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.
In 2008, executive producer Bill Evans began putting the idea into action. It needed exactly the right musicians. In addition to be being extraordinary players and writers, they would need to be a natural creative fit, complementing each others’ abilities. There would be proven chemistry from past collaborations, but the new band would be different from anything they’d done. The world didn’t need another supergroup.
As with the classic albums, there also would be a strong production team who, creatively, would be an extension of the band: a visionary producer, imaginative engineer and compelling visual artist. Though they were seasoned artists with impressive backgrounds and catalogs, this would be new territory for most of them. And without a budget or a label, they came together with nothing more than a shared vision to create something special and unique.
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. — Casey McPherson
Evans drew up a short list of four musicians and a producer: Mike Portnoy, Dave LaRue, Steve Morse, Neal Morse and (producer) Peter Collins. Each artist was renowned in his domain. Drawing from rock, metal, prog, jazz-fusion, they had the potential to fuse their diverse styles into a unique, cohesive sound.
There’s 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. — Mike Portnoy
Peter Collins had helmed the intersection of virtuoso and pop music better than anyone. Collins presided over Rush’s evolution from long-form prog band to short-song rock band, producing four studio albums with them and helping drive 30 million in sales —without sacrificing their artistic integrity. His resume of more than 100 albums also included straight-forward popular acts as Bon Jovi, Jewel and Elton John.
Intrigued by the idea, and the prospect of working together, the five signed on to form a band and record a first album.
When I saw the talent and creativity that comprised this band, I was thrilled, and also challenged, by the opportunity to work on a project where there were no limits as to what could be attained. — Peter Collins
Attention then turned to finding a pop singer who could channel their combined musicality into an accessible mainstream form. Evans and Collins reviewed over 100 top contemporary singers, but no one felt exactly right. As desperation began to set in, Mike Portnoy casually mentioned, “I know a guy.” That guy turned out to be a new signing to the Hollywood/Disney label: singer/songwriter Casey McPherson.
An initial conversation between Evans and Casey revealed that the singer had always wanted to do a project like Flying Colors. It quickly became obvious that Casey wasn’t just right for the band—he was perfect.
Casey was a glorious find, because he could make anything sound fantastic, and was also multitalented like the others. — Steve Morse
With the band complete and a producer on board, all that was left was to write, record and mix an epic album. Nearly a year of scheduling attempts yielded just nine days in January 2011 to do it.
They decided the best way to combine their diverse writing was to compose everything during that short but intense session—and to record a rough version of the entire album with final drum tracks. Combined with not having written together, or even knowing Casey and Collins, it seemed like an insane undertaking. It was.
I feared there’d be “too many chefs in the kitchen,” and although at times it may indeed have been the case, it made the final dish all the more tastier as a result! — Mike Portnoy
Yet another challenge was the presence of a strong producer. The band members, by and large, had produced their own (numerous) releases. Though they all respected Collins, they were veteran artists who knew what they wanted, and were also wary of interference with an already creative-heavy ensemble. Within the first hour, though, Peter’s experience, careful guidance, instinct for musical direction and British charm alleviated all fears.
Peter Collins has produced some of my favorite musicians and really emotionally understands how to make music come alive on a recording. — Steve Morse
By the end of the first day, the band favorite “Kayla” was mostly written, and “Blue Ocean” was well on its way. That evening, during a well-deserved dinner break, everyone realized the impossible: it was working. And not only that—it might be extraordinary.
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! — Dave LaRue
After the January session, the band members went their separate ways and all but Mike recorded most of their final instrumental parts (as some of the rough parts were promoted to final ones). Due to incessant touring, Steve had to record many of his parts in his hotel room.
In March, a second and final session commenced over four days during which most of the final vocals were recorded. Producer Peter Collins oversaw the assembly of the band’s multitude of ideas into a condensed, final arrangement. Final takes were selected based on feel instead of technical perfection, and left raw to maintain real performances instead of the industry-standard practice of extensive digital editing to produce “perfect” music.
The lyric writing and vocal sessions were like nothing I’ve ever been involved in before. Every lyric was discussed and collaborated on. Casey’s vocals were just extraordinary with Peter’s guiding hand…a really amazing experience for me! — Neal Morse
The band was proud of what they had accomplished, but didn’t know how others would receive the somewhat unorthodox music. To their surprise, every label that heard it was interested in signing the them. A bidding war commenced, and several clear contenders emerged. Given the music industry climate, though, the album remained on a shoe-string budget.
When it came time to mix the album, there was only one person in mind: veteran engineer Michael Brauer. From Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones to Coldplay and John Mayer, Brauer was one of those rare sonic artists who not only kept up with times but continually redefined them. Mixing commenced in November 2011, with Brauer molding each track’s myriad sounds and textures into the finished songs of the album.
What an amazing group of musicians! I am thrilled to be a part of this unique, diverse and dazzling album. — Neal Morse
What began as an unlikely premise had become a reality more rewarding than anyone had imagined. Refreshing, classic, old and new—Flying Colors is saturated with the many styles, tones and hues of its artists.
Working with this dream lineup was everything I hoped it would be…on both a musical and personal level. I can’t wait to play live! — Mike Portnoy