By Michael Molenda
Tom Scholz is one crazy dude. Sure, he's probably a genius, and he single-handedly changed the sound of rock with the meticulously engineered guitar sounds on his classic '70s Boston albums. He also developed the Rockman series of headphone amps and signal processors, and, man, who didn't plug into that stuff during the line's heyday in the '80s? (Scholz detested his sojourn as a manufacturer, and sold the Rockman line to Dunlop Manufacturing in 1995. Only the headphone amps are currently available.)
But when the guy makes an album--such as the brand new Corporate America [Artemis]--he immerses himself in the process for four years or more. And unless there's a lead vocal track to cut, he works totally alone. Is this healthy?
"When I'm recording, I don't have much of a personal life," he admits. "I'm thinking of music constantly, and I have an awful lot of ideas. I also have the stamina to develop most of them--which is one reason it takes me forever to make a record."
There is hope for the man, however. Corporate America marks the first time Scholz allowed other creators into the Boston think tank--collaborating with Anthony Cosmo and Kimberley Dahme, who wrote and recorded tracks in their studio.
"I've always looked for somebody else to contribute," reveals Scholz. "I literally stumbled onto Anthony and Kimberly, and they're the reason I did the record. I had no intention of making another Boston album, because it's too draining. I never wanted the responsibility of writing the songs, being the producer, playing all the parts, and engineering everything. Frankly, I really just wanted to be a guitar player. I never wanted all this other stuff on my shoulders."
Corporate America retains your trademark Boston guitar sound, so I'm assuming your rig hasn't changed much over the years.
I played the same two Les Paul goldtops that I've been using for 20 years, as well as my Rockman front-end stuff through an old Marshall. If you're a guitarist trying to play a Boston song, sooner or later you'll get to a point where you'll hear something happening on the guitar that you can't do. And that's because of this beautiful gadget that I built such a long time ago. For all the critical guitar parts, I use a [Rockman] Sustainor Rockmodule. It has an EQ section and a loop-out ahead of the distortion section, and I'll often put an EQ in front of that for pre-distortion and tone shaping. I tweak the sounds quite a bit, so I never have the same settings on two songs, and I never quite know what I did from song to song.
You're well known as a supporter of analog gear. What's your beef with digital?
The instant you digitize a signal, you destroy the phase-angle relationship between the high frequencies and the lows. That's why you can't make a decent chorus with a digital delay unit. Phase-angle distortion has been with us since the day 3M introduced their incredibly expensive, 15kHz digital-recording deck. I still remember the famous quote from their marketing department: "There is an introduction of phase-angle distortion, but the human ear can't hear it." I find that so hysterical because the human ear can hear things we can't measure yet. And the ear does use phase-angle information to determine the location sounds originate from, and the space within which you're standing when you hear those sounds. Simply put, that's what tells you, "Oh, that sound came from over there." The end result is that digitized music destroys the spatial characteristics of the music, and the first thing I noticed about it--other than the horrifying distortion of 16-bit digitized reproduction--is that the sound spectrum is really flat.
So you're not buying into the digital modeling revolution?
It strikes me as very strange that anyone would try to model something that's very simple to do with analog electronic equipment. The two advantages of digital are that it's cheap, and it gives you lots of features. As far as sound quality goes, digital is always worse.
How have you viewed the evolution of guitar sounds since the early Boston days?
I haven't paid that much attention to it. I just want my guitar to sound good.