Jeff Scott Soto: The ultimate melodic rock vocalist tries it solo.
Jeff Scott Soto has a resume a mile long and a career that's larger than life. But with over 15 years of rocking hard behind him, Prism is only his second solo album. Read why now is the time Jeff has decided to concentrate on himself.
E-Mail interviews are normally kept for that section, but I've spoken to Jeff on many occasions and this interview is more than detailed enough to call it a full feature interview.
Ok Jeff, let's start with the new album! Prism adheres to a more melodic 80's rock sound - something that you lived on in the early part of your career. Was it your intention to go back to that sound?
In a way yes, & in a way no. I never usually have much 'intention' with
anything I do until I'm doing it.
Mostly what u get at the end is by chance or experimentation, even in the most commercial pretense. Some of the songs were written years ago during my run with certain bands or projects so you'll hear obvious comparisons, maybe even be able 2 tell when the tune was written. But overall, this album showcases my voice more than the
experimentation of myself I've done on previous recordings.
I wanted 2 do an album that gave u strong songs as well as vehicles 4 me 2 blow my pipes out without battling the spotlight with the guitarists' riffs.....or bassists' 4
It's hard to believe - that for so many years singing - this is only your second solo album!
I've never really had much of a reason....or time, 2 do more than this. I finally feel with every piece of music I've already left behind, the small fan base I've acquired know what I'm capable of & the time is right 2 give it 2 them.
This solo album is more a vehicle 4 me 2 truly branch out & spread my wings alone as I'm curious 2 see if I'd be accepted on MY terms. If it fails, I have only me 2 blame.
You have a great band working with you Alex, Gary and Howie...how did you hook up with the guys?
I've known Gary Schutt 4 years & have respected his talent so much that when he was told the only way his debut album would be released back in '94 is if I sang on it, I didn't think twice about helping unleash this ridiculously talented man into the music world.
I'm sure he would have eventually done it on his own, but I know 1st hand (& still deal with it 2 this day!) the trials & tribulations of getting heard out there.
His guitar playing is so phenomenal, I'm embarrassed asking him 2 play bass in my band, but there are 2 reasons 4 that as well. Gary is not 1 of the neo-metal noodlers that came from the 'Yngwie school of shred' so he's not very comfortable having 2 recreate that kind of playing live & 2nd, I need a bass player who thinks like a guitar player 2 get us through some of that early Yngwie stuff & most of the Talisman material, which brings me 2 Howie Simon.
I've known Howie 4 about 10 years now, but never really knew how good he was until he picked up a guitar last year at my annual Christmas party I throw & as intoxicated as he was (which is most of the time!), made my jaw drop at how good he was.
It's amazing how u can know someone so long & not know what they're capable of.
I asked him originally play a solo or 2 on Prism but somewhere along the way, he ended up doing quite a bit on it. Also, I felt sorry 4 him & asked him 2 join my band full time!
Alex Papa I met & know through the Boogie Knights organisation, which he plays drums 4 in 1 of the disco bands we have in Florida with Gary.
It was only by chance that I did a few stand in gigs with them that not only did I bond with whom eventually became like a brother 2 me, but someone I also felt was 2 talented 2 be stuck donning a wig & playing 'I Will Survive' 4ever.
His enthusiasm 2 play in any situation of mine I threw at him made him an obvious choice over the many drummers I knew or could choose from 2 don the stool...that sounds wrong, doesn't it?
How long did the writing process take for this album?
1st, I went into my archives of songs I always loved but for 1 reason or another, were never recorded properly or released.
I've written some songs that were very close & personal 2 me that I hoped someday I would get the chance 2 resurrect. 'Eyes Of Love' & 'How Long' were the last songs written on it & both were written within 15 minutes of each other....taking approximately 15 minutes each 2 write. I didn't think 2 much on it, I just let it flow & the vibe of what kind of album I was making fell into itself.
Did the style come naturally - is this what you were aiming for?
Like I said, I didn't plan it 4 the 1st time ever, it came about on it's own.
It's not the ultimate JSS album, I don't think I'd ever be able 2 get away that 1 because it would sound like a hybrid of Prince/Queen/Terence Trent D'arby/Linkin Park which I think I would only sell 2 copies of!
I am very happy overall with the commercial appeal it has & hopefully will showcase me more as a more rounded singer/ songwriter than a hard rock/heavy metal figure.
It's a very melodic album - a rock ballad vibe if you like. How do you compare singing and performing this type of rock, as opposed to heavier Talisman style material?
It's harder & more demanding 2 control the voice in this environment.
In the past, u'll get 1 or 2 slower numbers on an album while the others rip your head off. This time I turned the pages a bit allowing the listener 2 enjoy the best of both worlds. I'm all about challenges & quite frankly, I'd get just as bored doing the same ol' same-ol' even if each album sold 10 million copies. If u want the heavier Talisman or Axel style, u can already hear me doing that on those albums.
Production duties - Produced and Arranged by one Jeff Scott Soto. Do you enjoy the pressure of having to perform and produce at the same time?
I love the pressure, challenge & rush of that responsibility.
I've learned so much from my past experiences, it's a natural progressions 2 hold down the fort every once in a while. I'm far from a control freak, but it does feel good 2 be able 2 get what u want on a song or performance the way u hear it in your head. I know & worked with amazing talents on this album & I hail them all 4 their contributions. Ah, who am I kidding (sound of whip cracking) 'back 2 work peasants!!'.
The album has a very even mix and lots of layers - are you happy
with the result?
Yes, Yes, Yes!!! I think once I come down from the hype of the release, the nausea of having heard so many times from it's inception 2 mix, the touring & focus of it all, it'll be an able in years 2 come I'll look back at as a trophy of pride, regardless of how many copies it sells.
I love the extra harmony vocals - they seem to be everywhere. It gives the album even more hooks to hold on to. Did the other guys contribute there, or is it layers of your vocals?
It's all me except 'I Wanna Take You Higher' which I had Howie throw in some vocals 4 that huge textured crowd vocal the way I used 2 do on so many albums in the past. He paid me 2 be on that 1 so he could tell his friends he sings
on the same track Glenn Hughes sings on!
I don't overdo it anymore with the stacking & layering of vox as I think it could sound 2 dated. Actually, on most recent recordings, including this 1 (with exception 2 a few tracks), I only layer each harmony twice, 2 takes of each note panned left & right, when I do my backgrounds nowadays. I've found a way 2 make my voice emulate tons of vocal overdubs when all you're really hearing are 6....kinda cool.
How'd you hook up with Glenn Hughes? That track suits you both and although
different in style, fits the album well.
We are both respectively, soul singers wearing rock suits! What else could I say about Glenn that already hasn't been said in this man's talent?
He's the Voice Of Rock 4 Christ's sake, & I get 2 share the mic with him. We'd spoken
about collaborating 4 years & since he hasn't asked me 2 sing on 1 of his albums yet, I had 2 bring him in on mine. I couldn't, let me rephrase, wouldn't have done this song without him....the whole idea of covering this Sly Stone classic was based on Glenn's availability & interest 2 do it with me, end of story. I'm over the moon on how cool it came out, even though I'm outshined on my own solo album by the master himself!
Special mention - I love the almost accappela track 'By Your Side'! Great job...
Thanks, it's 1 I can sing at a campfire or subway.......er, let's hope it doesn't come 2 the latter anytime soon!
Did you pick 'Holding On' as the single? Tough choice?
No, I have a completely different view as 2 where the singles lie, but hell, Frontiers didn't meddle in my creation of the album, so they gotta have some say as 2 what they choose 2 gamble on since they're fronting the bill!
Actually, I'm so close 2 everything on this album, they could pick the most unlikely song 4 a single & I would say 'fine'....that's 1 responsibility I freely hand over 2 them.
The EP is great value - when did you re-do the Journey cover? Your live acoustic version has always been so popular.
Funny enough, the live version was originally supposed 2 be the version re-released, but since I screwed up the lyric in the 1st verse, I insisted if it were 2 be released, I'd redo it the right way!
As well, the guitars were a bit out of tune & there was never a studio recording of it we could fix or remix...that was a live 2 stereo mix. It was the last song recorded 4 the album after the idea was thrown at me about releasing it. The production, my performance & singing the right lyrics made me happy I did it.
And the 2 live tracks - a taste of what's to come?!! How's the mixing for the CD and DVD live release coming along?
This is almost more exciting than the Prism release because it shows the
other side of me going out alone, yet chronicling so many aspects of my past.
The Gods experience was more than the honor of sharing the stage with some of my respective colleagues, but it made me realise just how many people knew who I was! I've always been hesitant in going at it alone, but this 1 show injected a fire in me that makes it all the more exciting now.
The CD audio is mixed, I'm just waiting 2 get the video portion discussed on how we will author it. I'm also hoping 2 release the high quality versions of the videos available on the Prism CD & Holding On EP as well as bonus backstage footage.
I'm all about giving more bang 4 your buck!
And right now you are flying home from mixing the Talisman album!! How's that sounding?
Yes, I'm doing this interview on the plane. It's cliché 2 say 'it's the best shit ever, dude' or 'it's gonna rock your socks off, man' but what else am I gonna say? In some respects, it's classic Talisman, in others, it delivers the diversity & versatility many fans have come 2 expect, but more importantly, this time around ladies & gentlemen, NO COVERS!!!
What can we expect from it compared to past Talisman releases?
I think it's very well rounded instead of the scattered messes that have occurred the past 2 releases. Having Frederik Akesson back on guitar has made us closer than ever, as we already have history 2gether, but overall, u can hear the 'band' is back in full swing again. We did the new album at a studio in a small Italian wine village called Acqui Terme, which gave us the space & elbow room 2 concentrate on recording, but more so capturing the renewed bond between brothers. Some very funny memories were made on this trip.
You are a hard working bloke - it's great to see you working on a solo name
With your first solo record - the very funky and Prince like Love Parade - why the choice to be as diverse as it was?
Love Parade was more so a cry 4 escapism...escapism from my past as a 'metal singer'. I hate that more than anything, especially when it comes 2 the media because the 'label' is so stereotypical. I've never wanted 2 be categorized as a singer, but how can 1 not be having their 1st major gig be that of with Yngwie Malmsteen? U don't sing 'I'm A Viking' & expect the same crowds as NSYNC!
In the same Glenn Hughes has always tried 2 inch his soul roots on his fans &/or others who didn't know of his past, I tried 2 do the same with releasing the funkier side of JSS.
Needless 2 say, it wasn't a commercial reinvention, but it made me happy at the time. I'm sure a lot of people were disappointed I took that route in doing a 'solo' album, but on the same token, I've met quite a few people who love that 1 as much as I do.
It ain't 4 everyone but it was a postcard of my life I captured the way I wanted.
My favourite albums of all time are from artists who took risks & made music from their hearts, not their wallets.
You can basically sing anything - metal, funk, AOR - what's closest to your heart?
Your guess is as good as mine...depends on what mood I'm in.
Tell us about the Boogie Knights project - you were telling me that working so hard on that really strained your voice....
In the 5 years I was with those guys, I sang on average, 4 nights a week, 3 45 minute sets a night with only 2 weeks off a year....u show me someone who can endure that without straining their voice, I'd love 2 meet him/her.
Most singers, even the huge artists, tour anywhere from 3 -12 months, but with weeks off in between tour legs....this was like 1 long, 5 year tour.
I joined these guys just after we put Talisman on ice in '96 just 2 pass the time away & have some fun.
We ended up becoming so popular at what we were doing & earning some serious dough, it was hard 2 leave after all the commitments & contracts ahead of us.
We were doing movies, MTV appearances, private high profile events, etc., that we were almost considered as bona fide as the bigger bands out there.
But I knew if I didn't want my career 2 end as a disco singer at a Vegas lounge, I had 2 get back 2 business.
You have sung on a whole range of Tribute Albums (Van Halen, Aerosmith, Queen). Speaking to you it is clear that it's for the love of it - paying tribute to the artist, rather than for any possible payment. What tribute track has been your favourite?
It's a toss-up between the Van Halen & Queen tributes.
Queen are closer 2 my heart in reference 2 influence, Van Halen were my ultimate fun, party band. 4 the Queen 1, I sang the song as a tribute 2 1 of my favourite singers.
With the Van Halen 1, I just had fun & pretended I was at a keg party doing my best David Lee Roth impersonation 4 all my buddies...great fun!
Jeff, there is also a killer CDR floating around (I have one here) that compiles a lot of your cover tunes - any thought of ever doing an all covers album?
With enough covers floating around that I've already done, there's no need...just take 'em all & compile 'em on a cd-r....there's your compilation.
I made the remark once that an all acoustic covers album would be a great
Yes, u did....maybe 1 day.
There has also been several rumors of your involvement somehow with Van Halen or Eddie VH. Have you ever been approached by anyone in the Van Halen camp?
I love rumours, so cool, u get put in situations u only dream of...I WISH Eddie had approached me! The 2 bands I would reel in fronting would be Van Halen & Queen. I've never even met Eddie b4 so unfortunately I don't even have a story here. Would love 2 know where it started though, I'd shake his
hand 4 the publicity I got off that 1.
Yngwie or Axel Rudi Pell? How do you compare both looking back now?
NO comparisons. Both terrible musicians!!!!
As guitarists, 2 completely different worlds....as human beings, 2 completely different worlds. Still great friends & I hope 2 keep it that way as long as we're around.
The Humanimal project was an awesome album - no chance of it being repeated?
Not at the moment. As I've said in the past, Humanimal was a project started Pontus & Marcel which later involved me. There was a slight falling out between those 2 that I backed away from, but being that Talisman is back on the map, I can't foresee doing a flood of albums like back in the mid 90's where there was a JSS product coming out every few months.
I have 2 be smart about what I'm doing from now on if I want my plan of world domination 2 follow through.
How about your other projects over the years - Takara and Human Clay?
Favourite moments from those albums?
There weren't really 'moments' involved with those recordings, it was pretty much work as usual. Human Clay was never really a band, just an outlet 4 Marcel & I 2 keep working 2gether until we appraised what was next.
Takara was an ongoing commitment without the commitment. I felt as much as my involvement with them helped, it also hindered because they didn't have a committed front man....hopefully the guy they have won't be 'committed anytime soon.
There seems no chance that I could ask questions of your whole resume, but here's a couple anyway! Biker Mice From Mars - how did you get hooked into that project?!!
I was hired by the producer of 2 sing a couple of the songs 4 this new cartoon that was 2 rival the whole Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle thing going on at the time.
It was supposed 2 be a huge push & from what I remember, Vince Neil, Billy Idol & others were supposed 2 appear on the album as well.
I guess somewhere along the way, the campaign got scaled down, but since I'd already done the few songs I was hired 4 & the producer loved my work, they brought me in 2 finish up the rest of the soundtrack.
I remember my son was only 5 or 6 & loved the free BMFM toys & video games he got, but unfortunately the cartoon never took off. I personally liked it.
Skrapp Mettle - again, how did that project start and was it always only going to be a one-off album?
I met the producer of that just after I did some publishing demos 4 Vinnie Vincent.
I was strapped 4 cash at the time & when he offered 2 pay me 4 some 'off colour' songs he was working on, I took it without knowing what I was getting into. At 1st, I was concerned about the content & was promised my identity would be concealed under a tight lid....great promise!
But it was a blast doing it, great guys/musicians involved...it was all tongue in cheek, not 2 be taken seriously or 2 offend anyone, which I'm sure it did somewhere
along the way.
And Eyes - killer debut album on a major label - what went wrong? It should have been huge!!
Tell me about it.
We put our heart & soul into that stuff, but we threw the dice by signing with the only label who didn't turn us down...a country/western label who wanted 2 expand into pop, rap & heavy rock.
What a catastrophe! They spent shitloads of money the wrong way. Everything they did taught me how NOT 2 promote & market an album...a lesson I carry with me 2 this day which make 4 my current work tactics. Sometimes I piss off the staff at Frontiers with my 'advice' as I've been through 1 too many 'mistakes' in my life.
Your most recent venture with a major label was the Rock Star movie. How was
it working on that?
An absolute blast! I'd worked with (producer) Tom Werman 4 years in the 90's doing background vocals on every band he produced from Stryper onward.
I always wanted 2 work with him in an environment I'd be doing lead vocals & lucky 4 me, he, Jeff Pilson & Zakk pulled me into the project when they needed their lead character's voice. I'd love 2 have done the more prominent role's voice (Mark Wahlberg's), but ironically I'm the voice of the main singer, the head honcho, instead of the guy from the cover band.....the 'Boogie Knights' type guy!
I hear that Mark was over stepping the credits with what he sung for the movie. Does that crap make you laugh or get you frustrated?
Not at all, especially since I didn't sing 4 his character. I think he meant he sang some things himself in the movie where there were certain parts he actually was.
Wasn't there also a project for the Queen Of The Damned movie? You were going to be the featured vocalist were you not?
Yes, that's a frustrating story in itself.
I met Richard Gibbs, 1 of the composers of the score with Jonathan Davis of Korn, at a Korn concert 2 years ago briefly. When it was realized Jonathan's voice could not legally remain on the songs 4 the album soundtrack (his voice is in the movie 4 the lead character, the same as mine was provided 4 Rock Star), they began their search 4 someone who could recreate the vocals as identical 2 Jonathan's as possible.
Originally, the soundtrack was supposed 2 be released on Aaliyah's record label since she was also 1 of the stars of the movie. With her possibly including some unreleased tracks on the soundtrack, there was no concern about hiring a singer who didn't have a 'current' track record here in the US & I was brought onboard.
The unfortunate incident of Aaliyah's untimely death led 2 the doors of her label closing & the soundtrack needing a new home.
Warner Bros. picked it up, but realized without her involvement, the album had no weight 2 sell 2 a contemporary audience, so my 5 track were redone by singers from Linkin Park, Static X, Orgy, Disturbed & Marilyn Manson...I can't really blame them, they made a corporate decision based on business. It had nothing 2 do with my performance, which was actually damn cool if I might say so myself. Yet another challenge I put forth 2 myself, having 2 sing very heavy, Goth-type songs. I had a blast working with Jon & Richard despite the outcome.
So Jeff, in summary - you should be a HUGE fucking star - no doubt about it.
Can you find a reason why you haven't sold 30 million albums?
Thanks man, if I knew the answer I'd be typing this interview on my private leer jet.
U know, I recently counted the amount of albums I've sung lead on....about 40+ album, more than the Rolling Stones!!! It's amazing that somehow the pattern of bad labels & wrong timing seem 2 follow me throughout my career. Someday when I do grow up & become a rock star, there are gonna be a lot of people cashing in a shitload of my past.
I say that last question with the utmost respect, as you do have a huge following out here you know! You are obviously and rightfully very positive about things right now? Where to next?
I'm gonna be a rock star dammit!!! I think I'll give it another 5 years then
I'm gonna try my hand at being a superhero!
Anything you would like to add Jeff?
Only that of all the interviews I've done, this 1 is probably the most important 1 I could do, as not only have u & Melodicrock.com been a pivotal key 2 helping keep my name & career in the public's attention, u provide a service 2 many artists out there who may not necessarily get the attention in today's major music sources, but also 2 the fans who are devoted 2 this genre & will at all costs keep it alive. I, sir, stand & salute your endeavours 4 this labour of love & thank u from all the artists & fans alike...u know I
aint brown-nosing u either Andrew, I've told u in the past how I feel about your influence & importance 2 my music.
Thanks Jeff, that's some totally too kind comments. It's easy when I am working with such great music as from the JSS catalogue.
Finally - what CDs are you listening to right now?
Nothing much really, I've been so wrapped up with work lately since Humanimal, I haven't had a chance 2 listen 2 much more than the things I'm working on. I'm digging the new Eminem & Korn stuff...I have a 14 year old son who keeps me current.
Top stuff, thanks for your time Jeff!