By A.J. Wachtel
Tremendously talented artists like Tom Scholz seldom appear in music markets today. But when they show up and make their voices heard we all stop and listen. BOSTON is back with a new full-length release, Life, Love & Hope, and is better than ever. This occurrence couldn't have happened at a better time. Listen to what Tom Scholz has to say:
Noise: It's been 11 years since Corporate America came out. What have you seen change in the music industry during those years?
Tom Scholtz: Two things: 1) Music buyers have embraced the worst sounding method of music reproduction since Edison's original wax phonograph cylinders, the MP3 file, which has actually forced a small segment of listeners to revert to 1960's technology vinyl records just to hear decent audio. 2) According to some industry observers, nine out of ten songs downloaded are stolen files.
My theory is that these two facts are the principle cause of the precipitous decline of the music biz, and with it, the end of world class rock music recording. It seems that most of the good studios that were available in the Northeast are now gone.
Noise: After more than 30 years of showing singers how to sing your songs you sing the lead vocals on "Love Got Away." Why did it take you so long to do this?
Tom: In the studio, I am producer, engineer, tech, writer, arranger, guitarist, bassist, organist, pianist, harmony vocalist, and janitor. I have enough to do already without adding lead vocalist to the list... oh, and I really hate hearing my voice answering machines.
Noise: Kimberley Dahme sings all the vocals on "If You Were In Love." Having a female vocalist sing lead on a BOSTON song is brand new. How do you think having a female perspective communicating your message changes the music?
Tom: The song was written from a female perspective, as best I could, and so it seemed reasonable to have it sung by a female, or a male with a really high voice. So I chose Kimberley, who did an excellent interpretation. Oddly enough, the idea for the song came from the feelings I had for the girl who I eventually married, which were of course from a guy's perspective. That's confusing enough without trying to figure out how a female perspective changes the song!
Noise: You have redone three songs you've previously released. Two are re-mixed versions of tracks from Corporate America. This reminds me of when The Beatles released two different versions of "Revolution." One main change is that you play all the instruments on the cuts. "Didn't Mean To Fall" sounds like an early tune from your catalog and "You Gave Up On Love" with it's three part harmonies also sounds like an old BOSTON song. How did you pick the tunes and why?
Tom: Playing all the instruments is nothing new on BOSTON releases; I have played the majority of all instruments on all albums since my demo which caught the ears of major labels in the mid-'70s. Although I played a only few little drum bits on early BOSTON recordings, I got more serious about it after Walk On (1994), and have played at least some of the drum tracks on the last three releases.
"Didn't Mean to Fall in Love" is the only song on Life, Love & Hope that had collaborating writers, and is one of my favorites. It didn't get a fair chance on it's first release; I'm hopeful a lot more BOSTON listeners will get to hear it now.
I was unhappy with the job I did arranging and recording "You Gave Up on Love" and "Someone" the first time around, and went to work immediately afterwards in 2002 re-recording both songs, looking forward to a day that I might be able to release them again in a new version. That day finally arrived 11 years later on December 3, 2013.
Noise: Brad Delp sings lead on three cuts. Will we ever hear more live BOSTON recordings with Brad singing lead? What do you think Brad would say about him singing on a 2014 BOSTON release?
Tom: Brad, of course, came to my studio to sing these songs knowing that they would be released on a BOSTON album. I would think that if he were alive today and I hadn't used them, he would have been quite annoyed. I'm sure that if Brad were still around he'd be thrilled that he was included on a new album entitled Life, Love & Hope that was being well received.
I have hundreds of live BOSTON recordings, but predicting the future has never worked out well for me.
Noise: You are at home in a studio and are also an inventor. You gave us Rockman the guitar amplifier. What's the best music innovation or invention you've seen in the past decade? And are there any other guitar effects that you think are still needed today but are unavailable?
Tom: The only thing I've seen that has impressed me is the software for pitch change. Unfortunately it is horribly misused by numerous current day artists on vocals as a really bad autotune effect, or the only way they can get through a song singing on key. Of course, since almost all my work is done in analog, it is of very limited use to me.
Noise: Are there any Boston area bands over the years that you think should have made more of an impact than they did?
Tom: I have never been a part of the local Boston music scene so I'm not that qualified to comment, but I would love to see Louis St. August from Mass get more attention, as he is an awesome singer.
Noise: Have you ever heard any cover versions of BOSTON tunes that you really liked?
Tom: Anthrax did a great job covering "Smokin'."
Noise: I've read you don't get a chance to listen to much new music or keep up with trends "since 1974." Can you clarify this?
Tom: Okay, since January 1974. I have actually missed every trend, and if I accidentally found out about one, I'm sure I intentionally did the opposite. I do occasionally hear music at the gym or the skating rink, or when my wife Kim blasts Concrete Blonde at home. If I were to listen to anything on purpose other than whatever BOSTON I'm working on, it would be symphonic classical, Sarah Brightman, Enya, or Dido!
Noise: You've been described as a "notoriously un-rock 'n' roll figure" who never enjoyed the limelight of being a performer. Fact or fiction?
Tom: I enjoy the actual lights on stage, and the awesome feeling when thousands of concert listeners respond to my music; I enjoy the comments from fans who have been helped by something they heard in BOSTON's music. Unfortunately I'm a non-conformist, hard working, anti-drug, animal-rights vegetarian—oh, and a nerd/geek—but not a partier, which has made me an outsider in the local classic rock scene... and a lot of other scenes. I have enjoyed the chance to play with world-class musicians like the Pops, work out on the gigantic Symphony Hall pipe organ, and share the honor of performing at events like the Boston Strong benefit concert.
Noise: What are your plans for a 2014 tour to promote Life, Love & Hope?
Tom: We are planning a tour in 2014 but it is not necessarily to promote a new release. It has always been the other way around for BOSTON; a good release sets us up for a good tour. Tour is by far the fun part. The studio work is the nasty, tedious, difficult, nerve-wracking part, interrupted of course by moments of total exhilaration. Playing live is my chance to get on stage and have some fun.
Noise: Do you have any BOSTON area gigs scheduled yet?
Tom: Not yet, although I believe we will be playing at Foxwoods again in Connecticut. The most accurate source for band BOSTON show dates is www.BandBoston.com, which will be added once the dates are confirmed.
Noise: You graduated from M.I.T. with a bachelors degree in '69 and a masters degree in '70. Were you into the local music scene at all during your college days? Do you remember any bands you saw and liked back then and do you have a story about an experience in the local scene from back then?
Tom: I was not. I tried for years to get work playing in local bands but could not break into the local music clique; I think not smoking dope in the '70s put me at a major disadvantage... the attention I finally got came nationally, outside of Boston, after I quit playing with other musicians, and went to work recording alone in my basement on homemade equipment—which by the way is when I realized I had to play most of the instruments myself to get the sound and feeling I was after.
Brad and I were signed to a class A deal with Epic Records in 1976, something which happened to a Boston area act maybe once every six or eight years. In their section on local acts, the Phoenix went on for pages about who was playing at which club, and details about the performers; BOSTON received one short line at the very end: "The band BOSTON was signed by Epic Records."
I did hear Richard & the Rabbits before they were The Cars, and thought they were great.
Noise: It has long been a myth that A&R guy Charlie MacKenzie heard your first demo tape playing on his secretary's tape deck in the office and he loved it and got you signed to your first major label deal. Fact or fiction?
Tom: Charlie McKenzie, an ABC promotion guy, did in fact "discover" BOSTON when he heard my demo being played in a competing label's district sales office, and clandestinely got the phone number from the cover, which eventually led to the Epic Records contract. Of course, by this time three major labels (none of them Epic) had already contacted me, interested in my recordings. The final one of these calls came to me at my office in Polaroid's product engineering department, after which I jumped up on my desk and did my version of an NFL touchdown dance. This got the attention of pretty much everyone, including my boss and a draftsman friend who had promised to give my demo to his music business cousin. Naturally he assumed my tape was crap, and had just tossed it in his desk. Suddenly he realized his cousin would be very mad at him for not giving him the tape, and immediately delivered it to him; that afternoon Charlie McKenzie happened by on a social call, heard it, and got to me first.
Noise: Any advice you care to give artists of all ages having difficulties in todays tough times getting their music heard?
Tom: Enjoy playing and recording music the way you like it, with people you like. Always keep your day job.