Purple Heart: Daredevil Guitar Virtuoso Steve Morse Discusses Deep Purple's New Album, 'Now What?!'

by Richard Bienstock
Posted Jun 26, 2013 at 11:45am

This is an excerpt from the August 2013 issue of Guitar World magazine. For the rest of this story, plus a tribute to Slayer's Jeff Hanneman and features on Buzz Osbourne of the Melvins, Joe Bonamassa, Iggy and the Stooges, Eric Clapton's 2013 Crossroads Guitar Festival, the 25 Best Guitar & Music Apps and more, check out the August 2013 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.

When Guitar World catches up with Steve Morse, it’s at a rare moment when the Deep Purple guitarist is actually at home. “I’m in the U.S. right now, oddly enough,” he says, calling from his house in Ocala, Florida. He laughs: “But management will try to change that soon.”

Indeed, for the past several years, Deep Purple have embarked upon something akin to what Bob Dylan fans have taken to calling that artist’s Never Ending Tour. It seems as if the veteran British metal act is always playing somewhere, to someone. In much of the world, Deep Purple are as popular as ever, performing before large crowds in Europe, Australia, Southeast Asia and the Americas.

In addition to the substantial road work, Deep Purple have just released a new studio album, Now What?! Recorded by legendary producer Bob Ezrin, it’s their first album in eight years and their 19th since forming in England 45 years ago. Featuring veteran members Ian Gillan (vocals), Roger Glover (bass) and Ian Paice (drums), Purple are currently rounded out by Morse, who has been with the band since 1996, and keyboardist Don Airey, who joined in 2002 to replace founding organist Jon Lord, who passed away in June 2012.

Though it had been a while since the band had entered the studio together, Morse says the material for Now What?! came quickly. “We did three writing sessions over the course of a year and ended up with over 20 songs,” he explains. “I remember saying to the guys, ‘Can we please stop putting new ones on the pile? I can’t remember them all!’ ”

GUITAR WORLD: Now What?! is Deep Purple’s first studio effort in eight years. Why did you decide to make the album now?

Actually, I was one of the guys asking the same thing! My vision was every tour we’d do another song and just release it on the web site. I’d say, “Don’t even try to sell it, because things are different these days as far as how people listen to music.” But the rest of the guys were like, “Well, this is what we do, this is what we’ve always done. So let’s do the best studio album we can.” And Bob [Ezrin] agreed. So I got into it wholeheartedly.

You cover a lot of stylistic ground on the album. There are plenty of straightforward rockers, like “Hell to Pay” and “Weirdistan” but also mellow, jazzy cuts, like “All the Time in the World,” and more epic tunes, like “Above and Beyond.”

I think we just naturally do that, because Ian Paice is one of those drummers that can play swing-type stuff as smoothly as rock. So it leaves room for a lot of different feels. “All the Time in the World”: the verse in that is kind of slinky and relaxed but still has a little bit of swing to it. And “Above and Beyond” was me sort of pushing the band musically in a certain direction. I was imagining an orchestral background mix with sort of a Zeppelin-y heaviness. And chord-wise I guess it’s a little more proggy, more like the kind of thing I might have brought into a Kansas writing session [Morse was a member of Kansas in the late Eighties]. Lot of different triads over the tonic, which sort of stays the same. So there were a lot of different ideas.

One of the great guitar spots on the album is the intro to “Uncommon Man,” which begins with an extended, unaccompanied solo from you. How did that come about?

That was Bob, pure and simple. I don’t think I would have thought to do anything like that. But he came to one of our shows, and afterward at the studio he said, “I want you to do something like you did at the concert.” And I said, “That was improv.” So he said, “Well, then do an improv. You’re rolling.” We were all in a circle looking at each other, and I just started playing like I would live. And Don [Airey] has super-incredible ears, so he heard what I was doing and just followed along. Then when Don started leading with the chords, I had to listen and try to follow him. And if you listen to the song, there’s one chord where I didn’t quite get it. There are a couple notes in one of the runs that don’t completely match. I meant to do that! [laughs] But it was just one of those moments where it was the entire band doing the take and there was no way to fix it. It was literally a moment in time. And I love when we keep takes, especially when it’s the first take. Even if it’s not perfect, it’s really cool to have those spontaneous moments.

Photo: Getty Images

For the rest of this story, plus a tribute to Slayer's Jeff Hanneman poster and features on Buzz Osbourne of the Melvins, Joe Bonamassa, Iggy and the Stooges, Eric Clapton's 2013 Crossroads Guitar Festival, the 25 Best Guitar & Music Apps and more, check out the August 2013 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.

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