To some people Steve Morse is still ‘the new guy’ in Deep Purple. If you’re one of those people, stop it right now. Morse has been with the band since 1994 and has consistently proven himself an integral part of its overall sound and a crucial element to its songwriting. What makes Morse such a perfect guitarist for Deep Purple is that he doesn’t try to mimic Ritchie Blackmore; rather he embodies the same sense of musical adventurousness as his predecessor.
Their new album, Infinite, is a progressive, aggressive, and innovative record by a band that doesn’t know how to rest on its laurels, even after almost 50 years. Which begs the question of how to balance their enduring legacy with the prospect of creating something new. “My viewpoint is this, as a band we decided we’re going to emphasise the vehicle the band was founded on, which is rock, blues and heavier things, with some surprises,” says Morse.
“In other words - keep the rock and blues, but take it out, then bring it back before everyone falls asleep. So I endeavor to bring in as many ideas to the band as possible and then let them choose what they think are the best. And I won’t get offended if I bring in something that I know is really good but which they don’t like.
“That always happens in any group writing situation but I think in our band the best thing we did was to have Bob Ezrin be involved as producer,” says Morse. “He’s a brilliant man who is capable of juggling lots of things at once. He’s sort of a ruthless taskmaster to me as well, maybe because I’m the only American. He loves British bands and he’s known me longer so he can be more frank and abusive. He challenges me to play outside my comfort zone; I’ll play a solo and he’ll say ‘Morse, that sounds like you’re playing on a solo album. Play me something that surprises me!’ And that’s not so easy.”
Deep Purple and Ezrin are also on the same page when it comes to recording as much live in the studio as possible. “For me it’s fine because when we do record this way, I do my solos as the song goes down and sometimes you get special consideration on a solo if you can get it in a first take,” says Morse. “If you did it in an overdub session, everyone might say ‘eh,’ but if you do it as a live take they’ll say ‘that’s perfect, let’s leave it.’ It’s cool, you get to save some moments that were special.”
Morse’s Ernie Ball Music Man guitar line is legendary, and it’s about to grow. “There’s a third model in the works. There’s no hurry on this one but Dudley Gimple at Ernie Ball Music Man came up with some great, refined, extra-hot active active pickups, so this guitar is kind of kind of special in that way,” he says. “But it’ll work without batteries. At the moment it’s two pickups and I might use it on this next tour but we might add one more pickup. I’ve got a few more experiments to try but I love the way the thing screams. It works really well with any amp.”
The pickup configuration on Morse’s standard model is very unique too – it has bridge and neck humbuckers, and two single coils, one of which is straight, and one slanted. “It’s a regular humbucking bridge and a slightly different sounding humbucking neck, and the neck pickup is a little further away from the bridge than many guitars have it. That requires the guitar having 22 frets instead of 24, but it sounds fatter that way. And the distance between the two humbuckers means that when you blend the two, there isn’t any unpleasantness. And then the single coil pickups, the way I use them, are designed to be less intense than the humbuckers so that if I’m playing through amp distortion and I turn down the guitar volume, I regain that little bit of high end that’s lost when you turn down an overdrive sound. It really changes the sound a lot and when I combine the single coils with the humbucking, you get some really nice, funky combinations that are part of my sound.”
Infinite by Deep Purple is out now via earMusic/Sony Music Australia.