"It's been great! We've done our last few records through crowd funding. I was really surprised, because when we floated the idea, I didn't expect it to go that well, but we've got great fans out there who are willing to put their money where there mouth is, so to speak, and pay for something that hasn't even been made yet, which I think is pretty amazing." ~ Alan Morse, Spock's Beard
Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep is Spock's Beard's eleventh studio album, and critics and fans are agreeing that it's one of their best. In a day in which many records get made in a matter of days, these prog rock veterans are still putting in the time, energy, and work to get things right, and you can hear it loud and clear. New singer Ted Leonard fits like a glove, and both his writing and his vocals are top notch. I recently had the opportunity to get the story from the band's founder, Alan Morse.
Alan Morse: "We had toured with Enchant (Leonard's long running band), they opened for us on a couple of tours, so we were pretty familiar with Ted and of what he is capable - plus, Dave Meros has been doing a cover band with him. When we realized we needed a new singer, Dave said, 'Maybe Ted would be into it.'
"The fans seem to be right in there with the change, I haven't heard anything but great comments about it. He's been killing it live - he's singing, playing guitar, and doing everything without a hiccup, and everybody picks up on that."
Leonard wrote the record's first track, and Hiding Out is a tremendous way for the band to introduce their new frontman. His is one of the best voices in the genre, I'm reminded of the days in which Kansas' Steve Walsh was filling arenas with his range, power, and chops. The time spent on arranging and production is immediately apparent and the band's players are all on point. Seven minutes and some change later, it's easy to see why Leonard got this gig. Win/win for everyone involved.
Ryo Okumoto deserves to be a household name, though in fact, keyboardists most generally get short shrift in this world. His playing is amazing throughout the record, and on I know Your Secret, he's everywhere and he manages it all quite tastefully, while Dave Meros throws down an astonishing bass line with a tone that is captivating - overdriven and thick, it still manages to retain a crisp bite, and when the first instrumental interlude arrives, it sounds a mile wide and deep. After this movement, the band goes into a very melodic section that is filled with a great vocal from Leonard, and a melange of background vocals that will definitely have you approving of the band's taking its time.
A Treasure Abandoned, a tune written by Alan Morse, and longtime collaborator John Boegehold, is a showpiece for Morse's always inventive and tasteful rhythm guitar work - this is another tune that allows Leonard to show off his range, the silkiness of his phrasing, and he makes the best of this opportunity to shine. His double tracked work on the bridge is sublime, and he mixes things up so well that it is very exciting to see where he will go next. Morse wraps things up with a rather epic guitar solo, and these guys make thrilling sound easy.
Alan Morse: "Most of the stuff was written before Ted joined - we changed it slightly, but it's not really much different. Range-wise, Nick was similar, but Ted can go a little higher. It might change our writing moving forward, though. I think the John Boegehold stuff was written thinking more about Ted.
"There were parts of Submerged, Ted's tune, that, well, I don't want to make too big a deal of it, but some of this stuff makes me cry when I hear it."
Submerged has big rock melody, huge hooks, and it builds up to another great guitar solo from Morse, before returning back to hit singlesville. Drummer Jimmy Keegan is explosive on this track - he's a very musical drummer, and his sense of dynamics work perfectly when partnered up with Dave Meros' excellent bass work.
Alan Morse's brother Neal returns to the fold, co-writing Afterthoughts and Waiting For Me - the former being a melodic piece of quasi Middle Eastern funk that sets a nice stage for Leonard's lyrical manifesto. Mad as a hatter? As well as this all works, who cares? Leonard's words match wonderfully with the Morse brothers bent composition.
Alan Morse on Leonard's role as a writer for the band: "I hadn't even really thought about it that much. But after we had set it all up, we were on our way down to Mexico for a gig, and he played me some stuff on a solo record he was working on, and I went, 'This shit is great, can we do this?' He said, 'Sure,' so there you have it."
Something Very Strange is as close as Spock's Beard comes to straight ahead rock - it's still filled with interesting changes, segues, and I love that for all the technical prowess on display, the band never becomes insular, or too esoteric - it's all very melodic, and never just clever for clever's sake. Dave Meros is a vastly underrated bassist - he's toneful as hell, he's got amazing chops, and he's mighty musical. Okumoto again paints huge sonic textures, and fills space with a fairly remarkable number of synth tones and sounds. Morse shreds a mighty solo, and then again the group convenes on a fade of great gang vocals and playing. Written by longtime band collaborator John Boegehold, but it manages to sound very coherent, which is a trait that the album exemplifies. Regardless of the writer, the material always sounds like Spock's Beard.
Ending the album proper quite epically is another Morse brothers composition, Waiting For Me. After a few hard rocking minutes that evoke again memories of days when prog-rock filled arenas, the band goes fusion-esque to great effect before breaking down into a section that makes me wonder why Yes never got Graham Nash in to replace Jon Anderson, if you will. Alan Morse takes a solo that begins with pastoral melody, then leads into a fireball of furious full contact magnificence. These guys are such great players that it's easy, again, to be so involved with the joy of the music that you almost forget how virtuosic this all is.
There is more excellence to be found on the bonus disc (roughly an extra half hour of music) - it's all top shelf, and not filler in any way. I'll let you discover this for yourself, though.
Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep is great evidence that fan and crowd funding can be a very effective method in the new music business model:
Alan Morse: "Yeah, I think so. I think our fans appreciate that it takes a lot of work to make this stuff. We're not just putting it down on a laptop, and putting it out. It takes a lot of time, effort, and money to make this, and they appreciate that - they know that if we can't get paid, we can't keep doing this, and we appreciate that.
"The tracking took us pretty close to a year - from first track to mixed product, that took a year. Before that, it's kind of hard to measure, because we never sat down and said, 'Let's start writing for the record.
"For me, there's still a lot of moments on this record that kick my butt if I listen to it."
Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep has been out for a while (April 2), and as I mentioned above, it's being heralded by both fan's and the music press. It's a stunner from beginning to end, and you should probably just order yourself up a copy.
Thanks to Alan Morse, Spock's Beard, Inside Out Records, and Billy James at Glass Onyon PR!