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| 6 October 2021 | Reply

Photo credit: Todd Jolicoeur – Toddstar Photo

According to a recent press release: “Using the down time from his normally relentless touring activity due to the worldwide pandemic, renowned vocalist Jeff Scott Soto decided to create a very special album which pays tribute to some of the classic songs he has recorded over the course of his storied career. But, rather than simple re-records, he wanted to make the album something special, unique. So, he not only did re-record these songs with his musical friends Jorge Salan, Howie Simon (guitars), Leo Mancini (guitars), Tony Dickinson (bass) and Edu Cominato (drums), but he called in some of his fellow rock friends and vocalists to create a unique DUETS album. With the likes of Erik Martensson (Eclipse, W.E.T.), Dino Jelusick (Animal Drive, Dirty Shirley), Eric Martin (Mr. Big), Johnny Gioeli (Hardline), Deen Castronovo (Revolution Saints), Nathan James (Inglorious), Russell Allen (Symphony X), Renan Zonta (Electric Mob), Mats Leven (Candlemass, TSO), BJ (Spektra, SOTO), and Aliro Netto, this is an amazing international affair.” We were able to get some phone time with Jeff to discuss the new album, touring, and much more…

Toddstar: Well, thanks once again for taking time out. I think you’re the most highly featured interview on our slate, as you know. You talk to a lot of people and a lot of fans. I’m one of those guys that just knows and loves everything about your career, so I’m always blessed with the time I get.

Jeff: Well, I appreciate that. It’s a pleasure doing this with you.

Toddstar: Let’s jump right into it. You seem to be one of the busiest guys in music these days. Evidenced by The Duets Collection Vol. 1 coming out this Friday, October 8th on Frontiers Music, chuck full of amazing hits and amazing duets. But I want to lead with, how did you cull your whole catalog down to these 11 tracks? What made these 11 stand out to you?

Jeff: I wish I could take credit for all the selections and songs that we chose for this album. But, when there was a decision going back and forth with Frontiers of doing this record, I gave them the carte blanche of coming up with what they wanted to hear on it. I can choose what I want to do or what I want to redo, but I wanted them to be behind the decision of the songs, and I knew they would be behind it more strongly, if they were part of the process. They were kind of executive producers of the process. So, they gave me about 80% of the songs and ideas of things that they wanted me to do for this album once we initialized it. So, it really started with them. I think there were a couple songs that they said, “We’d like you to do this one.” I said, “How about this one instead of that one from that particular artist or genre or album?” But, for the most part, it was a collaborative effort with the label.

Toddstar: Let’s peel it back even further. With each song, as you went through and said, “Okay, let’s do this track. Let’s do that track,” or agreed with what the label threw you, did you kind of pop in your head, “I’d love to have this artist on that one,” or did you go to an artist and say, “Hey, I’m thinking about doing this and these songs. What do you think?” How’d you then line up Dean with “Coming Home.” That seems a little more straightforward to me because I know the connection with Soul SirkUS, but then Russell Allen on the Eyes track, “Callin’ All Girls.” How did you call that down to figure out which artists you wanted on each track?

Jeff: When I had the songs chosen, I then had to treat, who was going to sing what, kind of like the way a casting director does a movie. The way they choose Tom Cruise for the role of Maverick on Top Gun. You basically have to now fill the voice, the range, what that voice has to offer in terms of making it fit. And I learned this process through Bob Kulick, rest his soul. I did many a tribute album with and for Bob Kulick in the past. He was amazing at that. He would take a song, a Queen song and say, “I want Lemmy to sing a Queen song.” But he’s not going to choose “Love of My Life” or “Bohemian Rhapsody” for Lemmy. He’s going to choose a song that he knows Lenny would actually kill on, and his voice would actually make as good and strong and interesting as the original was. So, I needed to do that with this album. I needed to choose singers that was specifically, range wise, emotion wise, what they do in their own careers, fit into the category of what I was asking them to be a part of.

Toddstar: Okay. Some of my favorites are on this and we’ll go back to that “Callin’ All Girls” from Eyes. I think the combination of you and Russell just nailed that one. Were there any songs that you did that, as they were going, it seemed harder to get the performance out of your co vocalist? And, on the other side of that coin as a second part, were there any you think really exceeded your expectation?

Jeff: I can answer the second part better and it’ll pretty much answer the first part. Everyone destroyed. They killed on their performance. I did not have to go back and say, “Hey, this section, can you do that? You’ve missed that section.” Everything I sent to everyone involved, they nailed it, right off the bat. They sent me their vocals because unfortunately we couldn’t do it together. And, we have to take advantage of the technology that we have in front of us to be able to do these kinds of things. They sent their vocal tracks and they nailed them and it was perfect. My casting ideas worked perfectly as much as their performances work perfectly in the end.

Toddstar: I remember when you were starting to put this together, it was not too long after our last discussion. And, I remember seeing online, you were looking for some of the publishing information for “Livin’ The Life.” You were trying to track all that down. I remember that distinctly. Was it a lot of work getting the rights to some of these, where you got that track or you’ve got the Soul SirkUS track where, you didn’t have quite as much say in the whole process, so to speak?

Jeff: No, not at all. I brought this issue or possibly could be an issue up to Frontiers. Now, it’s no surprise, it’s nothing new. Everybody knows there’s been a wall and a rub in the Yngwie camp for me and many of his former band members and band mates. From that, I’ve warned Frontiers, if we’re going to do a cover of that, that they might have issues with their camp. They might hear from their lawyers, et cetera, that we can’t do this and they don’t want us to do it. Frontiers gracefully said, “Leave that to us. This is where we do what we do. Don’t worry about that. We can have you cover any song in the world and make sure it gets cleared, even if it’s not something you’re on or that you have a writing credit on.” So, for me, it was easier to get together all this information. And, as I posted the information I needed on the roster. I don’t have a copy of the Rockstar soundtrack. I don’t have a CD. All I have is the actual movie itself, the DVD. I can imagine, trying to scroll through there, finding who the publishing administrators are on there. I knew who the songwriters were on the songs, but I didn’t know if the administrators were. It was an easy way to do it, in terms of, especially I chose every song on the album, except for “Livin’ the Life.” I wanted to make sure that I had something to do with the songwriting. I want to be connected to it, not just that I sung it or it’s part of my past. I wanted to be connected to it, in terms of being a part of the creation of it as well.

Toddstar: I love some of them like “Warrior” the Axel Rudi Pell song. “Again 2B Found” from Humanimal, that’s another one that I’ve always considered it more of a deep cut, because some people just don’t know Humanimal even existed. Were there other songs that they came to you and said, “What about this, this and this?” And you just thought, “I don’t even want to go down that road.”

Jeff: Didn’t even get that far. I had the laundry list of songs first, that I knew were going to be done. And then, my first picks for every single song, everyone said yes to. It wasn’t a struggle. It wasn’t difficult. Again, there are some songs I chose specifically that, it goes a little deeper rooted than just, “That voice works for this song.” There’s an even deeper connection to, like what you were saying about Dean singing on “Coming Home.” That one song on the Soul SirkUS record, the only song on that record that truly could have been, or sounded like a Journey song. That song could have actually been covered by Journey. So, when I first wrote the song, in terms of the melodies and the lyrics with Neal, I specifically wanted it to sound like a Journey song, even the way I was singing it and approaching it. So, in doing this version of it, there were only two people I could think of that I wouldn’t want to do that with, in terms of redoing it with another singer, and that’s Steve Perry and Deen Castronovo. I’d probably win the lottery Powerball before I would get Steve Perry to sing on a song with me. Deen was a little more accessible. And, like you’re saying about “Warrior,” it wasn’t just that I wanted to work with Johnny, and I wanted him on this record and that his voice would be great on this, but anybody who follows mine and or Johnny’s careers knows that he continued where I left off with Axel Rudi Pell. He’s been with him and is still with him. So, he sung that song numerous times already. So, the Axel Rudi Pell connection came to play, when it came to putting Johnny on that song. I wanted him because he’s been with, and still is with Axel, and we’re both doing a song that we both performed with Axel.

Toddstar: Well, that was the oddest pairing for that simple reason, because you stepped into shoes and Journey and things like that. And, you know, sometimes what it’s like when you’re like, “Okay, I’m doing this song that isn’t mine and I’ve got to make it mine.” Now, here he was, doing it with the guy who it is his song, so to speak.

Jeff: I’ve always loved the way he’s done it live. And I knew he would bring that forward in what we’re doing here, as opposed to just basically doing everything I did, exactly, verbatim.

Toddstar: When you put together in your head, who you wanted involved in everything else, what was the one gets, or the one guess that you thought, “I want this. I’m going to ask, but I never thought in a million years it would happen.”

Jeff: I wouldn’t say in a million years, but I thought Eric Martin would say no, only because he’s busy. Only because he’s so busy and I don’t know of him doing too many of these collaborative things. We’ve been very good friends for a long, long time. We have an absolute mutual respect and love for one another. We text every once in a while. We catch up with each other, we keep in touch. But I thought he might say, “I don’t know if this is where I want my voice or where I want to be right now in this part of my life.” And, it was an overwhelming, yes. It was the same with Deen, to be honest with you. I know Deen’s had his struggles. I did catch him when he was out of Journey at that point in time. I think that would have been an improbability, had he still been with Journey when I asked him. I think I was lucky that I captured him right in that window before he rejoined Journey, because I think there might’ve been a conflict of interest from the others, if you said yes, or even if I asked him during the time that he was with them.

Toddstar: That being said, anybody who follows your career, when we reach out and buy CDs and LPs and actual product, not just the downloads, we’re always getting bonus tracks, which is always fun for me because I love getting those extra songs. Is there still stuff on the cutting room floor that we don’t know about? Are there still some collaborations out there that you’ve got in your back pocket, just waiting for that special moment for the fans?

Jeff: Actually, no. You just actually brought up something that reminded me, there was one said no. There was one who considered it, and in the end decided, no, it’s not the right time. It wouldn’t have even been a song in my own arsenal in my own career, that I would have covered to get this individual, to do it with me because it’s been a bit of a bucket list, especially since one of my best friends in the world is his guitar player. I’m talking about Dennis DeYoung. Because Dennis obviously is on the Frontiers roster as well. His guitar player, August Zadra is one of my dearest and closest friends. I’ve met Dennis only a handful of times. He’s always been very friendly. He’s always been very cordial. And, I thought, “You know what? Shot in the dark. Let me see if he would be into it.” I went to him with the idea of maybe doing a Styx cover, but something that he did a duet with Tommy Shaw, which was a song called, “Haven’t We Been Here Before,” from the Kilroy Was Here album. And then, if he didn’t like that idea of doing a Styx song, I thought, ‘Well, let’s see if I can entice him by saying, can we do a duet version of “Desert Moon,”’ which was one of his solo songs that I absolutely loved so much. He considered it, and in the end he decided, because of timing, because he’s got his two albums coming out, et cetera, that he just didn’t want to do it at this point in time. So, that was the only extra, and we never actually went as far as recording it, because we started recording the album when I was waiting for his decision. And, I was teetering on the thought of, “Should I just get it ready, just in case,” which meant I had to get two of the songs ready. So, a lot of extra work for everyone else and getting these basic tracks ready in case he says yes. So, I decided, let’s wait until he says yes, deciding on which song we’re going to do. And when he said, no, everything we did was used.

Toddstar: We’ve talked about a lot of topics over the years, all your back catalog, the hidden stuff, the stuff most people don’t even know about. But, one of the conversations that really stuck with me and it’s getting more and more true every day because we’re all getting older, let’s be honest, and touring. I know that it’s not something that is really in the forefront for you anymore. But that said, are you still willing to jump out and take the leap if the situation’s right or the lineup’s right, or the show’s right, to go out and do things live on the road, whether it be as JSS or as part of a package or even as a band?

Photo credit: Todd Jolicoeur – Toddstar Photo

Jeff: Well, I have been. I’ve already started that process even as far back as April before the whole vaccination rollout was in full force. Before they were opening up, locking down and tightening and reopening, I was taking what I could get just for the sake of getting back out there. Not only feeling normal again, but truly feeling if I still have the passion and then the desire to continue doing it. And, I’ve got to be honest with you, spending a year, plus at home kind of gave me a new ideal of what I want to do in the future. In the past, I’ve been so autopilot. Album, tour, album tour. This band tour, this other band or appearances. You get into this mode of, when you release something, you have to follow up with it. Now, I’ve done many, what I would call a shit tour if I may. I’ve done many of those, in terms of, you go out expecting and hoping for the best and you basically get back going, “Well, that was a disappointment.” I’m not so keen into going back into testing the marketplace. I’m not so keen into saying, “Okay, here’s a new Soto album. Here’s a new JSS album, let’s book a tour.” I need to now see that there’s a demand, that there’s a desire. Everything from promoters to the fans that want to come see it. I need to see them in advance. Otherwise, I truly am not interested in going out there and breaking my neck and squeezing 13 people into a bus, in less than desired comfort for the sake of coming home with beer money anymore. I’ve lost that desire full on, because of the whole COVID situation. Now, I absolutely positively love the stage. I love performing, I love singing. But, there’s a lot of stress that comes with it, and I do not want the stress of having to keep my voice up to par. Having to get the right amount of sleep, stay hydrated, make sure you warm up, warm down. All those parameters become a lot on the actual brain and the persona, unless you feel that you’re getting something, some kind of reward, and I’m not talking about money. You need the reward of knowing that people want to see you in a bigger way than playing a 150 capacity club with 30 people. That desire has just gone out the window, and I really do not plan on and do not want to return to that agenda. Everything else, I’m full on course. We’ve got the TSO tour that’s still on course. We’ve got Sons of Apollo going to South America in January. I’ve got other things, appearances, et cetera, that I’ve got booked and that I’m going to be doing. But, as far as going out there and trudging it, that part of me is dead now.

Toddstar: That’s what you alluded to our last conversation. I’ve been lucky enough, the first time I ever saw you was in a small club. I know it’s not the best situation, but I saw you in a small club in Detroit on a Soul SirkUS tour. But the last time I saw you, you guys destroyed it at a club in Battle Creek when you guys came out with Sons of Apollo just before the shutdown. I love watching you live, but I totally get the other side of it as well. That said, TSO is a huge undertaking for you guys. I mean, it’s such huge undertaking for the organization, that you guys actually have two touring teams. As a side note, which team are you on? Because while I’m in Detroit, normally I’m going to be in Florida for December, and I’m really hoping to be able to finally catch you in a TSO role.

Jeff: Well, let me enlighten you on how this works. I’m in the west coast production, but we’re the production that always played Florida. The east coast production, basically covers the 13 colonies, and the west coast production covers the rest. We start in Council Bluffs, Iowa. We make it all the way west to Oregon and Washington state and California. And then, we work our way east, and we get as far as South Florida. So, it’s crazy that we absolutely have more road miles. We have a lot more of these, what we call submarine rides, because we’re stuck in a bus for 13, 14, 15 hours. It’s like you’re in a submarine, basically. And so, yeah, I will be and have been doing the Florida shows for this upcoming tour. This is year 14 or tour 14 for me in terms of years with TSO. I’ve always been with west. What Al told me from day one, “As long as I’m here, you’ll always be west. You ain’t going east.”

Toddstar: Al’s a smart man. We talk about this all the time, and every time I ask the question, you give me a slightly different answer every time. What’s still out there for you, that you want to prove to yourself? What do you still have to do? What accolade do you still want to give yourself? Because at this point in your career, you’re doing this for you.

Jeff: Yeah. Look, to be honest with you, things like that duets album, they become exciting because you do fall into the… I don’t want to say rut. I mean, this is a job. This is what I do for a living. This is my work, as much as it is my pleasure. It’s my therapy. It’s all of the above. But you do find yourself falling into the production line of, “Okay, by this month, next year, I have to be doing a follow-up album from the last project of,” say a wet album. “Okay. By this time, next year, I have to have a new JSS album.” So, you fall into the category rut of, the next option, the next follow-up. And of course, what you do in that process in terms of writing the songs, et cetera, that’s up to the process. But, doing the duets thing was a total labor of love. It was a lot of fun. It gives me a chance to revisit songs I haven’t song or never sung, even live, much less, I have to do songs that I have done for many years in the studio setting beside the original versions. So, that, to me, was enticing and fun and exciting to be able to do. And then, of course a band like Sons of Apollo, I never really fell into the category of being a prog singer or doing even a project like that. That excites me too, because I’m now stepping outside my normal box. I get to do something that challenges me as an artist. It gives me a new will than I normally would have for the albums that I’m normally used to making. So, those are the things that really turn me on and keep me motivated, moving forward, is to be able to do things that are outside my wheelhouse. Because from that, I’m going to gain and learn something new that I’m going to bring into my wheelhouse. And all of a sudden, you’ve got an extension of what I’m doing with others. I’m also using what I do with myself as an extension of what I could do for them.

Toddstar: Well, I’m glad you brought Sons of Apollo into the mix. As far as the Sons of Apollo, I really felt on the second album, you kind of grew into it. You really showed your growth, not as a singer, not as a songwriter, but just as someone grasping the prog-type material. Did you feel that same growth as you were recording, writing, getting that music out there? And then, what’s the next step? I know you mentioned South America. Is there new material already being discussed or are you guys just focused on that tour?

Jeff: Well, on the first part of your question, the first album was basically… I am a stickler about no one being in the room with me when I’m doing my vocals. When you’re recording something for the first time, especially something you’ve never demoed, you’ve never had the chance to sing before, it’s so brand new to you, you have to experiment, you have to try things. I don’t want people in a room to hear me trying things. I don’t want people to just say, “Oh, that was a weird note. Oh, you cracked on that one.” I don’t need that kind of pressure when I’m experimenting and trying things as I’m laying it down for the first time. So, I never ever let anybody into the room when I’m doing stuff. The only exception was Paul O’Neil and Trans-Siberian Orchestra. There’s no way you couldn’t record a TSO song without Paul in the room. Everything that I’ve done since 1990, until TSO, I basically set up the tape machine, the microphone, my compression level, everybody out of the room. When I feel I’m done or want you to hear the first take on it, everybody comes back in to listen. I didn’t get that luxury with the first Sons of Apollo record. I had Mike and Derek basically over my shoulder, and I kind of felt I was more so fulfilling what they were hoping to hear and what we were creating together, when I was doing the vocals, more than I would have, if we did all that grunt work before, and I just went into the studio and did it by myself. I personally feel a little more personality of me in that. The second album, I feel showed more of my personality because we worked differently. We didn’t work under the same pretense as the first one. The only similarities is, I sat with Derek Sherinian and all the songs. And, we basically went over melody ideas that he heard, or that he would like me to actually incorporate my lyrics too. But from that, it was basically just, la, la, la, la. He was singing melody, la la’s over the music. He left the room and that’s where I went to work. That’s where I could be me. I shined as a lyricist. I shined as turning something that Derek maybe hummed to me, into what you heard in the final product. But more importantly, I did it on my own without the pressure of having to deliver a perfect vocal from start to finish in front of people. I got to truly chisel it and work on it and put it together. It truly gave me that feeling of, now you get to hear what JSS can do in Sons of Apollo more so than what JSS could do in Sons of Apollo with Mike and Derek basically holding the strings.

Toddstar: Well, Jeff, as always, I appreciate you. I’m a journalist and all that other stuff, but as a fan, especially of your stuff, I appreciate every time you agree to sit down and talk to me.

Jeff: Well, I appreciate that, and I we got everything done. Talk to you soon.








Category: Interviews

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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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