Jeff Scott Soto on His Heavy New Album ‘Inside the Vertigo': Exclusive Interview
Jeff Scott Soto is a veteran vocalist that you've probably heard or come across at some point, even if you don’t know his music. Riding high on the personal lists of melodic rock fans for years through his associations with folks like Yngwie Malmsteen, Axel Rudi Pell and his own work, both solo and with the band Talisman, Soto has proven to be a powerful vocalist and performer over a career that's lasted more than 30 years.
Soto’s voice was heard on the big screen when he provided vocals for the fictional band Steel Dragon in the movie Rock Star and he developed alliances with the members of Queen as well as Neal Schon of Journey. The association with Schon, who Soto worked with in the band Soul Sirkus in the early ‘00s, would eventually lead him to a bigger gig --- taking on lead vocals for Journey at a moment’s notice in 2006 when vocalist Steve Augeri developed throat issues.
Soto stepped in and did an entire summer tour with the band, who were co-headlining dates with Def Leppard and he was eventually announced as their new vocalist, something which unfortunately was short lived. He and the band parted ways in the middle of 2007. Never one to stay idle long, Soto soon found himself working with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, officially signing on with the organization in 2008 and outside of his ongoing TSO commitments, he has continued to crank out an impressive amount of material on his own, both solo and in the group format.
His newest album Inside The Vertigo, to be released on May 12, was recorded with members of Soto's solo band and a collection of friends and additional special guests who pitched in on the songwriting and recording process. The project – which is credited as a band effort, and billed simply as SOTO – finds Jeff Scott Soto opening up a new chapter in his musical career, while making a conscious effort to push his music back in a heavier direction.
Ultimate Classic Rock will premiere the video for “Break” next week, just before the release of the new album. Today, we’re pleased to share a teaser video (embedded above) and a conversation with Soto, who provides some inside information on Inside The Vertigo.
I’ve seen this new album billed as your return to a heavier sound, which is interesting to me, because Damage Control wasn’t exactly a light record either.
I was heading back into that direction with Damage Control. Sadly, the record company that I did it with kind of stifled me from going any heavier than that. In fact, I had to kind of offset the heaviness with some of the more commercial stuff. You know, I basically wanted to make that album closer to what I did with Inside The Vertigo. Once I knew Inside The Vertigo wasn’t going to be on Frontiers, that’s when I really turned it up a notch.
You’ve made an awesome video for the song “Break." There’s 12 tracks on the new Inside The Vertigo album. What was it about this one that stuck out to you from your artistic perspective?
You know what, it’s the one that’s gotten the most favorable notice when I play the album for people – not only as a song, but as something that they could actually hear on the radio. I want people to hear the more aggressive side, so that way they can actually be convinced that the band is a heavier, more aggressive sounding band. But on the other hand, it’s got to be something kind of accessible. I don’t want it to scare off too many people.
You’ve made music in a lot of different configurations. Now, it’s simply SOTO for this album. That’s a very Van Halen-type naming move on your part, but knowing how you’ve done things in the past, I would guess that you might have had some pretty specific thinking in play in regards to framing it up that way.
Well, overall the album, because Damage Control was kind of heading in that direction, this was supposed to be the follow-up to Damage Control. It was supposed to be a heavier Jeff Scott Soto album. Midway through [the process], the manager I was working with at the time told me, “You know what, this doesn’t sound like a solo album. This sounds too band-driven. It sounds too band-oriented. I don’t know if I can sell this as a Jeff Scott Soto album. Especially since we have to go find a new label and such, I think we need to sell this as a band.” I said, “You’re absolutely right.”
But the only problem is that I have so many monikers, so many different names and projects out there from the past 30 years. I didn’t want yet another one thrown into the hat. So he said, “Why don’t you just simply call it after your last name, the way many have done it before in the past – you know, from Dokken to Winger to Dio to Van Halen to Daughtry. Therefore, the attention stays focused on you; everybody realizes this is your baby. But, overall, I have something more to brand it with. I can sell it as a brand new entity of Jeff Scott Soto, without selling it as a solo artist.” And I totally agreed. I thought that was a brilliant move on his part.
You’re from that era where you’re very familiar with the time where the guitar player, the vocalist or whoever, they had one band. And now, guys like you are working on a lot of different things. I wondered if it’s hard for you to keep things cohesive artistically for yourself for where you want to go with things.
Well, yeah, you know, I just had this conversation with Eddie Trunk the other day and a couple of other journalists who have brought it up. As a matter of fact, I’ve done the opposite of what a lot are doing now. A lot of the more established artists are starting to go the route of putting supergroups and side projects and side bands together, and kind of multi-tasking.
I already did that and I saw that it kind of bit me in the ass in the sense that I didn’t really have any continuity with my life and my career. But a lot of that, aside from the fact that I did it out of necessity, a lot of it came from the fact that I needed to be with people that I knew would and could grow with me musically and personally.
That’s a difficult thing, you know, your high school buddies or your first love or your first crush doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to have the same feel and the same continuity 20 or 30 years later. Now, a lot of bands are able to keep that continuity based on having early success. Me not having early success, kind of forced me to just keep moving along until I found that one niche.
One of those bands was Talisman, the band that I spent 19 years with until God rest his soul, my bass player [Marcel Jacob] took his own life almost six years ago. That was one situation I felt complete with. But I still wanted to challenge myself musically and I did explore other avenues and, like I said, I never really got that one band or that one thing to explode. So out of necessity, I had to make a living, but as well, it forced me to kind of channel and find myself musically.
You’ve alluded to darkness and anger that kind of drove the material on this record.
Yeah, overall, I mean, it’s not a secret to anybody who has followed what’s been happening in the past eight or nine years of my life. Outside of what I just mentioned, losing one of my best friends to suicide, I went through a pretty bad divorce that virtually left me penniless. I mean, I literally had a thousand dollars in the bank to start my life over with quite a few years ago. Between that bitterness and that sort of anger of losing my best friend and that and obviously the Journey situation – it’s not a pretty situation overall.
I didn’t have too much positivity in me personally. I was kind of masking it with the other things that I was doing with other bands. But inside, it was so bottled up and I needed to get it out. It was more of a therapy type of thing and musically, I thought that was the best way to do it. I’m not going to go see a shrink. I’m not going to sit there and chew my friends’ ears off with issues and problems.
So, instead, I put it in the music and I tried to make it identifiable with other things that people go through in life. Because everybody has their ups and downs. We all do. It’s a natural progression in life, or digression. If I can even help one other person in getting that therapeutic side through music, then I’ve done my job.
Where did the idea to write with an assortment of folks come in?
Again, that came from the fact that it was supposed to be a solo album in the beginning. So I put the feelers out to my famous friends – peers and colleagues, people that I’ve respected and wanted to work with for a long time, with others that I’ve already worked with that I knew would be able to help me hone in on the direction that I wanted to head with this album. That’s how it started. I immediately went to Mike Orlando from Adrenaline Mob; and to Gus G, because I’d already been working with him on a song for his solo album; Joel Hoekstra; Jason Bieler, who’s a longtime colleague and friend of mine from Saigon Kick. These guys I knew had the tools and the ammunition that I needed, without me actually having to tell them what I want. They were able to kind of read my mind, send me something – and BOOM, it was magic. The same goes for the other songs that I collaborated with others on.
Midway through the actual album, that’s when we decided it was going to be a band album, that’s why I made sure the other guys were collaborating with me. Because the guys in SOTO now were my touring band. They had been touring with me for the past six years and I have such an amazing chemistry with them. They immediately said yes to forming this as a unit and continuing with me.
“Karma’s Kiss,” the track you worked on with Jason Bieler, reminded me in all of the best ways possible, of the types of grooves that you might hear in a King’s X song. I love the groove on that one.
Well, you know what, Saigon Kick used to get a little bit of that in the sense of the comparison. When I first heard the song, naturally, I’m such a huge fan of Jason’s writing and Saigon Kick’s music that it was a no-brainer when I was writing the melodies. I didn’t even think about it, the melodies just came out the way it did and to me, it sounds like a collaboration of the Saigon Kick/Alice in Chains kind of vibe – and I didn’t intentionally go for that, it just kind of spilled out of me that way.
There are some really interesting sounds and manipulation happening on this album. “The Fall” is one track that sticks out as an example. What kind of stuff was driving how you were hearing these songs sonically in your head?
I wanted some of the album to have a more modern feel to it, a more modern vibe. And a lot of that does come from the production. You can have a pretty heavy rocking song, but unless you have synths and loops and crazy little sound effects going underneath – those are the little elements that modernize it, so to speak. Obviously, that song was driven to be that way based on sonically the way it was coming about.
So, I just let the guy that was co-writing with me – he’s a young guy [Tony Dickinson] who is part of the TSO organization. He’s a really talented bass player, but he’s also a multi-instrumentalist. I just let him go with it, with all of the creativity of all of the bells and whistles that came along in that song.
Which track does Joel Hoekstra play on on this record?
Joel actually co-wrote two songs with me that didn’t make the album. Because I had too many in the end and when we were doing the final sequencing of the album, the powers that decide these final decisions thought that those two songs would be better suited later for a deluxe edition of the album, should we get to that point. Those two songs will eventually see the light of day, but unfortunately they didn’t make the album.
Joel is a workhorse of a guy like you.
[Laughs.] Joel’s amazing. I’m always working with him in some capacity or another. We’re currently doing something right now that I can’t really speak of. I’ll let him get to that point when he’s ready to discuss it.
What else is coming up for you, beyond this and your activities with TSO?
I’ve already got the guys churning out new ideas. We’re going to get a new SOTO album in the can before the end of the year, because I don’t want to take any breaks in between. We’re still a week away from this album coming out in the U.S. and I want to get the other one in the can by the end of the year, because I just want to keep this machine running. I don’t want to rest on my own laurels.
I want to keep working and I want to keep this whole thing running and as soon as this one peters out, after we’ve toured and everything – which we are planning a tour later this year before I go out with TSO – I want the next album to be out so we can just get ready to turn it around in 2016.
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