Primarily known for his melodic rock sensibilities, Jeff Scott Soto has gotten down and gritty with latest venture, Soto. Not to be confused with his JSS imprint, Soto the band are a much heavier proposition, offering a side to Jeff’s musicality that he says has always been there. Now on third album ‘Origami’, it’s time to “create a new buzz”, says the New York native. We sat down with Jeff for a chat about the band and the disc, his time in Journey, and get the EXCLUSIVE story behind his fronting the original David Lee Roth band in Anaheim earlier this year. Dance with the devil; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Jeff, how are you today?
I’m absolutely fabulous. It’s nice to be home. There was a gruelling South American tour we just finished, and the one thing I don’t like about the South American tours is there’s no night liner; it’s all flying. They’re all fly dates, and some are miserable. You basically finish a gig and you haven’t enough time to shower, and you’re off to the airport for the first morning flight out. You’ve basically lost the entire day because you’re sleeping the day away. It is what it is, but you don’t really look forward to that portion of touring down there.
Those shows were with Soto, weren’t they?
Those were Soto. We started down there. Initially, the tour was supposed to begin around this time in Europe, and unfortunately we had to move that to September. But we wanted something to launch the album with; just the fact that we’ve had singles out, and the album’s out, so we booked a short South American tour to kick it all off.
Have you been concentrating solely on the Soto band material for the shows, or have you been mixing the set up a little?
Unfortunately we don’t get to just concentrate on the Soto material nowadays. It’s mainly because the JSS following is still there, and they do have a certain expectation, and if we don’t give it to them they’ll stop coming to the shows. [*laughing*] But, for the most part, I’m trying to create a new buzz, a whole new fan base for Soto because this kind of sound and music and what we’re doing here is not necessarily geared towards my past fans. For the better part of what we’re aiming for here, I presume it’s best to try to get an audience that has no idea who I am, personally, or as a singer. I kind of want to be a faceless as the rest of the band, in the sense of; not having done as much as I’ve done, because there’s a whole new generation of kids and fans and music listeners who have no idea who I am, so that’s who I’m actually aiming for. I’m trying to get it a whole new fan base to a style of music that I’m generally not known in.
I’m glad you mentioned that stylistic transition, because you are known for your melodic leaning, yet, these are very heavy tracks, aren’t they?
Yeah, and when you think about it, when you reflect back to where it all began, I mean I was with Yngwie Malmsteen. It was quite heavy then, for that time, so I did begin my career in more of a heavy metal format, in the heavy metal genre. It was by my doing and by my choice that I kind of shifted towards the AOR / melodic rock kind of thing, only because I wanted to be able to show that side of me, but it absolutely wasn’t necessarily the only direction. Unfortunately, that’s the direction most people grasp onto me; from Talisman, and into hard rock and that sort of thing. But I still had so many other avenues I wanted to pursue, and I did, and I have pursued them, and Soto is just one of those.
‘Origami’ retains the melody with your voice, but musically, it’s something different; with an ultra-heavy, groove kind of vibe.
Yeah, and that’s generally the direction, or the audience I’m actually aiming for. I realised that this music’s not really going to cater for the W.E.T and the Journey side of my life and my career [*laughing*], and by design. I’d rather that people, instead of moaning and bitching about it; “Oh, I prefer you doing this stuff”; then prefer me doing that, and only listen to that. I’m heading to this, just don’t listen to it; don’t knock it if you don’t like it, just move on from it, because I’m clearly not going for that audience.
You’re now three albums in with Soto; do you think there are fans that still get surprised by it when they show up to a Soto show?
No, at this point we’ve definitely established that Soto is a separation from the JSS factor - aside of the fact that we are still doing JSS related material in the set. We’ve lessened it over the years, but even on this recent South American tour, we were concerned that if we were only concentrating on the Soto stuff that there might not be enough interest, as far as pre-sales and all that. So we made sure that for every two or three Soto songs, that we added one of my JSS-related things just to kind of mix it up and keep the older fans happy.
Do you find that that approach of the Sotto and JSS material offers a nice mix, in the live setting?
Yeah, it does vary quite a bit. It’s very strange to go from a song like ‘Origami’ to ‘Eyes of Love’, for instance; one of my earlier melodic rock, kind of songs. Yeah, they factor in very strangely, but as you said earlier; it’s my voice - it’s me singing regardless of how you slice it. So, you’re getting the best of both worlds, as far as I’m concerned.
The new material has been received very positively; have you been pleased with the reaction?
So far, yes. And a lot of what we’re doing for this record, we had to make sure that we had a strong focus on what this record should sound like. We have a new label here. The first two albums pretty much planted the seed of what we’re trying to do. To be quite frank with you, the first album [‘Inside the Vertigo’, 2015] was supposed to be a solo album. It was supposed to be a Jeff Scott Soto solo record, but the manager I was working with at the time, he felt it was too heavy and didn’t sound like a solo record; it sounded like a band record. And he convinced me to put a band brand name behind it, and I just said; “Man, I’ve got so many things through the years, now to add yet another name that people have to associate and remember me by?” And he said; “Well, keep it simple, go the route of Dio / Van Halen / Winger / Daughtry”; bands that name the band after the last name of one of the band members. From that, you have the Soto name, you have the brand already there because people already know it’s you singing, but yet you’re separating yourself from the JSS moniker”.
Moving on to something else that you did earlier this year, and you fronted the ‘Eat ‘Em And Smile’ band in January; what was it like fronting the original David Lee Roth band?
Even after all these decades of doing what I’m doing, I still get those ‘pinch me’ moments. It’s funny, because I just recently saw a documentary about Queen + Adam Lambert, and they were interviewing Adam, and he’s very confident of who he is and how he sings, and as a performer and an artist, but he still has that ‘pinch me’ moment of; “Oh my god, look at that; that’s Brian May right there, that’s Roger Taylor right there”. No matter how many shows you do, no matter how many years you’re doing this in your life, you still get those moments, and that night gave me that moment, that; “I’m on stage with the David Lee Roth ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’ band, this is insane!” It had been so many years [since the original band members played together], and collectively, to be on stage with them together, doing a DLR track, it was mind blowing. It was actually really fun.
Was there much rehearsal before you all took to the stage?
The rehearsal was us backstage kind of talking it through, how we were going to; “We’re going to extend certain things, and then when we get to this, this is the cue to get back into the song”. That was the rehearsal.
The band played two songs; ‘Shy Boy’ and a cover of Queen’s ‘The Your Mother Down’; were you not itching to throw in the likes of ‘Yankee Rose’, or even ‘Goin’ Crazy’ as well?
The original idea was to do ‘Shy Boy’ and ‘Yankee Rose’. Initially they did reach out for Dave, and asked him if he wanted to do it, but he was in New York during that week, and he said he would have loved to have done it. From that, the guys, mainly Steve [Vai], they worried that if they ever wanted to put this thing together and actually make it work, whether it’s a jam or a reunion or whatever, by doing it with me and doing two DLR songs, he might say; “Yeah, you know, you’ve kind of already done it, you don’t need me to do it anymore”, kind of thing. So, it was by design that we removed ‘Yankee Rose’, and we only kept ‘Shy Boy’ because I made the point that ‘Shy Boy’s a Billy Sheehan vehicle. David Lee Roth, way after the fact; it’s a Talas song, Mr. Big [have played it], it’s been covered by virtually every band Billy Sheehan’s been associated with, besides Sons of Apollo. So I brought in the argument that, it’s not a Dave song, and it shouldn’t be treated as a Dave song; it should be treated as a Billy Sheehan song. But those guys were behind a version of that song, and that’s what convinced the guys to keep that in the set.
You must have been aware that there were a lot of eyes on you, filling Roth’s shoes.
You know what? The buzz was amazing. Just being part of the buzz that we were going to be doing that, that was incredible. Then of course, the aftermath, it got so much press, it got so much notice. We got to the point where a record company offered a deal for the Eat ‘Em and Smile band and myself fronting, to do an album together. It got to that, but everybody’s busy, and everybody’s doing their thing, and I don’t expect anytime soon that we’re going to revisit that in a real way, but it was still a lot of fun to do.
You mentioned Sons of Apollo, and how did you enjoy the band’s first tour, which included UK dates dates, last year?
Well, it was a fantastic tour. It was basically planting the seed of who we were, and again, showing the world that this is its own entity and not just a band that’s going to go on tour covering everybody in the band’s pasts. it’s the same thing again that I’m trying to do with Soto; I’m trying to show that this is its’ own entity, and doesn’t need to be lumped in with my past, so to speak. It’s a little easier to do that with me because there’s not four other members that we have to draw on for other material just to make the set list work. But with Sons of Apollo, we have one album to draw on, so we threw in a couple of covers, a few solo spots, and a couple of Dream Theater songs, and the set was just fantastic; it was so much fun to sing and be a part of.
How are things progressing for the second Sons of Apollo album?
We’re three songs deep on the new album, so we’re tooling away at it, and we’re looking at it beyond the beginning of early next year, and we’re going to be hitting the road again for the better part of 2020.
Is it difficult to get into the separate headspace for each of these projects?
Not at all, absolutely not. In fact, I love all those challenges, because that’s what keeps me ticking as an artist; it keeps me creative, it keeps me challenged, and it keeps making sure that I’m doing something that makes other people happy, whether it be the band themselves, or the fans. So, I welcome those kinds of challenges, and I revel in them. I absolutely love it.
Speaking of challenges, and I can’t chat to you without asking about your time fronting Journey?
Well, again, it was one of those ‘pinch me’ moments. It was a dream come true, as a long, long time of Journey. They were such an influence on my growing up, as they were for a lot of singers, and a lot of musicians out there. To be able to front them, it truly was a dream come true. I’ve got to be honest though, I think about three or four years in I probably would have walked, had I not been sacked, and that’s mainly because I feel I have more to offer. I still have more in me as an artist to leave my own mark, to leave my own legacy. I wouldn’t have been able to do that with Journey, if that was my only path, so to speak.
Do you feel like you are making your mark on your own terms now?
Absolutely, and that’s very important to me. Even if I never get to the level of selling out stadiums or arenas, it’s more important to me that people know and accept me for what I have to offer, instead of singing someone else’s legacy for the rest of my life.
It’s a great legacy, but you do also have that side as the ‘go-to’ stand-in front man. To have sang with both Journey and the DLR band; you must be doing something right?
Well, I sure hope so! For the most part, when I do those kind of things, I’m doing them as a tribute and homage to these artists that have set the blueprint for me. As far as I’m concerned it’s a lot of fun to do, but at some point I’ve just got to do my thing because I won’t find any other reward in it. Even if it’s a financial reward, in doing my own thing, I’d rather do that and look back on what I did as an artist, instead of just thinking only about paying the bills and being able to tour in front of loads of people.
Finally, what plans have you for the rest of the year?
Well, the record comes out in about a week and a half, and so I’m on the promotional trail to let the world know that that’s there. Then, the next outing for us is in September. We’re doing a European tour, and we’re kind of playing it by ear for the moment because I don’t want to force a world tour; I don’t want to force going to Japan and other territories that might have smaller attendances. I want to wait. If we can really crack a dent with this album, I want to wait for the demand to come to us and say; “we need you here, we want you to play here”, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re going to set where we know it’s going to be able to work, and that’s Europe and South America, and the rest we’re going to wait to come to the table.
So it’s a busy time ahead for you.
Yeah, absouletley, its non-stop. When I’m done with this, then Trans Siberian [Orchestra] begin, and then after Trans Siberian it’s Sons of Apollo; it’s a complete circle that I’m doing here, every year.
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Soto's 'Origami' is released on 24th May 2019, via InsideOut Music. Available in numerous formats, pre-order the album HERE.