Watch the Neal Morse Band Play ‘Draw the Line’ With Mike Portnoy on Vocals: Exclusive Premiere
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Former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy and singer-songwriter and keyboardist Neal Morse (ex-Spock’s Beard) have racked up 18 album credits in a collaboration that spans nearly two decades. The pair will share their latest work with the world on Nov. 11 with the release of The Similitude of a Dream.
The new album is the second by the Neal Morse Band, arriving about a year and a half after their 2015 release, The Grand Experiment. It’s a heavy-hitting double disc by the progressive group that includes more than 100 minutes of new music.
Ultimate Classic Rock presents the exclusive premiere of documentary footage featuring the band in the studio working on the track “Draw the Line” (a new original that shouldn’t be confused with the Aerosmith song of the same name) that includes lead vocals by Portnoy.
“It’s one of the heavier riffs on the album,” Portnoy says. “As soon as I heard the riff, I kind of pictured some vocal melodies. Originally, when the riff was presented, Neal sang some melodies on top, and his melodies were just a little too light. They weren’t kind of aggressive enough to match the riffs, so I suggested some phrasings and melodies, and then at that point, he scratched out some lyrics to my melodies and phrasings, and then I ended up singing them.”
Portnoy notes that “Draw the Line” developed in a way that felt comparable to how the creative process would progress with similarly styled material during his time in Dream Theater. “Usually, whenever we had really heavy songs in Dream Theater, those were the ones that I ended up writing the lyrics and melodies to, and in some cases, ended up singing as well,” he says. “It seems like when you have that kind of vibe or emotion, I’m the metal guy in the band to kind of handle that one.”
The concept for the new album drew inspiration from Pilgrim’s Progress, a book that had been suggested to Morse by a fan. As Portnoy recalls, he quickly got behind the idea, but was resistant when it came to the idea of making a double album.
“Neal and I doing a concept album together is nothing new,” he explains. “I think we’ve done five or six of them together at this point. It’s always a great format for us to work within. When he presented the idea to us of another one this time around, we were all gung-ho to jump in and dive in and get to work. My hesitation was the idea of doing a double album, so I kind of resisted that idea for awhile, and then about halfway through the album, it pretty much became inevitable that it was going to require being a double in order to fully realize all of the ideas that were on the table.”
Now that the album is completed, Portnoy says he’s happy they went the full distance, calling The Similitude of a Dream a record that represents the “absolute creative pinnacle of our collaborations together,” even suggesting that it might be the album of his career.
The Neal Morse Band will be on the road starting in January for a rare U.S. tour that will give fans the chance to hear the album performed in its entirety. It’s something Portnoy is looking forward to. He says it’s been “disappointing” to him in the past when he hasn’t been able to tour the U.S. more with the projects he and Morse worked on.
“Now it’s up to the fans to show the promoters that there is a market for this kind of music,” he says. “Obviously, bands that have been around forever, like when I was out there with Dream Theater, we had established ourselves, so we could do extensive American tours. But the Neal Morse Band is very much a kind of underground thing for American fans beyond the prog scene. I’m hoping that this album and this tour get the exposure that this amazing band and album deserve.”
And he notes in closing, that the “band” part of the Neal Morse Band is a key separator: “In the past, [bassist] Randy [George] and I have done seven or eight Neal Morse solo albums through the years, and in those cases, Neal wrote everything and pretty much sang everything and played everything other than the bass and the drums. So in those cases, that was just Neal’s music.”
That changed when they put together a live band and added keyboardist Bill Hubauer and guitarist Eric Gillette into the mix for the shows they played in support of Morse’s Momentum album in 2012.
“We did the Momentum tour with Bill and Eric, and we just really felt that there was a great, great chemistry with the five of us,” Portnoy recalls. “We wondered, what would it be like to write with this chemistry? Everybody in the band is a great player and a great singer and has great ideas. So with The Grand Experiment, we kind of changed the chemistry altogether and turned it into a real band. Everybody’s contributing, four out of five of us are singing, so it’s not just Neal singing anymore. I think Bill and Eric have very predominant vocal parts on this album. That one little word, ‘band,’ really makes all of the difference in terms of what’s going on now and the chemistry within the band.”
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