Jeff Scott Soto (2016)
'Awakened: The Jeff Scott Soto Story Continues'
For those not in the know, Jeff Scott Soto is an American rock singer of Puerto Rican descent. He is most well known for being the lead singer for the group Talisman from 1990 till the end of Talisman in 2007, the vocalist on Yngwie Malmsteen's first two albums, and the lead vocalist for Journey on their 2006–2007 tours after Steve Augeri had to leave the band because of an acute throat infection.
His style ranges from Hard Rock to Heavy and Power Metal, but he is also influenced by classic soul music singers such as Sam Cooke as well as Journey vocalist Steve Perry, and Freddie Mercury from Queen. In 2015, Soto also recorded vocals for a new project of Whitesnake and former Night Ranger guitarist Joel Hoekstra called Joel Hoekstra's 13 (Dying To Live), and currently has the Jeff Scott Soto band's sophomore album in the stores, Divak (out now on earMusic).
I recently caught up with the man himself, Jeff Scott Soto whilst he was on tour, and with Soto [the band] having just released its sophomore album, Divak this past April 1st, I first wondered if he had purposely choose "April Fools Day" for its release date?! "This was a date chosen by myself and my General Manager of the label. I mentioned end of March and he reminded me that was Easter holiday and that people’s minds would be preoccupied with family and gatherings. April 1st gave us a silly setup as we planned to fool people with something, but we just stuck with getting the promo out instead."
Divak (pronounced "dee-vock") is an interesting choice for an album title, so where does it originate? "My wife and her two kids spend our summers in Bulgaria every year, as that is where she is from. Last year, while they were taking the trash out and feeding local stray cats - as there is a BIG epidemic of street cats there - they came back with this little dot of a black kitten they picked up by the bins."
"It wasn’t like the others who know from birth to not trust people. This one was so happy to be with us and we thought to care for it as it was very skinny and under nourished. We thought for sure we could find a home for him as he was only about four months old, and maybe someone would want a rock star's kitten," he laughs. "But as we got closer to coming back home to LA, NO ONE wanted the cat! We couldn’t put it in the streets again and there was no shelter to take it to, as they don’t have the resources we do in the US. So we got all the shots, got him a passport and flew him to LA!!"
"Now fast forward almost a year later, this little Angel can sometimes be a little Devil and when he acts up my wife curses at him in Bulgarian - often saying this word ‘divak’. I asked what does that mean and she said it stands for wild, savage, crazy. All the things that describe our music! To me it was a perfect name and fit ... and now you know why there is a black panther on the cover also. It signifies a larger version of our ‘divak’ at home!!!"
Wow! That's crazy! Who created that incredible artwork for Divak? "My current art director, Gustavo Sazes, is a Brazilian graphics guy who has been doing some incredible work with on some great albums. So many people made references to me to check him out and his first drop of the Inside The Vertigo concept sold me! He created the brand, the logo and overall look that establishes us without giving away too much of what we’re about before listening to the album."
Divak comes just 15 months after your debut album, Inside The Vertigo, so is there a Soto game plan here re: getting new material out to the fans as quickly as possible each time? "We didn’t really get the big splash I was hoping for with ITV. I had bad management during the release time and there was very little communication with the label in what we were all doing to market it. There is no one to blame really, just that I wanted to take a step back then charge forward like a bull! We’re on full course for what we should be doing now!"
Divak has been produced, once again, by both yourself and drummer Edu Cominato. Why don't Jorge Salan, or David Z, or BJ get to help produce though - or don't they want that added pressure? "The others are far too busy in the every day life to produce. And to be honest, I don’t like putting in too many cooks in this kitchen. I have a very strong idea and vision of what I want this band to sound like, but too many opinions can suffer the result."
"Edu, however is the one that keeps the balance on the songs and how we present them. He listens to a lot of newer and progressive bands as well as alternative. This is very important in staying current whereas I am one to fall back to my yesteryear way of writing. In other words, I keep the classic JSS melodies balanced with his opinions of not sounding too dated."
That said, Divak is a well-balanced album, lyrically, because Soto is a band where all the band members' writing and musical contributions are heard - and, for the most part, used. That's rare in a group where the prominent lead singer usually wants to have it all their own way, so to speak. I applaud the band for that "Thank you, and yes, for this album I felt it was very important to shift the focus and attention to ‘us’, not just me. Even the live show, is geared very heavily on the guys because they are not only major contributors this time, they get to step forward more and show what they’re really made of."
Even after having a debut album beforehand, Soto only just made its first live gig appearance this past February. Is that correct? "It was actually the first in Europe, but we’d already done a handful of dates in the US by then. It's still new, it's still coming together and feeling powerful as we go. The confidence in playing so much new material compared to the old days of the JSS shows is now sealed. And because of that alone, the years we already had under our belts touring, this was able to gel better than starting over with a whole new line up."
As for touring, all these years on, has it changed for you in any way, perhaps? "It’s much easier now, because you know how to make it more pleasurable with the insane amount of downtime on the road. Having personal computers, social media, iPads, etc., certainly help in passing the time away. Compared to the old days of Atari and a few select video tapes of movies we all watched a 100 times!"
Soto just played the Monsters Of Rock cruise (East) along with Steve Vai, Extreme, Queensryche, etc. How did that go and what acts did you yourself enjoy seeing live the most on that cruise? "It was amazing! For me though, not so much, because I got pneumonia the week before and sang the last songs of the tour quite ill. I was just starting to recover on the boat, but it was hell getting through it all. Of course, the highlights for us were Steve Vai, Queensryche, Extreme, and Saigon Kick. I watched so many mainly because so many are dear friends."
Talking about incredible live shows, you began your career with Swedish rockers Talisman (1990-2007) and have just announced that later this month Talisman will be playing a one-off live show at the Frontiers Rock Festival! How did all that come about, all these years later? "We did one appearance at the Sweden Rock Festival in 2014, five years after Marcel Jacob took his life. This was more a tribute to our fallen brother. This time when we were asked to reunite for FRF, we decided to do it as a tribute to us and the body of work we created. I hope we’ll discuss more for the future if I feel we can live up to the Talisman name and what we created."
And, talking of other bands, you replaced Steve Augeri as lead singer of Journey on their 2006-2007 tour at the request of your friend, and Journey guitarist, Neal Schon. Of course, avid Journey fans (and subsequently, Schon himself) didn't take to that so well (not your fault), but getting a glimpse (through you now) at the mechanics behind that touring moment of your life, how did it all feel to you at the time? "Actually, the fans did embrace me overall. The balance was maybe 80/20, which isn’t bad when a band replaces a singer that is still alive and able to sing his songs, but chooses not to."
"The overall experience was a dream and a nightmare. The dream being, I was singing some of greatest memories of my musical lifetime. The nightmare only set in later when I realized I might be singing 'Don’t Stop Believin' until I’m 60! That idea didn’t really sit in well with me, to finish my career singing someone else's legacy. I believe had they not let me go I would have walked after a few years feeling I need more than a paycheck. I need to get music out of me and that would never have worked in that band."
I actually saw you on that aforementioned Journey tour, and even a year earlier when Neal and you created Soul SirkUS and did a small US club tour. It was like Neal was using you as a gun for hire for his projects, but did it also feel that way to you at the time? "No, we were no hired guns in Soul SirkUS. It was a band, new and true. Neal spearheaded it, of course, but we all molded the overall product. That too had a lot of potential, but it was a money pit for Neal as he invested his own money to make it pop out of the gate, then soon realized it was gonna drain him to continue making a dent out there. So he pulled the plug."
Stepping into the here and now, you seem very active on social media - especially both Twitter and Facebook. But, is that really you posting all those photographs, making all the written updates, etc.? "Of course, it’s the way of the world now man. You used to need PR firms and street teams to get this stuff out, now you can plaster yourself everywhere yourself. I try not to go extremes like ‘taking a walk in the park now ... just ordered sushi, yum’ and things like that. No one cares what you’re eating for lunch! But I try to keep it interesting, at least."
I've noticed, having some fun here, watching your video for 'Weight Of The World' and seeing you play live, you like to bring your left hand up, mic cord wrapped around it and kinda sing through it, at times. What's that all about? "I LOATHE wired mics! The wireless mic is my best friend, but that is something I always do if stuck with a wired mic. I coil the lead around my arm as sort of wrist band to make it seem more of a prop!"
Finally, and yes, we ask everyone we interview this question, we here at Exclusive Magazine LOVE Penguins (the birds)! So, we were wondering if you did also, and if you had any stories about any - real or soft toys - growing up, perhaps? "Birds scare me man! I don’t think I’ve ever had a pleasurable experience with one. They just love pecking at you," he laughs. "And then when the wing span opens and splashes you in the face ...! I’m good. I’ll watch and admire from afar," he broadly smiles, one last time.
Interviewed by: Russell A. Trunk
Jeff Scott Soto @ Facebook
Jeff Scott Soto @ Twitter