Interview: Catching up with Spock’s Beard
It is indeed a good time to be a Prog Rock fan. A mini renaissance in the genre sees bands like Spock’s Beard celebrating not only twenty years in the business but also showing no signs of slowing up. Their recently released new album in ‘The Oblivion Particle’, a tour which alongside several big name tours marks a bit of a mortgage threatening exercise for prog fans and a soon to be released ‘Best Of’ package; the plates continue to spin. Ahead of the last date of the European Tour in Manchester, LTW’s Mike Ainscoe jumped on the tour bus and had a chat with founder member Dave Meros and singer Ted Leonard about what’s happening in Spock’s world.
Louder Than War: Good to see you guys back in Manchester. How’s the tour been going?
Ted Leonard: Yeah it’s been really good; there’s been good gigs and better gigs – in fact we’re a little road worn at this point!!
LTW: And it’s the last show of the tour tonight so is it going to be all out for a big finish?
TL: Not for me – I gotta keep some in…
Dave Meros: Yeah he’s going out with Enchant for some dates
TL: Which start tomorrow; we’re playing in Baarlo in the Netherlands tomorrow, the Progpower, prog power metal thing and then we’re in the UK a few days later in October, it’s a pretty short little tour.
LTW: Ryo’s been posting photos on social media of all the food from Europe, the meat, cheese, beer….
DM: That’s not just his thing, that’s what we’re presented with every day – that’s just the only thing they put out for us. The exact same brands, the bread, the cheese, the same exact arrangement. I think there’s a warehouse somewhere and they just pull them from the shelves! One bread. One cheese….
LTW: I also saw some social media pictures from the Leamington gig where there’s this incredible backstage area. On the Steve Hackett documentary DVD they do some filming there and refer to it as ‘Tammy Wynette’s trailer’!
DM: Let me think about that one…
TL: Yeah Leamington Spa is the one with the beautiful building and the trailer that’s from the sixties. I didn’t know it was Tammy Wynette’s! I just figured it was someone like that – Marilyn Monroe’s or something! That would make sense!
DM: There were some other small rooms but that was the main lounge-y area. There was all kinds of funny stuff back there; there was a smurf and some robot thing and all kind of funny props…
LTW: Going back to the album (‘The Oblivion Particle’ was released at the end of August) were you happy with how it was received?
TL: By and large it’s been really good. I think I’ve seen only one negative review, which was intensely negative. I’m gonna find that guy one day! Apparently I have a fragile ego!
LTW: Was that what he said in the review?
TL: Nah – what he said wasn’t important.
DM: He’s going to be stressing out about that for the rest of his life! “Remember back in two thousand and fifteen when…”!!!
TL: He’d complained that I’d mailed in the vocal performance and he said something like Jimmy’s drums are, well…there” And Jimmy kicks so much ass on this album that to say that his drums are just “there”, well I don’t know what metal album you were listening to before you put this album on…BUT 99% of the reviews have been really positive and almost all of them echoed the sentiment that it’s a grower and not one of those ones like (the last album) ‘Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep’ where a couple of songs grabbed you right off the shelf but it’s one of those ones where there’s so many layers to the sounds and so many layers to the song structure and everything else making it one of the ones that the more you listen to it the more people start to connect with it. Once the fans see it live then it gives them a whole different perspective and we ar doing quite a bit of the album live.
DM: Our record company president had the same reaction at first. He didn’t reply – we sent him the material and he didn’t reply for about a week and it was like “uh oh!” and finally we called him and he said that he was really liking it and he might like it more but it took him a few listens. He wasn’t sure at first.
TL: Even the song ‘Disappear’ has such a slow start to it and ‘To Be Free Again’ is kind of the same thing (sings a bit!) then ‘Disappear’ gets totally cooking and then has this totally cool bit in the middle with a big ending. I remember the first time hearing it I was thinking it was taking too long to get going but by the end of the song it’s come alive. I just think that you can’t write the same album twice and there were certain charms about ‘BNaDS’ – ‘Something Very Strange’ and ‘Afterthoughts’ I thought were two standouts and some people liked ‘Submerged’ and it just came out of the gates a little better with ‘Hiding Out’ but I love the opening track on the new album, ‘Tides Of Time’. I think it’s a great track and for me vocally, and for Dave, from our two perspectives we really got to explore new ground; they kept on going “sing it raspier!” and “get raspy!” so on ‘Tides Of Time’ I’m basically doing my version of a Phil Collins impression as that’s what that song reminded me of – late eighties Genesis. Then with Dave, on most of the albums there’s a signature bass sound that’s been characteristic of Spocks and on this album it has a bit of that of course but there’s a lot more different textures and playing styles and a lot of acoustic instruments from Al Morse too.
LTW: Were you also surprised that ‘Bennett Built A Time Machine’ was one of the tracks that people were picking out from the album?
DM: It has surprised us! We didn’t expect people not to like it but it became a lot of people’s favourite. It took us a bit by surprise as we’d planned our live set before the album came out and we didn’t include that one so in hindsight maybe we should have!
TL: Yeah, it’s a song that when I first heard it I recorded a demo with my vocals on it I wasn’t liking it at all. I felt the music was great but I didn’t like the vocal part that to me was just a bit dry and boring. Jimmy (Keegan, drummer who sings on the track) just brought it to life. He did some cool things like the doubling of his voice that I didn’t really try. I was just putting scratch vocals down but Jimmy was keen to take a crack at it and I’m like “Yeah – by all means! “ and it turned out to be a favourite.
‘Bennett Built A Time Machine’ lyric video:
LTW: You have thrown it in the set recently though
TL: We’ve done that when people plead! Or if someone says something or if we have a lot of time. I think tonight we have to cut it short so we’re skipping ‘To Be Free Again’ and ‘June’ so it just depends where we’re at in the schedule. And there are only certain songs which we can pull so it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the set.
DM: A lot of the UK venues have strict curfews . Sometimes it’s because there’s a rave club afterwards! Oh my God – that’s so obnoxious! That’s where they make the money I guess.
LTW: Yeah – you get the rock fans coming out of the gig and then you see everyone lined up to go into the club
DM: Huge giant lines!
LTW: Girls in their tiny skirts
TL: I hate that – I prefer turtle necks
LTW: Back on track, are you recording anything from this tour as you put out a lot of live material and haven’t done anything with this line up and Ted singing?
TL: We kind of did, we did the ‘Live At Sea’ thing but it was just a part of the show and pretty short and we didn’t organise that. It would have been a logistic that would have been heaped upon Dave
DM: We recorded in De Boerderij
TL: Oh yeah we did – there’s video and there’s good camera angles too and stuff but that was the second gig (of this tour) so we’ll see how that turns out.
DM: They had 17 cameras it was crazy – 3 on me alone! They recorded multi track and did all this camera work and put together a short promo for it so if we feel we performed well enough that night we might do an independent release for it. Our record company has been flooded with live releases in the last few years by every band because it’s so easy to do now so they’re not really interested in releasing it on their label, but we could do it independently.
LTW: You’re going out again on the boat – Cruise To The Edge – what sort of vibe is that?
TL: On the second night we played there was a little bit of a rocking motion but apart from the fact that you’re on a boat that’s moving, it was an amazing experience and we couldn’t wait to do it again.
DM: I’m pretty cynical and I figured that OK, this is going to be nice. It’s going to be ok and when I got on there, just the way it’s laid out and the way they have it organised, the particular combination of bands – it was really amazing. I just had a super good time. The bands mingling with the people and every band was supporting each other, there was no weirdness going on.
TL: No band fights! Jets against the Sharks!
DM: So hopefully this one’s going to be just as good.
LTW: There’s also the anniversary album coming out. Twenty years has kind of crept up!
DM: It’s actually 23 years since Neal (Morse) wrote the demos for ‘The Light’ and 22 years the band has been together and 2- years since the European release of our first record. Yeah – a long time. We’ve been floating the idea of doing a ‘Best Of’ for years and didn’t get any traction until a weird confluence of events happened and it got everyone interested in it at the same time which is what it took and it started really not that long ago. What – a few months ago?
TL: Well I found out about it way after the fact. Someone just sent this song that Neal had been working on and I thought it was just a song he had left over and wanted us to use and I thought “why don’t we put this one on the album!” – so I had no idea it was for a ‘Best Of’ – “What ‘Best Of’??” – until I heard the song Neal wrote that we all perform on and it’s pretty cool. A fun little thing and a good little boost for the band right when we needed it most…
DM: It’s just so soon after the release of the last record that ‘The Oblivion Particle’ could have used a couple more breaths or another comma before the next part of the sentence.
LTW: Talking about the comment about Ted mailing in his vocals and the way everyone added their parts to the new track from Neal, is that not pretty much how people tend to work these days?
TL: There are things where you can play with people in real time but what we do is file sharing. What I often do with Doug from Enchant was try to hook up with JamKazam because it’s an hour and forty minutes for me to get to rehearsal with Enchant and 7 hours from LA for Spock’s so we drive there and rehearse for consecutive days whereas Enchant’s 2 days a week, so that does exist. But we do file sharing and use something like Dropbox or WeTransfer .
LTW: And with the new track it’s testament to the fact that the guys present and past in Spock’s remain buddies…
DM: Neal started the whole thing and you can look at it any way you want I guess I look at it like he started this franchise, this great thing, and then he handed it to us. There was no animosity when he left. He’s still really close and Nick (D’Virgilio – drummer) too – he left just because of his job not because he hated us or did anything horrible, he just had to do the right thing for his family.
LTW: It’s interesting how bands evolve to the point that it becomes more about the music that who’s in the band now.
TL: I understand that but I think as a fan it gets a little strange when you go to see one of your favourite bands and there’s only 2 original members so we’re a 5 man band so at least the original members outnumber the new guys! But you go see Kansas and there’s just 2 guys and it’s weird!
LTW: You know – the fans would love to see everyone back on stage doing something together as a Spock’s big band!
TL: Maybe there’s an outside shot of doing something on a touring capacity. Maybe it’s in the works but not worth mentioning till it comes to fruition.
LTW: There’s also the trend of bands doing full album shows – ‘Snow’ is a classic example of an album which got a little overlooked when Neal left.
DM: We did it on the X Tour. We almost split the set in thirds so the first two thirds were the the X album and the last third older stuff but that was the only time. There are some songs that work live and some that don’t work. The song Ted was talking about ‘Disappear’ has such a moody intro and moody first half that it probably wouldn’t work that well live. Another one from way back, ‘Time Has Come’ from the ‘Beware Of Darkness’ album is a really cool song and one of my favourite songs of all time but it’s just really moody and slow and we never thought it would work well live.
LTW: Spotting your Beardfish shirt Dave (Beardfish toured with Spock’s in 2013), there are a lot of younger bands now who cite Spock’s beard as an influence. Does it put your career into perspective hearing things like that?
TL: It’s funny when you hear a band which is such a sum of some really obvious influences and you hear of young bands saying Spock’s are an influence and you ask them if they’ve heard of Gentle Giant!
DM: People who have attributed to us that quirky counterpart vocal thing, we have to say no! It came from the guys back there!
And with that and a brief natter about Magic Pie (the band), tour bugs, social media and the fact that there are still some music magazines you can get on paper, the guys dashed off to catch the support bands and prep for their gig from which the gallery is taken.
The Spock’s Beard ‘First Twenty Years’ album is out on 20th November and contains a track listing which represents each album and each era of the band. Founder member Neal Morse came up with the new epic “Falling For Forever” which clocks in at almost 20 minutes and was written specifically to include all current and past members of the band. Everyone’s schedule lined up to be able to record it and Rich Mouser was available to record and mix it as well as re-master all of the earlier songs. Add to that a DVD with a lot of previously unseen video footage from the early days of the band and it’s a package the casual and hardcore fans can appreciate.
Spock’s Beard can be found online at : http://www.spocksbeard.com/