SPOCK'S BEARD "The Winds of Change"

By Dark Starr, Colonel Angus & Alison Henderson

Spock's Beard rose up the ranks of the new progressive rock movement and seemed to be about to conquer the neo-prog world when main songwriter and front-man Neal Morse made the decision to leave the band. Against all odds, Spock's Beard took a cue from Genesis and their drummer Nick D'Virgilio became the lead singer and the group continued to build on their reputation and fan-base. That is the history of Spock's Beard. 2012 finds them in another transition, though as D'Virgilio has left the group and a new version (with lead singer Ted Leonard and drummer Jimmy Keegan) is recording their first album with this lineup. We had the chance to pose some questions to Dave Meros (bass) and Alan Morse (guitarist and brother to Neal Morse) about a variety of topics, including the recurring specter of change.


WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Let’s get the big question out of the way right away. Is adapting to post D’Virgilio Spock’s Beard easier than when you had to learn to be the Beard without Neal Morse, harder or about the same? It seems that it might be easier just because you’ve had to make that kind of major adjustment before.

DAVE MEROS:  It's different. So different that it's hard to say whether it's easier or not. When Neal left I guess you could say it was quite a bit more rug being pulled out from under us than this time, but at the same time Neal's move was such a game changer that staying together was more of something we did because we liked playing together and we were up for the challenge.  It's still a difficult transition this time, but at least this time we’ve had a few years with everybody in the band writing so we don't have to start from a completely different place like we did when Neal left.

ALAN MORSE:  Yes, I guess it's a little easier having been through it before and survived. It's still difficult, but a little easier.

WC: When Neal left the band, it seemed like the sound changed for a while, but eventually shifted back towards a more traditional Spock’s Beard sound.The first question in that regard is, would you see that as a fair assessment and if not, how do you see that transition?

 DM:  I think "Feel Euphoria" was very experimental, everybody throwing what they thought Spock's Beard should become into the pot. After that ,we started realizing more and more with each CD what Spock's Beard is, and what our strengths and weaknesses are, and what our fans expect to hear from us.  If you really deconstructed all the music over the years, our post-Neal material is not really like the Neal-era material very much at all,  but we did retain some SB characteristics like a general approach to songwriting style and our choice of instrumentation.

AM:  I think that's a fair assessment.  We branched out a bit, tried some different things, but then we felt it was time to get back to what we're known for.  We still like to try different things, (who wants to keep doing the same thing time after time?) but I think we have a better idea now of what makes something a Spock's Beard song.

Dave Meros

WC:Related to that question, how is the new lineup change impacting the Spock’s Beard sound?

DM:  We're still discovering that.  It's too early to really tell yet, but from the songs that we've started to record so far it’s sort of like a combination of three versions.  Neal co-wrote a couple of songs with Al and those sound very vintage Spock's…maybe too much. Then there is a lot of the SB version 2 influence in there of course, and it’s all blended in with a different vocal sound and also Ted's additional writing and arrangement style.

AM:  Ted and Jimmy are awesome!  Of course Nick is too, but bringing in new blood has really brought a new energy to the band that I find very exciting.

WC: With Ted Leonard in the Beard now, where does that leave Enchant?

DM:  It seems like it may have actually helped them, oddly enough.  It might be just a coincidence, but they seem to have gotten motivated right around the time Ted joined SB. (laughter) They had been pretty dormant for a long time, but all of a sudden they have a new record deal and are currently working on their first new CD in eight or nine years. 

AM:  Ted's still working with Enchant, which is totally cool with us. Don't see any reason he can't do both until both bands become massively huge rock stars.  We'll deal with that when the time comes. (laughter)

WC: How did you decide on Leonard? Were there other contenders or was it just sort of a natural transition?

DM:  It was a very natural decision.  We have known Ted for a really long time. Enchant did a tour with us in Europe in the ‘90s when Neal was in the band (the Day For Night tour) and another tour later after  Neal left (I think it was the Octane tour).  We've always loved Ted's voice and guitar playing, and he's a good fit personality-wise too.

Then, as fate would have it, both Ted and I wound up living in the Sacramento area and have been in a cover band up here for the last couple of years, which actually increased my admiration of his talents as I could see how well he could sing lots of different styles.  I also never knew how good he was on guitar until the cover band.
So, when we needed to choose a new singer his name came up first. Everybody was into it and the big search just stopped there. 

AM:  Well, we've known Ted a long time, knew he was a cool guy and very talented.  Plus he's been working with Dave on some other projects.  So when we needed a sub for Nick for a few gigs last year it just seemed to make sense, and one thing led to  another...  It just seemed kind of the natural thing to  do.

WC:How did you guys enjoy performing at London’s High Voltage festival last year? It was kind of a special event on several levels.

DM:  Doing a fly-in, one-off festival is always kind of hectic because it's a lot of frantic setting up and getting things dialed up in a very short period of time, but it was fun, especially when Neal came on and did the end of “The Light” and then “June.” The purpose of doing that festival and also Sweden Rock was to try to put ourselves in front of a bunch of people who weren't familiar with us, and in that regard it was not so successful, but all in all both gigs were a really  great experience.

AM:  It was great!  Opening for Tull was a great honor, they sounded killer!  I felt it went really well. We had a lot of fun. It was kind of hard having to set up our own gear, but oh well, that's the gig!

WC: Throughout the course of Beard’s history, many of you guys have been involved in other projects. What kind of side projects are still on the table?

DM:  Everybody has been involved in some kind of side project(s) over the years.  Mostly recording projects, playing on other artists’ CDs, but there have been some actual concert-playing side projects as well.  Nick did a few of them, his Rewiring Genesis project, a bunch of solo gigs, a couple tours with other bands as well as a lot of session work.  Ryo is in K2, had his own band Code Red, and toured with GPS, and he also partnered up with Barry Thompson and George Andrade in The Anabasis recently for that recording project.  I’m sure I'm forgetting a few, and I'm not even going to attempt to list all  the studio / recording projects that we've played on because there have  been quite a few.

AM:  You're asking the wrong guy! I don't have anything else working at the moment, though I'm sure the other guys do.  I do have a lot of extra material that probably won't make it onto the new Spock's, so stay tuned...

WC: How have you seen the music business change over the years – contrasting either your pre-Beard experiences or
early Beard with today?

DM:  I am seeing two very different sides to the whole thing.  On one hand, the quality of individual musicianship and music production has very dramatically improved over the last 10 or 15 years.  On the other hand, the business end of it is in big trouble and it's nearly impossible these days for a medium level band (like most prog rock bands are) to make any money at it like they used to be able to. In my crystal ball I see lots of bands not continuing to put out new material simply for financial reasons.

AM:  Well, the music "business," as they call it, has always been hard, but it seems especially so today, when everyone expects everything for free and can usually get it.  Recording technology sure has changed, too, not always for the better!  Everything has to be so perfect nowadays.

WC: What about changes in technology, both good and bad?

DM:  I see it mostly good from the technical / recording standpoint.  Professional quality recording is attainable very easily now to anyone with a computer.  It's no longer necessary to go into a $2,000 a day studio to get a great sounding record.         Alan  Morse
Also, people can collaborate in ways that were impossible just a few years ago by sending files back and forth to anyone on Earth.

On the bad side, it has put lots of people and businesses out of work.  A lot of people that made good a decent middle class living can't do it any more, which is really unfortunate.  Another bad thing is that because recording and digital distribution is so accessible to everybody, bands don't have to earn their record deal any more, which has created its own set of issues.   Then there is the whole pirating issue.  I don't care what anybody says to the contrary, pirating music is contributing in a big way to tearing the middle class out of the music industry.   I just read a very enlightening article about legal streaming sites too, like Spotify.  After reading that article I'd almost rather get ripped off by the bittorrent guys than to be exploited by that form of legal streaming.

AM:  Oops, I already answered this question/

WC: What have been some of the most memorable moments in your career?

DM:  A couple really good ones are unfit to print… but seriously folks….musically there have been a few transcendent moments. When I was playing with Gary Myrick in the 80s we opened for John Entwhistle where we just went on stage without a sound check and kicked ass like you wouldn't believe.  We could feel it as we were playing.  When the review came out the next day in the paper there were a few sentences about John Entwhistle but the rest of the article was mostly about us. 

Another one was a Spock's Beard show in London, at the Astoria in 2001. To me that was the most powerful performance that Spock’s ever did. It was another one like the Gary Myrick show where I could feel everything in perfect sync and there was this feeling of pure energy.  The band felt like we were one person, in sync with everyone in the room and even in sync with the building itself. I know, that sounded kind of "hippie", but there are times when there is no other way to describe things.

Hearing the final mix of "Walking on the Wind" for the first time with headphones on in Kevin Gilbert's studio…Getting a standing ovation before we even played a single note at the Downey Theater in 2010 (where we recorded our last live CD / DVD with Nick).  Those are another couple of memories among many such things that have made a really deep imprint in my memory over the years.

AM: Opening for Edgar Winter and Joe Satriani in Holland was great.  Our first gig at Prog Fest in LA was pretty epic, too.  Everybody just sat there while we played "The Light.” We couldn't tell if they liked it or not.  But when we finished, the place went crazy.  They gave us a standing ovation, so then we knew they liked it.

WC: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?

DM:  My arch nemesis has always been myself, I have no idea why.  That would make for a very strange superhero, wouldn't it?   A superhero that battles different parts of himself that are holding him back.   Kind of like the Superhero of Motivational Seminars.  Hey, I'd be Tony Robbins!  Or maybe a Scientologist.  

AM:  Geez,I don't know, somebody lame...Bad Music Guy or something.

 WC: Since the band name is a “Star Trek” reference, are any of you guys fans? If so, are there any comments you’d like to share about your favorite “Trek” moments, thoughts on the new directions for the franchise, brushes with “Trek” fame or anything else “Trek” related?

DM:  I think we all like Star Trek, but nobody is fanatical about it. I mean, how can you not like Star Trek at least a little  bit?  It was a really cool series, both old and new versions.  We all grew up with that show.  I don't really have any Trek moments except one of the first full length vinyl LPs that I ever owned was a Leonard Nimoy record (Mr. Spock's Music From Outer Space).  (laughter)

AM:  Sure, I'm a fan of the original series and The Next Gen, but I kind of lost track of it after that.  Not a crazed trekkie or anything though. It was just sort of a joke name that stuck, you know? We played at Dragon Con one time, thought there might be some interest due to the Star Trek thing, but there wasn't  much...

WC: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?

DM: I think the last CD I purchased was from a very cool eclectic artist named “Johnny Unicorn.”   That was about a year ago.   I heard a song called "Science" that a friend of mine had posted on Facebook and needed to hear more.  I haven't been listening to much music lately though... going through a phase, I  guess. 

AM:  The last CD I bought was "Yoga Nidra" by Rod Stryker.  It's sort of a guided meditation thing, not music.  I did buy a song on iTunes the other day though, “Pressure and Time” by Rival Sons.  Pretty rockin'!

WC: What about the last book you read?

DM:  I'm currently reading a book called “Aspen Haunt” by a bass player colleague of mine Amy Hawes.  I'm not a big book reader, it takes too much of a time commitment without practical results, I guess.   Especially fiction, because it isn't even true. (laughter)

AM:  I just finished “The Hunger Games,” now I’m reading “Moby Dick.”  Seriously.

WC: What was the last concert you attended just for your own enjoyment?

DM:  I don't really enjoy going to concerts. (laughter)   It's true, though. I'd much rather listen to a well mixed, well produced CD and hear the songs as the artist intended them to be heard and at the volume  that I want rather than be in some big loud boomy hall or crowded  club.  Hey, I'm an old guy. What do you expect?

So let's see. .. I don't listen to music, read books or go to concerts. I'm really painting a vibrant picture of myself , aren’t I?

AM:  Jeff Beck at the House of Blues in Hollywood years ago.  He was killer.

WC: If you could invite any three people (living or dead) to dinner, with whom
would  you be dining?

DM:  Oh no, I hate these kinds of questions.  OK, it would be Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad, just to get their take on stuff.   

AM:  Probably just my family!  But other than that, maybe Hendrix, Charlie Parker and Bach.  Interesting evening...

WC: What would be on the menu?

DM:  I don't know. .. I'm sure they'd be a lot more particular about food than I am, so I'd have wait until everybody was together then let them work it out.  I bet there would be a huge argument.  

AM:  Whatever they want!  I'd just have a Texas BBQ Philly sandwich from one of my favorite local veg places,  Orean.  Mmmm, sounds good!

WC: Are there any things you’d like to discuss that we haven’t touched on with our questions?

DM:  We're playing Night Of The Prog in Germany on July 7, so come check us out if you can!

                                                                  AM:  Hope you all like the new record. Sounds killer so far!