A Conversation with Boston's Tom Scholz
Wednesday, December 11, 2013

By: Mike Ragogna
Huffington Post

Mike Ragogna: Hi, how are you Tom?

Tom Scholz: Fine Michael, how are you?

MR: I'm pretty good. I was looking very forward to this interview because I've been such a ridiculous Boston fan for a very long time.

TS: Well, thank you.

MR: [laughs] Okay, let's jump into Life, Love, And Hope. This album has taken a long time to put together. As you were creating it, was there a theme?

TS: I'm never too ambitious when I go into the studio. I always know that I'm just going into the studio to work on or try to develop an idea that I have for a song. When I first start on something, it's because I'm excited about a riff with some chord changes or a chorus; I probably don't have a melody for very much of it and certainly no lyrics. So I get started and then I see where it goes. I never have any preconceived notions or any boundaries. I'm not trying to make Boston music or anything else, I'm just trying to see where the music sort of takes me. Once I get to the point where I have a few cuts picked out, with this album, I did sort of start to see a theme emerging. It wasn't intentional, it just happened, but I realized maybe that's because of the stage I'm at in my life or experience or being slightly wiser than I was when I was twenty-five. I don't know. But at some point, it became obvious to me that this album is about its title, Life, Love And Hope. It's no accident that there are five songs that have "love" in the title. Out of life, love and hope, I thought that might be the most important part. So that is something that falls into place and then once that happened, I had to take great care as I finished up the album and worked on later songs that they would fit into the theme. It makes the job extra hard because not only are you then concerned with what's happening lyrically with the songs for the literal interpretation, but there's also the musical interpretation, what emotion is created by each song, where it could fit in a sequence that makes it work, and then you're concerned as a producer about all the technical aspects--the key changes of the songs, the tempo; it's a really complicated several-dimension puzzle. There are lots and lots of false starts and lots of giving up, turning around, and going again, which is part of the reason it takes so long. Not only with the album itself and the various songs, but also with every single little part on every single little song, I have just endless ideas. Picking up a guitar to play a rhythm part, I play through the chord changes and I immediately have all these ideas about the voicing on the chords and the passing notes and I try a lot of them. I don't try all of them, but I try a lot. Every instrument that I add creates more options and more thoughts about how they could fit in and how I could change the parts I've already done. So it's a very time-consuming effort. I don't know why I'm driven so much by it. A lot of people go in and hammer out some chords and say, "That's my song." I get really excited by the music and what you can do with it, so I find that I have to investigate these things.

MR: You're the producer, the writer, the arranger, the player, looking at it from all those angles. A lot of people look at the technical aspects of an album as a cold procedure, but I'll bet that Tom Scholz's heart is warmed when he's coming up with the latest musical thing.

TS: Oh it absolutely is. They reinforce each other, the strictly creative musical part of playing something different that I haven't thought of before and creating a sound that wasn't available to me before or is different somehow by technical means, one inspires the other if that makes any sense. I'll have some idea from a strictly technical standpoint and a way to make something really cool happen with the guitar sound, and I'll work on it for a while. As I'm doing it, hearing this new sort of capability for new sounds drives me to do things with it. The song "Heaven On Earth," for instance, grew out of an experiment I was doing with some Rockman amps and some modifications to it. As I was working on it and thinking, "Oh, this sounds really good when you do this kind of lick with it," before I knew it, I was playing the verse to "Heaven On Earth."

MR: [laughs] You've taken with you more than a couple of generations of fans, and when I look at songs like "Last Day Of School" or "More Than A Feeling," it seems you bring out a very passionate view of the world they've followed you though.

TS: It's more like--and I was as surprised as anybody else that this happened--it's more that people identify with the things that I felt when I heard this music. The reason that I bothered to record it and work on it as hard as I did was this feeling that I got from it, and it was often kind of hard to put into words. I realized, eventually, that a lot of other people got that same kind of tingle up their spine. It was something different that they really enjoyed and you can't necessarily put that into words. It wasn't that I was trying to tap into that in the universe of listeners out there, I was just very lucky that a lot of people had that same reaction to the same type of music that I did. And by the way, it was completely unexpected. I was used to rejection and failure. The experts in the music business even went so far as to tell me to expect failure with what I was doing back in the seventies because disco was the thing back then, not rock 'n' roll, so I was shocked that it struck such a chord with such a large number of people. Look, music doesn't have to have lyrics, it doesn't have to be a particular type of music, it has the ability to bring out really strong and hopefully good emotional reactions in people. The music that I wrote and recorded is music that I really enjoy listening to. It's just dumb luck that a lot of other people do too.

MR: It's really amazing that you were told that Boston wouldn't have a shot.

TS: Oh yeah, they had me conditioned to expect abject failure, and I did. I finished recording that album--I took a leave of absence from my job at Polaroid--and as soon as it was done, I went back to work. I heard "More Than A Feeling" for the first time when somebody came running into my office in the engineering department and said, "Your song's on the radio in the drafting department!"

MR: That's almost unimaginable. Boston is so established, I think, in the pop/rock culture that people are still ready to take that ride even all these years later.

TS: That's right. These are basically topics that are subjects in my life. People sometimes think, "I'm crazy, I must be the only person who feels like this," but that's usually not the case, there's usually a huge number of people who feel just like you do. So the things that I write about and the music--I was going to say it supports the lyrics, but it's really the other way around. It's shared by an awful lot of people. The subjects in Boston songs are life subjects.

MR: Nice. Getting back to the new album, the process of recording this album was a bit more varied than it's been in the past. How exactly did it differ from the previous Boston setups?

TS: It's not that much different, to be honest with you. What with the exception of my last release, which I'm trying to forget about, all the albums have been done the same way. Basically, I work alone, I write most of the songs and get the music down and then, of course, it's time to have somebody sing the lead vocals and thank God I had Brad [Delp] for so many years because I'm sure they wouldn't be nearly as well-represented if I had tried to sing them. I get them to the point where the singer can come in and try to interpret what I'm looking for to complete the songs, and then it goes from there. I wish Brad was still here. Of course he would have sung a lot more of the album, but I'm very thankful that I have him on the three songs that I had finished. I was very lucky that it was almost--I don't want to get mystical here--it was almost like Tommy DeCarlo got sent in 2007 because when he stepped in, he was not a professional musician, he was not a singer, he hadn't ever been in a band in his life. He'd never even been on stage. But he stepped in and it was almost like he's always been there. It's just amazing. So thank God, it really enabled me to complete the project in much the same way that I had anticipated. I've heard lots of great singers over the years and I always try to include some other performances by other musicians and singers too, so that it isn't too much of a one-sided presentation. I love the Kimberley Dahme things and I'm really happy with the job that David Victor did and, of course, I've got Curly Smith on harmonica on a part of it and Gary [Pihl] traded off leads with me on one song and sang harmonies with me. I really like to have a little bit of diversity in there, but I was very lucky that Tommy came along when he did. We didn't even go looking, he just literally fell in our lap.

MR: That's wonderful. Was there a mentoring process that went on with Tommy DeCarlo?

TS: Certainly. He had to make an amazing adjustment. He was a regular guy who worked at a hardware store and had a family and he was thrown into an alien world of professional musicians and being on stage and all of these things. But I have to say, he basically turned himself into a fully qualified amazing performer all by himself. We took him on in 2008 on our tour, he did fine, he did amazingly considering his background, and he went home from that and he came back in 2012 in control. He'd step on a stage and it was his stage. It was that way from the first day of rehearsal through the end of the tour. He went to work on it. He's a very dedicated guy that you can tell does an enormous amount of work on his own. What he doesn't know, he figures out and learns. He turned himself into a top-notch vocalist. I can't take credit for mentoring Tommy DeCarlo because honestly I think he did it himself.

MR: That leads me to the question I ask everybody. What advice do you have for new artists?

TS: Do the art for your own enjoyment. Do it for your own purposes as well as you can for yourself and the way you like it. If something happens with it, great, but don't go at it because you think it's a great way to make money or get chicks because that's not going to work.

MR: Tom, album-to-album, you feature that guitar ship with the Boston logo on its way to someplace. How do you picture the journey taking off from here?

TS: Touring 2014. [laughs] We've got an awful lot of people around the world asking why we haven't visited them in a long time, so it may be a long trip. I want Boston to be an escape for people when they put on the music, so the album covers sort of reflect what I'm hoping they will feel from sitting through a Boston album. It can take them away from their everyday life and whatever they're thinking about, to basically free your mind up a little bit.

MR: I'm kind of bothered by what you said earlier, I don't see how you couldn't have possibly taken off when you did with that first album, it was a classic at the time of its release. What do you think as far as Boston's legacy?

TS: You know, I don't really think about that. I'm just always focused on the next idea that I'm trying to work on. So I don't really ever think about that. My advice to most people is, "Don't ever think about that." You do the best you can do and your legacy will take care of itself.

MR: Do you have any devices that you're working on? Inventing Rockman should've been enough for one lifetime, but do you have any other devices up your sleeve?

TS: [laughs] I have a bunch of things that I've wanted to take the time to work on. These albums are so intensive that everything else gets pushed aside while I've got one of these in process. Like I said, I haven't had a vacation in seven years and I can't take one now. I do have some other gadgets, nothing musical at the moment, but a couple of ideas for people that have back injuries. I'm dying to get to work on them, because they've been rattling around in my brain for years and I just haven't had time to sit down and develop them.

MR: I'm so floored by that answer, I don't know where to go from that. You're an amazing human.

TS: Thank you.

MR: Tom, all the best with the new record, and is there anything else you wanted to talk about that I forgot to ask?

TS: You know, I met Arianna back in 2002 and I was really amazed. She's just so sharp and so fast, I wish I had a brain that could work like that. Mine's at a much slower sampling rate.

MR: [laughs] Talk about people who've had an influence on the culture. She's affected so much through The Huffington Post and I don't think people will be able to put their fingers on how extensively that outreach was for years to come.

TS: She's amazing. I'm one of her biggest fans.

MR: Tom, I'm so happy you gave me this interview. Thank you so much my friend.

TS: My pleasure. Take care.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

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