STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For 21st Century Media
It sounded great on paper. Keyboardist Neal Morse (Transatlantic, Spock’s Beard). Guitarist Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple). Bassist Dave LaRue (Dixie Dregs, Joe Satriani). Drummer Mike Portnoy (Transatlantic, Dream Theater). Some of the most accomplished rock/prog instrumentalists in the world. Plus vocalist Casey McPherson (Alpha Rev).
Put them all together in a room and what would happen? Would egos collide, crushing all hope for a successful collaboration? Or would their creative energies combine to produce some of the most interesting and compelling music of the day?
Fortunately it was the latter.
The concept was created by Bill Evans, the band’s executive producer. His goal: combine virtuoso musicians with a pop singer-songwriter and the right producer to “create sophisticated music that is accessible,” as stated on the band’s website.
Flying Colors released their eponymous debut album (Mascot Label Group, 2012) to widespread critical acclaim. Their subsequent tour solidified the band’s chemistry and yielded “Live in Europe” (Mascot Label Group, 2013), a CD/DVD package that was shot in Tilburg, Holland.
Although the five musicians had never worked together prior to their initial nine-day marathon writing and recording session for their debut album, there were previous connections that eased the process.
“Neal has been with Mike forever (in Transatlantic),” says LaRue in a phone interview from his home in Florida, “and of course I’ve been with Steve forever (in the Dixie Dregs and Steve Morse Band) … and it was great because Mike and I have worked together on several projects, so there was a tie-in there … and Mike suggested Casey and everybody loved (him) so that worked out great.”
LaRue describes the band’s democratic creative process.
“We write as a team. All five of us get together and everything comes out of the collaboration. We bring in ideas, but the early ground rules were set that nobody brings in a complete song… because we want to work through everything with the personality of the band. So people might bring in a riff or a verse and we go from there… It’s a pretty amazing process when we’re all in the room together.”
Because all the musicians are involved in so many other projects, the band is limited in the amount of time that they can dedicate to writing, touring and recording. It took nearly a year-and-a-half to complete writing and recording their second studio album “Second Nature” (Mascot Label Group). It was released in the U.S. Sept. 30, just days before the start of a two-week U.S./European tour.
“The music has a very progressive element to it…” says LaRue. “There’s a real muscular instrumental emphasis in this band …”
The music is described as virtuosic and melodic. It is different from anything the band members had performed before. Portnoy acknowledges on the band’s website that “Second Nature” sounds “proggier” than their debut release, but that it was “not conscious at all.” The drummer continues: “Direction was never even discussed. We just did what we do.”
The band members consider Flying Colors a genuine band and not just a side project, despite the complication of availability.
“I think the goal for the band is just to make great music,” says LaRue. “And we have to play it by ear as far as being able to get together and doing another tour. Everybody wants to do that. There’s definitely a passion for us to get out there and do more with the band. Everybody wants to invest a little more time in this. It’s just a matter of when we can all get free.”
“It’s frustrating at times,” says McPherson in a phone interview from his home in Austin. “I wish we could play an extra month or two months… but we’re all super grateful for the time that we do have. This project is a labor of love.”
Flying Colors will play only three U.S. dates before heading to Europe for seven shows. Philadelphia area fans have a rare opportunity to see the band at the Keswick Theatre. As for the band’s future plans, nothing is certain except the band members’ desire to continue creating exciting and memorable music.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Flying Colors with Bend Sinister.
WHERE: 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4 at Keswick Theatre, 291 N. Keswick Ave., Glenside.
TICKETS: $35– $49.50.
INFO: Call (215) 572-7650 or check www.keswicktheatre.com.