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Exclusive Interview: Casey McPherson from Flying Colors
Mascot Label Group has announced a March 27 release date for the debut from Flying Colors (available the day prior overseas) on their Music Theories Label. The formation of the ensemble began with a simple idea: virtuoso musicians and a pop singer joining together to make new-fashioned music the old fashioned way. Refreshing, classic, old and new, the recordings are saturated with the many styles, tones and hues of the players who in becoming a band have delivered a unique fusion of vintage craftsmanship and contemporary music. Flying Colors is Mike Portnoy (drums, vocals), Dave LaRue (bass), Neal Morse (keyboards, vocals), Casey McPherson (lead vocals), and Steve Morse (guitar). Portnoy shares, “This album has bits and pieces of what you’d expect from each of us. However, the sum of all its parts led to brand new, unchartered territory for all involved.”
In 2008, executive producer Bill Evans brought the idea to the world renowned musicians and producer Peter Collins. Intrigued by the idea, and the prospect of working together, the four signed on to form a band and record a first album. Steve Morse and Dave LaRue have developed a magical music chemistry over the years, that began early in their careers as partners in Dixie Dregs. Morse subsequently became a member of Deep Purple in 1995, while LaRue’s ongoing musical adventures include Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess, Steve Vai, and the aforementioned Portnoy. Multi-instrumentalist, composer and singer Neal Morse is one of the leading figures in progressive rock, who’s significant notoriety follows his co-founding of the seminal band, Spock’s Beard in 1995, recordings as a solo artist, and contributions to the super-group Transatlantic. Mike Portnoy is one of the most popular and respected drummers in both metal and rock, and an accomplished writer and producer. He is the recipient of numerous industry accolades, including 26 Modern Drummer awards, Revolver Magazine’s Golden God award for “Best Drummer” and Drum Magazine‘s “Drummer of the Year”. He rose to prominence as the leader, drummer, producer, and co-writer for metal/prog juggernaut Dream Theater, before moving on in 2010. That same year, he worked on Avenged Sevenfold’s #1 album Nightmare and their subsequent tour. And, it was Portnoy who recommended Alpha Rev’s emotive singer Casey McPherson as a contender to join Flying Colors.
McPherson, who’s 2010 Hollywood/Disney album New Morning debuted in the Top-5 on two Billboard charts, enjoyed major success at radio with multiple hits. The track “New Morning” spent 17 weeks in the Top-10 on Triple A Radio, and enjoyed a run on Vh1’s Top-20 Countdown for months. Steve Morse offers, “Casey was a glorious find, because he could make anything sound fantastic, and is a multitalented like the others.”
Flying Colors convened for just nine days in early 2011, and composed and recorded this album during a short and intense session. Dave LaRue recalls, “It was quite an experience – the band moved at a fast pace, ideas flying around the room at all times. Sections of tunes were arranged, then re-arranged, ideas were tried every which way until we made them work, or, in some cases, discarded them altogether. Just keeping track of everything was a challenge!” McPherson adds, “This record is filled with trial and triumph. Raw and delicate songs alike amidst the swirling and daring orchestration of Steve, Neal, Mike and Dave. It’s been such an inspiring challenge melding folk, prog, pop, and metal all into one big recording.
We had a few minutes to catch up with vocalist Casey McPherson during a very busy SXSW afternoon.
Flying Colors is quite a group of talented guys. As talented as everyone is, people want to know more about you. So let’s start there. Tell me about yourself before Flying Colors came into the picture.
My first band was called Endochine. We started in Autin, TX, about ten years ago. We were an indie band and refused to sign to any label. We had quite a bit of success for an indie group. During that time I had a mutual friend with Mike Portnoy. I didn’t know Mike at the time but I’d listened to Dream Theater growing up. Knowing that I would never be that good on guitar, I did always wonder what it would be like to sing with strange time signatures. Mike Portnoy got a hold of our second record through our mutual friend who was a drum tech for Dream Theater. Unbeknownst to me he had become a fan. Endochine broke up due to too many drugs, too many arrests and too many fights. I started a new project called Alpha Rev. Music has always been a very therapeutic tool whether your life is terrible or your life is great. A lot of what inspires me to write is my ability to connect emotionally and spiritually and psychologically through music and all the chapters in life. Alpha Rev released the first record on our own and it did OK. We ended up signing to Hollywood Records. That was kind of like putting a round peg in a square hole. But, we had a top ten single and a big video on VH1. It was cool. We toured a lot and released a new record through them. When I was making the first record with Alpha Rev in New York we recorded in a place called Avatar Studios. This engineer came in and said “this guy named Mike Portnoy wants to see you.” I went into Dream Theater’s studio and Mike told me he was a fan of my music. He played me some new Dream Theater tracks. It was pretty cool. He played about five minutes of balls to the wall music and then turns it down and says “and so on and so on for another 15 minutes.” I knew the guy was serious about what he did but I could tell he could also be a good hang. We connected then. A year later I get a call from Bill Evans saying that Mike was starting a new side-project and that Mike would be telling me about it, too. He asked me if I would be the singer. When he listed the names of the others involved, they’re way more seasoned and at the top of their game. They’re some of the top musicians in the world.
Yeah, no pressure there!
Yeah, yeah. My only question was how long is it going to take before they kick me out? I made sure it was something they wanted to do and we both said “yes”. We went in the studio and wrote a record together and recorded it in 11 days. It was a really great experience. One thing I learned is the guys who are really good don’t need to have an ego. They don’t have anything to prove. Steve Morse, Neal Morse and Dave LaRue were all great. I didn’t know any of those guys going in. I felt like Steve and I got pretty close during the recording process. He was super encouraging for me to just go for it. In Endochine and Alpha Rev you would create songs. In a lot of rock music you’re singing melodies over riffs. We did a mixture of that with Flying Colors. Sometimes Steve would come up with a riff and I’d just start singing over it. Sometimes I’d have a melody or Neal would grab something out of his MP3 player. There was no set way we found what we were looking for. There were no boundaries we’d set for ourselves. We made a very special record out of it and it became very emotional. I know we’re all very proud of it.
How much time did you have to get acquainted with these guys before you went into the studio?
None. Mike I knew. We all had connections with someone to give us that comfort level. One thing that really helped was the ability to do it at Neal’s studio. His wife and son made amazing dinners every night. We’d all sit around the table with Peter, too. The producer was always there from the beginning and we really got to know each other. There was no weirdness and it all worked very, very well. Typically you’d need a little more of an intro to pull something like this off.
What about live dates? Will we ever see Flying Colors on the road?
We’re working on it. Deep Purple is on the road a lot so we’re looking for a window there. When we find that window we will hit the road. We’re really looking forward to playing this record live.
Is Flying Colors something you see your career shifting towards?
I think Flying Colors will be around a while because we all had a lot of fun doing it. It’s not something we’re considering our “bread and butter” and it gives all of us a lot of joy to do that. I would be really surprised if we didn’t make another record.
Are there plans for any tie-ins with this record? Videos, DVDs – things like that?
We’re looking at doing a music video. We’re also looking at doing an online thing. We’re looking at other avenues for sure. If we tour Neal Morse is crazy about footage so I’m sure we’d have a live DVD at some point.
Now that you know these guys can you look back at your time in the studio and think of anything that took you by surprise?
They’re all really good guys. They could have egos the size of school buses if they wanted to – but they don’t. That’s a true testament to their character. That’s really what surprised me the most – how easy they were to work with and how humble everybody was.
Casey, I appreciate you taking time out for this. What would you like to say to wrap things up?
Enjoy the music. It’s a really special CD for us and I hope you get as much enjoyment out of it as we have. Hopefully we’ll see you on the road somewhere!
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