By Gary Graff
Tom Scholz is ambitious.
It's just that he values quality over quantity. To the extreme.
That's why Boston, the band he founded -- guess where? -- has released just six albums during its history and is prone to lengthy waits. There were eight-year waits between the group's three previous albums, and the new "Life, Love & Hope" surfaced in December after a whopping 11 years, debuting at No. 37 on the Billboard 200.
And, Scholz acknowledges with a laugh, "I probably would have kept going on this one, but it was getting a little long. All of these songs, they're basically done when I don't think I can express myself any better with the music for whatever I was trying to say. That might be because I'm so burnt on it that I don't think I can do any better or because I think it would be really dangerous to try to change it any more -- that I just might make it worse or lose something.
"So I stop when I don't think I can do any better, and it was the same with this album. I stopped when I thought it was as good as it's going to get."
Scholz was a perfectionist and mad musical scientist well before Boston's 1976 debut. He actually is a scientist, with a master's degree from MIT that led to a job as a product design engineer with Polaroid. The job funded his home studio and demo tapes that led to a recording deal with Epic Records.
Working mostly by himself in the studio -- with a band roster that, outside of singer Brad Delp, was not actually on the self-titled album -- Scholz meticulously crafted the material on "Boston," creating a dense soundscape of richly arranged guitars and vocal harmonies, occasionally accented with keyboards.
The effort paid off in an album that's sold more than 17 million copies, launched three Top 40 hits -- "More Than a Feeling," "Peace of Mind" and "Foreplay/Long Time" -- and snared a Grammy Award nomination for Best New Artist.
"It's funny; back then everybody told me that it was never going to sell," recalls the Toledo-born Scholz, 67, who also invented a popular line of music gear and uses his DTS Charitable Foundation to support a variety of humanitarian organizations. "Disco was the big, coming thing and everybody felt like rock was dead. So I was primed for it to fail, and it was quite a shock when it took off like it did.
"I can hear the enormous amount of time that went into (the music). There are some really intricate things in there that I forget about until I get right down into it and hear it and go, ‘Oh my God ...' I don't want to sound egotistical, but I get surprised by how much is in there."
It was hardly smooth sailing after that, however. The record company rushed the follow-up album, 1978's "Don't Look Back," which still hit No. 1 and sold more than 7 million copies in the U.S. But the wait for 1986's multiplatinum "Third Stage" resulted in a bitter lawsuit between Scholz and the label, as well as a move to another company. Scholz has also battled former members of the original lineup in court, and after Delp committed suicide in 2007 Scholz found himself blamed for the tragedy by the singer's family members and friends -- which resulted in a defamation suit now on appeal against the Boston Herald for publishing the comments.
"They were pretty serious allegations and they went on for a long time," Scholz explains. "That was actually worse than the news of Brad's death. Here I lost my collaborator for my entire career, and it felt like somebody was taking advantage of his death to press their own agenda of some sort of sort of vindictiveness. That was really tough to take."
Scholz still considers Delp to be "the most amazing musician-singer I've ever known" and feels that "I don't think there would've been a Boston or the success we had if he hadn't been the singer." So it was natural for Scholz to include Delp's voice, posthumously, on three of "Life, Love & Hope's" tracks, two of which are remakes from 2002's "Corporate America" that Scholz didn't feel came out well on that album.
"There was never a thought in my mind that I wouldn't put them on the album and have his voice on it," Scholz says. "I'm sure that (Delp) would be very happy to know that they went on an album called ‘Life, Love & Hope.'"
Scholz used seven other vocalists on the 12-track album, including bassist Kimberly Dahme, who became Boston's first female member during the "Corporate America" sessions. The most surprising is Scholz himself, singing lead for the first time ever on a track called "Love Got Away."
"Most of the songs on this album are pretty personal, but that one was an explicitly personal experience, so I thought nobody else is going to get the emotional content that I'm looking for in this vocal," Scholz says. "I never considered myself a lead singer or the greatest singer in the world; I've always considered singing to be a major pain in the neck. But I felt I was the one who was going to be able to sing that (song) with the kind of emotion that I feel it needs.
"So that was the decision, and I thought, ‘Well, everybody can just live with me singing one song.' And I do enjoy the song. It doesn't bother me that it's got my voice on it."
Scholz has Boston back on the road, supporting "Life, Love & Hope," although he acknowledges that "of course we always have to do a lot of the older stuff." And, since he still has "lots of material that I didn't put on this album," he may spend a bit more time in studio before then, with hopes of getting the next Boston album out before another decade passes.
"Well, yeah, I hope so. I've gotta finish before I die -- so I have no idea how much longer that could be," Scholz says with another laugh. "But my approach is the same; I just work on the music as it sort of comes to me, then once I get into it with a few pieces, that's when I start knuckling down and really go nose to the grindstone.
"But right now I'm just looking forward to being able to play with other people, in the same room. Just a rehearsal will seem like a rare treat after working alone for so long in the studio."