Healed And Stronger Than Ever
It seems that singer Jeff Scott Soto never leans backwards for a minute, on the contrary, when is this guy having vacation at all? Since his career took off during the mid 80s as frontman of Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force, Jeff Scott Soto has been working nonstop, touring and recording with many bands and artists, being part of the very successful Trans-Siberian Orchestra [TSO] and the super group Sons Of Apollo, as well as presenting himself as a solo artist. In 2015 the energetic powerhouse formed his band SOTO, featuring guitarist Jorge Salan, keyboard player/guitarist BJ, drummer Edu Cominato and bass player David Zablidowsky, to express his more heavy side and released the debut `Inside The Vertigo’. A year later the second album `DIVAK’ was launched and SOTO hit the road for a while. It was 14th July 2017 a horrible turn of event happened. SOTO bass player David Z got killed in a deadly accident while he was touring with his other band Adrenaline Mob. His SOTO band mates took their time to mourn and heal, but now seem to be ready to move on by releasing the new third album `Origami’. HeadBangers LifeStyle’s Liselotte `Lilo’ Hegt talks with Jeff Scott Soto to get fully updated.
,,We knew it was time to get back to work but we also kept in mind that we’re going to keep David’s memory alive’’–Jeff Scott Soto
First of all, as a band, how do you overcome such loss and move on?
,,It’s really no different than anything else in life, when you loose a family member, people who are close to you or even when you loose a pet. You have your time to mourn, you have your time to remember and to reflect and then you have to pick up, you have to stand up and continue. Life continues and you have to find your way basically. That’s what we did. We knew it was time to get back to work but we also kept in mind that we’re going to keep David’s memory alive and he will always be a part of everything we do. We made sure his family was aware of that and this album is the beginning of showing exactly that.’’
When felt the time was right to start working on a follow up of the last album `DIVAK’ ?
,,It was just by luck that I had the entire year off with Sons Of Apollo last year because I spent 7 months on the road with them and then immediately had to dive into 2 months on the road with TSO, so there was no real time to sit back and think about when we’re going to do it. Time basically just caught up to us: It is time to get back to work, it is time to start thinking about the future and putting this thing back together. But it was also because the fact that Inside Out Music, the same label as Sons Of Apollo, came to the table with a deal for us. It was definitely time to start focusing on a new record and focusing on moving forward without David. We just got lucky in the fact we had Tony [Dickinson] and Tony was willing to step in and he wanted to step in so everything just kind of fell into place without us really thinking about it. So once we had the deal set I told everybody start writing, start getting everything in gear because now this album counts even more. This album has to really step up and stand out, so everybody got to writing. We got our other partners that we co-write with, we got them all in line and the music just started poring out. I latterly was getting ideas from the guys as I was finishing the Sons Of Apollo tour, as well as when I was out with TSO. They just sent tons of songs [laughing], it was great. We had over 25 songs to choose from and then it was my choice to start whittling them down to the ones we would actually complete. Out of those we got 12 master pieces and there you go, you’ve got 12 completed songs. Yeah the deal was a kick in the ass for us, it was time for us to get moving [laughing].’’
How would you like to introduce Tony Dickson?
,,Tony has been part of SOTO since the very beginning actually. Tony wrote the first single from the first album for me when I even didn’t know this was going to be a band or that it was going to be SOTO. `Inside The Vertigo’ was supposed to be another solo record for me. I was gathering material and I met Tony through the TSO organisation. I loved that he was young and he had a lot of modern contemporary fresh sounding ideas. He wrote a song called ,,The Fall’’ for the first album that I used. I loved working with him so much, he wrote the first single of the second album `DIVAK’, called ,,FreakShow’’. Already having worked with him, he is so talented, he is so nice and easy to get along with, it was a no-brainer. Even when David was alive and having to learn Tony’s parts for the live shows, because we kept Tony’s original bass lines when he submitted those songs, David didn’t redo them. I remember David saying “Oh my god I think this guy did this on purpose, he plays these crazy insane bass lines to test me to see if I can actually pull it off.” Even he tested to the fact that Tony was just ridiculously talented and it was just a perfect fit. It was a matter of if he is interested, he would be the only one I can think about that would be able to step in for David. Even though David is absolutely irreplaceable in the sense of his personality, his stage performance and the whole brotherhood factor, that is absolutely impossible to replace, but as a musician we knew Tony would be the perfect candidate for that.’’
Why didn’t Tony become your permanent bass player back in the day?
,,I met Tony way after I already knew David. David came into the picture and joined the vault when it still was the JSS band, when it was just my hired touring band. When SOTO became a band everybody basically just stepped up from already being there from the years of touring with me. It was just a natural progressing turning into a band together. I wasn’t looking, I knew this had to be a band and I said if you guys want to do this as a band, as an equal partnership, that’s probably going to mean less money for you because we are going to start from scratch. Of course they wanted to go with me and that’s how we continue now. As soon as Tony stepped in we made him an equal partner and a member of the band. In the studio he produced with me, he wrote a lot of stuff, helped me arrange a lot of things, he is just an amazing talent. I rely on him so much for many things and together with Edu [Cominato] my drummer who also co-produced the album, I really couldn’t have done it without these guys. They are absolutely irreplaceable.’’
What was the creative starting point for `Origami’?
,,We already had two songs. We released ,,Give In To Me’’ in 2016 and it was actually David’s idea to do this cover of Michael Jackson, as he was a huge Michael Jackson fan. He knew SOTO would be able to turn that into a SOTO vehicle and it was not necessary to re-make it. When we were on tour in 2017 Edu and David, at the back of the bus, wrote a new song called ,,Detonate’’. They wrote the music and they gave me the lyrics. When we were finishing that tour I was already working on Sons Of Apollo material by then, but when they gave me this tune I was like OMG this is going to be great for our next album. Once we got home from that tour I finished that song, little did we know that we would never get to properly record this song with David because it was only a few months after that we lost him. It was from those original bass tracks that he laid down in the back of the bus, that I sculpted them out and listened to them carefully. They sounded good enough that we could actually use them and resurrect them and build the entire track around David. That way we could immortalize him on the record and we could show the world that he’s absolutely not going to be forgotten any time soon. It’s strange because I remember when Queen released the album `Made in Heaven’, it was exactly the same thing, well only Freddie knew he was going and said to the guys that he wanted to work as much as possible, as much as his body allowed him and they got a lot of material out of him as much as they could to complete a final record with Freddie. I wish like hell that we had the same circumstance. I wish we had an entire album worth of material, then we could have done a kind of a tribute to David but unfortunately that was the only song that we had and we made the most of it.’’
,,I put that melody behind the muscle and there is no exception for this album’’–Jeff Scott Soto
What do you consider as the main musical essence of `Origami’, also comparing it to the previous two albums?
,,I don’t know. It is always difficult to put those things in perspective because you kind of have your own feeling about them and maybe they don’t necessarily match with someone else’s perception. I personally feel like, without sounding cliché, this is the best album we’ve done. I think it is the strongest material wise, I think it is the strongest in presenting us as a band in exactly what we were going for and what we want out of this. Unfortunately it took us three albums to get to that feeling. It took us that many years to kind of find our niche and to kind of realize exactly what we want out of this band and we accomplished that with `Origami’.’’
What is it exactly that you are going for?
,,We want to create something fresh, something that has a little bit of classic rock, mixed in with contemporary, mixed in with modern, mixed in with metal. I try to take all the things that people try to classify me as an artist and put them all into this SOTO album. Because no matter how heavy it is, and it is much heavier than our first two albums, I think in certain respect, no matter how heavy it becomes it’s still melodic. I put that melody behind the muscle and there is no exception for this album. A song like ,,Origami’’ for instance is one of the most blistering tracks I’ve done in a long time, but you can sing-along to it. It’s got a melody behind it that’s still undeniable; it’s got the hook and everything. So it’s not just heavy music just to try to be heavy. It has all those elements. And I want the same thing that anybody else wants. I want the world to be able to share my vision and our vision. I want to be able to play the packed houses that know the songs and can party and celebrate this music with us. That’s the ultimate goal for any artist. Nobody wants to play to empty houses [laughing]. As an artist you want to share your art with the rest of the world but you also want the rest of the world to kind of understand what you are doing. And the only way to do that is to truly listen to the records and absorb everything that we set out to do. ‘’
Can you say something about the overall lyrical topics on `Origami’?
,,The first two albums, especially our debut, there was more anxiety involved, more like personal anger. I kind of had a few issues that I had to get off my shoulder. For `Origami’ there’s enough anxiety, there’s enough problems going on around the world that I just kind of presenting and reminding the world that we are all in this together. We are all dealing with our own level of shit that’s going on around the world. The lyrics on this album are my observation on what’s going on around the world. Especially here in the US with the division of the people with politics, religion and racism. But on every song, especially since the last 15 years, I literally go into every lyric with a double entendre. Every lyric you can either equate to a personal relationship or you can go identify them as something that has to do with life or something dealing with a boss, or your president, or dealing with someone you just met at a supermarket. So you can have two completely different ways of looking at the songs and I never like to tell the audience exactly what I wrote about because I’d rather have them to make up their own ideas. The same way is when an author writes a book and the reader is reading that book and they get their own mental images of what that book is about. That’s what I like to do with my lyrics.’’
The first pressing of `Origami’ has the bonus track ,,KMAG’’. What is that song about?
,,Yeah it’s actually called ,,Kiss My Ass Goodbye’’ but we abbreviated it so we don’t have to worry about people getting offended when they see the cover. To us a bonus track is not a throwaway song or not strong enough for an album. We take a song that is really strong and something that should be heard and put it as a bonus track so people say damn that should be on the record! This song actually has a very Talisman kind of vibe to it, when Talisman kind of went the heavier direction. I love the song itself. I just like the way it flows the way it does on the songs we choose for the final ten. Then when you pop this one at the end it truly finalizes the record. To be honest with you we have 12 songs in total, there is a Japanese bonus track and it is the same. When you listen to all 12 from beginning to the end, that’s when you get the full completion of what we set out to do with `Origami’.’’
,,We’ve created such a chemistry camaraderie from touring together and we knew we had to kind of recreate that’’–Jeff Scott Soto
In the beginning of this year SOTO did its first show in 2 years. How do you look back on that?
,,This first show was beyond emotional. Just knowing that it was going to feel and look different. Not having David next to us. Even just the whole vibe, because we’ve created such a chemistry camaraderie from touring together and we knew we had to kind of recreate that. We had to reinvent that with Tony. We didn’t expect him to be David, we didn’t expect him to know cue and certain things that me and BJ do when we are singing at each others mics, so it was a learning curve that we had to get through and know we’ve got it down. These guys adept so quickly and so easily and Tony really fits in, he sets right in there and it really was a nice smooth transition for all of us.’’
What are the plans for the near future?
,,We are doing a European tour in September and I believe it kicks off in the UK. At the moment we are holding off on booking anything else because first I really want to see how the reception of `Origami’ is. I don’t want to force a tour because if people are not digging the album, than we’re locked into a tour that might have fewer people or people that are not really into the new album. If people are really into the album that helps us decide which songs we’re doing live, it helps us decide the set list and all. All these little parameters that make that portion so important to me, especially I need those answered first before I start booking shows and tours without knowing exactly what the perception is going to be. Being smart comes from experience of doing things dumb [laughing]. Anybody who’s been touring, anybody who knows anything about the industry knows how expensive it is, how gruelling it is when you have to share the same quarters with the same people so many months. Unless you do it in a way it makes sense, it doesn’t make sense.’’
Do you have other news to share with us?
,,I know what you are asking…. I’m actually three songs in… I just wrote my fourth one yesterday for the new Sons Of Apollo album. Most of the music is done. I think Ron [Bumblefoot] is done with most of his guitars, Billy [Sheehan] is just starting with his bass parts, and so we are slowly carving and sizzling the new Sons Of Apollo album. I love the way we are doing it now. We are using the entire year basically to really just hone in, work on it and make sure that we all know and feel that this is going to be a great second album and a great follow up to the first one. The first one I think is pretty great and so we have a lot to live up to and I think people are going to be very happy and very impressed. We’re going to have a live DVD out I believe in August so that will hold people until the new album comes out, which is I believe January of next year if I am not mistaken. And then I am on the road again for the rest of the year. So it is nonstop. But as long as I am interested, as long as I want to do it, as long as people want me to do it, it’s a no-brainer. And of course as long as my voice is working, because I don’t want to be one of those guys that’s going on the road and forcing it to work and hoping it’s going to work and people are going “Oh poor guy he should have quit long time ago” [laughing]. Because we do this for a living, it is in our blood, I can understand if you don’t want to do anything else, but sometimes you should step back and let people remember you for how great you were instead of how horrible you’re going to become.’’
HBLS review `Origami’ here
SOTO Facebook here
SOTO Website here
Jeff Scott Soto personal HBLS Hotlist on Spotify here
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