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INTERVIEW: JEFF SCOTT SOTO – November 2017

After spending some time on the phone with my favorite vocalist regarding his new band Sons Of Apollo, I was able to grab him again to discuss his brand new solo disc Retribution.  After some scheduling confusion, Jeff gave me a call and we were able to jump into the new disc, the songs, and so much more.  If you don’t know who JSS is, you need to do a little research and familiarize yourself.  To help point you in a direction and give you the Cliff Notes version, a recent press release recapped his career really well: “Jeff Scott Soto’s career spans over 30 years. He was first introduced to the public as the vocalist for guitar virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen’s iconic first two solo albums before going on to front the esteemed hard rock band Talisman. He is also one of the vocalists for the wildly popular Trans-Siberian Orchestra, the lead vocalist for supergroup W.E.T. (featuring JSS alongside members of Eclipse and Work Of Art), creative visionary for the more metal leaning SOTO, and frontman for the new supergroup, Sons Of Apollo (which also features Mike Portnoy, Derek Sherinian, Bumblefoot, and Billy Sheehan) amongst many other musical activities he has been and is involved in. He also held a stint fronting Rock N Roll Hall Of Famers Journey and was one of the vocalists for the officially sanctioned Queen tribute, Queen Extravaganza. His incredible voice has led to many invitations to do guest lead or background vocals on a multitude of albums, including, but not limited to. Stryper, Joel Hoekstra, Saigon Kick, Fergie Frederiksen, Lita Ford, Steelheart, and many more.”  Here we go for the send call in a month…

Toddstar: Jeff, thank you so much for taking time out for me once again.

Jeff: No problem, man. It’s a pleasure doing it again.

Toddstar: Well, we were able to talk about the Sons of Apollo project and cover that in-depth, but now the fun part man, the continuing legacy of Jeff Scott Soto, solo artist with Retribution.

Jeff: Yeah, try saying that five times fast.

Toddstar: Yeah, no shit. This is a definitely a continuation of everything you’ve ever done. It’s building on the past, it’s looking at the future, and it’s blending in the things you’ve done since your last album. What can you tell us about Retribution that some of the fans might not grab the first or second time through Jeff?

Jeff: Well, the idea of doing a solo album was discussed with Frontiers Music. First of all, I’ve been with the company for 15 years now, and this is the sixth album with them if I’m not mistaken. We were discussing about doing this at a later time. We had kind of a game plan of the next few years of what we were going to be doing together, and Retribution was actually supposed to be pushed to 2020. Yeah, because everything else that’s going on, because of Sons of Apollo, because of the album W.E.T., the project that just finished and is coming out early next year. And then we also have something planned for 2019. So there was not really any room within the months to squeeze out a solo album, so we were looking at 2020. But I kind of got a wake up call with everything that’s going on around me, with losing both my brother and David Z, my bass player from the band Soto, and the creator/founder of Trans-Siberian Orchestra Paul O’Neill, I kind of had an epiphany that I really didn’t want to wait. Why wait to do anything anymore when you can do it now, is kind of what slapped me in the face. And I went to Frontiers and I said, “Listen. I’d really like to do this thing now. I know it’s kind of late in the game. Can we push for getting this album released this year in 2017? It’s been five years since the last solo record, and I really think I’d like to get this done and out now because I just feel I should be doing this right now.” And they’ve always been very, very accommodating with me as far as when I get a feeling, or I want to try something new and different. And they basically followed … They said yes. Then it was the scramble of getting everything coordinated and sorted in between all the scheduling of everybody, between my scheduling and of course Sons of Apollo. It was a mad rush, but we pulled it off, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to get this album, especially at the tail-end of the year, it’s near my birthday. Everything about it just worked out so perfectly.

Toddstar: You used the word rushed several times, but listening through this album, it’s solid, it’s strong. It’s not like it’s something that was kind of cobbled together. This is a solid Jeff Scott Soto effort. How were you able to take something where you’re saying you were rushed, you wanted to push this through, without making it sound like a bunch of demos that you just wanted to release?

Jeff: Well, I wasn’t rushed in that sense. With anything I do, the music pretty much just writes itself. Because, first of all, musically I’m not someone that sits down with the guitar or the piano and comes up with an entire album worth of material. If I did that, it’d take me about ten years to do a great record. And even my first album I did with Frontiers, Prism, which was a culmination of a lot of songs through the years that never got released. I did write them myself, but I really went back to literally demos that were when I was 16 years old that I had written, and just kind of restructured something that was already there. These songs were all brand new and written by Howie Simon. Well not brand new, he’d written a few of these demos that just never got completed. And then the rest were completed together as a duo. But when Howie gives me something that’s already complete from soup to nuts, it writes itself. All I got to do is hear the music, I already know what the melody’s going to sing, and then that dictates what the lyric’s going to be about. It kind of just all comes hand in hand. The same with Sons of Apollo. When they send me a piece of music, it just starts flowing out of where it doesn’t feel like, “Hmm, I better chisel this and work on that and study this.” It doesn’t happen that way, 90 percent of what you hear on the final recording is exactly what I came up with when first started just like jotting ideas down. I don’t like to overthink things. I don’t like to over-process the idea of songwriting, for better or worse. I don’t know if that makes me a great songwriter or crappy one. In the end, that’s what works for me. It seems to have done alright for myself, and I just like doing that method. So therefore, I didn’t feel it was rushed in that sense. The only thing that was rushed is making sure that the scheduling of everybody that had to be on it or to complete it, the mixes and all that, that’s kind of what we had to scramble and make sure all the details fell into place.

Toddstar: Got it. Well you say one way or another it’s who you are as a writer and a performer, but you can’t argue with a career that spans more than 30 years. I mean you’ve been doing this over three decades, not to make sound or feel old this morning Jeff, but you’ve been doing this a long time and your fans have stuck with you that long, so you’re obviously doing something right from a lyrical standpoint.

Jeff: Right. And I see it this way, I mean these are all personal statements, whether I’m writing about myself or somebody else, or even it’s just a fictional situation. The bottom line is, there could be the argument of if you spent a little more time on honing in your craft, and you might have some hit records under your belt. No, it doesn’t work that way. The hit records come from the people who are working them. It comes from the people behind the scenes that are either getting it to radio or not getting it to radio, or getting it to people’s hands or not getting it to people’s hands. It’s all a matter of the circumstances around me I can’t control. The songs themselves, that’s my personal statement, for better or worse, whether you like it or not. I feel they’re strong songs, and that’s up to the people that get them or don’t get them that are gonna decide that.

Toddstar: That’s so true, especially in this day and age. You mentioned these are personal statements, and they’re songs that jump up and grab me from the first time I hear them on this album. “Feels Like Forever” is just an amazing song, even though it’s a little more scaled back ballad-esque type song. But, on a personal note, “Song For Joey”. I remember reading before that it was something you were going to kind of keep to yourself, it was going to be your own personal thing. What made you change your mind and decide to share that with the world?

Jeff: Well, when we were looking at the sequencing of the album, as far as what kind of songs, up-tempo fast, medium tempo, kind of MOR middle of the road kind of things, I knew I wanted something that had… I wanted a ballad because my fans do expect that spectrum of me. And the label asked me, one of their favorite songs was on the Prism album, a song called “Holding On”, and they absolutely loved that song. They wanted me to write part two, like kind of the second cousin to it. And I was working on that, and that one actually seemed forced to me. I was trying to kind of do a part two to a song that just came naturally to me 20 years ago, when I wrote that song, actually even longer. And when I was working on that song, I went to “Song For Joey” going, that song reflects more of the mood and the vibe musically that I would like to put on the record. But because I already knew that that was not going to be a personal thing that I wanted to put out, I kind of went back to it and thought, “Why wouldn’t it be? Why shouldn’t I share this with the world? This is about a bond with my brother. This is about a sibling attachment, connection that a lot of people can relate to. A lot of people in the world can relate to it. And maybe it’s about me personally, but I think it’s about a lot of other people personally. And they should actually embrace the song, if not to remember that bond and hold onto it as long as they can while they still can.” And that’s kind of when I threw the idea that it had to be on the record.

Toddstar: I’m thankful it is because it’s a beautiful song, not only musically and the accompaniment, but the lyrical content and the way you deliver it. It grabs you, and it doesn’t let go. That’s why I wanted to make sure I brought attention to it, because some people might just pass it by when they don’t hear a screaming guitar or something.

Jeff: Right. And everything about it, even when the engineer was mixing it he said, “Man, can you redo the piano? I’m really having a hard time getting rich tones out of this.” And I go, “Dude, it’s not supposed to have rich tones. It’s supposed to sound gloomier and just more subtle. It’s not supposed to have a nice rich, Chicago piano ballad sound.” It’s supposed to give you a feeling of sadness when you hear those first notes ringing out.

Toddstar: And it definitely does that. Another song in my opinion, Jeff that kind of jumped out as being, I don’t want to use the word different because this is a very cohesive album, but just had a different flavor to me was “Reign Again”. And I don’t know if it’s because Howie didn’t play guitar and bass on this one, you brought in other guys. What’s it about “Reign Again” that some people may be able to pick up on different other than maybe some guitar tones?

Jeff: Well, aside of the fact that I didn’t want to make this a melting pot of different artists and players like most of my solo albums are, it was agreed upon early on with Howie that he and I were going to do the bulk if not all of the record together. He had a bunch of material, and I felt he deserved it with the years that he put with me, that I wanted him to shine more as a partnership in terms of producing the record and writing the record with me. “Reign Again” was something I co-wrote with my buddy August Zadra, who sings and plays for Dennis DeYoung, and another buddy of ours Steven Stern. We have these little get-togethers, kind of like the girls’ night out, we do the boys’ night in, where we have a bunch of cold ones and we just sit back and we write songs. Or we’ll write a song, whether it’s good or not doesn’t matter, it’s just an excuse for us to hang out and jam. And “Reign Again” was one of those songs. We were just sitting around, and August came up with the basic riffs and we just kind of honed in on it together. We completed the song… I don’t think we even had any melodies or lyrics, it was more like humming along to pieces and bits that we kind of pieced together. And I came back to this song when we were putting the songs together for the album. I said, “Man I remember that tune. That would be great kind of MOR kind of song for the album,” because all the other stuff is kind of heavy. I don’t really have any poppy-sounding songs on the record, and this we could kind of beef up a little but it’s more on the poppier vain. I think that could be our middle-of-the-road tune. And I asked the guys not only if they’d want to actually be a part of it, but I actually had them play on their parts instead of just having Howie redo everything. So it was cool to get those guys on the record. August is singing background on that and a bunch of songs on the album. It’s just great to have that connection with other writers, and something that just we were farting around and it actually ended up on the record, it’s pretty cool.

Toddstar: That’s cool. You mentioned Howie and the years you guys have spent together, and actually drummer Edu Cominato. He’s been with you a long time as well. What’s it about your different projects, bands, again I hate to use project now especially because of the Sons of Apollo, but the different things you’ve done through the years. When you maybe weren’t treated as loyally as you should’ve been in certain situations, what is it about those experiences helped you align with guys like Howie and Edu where you feel that loyalty to make sure they’re included?

Jeff: Well, Edu came into the picture for this album because again with the timing that we’ve already discussed, we could’ve gotten somebody locally here in L.A. to kind of work things out with us, hired the studio, and do everything the traditional way. But working with Edu, he thinks the way I do when I write a song. He plays a song without me having me to dictate or ask him to, “Okay when you get to this, make sure it’s a half-time.” I don’t have to say a word to Edu, because as a songwriter himself, he kind of knows where the drums are supposed to set in. And I didn’t want to drag anybody from the band Soto into this album because I want that separation now. The guys in Soto were my backup band. They were the band that replaced the Howie Simon portion of my solo career. But now that we are a solid band unit, by dragging them back into my solo career, it would confuse people like, “Wait a minute. So Soto, is that a Jeff Scott Soto thing, or?” It’s just too much. But as far as the drums were concerned, I had to bring Edu because, not only for time, but I just knew he would do exactly what was needed for the record without any problems, without any going back, “Okay can you fix that?” It was so quick and easy for me because I just love working with the guy. He thinks the way I do. The loyalty certainly does come from the trust that I have in these people of what they’re giving me and what I hope they’re going to give me. I don’t have to think. It’s a no-brainer, just I let them go and they deliver, and that’s where the loyalty comes from. Just from the get, without even having to think about things.

Toddstar: That’s very cool. Jeff, looking at these songs, and again like you mentioned, several solo albums under your belt, which songs of these do you think align best with your solo career? Not necessarily your whole work product, but your solo career, not only historically but where you feel you are now?

Jeff: Out of these 11, it’s hard to say because when you write things with a fictional context, clearly you’re also tapping into… There’s got to be a reason why you’re writing about that. It’s not necessarily about you or about something that you’re in touch with, but like a song like “Retribution”. Everybody thinks I’m writing this about a vendetta with a past situation, whatever, that the lyrics of that and the actual title to the album have nothing to do with taking revenge on anybody or standing forth and saying I told you so. It has nothing to do with that, it’s just coincidence. But I totally connect to the lyrics on that front, because I have been in situations there. Man, that’s a tough question regarding this album because I connect to ones that I don’t have any real connection with almost as much as I connect to the ones that are directly about me, like a “Song For Joey”. So it’s a tough one to actually answer. I have to think about that one so I know how to answer it next time I’m asked.

Toddstar: Well, I’m glad I could forge some new territory.

Jeff: And I got to go with Mike Portnoy’s answer on that, you know. It depends on the day. It depends on the mood. I could listen to the album from soup to nuts and something will pop out at me that didn’t pop out before like, “Man, I’m so connected to that right now.” And then the next day or the next week, I’m connected to something else. So, it’s a tough one man.

Toddstar: Sure. And it’s so hard because you hear so many artists say, “How do you pick a favorite child?” And that’s why I try and figure out, not necessarily what’s your favorite, but which ones do you align with. Because, in my opinion, I have different songs of yours that stick with me just like you do. But looking back over your solo career Jeff, is there a song or two that still pumps you up when you hear it or when you know it’s coming up in a set list when you’re doing a solo gig?

Jeff: The answer to that is “Yes” with no actual clear answer. There’s so many I look forward to when we get to, whether it’s the beginning drums to “Stand Up”, the Rockstar, to when I’m doing one of the old Yngwie tunes, to when I’m doing one of the tunes from the first solo album. There’s just so many that just really stick out and pop, again it depends on the day. I look forward to certain level and certain aspects of the live set, because when we do the JSS think we really piece together something that we hope is going to be special to the people that are showing up. It’s not just a self-indulgent thing to try to sell records or try to push my solo albums, I really try to make it a timepiece of my entire career when we’re getting out there. So there’s no clear answer on that one, I just look forward to certain things all the time.

Toddstar: Jeff, when’s the last time you were star struck, and by who?

Jeff: Oh boy.  Star struck? It takes a lot for me to be star struck, especially after not only making acquaintance with so many of my favorite artists through the world, but man, that’s a tough one. I’m not that easily star struck. It’s also because you hear the phrase “don’t meet your heroes, because they’re usually going to let you down.” They’re usually not going to be what you hope or expected, and therefore I always meet my heroes or people that I really admire with a grain of salt. I’m always as level as I can because I’m waiting for them to completely disappoint me. And I think that’s why the star struck level just kind of pacified itself. But if I have to go back, probably 1999 when I first met Brian May. That’s probably the last time I was star- and awestruck that I was meeting one of my heroes, and played with. The night I met him I was actually on stage with him doing a few songs. And since then, we’ve become such good buddies. So again, I don’t go into a situation… If I met Paul McCartney or Prince or something like that, I probably would’ve met them under the same pretense.

Toddstar: If you’re going to consider yourself star struck, I guess Brian May’s as good as any.

Jeff: Exactly.

Toddstar: With this, and I know again in our discussion a couple weeks ago we discussed Sons Of Apollo taking a front seat for you for 2018. What are the options or chances as far as JSS stuff, especially here in the U.S., because you don’t often opportunity to get a whole lot of U.S. stuff surrounding your solo career?

Jeff: Yeah, at this point it doesn’t look very likely, only because Sons of Apollo will be consuming the majority of 2018. I’ve seen the tentative schedule, and I’m scared. It’s unbelievable. It looks amazing. As a singer I have to be careful, and I’m going to be careful, that I don’t overdo things. I don’t sell myself too short in the sense of when I should be resting I will be resting. I would love to be like Portnoy, and in between tours jump from one tour or jump from one gig to the next, but as a singer I have to be wary of that. And in between those legs I’m actually going to take that time to rest up because it will be a demanding set and I want to be on top of my game for every show. So, it’s probably unlikely I’ll be doing anything but Sons of Apollo live next year. The only other thing I think we’re going to be doing is working on a new Soto album in between the live dates, because I want to make attention that that band is not over by any stretch, and that’s as big a priority in my life as Sons of Apollo still.

Toddstar: Well, that’s the thing, you mentioned Portnoy, and he seems to be all over the place. He’s one of the busiest guys in music. And I feel you’re the same way because you’re always popping up. You mentioned a new project with W.E.T. as well. You essentially got three bands. W.E.T., this will be your third album, you’re looking at a third album from Soto. How do you not get burnt out on this Jeff?

Jeff: Well, first of all, W.E.T. is a project. Let’s not mince words there. That is a project. It’s not a band in the sense of touring and we get together and do the things that bands do. That’s why we only have a handful of dates under our belts to date. We’ve never actually done a tour together, because it’s three completely different bands that are just so busy all the time. And Eric is as bad as I am – Erik Mårtensson. He’s in several bands and he’s always producing and writing and jumping from one to the next. We’ve never tried to actually follow up as a band. So W.E.T. being just a release type of situation, I don’t have to worry that aspect getting in the way. But Soto is certainly a priority still, and again I really toward getting that aspect, especially because we lost David Z. We’re not really rushing into who’s going to replace him and how that’s all going to work out, but it was all agreed upon that we’re going to take a little bit of a hiatus because of the Sons of Apollo.

Toddstar: Let’s be honest, when it comes to David, there is no replacing David, there’s just getting another bass player.

Jeff: Right. And not really, because I don’t want whoever’s coming into the situation to feel that that is the situation. I want them to actually feel special. I want them to feel that they’re a part of something and that they are not replacing him, but they’re helping to continue and extend what he brought to the table. And that’s why it’s going to be a very important decision once we get there. It can’t just be somebody to fill the shoes and get the job done, it’s got to be somebody that’s going to be able to bring to the table the importance of everything that he was able to do.

Toddstar: Thank you for expanding on that, because that’s kind of where I was. David was a force to be reckoned with on a bass, that’s for damn sure.

Jeff: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more.

Toddstar: With everything you’ve got going on Jeff, with this album coming out, what’s your hope for the next phase for you? We talked again a couple weeks ago where you said you’re turning 50, you thought you were turning the corner as far as opportunities. And now you’ve got all this stuff being sprung upon you, and you’re getting resurgence at 50, which any artist would love to have. What’s still out there that you need to achieve for your own goals, for your own self?

Jeff: I’m already 50. I was talking about my 50s, I’ll be 52 on Saturday, so yeah. I just feel that with all the things that I’ve done in the past 30-plus years, or I guess 33 years now that I’ve been doing this professionally, I still feel a sense of I haven’t left the mark that I was born to leave yet. I haven’t hit that level or that stride. I haven’t achieved the level of a Foo Fighters or Metallica or U2, and those are the things as artists, that’s what we dream of. That is the goal. Obviously I’m nowhere even near that, I’m still struggling for people to even know who I am. I’m absolutely grateful of everything I’ve been able to pull off thus far, but there’s still that brass ring that I’m reaching for. And if I’m reaching for that brass ring means I have to just work my ass off and keep coming up with the best material of my life, that’s actually a good thing that I never reach that pinnacle. Because it just goes into the quality of what I’m doing, as opposed to just riding on the crest of my laurels. I never want to do that. I want to be able to always be reaching for the brass ring. And if I die where I’m still selling six-, 10,000 records each time out, so be it because at least I’m doing it at a level that I’m always pushing to strive for, that bigger picture.

Toddstar: So to you, is that the pinnacle, getting that brass ring, getting that multi-million selling album?

Jeff: Whether I get it or not, I think everything that I go for should be with that intent.

Toddstar: I agree. I wish as many people that I know could get out there and experience Jeff Scott Soto would, because they’d be enamored as I have been, as I’ve discussed with you at length in the past. Jeff, I know you’re a busy man. I want to cut you loose and let you do what you need to do, and I thank you again so much for the time. I thank you for Retribution. This is just another killer album in your legacy, and I can’t wait to see what comes of this. I can’t wait to see what comes of Sons of Apollo and the new album from W.E.T., and whatever you guys have hidden up your sleeves for 2019.

Jeff: Thank you so much man. It means a lot to me when I get to talk to especially people like you who are knowledgeable of a lot of the things that I’ve done. And it just gives me a chance to reflect instead of just talk about myself. So it’s a wonderful thing, and I couldn’t be more humbled to be able to still be able to doing this with people like yourself.

Toddstar: Awesome. Well again, thank you so much for your time Jeff, and we’ll see you out on the road in 2018 if not sooner.

Jeff: Sounds good brother. All the best.

JEFF SCOTT SOTO LINKS:

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INTERVIEW: JEFF SCOTT SOTO - November 2017

Filed Under: Interviews

About the Author: ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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