A Few Words With...Alan Morse
Interview & photos by John A. Wilcox
The first time I saw Alan Morse play live, I was in awe. The way he holds a guitar, the way he fingers it. Morse is able to get notes and sounds you just don't think are possible. An easygoing man and founding member of Spock's Beard, Morse recently released his first solo album, Four O' Clock And Hysteria. Alan Morse gave Progsheet a few moments of time and we jumped on it! Oil yourself up and strap yourself in...
PS: What was the first instrument you ever played & how old were you when you played it?
AM: I started taking piano lessons at five, bass viol at 8 or 9 - they already had too many violin & cello players - and guitar around 12. I never really practiced much until I started guitar, then I was really motivated. Plus my Dad was a voice teacher & choir director, so we were singing parts as little kids. I was in his boy's choir, too. We sang in operas, on TV.
PS: What was the first concert you ever attended?
AM: Not sure exactly. Among the first were Frank Zappa at UCLA (Billy the Mountain, etc.), amazing show, and Grand Funk Railroad/Black Sabbath/Yes at the Forum.
PS: Was there a specific moment or event where you realized you wanted to make a living as a musician?
AM: After I saw the Woodstock movie. Especially Pete Townshend & Hendrix really blew me away. I thought "If that guy (Townshend) can get up there & throw his guitar in the air & everybody thinks he's cool, hey, I can do that!"
PS: What drew you to prog music as a listener & a player?
AM: I liked it because it was more musical and interesting than most of the other stuff out there. I was impressed by the musicianship of people like Yes and Gentle Giant.
PS: What inside lead to this being the right time for a solo album?
AM: I did a Tony Robbins course and decided I could retire from running my company and make a record. It just sort of came to me. It was like "What do I really want to do?"
PS: The solo album is very interestingly titled Four O' Clock And Hysteria. Where does the title come from?
AM: It was a friend's address at Burning Man a few years ago. I thought it sounded kind of cool, the combination of the mundane and the extreme.
PS: I noticed that Gary Lunn is playing bass on the solo album. Great player! Where did you 2 first meet?
AM: In the studio when we were going to start recording! He's a real Nashville pro, Neal had worked with him before. He and Scott Williamson just came in, listened to the demos & laid it down.
PS: Return To Whatever & The Rite Of Left both have 3/4 of the current Spock's Beard lineup playing on them. Were they potential SB tunes, or intentionally written for Four O'Clock And Hysteria?
AM: They were written for the record. We did "Rite" on an SB tour before the record, so it seemed natural for them to play it. Plus they just kill anyway!
PS: Dschungel Cruz has a great feel to it. How did it come together & what guitar are you using on it?
AM: Thanks! That one was a Garage Band jam. I just laid down the groove & jammed to it, that's what came out. I used my Strat on it. I thought it would be fun to play around with the Sustainiac & slide. It was. The Sustainiac is a special pickup I have on the Strat that works sort of like an Ebow, so you can hold notes forever & get weird harmonics & stuff. Way fun!
PS: Tell me about the song Home. It has a sort of personal feel to it.
AM: That one is one of my favorites. It still makes me cry to listen to it. I was at Neal's place doing some writing & I woke up with it in my head early one morning. I just went out to the studio & demoed it. I thought it was maybe too simple, too stock, but Neal liked it so we went for it. Now it's one of my faves. I like the way it goes back & forth between 3/4 & 4/4.
PS: Jumping over to the SB album for a moment. The song Skeletons At The Feast sounds like a monster to play. Was it recorded section by section, or straight through?
AM: It was straight through, but with a lot of punch ins for my part...
PS: Are there plans for any live gigs in support of the solo album?
AM: Nothing firm. I'd like to do it if the response is good enough. So far, it's pretty good. We'll see.
PS: What's next on the horizon for SB?
AM: We don't really have much planned right now, we have our first Canada gig coming up real soon, but after that, I don't know. We shot a video on our last tour, so there will be some time getting that into shape for a DVD release.
PS: Here in America, we know very little of your brother Richard. I understand he's a musician playing mostly overseas?
AM: Yeah, he lives in Germany. He does a lot of gigs over there, not much here. He released a CD a couple of years ago under the name Rychyrd. It really cool, not prog at all, but cool & clever pop songs. Neal produced it, definitely worth a listen.
PS: Any other film soundtrack projects in the near future?
AM: No, I haven't done any work like that in a long time. I'd like to, though. Call me!
PS: Please name me 6 CDs you never get tired of listening to.
AM: Well, I get tired of anything after awhile. I don't listen to much music. But some of my favorites are:
David Bowie - Aladdin Sane
Ian Hunter - 1st solo CD
Jeff Beck - Blow by Blow, Wired
Duran Duran - Ordinary World (just that one song)
Green Day - Dookie
The Ramones - The Ramones
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