INTERVIEW: JEFF SCOTT SOTO

"I don't like repeating myself and doing things I've already done. "


JSS talks about his new album, vocals, SOA, Journey and more in our latest interview.



Jeff Scott Soto has appeared as a vocalist on 85 albums along with numerous collaborations, from Yngwie to Sons of Apollo. Wide Awake (In My Dreamland) is the hard rock veteran's 7th official solo album. We chat with Jeff about his career and new album.




PG: You've got a new solo album out Wide Awake (In My Dreamland) tell us a bit about that.


JSS: It's my seventh solo album. It's one of the first times I've relinquished the overall control of an album, especially a solo album to one person, that's Alessandro Del Vecchio, my producer. Normally I'm very hands-on my records and creating the particular vision of what that album is going to be about. I use my solo career to try and not just repeat most of the things I've done in the business.


PG: What was it like working with Alessandro on the album?


JSS: This time around it was requested by Frontiers (record label) that I would collaborate with Alessandro. I've known him for about 15 years now, so I've been wanting to work with him for the longest time. What he's done for this record has been absolutely phenomenal. I entrusted him with coming up with the material and I entrusted him with the overall sound and direction; he came through with flying colours. He wrote all the music, I just did the lyrics and we created this great chemistry together for the record. For all intents and purposes, it sounds more like a wrap-up of my entire career. You have a little bit of everything from my life and my career through the past thirty-something years. That's probably the best way I can sum it up. It truly is a snapshot of the things people remember me for, without being a plagiaristic carbon copy.


PG: Was it difficult to let control go?


JSS: Initially yes, but only because I don't like repeating myself and doing things I've already done. My solo career has been more expressive in terms of spreading my wings.


PG: Would those be Paper Wings? * reference to a track from the new album, if you didn't know


JSS: (laughs) Nice one! In General, I like to expand a little more than the things I've already done. Through that, I want to be able to show the people that give me the opportunity to continue making music, that I've got more to say.


It all harks back, even when I was singing for Yngwie Malmsteen. When I left Yngwie's fold the first thing I did was start a band that was very much a cross between Prince and Van Halen. It was very funky, groovy, R & B based rock music, kind of like what Dan Reed and Extreme were doing, because I didn't want to go down in history as this metal screamer. I didn't want the world to just see me as such. Having been influenced by somebody like Freddie Mercury or Queen where they didn't have any moulds, they didn't have any barriers, they build their own castle, musically. They tapped into so many different things, so that was injected into my DNA early on. I wanted to be that kind of artist that could sing anything, do anything, but not make it sound like I was trying to chase any particular genre; just that I was able to harness those different genres and turn them into my own.


PG: You're far from a 'metal screamer', as you say. One thing that comes across in this album is the clarity of lyrics and vocals. Is that intentional?


JSS: In general everything has its moment for different approaches. The band Soto is a lot heavier and rough around the edges, this is why it's a separate entity to my solo albums. Soto is essentially meant to be a modern metal band and so I'm singing more aggressively, maybe with the same clarity - but maybe not as clean vocally. I get to use the grittier, heavier side of my voice for Soto and even Sons of Apollo, but for my solo albums, it depends on the song. I'm not going to use that gritty voice on a nice sultry ballad and vice versa, something that's a little heavier around the edges I'm going to give it more edge. Again that comes from the DNA of having Queen in me. Freddie could sing anything, from hard rock to metal, to blues, jazz, classical, pop, soul, R&B, funk, disco, you name it. I wanted to be as well rounded as he was and not a one-trick pony.


PG: I think you've certainly achieved that. Freddie was great, he was definitely a one-off.


JSS: Yeah absolutely, nobody will ever touch that. Anybody who influences sounds like Freddie to me is missing out and should go for their own deal, instead of trying to impersonate. Impersonation is great, it's a clever form of flattery, but you have to have your own voice and your own style and career. That's what I've tried to build. I've tried to take Freddie and Ronnie Dio and Bruce Dickinson and all these great singers and harness all of them.


PG: As you say, you can also turn on that harder edge of your voice, which is more of a gritty belt. How did that come about? And how did you develop that?


JSS: I have no clue whatsoever. When I open my mouth it just happens, it wasn't something that I was taught. A lot of it comes before when I was with the Yngwie and even when I was at high school. I was with Yngwie literally a year and four months after I graduated high school. I was still very young my voice was still developing but the style that I was able to bring into Yngwie was a true testament to the band I was in before. You could be in the top covers 40 band that was playing only the hard rock stuff that was happening. Scorpions, Quiet Riot, Rats, Motley Crue, Van Halen those were the bands of the day.


Some of the rock bands today are not at the arena level that those bands were at that time. So being in bands that covered all those songs and those styles, I threw myself into trying to sound like those singers. When I was in those bands doing those songs, it wasn't Jeff Scott Soto's voice singing. When I sang a Scorpion's song I did my best to sound like Klaus. When I sang a Kiss song I did my best to sound like Paul Stanley etc. I impersonated all these singers, so if they had aggressive voices I knew I had to put the grit in, and I found a way to do it. Taking all of those influences during that time I was able to harness that into whatever the song called for. If you gave me a hard rock or heavy metal song I knew how to incorporate those harder edges. Vice versa, if you gave me a Styx or Journey song, I was able to lighten it up and give you the cleaner version and what was necessary to sing those songs.


PG: When I first heard you sing, I wondered if you'd had any formal training, or been involved with rock operas or musical theatre like some other rock singers. Were you, or is that something you'd consider?


JSS: I'll give you a double answer to that. I absolutely detest musical theatre. I would never in a trillion years have been part of a Broadway musical. Having said that, I happen to be very influenced by bands like Styx and Queen who have that level of theatre behind the singing, behind the lyrics. So I had it naturally without knowing, maybe that's where that comes from. Of course, my time with Trans Siberian Orchestra opened up a whole new world for me vocally and expression that I didn't have before. I learnt it naturally without ever having that kind of training. It was essential to have that level behind you to be part of TSO, so I've since learnt how to harness it and how to use it in other things I'm doing, without being a Broadway fan.


PG: Vocals sounding real and not overworked is important for you – how does fit in with Sons of Apollo's prog technical precision?


JSS: The thing with Sons of Apollo is, when I'm singing they're pretty much keeping it straight for me. I'm not singing over all the proggy sections. They save all the crazy sections for when it's time to jam and do solos. When it's time for the vocals they keep it so that it's straight and what's necessary but for the songs, I guess so that it's commercially viable.


As it is heavier than my solo records, again I'm just harnessing all the influences of heavy music, of the different things that I hear when I hear that music. If they present a piece of music to me without vocals, that I need to fill in the gaps, I listen to it and say "this reminds me of this style, or this energy" and I'm able to draw from it. I love the challenges that I get from music, especially now in this day and age, when I've pretty much done it all, in terms of everything that I've set out to do. It's nice to see that there's still something left and that's what Sons of Apollo represents.


PG: You took part in the Queen Extravaganza. What was that like and how did that come about?


JSS: It was a lot of fun. I was called upon by Roger Taylor to be the hard rock representative of the band, because then when they started out there were four singers. Every singer had their speciality of what they brought to the situation. At the time they didn't see Mark Martell as someone that could carry the heavier side of Queen and that's where I stepped in.


I also realised that it wasn't something that I would be sticking though with for many years. It was a great thing to do and as they were continuing I had to go back to my masterplan.


The same goes for Journey. It's a shame I was fired and let go before I got to really leave my own personal mark with the band. I have to be honest, if they had not let me go and I continued with them, I probably would have been out of the band now anyway. I would have felt I was cheating myself out of my own personal career and the things that I want to say, do and achieve.


It worked out for both sides that I got to continue chasing my own rainbow, so to speak and they needed somebody to carry the torch that Steve Perry gave them. I wanted more than just getting a paycheque for singing somebody else's legacy.


PG: Did you feel you wouldn't be true to yourself if you had have stayed?


JSS: Who knows what would have happened had I continued with them and it had not ended the way it did. On a personal level, I feel that I would have lasted three or four years or gone the rest of my life and down in history as having people just know me for singing Steve Perry's music, I need more out of life.


There's clearly not much interest with me in this band as a singer and moving forward. It's not like the days where Bruce Dickenson replaced Paul Di Annio, or where Sammy Hagar replaced David Lee Roth, they are past that level, now they are a legacy band, people just want to hear the legacy songs.


It's understandable, I get it. In the early stages you go " what's wrong with people, how come they're not latching on?" But as a music fan myself, especially of several bands that had to make these changes, especially late in life, I do get it. When Kelly Hanson joined Foreigner I think he also realised he wasn't going to change the face of this band, all he was going to do was preserve it. He was fine with it, a lot of people are fine with that and are not going to move the band forward, they are just going to continue their legacy. I just think at some point it wouldn't have