The Ultimate Jam Night Interviews with Jeff Scott Soto
Jeff Scott Soto is a devastatingly active vocalist whose passion and artistry is well known throughout the world. He’s worked with Yngwie Malmsteen and Axel Rudi Pell, and recently concluded a massive European tour with his hard rocking namesake Soto. Back in Los Angelkes and still ready to rock, Jeff Scott Soto participated in Ultimate Jam Night 103 – A Night Of Queen – performing three epic songs from Queen’s vast and glorious catalog. Immediately following his performance, we caught up with Jeff Scott Soto backstage at The Whisky to discuss his recent tour, working with the likes of Malmsteen and Pell, working briefly with the underrated AOR project Eyes, covering Michael Jackson’s classic song Give It To Me – and of course his participation at Ultimate Jam Night! Read on…
How many Ultimate Jam Night shows have you participated in and what have been some of your favorite shows?
I personally enjoy the theme nights because then you can really concentrate on paying homàge to particular artists. Tonight, for instance, Queen is my all-time favorite band, of all time, of all time, and to do something like this is a no-brainer. The only thing I ask is you don’t give me the obvious songs. I wanted to do something a little deeper. Maybe the people don’t know it, but they’ll hear something. “That’s a Queen song. Never heard it.” They won’t actually hear the original. I used to do more when they were at Lucky Strike because it was a little closer to where I lived, and I was a little less busy. I haven’t done it in about a year. I haven’t done the jam since Prince died, but before that I can’t even count how many I have under my belt.
For people missing tonight, what Queen songs did you do?
I did “Need your Loving Tonight” which is on The Game. We did “Keep Yourself Alive,” which on the first album, and we also did “Get Down, Make Love” which is on the News of the World album. See, I know my Queen shit.
Do you have any Queen or Freddie Mercury stories you can share?
One of my biggest regrets in life is I never got to meet Freddie nor did I ever get to see them live, but one of my biggest accomplishments is that I got to perform with Brian and Roger. When they got the star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, they did a jam afterward. I don’t even remember what club it was. It was a private event and I was invited to do a couple songs of them, and that was probably one of the highlights of my life and my career. I met Brian in ’99. I got to do a song with him at another Queen fan club function in England, and so, two years later when they were here for that, they invited me to do that. Since then they’ve become very dear friends that I was even invited for the Queen Extravaganza, the official Queen tribute band that they put together. I realized I don’t really want to continue the next years of my career doing a tribute thing. I still have much more to actually say as myself. I did it for a year and I moved on but those guys are – I can’t put nicer, bigger words on how I feel about them as people and of course as influences.
How did your recent tour with Soto go, what were some of the highlights?
Some of the highlights were, the beginning where we’re excited to get on the road and the biggest highlight was the end when we got to come home. We were looking forward to coming home. It was amazing. It was part two of Europe, of cities and countries that we didn’t get to play on the first round. That one was cut a little bit short because of scheduling and this time because we did it in two parts, we were able to do more on both of them. We did, I think it was four and a half weeks in the first one. This one we did five weeks, so we covered a lot of territory, a lot of ground, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s starting over basically. Everybody’s used to the Jeff Scott Soto band and everything that I’ve been doing for the past ten years and so I came out with a new sound, a new overall thing, and for people to accept it the way they did was amazing. It was magical.
Is there story or overall concept behind the album title Divak?
Divak. The word is a Bulgarian word for wild, crazy, or savage. My wife and I found a cat in Bulgaria, a stray kitten, that almost got run over by a car. We saved it. It basically lived with us for the whole summer. We were there for two months. We thought maybe a friend would take it and keep it because we’re going back to L.A. Nobody wanted it and we couldn’t put it back on the street, so we brought it back with us. The cat went from the streets of Bulgaria to the hills of Hollywood. In its natural nature of being a street wild cat, his true nature started showing once he was in the states. Every time he would get into some kind of trouble, my wife would use the word. She would say a bunch of other swear words in Bulgarian, but Divak was one of them in between those words, and every time she’d say that I’m like, “What is that word?” She keeps saying that word. I thought it was a curse word. She’s basically saying, “You crazy, savage, mother, in Bulgarian.”
I love the way the word sounded and I love what it meant and it kind of personified what the music and what we were doing on that album. I married the album based on what the word meant, and only Bulgarians actually know why I called it that. It’s a conversation piece and that’s what I told the guys. At first, they were like, “Divak, what? I can’t even pronounce it. Who’s going to want to buy an album called Divak?” I go, “I’ll tell you what. You take any of the other names on the album and you call that the album title, nobody’s going to talk about the album.” You use something like that, everyone will ask “where did you come up with the name?” Trust me on that and every time I’ve done an interview, that came up.
What made you decide to cover “Give It To Me,” and has anyone in the Michael Jackson camp heard or commented on it?
I’m hoping not to hear from them because they’re probably going to tell us to cease and desist, [laughs]. But no,actually – the idea was from my drummer who is the co producer in Soto. He said – why don’t we – I guess in a way we have to give credit to Disturbed for their recent cover of Sound of Silence, the Simon and Garfunkel song. The way they treated their song and made it their own, they recreated and reenergized that song. He had the same idea, let’s do that with something that people know is normally from Michael Jackson, a pop artist, and let’s do the same kind of treatment to it. I thought, as long as the treatment is right. And when he sent me the treatment, I was like, dude. This is awesome. That’s where I came in on how to take the octaves and different parts and how we kind of re established what the song should have sounded like as opposed to just following Michael’s blueprint.
Compare working with Yngwie Malmsteem to working with Axel Rudi Pell.,.
I worked for Yngwie, I worked with Axel. There’s a difference. When you work for somebody you’re basically doing what you’re told. When you work with somebody you get to do something that you both agree on together. Yngwie back in the day, there’s nothing new by saying he was notorious for being notorious. He didn’t have the best rep and he basically lived up to every word of that, of what people said about him. Axel from day one has always been the kindest, coolest guy in the world and he still is. Personality wise, it’s night and day. Guitar player and musically, of course, they’re also night and day. They couldn’t be more different. You had the shredding, demonic style of Yngwie and Axel was more classic, German rock and roll.
When you look back on your work with the two Eyes album, what do you think of them now?
We did some great shit back then. I don’t usually talk about eyes too much because, I don’t want it to come off in a negative light but I never really wanted to be in the band, per se. I was paid to be their singer and if we landed a deal from that I would have remained in the band. We were literally days before the contract I had with them was running out, and they finally landed a deal. I was ready to move on and so in the sense that I was paid to be there, and it wasn’t something that I really wanted. When we actually got the deal, it turned into something that I really wanted. I co-produced the entire record with the guys. I got to put everything on there as I would have done it. Nobody really told me what to do or how to do it. They trusted me and so it did turn into a situation that was really enjoyable.
The second album was actually our first album and nobody knows that either. The Windows of the Soul album, we recorded that with the intent of releasing that as our debut album. When we were shopping around, when they finally got the deal, the label said “we like it but you have to redo the entire thing, and we need more rock songs.” So we scrapped everything from those original demos and we did the debut album, the one that everybody knows. That was the official first album. I left the band when they released Windows of the Souls. To most people that looks like our second album, that’s why there’s two songs, I think, on there that are the same as on the debut album because those of the two we kept.
What was the experience like performing with Joel Hoekstra’s Thirteen?
Man, I was so looking forward to that and I wasn’t at my best vocally. I feel like I let Joel down, even though he’s such a nice guy. I know I wasn’t fully there, my potential wasn’t there. Russell Allen, what a powerhouse. He just wiped and mopped the floor with me because he’s so good. I already told him, I hate you because I love you. It was a great experience and I have a feeling we’re going to end up doing more.
When can we expect to see Soto to tour here in The States?
That’s a tough call man, because we don’t have any presence from any label. We don’t have any PR, anything going for us here. So for me to book a tour, it’s a wing and a prayer we’re hoping to get 40 people a night. That’s debilitating. You don’t want to go out there and play to nobody. You want to go out there and play to people that know the stuff that are looking forward to it. I would rather wait until there’s a demand and once there’s a demand, I can’t wait to do it. But in the meantime we’re still building that demand.
Are you involved with any other projects outside of Soto currently?
Yes. I recorded this, a few songs, with an Estonian guy but we won’t talk about him. He’s kind of shitty and has a really bad attitude too. No, I’m kidding. He’s right here. (And his name is Brad Jurjens!)
Last year Brad came to me with just a song and said, I would love to work with you. I’d love to see what you would do with this and I was turning so much down, especially for Soto. I needed to focus all the energy on Soto because I had been doing way too many projects and appearances. At first I was going to say no again. But he had such a great attitude, I wanted to hear what he had to send me, and the song that he sent me was fucking banging. It was not an easy write, I don’t want to say I just sat there and threw it out in five minutes, but everything that came out, came out so naturally and then again once I played it for him I got the return was – dude, this is like “I just came all over myself.” When you hear that to something that you actually feel passionate about, that makes you want to work with people.
Thank you to Adam Mandel, Lisa Woodard, Axel of Rock N Growl, and Ultimate Jam Night for setting up this interview. Be sure to check out Ultimate Jam Night, every Tuesday at the world famous Whisky A Go Go on the Sunset Strip!
(Interview and Candid Photos by Ken Morton – Live Photos by Roy A. Braatz, Jr.)