Surely one of the top five very finest rock vocalists working anywhere in the world today, Jeff Scott Soto is an artist not just of towering ability but with a versatility that would make lesser men weep.
Over the course of a decades-long career, the man has released nearly a dozen studio and live solo releases, eleven albums with Talisman and has appeared on somewhere in the region of a hundred albums as a guest or lead vocalist for others including Ygnwie Malmsteen, Axel Rudi Pell and Soul Sirkus to name just three.
Given the runaway success of the W.E.T. album and the unqualified success of that band’s first and, to date, only live show, at last year’s Firefest, since their eponymous release in 2009, might one have expected a follow-up to that, perhaps, rather than a new Jeff Scott Soto solo album?
“It’s been three years since a Beautiful Mess, which was my last one and so it’s certainly overdue. I’m trying to do a solo album no more than two years apart and the W.E.T. album was a sort of unexpected studio project and as well as that I think I’ve been on six or seven other albums as well that had nothing to do with my personal solo career. W.E.T. happened to be one of them that caught on well and as it got a lot of attention, I think a lot of people assumed I’d only be doing that. My solo career, though, is something that’s become very important to me especially since, with this album, I’ve gone back to hitting things harder, so to speak”
Quite. Damage Control (out in mid-March) is much heavier and harder-sounding than previous JSS albums.
“Yeah, definitely. A beautiful Mess was something very near and dear to me and something I’d wanted to do for the longest time, and when I was touring it I had a great time, but I really felt I was missing that heavy hitting hard rock sound I’d had with Talisman for so many years. And as it wasn’t really an entity any more in my life so I wanted to get back to it on the solo front”
A hand-picked team of writers were selected and it’s clear the man is delighted with the finished product.
“I collaborated with someone on every song that’s on the album. I started with the guys that are in my solo band and then I asked others to contribute ideas and some things so we could get the whole ball rolling and with that I knew I wanted to have some other, outside, contributors. So that, stylistically, I could form and create the vision I had for Damage Control. I made a short list of people I wanted to work with and, luckily, they were available to do it”
With Jeff living here, in London, it seems UK fans will have ample opportunity to catch live dates in support of Damage Control.
“I’m not a resident here but my girlfriend is here so I do spend quite a bit of time here, when I’m not on the road, which sometimes feels like all the time! But with that I’m actually planning on doing an extensive UK run as well as getting into Europe and South America a and hopefully North America”
For someone with the talent that Jeff Scott Soto possesses, the relative lack of commercial success seems somewhat mystifying. Perhaps the sheer volume of work is the problem? The lack of a single, unifying band or project that could be sustained over a period of time, building up the Jeff Scott Soto name, might be a reason? Jeff takes this in his stride and replies frankly and thoughtfully.
“I honestly don’t think that has anything to do with it at all. I mean, if you go back to when I was starting out, I was in one particular band and things weren’t going well and so you do another album and you hope there’ll be a tour and you end up sitting around, not really doing anything, and just hoping everyone else is doing their job.
You get bored, you get antsy and you wanna do something and then you get asked to do something else, which helps fill in the time, and that’s kinda where me doing multiple projects and so many other things started out. You know, even to the point of leaving bands because it got so boring and nothing was happening.
Maybe it was the managerial side of things or some other sort of personal reason but I have to try and tap into some kina source that leaves me musically satisfied but also maybe that I’d want to just stick with and do just the one thing. Unfortunately I haven’t had that in my career and in my history.
Of course the obvious one would’ve been Journey and I was ready to leave everything else behind and stop doing anything else and commit to one band because with that band I could make a living, earn my keep and concentrate on contributing to the one thing. Even Talisman, which lasted for many years but unfortunately didn’t work out because we didn’t have proper management. We didn’t tour extensively, we didn’t even tour every year and we didn’t do all the things other bands do and that bands are supposed to. And that was why I was able and had to tap into a lot of other things in my career and in my life.
As far as I’m concerned I’m glad I got the chance to do so many other things because it channelled me into so many things I wouldn’t normally have done but it’s also given me the opportunity to do a lot things I wanted to do but might not otherwise have been able to. I guess that makes me a jack of all trades but I’m always trying to be a master of all those trades as well.
I understand your question and I can understand why you might think it’s offensive to me because I’m not a household name and it’s something I’ve always dreamed of; being a household name and just being able to channel everything into one band, the right band, so I don’t have to keep bouncing around and spreading myself so thinly. But on the other hand I enjoy doing different things and it adds variety and interest. And that’s maybe another reason why I’ve done so many things because I’ve always said once it stops being interesting, that’s when it’s time to move on.”
It’s fair to say, millions of rock fans around the world were shocked at his sudden departure from Journey and it appeared as though he’d been very badly served and treated by the US megastars. Jeff, though, is philosophical about what must have been a particularly painful period in his life. With the honesty and charm that makes the man a delight to talk to, he was happy to set the record straight.
“Well, it started out we were doing this little dance together everything seemed it couldn’t be better, even down to some of the interviews I heard about my involvement with the band and all the praise and adulation that was coming my way with being with these guys. It was phenomenal; it was a dream come true in so many different ways. To be honest with you, Harry, I still don’t really know, even today, the true answer of why it all kinda dissolved. It seemed to happen overnight, it seemed to happen without me even getting a chance to figure it out, or defend myself or find out what the reasons were. But, as you said, It all went down so badly and so quickly it was actually more of a nightmare for me than it was reality and I still have to deal with the non-closure of the hows and whys of the way it went down. But I also have to look at the reality of the situation and the fact that I was singing someone else’s songs and stepping into someone else’s career and had they not gotten rid of me, I think I might even have walked away from it myself. They let me go before I was able to let them go, so to speak” he laughs.
“I’m kinda over it for the most part and for all the many people who were excited about it, there were many people who were naysayers. There were a lot people very unhappy about it and that’s something that’s difficult to deal with and something that can be difficult to live with, especially when you’re doing your best and trying to please everyone and fulfilling what your position demands.
And to then get the naysayers saying you don’t belong there, that you’ve never belonged there, it’s a hurtful thing especially for someone like me who is a peaceful person and I just want to make people happy. I mean I’m so grateful and humbled that I actually get to do this for a living and so to be sneered at just because I didn’t sound like the person they had before, well, that’s difficult for anyone to live down. Thankfully, Arnel has been able to step in and make the gig his own so he hasn’t had to deal with too much of that backlash and so for them, and certainly for me, it’s all worked out for the best”
But that was then and this is now. Damage Control is not only the heaviest album from Jeff Scott Soto for many a year, it’s also one of the most consistent and cohesive, with a running-order and musical logic that seems almost inevitable.
“Well, the first thing I want to say about that is there’s actually a fourteen-song deluxe edition coming out and when I was putting the album together I think we had something like twenty, twenty one songs and Frontiers asked for eleven. So I whittled them down and came to fourteen that I was absolutely married to and I honestly couldn’t think of cutting a single one. So I went to the label and explained my dilemma and asked, ‘how can we do this? Can we release a twelve-song album with two bonus tracks or free downloads or whatever?’ So to appease the situation we arrived are releasing the fourteen-track deluxe version and an eleven song standard version.
You’ve got the eleven song version so in terms of what you just said; you’re actually missing a few pieces of that puzzle so I think your point is even more valid when applied to the fourteen-song edition. Even if it costs me a quid or two per album that’s the version I’m really pushing as it’s much more complete, it’s the ‘director’s cut’ you might say. Also, I really wanted to rock again. There’s been a bit of a void in my life which is now filled and that’s why you’re hearing harder edge on this new one”
The opportunity to talk about W.E.T.’s blistering and show-stealing appearance at last year’s Firefest couldn’t be missed and considering the band had never played live previously, one assumes a seriously intensive rehearsal schedule was undertaken to deliver such an incendiary set. Jeff openly laughs at this…
“You ready for this? Two days. That’s all we had. I was in the middle of a bunch of other things and I could only get to Sweden two days before the actual event. The guys did some stuff before I got there but there’s only so much they could do without vocals. We rehearsed in this tiny little room that’s basically the size of my bathroom and we squeezed in there and bashed it out for two days straight. We flew to England and then we did the gig”
And what a gig it was. As those who were there will testify, W.E.T. was band of the festival for many and the ecstatic reaction of the crowd was no less than the band deserved.
“There are two things about that, actually; one, we wanted to prove that this wasn’t just an album, wasn’t just a studio thing but also that we could do it live but also, when the organisers of Firefest contacted us, with Warrant pulling out and all that, I said, ‘look we’re already looking like heroes for stepping in at late notice so we need to really push this, we cannot have people walking away going, ‘yeah, well it was alright’, we can’t look like chumps. We have to really deliver.
While I certainly wouldn’t say it was flawless and I’ll tell you it was one of the first gigs in a long, long time where I was nervous from top to bottom. Sure, you get that anticipation, that kind of nervous feeling but this was, from the first note to the last, well, I was just incredibly nervous! I’d never played a gig with these guys! The only chemistry and history we had was the two days of rehearsal in Stockholm. So imagining how this was actually gonna come across, are we gonna remember the cues? Are we gonna remember the segues? It was a truly nerve-wracking experience for all of us but we said, ‘we got it keep it together, guys’ and I think we pulled it off”
And then some. So, the obvious question must be, with such a response to the first album, surely there will be a second W.E.T. album?
“We are currently, as I’m speaking to you, on the promotional trail for Damage Control, actually writing the new W.E.T. album! You talk about me never standing still, well, when Damage Control comes out in two months; we’ll actually be in the studio working on the new W.E.T. album. We want to get it in the can so I can get on the road and promote Damage Control for as long and as well as I can”
So when might the UK be seeing Jeff Scott Soto live then?
“Latter part of the year. Originally we were gonna put the band on the road, literally, just a couple of weeks after the album comes out but I think it’d be a mistake to go that soon. That was one of the reasons I think W.E.T. went down so well, because the album had been out for a while and people had really gotten to know it and every song we did at Firefest was well-received because they were all well known. It was almost as though we were playing a greatest hits show, even though we only had one album to draw from. It was amazing to get the response we did at the beginning of each song, as though they were all from different albums and we’d been around for years! That was one of the really cool things I loved about that show and one of the things I’m hoping to get for Damage Control, by starting out a little later. By going out later, have the album kind of build its own legs and have people know the words and know the songs, because they’ve lived with it and they know the material.
I definitely want to do an extended run here because it’s been a few years since I’ve done that in the UK and I miss it. A full UK run is absolutely what I want to do because I’m tired of doing one-offs in London or just certain parts of the country where people who can’t travel miss out”
One can only wish Jeff all the very best with damage control and, certainly, the prospect of a new W.E.T. album is something to savour.
In a business crammed with fakes, shysters and chancers, the man has a natural warmth, charm and sincerity that is a pleasure to encounter. Coupled with that astonishing talent, there are few who would begrudge him the major league success he undoubtedly deserves. Let’s hope 2012 is the year that sees Jeff Scott Soto setting the world on fire.