“This time around we were able to breathe and enjoy as we now knew what each other’s personalities were like and we now knew what the sound and style and direction of the music was because we had already established that. So I think this time we were able to just relax and let everyone breathe a little more.”
From Bio: It started with a simple idea: virtuoso musicians and a pop singer joining to make new-fashioned music the old fashioned way. A band followed, evolving into Flying Colors: Mike Portnoy (drums, vocals), Dave LaRue (bass), Neal Morse (keyboards, vocals), Casey McPherson (lead vocals), and Steve Morse (guitar). Together, they create a unique fusion of vintage craftsmanship, contemporary music and blistering live performances. What began as an unlikely premise had become a reality more rewarding than any had imagined. Refreshing, classic, old and new—Flying Colors is saturated with the many styles, tones and hues of its artists.
Being the last victim in a long day of interviews for Mike, or as he put it and found amusing, I was the last guy in the gangbang, I was lucky to chat with Mike Portnoy about Flying Colors, how they came to be, their new album ‘Second Nature’, touring and why we may never see them in Australia…
So for those unaware of Flying Colors, is there a summarized story as to how it all fell into place?
Well the quick version is there’s a guy named Bill Evans who is the executive producer of both albums and essentially he was the one that had the grand idea of starting this, and he started with assembling Neal Morse and Steve Morse along with Kerry Livgren of Kansas, and Kerry eventually had to bow out for health reasons. Steve and Neal starting working together and Steve brought Dave on board and Neal brought me on board and then I brought Casey on board, and that’s how Flying Colors was born and basically the whole idea was to try to get a bunch of guys from other well-known prog / instrumental bands, that would be me, Neal, Steve and Dave to come together and make more concise pop oriented music and ultimately I think it was Casey that was the X Factor to really bring us together in that musical sense. So that’s the basic story of how it began.
What’s the best way that you’d describe the music of Flying Colors?
It’s like pop with prog overtones, but it’s also slightly alternative… I don’t know, man, it’s a little bit of everything, it reminds me of when you listen to old Queen albums, like one song will be a hard rock song, then they have a ballad, then they have a ragtime song, then you have a folk song, and Flying Colors is kind of like a modern day version of that, it’s like every song is something different, one minute it may have a Muse vibe, the next minute it may have a Chili Peppers vibe, next minute it will have a Yes vibe, so I don’t know, it’s just a giant melting pot of all these different sounds and styles.
‘Second Nature’ is due for release at the end beginning of October, now as it isn’t out yet, can you give us one word that you feel sums the album?
Eclectic… pretty much like what I just said, so many different things and we kind of joked when we first got together that we were like The Village People of rock, they had the police man, then you had the motorcycle man, then you had the cowboy and we’re kind of like that, if you look at us and our five personalities and backgrounds are so different. You have the metal guy and then you have the prog guy and the alternative guy and the pop guy and the jazz guy, that’s kind of like all our personalities coming together in this giant melting pot.
The album is called ‘Second Nature’ can you tell us how that came about and what it means to you?
It was a title that I suggested, I had it sitting in my back pocket for the last fifteen years, just waiting for the right band to use it, I always thought it would be a great name for a band’s second album, and I suggested it and it made perfect sense to this band, and with a name like Flying Colors which is so vivid and so filled with imagery, second nature is another phrase that would fit perfectly with that in terms of imagery and different images, and obviously the second album it made sense in that sense, and it also makes sense because it’s the second band for all of us, we’re all in other main bands, and also second nature means it comes natural and very easy and I think you can say that about the music we write, it comes very natural for us. On so many levels it works.
I took it as ‘second nature’ meaning it was so easy being in this band as it sounds like you’ve all been playing together for twenty years…
Well we have we’ve just been doing it in different bands for that long *laughs*
In going into making this new album, did you set out to do anything differently from the debut?
Not really, we had an amazing experience with the first album and we were really happy with the end result and we were really happy with the chemistry, so this time around we wanted to continue what we started. First time around was like a blind date so I think we were all very stressed out and it was like a giant whirlwind that it all happened so quick and nobody knew what to expect. This time around we were able to breathe and enjoy as we now knew what each other’s personalities were like and we now knew what the sound and style and direction of the music was because we had already established that. So I think this time we were able to just relax and let everyone breathe a little more.
In terms of the songs, what’s the creative process like for this band when writing?
It’s the ultimate definition of collaboration, lots of guys in this band are very prolific writers on their own, most specifically Neal, Steve and Casey, all three of those guys are just constantly writing music on their own. So we had a plethora of ideas to work with and there was just all these demos being thrown around and nobody would submit completed demos because they knew that once something is submitted to flying colours that it’s going to get torn to pieces and get re-written. So everybody submitted like a verse here, or a chorus there, or a progression or a melody and once we had this giant pool of ideas to work from, then we got together and started planning ideas and piecing them together, we’d mix Casey’s verse and mix it together with Neal’s chorus and take a bridge that somebody else had and an instrumental section that Steve had and we just work on these things together and literally you can hear all five of us on every one of these songs, there’s not a single song on the album that wouldn’t have sounded the way that it sounds if it wouldn’t have been for all five of us being in the same room at the same time.
You’ve gotta love an album where the shortest song clocks in at just under five minutes ha ha but for the longer ones, is there just that freedom of essentially jamming until someone says stop?
Not really, actually it’s funny as you’re saying this as if this album is filled with very long songs but the funny thing is these are some of the shortest songs that I’ve ever been a part of *laughs* and same goes for Neal Morse, Neal and I usually in Transatlantic are dealing with thirty minute songs, we have at least six or seven songs that are past the thirty minute mark in Transatlantic, so with Flying Colors it really is about trying to be as concise as possible and not get carried away with very long songs. In a couple of places we did, ‘Open Up Your Eyes’ ended up being a little longer and ‘Cosmic Symphony’ ended up being a little longer, but really for the most part, the point of Flying Colors is to try to be concise and like I said if you look at what me and Neal do in our other bands, this is concise as it gets, but when the songs end up long it’s not ever because we were trying to make a long song, it’s quite the opposite in this band, we’re trying to make shorter songs. In the case of ‘Open Up Your Eyes’ we just had a lot of ideas and it just took a little while to get them all into that particular song.
What has this band allowed you to do that you maybe feel like you weren’t able to do previously?
Well for me it’s about this style of music and working with somebody like Casey, all the other bands I’ve been a part of in my career were either rooted in progressive rock, or rooted in hard rock and heavy meal, and I didn’t have any bands that really were in the vein of what Flying Colors does, and I’ve always been a fan of pop music whether it be The Beatles and Queen or modern pop like Weezer or whatever, I’ve also been a fan of U2 and Radiohead and Coldplay and I never really had an outlet like that and that’s kind of where Casey’s world is from, I mean Casey’s favourite singers are guys like Thom Yorke from Radiohead or Matt Bellamy from Muse, or Chris Martin from Coldplay, that’s really Casey’s background. So once you have Me, Neal and Steve and Dave who are usually in more progressive, instrumental oriented bands, we came together as Flying Colors to try something that the four of us had never done before and Casey was really the voice and the glue that gave us that different direction, and that different background, it’s kind of like the four of us are getting to play in Casey’s musical playground.
It would be remiss of me to not ask about possible Australian touring plans… anything in the works at all?
Oh god I would love that, I would love to get down there, it’s been way too long for me personally since I’ve been to Australia and I’m dying to get down there again, but I’ve got a feeling it won’t be with Flying Colors unfortunately, just because it’s hard enough for Flying Colors as it is to play any of the places that we normally go to. Getting down to Australia for an American band is usually very difficult even if you’re a fulltime touring band, but for a band like Flying Colors, we only have very, very small windows of time to get together where our schedules align, so next month we’re gonna do ten shows and that’s pretty much the whole tour because everybody’s got other obligations in other bands. So we’re gonna play three in America and seven in Europe and that’s about it for now, getting to Australia would be amazing, but it’s just probably not likely at this point. I have a hard enough time trying to get down there with some of my fulltime bands, you know pretty much I’m working fulltime with the Winery Dogs now and that’s pretty much my fulltime home and even we haven’t been to Australia yet… it’s tough to get the invite. We just need some promoters to step up to the plate and invite us.
I’ll happily invite you, I just couldn’t pay you…
*laughs* Well if you can fly and airline that will fly us from America for free then we would love to do it. Well the Winery Dogs is my fulltime band now and I really, really have my fingers crossed that when we put out our second album next year and we continue our world tour, I’m hoping to finally see Australia on the itinerary because it’s been too long since I’ve been down there and I’m patiently waiting to return.
You personally are a busy guy with projects all over the place, so what do you like to do in your downtime? (if you have any)
I don’t have any, I haven’t had any in about four years *laughs*, I have Transatlantic, I have Flying Colors, I have the Winery Dogs, I had Adrenaline Mob, I had to let that go because I couldn’t squeeze that into my schedule anymore, there’s just always something going on and I jump from band to band, from tour to tour, album to album and there hasn’t been any downtime and god bless my family for being so incredibly supportive. Like here I am, I’m home right now and I’ve spent my entire day on the phone doing interviews *laughs* so this is my downtime, doing interviews and dealing with the emails for overseeing upcoming Transatlantic live package, or overseeing the upcoming Flying Colors merchandise, or overseeing Bigelf tour, there’s just always something that needs to be done when you’re a workaholic like I am, so I’ll have downtime when I die, until then I’m going to keep working.
Lastly, let’s predict the remainder of the year, so finish this sentence, by the end of 2014, Flying Colors will…
have finally gotten back on stage together and I can’t wait to see the result.
Band members: Mike Portnoy (drums, vocals), Dave LaRue (bass), Neal Morse (keyboards, vocals), Casey McPherson (lead vocals), and Steve Morse (guitar)
Latest release: Second Nature (October 3rd – Mascot Label Group / Warner Music Australia)