By: Ken Sharp
Rock Cellar Magazine
In 1976, the music of Boston was inescapable. You'd have to be living on a another planet if you wanted to avoid the melodically-powered aural juggernauts More Than a Feeling, Foreplay/Long Time and Peace of Mind, anthems culled from the group's extraordinary debut, which has tallied over 17 million sales to date.
Over the course of numerous lineup changes and through the tragic death of lead singer Brad Delp, the Boston machine keeps humming with mastermind/chief songwriter/producer/guitarist Tom Scholz faithfully overseeing all their musical adventures. Now Scholz and company are back with Life, Love & Hope, the group's first new album in over ten years.
Rock Cellar Magazine was fortunate enough to speak with the ordinarily press-shy Scholz, who filled us in on the new CD, shared the back story behind the band's classic hits, professed his love of the James Gang and what occupies his time away from music.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Do you recall the first time you realized that Boston had made it and that you could quit your day job at Polaroid?
Tom Scholz: After I had finished that first Boston album I had no reason to expect that it was going to have any success. In fact, I was told it wasn't going to have any success (laughs) because disco was the happening thing and the experts in the music business told me not to expect much. So I went back to work at Polaroid and was there for a couple of months. I remember one day I was sitting in and a guy comes running into my office from the drafting department and goes, "You've gotta come in here, your song's on the radio!" thought, Wow, my song's other radio, holy crap" and the song was More Than a Feeling. I ran in and I was too late and I missed it.
That happened over and over again for me, about half a dozen times before I actually finally heard More Than a Feeling on the radio which was my goal. I didn't expect that sales for the first Boston album were gonna amount to much but my wish was that I would get to hear one of my songs on the radio. It actually took about half a dozen misses like that with people calling me and saying, "Your song is on such and such radio station" and by the time I turned in the song was done (laughs).
Rock Cellar Magazine: With the new Boston album Life, Love and Hope, it's been a long gestation period, what made the time right?
Tom Scholz: Well, the time was right because I finally got it done. It's been missing long enough so I wanted to get it out ASAP once I was wrapped up. As far as when I know it's done…it's when I'm so burned out on it that I can't work on it anymore or when I think if I change anything I'm going make something worse and lose what I already have. When I get to that point both with a song and a complete album that's when I know it's done.
That's what made this time right. It was done and I want to hear it on the radio. (laughs)
Rock Cellar Magazine: Speak about your ideas behind the shape and sound of the new CD, as some of it brings to mind the classic early Boston sound.
Tom Scholz: Other people have made that same observation that there are songs that remind them of some of sort of the classic Boston sound and yet some wild departures from what they were expecting on the album also. I don't start out the day working in the studio by putting on the first Boston album and trying to make arrangements and sounds that sound like the first Boston record.
My measuring stick for what I do in the studio for what I think is good is strictly based on what I like and what I personally respond to. There's nobody else there in the studio for 99.9 percent of the time so I'm sort of left to my own devices…which is the way I need it to be.
I did notice that when I finished come of the songs that I thought, "Wow, this reminds me of ______." Some of it sort of had that fingerprint of the early Boston things and I like that. Some artists don't like their old songs and won't play their original hit songs when they go out on tour or they don't like what they did back in the day, well I'm proud of the first Boston album and I love More Than a Feeling. I'm thrilled to be able to play that onstage.
So when somebody thinks that something I've done on this album is reminiscent of my older work I take that as a compliment.
At the same time, I go where my imagination takes me when it comes to music. By doing that it's led me to take some chances or the things that people consider taking risks but to me it's not really taking risk. It's just what I hear and this is how it should go. Who would have thought there'd be a female rapper at the beginning of Sail Away. I've stuck my neck out a little bit.
Rock Cellar Magazine: The album sports five different lead singers including yourself, was it tricky maintaining a consistency and continuity through the entire record?
Tom Scholz: I was very much aware of that and I didn't want it to sound like a patchwork of singers. But fortunately both Tommy DeCarlo and even David Victor had vocals that somehow blend or fit in very well with the original vocals that Brad (Delp) did back when we first started the project. It was actually kind of accidental and it just really worked. They all fit together. It isn't something that I think you notice when you go from song to song. Of course you're gonna notice when you get to the song If You Were in Love that's it's a female singer, which is intentional. Other that I do think it's cohesive and it was one of those fortuitous things.
With David Victor, when I stumbled onto him in 2009 or 2010, he was a good singer and worked with him for a while. Then I realized he was a really good guitar player too so we ended up getting involved with him because he was an asset for us onstage and his voice just happens to fit right in. So it's very lucky. It didn't always go totally smoothly.
The last cut on the album, The Way You Look Tonight, I had four different singers (laughs) complete vocals, edited and everything, before I got the right one in the right place. What I'm always listening for is the feeling that I get from the vocal and the emotional impact from the song. I'm never looking that much for who can sing the highest or the fanciest or the best on pitch, I just care about the emotional impact.
Rock Cellar Magazine: It's well documented that you have stubbornly and successfully followed your own path. Where do you think that confidence, self belief and integrity came from?
Tom Scholz: I don't know where that comes from. You don't see that in everyone and it always surprises me when it's not there. With the band it's been very nice to see that it often is there. It's really nice to see that there are people of integrity out there that do what they think is right, not because it's expedient and will get them something for themselves. Those people I've been with for a long long time, some going back more than 30 years.
Yes, it's difficult. I suppose it would have made some things a lot easier if I didn't have scruples and certain morals that made me indifferent to what other people did or didn't do. I don't know where it came from. I don't know whether I should congratulate my parents or blame them (laughs) but I'm glad it worked out that way. It has led me down some very difficult roads but on the other hand I couldn't imagine having done it a much different way. It comes down to feeling good about yourself in the end.
Rock Cellar Magazine: More Than a Feeling is a snapshot of a pivotal moment in their life. Thinking back, what inspired that song and did you know instantly it was a keeper?
Tom Scholz: When I wrote More than a Feeling I wasn't sure if anyone would like it. I didn't think it was a special song. It was just a combination of a couple of guitar licks. I thought I was probably crazy for wasting the time and money to try and make a recording of it but I sort of felt that way about everything that I was working on. More Than a Feeling was one of the last songs that I completed on a demo prior to actually getting a shot at a record. By that time I was sort of beaten into submission and didn't think anything I was doing had any actual merit.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Another classic is Long Time, the acoustic break betrays a James Gang influence.
Tom Scholz: Long Time was one of these pieces of music where I had this chord progression and the organ and this acoustic guitar part that I pictured with the handclaps. I remember recording my first shot at a demo with Long Time thinking, "I don't know, I don't think anybody is gonna think much of this." (laughs) I thought, "you've got this organ playing with the thumping bass and the bass stays on one night for the whole flippin' song practically and then it all stops and the acoustic guitar comes".
I thought "Is anybody gonna be able to relate to this?" and fortunately they did. I was very lucky. From the beginning I've always been in sort of the same boat since I worked alone. I had no reason to expect that anybody was gonna like what I was doing. I was just doing something that I liked. The thought that millions of people would like it enough to actually buy a copy, I felt that was impossible and will never happen.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Away from music, what are the things that make you happy?
Tom Scholz: There's very little I do where I'm not thinking about music, whether I like it or not, it just happens. But there are things I love to do. I love to fly.
I'm a pilot and I have this old single engine airplane. Some people would call it an antique but I just like to call it a classic. My wife and I, when we travel, that's the only way we travel. We go everywhere in this single-engine plane. It's been over the mountains across the country several times and it's always an adventure.
Flying has to be number one for other things that I like to do. I love everything about planes. I'm looking at this four-foot radio-controlled model that I built back in 1972, which is still air worthy. (laughs) It screams through the sky when I let it loose. I didn't get into flying until I was 31. Somebody talked me into it. I thought it was probably too dangerous because I'd seen plenty of bad accidents with huge radio control model and I went, "Flying in a little single engine plane is not a lot bigger than some of the planes I've seen crash". But after I flew for the first time I was hooked. That was it for me.
Now I can't imagine not being able to get in a plane and fly someplace. So I love that. I love to skate. I did love to play basketball. I did it for 38 years and finally my knees just wouldn't take it anymore. But I could still dunk when I stopped.