(Tim recently did an interview with Torodd Fuglesteg of the Prog Archives website. He has graciously allowed us to post it on this site. For more information go to http://www.progarchives.com/)
US keyboardist TIM MORSE is a member of Yes tribute band PARALLELS, as well as being the author of two prog-related books, "Yesstories" and "Classic Rock Stories". In 2005 he released his first album, "Transformation", recorded with the help of multi-instrumentalist Mark Dean (who also produced the album) and singer Richie Zeller. This record, which bridges classic and modern prog and includes a 16-minute track called "Apocalyptic Visions", is actually a concept based on the events that can transform a person's life.
I got in touch with Tim Morse for his story.
When and where did you take up music? Why progressive rock?
I was nine years old when I started playing music. I have an older cousin who took up the guitar and began writing songs in a Cat Stevens/James Taylor style. This was a big influence on me at the time and I asked my mother for a guitar for Christmas and indeed that is what I received as a present. I immersed myself in practicing that instrument and also began to start composing as well. I didn't start playing the piano until I was in high school, I began by simply transferring what I knew on guitar to the keyboard. I found that I really connected with the piano as an instrument and it completely eclipsed the guitar at that time.
Progressive rock came somewhere in the middle of those experiences. As a child I enjoyed the current hits being played on AM radio and also my parents record collection which included classical titles and a smattering of jazz. The first band that I fell in love with was The Beatles (I suppose you could consider them the 'first progressive rock band' in a way) and then other important bands of the classic rock era such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and so on, became favorites. However, the first progressive band to grab my attention was Jethro Tull. The attraction of progressive music was really all encompassing, it appeared to have everything. There was a complexity to the music that was intoxicating and it seemed that there was something new to hear in it every time I listened. Similarly, there was a poetic, lyrical depth to the words that I hadn't experienced in popular music before - I loved the fact that there were no boundaries in progressive music. If you wanted to do a 45 minute song like Thick as a Brick then get on with it!
Let's first start with your two books Yesstories and Classic Rock Stories. Why did you go to such a laborious task as writing these two books? Please tell us more about them and from where they can be purchased.
I was waiting for many years for someone to update the information in Dan Hedge's "Yes: The Authorized Biography" and release a new book on my favorite band. However, after all of this waiting I finally decided to take on the project myself. Yes, it was a lot of work, but it was a labor of love. It was a very exciting project that had its own rewards before the book was even published. When Yesstories was published by the St. Martin's Press it was very successful and my editor wanted to do a follow-up. He and I talked about various possibilities and the idea of Classic Rock Stories was born. This book was even more successful than Yesstories and I was surprised to hear that Howard Stern had recently featured it on his show. I think one reason the books have been popular is that people love to hear about the creative process about the music that is a part of their lives. Yesstories is unfortunately out of print (although I understand the publisher will be creating a download only version of it), but Classic Rock Stories is still available through any book store. Since these books have been published I've written many magazine articles and I've been considering writing another book in the near future. This would be a biography of an important musician/composer, but I don't want to give too many details on the project at this time.
Over to your only album so far. Please tell us more about the Transformation album from 2005.
Transformation was a huge project, a big part of my life for the three years it took to write, arrange and record it. I met my producer Mark Dean through Mike Varney of Magna Carta Records. He had heard me play and put the two of us in touch with each other thinking that we'd be a good fit together. The album is the story of a person going through a series of events that eventually transform his life. You could say it is a semi-autobiographical work, although certain songs like "Shatter" are more about people that I've known, than my own personal experience. Musically there are a lot of diverse elements coming together to hopefully create a cohesive whole. I love being able to do an acoustic finger picking almost folk song like "Adrift" and put it next to the fifteen minute expansive, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink song like "Apocalyptic Visions". I'm still very proud of this music and was pleased to see how well it was received in the progressive rock community.
You are currently finishing a new album. Please tell us more about this album.
The new album is entitled Faithscience and will be released in early 2012. This has also been an enormous project to complete, but in some ways very different than Transformation. The first important difference is that I've produced this album. I was very pleased with the working relationship that I had with Mark on the first album, but he was unavailable to produce this project because he was finishing his own album "No Man is an Island". Producing oneself can be a difficult job as the producer in you stresses the timetable and deadlines and the artist in you wants as long as it takes to complete it correctly. Obviously the artist in me won, because it has taken years to finish the album!
Faithscience started out as a concept album based on the life of Charles Lindbergh. I'd read a book on him and was fascinated by the arc of his life. It seemed that I could say things I wanted to say using that as the template. However, as I worked on the project it strayed from that initial vision (but I'm sure you can see the thread of it if you wish). I'm proud of the music on Faithscience and it has been a pleasure to create it. I've assembled a collection of some of my favorite musicians to play on it, including the great Jerry Jennings on guitar. There is a special guest appearance by David Ragsdale from Kansas on violin on one of the tracks.
For those of us unknown with your music; how would you describe you music and which bands would you compare yourself with?
That's a difficult question, although I'm sure at times you can hear all of my influences filtering through into my music. I'd say on Transformation that some of it sounds a bit like U.K. and perhaps Genesis. I wouldn't consider Eddie Jobson to necessarily be a major influence, but perhaps we're drawn to similar sounding chord progressions and keyboard tones? I would say that Transformation is very keyboard driven music as all of the songs, except for "Adrift" were composed on keyboards. However, on Faithscience that balance is addressed and I've included three or four songs that are guitar centric as well.
Besides of book writing and making albums, what else are you up to in your life?
I have a variety of interests and passions and I won't get into all of them now. However, having said that I'll quickly add that one of them is teaching. I work as a teacher and it is something I love to do and there are great intrinsic rewards in teaching. In my musical life I should add that I'm in the process of putting together a band to perform my music and to record a new album next year.
To wrap up this interview, is there anything you want to add to this interview?
Thank you for your time and interest in my music and books. I look forward to hearing what you think of Faithscience when it is released next year. All the best to you and your readers!
Progressive Rock Interviews
Interview with Tim Morse from 2013
First off, you are both a musician and an author. Can you give the readers a bit of a run down of your career as a writer?
It's funny, but writing became a passion of mine around the same time that music really entered into my life. In the beginning I was writing fiction and poetry, but eventually I started writing for the school newspaper in high school and later in college. In fact, for a brief period I considered journalism as a career choice. My first professional writing entry was the Yesstories book. It seems incredible, but I was able to get a deal without representation and was published by a major publishing house (St. Martin's), I don't think that could happen now. Following the success of Yesstories I started freelancing for a number of music magazines including Mix, Guitar Player, Keyboard, etc. and I have to say it's been a great experience, writing about and meeting my favorite musicians. I've done less writing in recent years as I've been so busy with music, but I do have a project in mind for the reasonably near future. It will be a biography of an important musician, but I don't want to reveal too much about the project at this early stage.
MSJ: Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music?
I received a guitar as a Christmas present when I was nine years old and that was it, my life was consumed by music. The very next day I wrote my first song - it was pretty terrible - but I wanted to get on with learning to play and writing music. As I became more proficient I starting jamming with friends, the long drawn out jam sessions that teenagers will do in garages. Around that time I became aware of keyboard virtuoso Rick Wakeman and that influenced me greatly in learning the piano and synthesizer. I was self-taught on piano for the first couple of years, just transferring what I knew from guitar to that instrument, and then I started formal instruction. Around this time I started playing in bands and did my first bit of recording. I actually sent a three song demo around without representation and got a very nice rejection letter from Geffen Records saying they weren't supposed to listen to it, but did and loved it. However, nothing more came of it than a letter for my scrap book. I was a founding member of the Yes tribute band Parallels and I also joined the Jerry Jennings band (jazz fusion) and played some fantastic gigs opening for people like Steve Morse and Ronnie Montrose. Anyway a few years later I met Mike Varney from the Magna Carta label and he put me in touch with Mark Dean. Mark and I had a great initial meeting and it was decided that we would work together to create my first solo album Transformation. That album sold well and was well received in the progressive rock community. However, when it was time to record the follow-up Faithscience, Mark wasn't available and so I ended up producing the album myself. It took a couple of years to complete it, but I'm very proud of the finished album and hope that your readers will give Faithscience a listen when they have the opportunity.
MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
I'd definitely be doing something that involved artistic expression. When I was young my passion was drawing and painting. If I hadn't gotten into music I probably would have pursued that side of the arts.
MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
There's no question that The Beatles were the most important formative influence on me as a budding musician. I consider them to be the “Alpha and Omega” of pop music. They, along with Elton John, demonstrated songwriting that still sets a worthy bar today. As I got older, other classic rock bands appeared like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and I took note of the wonderful guitar parts and the way they created an atmosphere with their sound. Certainly progressive rock bands such as Yes, Genesis and Jethro Tull were of enormous importance to me, to hear how they arranged and orchestrated their music. Later important influences, especially as an improviser, would include jazz artists such as Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny and Weather Report. And I can't leave out the late, great Kevin Gilbert - what an important musical voice, especially as a lyric writer. It was a tremendous loss to the musical world when he passed. Actually, if I like a piece of music it probably influences me in some way.
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
I've been very busy. I've just released a Genesis medley featuring music from the Duke album: “Cul-de-Sac/Duke's Travel's/Duke's End.” Currently it's only available on my YouTube channel, but it will also be on iTunes in the near future. I'm also producing an album by the Celtic band Kiltytown. It's been a fun experience exploring that genre of music and there are some well known musical guests appearing on the album including Rick Wakeman. And most importantly I've put together a project with singer/songwriter Bret Bingham called “The Mangoes.” We've been writing and recording over the last few months and it's been a fantastic experience. I think we're looking at an early 2014 release for The Mangoes. And I've got two other recording projects lined up for the new year.
MSJ: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
Progressive-folk rock-jazz-fusion-polka music! Seriously, and most importantly, my music is about feel. If I don't have an emotional connection to music, then I have no reason to revisit it. Each song is its own journey and so to me they are all very different. I do love that in progressive rock there aren’t really any rules, in that if you want to do a heartfelt folk rock finger picking guitar song and put it next to a 15 minute epic like “Apocalyptic Visions” (from my first album) there's no issue with that at all. At any rate, I'd say my music is probably more influenced by Genesis than Yes, if we are looking for similar sounding progressive rock artists.
MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?
Of course! Actually I think I'd like to play with most of them, but recently I had a dream where I was performing in a duet situation with Peter Gabriel so I'll go with that as my answer.
MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
That is the big question, isn't it? The important word in your question is “illegal.” It is illegal to steal something. I know that people have no compunctions about this, but the person who suffers when an album is put on a bittorrent site without authorization is the artist. This isn't like making a cassette for a friend in the seventies. You're putting music out that anyone can take for free. With my last release Faithscience it took less than a day for it to be on free share sites following its release. I know not every download would have been a sale, but when you are an independent artist every sale counts. So, in answer to your question I think the Internet has helped musicians get awareness of their music out into the world, but unfortunately the fact that so many people can easily download music for free is undoubtedly a huge hindrance to musicians everywhere.
MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
Actually, funnily enough I don't have a problem with that. If a fan is passionate about collecting the live recordings of a band and trading them then in all likelihood they will have all the officially released versions of the band's releases, as well.
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch-nemesis and why?
Do I get a cape and a mask? My arch-nemesis would be the person who invented file sharing software! Oh, and the person who decided it was great to compress music to eliminate any dynamic range. If you're looking for a musical artist that I hate, I'd have to say John Mellencamp. I intensely dislike everything to do with him as a musical artist and I can't reach the dial fast enough if a song of his comes on the radio.
MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
I used to think about this years ago in a fantasy football sort of way, "Who would be on my dream team?" I decided to choose people from the rock and jazz worlds to create a supergroup of musicianship and songwriting. It would include Chris Squire on bass and vocals, Pat Metheny on guitar, David Sancious on keyboards and guitar and Phil Collins on drums and vocals. What a band! However, given that Phil has had hand/back issues and can't play the drums comfortably let's have someone like Marco Minnemann or Dave Weckl on drums, but keep Phil on vocals.
MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
Well, I'd be completely selfish and book acts I've wanted to see that never (or hardly ever) tour. Off the top of my head I think it would look something like this: Field Music, Ritual, Mike Oldfield, David Sancious (reunion with Tone) and… Kate Bush! Oh, and I'd want to sit in with every act.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
The last CD I bought and gave a lot of attention to was Field Music's Plumb. What a fantastic release - I highly recommend that your readers seek it out.
MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
I've been recently rereading Bob Spitz's excellent biography of The Beatles. Also, books that I've recently read that are worthy of checking out include Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens and Pat Conroy's South of Broad. Let me add two e-books to the list: Innerviews by Anil Prasad and No Beethoven by Peter Erskine.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Just last night I went to see a local jazz guitarist named “Dave Lynch” perform a set of fusion music, however this summer there have been quite a few notable shows including Sting, Ian Anderson (performing Thick as a Brick), Bjork, The Grandmothers of Invention and Bruce Hornsby. Of those concerts the Sting show may have been the best of the bunch. He and his band (including David Sancious and Vinnie Colaiuta) came out and gave the crowd a fantastic night of Police songs and classic Sting hits.
MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
I don't know, I guess I don't really look at music in that way. I mean, I like Abba - it's just great pop music - but I'm not embarrassed to admit it to my friends!
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
There have been many of them in the past. One that comes to mind was I was sitting in for a friend's classic rock band one night. Their keyboard player couldn't make the gig, so I was subbing. Of course there wasn't any rehearsal and I was just following the band for the endings of the songs, etc. We started playing the Elton John song "Love Lies Bleeding" and we got to the middle section where there was a breakdown and it's just me playing a piano solo and a flute part with my left hand. As I was playing I thought, "I'll wait for the band to kick in before I go down to the lower octaves and really start hammering out the chords that lead us back to the last chorus." But what I didn't know was the group was waiting for me to play in the lower octaves as their cue to come in. I kept waiting for the band… and they kept waiting for me… and let's say that piano solo went on a bit longer than usual!
MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
One of them wouldn't mean much to your readers, but I'd have my father join me for that dinner (as he passed away many years ago). As for the other two… it's easy to be glib and say someone like Jesus, or Hitler for that matter, but if I take it seriously that is a tough question! Maybe someone from the musical world such as Beethoven or even John Lennon or Kate Bush for that matter. And I'd love to spend some time with my favorite filmmaker Terry Gilliam or the writer Pat Conroy or Vincent Van Gogh. How about religious figures like Paramahansa Yogananda or scientists like Einstein? Or someone from history like Abraham Lincoln? My head is swimming… I need to be able to add names to the list!
MSJ: What would be on the menu?
I'll say Thai food, for no other reason than I love it. I wonder if Abe Lincoln would enjoy Pad Thai?
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
I hope your readers who are unfamiliar with my music will visit my website at www.timmorse.com or the Tim Morse YouTube channel and check out my music when they have the opportunity. Thank you for your time - all the best to you.