TIM MORSE
III
(Cymbalick Music)

 

Renowned among progressive rock fans for Yes Stories, his acclaimed 1996 book about music legends YES, author and singer-songwriter Tim Morse gets back to his music roots with the 2018 CD release of III. The Northern California based composer has long been on the prog music scene and in 2015 he released the self-titled album by his band The Mangoes. That CD featured a number of other musicians including Mangoes' Bret Bingham, who also appear here on several tracks. Morse cites his work with the Mangoes as well other music influences like the band Field Music and the late great rock artist Kevin Gilbert. Speaking about the creation of III, Tim adds, The challenge of playing all the instruments appealed to me, especially having to perform the drums. I’m not a drummer and so I had to do some wood-shedding to get it down. But I discovered in the demo process that I missed the input of others, so I decided to bring in some of my favorite musicians for cameo appearances. I did want to get to the emotional core of the songs, where the lyric and melody were very clear." With Tim’s keyboards and guitars receiving solid backing from a number of players including Bret Bingham, the songs themselves, and splendid keyboard-based arrangements are the real stars of the album. Perhaps the credits tell part of the story as well, with Tim mentioning his biggest influences including the late great rock legends Chris Squire and Keith Emerson along with the many fine musos who back him up throughout the seven track, 46 minute album. Progressive rock fans who enjoy catchy pop melodies and complex, uptempo arrangements will find much to like about Tim Morse III. www.timmorse.com




mwe3.com presents an interview with
TIM MORSE


mwe3
: It’s a been a while since we spoke back in 2015 when the Mangoes put out their first album. But we go back to the 1990s when you released your book on YES. What else is new in your life in 2018?

Tim Morse: Honestly, 2018 was a difficult year as
my mother was terminally ill and she passed away at the end of June. Finishing the album in the pockets of time I had here and there was a welcome distraction from the intense emotional roller coaster that was my life during that period. There were certainly some bright spots as well, including a healing trip to Alaska and the eventual release of my album in October.

mwe3: Tell us how you got to three as in the title of the III album. Seems like a year of threes. I still like your cool album with The Mangoes and now III. What made you want to play all the instruments yourself and also you talked about getting to the “emotional core” of the songs on the album.

Tim Morse: I chose III as the title simply because it is my third solo album. I was originally going to title it after one the songs, but I decided I wanted something that wasn’t going to be misinterpreted... the title of my last album Faithscience caused a little controversy for some people. The challenge of playing all the instruments appealed to me, especially having to perform the drums. I’m not a drummer and so I had to do some wood-shedding to get it down. But I discovered in the demo process that I missed the input of others, so I decided to bring in some of my favorite musicians for cameo appearances.

I did want to get to the emotional core of the songs, where the lyric and melody were very clear. I didn’t want the message of the song obscured by busy instrumental passages or obtuse lyrics, so I looked to cut out anything that seemed extraneous. Don’t get me wrong—this is still a progressive rock album! But a friend just told me how much he and his wife were moved by listening to the new album and I thought that I’d done my job.

mwe3: Is the album opener “Wake Up” a kind of raga rock progression? You write and sing about a journey to India. The chorus is kind of Chris Squire inspired and I know you’re a YES maven from way back then, so would you say the song is Squire-esque? I think Chris would have liked your III album and did you have some chances to speak with Chris and Jon?

Tim Morse: I didn’t consider it to be ‘raga rock’, but I like that term! The song was inspired by Shakti Gawain’s book Return To The Garden. In it there’s a chapter about her trip through Europe to India
it’s really a spiritual journey. As I was writing the song I thought it did have a YES flavor to it—yes perhaps Squire-esque is the way to put it, and decided that the bass part could be a homage to Chris as he had recently passed away. So I contacted Jay Leek who did a wonderful job in honoring Chris’s memory with his bass performance.

Of all of the members of the classic YES lineup, I knew Chris the least well. I interviewed him a couple of times and got to hang with him backstage a bit. I know Jon much better and was an internet collaborator with him on some music, but that’s a whole other story!

mwe3: “Labyrinth” is a co-write between you and Bret of the Mangoes. How did you write the track with Bret and how would you compare it to the writing on the Mangoes album? What synths are you playing on “Labyrinth” and do you think there’s a Brian Wilson influence on this track? The track is quite long and you have some great guitarists on the album and Mark Dean cuts a fine solo on this track. How did you meet up with Mark?

Tim Morse: With “Labyrinth” I had written the music and was a little stuck on the lyrics. Sometimes I can get hung up on the lyric as there can be many ways to approach a subject. So I contacted Bret and we had a couple of lyric writing sessions and finished the song. Bret is great, because he gets it and is quick to contribute ideas. They may or may not be the finished product, but it gives me the direction to complete the song. The writing on the Mangoes album was done many different ways between the two of us and so it’s hard to compare the two experiences.

The synths I use to solo on “Labyrinth” are the ‘soft’ synths included in the Cubase bundle. I’ve rarely used software synths in the past, but it seemed like a good time to explore recording with them. I should mention there is a ton of vintage keyboard gear featured on the album
Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes, Mini-Moog, ARP and Yamaha synthesizers. There’s no conscious Brian Wilson influence, but I see what you’re getting at and it is a great compliment!

I met Mark Dean through Mike Varney of Magna Carta records. Mike had heard me play and thought that Mark and I would be a good team. I’m very grateful, because it was the beginning of my professional recording career. I can’t imagine anyone else doing the guitar solo in “Labyrinth” anywhere near what Mark played, his performance was a wonderful gift.

mwe3: “The Marquis” is one of my favorite tracks on III. Who is the marquis in your eyes? Would you say there’s an early 1980s McCartney influence on “The Marquis”? Did you play all the tracks on that song and the guitars too? Can you tell us about the guitars you play on the new CD?

Tim Morse: I’m glad you liked “The Marquis”
it’s definitely one of my personal favorites on the album. The Marquis is the nickname I’ve given my inner critic, although the song is really for all of our inner critics. I’d wanted to do a song about that subject for quite awhile, but needed the right way into it. Once I decided to approach it tongue in cheek, the song seemed to write itself. Yes, there probably is a bit of a McCartney influence on that song, along with others like Freddie Mercury and Elton John. I did indeed play everything on “The Marquis.”

The guitars I used on the album were:
1. Yamaha F325 (6 string acoustic)
2. A late 1970’s Sigma acoustic (6 string). This is my primary guitar.
3. Yamaha CG-111C nylon string classical - barely used on the album, I think it only appears on "The Path"
4. A 1990’s era Fender Stratocaster
5. Takamine G series 12 string

mwe3: How did you co-write “The Path” with B. Warner and who is B. Warner? That’s another nine plus minute track. There’s a kind of Jon Anderson influence on this song. Is “The Path” a kind of meditation and its various attempts to block out negative thoughts and patterns? Are you into some form of meditation? And tell us about working with Kurt and Dave on that track.

Tim Morse: “The Path” was originally a guitar suite that came to me very organically. I was very pleased with the music, but it ended up being the last song recorded and I was getting somewhat creatively exhausted. I had written all the music and the lyrics for the middle section, but I needed to finish the lyrics for the beginning and the end. For the first time I decided to explore using a professional songwriter, someone I’d never met, but works for hire, to complete the song. I found B. Warner through a service and liked her samples, she seemed like the right fit and we got on like a house on fire. I really love her line at the end of the song about how ‘Our spirits are threads in the fabric of time’ - that sums it up very nicely.

“The Path” is a personal song, about my own spiritual journey. Meditation is a part of it, although I don’t have a regular practice. I wouldn’t say it’s about blocking negative thoughts, but releasing them and staying grounded in your true self.

I was in a band in college with Dave Haddad and Kurt Shiflet. I had already decided that Kurt would play the epic ending guitar solo, but I didn’t have a drummer lined up to record the song. Then it occurred to me that we could have a mini-band reunion through this recording. I know Kurt just came in, got a level and blew through those changes on the first take! Dave recorded in his studio, did a great first pass—I gave him a few notes and then the next day delivered his performance. It was a blessing working with such talented musicians!

mwe3: “The Mary Celeste” is about the famous "ghost ship"? Are you fascinated by those kinds of random disasters... or are they random at all? Who is playing drums on this track? Jerry Jennings is also playing guitar on this track. Jerry is a kind of guitar hero and he goes way back. I have his CDs and he’s also done a lot of guitar tutorials. Did you write the guitar solo or did Jerry? There’s also a kind of soaring YES like counterpoint and some Squire / Bruford / Wakeman style prog passages on that track.

Tim Morse: “The Mary Celeste” is actually about loss and how sudden loss can be the most difficult to process. It’s about other things as well, but I don’t want to spell everything out for the listener. I remembered the story of the Mary Celeste and thought it could work as a metaphor for loss. I believe that we are all fascinated by these unsolved mysteries and even today people are still trying to figure out what happened to the crew of the Mary Celeste.

Andrew Glasmacher played the drums on this song and in fact he did most of the drums on the album. He is one of my favorite drummers, however he lives in Utah, so I took some time and went to his studio to track drums with him.

Jerry Jennings is a guitar hero! I was in his band and it was a pleasure to watch him play onstage regularly. I went to his studio and Jerry ripped off a few solos, it’s probably the second or third take. I didn’t have any notes for him other than how to end the solo as it leads directly into the Hammond organ section. The counterpoint section you mentioned reminds me a bit of Kansas, I think of it as acknowledgment of the influence Kerry Livgren’s writing had on me.

mwe3: Who is “My Ally” about? Sounds like a Todd Rundgren inspired track from the early years. Do you like writing about childhood experiences from the past? As we get older I guess we more clearly remember our past. Bret Binghams’ guitar solo on “My Ally” is excellent.

Tim Morse: “My Ally” is a true story. It is about meeting my best friend in fifth grade and how our relationship grew over time. I think it’s the best lyric on the album. I haven’t written much about my childhood, but it was an enjoyable experience recounting and writing this particular song. Normally, I’m not one who dwells in the past. I try to stay in the present moment and look to the future. However, the past can possibly impact and shape the future, if only to say, ‘I’m never doing that again!’

mwe3: “The Circle / Talisman” closes out the CD. That track is another co-write between you and Bret. Again, there’s a kind of Brian Wilson inspired melody on that track. What is the significance behind this title and putting talisman in the title? What does the talisman and circle signify? There’s a cool rocking midsection that kind of juxtaposes a different kind of sound. So it’s a two-part track?

Tim Morse: Thank you for comparing my work to so many masters of melody... Brian Wilson, Todd Rundgren, Paul McCartney. I’m very flattered to be mentioned in the same breath. “Circle” is simply an intro I had that was patiently waiting for a song. Around the time it was finished recording it I heard about the passing of two old friends and so I dedicated the music to them. So in a way, your spiritual path/life could be a never ending circle, if you like.

“Talisman” is a song about longing and intention, it is about wanting to meet your soul mate. The idea is that if you create the intention that eventually the stars will align and you will meet that person you seek. That is why the music is so intense in the middle section. When it happens, it is that intense and passionate—it does feel like some kind of magic.

mwe3: So now with III out and getting positive acclaim, what projects are you looking forward to in 2019? 2019 on the horizon…

Tim Morse: There will be a limited edition vinyl version of the album that will be available in January. I am very excited about this, I just received the test mastering and it sounds incredible on vinyl! Also, at the same time there will be a bonus disc of demos, live performances, cover songs and odds and ends that will be free with any order on timmorse.com.

I’ve produced a Celtic band called Kilty Town and their album will be out the beginning of next year as well. Besides that I’m not sure, it would be fun to do something completely different. Maybe some live shows or a project with a group of people? Perhaps both. It’s exciting to consider what the future can have in store for us all.



 

 
   
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