Flying Colors (band)

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Flying Colors
20120920-230338 Flying Colors 013 Tilburg.jpg
Flying Colors, 2012
Background information
Genres Rock, Progressive rock[1]
Years active 2012–present
Labels Mascot Label Group
Associated acts Dream Theater, Dixie Dregs, Alpha Rev, Spock's Beard, Deep Purple, Transatlantic
Website Flying Colors Website

Flying Colors is an American supergroup composed of Mike Portnoy, Dave LaRue, Casey McPherson, Neal Morse and Steve Morse.[2] The band’s mission, chartered by executive producer Bill Evans, is to combine complex music with accessible songwriting. Flying Colors, on Mascot Label Group, has released two studio albums, and two live albums, to commercial success[3][4][5] and critical acclaim.[6][7][8][9]



In 2008, Evans wrote a proposal for a band that combined sophisticated music (complex composition and virtuoso performances) with accessible, mainstream songwriting.[10] His idea was to channel the complexity through a charismatic pop singer/songwriter, keep the songs short, and use humor.[11][12][13]

Evans approached Neal Morse (solo artist, Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic), Dave LaRue (Dixie Dregs, Steve Morse Band, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai), Steve Morse (Steve Morse Band, Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple, Kansas), Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Transatlantic), and music producer Peter Collins (RUSH, Bon Jovi) about making the band a reality.[14]

The singer/songwriter slot remained unfilled as Evans could not find a suitable candidate. He examined over 100 candidates.[15] Mike Portnoy suggested Casey McPherson,[16] who at the time was signed to Disney’s Hollywood Records (Miley Cyrus, Jonas Brothers, Jesse McCartney) label. McPherson’s band, Alpha Rev, had recently released New Morning, which spent 17 weeks in the Billboard Top-10 chart.[17] Unlike most of the other artists on Hollywood Records, Casey wrote all his own material, and played multiple instruments his albums.[18] His songwriting, singing, and stage personae appealed to the band and Evans. Casey joined the still unnamed band a month before the first writing/recording session.

Evans approached two guests who felt pioneered the new band’s sound: Brian Wilson and Kerry Livgren (Kansas). Both agreed to join the effort (along with the Beach BoysJeff Foskett); due to scheduling and health concerns, the collaborations ultimately did not take place.[19]

Flying Colors: the first album[edit]

Prior to the primary writing/recording sessions, Neal and Steve Morse met to write, and explore their potential musical chemistry. From this session came major sections of “Blue Ocean” and “Infinite Fire”.

The band, Evans, and Collins met for nine days at Neal Morse’s house and connected studio in January, 2011. Evans asked longtime Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy engineer Jerry Guidroz to record the sessions. During that time, the band members wrote the music, and some of the lyrics, for the rest of the album. Collins helped the band choose between competing song ideas, and help organize songs’ structure. Portnoy also took on this role.[20]

The pace was so fast, with so many writers, that at one point, a song’s chorus, that Neal Morse wrote, was entirely rewritten by the rest of the band in the time it took Morse to get coffee from his kitchen. This gave rise to session’s motto: “Get a drink, lose a chorus.” [21] The song was “Forever in a Daze.” By the end of the session, everyone present had written a chorus, including Collins, Evans and Guidroz. Casey was still not satisfied, and spent the next four months working on it until arriving at the final version.

Portnoy remained at Morse’s studio after the rest of the band left, to record final drums for the album. In between their other commitments, over the next six months, recorded overdubs, and in some cases, recorded over their original parts. Several band members met two more times at Neal’s studio to record vocals together. Then, Collins chose the final parts that would comprise each of the songs, working with Guidroz. Portnoy, Evans, and Guidroz then travelled to Electric Lady Studios to mix the album with Michael Brauer.[22] Over five days, the entire album was mixed.

The self-titled debut studio album was released on March 26, 2012. It debuted at No. 9 on Billboard's Hard Rock chart, and No. 11 on the BBC's Rock Album chart.

2012 Tour[edit]

In late 2012, the band toured the United States and Europe. They played two shows in the United States, and the rest of the tour in Europe, because shows were closer together. The tour was brief because of conflicting schedules among the members.

With only one studio album, the band added cover songs by each of the other band members: "Odyssey" (Dixie Dregs), "Repentance" (Dream Theater), "June" (Spock’s Beard). Mike Portnoy chose the song order, and would often change the order between shows, depending on how things went the night before. One night while Casey was sound-checking his vocal microphone, he started singing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Portnoy was so taken with Casey’s rendition that he requested that Casey add it to the set. This was done the night before the show was recorded for the album, Live in Europe.

Live in Europe[edit]

Flying Colors recorded their show at Tilburg’s 013 venue for release as a Blu-Ray/DVD. The venue was chosen because it was a favourite of Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy. Transatlantic and Marillion lighting designer Yenz Nyholm flew in to do lights for the show, having rehearsed from a video recorded on an iPad. The show was recorded and edited Bernhard Baran and his crew, who had also recorded shows for Transatlantic. Evans insisted on a dolly camera, which was traditionally only used in much larger venues; several rows of audience seats needed to be removed. Released as Live in Europe, the Blu-ray/DVD debuted at #1 on the French charts.[23] It was mixed by Jerry Guidroz, who also engineered front of house for the tour. The video was edited by Bernhard Baran.[24]

After the show ended, the audience did not leave the venue, and requested additional music. The band members were gathered; Neal Morse was already on the tour bus, getting ready for bed. The band performed an impromptu version of Deep Purple’s “Space Trucking.” Neal, Casey and Mike took turns on lead vocals. A vinyl version of the album included “Space Trucking” as a hidden track on the third LP of the vinyl version.[25] Morse was concerned that their impromptu performance might be viewed by some fans as not honoring the song. Three live videos were released by Mascot Label Group: “Odyssey”,[26] “The Storm”,[27] and “All Falls Down”.

Live in Europe had two other bonus tracks, mixed by Evans, both taken from the band’s first European show in Hamburg, Germany. Several employees of Steinberg, including director of marketing Frank Simmerlein, brought an early version of Steinberg’s Nuendo Live recording system to capture the show.[28] “Love is What I’m Waiting For” was released by Mascot Label Group as a bonus for pre-orders; “Blue Ocean” was released as an iTunes-only track. A documentary, First Flight, recounted the band’s experiences on the tour, was described as: "Backstage, on the bus, and in extended interviews, discover the seedy and sordid underside to the prog's most dangerous band. And observe the surreal cavalcade of lost innocence when one crew member does the unforgivable on the tour bus."[29] Clips of songs from the band’s first performance, as well as from the Hamburg show, were also included.

Second Nature[edit]

For Flying Color’s second studio release, the band and recorded wrote in four brief stages over a period of 18 months. Writing began over Skype between January and February of 2013. Then, the band met at Neal’s house in Nashville for three days; later, the band met at Mike Portnoy’s house for four days. Jerry Guidroz returned to record the band at both locations. At this point, the songs were written, and final drums were recorded.

Individual recording, overdubs, and arrangement continued over the internet. To help foster a collaborative process, Evans set up a Google Drive repository for the latest parts, and re-mixed the album each time new parts were submitted.[30] Twelve versions of the album exist from these mixes.

Everyone was enthusiastic about the collaboration with Peter Collins on the first album. The band elected to self-produce Second Nature, though, because they wanted to explore working on their own.[31] Mike Portnoy undertook the role of organizing the parts and structure of the songs, sometimes using a whiteboard.

The songs on Second Nature are generally less constrained, longer, and more free-flowing than those of Flying Colors.[32] Unlike the first album, the band did not record parts that were unused. Another difference from the first album is that Casey played much more rhythm guitar.

Flying Colors expanded their instrumental palette on this release. On four songs, they employed violins, violas, and cellos performed by Chris Carmichael and Shane Borth. On another song, "One Love Forever", Eric Darken performed 14 different hand percussion instruments. On “Peaceful Harbor” and “Cosmic Symphony”, Neal Morse recorded a gospel choir (The McCrary Sisters).

Renown cover artist Hugh Syme, who had previously collaborated with Mike Portnoy in Dream Theater, was brought on to create the cover and interior artwork. Several covers were designed, until the final one was accepted; the other covers became part of the CD booklet and vinyl artwork. Engineer Rich Mouser mixed the album. Rich was known by Portnoy, Neal, and Evans from having mixed every Neal Morse, Spock’s Beard and Transatlantic Album.

Second Nature was released in September of 2014, debuting in multiple Top-10 charts, worldwide. In addition to numerous other accolades, the album received a Prog Award nomination for Album of the Year, with Flying Colors being nominated for Band of the Year.[33]

2014 Tour[edit]

Due to severe scheduling issues, the band could only tour for two weeks. The hole only opened up shortly before the window, itself, so there was not time to prepare properly for the tour. One of the results was that many of the venues the band would have played were already booked. This was also the reason why the band played a show in Pennsylvania instead of NYC.

On both Flying Colors tours, there was only one day of full rehearsals before the tour began. Given the complexity of music, and the other members’ large body of existing material from other bands, both tours were challenging. Additionally, on this tour there were more vocal harmonies, especially for Portnoy; and more guitar work for McPherson.

As with the first tour, Portnoy chose the set, selecting a few songs from the first album, and all but one from the second. Casey, once again, played a solo song from his own repertoire; this time, it was by design.

On the evening of the eighth show, the band recorded their show at the Z7 venue in Switzerland. Bernhard Baran, with his crew, recorded the show. The band also filmed their final show of the tour, also with Berran, in Paris.

Second Flight: Live at the Z7[edit]

The music of Second Nature was still new to Flying Colors when recorded their eighth show at the Z7 on October 12, 2014. The album had been released on September 29, about a week earlier, making the music equally new to the audience. Bernhard Baran once again recorded the show with his crew, employing 24 cameras.[34] This venue was a departure for Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy, who had recorded many of their previous shows at the 013 in Tilburg, the Netherlands.

During the show, the venue’s lighting operator refused to allow the band’s lighting operator to share the light board. As result, most of the show’s lighting cues were not executed properly, or at all. Portnoy can be seen, at times, gesturing to the operator—sometimes in the dark. There is no lighting credit on the album.[35]

For the album release, the band decided to explore new technologies, with Evans designing several new features. One allowed listeners to move between two locations in the venue,[36] while watching the show, each with its own surround mix. Another feature was a 3D audio mix for a headphones, where each sound source was positioned in specific location around the listener.

The final feature was a new audio engineering technique, Harmonic Phrase Analysis,[37] which “…reduces the unwanted processing normally associated with contemporary live recordings, imparting a more organic feel to the sound field.”[38] Mix engineer Rich Mouser spent 34 days creating four separate mixes and 10 separate masters. Critics characterized the audio as the best live audio they’d heard.[39][40] The show’s video used new technology, as well. Evans worked with Cinnafilm, who mastered the footage[41] by re-texturizing[42] each frame, enhancing the visual dynamic range, and simulating 70mm film stock. Baran edited the show.

Second Flight: Live at the Z7 was released on November 13, 2015 on Blu-ray, DVD, 2-LP vinyl, and digital download. A 4K version was not released due to a lack of consumer distribution format, though several songs from the show were uploaded to YouTube at 4K. The 3D headphone mix has not yet been released.


Tour dates[edit]

After the release of their self-titled debut album in March 2012, it would not be until early September that Flying Colors would go on their world tour in support of the album.[43]

They played two shows in North America, performing in Los Angeles and New York City, before going on to play eleven shows in Europe. Six of their eleven shows in Europe were in Germany, along with shows in Italy, Switzerland, France, Netherlands and ending the tour in England.

In October 2014, to coincide with the release of their second studio album Second Nature, the band went on tour performing three concerts in North America, before touring Europe for seven concerts in Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, England and France.[44]

Date City Country Venue
2012 American & European Tour
September 4, 2012 Los Angeles United States James Armstrong Theater
September 6, 2012 New York City United States Best Buy Theater
September 9, 2012 Hamburg Germany Markthalle
September 10, 2012 Berlin Germany C-Club
September 11, 2012 Munich Germany Theaterfabrik
September 13, 2012 Milan Italy Alcatraz
September 14, 2012 Pratteln Switzerland Z7 Konzertfabrik
September 15, 2012 Stuttgart Germany Zapata
September 16, 2012 Frankfurt Germany Colos-Saal
September 17, 2012 Cologne Germany Gloria Theater
September 19, 2012 Paris France Le Trianon
September 20, 2012 Tillburg Netherlands Poppodium 013
September 21, 2012 London England Shepherd's Bush
2014 American & European Tour
October 2, 2014 Los Angeles United States James Armstrong Theater
October 3, 2014 Chicago United States Arcade Theater
October 4, 2014 Philadelphia United States Keswick Theater
October 7, 2014 Barcelona Spain Razzmatazz 2
October 8, 2014 Milan Italy Live Club
October 9, 2014 Tilburg Netherlands Poppodium 013
October 11, 2014 Frankfurt Germany Batschkapp
October 12, 2014 Pratteln Switzerland Z7 Konzertfabrik
October 13, 2014 London England Islington Assembly Hall
October 14, 2014 Paris France Alhambra


Studio albums[edit]

Title Album details Peak chart positions
Flying Colors 81 51 44 35 55 129 101
Second Nature
  • Released: September 30, 2014
  • Label: Mascot Label Group
  • Formats: Vinyl,[55] CD, digital download
74 36 24 40 96 82 123 123
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.

Live albums[edit]

Title Album details Peak chart positions
Live in Europe
  • Released: October 15, 2013
  • Label: Mascot Label Group
  • Formats: Vinyl,[56] CD, digital download[57]
Flying Colors - Second Flight: Live at the Z7
  • Released: November 13, 2015
  • Label: Music Theories
  • Format: 2cd/blu-ray
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.

Video albums[edit]

Title Album details Peak chart positions
The Making of Flying Colors
  • Released: 2012
  • Label: Mascot Label Group
  • Formats: DVD
Live in Europe
  • Released: October 15, 2013
  • Label: Mascot Label Group
  • Formats: Blu-ray,[60] DVD
10 15
Flying Colors - Second Flight: Live at the Z7
  • Released: November 13, 2015
  • Label: Music Theories
  • Format: Blu-ray, 2CD/Blu-ray
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.


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  5. ^ Official Dutch Charts
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  9. ^ " Reviews: Second Nature". 
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External links[edit]