Young Guitar Magazine
Everyone forgot about Boston until they released the Third Stage album in 1986. Eight years later, the 4th Boston album (Walk On) was released this month. Boston has become a legend for releasing an album only every 8 years. So who knows, maybe the next album won't be out till the year 2002! Even if it's sooner, Boston still only has 4 albums out in 18 years. That makes them the slowest band in rock history. But any way you cut it, a true fan can take any part of this album and say, "Yep, that's Boston." But, Tom Scholz's guitar work is much more aggressive than on earlier albums, with a veteran guitarist feel. As on the Third Stage album, Tom uses his Rockman technology in the studio to get that perfect tone. This point should appeal to those young listeners hearing Boston for the 1st time.
"I've been working on the development of the Rockman for the past 8 years."
Young Guitar: I'm sure the Walk On album as a whole carries a specific concept but, where did the title come from?
Tom Scholz: The title and concept came from the "Walk On Medley". Through this album I'm expressing emotions based on real peoples' experiences. Anyone who can understand the lyrics can understand the emotions behind it. It may difficult for children but the average Boston fan shouldn't have any problem understanding this. Therefore, from the listener I'd like them to listen to the album from start to finish in sequence. There's a lot of meaning in this particular song order.
YG: What kind of message are you trying to share through the "Walk On Medley"?
TS: Each song has a double meaning. It may be a significant or insignificant meaning. It's a song of praise to those people who fight for righteousness. As human beings we've come to this Earth and no matter what happens, we must continue looking forward and walk on.
YG: In the 8 years since Third Stage through everything that's gone on, I'm sure there's been many changes in and around you.
TS: Yes. I went through a divorced and moved to a new house. But now I'm glad that the album is finally done. I've never been this happy that I finished an album before. I'm well know for not listening to music on an everyday basis but for the 1st time in my life I had a car stereo installed. I brought in the Toyota I've been driving for the past 8 years to the dealer and asked them to install an original car stereo. The dealer almost went into a panic looking all over America for an original stereo for my car which had over 100,000 miles on it. [laughing]. Listening to "Walk On" in the car is the best!! I've known that for as long as I've been making albums but this is the 1st time I feel I've gotten it right.
YG: I'm sure everyone's been asking you this but, what have you been doing for the past 8 years?
TS: I've been working on the new Rockmans. Right now I've only got 2 prototypes. One's in the recording studio, the other is in the rehearsal studio. At first my concept was to just take the Rockman one step further but as I developed it, I was never satisfied with "just one step further." Then I decided to make and finish the ultimate recording processor. We ended up making something totally different from the original Rockman so we thought up a different name for it. We still haven't decided yet but we'll probably call it the "Ultimatum Preamp". As a company we are hurrying to make a foot pedal and rackmount version but it's a big project so it'll take awhile before it's available in stores. I used it on most of the new album.
YG: What's the difference between the Rockman and the Ultimatum preamp?
TS: I started by modifying the Rockman to include better compression and equalization but as it came together I started thinking that it may be able to become the Ultimate Rockman. Then I started to think about how I should redesign it for mass production.
YG: Your recording studio is different than the one you used for Third Stage isn't it.
TS: Yes. The old studio was too small so I started looking for a larger one. The new studio is all brand new technology utilizing a preset system. Simply put, any instrument I want to record is completely setup for the presets I like. For example, compression, equalization, etc. can all be assigned to any channel and activated by pressing a button. All I have to do is plug in the guitar and it goes into recording mode. Of course I can change the sounds too. For acoustic guitar, all I have to do is play in front of the mike and the necessary compressor and equalizer effects are all preset. The whole studio is setup like that for all the instruments I like to use giving it various merits. For example, if I want to change the guitar section for the chorus 3 months down the road, I can do it and it would sound exactly the same as the prerecorded material.
YG: Any other characteristics of your new studio?
TS: Since it was designed to record Boston albums, the sounds used on my albums (drums, bass, Hammond organ, acoustic guitar) can be covered with no problem. The basic design took one year. Then another 2 years to build it. So it took a total of 3 years to finish the studio. I then started recording the new album in late 1990 and finished in February 1994. So roughly it took 3 years to record the album.
YG: So did you record in analog like always?
TS: Yes. In the end I did my mixdown from a 24 track analog recorder. Before mixdown I used another 24 track deck exclusively for vocals so I could try out any melody possibilities. Once I have everything down on the 2 decks, I synchronize them by hand for mixdown.
YG: So you don't use a synchronizer?
TS: Nope! I do it all by hand. You may think that's an idiotic way of doing it but it's what I found that works best for me. Of course it takes time but [laughing] I have the freedom to work out the melodies like a puzzle.
YG: I assume that is not the standard way of recording but, are there any merits to doing it that way?
TS: The thing I like about it is that you can try out different lyrics over the basic tracks without ruining the basic tracks by overplaying them. I don't advise everyone to do it like this but it's one way I figured out to keep the sound quality of the basic tracks. Doing it the old way, by the time I got to mixdown, it was all muddy and warped sounding.
YG: I see. So you are experimenting with different ways of recording.
TS: Exactly! It's not uncommon for me to play just one line 100 times to figure out how I want to do it. [Laughing]. Conversely, if I tried doing that with a synchronizer it would take even longer. So lately I've gotten pretty good at sitting in front of the 2 tape decks and synching them by hand. [Laughing]. Everyone else may think I'm weird but [Laughing].
YG: Lately digital recording has become popular but what do you think of it?
TS: I just don't like digital recording. I'm sure I could still record the way I do using digital but, I don't think you can get a decent sound the way most people record. Sixteen bit recording just isn't enough but over 16 bits might be OK. It's not enough to let normal people hear some exciting rock and roll that has been exactly reproduced. The thing that's exciting about rock and roll is the combination of the sound of the compression and distortion (not guitar distortion but the overall delicate distortion feeling) in the music during playback combined with the natural distortion that normally goes unnoticed inside the listeners' head. Digital recordings just can't produce that effect. Most people say that analog recordings sound warm. You can't compare the amount of information obtained through analog recordings to that obtained from digital recordings. There's all sorts of information that comes through with the music. It's that information besides the music that makes rock and roll exciting. This has been proven through physics.
YG: In other words, analog distortion is the key point?
TS: Yea. Even when I mix down the meters are in the red! My philosophy is that the best place to hear Boston's music is from a live stage or through a car stereo system cranked up so it gets just a little bit of distortion. That's the basis for rock and roll!! [Laughing]. "The solo's I chose were the ones that were the farthest from my imagination."
YG: Is the guitar you used for recording the same Les Paul Goldtop that everyone is familiar with?
TS: Ya, as usual I used the Goldtop. Gary Pihl played a Steinberger on a few songs but it wouldn't be a mistake to say that it's mostly my Goldtop on the album.
YG: As far as the guitar playing, is it fair to say that there was a lot of improvisation?
TS: Ya, I guess you could call it improvisation. I pretty much just left the recorder in record mode all the time and tried different things. The solo's I chose were the ones that were the farthest from my imagination. I can always use the ones that are in my head so I pursue the other possibilities. That's true not just for the solo's; the backing tracks have various rhythm patterns as well. Of course there's different voicings, and in some parts there are different chords being played on the left and right channels. The timing and vibrato are different too. That helps give it a tight feel. Having said that, the way the track comes out mostly depends on the feel of the part at the time. So I guess you could say it's mostly improvisation.
YG: So, as a guitarist, would you say that the new album has changed from the other albums before it?
TS: Of course as a guitarist I'd say that's true but, as a composer I'd say that I've progressed a lot since the Third Stage album. On the Third Stage album I was trying to get my message out but I can't say whether I was successful or not. But on this album, including the guitar playing, I feel pretty confident that I succeeded in expressing my emotions this time. So it's not just like writing a story. I believe that there is a technique for expressing the emotions that only come from real experiences.
YG: What do you think about the recent trend for the return of analog effects?
TS: Well, since I use an old Les Paul, Hammond organ, and other 70's style effects and instruments, I really don't have much to say. I think it's an interesting phenomena. I've used lots of peoples tube amps and from there I developed the Rockman. So as far the good qualities of tube amps, I think I've studied the science behind it more than anyone. But even though I've studied about them, I don't use them. Of course it depends on the kind of music you want to play. For the monotone, hard rock and roll music that's in the American forefront today, a tube amp is OK. But you can only get one sound from it. The dynamics are also limited.
YG: Are you referring to Grunge music?
TS: Is that what it's called? [Laughing]. I'm planning on making a pedal version of the Ultimatum preamp for them. Cause all they need is one good sound and pedals are easy to use. For people like me who want a number of different sounds, there's the rackmount type. When I'm up on stage I want to play what I'm inspired to play so I want all the best sounds. That's what's in the new Ultimatum preamp.
YG: What are you planning for after the albums' release?
TS: What, a world tour of course!! But in order for that to become reality there are various problems I need to work out with MCA first. But all that should be settled by the release of the album.
YG: We want Boston to tour in Japan too!! So the Walk On album is Boston masterpiece, right?
TS: It really makes me happy to hear you say that. I think it's the ultimate album. When I finished the 1st album, there were many times I worried that I wouldn't be able to do better. But if we put our minds to it, we can make it happen. I'm really satisfied with the deep meaning in the new albums' lyrical and musical content . As far as the guitar playing, there's plenty of places where I couldn't play the same part twice. They really depended on the situation I was in when I recorded them. I might be in trouble when I get to those parts in concert but I'm trying not to think about that now. [Laughing].
YG: When the 1st album came out I thought it was really sensational and I've been listening ever since. I think the new Walk On album is the closest you've come to the 1st album.
TS: That's why I want to do a world tour this time. When we play the rock and roll songs from the album live in concert, the good things about those songs will come out.
YG: Lastly. Do you have a message for the readers of Young Guitar magazine?
TS: The most important thing is to know what you want to express to people. That's not a technique or a good sound, it's your heart- your emotions. It's being able to find out what that is even one day sooner.