By Scott Mervis
The second Boston album, "Don't Look Back," followed two years behind the breakout 1976 debut.
Since then, things have been a little less on schedule. The band, led by legendary guitarist and tinkerer Tom Scholz, adopted more of an eight-year cycle, and the recent album, last year's "Life, Love & Hope," arrived after an 11-year gap.
This one was more painstaking than most, following the suicide of original singer Brad Delp in March 2007, which obviously threw the band's future into doubt. It regrouped the following spring, though, hitting the road with shared vocals by Michael Sweet of Stryper and newcomer Tommy DeCarlo, a Home Depot employee discovered via YouTube. The latter, a vocal ringer for Delp, has developed well beyond Mr. Scholz's expectations, and he has taken the reins of the veteran group on recent tours.
It's vocal by committee on "Life, Love & Hope" with Delp's earlier recording, and Mr. DeCarlo, Kimberley Dahme, David Victor and even Mr. Scholz, for the first time, contributing. What stands out, however, more than any vocal disparity is a sound that time-warps back to the '70s with the same ramped-up guitar sound and processed effects.
Boston now returns with a slightly tweaked lineup, according to Mr. Scholz, who talked with us recently.
So, how does this band differ from the last time you came?
It's fundamentally the same although we will bring Kimberly Dahme, who will be helping out with harmony vocals and rhythm guitar. But we were really happy with the way the band sounded in 2012, so we're keeping that as consistent as possible.
What did you like about Tommy and were you concerned about his lack of experience?
Oh, yeah. It was a huge unknown and frankly a big risk. But in 2008 it was his first time with the band and, by the way, his first time with any band on a stage. Given that he had never done anything before in the way of performing musically, I thought he did amazingly well. He really got down to work after 2008, and he turned himself into a seasoned, professional, capable frontman who was able to control a show and hold people's attention. It was amazing to see the metamorphosis in those four years. When he showed up for rehearsals for that 2012 tour, it was like the same voice with the same capabilities and a brand new person. He knocked everyone out. He's the most dependable singer I've ever worked with. Never seen anybody just night after night nail it. I'm proud to share a stage with him.
How did you come to use four singers on the album, and what challenges did that present?
It is a little added degree of difficulty because singers have their personal style. Everybody requires a different approach to working with them, a different technical approach to getting the sound. There were a few tunes I had more than one person try, but by and large I was really thrilled with the job that everyone did with the new album. I did it knowing that it could create everything from controversy to outright levity [laughs].
Why did you decide to sing on "Love Got Away," and will you sing it live?
I've been teaching other singers how to sing my songs for like 40 years, but I got to that one, and it was a very personal cut, and I said, "You know, I'm just going to do it myself for once." I don't like the idea of having to reproduce a recorded song live that I sing. I have enough to do on stage. I'm really busy up there, and I'm really busy with everything I have to do for every show. Add having to worry about my voice and singing lead on a song or two, that's not something I necessarily want to do. In fact, it's the last thing I want to do.
The album has a classic Boston sound, which is probably what people like. Have you consciously tried to stay true to the '70s sound?
It was going to be the last thing I was going to do. I was in my late 20s, and I realized that had to stop at some point. I had no other constraints. I wasn't trying to please anybody or follow any sort of formula that might get me a contract. It was all out, this is what I like about rock 'n' roll, and this is how I want to hear it. Of course, I was shocked when it caught the attention of a couple major labels and even more shocked when it became a smash hit album, so it's the way I know how to record music and the way I know how to arrange it and the way I like to have it sound.
Do you take the same approach in the studio that you always did?
I still, of course, use the same equipment. I have the Marshall head that I used and the same guitars and the Hammond and so forth, but every time I go into the studio, I'm sort of starting over again. I don't go in and put on the first album and say, "OK, I've got to match this guitar sound." I go in and pick up the guitar and play it through where my last settings were, and the first thing I say is, "Well, this sounds pretty good but not quite right." And then I start changing it. Then after hours, days sometimes, I will have a sound I like, and then I will play the part to the song I'm working on. Somehow, it always circles back to the same sound.
Do you feel like the '70s bands in your general genre -- Foreigner, Styx, Kansas -- have gotten a rough shake from the rock press, the rock industry?
I don't know because I'm not that familiar with what's said about them. I mean, all these bands that you mentioned are really good bands. I do know there was a lot of pressure, because I've heard stories, after the surprising success of the first Boston album, that there was a lot of pressure put on other acts to make music that sounded like that. I have no idea if that resulted in anything or if that's a story that people like to tell. I will say that absolutely no one expected the sounds on that Boston album to ever be successful, because I was told before it came out not to expect much because at that time, disco was the happening thing and I was making rock 'n' roll music, and there was just no future in it. No one was more surprised that that first Boston record took off than the record company itself.
Nirvana just got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was a big part of that. When you first heard it, did you think it sounded like "More Than a Feeling"?
Um, no. I understand why people say that. I see the similarity, but the feeling from the style of that song is so dramatically different that frankly I barely noticed. I've heard much more obvious cops from countless other bands, especially the last 20 years, from songs like "Peace of Mind" and so forth. I will say that I know Nirvana did a show and played a few chords from "More Than a Feeling" before they did "Teen Spirit," and it wasn't very good. But in all seriousness, "Teen Spirit" was a great song. If subconsciously or somehow I had any influence on that, I'll take that as a compliment.
It says in the tour release that the band "prides itself on performing a totally live show without the use of prerecorded music or technical enhancements." Why did you include that? Is that a thing?
It's always been a thing. From what I can see it's gotten ridiculous. You see these performers wearing a boom mike and dancing around and doing all these things, and you know it can't be done with a boom mike.
So you're talking more dance-pop acts than rock bands.
I have heard and seen rock bands use recorded tracks for things not on the stage. I've seen rock bands with nothing but guitars and listened to keyboard parts come out. And I've heard lots of stories about people using prerecorded background vocal tracks and pitch fixers and so forth.
No, that's not why I point that out. I point that out because this is a real band that really enjoys performing. It's hard music to perform, it's hard to play, it's hard to sing and there's a lot going on in an arrangement of a typical Boston song. These musicians that I've finally managed to collect together after all these years, they're the cream of the crop, and they do the impossible and make it look easy. So I want to make people realize that while they're hearing it and watching it, every single note is being played there in front of them.