Flying Colors consists of five real musicians, Steve Morse (G), Mike Portnoy (Ds), Neal Morse (Kb, Vo), Casey McPherson (Vo,Kb) and Dave LaRue (B), who all have deep understanding of different type of music and have extreme skills to play from Progressive Rock to other type of music flexibly.
The fantastic 3rd studio album as Flying Colors “Third Degree” contains not only progressive tunes which appeal to core music fans who expect advanced musical skills from you, but also tunes which impress fans who love quality Rock & Pops then those different vibes are merged into one and only Flying Colors style with a balance.
Steve Morse himself talked to us about brand new studio album “Third Degree”.
Interview / Text Mamoru Moriyama
Translation Hiroshi Takakura
Muse On Muse : The wonderful 3rd studio album as Flying Colors “Third Degree” consists of not only progressive tunes which attract core music fans who expect advanced musical skills from you, but also tracks which impress fans who love quality Rock & Pops and both type of tunes is well balanced out.
Steve Morse : Thanks for that. I hope there’s something for everyone, because a lot of thought actually went into this album by everybody.
MM : What was the goal for making this album?
SM : Same as it’s always been: Let’s write something that we would like to listen back to….every one of us. So, it has be a mixture of styles, lots of dynamics, haunting, exciting, and so on.
MM : In the impressive artwork for the album. A guy holds a big wall that is falling is drawn.
SM : To me, it’s like the stones of Stonehenge. There are 3 of them, standing for our 3rd album. And the guy is struggling to put the 3rd stone in place, since we were still finishing the album when the artwork was being talked about! The guy, if you look closely, is like the flying colors man from the 1st album.
MM : How was the production process? Did you write tune when you went to the studio as same as last 2 albums rather than members prepared demos beforehand?
SM : Both. We had lots of demos, dozens of them. But I always encouraged people to only bring in a starting point, not an entire piece, so that it would be added to by the band and changed to our style. Once we all got together, it was easy to write any song from nothing, because everybody contributes ideas quickly.
MM : In your previous interview, you said that usually Casey and Neal write lyrics, you give musical ideas and Mike and Drave bring the whole band to the right direction when you write tunes. Please tell us about actual production process in detail something like how all members get all together, how do you write tunes or when and how you arrange tracks.
SM : Well, Casey and Neal give plenty of ideas and comments about the music, too. And I don’t mind commenting about the vocal parts, either. I think one strength of the band is that everybody can envision parts that will work well. Every song starts differently, depending on who plays an idea that the group decides to work on that day. Normally, Casey and Neal will sing along with the music almost instantly, singing nonsense words and vowel sounds that later get replaced. My job is to bring in lots of ideas and suggest ways of making existing ideas better. Mike keeps track of all the possible arrangements, and makes plenty of comments. Dave writes down the progressions and always is the most dependable memory of which way we decided to do last.
MM : The melodic vocal, sounds of an acoustic guitar, piano arrangements and beautiful harmonies of guitar solo on “You Are Not Alone” are very attractive.
SM：This was a quiet ballad started by Neal. He really wanted to do it exactly as he brought it in, and I couldn’t help but force some changes and extra parts. Casey had a lyric idea from observing how people of all types come together in a crisis (during a hurricane he volunteered with others to rescue dogs that were trapped during the flood). So, while I knew that any of Neal’s songs could be completed by him alone, I felt it wouldn’t be a Flying Colors song until we had added more to it.
MM : “Geronimo” has funky bassline by Dave and your rhythm guitar and it brings the vibes which I had not felt in previous 2 albums.
SM : At some point in every album, I try to force Dave to give us a bass figure that we can build upon. Case came up with a great, quirky vocal melody, and Neal and I worked on the weird, jazzy chords that I love so much before the chorus. I like the way it lifts for the chorus and is a blend between pop, rock, and jazz. Casey actually plays the little clean guitar stabs in the verse, while I play the slide along with the vocals.
MM : Also, great Doo-wap style and catchy melodies on “Love Letter” give me an impression of you opened up a new field.
SM : One thing I appreciate is when a band has a sense of humor. This is just a fun tune. Many of us were Beach Boys fans, so obviously, there was some influence there. Neal really added a lot of background vocals that are heard even better on the bonus disk where we did ‘unplugged’ sort of versions of many of the songs (without drums on this one).
MM : In contrast to the tunes with new moods, “Last Train Home” and “Crawl” have your signature magnificent style.
SM : Last Train starts with one of my ‘orchestra of guitars’ ideas that I brought in. I thought it was majestic, but sort of moody, and I knew it would be a great theme for Casey to sing over. He came up with such a wonderful, simple melody that I really love.
Crawl has many elements. During the verses, I wanted to have Dave an I do different lines to make each verse different. My favorite parts are solo, where I got to play a melodic line, then accelerate into a fast, short cadenza. Then in the next section of the song, I made a quiet ‘string section’ with Ebow guitars and feedback parts, which grows to a more triumphant section (which wasn’t mixed up enough, IMO). When we do it live, I go out with a simple melodic solo, too.
MM : To summarize, you displayed many different musical styles with depth on this album, but all tracks are merged well into your Flying Colors style and this crucial album will never bore us.
SM : Wow! Thanks very much! I never made albums this long until working with FC, so it was hard to keep track of so many sections, by the way.
MM : What kind of guitars, amps and pedals did you use for this project?
SM : I used my Musicman guitars, both the 4 pickup original SM model, and the Y2D model. I did some parts on the bonus disc with classical acoustic and steel string acoustic, and on both disks, there is some electric 12 string. My amp is always my SM model ENGL amp and speakers. I use the TC flashback pedals for short and long delay, with my pedalboard for the wet amp only. When I plug in to the amp, the only thing between me and the amp is a Kealey compressor pedal, which I use for some of the rhythm parts that are not distorted. Ernie Ball paradigm slinky strings, also.
MM : What sort of music do you normally listen to? Please tell us your recent favorite musicians and guitarists.
SM : I just heard Jake Allen on several songs and he seems to have it all. I can’t remember the names of all the incredible players that one sees on the internet! I normally listen to classical, or more quiet music, but not very often. I most often have musical ideas running around in my mind.
MM : You keep great projects like Flying Colors, Steve Morse Band and of course Deep Purple. What are you upcoming plans?
SM : I continue to write for some TV background music, and have hundreds of pieces that I enjoyed working on. I will also be involved with Purple for some more time, it looks like!
MM : Please leave a message to your fans.
SM : Thank you for supporting live music and helping to keep it a part of our current culture. Music is the only universal language! Hope to see you all at a show in the near future!
Flying Colors / Third Degree
1. The Loss Inside
5. Last Train Home
7. You Are Not Alone
8. Love Letter