JEFF SCOTT SOTO
INTERVIEW AND LIVE PHOTOS BY MARKO SYRJALA
Jeff Scott Soto is an American rock singer who’s best known for being the lead singer for Yngwie Malmsteen, Axel Rudi Pell, the Swedish band Talisman, and Journey. During his long career, Jeff has been a part of several groups. He’s done a lot of session work and released 6 six solo albums from 1994-2012. Currently, Soto is fronting the band S.O.T.O. which has released two studio albums; INSIDE THE VERTIGO (2015) and DIVAK (2016). In March 20917, the band did two shows in Finland, which is when I had a pleasure to sit down with Jeff in Helsinki and discuss his current and past activities. Read on!
First of all, a warm welcome to Helsinki for the first time!
Thank you. Being here is great! “Laughs.”
Although you haven’t been in Finland you’ve spent a lot of time with different bands and projects in Sweden during the 80’s, 90’s up to the present. So, I think it’s not wrong to say that you have a strong connection with Scandinavia?
Jeff Scott Soto: It seems Scandinavia has a strong connection with me. Because of course when it starts with somebody like Yngwie Malmsteen, it’s easy for him to filter over to many other projects. It seems like there has been a very strong connection musically, especially with the particular area. But now it’s even expanded because I’m doing another project with some Gothenburg guys.
So, does that mean that we are going to hear some metal stuff from you soon?
Jeff Scott Soto: No. It’s actually on the other hand… On the other side, it’s more pop-rock kind of thing. It is working with Paul Mendoza, who produced one of my solo records. We’re doing a side project together, along with Peter Iwers from In Flames. So, it should be heavy based on his musical background. But it’s more a pop-rock outfit, and I keep the heavy stuff for S.O.T.O. and something else that’s coming up that I can’t discuss yet.
Speaking about S.O.T.O, what made you decide to start a band called S.O.T.O. instead of keeping it as your solo band like you’ve done over 20 years already?
Jeff Scott Soto: To be honest with you, the first album was supposed to be another Jeff Scott Soto album. But I wanted to go in a heavier direction, and the manager I was working with at the time said. I’m not going to be able to sell this as a solo record. It sounds too much like a band album. So, my advice is for you to come up with a name for this and have a band. I said if you look at my career, I have so many band names and I don’t want to add another new one now, and he said, let’s keep it simple. You use your name. People already know your connection with it. They don’t have to learn or remember a new name, and now we sell S.O.T.O as a band. As a brand, as opposed to just kind of solo artist. So that’s how it evolved into that. Instead of finding a new band, I used the band that I was touring and working with me as my solo band for so many years. Because I have a great connection, chemistry with them. They were very interested in pursuing this together as a unit. They love touring with me, and I love touring with them. But I found it would be better to feature them a little more if we did this as a band together. The second album, DIVAK was more featured them a lot. The writing and stuff. They were all very much involved.
A NEW DIRECTION
You’re best known about melodic hard rock style, and that’s the thing you’ve done since the 80’s. What made you switch to this heavier style this time?
Jeff Scott Soto: I started on the heavier side. Yeah. It’s always been melodic, even back as far Yngwie stuff. But that was my career started more in a heavy metal side with Yngwie, and I tapped into more of that stuff even with Axel Rudi Pell. But somewhere along the way as I wanted to go into the part of my career that was missing. The more melodic hard rock and even pop rock side, I started doubling onto that; and of course, being a part of something like Journey, actually put me in that umbrella. I missed the heavier side of what I used to do. But I didn’t want to re-visit then to sound like I did 30 years ago. I wanted to be heavier, but I also wanted to be contemporary. So, this is what the whole idea about S.O.T.O was. We wanted to be as heavy as a lot of the other bands out there, be able to play the big festivals with them, but also not have eggs thrown at us or bottles of beer thrown at us because we weren’t heavy enough.
Instead of Frontiers, these both Soto albums are released by Ear Music. What is the reason for the change? Is it because of your new heavier direction which doesn’t fit their other catalog or what?
Jeff Scott Soto: Yeah. I can’t blame them. They’re in the business, and they spent a lot of money and years to invest into me and develop me as more of an AOR melodic rock singer. They weren’t interested in me going another direction. That was against their idea of where they feel I should be. They didn’t have any sour apples about it. They said we’re just not interested. You, of course, take it somewhere else, but we don’t want to do it. If you ever want to do this kind of style again, we’re are always here for you. So, it was an amicable decision. It wasn’t like there was a war. I never said anything bad. They never said anything bad. I just wanted something different. They didn’t want it, and that’s why I was able to take to it to Ear Music people.
But you’re still working with Frontiers on other projects for sure.
Jeff Scott Soto: With Frontiers, yeah. I’ll always be connected with them in some way.
Tell something about the current S.O.T.O. band members. Like you said, most of the guys you’ve been working with for a long time already but how your collaboration originally started?
Jeff Scott Soto: Like I said, they were part of my solo touring band, and I got two guys from Brazil. Edu and BJ. Every time I was in Brazil, they were either a part of my backing band there from the very early 2000s. Or they were in a band that would be in a support group. They’re very good friends of mine from many years, and I always have my eye on them for something in the future. When the time came, I needed to re-do my band. I went to them first, and I brought them on in 2009. The guitar player is much the same. I met Jorge Salan, a couple of years previously. We just became friends. I sang one song on one of his records and just the fact that I needed a great guitar player that was adaptable to do everything that I was doing in my solo shows, he was perfect. His career was starting to blossom in Spain, and I thought there is no way he would want to play second to me because he’s career is growing. And as soon as I asked him, he said, “When and where?” I’d love to do it, and he’s been with me ever since. The bass player Dave Z. He’s the newest member because I had another bass player that came with Jorge, but he only did one tour. He got another gig when we were going out again. I had to find somebody immediately. I worked with David Z on Trans-Siberian Orchestra. He’s from an East Coast band. I never realized how good he was until we were at rehearsals. Because both bands rehearsed together in the same building and I saw him doing some crazy stuff with his bass. This guy is way better than I thought. So, I gave him a little test of something. I said, check this out. Do you think you can play that? He goes, I love this. I’m going to learn this. I’m like, okay. That was something that Marcel Jacob had played. I gave him a week, and he came back to me the next day, and he said, “Dude, I learned it.” He played it note for note, and I’m like, “You want a gig?’
THE FUTURE OF TALISMAN
A few years ago, I saw you performing in Sweden Rock with Talisman. That show was the band’s first performance since the passing of Marcel Jacob, and it was tribute show dedicated to this memory. Do you have plans to do more Talisman shows in the future?
Jeff Scott Soto: We have Talisman show in August. It’s a Swedish festival that we’re headlining. It’s a smaller festival. It’s called something I can’t pronounce. After that, we don’t have any plans. I would like to do more, but everybody is too busy with other things. Everybody’s schedule is so difficult to put together, that’s why we’re doing maybe one show a year. Much less to try and get together for an album or to write or to do a tour. It would be such a task and something we have to do like two years in advance. But I told the guys to plant the seed in your head; I’d love to consider it. If the material matches and meets the standard of what Marcel would have written if he was still alive. Then we should address it. Otherwise, there is no point.
But you want to keep the name alive?
Jeff Scott Soto: I want to keep the legacy of what Marcel and I created alive, yeah. That will never go away.
As always, you have a few new releases out like Lita Ford’s TIME CAPSULE, which came out last year. Tell something more about that release which is quite an old stuff?
Jeff Scott Soto: That’s an old recording, yeah. There are a bunch of recordings that never came out. That’s all information I have. But there was a bunch of unreleased things that she did, and finally had a remix or properly mixed and they put it together and put it out.
Did you re-record anything for the album before came out?
Jeff Scott Soto: No. What you hear on there, I think that was done in ’91 or something. A long time ago.
WORKING WITH VINNIE VINCENT
This question might be a kind of off topic, but Jimmy Waldo was here two weeks ago or something, with Graham Bonnet, and we discussed his working with Vinnie Vincent. He then told me about the recording sessions that you did with Vinnie Vincent, around ’88? Can you say something about that session?
Jeff Scott Soto: We were recording the second Kuni album, and they were doing the second Vinnie Vincent, Invasion album. If anybody knows his style, where his background comes from, they know he’s very much into R&B and blues and soul and stuff like that. Heavy metal is the smallest on his list of things that he wrote and that he was into. So, he heard that in my voice. He knew even from my conversations that I came from that same background, that I grew up with the whole R&B thing. He had a publishing deal where he was supposed to submit X amounts of songs per year to pay him to… So, they can pitch them to Celine Dion and Michael Bolton, that kind of thing. And he had four songs; he asked if I wanted to sing on them because they were not metal. They were not hard rock. It was complete pop R&B, and that’s all there is, they were just demos.
The songs never came out officially?
Jeff Scott Soto: No. But they were out in different forms of bootlegs of course. But I don’t know if anybody ever recorded any of them in a real way, and all I have ever heard is the versions I sang with them.
That’s something that people don’t know much about, I think?
Jeff Scott Soto: Yeah. They were just publishing songs that we were doing demos of, that’s why even the recordings they were done in his home and back then home studios were… They were not the greatest quality. So, the quality when you hear it now it’s like really poor. Poorly recorded, poor samples and synthesizers and all that stuff.
I remember we met in the hotel lobby in Ronneby, and you were really in a hurry because you were in a rush to leave towards the airport to fly over to the States and start a career with Journey. Do you still remember that day?
Jeff Scott Soto: Yeah, of course.
What does that bring to your memory?
Jeff Scott Soto: That particular day and that memory were certainly… It’s more of a nightmare. It is more of something I re-live every once in a while. It still sucks ten years after the fact that I caught to have that memory of how it all went down, and how it was about to play out two days later when I got home. But what else can I say, they decided that they wanted to change. The way they went about it, it’s completely fucked up, completely wrong, and it is what it is. Ten years later, they’re happy. I’m happy. People ask me to do Journey songs today. I tell them when Journey starts singing my songs; I’ll start singing theirs again. So that means it’s not going to happen.
Right, but have you been in touch with the guys afterward?
Jeff Scott Soto: No, no. Not. I’ve run into Ross and Deen a couple of times, but they were not able to tell me what went down or why it went down.
Probably they were not able to say anything?
Jeff Scott Soto: No, no. At the time when Deen was still in the band, it was the last time I saw him. They both know if they even talk to me or give me any information then they probably would be terminating themselves. To be honest, I’m not interested anymore. It’s gone under the bridge. It’s their decision to leave it the way it is. So, I have no problem with that.
KRYST THE CONQUEROR
Have you recently checked what Wikipedia tells about you and your career?
Jeff Scott Soto: No.
It says that you’re mainly known for three bands. Yngwie Malmsteen, Talisman, and Kryst The Conqueror. What do you think about that? “Laughs.”
Jeff Scott Soto: That’s very strange, odd choice “Laughs.”
Tell something about that amusing project?
Jeff Scott Soto: That’s obviously the brothers from the Misfits, they were doing something that was a little more Christian oriented. That’s why they use the word Christ, spelled in a different way. It wasn’t my kind of music at all. It wasn’t something that I wanted to be a part of, but they paid me to sing all the songs. Then if they released it, they would do it under the same name. Thinking that once it was popular, once it came out that I would join it. But I never once showed any interest in being part of the band. They had concerts, these costumes, and comic books and this is not me. Especially then, that is when I wanted to go more hard rock and pop. These guys were doing more of the rock, kind of Misfits heavy metal kind of sound.
Jeff Scott Soto: The EP came out, yeah. But we had something like nine or 10 songs done in completion.
I have heard some demos but not the full album.
Jeff Scott Soto: They weren’t demos, they were the whole thing. Maybe they weren’t properly mixed, but we did full masters.
You were using a different artist name when you were in the band?
Jeff Scott Soto: It was Kryst, The Conqueror. The singer. So, it’s strange. They would have named the band after me, being the singer that they wanted me to be in the band. But I love Murp, and I love Doyle. They’re great guys. They treated me very respectfully well, and we’re still friends at this day, but we don’t see each other as often.
We can’t finish this interview without some Yngwie Malmsteen questions. First of all, have you followed what’s going on with his career nowadays?
Jeff Scott Soto: Just by default of reading magazines or when people give me information on him or what’s happening. He’s got a new album, or he’s on tour. I don’t go out of my way to follow him. But I pretty much know what he’s currently doing. That his keyboard player is a singer now and I have heard bits and pieces. But not that I’m looking for information. I’m too busy to be checking people out and see what they’re doing these days.
In fact, he is also singing by himself now. What do you think about that?
Jeff Scott Soto: Next question “Laughs.”
As a fan, I think it’s sad that he has decided to handle the vocalist thing the way how he does it now. Besides yourself, he’s always had great front-men in his band. Mark Boals, Mike Vescara, Göran Edman, Ripper Owens, and the list goes on. It’s sad to see that he has chosen a different path nowadays.
Jeff Scott Soto: I think he’s beyond wanting a front man. He’s beyond wanting anybody that’s trying to in his eyes, or maybe in his eyes trying to use his career to move forward. So, he’d rather just keep it where he’s at the focal point, and he’s happier with that. That works for him of course.
THE FUTURE OF SOTO
What’s going to happen next with S.O.T.O after the current tour is over?
Jeff Scott Soto: The tour wraps in just over a week, and we’re going to be just releasing one song at a time. Because we did leave the label and we’re going to do it independently. I want to try something different and release one song at a time, as opposed to releasing… Working on an entire album and trying to stress and pressure everybody into a gap of time. If we come up with a song, we can work on it. We take it out and get it to where we like it and then just put it out.
Don’t say that this means that this is going to be the end of physical album releases from you?
Jeff Scott Soto: Of course not. But I want to try this way because of even the last five releases, they all outsold the physical releases by digital. I didn’t believe it myself because everywhere I go, I’m signing CDs. If everybody has a CD, who’s downloading the stuff? When I saw the numbers, they were staggering, maybe less than 20% of my sales are physical. So, if they’re willing and they’re at that point where they’re willing to download and pay for it that way. I’d rather try to keep building the reputation of the band, by giving one song at a time. If they don’t show interest, then I have to find another way of getting it out there. Maybe go back to the original. I’m just trying something different.
Maybe you should go back to vinyl?! “Laughs.”
Jeff Scott Soto: Yeah, right. Even I don’t have a record player. I’m trying something that’s supposedly shouldn’t fit within the times. But if it doesn’t, then I go back with something and try to find a label and do… I’m just sick of the usual politics and general methods of doing things because it’s changed so much. It’s more of a headache than we were going to try it this way. So, let’s see if we can work and do demographic that works.
And if you don’t want to put out full CD’s you can always release EP’s and stuff like that in physical format?
Jeff Scott Soto: Absolutely. That will eventually, once we have said more than five or six songs and of course we have to think about putting that in a hard copy format.
Another successful project you have had in recent years is W.E.T. Do you have plans to do something with that band in the future?
Jeff Scott Soto: I’m trying to hold off to the end of the tour, to say it. But officially we’re going to make the announcement next week. That we’re working on a new W.E.T. album and it will be coming on 2018.
That’s great news. But those guys are also busy all time, so it’s probably hard to find enough time together for this band?
Jeff Scott Soto: Yeah, yeah. That’s why we have to wait. It’s not just releasing a new album now. We have to write the next album; there’s nothing ready, we have no leftovers, and everything is going to be from scratch now. It’s going to be all new material.
Do you have plans to do a proper tour with W.E.T. in the future?
Jeff Scott Soto: That’s one thing I told him I couldn’t do. Because between S.O.T.O and I do have another project coming up, that I can’t say anything about because of it’s too early in development. I’m going to be busy with that and between that and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. And I still have a marriage that I have to take care of so there’s probably no time for W.E.T tour.
I forgot that, but you’re still a part of Trans-Siberian Orchestra…
Jeff Scott Soto: Absolutely. I just did my ninth year with them. So that’s something I don’t want to tarnish. It’s something that now I’m part of the file. They’re part of mine and yeah.
When does the next Trans-Siberian tour start?
Jeff Scott Soto: It’s sometime in November or December?
Are you on the East Coast or the West Coast band?
Jeff Scott Soto: On the West. With Al Pitrelli.
I saw Trans-Siberian Orchestra/Savatage show in Wacken, 2015 and I have to say that it was one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen.
Jeff Scott Soto: Yeah. It was unbelievable. To play two stages at the same time, it’s something I’ll never forget.
AXEL RUDI PELL
One of your former employers is Axel Rudi Pell. The man celebrated his 25’th career anniversary last year and put out a DVD from the celebration show including your performance. Am I sure you remember that show well?
Jeff Scott Soto: Yeah, I did “Warrior” and “Fool Fool” with them.
What kind of memories have you worked with him in the past? He’s such a strong personality as well.
Jeff Scott Soto: Yeah. But Axel as a person, he’s one of my favorite people. He’s such a good man. He’s a funny guy. He’s very respectful. But his music is not my genre that much. He’s doing more of a traditional straight ahead hard rock thing, and I wanted to do more dated stuff. But what I did with Axel, I can say that we created some really good stuff together. But when we parted ways, it was an amicable decision. It wasn’t my scene, and he saw that it wasn’t really for me. So, he wanted to get somebody who is motivated a little more, someone who could also tour and that was Johnny Gioeli.
What is a bit strange is that Pell never wanted to tour much? What was the reason for that?
Jeff Scott Soto: He always stays within a certain perimeter of Germany, in the area where… Yeah. He doesn’t like planes. So, he won’t go abroad. He won’t go to South America and Japan. He doesn’t like airplanes. It’s a shame because he’s missing out on a lot of people that would love to see him. But I have nothing bad to say about this guy. I love him to death.
What is the biggest difference between him and Yngwie?
Jeff Scott Soto: The fact that I love Axel to death “Laughs”. It’s certainly a personality difference because Axel is a very forthcoming and very warm-hearted person. Yngwie was always a bit separated from the band members because apparently, everything focused on him. Even the people around to make sure there was a separation between him and the band. So, with Axel, it was Axel’s career, but he always made everybody feel as comfortable as at home as if it was a band. The same way I did it with my band which then evolved into S.O.T.O. So that’s the kind of differences between the two guys. Of course, their styles are completely different too.
Yeah, but what’s common thing for those two is that they both play like Ritchie Blackmore in steroids “Laughs.”
Jeff Scott Soto: Yeah, exactly.
PICTURES FROM ON THE ROCKS, HELSINKI 2017