With almost 90 albums under his belt as a lead vocalist, along with numerous collaborations and recordings, Jeff Scot Soto is known for delivering top quality vocal performance in genres from Metal and Hard Rock to Progressive Rock and even Funk.
Soto’s first big break was joining virtuoso guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen for his debut album ‘Rising Force’ in 1984 and the follow up ‘Marching Out’ released a year later.
In more recent times, Soto has worked with bands such as Trans-Siberian Orchestra, W.E.T. and Sons Of Apollo, not forgetting his eleven month stint with Journey.
MetalTalk’s Kahmel Farahani sat down with Soto where he talks us through his impressive career.
MetalTalk: First of all, congratulations on your new album ‘Wide Awake (In My Dreamland)’ landing on the Billboard charts!
“It’s not too shabby! As far as the US is concerned and my solo career, it has been a 35 plus year work in progress. It truly is amazing. I guess for all intents and purposes I did start my career with an international artist and based on that my career has really grown outside of the US.
“The majority of the fans are in Europe and South America. In the US, it has been a challenge to get people really interested. I mean in the 60’s there was this handful of bands really tearing things up, by the 70’s it was a few hundred and by the 80’s it felt like thousands.
“Now there is probably hundreds of thousands of bands around the world and everyone is competing for the same small pockets of real-estate. So I’m just chugging away here and it really feels good to have that level of acceptance finally.”
It must be gratifying to see Hard Rock and particularly AOR and that type of music make a real comeback over recent years.
“Absolutely. It really is validation and a testament to this style of music, as you have seen. I mean trends come and go and I realised if I didn’t make it while this stuff is the most relevant, then it’s out the window…but you see this resurgence now.
“You see these young bands whose parents were listening to Def Leppard, Bon Jovi and Van Halen and you hear that influence coming through in young musicians. They are not necessarily recycling, they are using them as influences and doing their own style of music based on what we did 20 or 30 years ago.
“Even a band like Greta Van Fleet that took the whole 70’s thing…. I mean they were not even an image back then (laughs).
“But it is truly cool to see that it has not gone away and that there is still a demand for it and that even kids want to hear it from their peers.”
I think I saw Joe Elliot from Def Leppard say now they are playing to three generations of fans…
“Absolutely. That is one of the greatest things about a band like them or The Rolling Stones. They have got to the point where sometimes it is whole families going to their shows and not just other people their age.”
Can you walk us through your new solo album? Maybe a favourite song?
“Well my favourite… If I had to choose a favourite in the sense of one song that would represent the whole record? I was told by Frontiers that since we can not do a proper tour to promote the album right now with the current state of the world, I should just pick one song for a video. So that’s why I chose ‘Without You’.
“I thought it was a perfect blend of everything the album stands for, but more importantly, it is kind of a nod to one of the biggest influences in my life which is the band Queen.
“Absolute credit to my producer Alessandro Del Vecchio because he wrote all the music for starters. He came up with the blueprint of what we were going to do for this record and from that, he was mainly tapping into all the things he loves about my career and the things I have done over the years.
“And on ‘Without You’ it is laced with my love of Queen, which is really why I had to choose it as the video single.
“In general the song has an epic feel and if you listen to it as just a power ballad, I think you are just missing the boat entirely. When I first heard it I thought wow! This is like a movie soundtrack!”
You had the chance to sing with Brian May and Roger Taylor over the years – how has that been? I saw your lockdown video of ‘We Are The Champions’
“Well, I can’t take credit for that. When lockdown started Brian May just started posting guitar tracks for other musicians and basically saying take this, sing to it, play to it and send it to me. I was one of the singers in this all-star version of ‘Hammer To Fall’.
“So when he put out the ‘We Are The Champions’ basic track, I thought that was really sweet. Then I thought I’ve got to be involved in this (laughs).
“Just as I was about to lay some vocals on it a bass playing friend of mine down in Brazil did his version and it got a few hundred hits. So, I called him and asked if I could add my vocals to his version and re-release it and he goes “of course I don’t mind!” So then that went from a few hundred views to about two hundred thousand (laughs).
“Going back to your original comment I consider Brian and Roger friends. It is truly one of the perks in this business that, once people know who you are and respect who you are, the people from the posters on your wall become peers and even friends.
“So I have known Brian and Roger for over 20 years, we have collaborated on a few things and of course looking at the bigger picture, who would not want to front that band!
“I would have loved to. It didn’t happen, but I am still honoured whenever we get to just pall around and we do not have to worry about coughing on each-other (laughs).
“Their sound and everything that they stood for is just injected into my DNA.
“Between Freddy and Steve Perry, there is so much of those two guys flowing through me whenever I am singing or tying to create.
“Even on the live front I am so influenced by Freddy as a frontman and I do it without thinking.”
You have certainly kept busy over lockdown. You have recorded five albums in seven months?
“Yes, over five even. I would not say that they are full albums yet, but it’s over 100 songs easily, since I got home in March from the cancelled ‘Sons of Apollo’ tour.”
You’ve just finished a new W.E.T album too!
“Yeah ! You can call it ‘Wet’, that’s fine (laughs).
“We needed a band title when we started this and we couldn’t agree on anything so I just said “look, why don’t we just use an abbreviation of the three bands that make up the DNA of this one?”. So whenever somebody says W.E.T I go no it’s ‘Wet’!
“You can say it – it sound a little better than ‘Moist’ (laughs).”
The first single ‘Big Boys Don’t Cry’ just came out last week and it sounds great.
“Yeah I give a lot of credit in terms of the sound and how it has progressed over the years to Erik Mårtensson. He is just an incredible talent.
“He is not just a great singer and songwriter, he has also become this amazing engineer. He moved back to his family home town in Sweden and built his own incredible studio.
“The new W.E.T album is called ‘Retransmission’. We know what the fans who have been following us over the years have come to expect. It is basically our label chief’s idea to put us together and clearly there is a market for that sound, and we are fulfilling that, giving you what is expected of this band.”
You’re career in music has just entered its 36th year. Can we go all the way back to your work with Yngwie Malmsteen on Rising Force?
“Of course. It is funny to look back and try to recall what that was about. I mean we were all kids, even Yngwie was only around 21 or 22 when I joined him. I was only 18 when I joined! I turned 19 two months after I recorded the vocals for those two songs on his first album.
“I was just fresh out of high school and I did not really have a way to reflect and go “wow this is really happening”. But for the most part, it wasn’t the best time for me or even for the other guys in the band because we expected more growth as a band.
“I mean, we knew we were doing it for Yngwie’s career, we knew that, but we also thought it would turn into a situation we would all be able to grow from.
“Once we realized that wasn’t going to be the situation, that is what made me take off sooner than I would have wanted to.
“I would have loved to have stuck with Yngwie for many years and made Rising Force a band, even though it is his vehicle. It was unfortunate, but I learnt a lot, both the good and the bad and there was a lot to learn about the business.
“But it was my start and I did learn a lot and I grew a lot from it. And harnessed things that took me to the next level.”
When I saw Yngwie a few years ago it took me several songs to realize he had a live band with him, they were just tucked away on the side of the stage! How was it working with him?
“Well I have a quip about it, when people ask me how it was working with Yngwie, I say “I don’t know, because I only got to work for Yngwie”. It sounds more like sarcasm, but it is the truth.
“The bottom line was that he had his vision, which was great, we knew our roles in the band and why we were there but at some point you just realise “I’m not going to get what I need here in terms of my personal growth or noticing my contributions because it is all about him” – don’t expect anything more or less.
“If you are a musician that does not really care to be in the forefront, than that gig is perfect for you. I personally had higher goals and ambitions.
“That being said, there are many big artists out there that need accompaniment, but there is also a level of respect that they are given when they are doing what they are doing.”
How would you compare that that experience to singing with Axel Rudi Pell ?
“With Axel it was kind of the same. His music and his style is geared around him and his guitar and we were working for him just the same. I was able to work with Axel, which was the difference to working for Yngwie.
“With Axel, he wanted you to bring what you do and how you do it, as long as the end result was exactly what he wanted out of it (laughs). I’m not saying that to be smarmy, you just know what it is you are supposed to be doing and who you are doing it for.
“So when I am writing with him I know exactly what he is going for, therefore I got the praise for everything I brought to that picture.
“He is a gem of a human being, such a nice guy and very funny. We had some great times and I still consider him a very good friend.”
How did you come to join the Trans-Siberian Orchestra?
“I’ve been friends with Al Pitrelli who is a musical director of TSO and we have know each other since 1990. Because we lived on different coasts, we only saw each other during musical events like the NAMM show or whatever.
“It was literally a week after I got fired from Journey that I got a call from Al that Paul O’Neill was working on a new TSO album and my name came up as a vocalist. It became the album ‘Night Castle’ and I will never forget it.
“I had never met Paul before and did not know anything about him, but he flew me to Tampa and we met and then just sat in the studio for seven hours talking about life.
“We talked about the album and the characters and how they intertwined with events through history – he was just so intelligent and well versed in life. After seven hours of talking, I spent about 15 or 20 minutes tracking one of the songs and I got the gig based on that alone.
“We could have saved seven hours of talking, but because of that he put me in a place where I could truly understand what that band is about in terms of creating stories and images that people are able to draw from.
“They were all important things, because I never had that type of overview going into the studio and writing songs – it was a whole new thing for me and it has turned into a 13 year career with TSO.
“I’ve learned a lot and I miss Paul O’Neill so much.”
Can you tell us about the TSO gig at Wacken festival in 2015 with Savatage? Even by TSO’s standards that was incredible.
“Something that had never been done in Hard Rock festival history. Most of those big festivals have two stages, side by side…the only way I can truly define that moment is that I spoke about with Paul before the gig. It was a nerve wracking experience because they had never, ever, ever run both stages simultaneously.
“I mean the things we had to come with to stay in sync with one another and locked in.
“Even the question of power, I remember they said they did not have enough to power both stages, so Paul had to bring in extra generators on his own dime to make sure we could power both stages.
“Paul pulled me aside before the gig and told me “Jeff, remember this – remember when the last thing The Beatles did together was on top of that roof and they were basically playing until the cops shut them down. Nobody has ever done what we are about to do and any time somebody might try to do this again, people will remember TSO did it first. You are part of history”.
“It was absolutely amazing. Saying I am proud to have been a part of it is an understatement of how proud I am.”
I hope The Trans-Siberian Orchestra will continue on.
‘Yeah! There are no signs of it slowing down or going away. I mean I do not want to speak out of term, I think it is just about keeping Paul O’Neill’s dream alive.
“He put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this and when people thought he was crazy for wanting to do it, he still pulled it off. Now it is about preserving it and keeping it the way he envisioned it from the very beginning.”
Something I wanted to ask about was your brief time with Journey…
“It lasted eleven months – I joined in July 2006 and was fired in May of 2007.”
Was it because the Journey camp thought Steve Perry might come back?
“No, no on the contrary, there was never any talk or even an inkling of Steve Perry coming back. I think it is certainly a question they would need to be asked and they have been asked.
“Bottom line is their reply is it just did not work out, or I did not have the Journey ‘signature sound’ or whatever you want to call it.
“But that is not the real reason – there has got to be another reason, deep down only they know. I could not get it out of them. I wanted to be able to depart that situation as friends, colleagues and brothers and everything but unfortunately that was not to be and it is what it is.
“As far as I am concerned, I am beyond proud to be able to say I was the frontman for one of my favourite bands of all time, legends like Journey and even my eleven months there was incredible.
“To be honest with you, and it is something I have said and thought about a lot recently, had I not been fired, I think I would have been out of the band by now anyway, because I am going back to what I said about Yngwie Malmsteen.
“At some point I would realise I was cheating myself and I have so much more to say as an artist, and I would need to be doing more with my life as a musician, as a writer, as an artist.
“It is more than just collecting a pay-check or even really good money if it just becomes a cover band for me, because I would be singing somebody else’s legacy.”
Can you tell us about Son’s of Apollo and how things are going with them? I know your tour got cut short because of the pandemic.
“Well we have already rebooked the tour three times (laughs). We wanted to do more this year, because that was the first drop of dates just to kick start us and the momentum was building with this record. A lot of people were not sure if this was a band that was going to stick around and they made us earn it (laughs).
“So, we went out there and earned it and things were looking good and, knock on wood, we are going back out in April to continue building this brand, because we are not done by far.
“Again it is one of the unbelievable portions of my life and career that I am exceptionally proud to be a part of.
“The fact that Mike Portnoy saw it in me, that I was the frontman of this band without even auditioning me to see if I was the guy – he just hand selected me for this project.
“I have done everything and will continue to do everything, to show that was the right decision.”
Do you see it as a band that is going to keep growing and unfolding over the years and not just a supergroup for say three albums?
“We do not even see ourselves as a supergroup. We literally see ourselves as a band of musicians that have the same respect for each other and from that, we want to prove to the rest of the world that it is a real band and not a flash in the pan.”
Any parting messages for the fans?
“Thank you for hanging in there and I hope everybody is able to stay safe and I hope they are waiting for us to come back, because we will be coming back soon. Thank you for years of loyalty and giving me a platform to be able to do what I do for a living.”
Jeff Scott Soto – Wide Awake (In My Dreamland) – Frontiers Music
Words: Robert Adams
Working again with regular collaborator Alessandro Del Vecchio, Soto’s seventh solo release is a top drawer slice of driving Melodic Rock. The addition of guitarist Fabrizio Sgattoni is a great move, as his riffs and often shredding solo’s enhance the tracks, while giving Soto space to truly shine.
The opening one/two of ‘Someone To Love’ and ‘Mystified’ give fair warning of what to expect from this album. Instantly catchy riffs, melodic vocals and crystal clear production.
Maybe Soto’s vocal range is not quite what it used to be in his youth, but then again you can say that about 99% of all Rock vocalists. He certainly is not straining, but you sense that some parts are at the highest end of his range these days.
‘Paper Wings’ has a wonderful guitar riff and a vocal delivery to match, which more than proves that there is still much life in Jeff Scott Soto. Closing track ‘Desperate’ could have been Black Sabbath, had they chosen to go down a melodic Rock path and employed a frontman that could actually sing!
There is a bonus Live disc with this release as well, which is great value indeed. Ten tracks recorded at 2019’s Frontiers Music Festival in front of an adoring Italian crowd. This is the same festival that gave us label mate’s F.M.’s ‘The Italian Job”’ album.
The songs contained on the live disc cover most of Soto’s solo career and the perfomances from band and frontman are wonderful. ‘Drowning’ kicks off proceedings with fire and flair and the tempo rarely drops throughout this shortened version of the set he played that day.
Soto’s band for the Italian gig, which consists of Leo Mancini on guitar, BJ on bass and Edu Cominate behind the kit then set about ’21st Century’ and add some dirty guitar to it’s normal funky flavour and the result is wonderful.
Highlight of this disc for me is the brilliant unrehearsed version of ‘Stand Up’ from the movie ‘Rock Star’.
Soto literally plucks vocalist Dino Jeluski from labelmates Animal Drive and his sparring partner in Trans-Siberian Orchestra out of the crowd for an astonishing duet.
Jeff Scott Soto still has a lot to say and he always says it with style.