quahenia" (by The Who). And if I think about it further, I'm sure I'll find more! "Tarkus" too (from Emerson, Lake And Palmer, editor's note) ! I like concept albums. There's also "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" by Genesis. When I was playing in Spock's Beard at the time, people used to say : "Hey, man, when are you going to release a concept double-album ?". I'd say, "Oh no, that's been done so much already, it's too obvious, I'm never going to do that! ». And when we worked on our album "Snow", I had the feeling that a single album wouldn't be enough. I was in Los Angeles on the eve of September 11, 2001. On September 10, 2001, I said to the others: "Guys, I think this album has to be a double-album, we need a concept, we need a story related to music". I had to get on a plane to go home the next day, and then September 11th came, so I had to drive home. Anyway, that's how I came to write my first double album, because I felt "forced" to do it. Since then, I've released a number of them. I do it because I feel that's the direction the music wants to go in.

You mentioned the album "Jesus Christ Superstar" by Andrew Lloyd Webber. I guess the name of your album "Jesus Christ The Exorcist" is a nod to his? Was this album an influence for you ?

Neal: Yes, it really was! When I was young, I lived the albums. I listened to one at a time. When I'd finish listening to "Tommy", I wouldn't really listen to anything else, I'd just listen to it for a month! "Jesus Christ Superstar" is one of those albums. The funny thing is that sometimes I only listen to one side of a vinyl! "Thick As A Brick" (by Jethro Tull, editor's note), I love the first side, but I must have listened to second only once.

This is the third time we have the chance to interview you. The first two times, we ended the interview with our usual question: "What is the question you would have liked to be asked? ». Both times, you told us that you would have liked to be asked how you started to believe in God, because it is a subject that fascinates you and about which you are hardly ever asked. So Neal, this is your moment, please tell us your story! (Laughter).

Neal: Oh thank you! I'll try to keep it short. You may know that in the early to mid-90s I went through a very complicated period. I was depressed and I wish I had died. At that time I started praying to God without really believing 100%. It was more prayers like: "Lord, if you exist, can you please help me? ». I remember feeling like I was moving to Nashville. It was my intuition, my inner voice, as I could have said at the time. Today, I would say more that it was the voice of God. So I moved to Nashville. My wife was raised in a very religious family. When we got married, I wanted to be a good husband and go to church with her at Christmas, Easter, etc. And then as time went by, I felt things that I had never felt before. I felt the presence of God in a way that is very difficult to describe. I tried to describe it on many albums for a long time, through songs like 'Love Beyond Words' (from Spock's Beard, on the album "Snow") or 'Stranger In Your Soul' (from Transatlantic, on the album "Bridge Accross Forever"). I was trying to describe this incredible and indescribable feeling of being filled with the spirit of God. It's like he's inside you and all around you. You are one with God. I didn't want to tell people about it because it was embarrassing. I didn't say anything about it for a long time. But to make a long story short, I started going to church more and more. And then my daughter was cured of a heart disease she was born with, and that changed my life. For 4 or 5 years I dedicated my life to Jesus. I am truly blessed. I like to say that my daughter got a new heart and I got a new heart too.

It's a great story! And is there a link between your faith and your music? What is this link?

Neal: Well... I pray every day to do God's will and for him to guide me through music. I don't know, sometimes I wake up at night and I have music in my head, and I know it's not coming from me. Often I feel it very clearly in my mind, that God is giving me music to write. It's like he's whispering in my head at 4 in the morning: "Write it, write it! ». After writing some of the albums, I had the feeling that I had said everything, done everything. As if there couldn't be anything better afterwards. But what's exciting is that with God, there are no limits. You can create, create and create again. Some people are baffled by the amount of music I write but God still has 200 excellent albums in stock for you, you just have to find them!

And concerning the future, do you have any plans for touring in 2021 or nothing is definite?

Neal: Nothing at the moment, no! We're too afraid to commit to a calendar. Some people are starting to plan dates in the second half of the year, but I'm not sure. We'll wait and see!

Since you have several versions of your songs, have you thought among yourselves about the versions you're going to play on stage?

Neal : Well Mike started saying in interviews that we would play theversions of the record in 5.1. There's a bit of everything on it! He's the one who decided that. But actually I don't know yet, we're going to talk about it! It will be a group decision in the end, of course.

Or maybe you could create a fourth version which would be the live version?

Neal: I'd actually floated the idea! It would have surprised people, we could have done different versions every night! (Laughs). But I don't know!

Anyway, thank you very much for your time Neal, it was a pleasure! Good luck for next year, I hope you'll be able to come back on stage. Maybe we'll see you in France in 2021?

Neal: Yes, I hope we'll see you there! God bless you. Take care!

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