Local Noise: Flying Colors

Dave LaRue was long a prominent member of the Jersey Shore music scene. He was often in the area clubs with the likes of Glen Burtnik, Alice Leon, and The New Dogs. He ended up leaving the area to tour with The Dregs, the legendary progressive jazz/country/blues/Southern rock instrumental group that defied description while dazzling audiences with their stellar musicianship.

He’s now a part of a band that started as somewhat of an experiment, in that it puts together four virtuoso musicians with a pop singer. The idea was that the result could be something spectacular. And from the early reviews, that is exactly what it has turned out to be. Dave is joined by Mike Portnoy on drums, well known from his days with Dream Theater, Steve Morse on guitar, who was the driving force behind The Dregs and has been a member of both Kansas and Deep Purple, Neal Morse on keyboards, from the highly respected bands Spock’s Beard and Transatlantic, with the pop singer role being played by Hollywood/Disney singer-songwriter Casey McPherson.

“Executive producer Bill Evans kind of started it, from when he hooked up Neil Morse and Steve Morse,” Dave explained to me. “Once they worked together, Bill said we should build a band together around this. Bill was working with Mike, I was working with Steve. Casey’s not a total pop singer; he’s got a grunge to his work that’s really good. We all went in not knowing what was going to happen. We let it take shape organically. Somebody might have an idea or a snippet of something, and we might start jamming. It came form little bits somebody might introduce.”

To handle this confluence of styles and talent, Evans brought in producer Peter Collins, who has helmed the board for bands ranging from Rush to Elton John, and Jewel to Bon Jovi, so he was well-equipped to handle whatever the experiment brought about.

With the various schedules of all the members, finding a time to get everyone together was a challenge in itself. After nearly a year of scheduling attempts, they managed to find nine days in January of 2011 to do it. “I hadn’t heard Casey’s stuff at all,” Dave recalls. “I was somewhat familiar with Neil’s stuff, some of Spock’s Beard, and I had a Transatlantic record. I thought it would be more progressive than it is, but everyone’s really happy with the result.”

Musically, it could have gone in many directions, ranging from heavy rock and progressive rock to light pop, with jazz and blues thrown in for good measure. “I think it’s all those things,” Dave relates. “There’s so many different influences that all of that kind of crept in at some point. Can’t say it’s a pop record with Steve and Mike driving it. It’s not just a straight ahead pop record with verse, chorus, verse. But there’s some songs that are simple form wise. It’s all over the place, which is kind of what the band is. One of the tunes we did is 12 minutes, and that’s kind of progressive.

“I think ‘Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda’ is a really cool funk groove. I think that’s the one. Then there‘s another one that’s kind of Dregs-ish. There’s a beautiful ballad called ‘Kayla,’ that’s a gorgeous tune. It’s funny, once they finished everything and got it mixed, I put it on the side because I’m working on other things, and I’ll get back to it. I’m not one to, you know, once I finish a record, I never listen to it again. Moving along.”

Those other things include tours with the Steve Morse Band and some live shows with Flying Colors. “And some things I can’t bring up,” Dave adds. “You know Glenn Alexander [guitarist with Southside Johnny and The Jukes], I’m working with him now. Shawn Pelton is playing drums on that. More of a blues fusion band. I really like the way it’s coming. We both wrote some stuff. He’s a great singer, sort of Allman Brothers and some Dregs influence. It’s not in my nature to play a straight blues gig if I have anything to say about it. And Glenn, too, he’s got such a strong jazz background.”

In the mixing of the Flying Colors recordings, Collins left a lot of the performances raw, in order to capture the essence of the project, rather than editing everything into a neat package. After the initial January sessions, the group reconvened in March, when most of the final vocals were done.

In order to memorialize the unique collaboration, the whole process was recorded on video, which is available on DVD under the name The Making Of Flying Colors? It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the way these musicians grew to know each other musically, as well as personally, in the short, yet intense, time they collaborated to record the album.

Flying Colors has received extensive critical acclaim since the release, and the group has convened to tour behind it, hitting Europe this fall and with some stateside dates in the near future. For more information, check out flyingcolorsmusic.com.