Waking Up in a Dreamland... Jeff Scott Soto Speaks Out.
Jeff Scott Soto certainly is no strange to the world of Hard Rock or even Metal. Having starting his successful career with 'Yngwie Malmseen' and moving on to other bands such as 'Talisman', 'Alex Rudi Pell', and in later years his solo career which is still going strong to this day.
Jeff is also known for his work in recent years with the likes of 'W.E.T.' and even 'Trans-Siberian Orchestra' and in modern days 'Son's of Apollo' they super group with Mike Portnoy, Derek Sherinian, Billy Sheehan and Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal.
I managed to have my 1st interview with Jeff only last week (Early November 2020) to talk about his life in various bands and project he has been involved with as well as his new solo album 'Wide Awake (in my Dreamland) which has just been released through Frontiers Records, and what a great new album this is. Here is what Jeff had to say.
Well Jeff it's an honour speaking to you finally, I hope you're well under the circumstances with the way the world is right now. I'd like to ask you how you became a singer and were there any members of you're family who inspired you?
"It's good to speak to you Jason, Yes it is tough times we are all going through at this moment in time but we have to be safe and make the most of what we can do. To answer you're question, my mother & father were both in a singing group together before I was born and I guess it is how they both met and when my mother had my brother I guess they pretty much decided not to carry on and decided to get jobs that would bring in some income. I do have musically family members but nobody really made a name for themselves within the musical field.
I was the only a name within the family in terms of music that people can hear. We always had a piano and I learnt to dabble on it and I would learn songs just by hearing them and I would find the notes and keys they were played in and I had no form of training. When I did take up training it made sense to me already having learnt some of the keys.
I started to play the guitar as well in junior high school just because I had friends that were playing so I would also dabble on the guitar too. When I started to get into Hard Rock music which is very guitar orientated I would want to know how to write and play the song on the guitar. So my skill are rather limited so that is why I use other musician's on my records."
So was the 1st song you learnt on the guitar 'Smoke on the Water', it seems the be the easiest song to learn on guitar.
"No it wasn't actually, I learnt to play 'You really got Me' the Van Halen version & 'Ain't talking about Love' were the 1st songs I learnt on guitar. Van Halen was the be all to end all for anyone who wanted to pick up the guitar."
As a singer growing up who inspired you to become a vocalist?
"Well it was one of those nature things were I didn't find music ..Music found me. When I was very young I loved Michael Jackson & the Jackson 5, this was my 1st ideal of becoming a vocalist. He was a kid that wasn't much older than me and became very successful at what he did. So I wanted to be a kid singer as well and be in a band and do this for a living, and if Michael could do than I will do it, and that is basically where it started from."
So Jeff what was the 1st band you were in before joining Yngwie Malmsteen?
"Well the 1st original band I was in were called 'Phase' when I was 14 and but the proper band I was in were called 'Kaman Pin' and they were originally in the same city that I live in now in Agora California and then exit on the freeway where I get off is called Caman Road believe it or not (laughing). We did a demo with this band and I sent it to Yngwie and I was 16 and oh boy do I sound 16 (laughing). I couldn't believe that Yngwie actually hired me after hearing that demo.
The 'Rising Force' album that you appeared on wasn't it suppose to of been a whole instrumental to start with before you sang on it?
"Well actually Yngwie was suppose to of sang on the debut album and that is why there only 2 songs with vocals. It was literality the whole weekend that I got into the band as the lead singer and the rest of the band cornered Yngwie and said they should have me sing on the album or at least 2 songs.
Yngwie said they had no time for me to do the vocals as he was going to sing on the record and they had to mix it. So the band went to my defense and Yngwie said I had to leant 2 songs before the end of the weekend so see if I was suitable for the album and he said if I was good enough for the album he would use them on the record.
I guess I blow him away and was good enough to have the 2 songs on the record. "
So from the 'Marching Out' album which songs do you like the most?
"Well you think the obvious choices would be 'I am a Viking' because which kind of my mantro in terms of what people love and remember me from that record but my favourite songs on that record are 'Don't let it End', because it started out as a ballad but soon picks up into a power rock song. I also like 'On the run Again' that I wrote all the lyrics and melodies too 100% and the others that I contributed lyrics too either Yngwie had a hand in it or contributed too like 'I'll see the light Tonight', he gave me the title of the song and I wrote all the lyrics to it and he got 50% of the lyric credit for giving me the title. Also the song 'Don't let it End' he gave me the title of the song but I wrote all the lyrics and melodies but he would come up with more variations to make it suit him but they were my standout ones because he just let me be me on those songs."
I remember watching the video back in the day for the song 'I'll see the light Tonight', that you sang on but it wasn't actually you in the video, it was Mark Boals.
"Yes you are right it was Mark Boals in the video and the reason why Mark did the video was because I left the band 3 months before they shot that video but they only had the vocal version of me singing that song to this date, so they put Mark on the video and they wanted to get Mark doing the vocals but they had no intensions of doing that. To this day Mark has to live with that to this day miming to my voice (laughing).
Did Yngwie ever ask you back into the band any time after you did those albums?
"Yes there were a few near misses and the 1st one I did come back and it was for the 'Trilogy' tour which was the 1st official tour that Mark did and they were having issue whatever they maybe and Yngwie asked if I would come and finish the tour they were doing. At that time I was putting a new band together but I wasn't that busy so I said I would help out. I later on helped in 87, 88, 89 and even 90 there were a few times where I would do down to Miami and we would talk about me rejoining the band. Even in the 90's there was an opportunity were they wanted me to tour with them again but it never happened."
After leaving Yngwie you did those 'Talisman' albums, what a great band especially the debut album that to me was an awesome album.
"Well thank you for that, when Marcel Jacob left John Norum on his solo debut album and he co-wrote all the songs on that album and even tour with him they were discussing doing the 2nd album and Marcel wrote a bunch of songs that were meant to be on John's 2nd album but they had a fall out. So Marcel gave me a call and asked if I wanted sing on it as it was going to be a solo album for Marcel in the end. So it was really me helping out a friend back then of songs that he had written and get them out there. It turned out to be one of the longest lasting bands I had been in. We did not go into it thinking would be so successful and we would be touring and making more albums."
Marcel is one hell of a underrated bass players, I bet you surely do miss him.
"God yeah I do, he was a great musician and song writer. He gave from that School of Steve Harris, Billy Sheehan were the bass was a major instrument up front and he made that quite clear in his song writing. A pure genius."
Looking back at the Talisman albums, which is you're favourite and why?
"Well I would say my favourite album would be 'Humanimal' and if nobody had heard the band before I would suggest they go and buy this album 1st, because I think that album has more diversity than any other albums we had done. I just felt that album has everything that I wanted people to hear. (Ed: you did that album as a 2 part release, why was that?) Well the whole album was done as one album which was released in 1994 and as we had so many songs we narrowed it down to what the release was going to be.
We thought we would use the other songs in the near future but the Japanese label decided to release their own version of the album and they chose songs that on the Japanese version were very different from the version we had in Europe, which included songs that were not released on the European version.
So we thought that we should balance it out as it was very confusing we decided release the album as a part.2 with all the remaining songs so the fans in Europe didn't feel cheated. So the Japanese company said they would have to release a Part 2 as well so it became confusing but we got there in the end (laughing). We got blamed for it been a money grabbing release and all we were trying to do is be fair to our fans."
Talking of Talisman, you cover the song by Seal 'Crazy' on the 'Life' album, did Seal ever hear it? I love it you did a great version.
"Well thanks again, not a lot of people know this but I came from a very big Soul, and R&B background. The idea came from Marcel he loved the idea to record that song and he kept hearing in his head a super Rock version of that song. Strangely enough that song was in the charts around the world when we released our version of it. Another thing was strange to have it released when the original version is still in the charts.
I was lucky enough to meet him backstage and a 'Jay Reynolds' show and a friend of mine told me Seal was performing on the show, so would I come watch the show and he would bring me backstage to meet him and I remember distinctly handing him a cassette and one of his cronies grabbed the cassette from him and said 'You can't give us some unlisted material' because the artist get sued for letting them do covers of the song. I had to remind the guy it was a cover of his song and you can give Seal the tape."
During Talisman you joined Alex Rudi Pell bands and recorded 5 albums with him what good memories do you have working with him? He always looks so miserable never smiles.
"Alex is one of the nicest & funniest guys you could ever meet. I make no bones about it and I have said this in the past and Alex knows this but his music wasn't really my cup of tea to do a s a full time thing, and I loved the music and loved working with him but it wasn't something I was going to leave behind for.
He was the marquee artist and everything I did had to fit and be molded around him and what he wanted to do. I had a lot of fun and liked to collaborate with him and in the end I was only contribute to his career. The same could be said about Yngwie, and also Journey were I was doing somebody else's legacy and in the end at some point I had to think about my own career."
You also did albums with 'Takara' please tell me more.
"Well that was something that I really wasn't involved with full time. There wasn't a situation were I was the singer with 'Takara' and helped out the guitar player Neil Grusky who was the founder of the band and I had competed the demos for the 1st album and I had a bunch of songs that I did and Yngwie was one of his favourite guitar players but he was writing in a very melodic rock style and he loved my contributions to writing his songs. From that he got an interest form a label to sign the band once they had found a singer. They had a singer who re did the songs and they didn't like what he had done and so they would only release it if I was to sing on the album.
So he came to me with a proposal but I told him I didn't want people to think I was in this band. It had to be worded properly that I was just a guest singer on the album and that is what we did and they signed to Now & Then Records in England."
Moving on you did albums with 'Human Clay', please tell me more about this band.
"That was a band that had a lot of Talisman material which was left over and or was never completed or songs that were not strong enough for the Talisman albums. When Talisman were taking a break Marcel just revisited a bunch of old demos and he said why don't we do something to show that we are still working together, but not to put them out as Talisman but to call the band 'Human Clay'."
Jeff you also went on with 'Humananimal' as a band as well, please explain the idea behind that?
"Well Humananimal was suppose to be studio project only with a one time shot and Marcel and Pontus Norgren (Hammerfall) collaborating and I was only suppose to sing 3 -4 songs on that record and other singers on that record and for whatever reason the other singers dropped out and my songs started to ad up and I sang the entire record. We never meant for it to be a proper band and it was like I said a project for Marcel and Pontus."
Other bands or projects you have been involved with like 'Soul SirUS' & 'Redlist', are bands I have never heard please explain them to me.
"Well 'Soul SirkUS' was the band I started with Neil Schon from Journey and it was an extension he had with Sammy Hagar called 'Planet Us' when Sammy went back to Van Halen in 2004 they had new song they had wrote for a new band and I met Neil and we finished this record called 'World Play'. We only did one album because of Neil's busy schedule with Journey and a lot of people were not that interested in the band like they were with Journey.
With 'Redlist' that was a reinvention and I was trying to get back into the music industry and I didn't not want to come back just as Jeff Scott Soto. I went in as the whole 'Prince' as I was going to change my name and image and do something completely different music wise. If you didn't know it was me you wouldn't think I could do this type of thing. I started to collaborate with 2 guys from New York that were writing modern metal and would mix with Rap and more contemporary with anything else I had done in my career."
Next came Swedish act 'W.E.T.', tell me how you became part of this band?
"Well we are recording album number 4 right now, which will be out in January 2021 and called 'Retransmission' which will be released also on Frontiers Records. It is 3 band members doing a project that have collaborated songs together and it is something that fans want to hear so we have carried own writing songs together. "
I didn't realize that you were also in 'Trans-Siberian Orchestra' when did you get involved with that band?
"Yes I have been involved with them since 2009 and like all bands we had our tours pulled this year and so we are doing a live stream so people can watch it online."
What was it like doing the sound track for the movie 'Rock Star', which we all know was originally about Tim Owens joining Judas Priest. How much fun did you have doing this?
"It was fantastic, I had know all 4 members of the band for a long time. I had know Zack Wylde and Jeff Pilson for a long time and I had met Jason Bonham here and there and having these guys as friends and to have my voice been cast was a fantastic thing. Thee was a discussion if the movie was going to be a hit to put 'Steel Dragon' on the road with the big contributing singers of the movie music."
Now let's talk about 'Sons of Apollo' how did you hook up with those guys?
"Well Mike, Billy and Derek had another band called 'PSMS' with Tony MacAlpine and they did a couple of instrumental albums I did a tour with 'The Winery Dogs' with band band 'Soto' in South America and I knew of Mike back then and we both knew of each others work with huge respect and I had known Billy for over 30 yrs and I had met Derek a few times but never met Bumblefoot.
It was through the shows I had done in South America that with the next 'PSMS' album they wanted to put vocals on it and Mike said he saw me on that tour and I was perfect for the album. You would be the singer for the album and without doing an audition or hearing the material I 100% said I was up for the job.
So fast forwarding when we were coming up for the bands name and putting the 1st album martial together they wanted somebody with a more Hard Rock presence for the album they Ron 'Bumblefoot', whereas Tony is a great classical jazz fusion guy Ron was more suited to play guitar in Sons of Apollo."
Out of the 2 albums that you have released so far which is you're favourite and why?
"That is an impossible question to answer, it is like every album I record at that time is my favourite release. I try to give every style a chance that I record and listen too. So not to have everything sound in the same format and there could never be the same record twice. It would have to be based on the style and group I was in at that time."
Was it difficult playing Progressive Rock/Metal for the 1st time?
"Not not at all, I absolutely love waving the flag of diversity and I also love to have so many different things under my belt and Sons of Apollo is no exception. I am in this band because they are allowing me to be who I am and in a situation where I am in that style of music. We all trust each other as we have all been around the block a few times and we all trust and respect one another."
Moving on now lets talk about you're new album 'Wide Awake (In My Dreamland), was it difficult using musicians from Europe to write the music for this album? Also why the title for the album?
"The music was written by keyboardist Alesandro Del Vecchio and he put the whole package together on that one. I trusted him 100% in finding the perfect musicians for the album as he is a fantastic writer, musician and producer and I knew I was good hands with him as I let him run the show sort of speak. I didn't know any of the musicians on the record except for the drummer who is my guy and his name is Edu Cominato and I wanted him to play on this record. He has been with my since 2012 and he plays with the JSS & 'Soto' band.
It was based on one of the song and lyrics and I came up with the title, and it was really reflecting on what we were going through in the world right now before Covid with all the social and political and religious divides around the world. When Covid hit the title couldn't of been more suitable for this album."
Where was the live recording for the 2nd disc recorded?
"It was done at the 'Frontiers' festival in Italy and as the show was so short we decided not to release it as a product on its own and it give it to the people who are buying the album."
Well Jeff thanks for the interview keep safe and I hope we get to meet one day. Do you have anything to say to you're fans reading this?
"Yes I am very happy with everything you have covered Jason, Be safe and to the fans thank you for you're support and for buying my records. I hope you like the new one and please be safe. See you on tour in the near future."
Thanks to Jeff for doing this interview and for been such a nice guy. Also thanks to Gary @ RedSands for setting this interview up.