By Chuck Yarborough
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Listen, kids: You might want to stay off Boston founder Tom Scholz's lawn, at least if you're a fan of digital music.
"I am not a fan of digital music recording or digital music playback systems,'' said Scholz, whose bona fides include a master's degree in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"I credit the explosion of digital --?? both recording and consumer systems --?? as one of the principal causes of the destruction of the music business,'' Scholz said in a call from his home in Boston.
"How can people listen to an MP3 file and enjoy it?'' said the lead guitarist who will bring his band to Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica to open the summer concert season on the west bank of the Flats on Wednesday, May 18.
"I just want to take the eardrums out of my ears,'' said Scholz, who never has never been one to mince words. "It's successful because it's cheap, it's fancy and has lots of features and is portable.
"Cheap is at the top of the list,'' said Scholz. "From the beginning, there were real technical problems with digital, but [I give] credit to the people who introduced the CD and bamboozled consumers into thinking they're getting better sound.''
Scholz, who launched his band after leaving behind a potentially lucrative (and boring) career at Polaroid, puts his money where his mouth is.
"I'm nothing but analog when I'm working on music,'' he said. "The rest of the world has embraced digital mixing consoles, but I still drag this monster analog monitor system around.''
It's not just that soundboard, either. Scholz said he hauls every bit of equipment, most of which he invented anyway, that he uses to make the sounds that are on Boston records to the live shows as well. And he ensures that he has the right people offstage as well as on-, for a lot of that same reasons.
"We do an enormous amount of prebalancing and EQ'ing and processing onstage,'' he said. "For instance, there are three guitarists, and we all play in stereo. On any one song, I probably make 30 changes to the guitar, and that sort of thing is repeated by the other players onstage.''
Of course there is a down side:
"I always get a kick out of it when a new guy gets involved with our crew and gets his first look at the back line,'' he said, laughing.
But the point of hauling all that gear around isn't really to re-create the records; it's to enhance the live experience for the fans.
"We play parts from album cuts that people expect to hear, but we always embellish the arrangement,'' Scholz said. "For the song, that instrumental piece 'Foreplay' is about twice as long when we do it live.
"Live is the chance when you get to have some fun with it,'' he said.
For those of us who grew up on "More Than a Feeling,'' "Peace of Mind,'' "Hitch a Ride'' and others, it's comforting to know the man who created them is taking such guarded care with our memories.
"People don't think about [the sound],'' he said. "They come to see a show, and it's not like people have a little meter to rate the quality of the sound. It's just a visceral emotion to what's coming out of the speakers.''
Scholz, who was born and raised in Toledo, has a special affinity for Cleveland. He actually came within a hairsbreadth to going to school at Case Western Reserve University.
"I think I was incredibly lucky to get to go to MIT,'' he said. "I wasn't sure I was going to be able to hack it when I got here, and I thought I might end up going back [to Ohio] and going to Case.
"It was so hard at MIT that I actually transferred out during my first semester and got accepted at Case,'' said Scholz, who admitted that growing up in western Ohio in the 1950s and '60s made Boston "a big, strange place.''
"I was planning to leave, but then I did really well on my first-semester grades'' and decided to stick it out, he said.
Besides, as metropolitan as Boston is now, there's not that much lawn to worry about.