Intervju med Jeff Scott Soto.
Herr Soto är aktuell med en ny liveplatta, "Live at Firefest 2008", samt som sångare i Trans Siberian Orchestra, som just nu turnerar i USA.
Jag ringde upp honom i Boise, Idaho av alla ställen och fick ett långt och kul samtal om bl a första tiden med Yngwie, uppväxten, enda låten han spelade in med Journey, TSO, rädslan för KISS, Babylon AD och mycket mer.
Jeff Scott Soto: Hi, how are you?
I´m good. How are you?
JSS: I´m doing alright.
Where are you exactly? Are you in LA?
JSS: I´m in Boise, Idaho. That´s where all the potatoes come from in the US.
Right! Are you playing there?
JSS: We have the night off and then playing here tomorrow.
Is that a big town or a small town?
JSS: It´s actually a big town for this state. I can´t try to think of a small town… Little Rock, Arkansas.
Well, I know of it.
JSS: Ok, well Boise is the state capital and the biggest city in the state.
Cool! I thought we´d start off with a bit about your background and then work our way up to present day, if that works for you?
JSS: Sure, whatever you wanna do!
Ok. I´ve been reading a lot about you and I found out that you were born in Brooklyn and then you moved to San Fernando Valley when you were around 8 years old. What do you remember from that period of time. Did you go to a lot of shows in the 70´s and 80´s? Do you remember the first concert you ever went to?
JSS: Yeah and you´re gonna laugh! The first concert I ever went to was actually The Bee Gees at Dodger Stadium. I think I was in 7th grade. I mean, I´m not ashamed to say my whole musical background was more pop and R&B oriented anyway. I liked a lot of the bubble gum stuff and the hit radio stuff when I was growing up. A lot of my friends and colleagues grew up with heavy metal and hard rock and I actually detested that stuff. I actually didn´t like it at all, growing up. I always kind of followed in my brother´s footsteps. He´s a year and two months older than me and once he started getting into rock, I still kind of hated it but because I wanted to emulate him and he was my older brother and I kind of followed his footsteps and started to get into the heavier bands, the rock bands. On my own, I was always into the whole Motown, Michael Jackson, The Temptations and then later into Earth Wind and Fire and The Bee Gees and the whole disco scene and everything. It wasn´t until much later, in my later teenage years that I got into hard rock and heavy metal and ironically enough, that´s basically how my career started. It started in hard rock and heavy metal.
The Bee Gees were killer back then!
JSS: Yeah, and this was back in their heyday. This would´ve been right after “Saturday Night Fever” and I remember Andy Gibb came on stage and joined them on stage. That was a big deal. That was the kind of music I loved and it was great.
I was born in ´71 and grew up as a teenager loving the stuff from the 80´s and especially the whole scene in LA with the hairspray and all…
JSS: Absolutely! I totally got into that stuff. My favorite era of music is the 70´s. Everything from the soul music to… it was a whole revolution at that time. Everything was changing experimentally. Everything from Queen and Led Zeppelin and all those bands, they were taking it to a whole new standard which led into the whole 80´s scene. But the 80´s became a bit too homogenized. It just became a little too cheesy and homogenized for me and there was a reason for why kind of that whole sound died off. Today we have, I guess, a blend of that melodic rock and a lot of people are mixing it with the 70´s thing and making a kind of a new brand behind it. It´s great!
Back in the 80´s, did you hang out at all the famous places like The Whisky and the Rainbow and?
JSS: Oh God yes! When I was old enough to finally go, I used to see Mötley Crüe all the time and Ratt and all the LA bands that struck it big. It was a short lived period for me, because when I was old enough to go to those places, I must´ve been around 16, I joined Yngwie when I was 18 so it was only two years where I got to do all that stuff and the next thing I was on the road and kind of starting my own career.
Right! I also read that your parents were singers and that you haven´t had any real vocal training.
JSS: No vocal training, no. They weren´t professional singers, they basically were high school sweethearts and they were in a do wop band together and they sang in that format. Once my mother got pregnant with my brother, they basically gave it up. They thought it was a dream and they didn´t pursue or follow up on it. “Now we´ve got to be responsible and get real jobs and raise a family!”. It was a lot different back then too. Do wop bands, they were a dime a dozen back in those days and they looked at it like it was too much of a pipe dream and they basically got real jobs, you know. It´s kind of like when your parents are giving you shit for being a musician and going “This is a hobby! Someday you have to grow up and get a real job!”. Well, I´m 45 years old and I still haven´t got a real job! (laughs)
That´s the way to do it! When did yourealize for the first time, that a professional singer was what you wanted to be?
JSS: Oh, since I was like five years old! Since I saw Michael Jackson doing it at such an early age. It´s so true when you see even things like today like Hanna Montana. They´re huge now and obviously their fan base are kids that are much younger than them. It´s exactly the same thing it was for me when I saw Michael Jackson. “That´s what I waanna do! If he can do that, and he´s just a few years older than me, why can´t I?”. It was already in my blood, already in my frame of thought. That´s what I want to do for a living and that´s all I´m gonna do for a living!
I´m a huge KISS fan, did you ever go see KISS in LA?
JSS: Funny thing, no. I never was a KISS fan growing up. It was always kind of scary for me. It´s like when kids have fears of clowns. When I saw them, it was very evil and very dark for me. And some of the influences, like I told you about, were completely on the other side of the fence. Those were really positive and uplifting and very happy and energetic music, so to me KISS sounded like the devil´s music and they looked like devils. It wasn´t till I was much older and got into rock, that I found out how tame and how calm KISS really was. I got into them when they unmasked and did the whole 80´s thing, like “Heaven´s on fire” and “Lick it up” and that´s when I really got into KISS. But of course now, I truly appreciate everything that they´ve done in their legacy and especially now, being friends with Paul Stanley and some of the newer guys like Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer. It´s kind of cool to say that these guys are your friends now and appreciate what they did when I didn´t even like them as a kid. (laughs)
Funny! Working with Yngwie and those two albums, what do you remember from… you didn´t audition, do you remember what songs you played or did you just jam?
JSS: I remember it like it was yesterday. I met Yngwie and I basically got the call… I was surprised I got the call because because they didn´t expect the demos that I sent them. I was 16 years old when I sang it and I didn´t even expect that I would get listened to and when I found out later, that out of the box of tapes that they brought to Yngwie, only two were taken out and played for him. The first one that they played him was the absolute worse one that was in the box and the second one they played him was my tape. Everything else they didn´t bother with. That is amazing to me, that they got this 18 year old kid who was 16 on the demo and that was good enough to play for Yngwie at that point in time compared to everything else that was sent to him. I went down to the studio to meet him and he was working on the instrumental album and he was kind of cold and reserved. He didn´t put any real interest into meeting me. He was in the middle of doing his record and was like “Yeah, I´ll take some time and meet this guy, whatever!”. He brought me into a little room, pulled out this acoustic guitar and started playing. “Ok, I´ve got this song so just come up with some melodies!”, so I´m kind of singing along and he goes “Ok, this is the chorus and this is the melody for this – ba ba bapa ba!”. And I´m just jotting down lyrics as fast as I can and I´m trying to remember the melody and singing it to him, just me and him, like a duet kind of thing and he goes “Yeah, that sounds pretty cool! Let´s put it on tape!”. He goes into the control room and they set up the microphone in the room in front of him and they start playing that same song, but with the whole band playing and I was like “Oh, Jesus, now I´ve got to sing these lyrics and this melody!” and I´m trying to remember everything right on the spot. I think I even have a copy of that. They mixed me a copy of it on a cassette tape and I still have that somewhere at home. And that was my audition. I basically sang “As above, so below” with my kind of fake lyrics and tried to remember the melody and all he remembered was the soaring high notes I was able to hit at the very end and he said “Man, sounds cool! Let´s get together at my house and demo some more songs and we´ll see what happens from here!”. And it was about three weeks of that, that we did together and which eventually led to “Welcome to the band!”
Wow! When was the last time you met Yngwie?
JSS: I haven´t seen Yngwie in a couple of years. I usually run into him at the NAMM show in Anaheim. He lives in Miami and I live in LA and I´m all over the world and I´m basically never around anywhere he´s at when he´s touring or I´m touring, so the last time I saw him… actually I think I saw him in London, he was playing a gig two years ago and then I saw him at the NAMM show, but I didn´t se him this last year, so I´ll probably run into him in January.
I read in an interview from earlier this year where you called him a “mad genius”.
JSS. Yeah, they were asking me if I had to define him in one sentence.
Right! If it came up, would you consider working with him again?
JSS: I don´t know! First of all, that´s the key sentence right there, “work WITH him?”. I don´t really know what it´s like to work with him, I know what it´s like to work FOR him. To work with him might be a conflict of interest, because he´s so head strong and God bless him for it. He´s very head strong and what he wants and how he wants it and what he he´s gonna do and really doesn´t want or need any input from anybody else, in how to complete that. So that´s not really working with him. If he wanted to work on something where I got to put my influence and I got to put who Jeff Scott Soto is, as much as he´s getting to put Yngwie Malmsteen in it, then that would be something I would be very interested in, because obviously we could finally put our history together and do something that actually works for both of us, as opposed to me just being hired by him again.
Ok. What about Talisman then? How did you all get together? How did it all start?
JSS: Talisman was basically a spin off from my participation with Yngwie and during that time of course, Marcel Jacob was the bass player. I left the band first and when Marcel finally left he went back to Sweden and started working with John Norum and when he parted with him, he was working on a solo album or a new concept album, that Göran Edman was supposed to sing on, but Edman decided to stick with John Norum. So all of a sudden he didn´t have a singer for this album, so he just reached out to me and told me into sing on these demos that he called “Guitars on fire”. It was a demo when he sent it to me and actually I knew he turned that into Talisman and that´s how that whole thing was born. It was never intended to be a new band and it wasn´t supposed to be anything more than me singing and being hired. I mean, Marcel paid me to sing on this album, that I was not to receive any future royalties on or have any interest in. I was doing him a favor and he was paying me for that favor and that´s all it was supposed to be, but we had such a great time. We had more of a bonding moment during that recording than we actually had during the whole time we were in Yngwie´s band. From that, obviously “I´ll be waiting” became a hit and he asked me if I could come up and do some promotional shows and promotional shows turned into a whole tour in Sweden and next thing you know, we´re talking about doing a second album and making this a real thing. It was totally by accident, but this accident turned into 19 years of my life.
Wow! Did he come up with the name Talisman?
JSS: Yeah! I don´t know if he got it from the novel “The Talisman” or… a lot of people thought that it was ironic because Marcel was that kind of bass player like Billy Sheehan and Billy had a band called Talis. It was kind of coincidental that he named it after Talis, but I don´t know. Bottom line is that Marcel named the band and he had his own reasons for choosing that. I just kind of went a long with it.
I went through your website and there´s like tons of stuff. Do you have any idea, roughly, how many albums you´ve worked on?
JSS: I think I lost count after 64. (laughs) It sounds crazy and it sounds ludicrous to think that I´ve sung on more albums than the biggest bands in the world combined. Thinking of how many albums The Rolling Stones have done and how many albums any of the biggest bands. Aerosmith even. Bands that have been around since the 70´s and are still going and I´ve done more albums than them. Ok, it´s not with the same group, but the idea that I´ve done over 60 albums, it makes me go “What? How is that possible?”. I don´t even know how that´s possible for one artist to do, but God I wish everyone of those went multi platinum! (laughs)
How does it generally work? Do people constantly send you demos and stuff or do you look for stuff as well and think that “Well, this might be cool! I´d love to do something with these guys!”?
JSS: Well, not so much looking for stuff. A lot of that stuff, especially back in the early days, that´s how I make my living. I´m in the music business and music is my business. If I don´t want to make a living from music, I would turn all that stuff down. Fortunately I have the versatility and the voice and the choices rather, to be able to do these kinds of things. In other ways it´s actually bad for you because it kind of prostitutes you out there. It´s like Gene Simmons said the first time I met him. This is many many years ago, before I did half the stuff that I have out there now, he went: “Oh, mr Soto! The man who´ll sing on anybody´s album for a buck!”, and it was true. Back in the day I couldn´t turn things down because not only was it means to support myself, but I also looked at it as a challenge to be able to sing on so many different things and to kind of put myself out there and challenge myself as a vocalist, challenge myself as a writer and do all the things that I was influenced by, that might channel into something I would do in the future for myself or that I could take something of myself and put it into something that somebody else wouldn´t normally expect of me. It was kind of cool that I could wear all these different shoes and all these different albums and all these different projects, because it was just overextending myself of what I would eventually become.
Cool! Do you remember when you realized that your choice of career was actually going to work? This is really gonna pay off?
JSS: I looked at it as I had no choice! This is do or die and I´m gonna get rich or die trying, like the 50 Cent movie. It´s all about… failure is not an option as far as I was concerned. There was no other thing for me to do. There was nothing else that I wanted or could do besides singing for a living! There was no other option and it had nothing to do with “Well, I´m making money now!” or “I´m not making money now”. It has everything to do with that this is in my blood. It is the only thing I can and want to do.
The stuff that happened when you sang with Journey, was there ever anything put on tape or was it just doing live shows?
JSS: Yeah, we did one song. It was actually for the last show I sang with them before they fired me. It was a big America celebration polo match or something like that. It´s kind of a weird thing. It was organized more like a corporate gig, yet they sold tickets to the public, and with that they asked us to write a song in the theme of celebrating America´s history and Jonathan Cain kind of whipped up this kind of ballady type of thing, but the lyrics were about the pilgrims coming here and settling down and fighting for our freedom and all this stuff. It wasn´t the normal Journey song and it wasn´t meant to actually ever be released. It was only meant for us to write for this event and perform it at this event. We recorded a demo of it, just so we could all kind of whip it up and we sang it at this gig and it never saw the light of day after that. I think later, when they were working with another singer before Arnel, they reworked the song with normal lyrics, like making it more like a love song or a break up song or whatever, but it didn´t even end up on the latest album. It was kind of hokey and when you listen to it now you hear this beautiful Journey song with cool melodies and everything and then you hear these lyrics and go “What?”. It didn´t really work and I think it actually leaked out there. Some of the fans got wind of it and went “This is horrible!”. Of course this is my one and only representation of me singing for Journey and they go “This is terrible! No wonder they fired him!”. (laughs)
I was kind of wondering about the band W.E.T.? Great album and excellent performances of all you guys1 Will there be more or was that just a one off thing?
JSS: Well, you know what, W.E.T. kind of started off in the same way as Talisman. It was an idea and I was brought in. It was basically an album of songs that Robert Sall and Erik Martensson were coming up with and the label came to me and said “This is the kind of album we´d love to release with your voice on it. Would you be willing to do it?” and as soon as I heard a couple of songs I thought “This is great!” and as they kept doing more and more I was like “Man, this is really really good! If people like this it could actually turn into something!”. Next thing you know, people are loving this album, everyone from critics to fans. We have discussed following up and if we do a follow up album, the next step is to actually take it on the road, which I would love to do.
I´m looking forward to it because it´s a great album!
JSS: Thanks! And you know what? In many ways it reminds me of the very first Talisman album where we got such a buzz from something that we kind of went into blind. We didn´t really know what to expect working with each other and in the end the end result was something that we were pleasantly surprised to the point where like “Wow, we might actually wanna think about following up on this thing!”.
You´ve got a new live album out and your singing is awesome, but I´m kind of wondering when it comes to live albums and in this day and age, are there any overdubs? Do you fix anything in the studio when it comes to a live album or do you record it and that´s it?
JSS: I´d be lying if I said no. You have to fix a few things. It´s anything from technical problems that could occur or could´ve occurred and in this case we didn´t even have our own selection of the audio engineer and there were a lot of major glitches here and there that we had to fix, just for that reason alone. It has nothing to do with the performances because the performances were there, but for the most part they were only little fixes here and there, just because something dropped out or the microphone was off or the microphone wasn´t working or the background vocal mic wasn´t on. Little things here and there that occur and this is one of the reasons back in the day, live albums used to be a compilation of a few shows. Looking at all the live albums from the 70´s and 80´s, you would see that most of the albums were from three or four different shows and it was for that reason whether they wanted a particular performance that was better one night or there was a problem with some of the equipment on another night, you know. When you do one show in particular you gotta hope that everything is perfect from top to bottom and it usually isn´t. But I like to leave the mistakes in, I like to leave the glitches here and there for the most part, because it shows that it´s live. But when something completely drops out or if there´s something very noticeable, you kind of have to patch those things up. But I don´t agree with bands going into and just recreating the whole thing where it´s no longer live. Then, what´s the point? Why even bother releasing a live album?
Yeah, and speaking of KISS earlier, when I grew up you always considered ALIVE to be very true and you kind of figured out that ALIVE II was doctored in some way, but later on, as more information surfaced, it turned out that both those albums were doctored in many ways and stuff was done in the studio. So it turned out they weren´t that live anyway.
JSS: Well, that´s disheartening! (laughs) That´s enough to make you go “Ah, that sucks!”
Since you´ve released several albums through Frontiers Records, do you have an ongoing contract with them or is it just taken from album to album?
JSS: Pretty much album to album. I mean, my solo stuff, they do have options for me with my solo albums. The live albums are extras and I work out side deals with them, because that not included in my option . I don´t owe them a live album or a greatest hits album and those don´t count as far as real releases. With every album they release with me, they have the option to do the next one. It´s not like I have a seven or five album option like back in the day. We do it per album. In legal terms I owe them another album, but it has to be of a certain genre. They wasn’t me to actually stick to a certain style and sound and genre and if I record like a country polka punk album, they´re not gonna release it. They´re gonna say “Well, that´s not in the genre that we want you to release it, so we´re not gonna pick up your option.” and that´s what gets me out of that. If I record a melodic rock AOR hard rock kind of album, then that´s gonna fit along their category and they automatically get to release it.
Cool! I just thought of something. Have you ever come across or met Paul Sabu?
JSS: I know who he is and I don´t know if we´ve actually ever spoken. I think we might have had some kind of communication in maybe the 90´s at some point. I definitely know who he is.
Well, he´s a great singer and song writer and the same goes for you and I just thought that you would come up with a killer album!
JSS: Ok, thanks!
What´s next? You´re touring now in the States? What´s next when it comes to new albums and so on?
JSS: Well, I was gonna start diving into a new solo album as well as we were gonna start writing a new W.E.T. album, but unfortunately this winter tour kind of snuck up on me and I thought that after this is done, I´ll start diving into that, but I´ll probably not get too much done because I´ve just committed to do another spring tour with TSO and we start rehearsals at the end of February and this thing is going until June, so they´re gonna keep me pretty busy. In a way it´s actually kind of good because I feel I´ve been maybe a little too out there. I think I´ve been a little bit too exposed, so to speak. I think it´s good to take a few steps back. I keep working and I keep doing what I love doing and earning my keep, on the other hand, removing the JSS brand now for a while and make people want it again, I guess. You start putting the demand out there and then finally I can work on something I know they´re all gonna be jumping on, as supposed to “Oh, there he is, releasing another album again! Whoptido!”. And kind of why we´re releasing the Firefest album so soon after I released my last live album. This is something we had in the can and we didn´t know if or when we were gonna release it and since Frontiers know that they´re not gonna have anything from me, easily, for the next seven or eight months, they thought “Well, let’s put this out there and we kind of fill the pocket of having a JSS product out there until he´s ready to come do something.”
Ok. So when you´re playing Boise, Idaho tomorrow, you´re playing with TSO?
Alright! How did you hook up with those guys?
JSS: I´ve known the musical director and guitar player, Al Pitrelli, for about 20 years now. We actually met in Karlskoga in Sweden. We were doing a big festival. He was playing with Alice Cooper and it was the first Talisman tour back in 1990 and we met at the hotel afterwards. We were staying at the same hotel and I´d already been on tour with these guys for a month, so a hotel full of Americans was like “Oh, it´s like being back home!” and me and Al hit it off and got to be, not really good friends, but we got to be acquaintances and we kept running into each other over the years and I remember running into him about 11 years ago and he was telling me about they were taking this Trans Siberian Orchestra thing on the road and he told me what it was all about and I thought “that´s an interesting concept! Good luck with that, dude!” (laughs) He walked away and helped turn this thing into an empire along with Paul O´Neill, the guy who founded this. Fast forward to three years ago and they were recording their latest album “Night castle” (2009) and they were trying everybody for the final role, the main role of the rock opera, and Al went to Paul and said “What about Jeff Scott Soto?” and he goes “Isn´t Jeff a tenor?” and “”No, he´s a baritone! Check him out!”. They flew me out and I think I got the gig based on meeting them much less actually singing with them and from that it just snowballed into me doing the winter tours and now doing the spring tours and they want me on future albums. I think for the next thing, me and Al are gonna finally get together and start working on some stuff. We have some really cool ideas. We don´t know if it´s gonna be an actual project or or turn into solo stuff for me, but I definitely want to work with this guy. He´s one of the greatest guitar players in my eyes that I´ve ever played with and he´s so underrated. Not many people know of him, but I think he´s one of those guys that needs to be heard and I´ve already played with Yngwie Malmsteen and Neal Schon, why not Al Pitrelli?
Who´s Paul O´Neill?
JSS: He used to work with Aerosmith and Joan Jett back in the 70´s and 80´s and then he started producing Savatage and he produced the first Badlands album. He´s basically a producer/songwriter and that´s how he turned Savatage into Trans Siberian Orchestra. He was already going that direction with the whole rock opera theme and taking a lot of the classics and remaking them with a heavy metal vibe behind them and when Savatage split, he just launched into what is now the Trans Siberian Orchestra.
Right! Just a couple of quick ones. I read that you recorded some demos with Vinnie Vincent back in ´87?
JSS: Yeah, Vinnie had a publishing deal with … I don´t know if it was his own publishing deal or a deal with a company, but he used to write songs for other artists. He´s written for Cher and Celine Dion, things completely on the other side of the metal genre and that´s exactly what these things were. They were kind of ballady, syrupy kind of songs that he came up with that had nothing to do with Vinnie Vincent Invasion at the time. He used to sing on his own demos, but he wanted a soulful kind of R&B singer on there and he knew I had that style in me. He just brought me in and I sang four or five songs and he sent them to his publishing company and that was that. Years later I see that these demos are flying around and everybody´s going “Whatever happened to that project? Why didn´t that take off?”. It wasn´t a project or a band, it was me singing some demos for Vinnie and he paid me to sing on the demos that he did for his publishing company. End of story!
Vinnie Vincent just kind of dropped off the face of the earth.
JSS: I don´t know what happened to him and I haven´t seen or heard from him, so who knows if he´s still in music or doing something as a ghost writer. I don´t know! I haven´t seen the guy in years.
And you also recorded stuff with Zakk Wylde as well around the movie “Rock star”.
JSS: No, only the stuff for the movie. There was only one additional song called “Crown of falsehood” that Zakk had written and submitted as a possibility to be on the soundtrack. I demoed that one song. I don´t know if he recorded it with Black Label Society or maybe Pride and Glory, I don´t know or if he ever did it on his own, but it was something he wrote and I sang in the studio, they turned it down and again, that demo surfaced somewhere on the Internet and people hear it as a “Rock star” demo and that´s exactly what it was. It was just something that we did together as a possibility for the movie.
Finally, which I also found out on your website, you did some backing vocals on this great band, Babylon AD, that I actually discovered just a few years ago.
JSS: Oh yeah! That´s how I got the “Rock star” soundtrack as a matter of fact. Tom Werman, who´s a famous producer from the 70´s, 80´s and the 90´s until he finally retired, I sang backgrounds on the last Stryper album they did as a band when they were signed to Hollywood Records and because I was friends with those guys for many years they brought me in to kind of toughen their background vocals instead of sounding like Angel, like they always did on their past albums. Tom werman happened to be the producer on that album and he loved how quickly I worked in my range and how I helped build the background vocals and from that point on I sang on all the albums that he were producing and Babylon AD happened to be one of them and Steelheart, Lita Ford, a band called Pirayha. I did everything until he retired, but they pulled him out of retirement for the “Rock star” soundtrack and when thys asked him “Who would you cast for lead vocals?” and I was one of the first names he pulled out of his hat.
Babylon AD was a damn good band!
JSS: Yeah, they were a great band! Really cool guys and that was a really good album and it was a pleasure singing on that record.
Well, I´ve kept you really long here, but thank you so much Jeff! It was a pleasure talking to you and I wish you all the best with the show tomorrow and I´m looking forward to more albums and more songs from you in the future.
JSS: Awesome, man! Thank you so much!