A couple of weeks ahead of the release of the 13th studio album from American prog rockers Spock’s Beard, we got to get the low down from singer Ted Leonard on what’s been happening in Spock’s world and the road that led to Noise Floor.
Louder Than War: In between the release of the last album ‘The Oblivion Particle’ (and ‘The First 20 Years’ compilation) and the new record, all the old members of Spock’s Beard got together to perform an epic version of the Snow concept album. How was that experience?
Ted Leonard: It was fantastic. Any time I get to share a stage with Neal (Morse) and Nick (D’Virgilio), two of the most respected musicians in their positions is totally a pleasure. Especially the show we did in Lorelei. The one in Nashville went pretty well but we were doing the videotaping and recording and everyone knew there was so much riding on it, so I don’t know if we had as much fun playing it as we did when there was nothing at stake. That was a ton of fun; a really big cool stage and it’s always such a cool place to play. The idea was to do it at least once across the pond or else we’re gonna hear it!
LTW: So with the new album, what’s been the build up to recording and releasing new material?
TL: As with most albums with any bands these days, some of the songs have been around a long time and had a long gestation. The last song on the ‘proper’ album Beginnings was actually written when we were trying to pull together the Brief Nocturnes album (Spock’s 2013 album). It was a late submission for that album. Ryo gave me the music and asked if I could write some lyrics really quick. I threw some together and people thought it seemed…a bit thrown together. When The Oblivion Particle came along there were a couple of different versions again where Ryo had switched the music around but it was still half cooked. Then he wrote this really cool middle section for it that got everyone behind it. The melodies were always good, it was just that the music sounded disjointed but finally came together.
So there are pieces like that. The first song on the album, To Breathe Another Day, is another that’s been in the works for a couple of years. John Boegehold had written it to present to Kansas and there was another one that he was also thinking of submitting which was Days We’ll Remember which is on the second CD. That one sounds a very obvious Kansas song but not so much the first one because everyone took so many liberties with, especially Nick. We restructured the song and got rid of the obvious Kansas references, but not so much with Days… which is just a Kansas song to me which is great. But just went on the extra CD thing (The Cutting Room Floor) which is a long story!
Sometimes I feel that when you release those four extra songs on the bonus CD, the album with the four songs would have been fine, maybe a bit long but to me it’s just one big album. Sometimes when you do bonus discs and stuff like that it feels unfortunate that maybe a song or two could have been on the next album presented as more of a feature rather than an afterthought. That’s how things can come across when they’re on a bonus CD. There are a couple of good strong songs on that in my opinion, one of which is one I wrote, but I was all for putting Vault on the second CD as it’s super short and pretty uncharacteristic for the band and didn’t really seem to fit. If there’s no way you can place it so it plays like its flowing from the previous song and into the next one, the extra CD is the best idea.
From a record company and marketing standpoint, it’s easier for reviewers to wrap their heads round 55 minutes, it’s easier to market less material than to have something like fifteen tracks on – if I were listening for the first time I wouldn’t even remember what the first track was!
LTW: The band are very democratic about what goes on a record. If someone’s not happy with something, it doesn’t go on.
TL: Yeah, that stuff happens. We have pretty well formed demos when it comes to the time we have to track. We knew we were going to have very limited time with Nick (D’Virgilio who came back into the fold as guest drummer) being in Indiana, so we had to get the drums done in two days so we didn’t have time to see what might work, so for whatever reason a song that Dave Meros helped to write called Lights Along The Way that I’d already recorded the vocals for, was a track we didn’t use that I thought was stellar (and still do) but that’s the thing about democracy. There’s no telling, it could end up on the next album or whatever and that’s happened on a number of occasions.
LTW: Going back to Beginnings, that sounds very much like a track that the ong term Spock’s fans will enjoy. There’s almost a Neal Morse vibe to the lyrics and I oculd imagaine him singing those words with a hand in the air.
TL: The words definitely have an uplifting vibe to them which is something that doesn’t spill out of me very often whereas with Neal that’s just naturally how he writes. I had written a ton of songs about a divorce I went through about 8 or 9 years ago which were really depressing, about a dozen songs about all that crap. A couple were on The Oblivion Particle and there was one on Brief Nocturnes, Hiding Out is one of the songs from that series, so Beginnings was finally moving forward and coming out of that dark space.
LTW: Picking up on another track, So This Is Life starts off as a mid tempo number yet with the treated voice, recalls a Beatles feel before heading into Floyd territory and there’s also a short treatment on the vocal that’s quite trippy.
TL: The voice thing is just a phaser, but the influences were the idea of the track all along. It was one that was written primarily by Al (Morse) and I think he just wanted that spacey vibe which definitely comes through with the Floyd deal and the lilting melodies and harmonies. It was a song when I heard it, I thought it was going to be one people were going to love or hate as it’s so uncharacteristic and I love it for that reason. I think it turned out really cool. One of the things that stands out for me is the string arrangements – the ‘real’ strings just sound killer. It’s totally different and I love where it is on the album too as it just breaks everything up.
LTW: Talking of So This Is Life as one of Alan’s tracks, but the last album had quite a lot of material contributed by John Boegehold. How much has he done on the new album?
TL: He’s till done a fair amount but not as much as he did on Oblivion Particle which was nearly almost all him apart from two of my songs and another one not written by him so predominantly his songs. We definitely didn’t want two albums in a row like that so Ryo got more involved and Al cranked out some songs, two of his own and one he co-wrote with me which is Somebody’s Home, so we all got our hands in there more than the last album.
LTW: On the last album it was Bennet Built A Time Machine that was a surprise fan favourite. Having had that happen is there anything that might cause a similar reaction this time?
TL: You know that was such a mystery to me. I would have never second guessed that and everywhere we were gonna play we were asked about playing that track and it was a lot of people’s favourite tracks – the one song I wasn’t the lead singer on! Not that I’m bitter at all, but with this album there are a lot of different vibes. Some will attach to one song, some to another. A lot of reviewers have mentioned their favourite song as Beginnings which is a cool way to end the proper album.
LTW: To Breathe Another Day is another typical Spock’s opening track and you chose it to make quite a fun video as the lead track from the record with the guys all doing their own thing as an antidote to the usual serious music video.
TL: The album was already done and the record company wanted to do a video and showed us a video where all the members were tracking their parts on video, which looked cool although the song was already tracked and of course Nick was in Indiana so they asked us to do whatever we could. To be honest I thought it was going to be so lame with me lip synching but both Dave (Meros) and I both saw that it was going to be silly so we just went with the silliness of it. So I set up my thing and what you just can’t see in the background is a painting that was painted by my stepson of this naked woman off to the right! I also have the long version as we all recorded the entire song which is all me and during the instrumental sections I start filing my nails and flossing my teeth. It was shot in a bedroom, which is also my office and a spare room for when we have guests. Someone was saying online that they were just waiting for my mum to come to the door and ask me to stop making so much noise. That would be really weird seeing as she’s 72! I probably should have had her do something like that, come to the door with curlers in shaking her finger at me…
LTW: So what else is happening with Ted Leonard? Your solo album from 2007 – Way Home – having seems to have been enjoying a bit of a new life…
TL: Yeah – that was totally accidental, but one of the things that’s a big occupier of my time is that my wife and I had started an non-profit organisation to provide guitars and guitar lessons to at risk youths. She works at a home that rescues girls from sex trafficking which is far more prevalent than you would think in a developed country. They also take care of kids that have been booted out of the foster system with behavioural problems. So it turned out that I was listening to Nick play drums and also to Stings Ten Summoner’s Tales album and the grooves on that when I happened to put my own solo album on as I hadn’t listened to it in years. I just posted on Facebook that I felt it was a cool album that I didn’t get the chance to promote so much and it just took off with people wanting one. I decided to turn it into an opportunity for people to donate and for the donation they would get the CD as a gift so it worked out to be a cool thing – first of all to free up some space in the garage but also going to a really good cause. A good many people didn’t even know I’d done a solo album or that Nick played on it so it was fun to do that.
Noise Floor is released on Inside Out on 25th May. Look out for the Louder Than War review.
Spock’s Beard can be found online at : https://www.spocksbeard.com/