Discover more from Michael's Record Collection
Dave Meros Talks Pattern-Seeking Animals, Spock's Beard
A new album by PSA and a vinyl reissue of a 20-year-old Spock's Beard milestone album are coming soon!
Thank you for spending part of your day with Michael’s Record Collection. I’ve said this before, and probably even in this newsletter, but it’s perfectly fine to meet your heroes sometimes.
I recently had the pleasure of chatting with bassist Dave Meros. He’s been a member of progressive rock stalwarts Spock’s Beard since before the band released its first album, The Light back in 1995. For the last five years, Meros has also been a member of Pattern-Seeking Animals, another progressive rock band that features multiple Spock’s Beard current and former members put together by that band’s longtime collaborator, John Boegehold.
Pattern-Seeking Animals is about to drop its fourth album, Spooky Action at a Distance, on Oct. 27 on Inside Out Music. Additionally, Spock’s Beard is going to reissue its landmark 2003 album Feel Euphoria on vinyl to celebrate its 20th anniversary. That will drop on Nov. 24 — also on Inside Out. Feel Euphoria was the band’s first album after the departure of primary songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Neal Morse.
Meros was kind enough to spend some time with me to discuss the transition after Morse’s departure into the making of Feel Euphoria as well as the upcoming Pattern-Seeking Animals release.
Let’s get to that story.
A few years back, Spock’s Beard bassist Dave Meros joined another band. He didn’t leave Spock’s Beard, but merely added another project to occupy some of his time. Spock’s Beard hasn’t been terribly active in recent years, releasing just three albums in the last decade.
But Meros didn’t have to plug any new numbers into his phone to reach his new bandmates when he joined Pattern-Seeking Animals. His new bandmates were basically his old ones.
The project was initiated by songwriter, producer, and musician John Boegehold, who has been contributing songs and other assorted assistance to Spock’s Beard for many years. Boegehold wanted an outlet for more of his music, and who better to ask than the guys he’d been working with for years?
Spock’s Beard and Enchant vocalist Ted Leonard was brought in not only to lend his outstanding voice to Boegehold’s songs, but also to play guitar. Leonard’s playing may come as a surprise to those who have only seen him add a little rhythm playing with Enchant or Spock’s Beard, but those bands also have brilliant lead guitarists in Doug Ott and Alan Morse, respectively. Pattern-Seeking Animals gives Leonard an opportunity to show that he can do more than strum. Former Spock’s Beard drummer Jimmy Keegan rounds out the four-piece lineup.
Pattern-Seeking Animals will drop their fourth studio album, Spooky Action at a Distance, on Oct. 27 on Inside Out Music. It’s the first of two big releases coming up for Meros and Boegehold, as Spock’s Beard will issue a special 20th-anniversary vinyl release of the band’s 2003 recording Feel Euphoria on Inside Out Music on Nov. 24.
Leonard was not yet a member of Spock’s Beard for that album, while Keegan was subsequently brought on to play live, due to drummer Nick D’Virgilio climbing out from behind the kit to perform lead vocals on Feel Euphoria — the band’s first album since the departure of founder and primary writer Neal Morse.
Meros was kind enough to chat with me about both upcoming releases. Let’s start with the new album before getting into the reissue.
“There have been a couple contributions by Ted and me, but it’s mostly John,” Meros said of the songwriting for Pattern-Seeking Animals. “He writes like a soundtrack writer would write. He’ll orchestrate all the parts and there’s some lattitude in what we can do with those. We can interpret them to a certain degree. And sometimes he’ll just leave a spot blank (for the other musicans to determine what to play).”
The best one-word description I can think of for the brand of progressive rock Pattern-Seeking Animals produces is melodic. Spooky Action at a Distance is catchy as hell, particularly the opening track, “The Man Made of Stone.” Keyboards abound and the track has tremendous depth of texture, with gorgeous strings and wonderful layered backing vocals. Leonard also provides a standout guitar solo in the closing moments.
“Window to the World” seems incredibly out of place on a prog rock album with its heavy Police influence. The ska reggae works well, however, particularly with Keegan and Meros laying down a granite-like bedrock rhythm for the vocals, keyboards, and guitars to soar over.
“(Boegehold’s) original demo was done in the 80s — maybe 1990,” Meros said of the song’s origins. “That had the melody and the lyrics and stuff were pretty much intact on this version. The arrangement’s really different. I don’t know. John gets inspirations from a lot of different areas. Something will strike him and he’ll just go that direction.”
“What Awaits Me” is another infectious song right from the jump, with a playful bass intro. Leaning on rhythmic acoustic guitar, more layered backing vocals, and mellotron-sounding keyboards, this is another album highlight for me. There’s a subdued middle section that is easy to groove along with.
The album’s big epic, “He Once Was,” follows. At over 12 minutes long, it is enough to satisfy progressive rock fans who love the long ones, but Boegehold has made an effort on this album to trim the fat and make the songs as concise as they allow.
“As we’ve gone from album to album, John’s gotten more into pruning things down and not stretching them out for the sake of having a long song,” Meros said. “It’s kind of weird, but there’s actually a little bit of pressure to do long song formats in prog. People are sometimes impressed before the album comes out and you post the song titles and the lengths, and they’re just going ‘Ooh, 17 minutes! That’s going to be good!’ It’s kind of funny, but we’re bucking that trend a little bit and getting things down to the nut of the song a little bit more.”
The song starts with a simple but lovely melody and the opening lyrics were also quite simple, as if a minstrel were playing a child’s tune. However, after the opening verse, the song begins to build. It goes through some interesting twists and turns, but none better than a standout instrumental section just before the five-minute mark. The simple motif from the start of the song returns in the later stages and there’s a beautiful (sometimes) David Gilmour-esque guitar solo and a sax solo as well. The late Floydian break in “He Once Was” was a delightful surprise and fits the song well.
“Underneath the Orphan Moon” returns the album to the short, melodic songs. This one sounds like something the Alan Parsons Project might have come up with if you set aside Leonard’s distinctive vocals. Strings again help provide tremendous depth and texture in the song, and Meros displays his range with his tasteful bass work. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album and the lyrics — outstanding throughout the album — are amazing.
“Clouds That Never Rain” is another song that ranks highly for me on the record. It’s infectious and the backing vocals have me singing along with them every time I play it. Meros’ bass supports a bouncy groove and Keegan displays some great technical drum playing without straying into showoff territory.
If “Bulletproof” sounds familiar to progressive rock fans, that might be because the song, penned by Boegehold, appeared on Spock’s Beard’s 2018 (and most recent) album, Noise Floor, as a bonus track. It features some of the album’s best lyrical lines, from which sprung the term “pattern-seeking animals,” which gave this band its name. Here it gets a different treatment and is slightly shorter than the Spock’s Beard version. I’m not sure if I have a favorite between the two. I probably prefer the playing on the Beard’s version, but the PSA version has a bit more life to it somehow.
“Somewhere North of Nowhere” is a quirky prog-pop song that the band released as an early single off the album. There’s something bad happening over the horizon but the protagonist of the song isn’t even sure if it’s real or if he’s imagining it, per a quote from Boegehold in the album’s press kit. The long musical outro reminds me of Yes without sounding like that band, and Keegan’s drum work shines throughout that section.
The seven-and-a-half-minute “Summoned from Afar” features beautiful backing vocals and shows the band’s softer and more pastoral side. It sounds like the band is channeling The Flower Kings with this one, while the hook of the “home again, home again” vocal parts plants itself deep in the listener’s mind. It’s kind of a yacht rock type of part that reminds me of Toto-meets-Steely Dan (only with flute and mellotron).
Album closer “Love Is Still the Light” ends on a high note. It’s a gorgeous ballad with a solid rhythmic base and plenty of good playing over the top of it. It also features one of Leonard’s best vocal performances on the record.
“Ideally it would be to have the same kind of thing that I used to experience when I was younger and a new record would come out,” Meros said when asked what he hopes listeners will take away from hearing the new Pattern-Seeking Animals album. “You’d take it into your room and the lights would be kind of low, and you’d sit there and listen to it, and you hear it with full concentration all the way through.
“This is not like a dancing record. It’s not something that you party to. It’s a listening record and it’s kind of like art rock, I would say, just as much as prog rock. And so, I hope people can hear it with an open mind and absorb and accept all the different musical influences and hear the details. And also, read the liner notes because the lyrics are just superb. You can read the lyrics and not need the music.”
I would feel comfortable recommending Pattern-Seeking Animals to anyone who enjoys the poppier side of progressive rock. The melodies and hooks are strong but the playing is inventive enough to satisfy those who like their music a little more on the complex side. Above all, the songcraft is consistently strong throughout the album, with precious little self-indulgence.
Pattern-Seeking Animals — Spooky Action at a Distance
The Man Made of Stone (7:02)
Window to the World (3:59)
What Awaits Me (5:22)
He Once Was (12:16)
Underneath the Orphan Moon (3:53)
Clouds That Never Rain (5:17)
Somewhere North of Nowhere (6:46)
Summoned from Afar (7:33)
Love Is Still the Light (4:43)
Learn more about Pattern-Seeking Animals at their website, www.psanimals1.com.
The plan for Spock’s Beard is to reissue on vinyl the albums from the so-called “Nick era,” when D’Virgilio took over from Morse on vocals. Feel Euphoria is the first of those releases, and Meros said that there are definite plans to release Octane (2005) and Spock’s Beard (2006) on vinyl, while he admitted he’s uncertain about the band’s fourth album with D’Virgilio on vocals — X (2010) — as it was released on a different label (Mascot, as opposed to Inside Out).
I had previously spoken to Morse about the original six albums, and he said that “has to happen” but as of yet there’s no word on those, or any vinyl reissues from the Leonard era on the microphone. Suffice it to say, it would be nice to have the entire Beard catalog on vinyl.
Feel Euphoria was a pivotal moment for the band. Spock’s Beard lost more than a singer. In Morse, the band also lost its most prolific songwriter, its band leader, and a talented arranger, second guitarist and second keyboard player. Some segments of the Spock’s Beard fan base wondered if the band was over or if it could turn out a quality album without Morse.
“Everybody in the band wanted to stay in the band,” Meros said of the mood within Spock’s Beard following Neal leaving. “We might fail, but we have to try. And once we decided to do that, I think we were just going to try as hard as we can. I think the motivation was really kind of pure and everyone was really excited about what we were trying to do. Once we got started, we just got caught up in the process and it got really exciting.”
Much like Genesis did, Spock’s Beard came out of a huge double-album release and then replaced its departing singer with another great vocalist already within the group. D’Virgilio, the band’s drummer, had already done plenty of singing with Spock’s Beard, so it was a natural fit. Keegan came on later as a live drummer and then a full-fledged member of the band. The rest of the Feel Euphoria lineup of Spock’s Beard consisted of Meros on bass, Alan Morse on guitars, and Ryo Okumoto on keyboards.
The first taste of Spock’s Beard’s music in the post-Neal era was album opener “Onomatopoeia,” a five-minute, balls-to-the-wall rocker driven hard by the monster rhythm section of Meros and D’Virgilio. It is one of the band’s heaviest moments and immediately introduces listeners to a brand new Spock’s sound. Aside from not being “prog,” in the sense that Spock’s Beard fans knew it, the song borders on outright punk.
“I think we knew that it couldn’t be the same,” Meros said of the band’s music after Neal. “There was no reason or desire to try to copy what (Neal) did. One, because I think that would have been rejected. It would have been an inferior copy. And everyone had their own idea of how Spock’s Beard should maybe go, and so everyone was just flying off in their own directions while trying to keep it within the lane of Spock’s Beard and progressive rock.”
“The Bottom Line” brings back the progressive elements in a song that goes through a myriad of twists and turns. There’s plenty of hooks and melodies throughout to please everyone, but the playing and the composition are a little closer to classic Beard.
“If I had to pick one (favorite track), I’d have to say ‘Bottom Line,’” Meros said. “It’s stood the test of time, I think.”
The title track, however, quickly shifts things into another new direction. Unlike anything the band had ever done before, it features the band flirting with electronic sequences as well as guitar and vocal effects. Okumoto provides heavy organ chords, while D’Virgilio growls out the vocals. About midway through, the song kicks into overdrive for the first of two spells of manic playing. It’s harsh and brutal at times, but it works well and shows off the band’s technical playing.
“I was a real Tool fan at the time,” Meros recalled. “I wanted Spock’s Beard to be like Tool with keyboards. So, I was kind of pushing for that and ‘Feel Euphoria’ I was thinking, ‘OK, maybe not Tool, but maybe this, because it was so modern sounding and different, and it had those layered vocals. And it was like, ‘This is a cool vibe. I like this!”
Three songs into the album, Spock’s Beard fans’ heads must have been spinning. What kind of band was this now?
“The first two or three songs on that album hit pretty hard,” Meros said. “I hadn’t heard that album in years. I just put it on before this new deal happened and it was like, ‘Wow, I wish the whole album was like that. That was great!’ But people were shocked by that. A lot of people hated it because we were going more in that hard rock direction.”
The new Beard’s direction didn’t become any clearer after the fourth track, “Shining Star,” a gorgeous ballad penned by D’Virgilio. It showed that despite the harder-edged start to the album, the Beard could still bring the melodies and inject plenty of emotion into its music.
“East of Eden, West of Memphis” is a song that D’Virgilio and Boegehold wrote and features some synth playing from the latter. Boegehold also created a cool backward-sounding bit near the end that gives the song an interesting twist. A cool instrumental section and some rapid-fire drumming from D’Virgilio make this one of the proggier stand-alone tracks on the album, but the catchy melody of the verses and the ethereal backing vocals make this song shine through and it stands above many of the other songs on the album in my view.
“Ghosts of Autumn” is not only my favorite song on Feel Euphoria, but it’s also among my favorite tracks in the band’s entire catalog. Written by Boegehold and Meros, this ballad is powerful and stunning. A beautiful and mournful piano opens things up and D’Virgilio’s delicate vocal provide an enormous amount of weight, while Nick’s snare drum snaps out a methodical beat.
There’s something vaguely A Trick of the Tail / Wind and Wuthering-era Genesis about the instrumental middle section that goes beyond bass pedals and mellotron washes. Some of the synth tones sound like they walked right out of “Robbery, Assault and Battery.” Alan’s guitar solo is one of his best and most emotional pieces of playing on any Beard album.
The album’s centerpiece is a six-part song suite called “A Guy Named Sid,” which was written by D’Virgilio. The band’s first epic song cycle since “The Healing Colours of Sound” on Day for Night (unless you count the entire Snow album as one, which…fair play if you do) four years and three albums earlier, “Sid” shows the Beard in all of its might. The band gets to display its chops musically, puts together multiple catchy melodic sections, and does some cool vocal gymnastics in the “Sid’s Boy’s Choir” section (long a band staple). What “Sid” mostly did was show the band could write cohesive and pleasing song cycles, even after Neal’s departure. The driving, Deep Purple-esque “Same Old Story” section is among my favorite parts, while I also quite enjoy the soaring chorus vocals and subtle guitar playing by Alan on Part III, “You Don’t Know.”
“Carry On,” written by Alan Morse, band collaborator Stan Ausmus, and Boegehold, ends the album with an uplifting ballad with a positive message. It’s a perfect note on which to close the album, with D’Virgilio delivering the powerful message vocally (often while harmonizing with himself).
Feel Euphoria left fans no more certain about what direction Spock’s Beard would take after Neal’s departure than they were prior to hearing the album. The band gave us some moments that were quintessentially Spock’s Beard, but with so many additional flavors that there was no telling what (if any) new direction to expect. It’s an eclectic collection of songs that somehow fit well together, sonically if not stylistically. There are tons of great hooks and catchy melodies, some superb musicianship, and plenty of interesting twists, but it is fair to say that some may not find it consistent due to the band going in so many different directions while looking for its new collective voice.
But wait, as they say, there’s more! The upcoming vinyl reissue of Feel Euphoria includes two bonus tracks from the album’s sessions — “Moth of Many Flames” and “From the Messenger.” The former was written by Alan and Boegehold and is a short, acoustic guitar-driven number. It’s just an OK song for me, as neither of the bonus tracks are personal favorites. It may have been better served if D’Virgilio had sung it instead of Alan.
“I don’t remember but I think that was a demo that Al had,” Meros said.
“From the Messenger” is a moody track akin to “The Waiting Room” by Genesis in some ways (at least at the beginning, anyway). It’s a seven-plus-minute, ambient-style composition by Okumoto with plenty of different synth sounds. This track would be a good start for an entire film score, as there’s plenty of tension and mood to it.
With too much material for a single LP and not quite enough for two full discs, it’s fine that the band is including these bonus songs for those who want everything they can get their hands on, but I don’t find either of them essential. When placed alongside the other tracks on the album, they neither fit, nor do they quite measure up, but if you want to skip them on the vinyl release, you can simply pick up the stylus after “Carry On.”
“That album was very experimental,” Meros said. “I think everyone in the band knew that we had to step up. Everyone had to contribute, and everyone now had their own idea of what Spock’s should now sound like. And so, it’s really interesting to listen to that album, like the different flavors that everyone brought to it.”
I know that some Spock’s Beard fans love Feel Euphoria, while others don’t. I get it. It’s an eclectic record that feels much more experimental while simultaneously not being as complex at times. For me, the songwriting is strong, the band pushes into new territory that appeals to me, and Spock’s Beard showed an edgier side to the band that we hadn’t seen much of before. I like it a lot and can’t wait to add the vinyl version to my record collection.
Spock’s Beard — Feel Euphoria (Vinyl Reissue)
The Bottom Line (7:32)
Feel Euphoria (7:20)
Shining Star (4:04)
East of Eden, West of Memphis (7:05)
Ghosts of Autumn (6:54)
Side C (the “A Guy Named Sid” Suite)
A Guy Named Sid Intro (3:00)
Same Old Story (4:25)
You Don’t Know (3:11)
Sid’s Boys Choir (1:09)
Carry On (5:18)
Moth of Many Fames (Bonus Track) (2:49)
From the Messenger (Bonus Track) (7:26)
For my complete interview with Dave Meros, check out the video below or download/stream Episode 121 of the Michael’s Record Collection podcast. In addition to these two albums, Dave talked about his musical influences and history, playing with Iron Butterfly and Eric Burdon and the Animals, finally getting to do Snow live with all current and past members of Spock’s Beard, and much more.
Thanks again for your time. Please consider sharing this issue of the newsletter with the music lovers in your life via the first button below, or sharing Michael’s Record Collection (in general) with the second. And be sure to check out the podcast version of MRC at your favorite podcast dispensary. I invite you to visit my website at michaelsrecordcollection.com and to take a look at the membership levels on my Patreon site at patreon.com/michaelsrecordcollection to find out how you can support independent writing and podcasting for as little as $2 per month (that’s only 50 cents per week!).