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| 6 February 2016 | 1 Reply

It seems the interview Gods have smiled on me once again.  I am offered an early spot to speak with my favorite vocalist of all-time… Jeff Scott Soto.  With a new album ready to drop – Divak arrive April 1st via earMusic – and some warm-up dates on the schedule in advance of his band’s appearance on the Monsters of Rock Cruise at the end of the month, Jeff takes some time to wax poetic about the band, the new material, Sotoization, and the Super Bowl.  Let the fanboy 20-minute session begin…

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Toddstar: What a way to start off a day, speaking with the one and only Jeff Scott Soto.  It’s such an honor and a privilege, as a huge fan of you and your band, to be speaking with you once again.

Jeff: Thank you my brother.

Toddstar: Well, there’s a lot going on in the world of Soto right now. Let’s start with the new release. You guys got ambitious and did something most bands don’t do these days, and that’s put out two discs in less than twelve months.

Jeff: You know, it’s like the old glory days when they used to put out an album, put the band on the road, and within months they were already back in the studio and releasing the next one before they could even sneeze. The only difference is we didn’t get to do the road thing for the first album. We tried to set up things; there was no real game plan for the first album. I was bouncing and juggling management and all of that just turned out to be a big waste of time. Even the tour that was booked was so poorly done that we had to cancel at the last minute, because we just would have lost our asses. It truly was, let’s just put this to rest and reassess. Let’s get a game plan. I partnered with a long-time buddy of mine to actually manage the band with, and this was the game plan. Let’s start from scratch to get the new album out and let’s book and plan things the way that you’re supposed to do it to actually go out there and promote the record. That’s exactly what we’re doing.

Toddstar: Yeah, I mean we’re starting to see some dates trickle out here in the US; unfortunately still nothing in Detroit…

Jeff: Yeah, I know.

Toddstar: Hopefully soon.

Jeff: Well the thing is, these are actually just warm up dates. We’re doing this Monsters of Rock Cruise and not having one gig under our belts as Soto, you know, playing to the material, playing as the new entity, and just kind of revamping what we were already doing for years as the Jeff Scott Soto band. I knew we had to get out there with experience, not just get the band in rehearsals and expect that it’s going to go as gangbusters in front of a live audience. The Monster cruise is kind of a big deal, for that to be our debut together after we did the ProgPower thing. I knew I wanted to polish things up a little more and get it so the band feels a little more comfortable playing the material, and we overall feel more comfortable in front of a crowd doing this stuff. We could do it with our eyes closed; you know, with blindfolds, do the stuff that we’ve been doing for years, even with just a rehearsal after not being together for a year, but this is a whole new animal.

Toddstar: Sure, and you perfectly described it as a whole new animal. This new album, Divak, builds on what you guys did with the last release, Inside the Vertigo, which was one of my picks of the year last year. It’s a little more mature sound in which, it sounds funny, because you’ve been doing this and writing music forever, yet you’re still maturing with your writing.

Jeff: Yeah, and strangely enough, it really just comes down to the material. This time around, the band was more hands-on. The album is more band oriented as far as the guys in the band submitting material. I don’t have any guests this time. We have appearances, people, additional musicians and stuff, but I don’t have the focus like I did on the first album, which was more stemmed out of a solo album. Inside the Vertigo started as a solo album and ended up being a band album by default. The manager I was working with at the time said, “This sounds more like a band. It doesn’t sound like something I can brand as a solo artist.” That’s why it shifted kind of midway and became a new band. This time around, it was a hundred percent the band who are playing on it, writing on it, and it’s more of a family unit. Maybe that maturity comes from the fact that we are more solid this time around, and even the subject matters and such, it wasn’t as angry. It was just more intuitive, I guess.

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Toddstar: That’s a great insight.  With this album, you guys are kicking the doors open with “FreakShow.” Was that a decision you made? Is that a label decision? Where did that decision that kicked that song out first?

Jeff: Yeah, ninety-nine percent of the decisions are me. They all come down to me, even though, like I said, it is a band and we’re doing things as a band. The bottom line is me as the overseer of the thing, not just because it’s my last name that’s holding the whole thing together. It’s mainly because it is my vision that I’m sharing with others who want to share that same vision with me, but all the decisions musically, and pretty much all the way across the board are mine. The label gives suggestions, but they trust me enough. As you said, I’ve been around the block long enough, they trust me enough to kind of know where I want to go with things and what I feel is best for what we’re doing at the moment.

Toddstar: This release is a monster; it’s even got an animal on the cover. Where’s the origin of the name of the album and the title/intro piece that opens the disc?

Jeff: Divak is a word in Bulgarian. It means savage, or wild, or crazy. We, as in my family, were in Bulgaria, as we are every year because my wife is Bulgarian. Just hanging out at our flat one night, she was with her kids dumping out the trash and they came upstairs with this little black kitten, four-month-old kitten that they found by the dumpster. They have a pretty big stray cat epidemic in Bulgaria, but they brought this cat up and it was, it didn’t seem like it was a wild, it seemed very tame. It seemed like it almost came from a home that was already, or surrounded by humans. It was really calm and tame and kind of fit in and we thought, let’s see if we could find a home for this thing. The whole summer, we nurtured this cat as it was growing, and we couldn’t find a home for him. In the end, we couldn’t put him back in the streets, and we decided to bring him back to L.A. with us. Here we have this little dumpster cat from Bulgaria is now living in the hills of Los Angeles. Once he was here, the true nature of his Bulgarian street cat personality started coming out. He’s very mischievous, getting into things and he’s basically a little wild savage one, which my wife calls him all the time in Bulgarian. She calls him “Divak.” When she’s cursing at him in Bulgarian, divak is one of the main words she uses, and I thought, “What a cool word,” and when she told me the description, I thought it described what we do as a band and musically very well, especially on this album. It was the perfect fit. Hence, why you have a black panther on the front. It’s kind of a larger version of what I have sitting in front of me playing with a hair tie on the floor, just swiping it around the floor as I’m speaking to you.

Toddstar: Very cool. Diving into Divak a little bit, are there any songs, Jeff, which just fought you tooth and nail, didn’t really come out the way you originally envisioned them?

Jeff: No. Maybe on the positive end, yes. There were a couple songs on the album that I thought, “I don’t know if this is the right direction. I don’t know if this really fits.” In the end, it not only fit, but it actually, they were incredible. They became some of my favorite songs on the album. One of them is a song called “Fall From Grace,” that my base player and I wrote together. In the beginning stages, it sounded more like something I could have done on my solo albums or on something else that I’ve done in the past, and I thought, “I don’t know if, in the end, this is going to really work.” Once the band got munching away on it and put their touch on it, it actually turned out to be a really cool song. There’s kind of a proggy thing on there called “Misfired,” that I thought, “Oh my god. This is so not us,” in the sense of what we were already establishing. In the end, again, once the band put their touch to it, it just turned into such a great tune. It’s, again, one of my favorites on the album.

Toddstar: Both great choices. With this album, one of the things I noticed is that while it seems not quite as heavy in my mind as Inside the Vertigo, it’s still very heavy. We even joked last time that you won’t catch Love Parade alongside any of this stuff. Was that something you guys kind of went into and said, “Okay, let’s just do what we do,” or did you guys say, “Okay, let’s lighten this up; let’s heavy that up,” or is this just you guys doing what Soto does best?


Jeff: [Laughing] Yeah, it’s kind of a mixture of both, because one thing we could have done is, we could have progressively gone heavier, and maybe that’s not necessarily us either. We didn’t want to do something that people were going to say, “You’re only doing it because you feel like you want to fit in to another world or another field.” I love the heavy music. I love bands; I love Slayer, Pantera, all that kind of heavier side of things, but if I start doing that full time and only that, people are going to think I’m trying to jump on a bandwagon of something that’s not really me. Even myself, I have to be true to myself. I want to do heavy music, but it’s always going to have that melodic sense to it. No matter how heavy of a song you give to me, there’s a song on the album that Gus G and I co-wrote together. It’s really heavy, a song called, “Time,” but it’s got that layered, melodic backing vocal. It doesn’t sound like something abrasive or something that Pantera or Slayer would have done to that kind of brand of song. It’s the kind of song that you would have just kept heavy and just shouted over, and it could have gone a completely different way. Yeah, naturally I do what I do, how I do it, but I’m always going to have a melodic sense. You could take any of these songs and strip it down to just acoustic guitar and singing, and it’s going to sound like it could fit in with Love Parade. It could fit in with Damage Control or W.E.T. or any of those, because it’s all about the song and the melody. It’s what you do with it later that it’s going to actually translate of exactly what, if it’s going to fit into a category or not.

Toddstar: You just discovered the next Jeff Scott Soto tour, ‘Soto Acoustic.’

Jeff: Yeah, I’ve done that before and they’re fun and all, but when it’s too stripped down, those are great for like a couple one-offs of shows or whatever. To do a full tour of that, it’d put me to sleep. Like I said, it’s great to kind of strip it down while you’re on tour and just kind of go, “Wow, these are really cool songs to play in this format,” but I’ve already done a whole tour of it. I did three weeks of it, I’m like, “Okay, please, somebody get me a Marshall amp and a Gibson, Les Paul, and let’s do this the right way.”

Toddstar: Awesome. You mentioned melodic, and one of the songs that just screams melodic to me off the new album would be like, which drops April first, is “Paranoia.”

Jeff: Oh, wow, nice.

Toddstar: That song grabbed me from the first. As a matter of fact, I’m listening to it right now.

Jeff: That’s awesome.

Toddstar: It grabbed me from the minute I heard it, and it just resonates with me. I find myself humming it in the middle of the day.

Jeff: That’s one that almost didn’t make the album, because my drummer co-wrote it with a buddy of his in Brazil. They sent me basically just the main riff, and another section of the song that ended up being the middle eight, not even the main part of the song. They sent it to me and it was kind of forgotten about, and I picked it up and said, “There’s something here. Let me just see what I can write to it.” When I sent him the idea back, he said, “Whoa, I didn’t even think you were going to use this song because it’s so incomplete. There are only two ideas on it and I thought they were just kind of just thrown together last minute.” I go, “No, I think we have something here.” They went back to the drawing board based on what I sent them and kind of restructured, rehoned it and sent it to me and then I finished it off to the version you hear now.

Toddstar: I love the vocals and I really love that time shift at the bridge. I think it just sets things off.

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Jeff: Oh thanks, man. Yeah, I dig it. I love the song a lot.

Toddstar: You know, there’s such a focus on this music, and there’s a good reason for it. Another one of my favorites artists not too long ago mentioned that rock is dead. Soto is proving that rock is not dead. When it comes to things like that, I mean, you know, looking at the music world the way it is today, what are the things that you’ve noticed have been the biggest shift in the business since you’ve been involved?

Jeff: Well, I understand where that statement comes from, and for all intents and purposes, it’s correct in the sense of the music world. Rock and roll is dead in the sense of the music world and the industry not wanting to put much behind it. Rock will never die because it’s always been a rebellion. It’s always been something that’s more for the fans. It’s something that’s more an individual thing. When it becomes corporate and industry takes over, like they did in the 80’s for instance. The 70’s were a big rock boom, but the 80’s was even bigger. Basically, they turned it into something that they can never replicate, and that’s why they call it dead. When a band that used to sell eight million copies of a record can barely move fifty thousand copies today, that’s why they consider it dead, because the industry’s not interested in pushing it anymore. You look at the numbers of tours from AC/DC, you know, especially the veteran bands, all the way on down to the Foo Fighters who more are in the middle of the classic bands, and then some of the bands that are growing and still working their way up the ladder like an Avenged Sevenfold and Hailstorm. Rock is certainly not dead. Rock is big business; it’s just not in the big industry format that it used to be from Top 40 radio to all the attention it was getting. Even look at a movie trailer, I mean, you see a movie trailer for “The Rock” or one of these action movies. You’re not hearing Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber as the sound track. You’re hearing rock. That’s proof in the pudding that it’s just shifted. It’s not dead; it’s just shifted. Who knows? Maybe it will have resurgence and the industry will wake up and realize that it still is big business for them. In the meantime, us rockers just going to keep it alive.

Toddstar: Thank God for that.

Jeff: No kidding. I’m not ready to go do disco music.

Toddstar: But you’ve done that too, Jeff.

Jeff: I’ve done it, but I’m talking about modern day. I’m not going to do that modern day David Guetta stuff.

Toddstar: Right, right. You’ve been all over the board, and we even just joked about the disco thing, but one of the most obscure things you’ve ever done and I always hoped there would be another piece to it, was Redlist. How do you piece these different facets of your rock world into one head? You’ve been all over the place. How do you just pull these different things out and blend. You’re almost chameleon like, weaving in and out of different styles of music.

Jeff: Well, I kind of answered that, sort of, in another way, based on the fact that no matter how you slice it, you give me a piece of music, it’s kind of going to be “Soto-ized.” Redlist was one of those things and there’s a lot of energy that we did in Redlist that I’ve actually transpired over to Soto. The song, “FreakShow,” or even “The Fall,” from the first album, those could have been Redlist songs, because it was kind of that industrial modern kind of vibe, but when I put my touch to it, it sounds like kind of a modern meets classic. That’s exactly, I guess that’s the only answer I really have, is that I’m so into different styles of music. No matter what I do with it, it’s going to sound like something that does fit and work for what I do. It’s funny when you see haters out there saying, “Oh, I don’t like this. I wish Jeff would go back to what he’s done best.” I’m still doing what I’ve done best. I’m still doing what I’ve only ever done. Just because the background, the layers underneath it are different, everything that layers on top of it, the icing on the cake is still the same. It’s still Jeff Scott Soto’s print. It’s kind of funny to read that, because if you, again, strip it down. Put a different layer of music underneath it. It’s still going to be that same kind of thing that I’ve done since the Talisman days and it’s just a representation of what I do and the different styles and versatility of music that I listen to and grew up listening to and still do today.

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Toddstar: Awesome. That said, is there any style of music or genre that you haven’t ventured into yet that you’d just like to give a shot? Many rock guys have gone over to country and given that a whirl, or like you said, maybe heading toward a pop or disco. Has there ever been any desire for you to jump genres or do something different.

Jeff: Yeah, I think someday I’ll put together like a polka-country-punk album. No. Everything that I’ve done, and everything that I’m doing are all things that I’ve always wanted to do. One of the things I’ve answered in so many interviews in the past, “Do I have any musical regrets?” Like, “Have I done anything musically I wish I hadn’t done?” The answer is, “Absolutely not.” Because even if it’s something that I’m either embarrassed about or is not necessarily my cup of tea, I learned from it. I got the experience of doing it. I challenged myself to do something that was outside the box, and for better or worse, I’ve got an experience from it that I can now address into other things that I do in the future, or not do. To me, it’s all one big challenge, and it’s one big thing that, instead of just saying, “I’m just going to take the safe road. This is what I do, what people know me for. I’m just going to continue doing this.” I love to expand myself and I love to tap into things. It might even be to my detriment to my bank account, because I’m not necessarily selling the big numbers as some of the other bands that just stuck to their guns and done one thing, but at least I’m true to myself. I’m doing things that I can actually look at my discography and go, “Man, this is what it’s about.” Looking at this vast music, just putting it all in one big display, I can actually say I’ve done everything I wanted to do.

Toddstar: In terms of you being an artist, or many of the incarnations you’ve been in, and especially the new project, Soto, we are so glad that you have stayed true to the art. I know you’re a busy man, so I got one more for you, before I cut you loose Jeff.

Jeff: Okay.

Toddstar: I know you’re a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

Jeff: Absolutely.

Toddstar: They are not playing Sunday in the Super Bowl, so who’s getting the vote in the Soto household this Sunday? Who are you rooting for?

Jeff: You know what? It always comes down to certain parts of my life and where certain parts of my life fit in with … In other words, I used to live in Colorado. Colorado was basically my home for a little while before I actually joined Yngwie, so I’ve got a lot of friends there. I’ve got a lot of life-long friends still there and because of that alone, Broncos is my team.

Toddstar: Awesome, man. Cheers and hopes for a Broncos win for you, and safe travels on your trial run, before you guys hit the cruise.

Jeff: Awesome.

Toddstar: Wishing you the best of luck when Divak hits April 1st via earMusic.

Jeff: Thank you sir, and let’s put Detroit on the map soon.

Toddstar: Awesome, that’d be great, Jeff. Thanks so much for your time. We’ll talk to you soon.

Jeff: You got it, man. Bye, bye.









Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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