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INTERVIEW: Jeff Scott Soto – W.E.T.

I have no doubt that ‘Retransmission’ is W.E.T.’s best album to date. Big call I know, but when you hear it I know you’ll know what I mean. Indeed I’d actually go as far to say that this could well be one of the best Melodic Rock Records this side of 2000! On that basis we just had to talk to the voice of W.E.T. Jeff Scott Soto…

 

Jeff: Hello

Mark: Hi Jeff, how are you?

Jeff: I’m doing alright, how about yourself?

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Mark: Not too bad I haven’t got a day of interviews ahead of me though like you.

Jeff: (laughs) Where abouts in Australia are you at?

Mark: We’re here in the sunny ‘California of Australia’ – Perth Western Australia.

Jeff: I’ve been there once, in fact I’ve just been to Australia the once with the JSS band back in 2005.

Mark: I caught you in Melbourne that tour, it was a great show.

Jeff: A lot of fun.

Mark: Times are a little different 15 years on but it’s pretty quiet here in the West no Covid but no one coming to see us.

Jeff: (laughs) well I’m glad somebody’s getting something positive out of it!

Mark: (laughs) I’ll get straight to the point, is it too early to call ‘Album of the year’?

Jeff: I would never tell anyone it’s too early! If this is how you feel then by all means I’m gonna take it and I’m gonna run with it.

Mark: It doesn’t happen too often when you play an album and every track just resonates with you.

Jeff: So you’ve heard the entire thing then?

Mark: Yeah, I’ve got to listen to the whole record a few times over.

Jeff: What do you think?

Mark: Well you put it on and it hits you in the face and you’re waiting to catch your breath but the opportunity only comes with the ballad about seven tracks in…

Jeff: (laughs)

Mark: And then just to rub it in the album closes with what I think are my two favorite tracks.

Jeff: Fabulous.

Mark: It’s a brilliant record and one that really rubs it in how much we miss live music, not of course that W.E.T. is a band designed for that forum?

Jeff: Well one thing about W.E.T. as you know and I think you are hinting at is that we were not really a live entity anyway so we never had any intent or plan to go out on tour when we’re releasing and doing new records just because… There are two reasons – one of them is the obvious that we’re all in different bands and we’re usually all too busy in our ‘day gigs’; but I’ll be an open book – the W.E.T. material is not something I can personally pull off night after night. I could never do a W.E.T. Tour doing that material night after night and making it sound even remotely close to how it’s supposed to sound on the records. So that being said I’d rather not go out there and use backing tracks or have to tune down, or kind of skirt around the original melodies because it’s just too hard for me to hit. We intentionally write the material with no real barriers or fences because that’s how the material should sound, but that being said it’s not easy to pull off live. Therefore we don’t really make that many attempts to do so – we have a few shows under our belts and we pulled those off fine but if I had to do an entire tour I’d be completely trashed and it might even completely ruin my career and my life in the end! So there’s nothing worth doing something that’s gonna end what I do for a living and all the other things that are packed around it.

Mark: I know what you mean listening to the music it’s clear, it’s wonderful though to be able to do one-offs like the Frontiers Festival the other year.

Jeff: Yeah, and if I could have a week off before singing and a week off after for the entire tour where I’m basically singing one day a week, sigh me up! (laughs)

Mark: (laughs) We’ll have to see, we’ll get you down here for a night preceded by 14 days of quarantine!

Jeff: It would be the biggest money loser in show business! (laughing) I can just see it now paying the crew and for hotels and everything for a week while the singer’s sitting back with his hot tea and his fucking hot water bottle! (laughs)

Mark: Sadly that might be the reality of touring for the next who knows how long?

Jeff: It really is shit Mark, ‘Sons of Apollo’ was the last thing that I was doing before it all got pulled and that’s basically the next order of business – we have to go back out and finish that album cycle and until we do that I really don’t want to plan or book anything else. I don’t want to plan or even see or discuss anything else, because that album is so important to us. And the fact that we had to pull two thirds of the dates and there were even more that were gonna be added, but we threw a shorter tour or a shorter version of what we wanted to do from the jump so that we could build the momentum and then just slam every secondary and third and international market that we could. And you know it sucks, it sucks when you have to pull the plug on anything.

 

W.E.T. - Retransmission

Read review of Retransmission here

 

Mark: And it’s a corking record too. It double sucks because personally as someone who has enjoyed your music and listened to you since the Talisman days I actually think that your last solo record, the Sons of Apollo and the latest W.E.T. are three of my favorite releases of yours.

Jeff: Thank you very much, those are big words. For somebody who has been around for over 35 years and done boatloads of records and boatloads of songs; that means a lot to me that number one I’m doing something right and number two that I still have the arsenal to allow me to be doing what I’m doing.

Mark: Yeah, you should be putting your feet up and making Blues records by now Jeff!

Jeff: (laughs) That’s so true!

Mark: So with W.E.T. a band made for the studio how does the process work? You’re all in different countries so modern technology helps but how do you get that chemistry? Are you recording in separate countries too?

Jeff: Yeah, but we’ve always used that ideal, even from day 1 when we did the first W.E.T. album I was actually living in London at the time and that’s a helluva lot closer to Sweden where the other guys are than Los Angeles where I am now, but we still utilized that ideal and the tools and the technology that we have. For that first album I did all my vocals in London in my home studio and sent the files, if there were tweaks or suggestions we did that with Skype like you and I are doing now, then there would be emails and lists of things to maybe try, add or subtract, and I’ve been utilizing this pretty much throughout my entire career. Even Talisman before the internet was a factor, before we had those tools and we were still doing things in studio with tape and such. Even then we had to utilize the budgets properly, we’d didn’t have the budgets like they did in the 80’s where you could spend $200,000 on travel and hotels and such alone, we had to go with what we were allotted. So with Talisman they used to send me cassettes with horribly demoed songs and I would just write my lyrics, write my melodies and I’d play one cassette player with the music and sing while another one was recording the playback with me singing over it! (laughs) That was the old Flintstones way – we were using what we had and I’d stick a cassette back into the mail and when they’d get it a week and a half, two weeks later then we’d proceed.

Mark: So much more effort and creativity in those days but a lot more hard work.

Jeff: Right but the same principles. Then when they got it I’d fly out to Sweden and make the record. So I’ve been kind of preparing myself for a pandemic or the way we’re forced to do things now even back in the 90’s. So yeah the first W.E.T. album was done exactly the same way this new one was.

Mark: It really is incredible because when you listen to the album you can almost feel this huge connection between you all and to realise that ‘virtual’ is incredible.

Jeff: I think a lot of that comes from the trust and the respect that we have for one another as writers. So when Eric sends me a song, when he writes songs he writes melodies as well – he doesn’t just write the music – he’s a singer in his band Eclipse so when he sends a song he’s banging out the chords and he’s also going “Lah, lah, lah, lah” and he has that idea of where the melody should lie. That being said he’ll sent that to me and all I gotta do is fill in the blanks with the lyrics but also I don’t sing like Eric so when I’m done with one of his songs it sounds like I was actually part of the writing process because I kind of alter and move his melodies and his ideas to fit the way I would do them. The same way that someone like Freddie Mercury would when he heard the demo of Radio Ga-Ga with Rodger Taylor singing it, when Freddie was done with it, it sounded like he’d written that song because he’d make it sound like a Freddie Mercury composition based on the way he sings.

Mark: That’s a great way of summarizing that process and knowing how that particular Queen song came about it really sheds light on how it works for you guys. Eric told me a few weeks ago that I’d love the record and he was right, I think it’s one of the best Melodic Rock records I’ve heard in years.

Jeff: Wow.

Mark: The interesting thing for me though is that I think it ends with two of the best on the album. ‘How Do I know’ is wonderful but ‘One Final Kiss’ is a storming track to go out on.

Jeff: Thank you, you know at first I was a bit perplexed because I didn’t write too many lyrics on this album for whatever reason, I was either really busy, or the songs were kind of completed before my involvement. But ‘One Final Kiss’ was one of the ones I actually wrote on.  And so when you only have two or three songs on an album of eleven that you’ve written and one of those is the very last song you wonder is it there because it’s not that good

Mark: Not in this case.

Jeff: (laughs) and you start questioning it. And then finally you think “No I’m angry I have to ask if that’s the reason!” (laughs) and then the reply comes back “No it ends the album because it’s one of the best songs!” You’re kicking yourself that it’s put down there because it’s kind of a throwaway when really it’s because it’s a bookend to the very first song on the album. And that’s a much better answer and a much better feeling to know that a song was that strong and then to get a compliment like that from somebody like yourself. It validates the fact that every song on this album is on there because it’s not a throwaway.  It starts strongly and it ends strongly and everything in between are kinda like the fillers of a sandwich – without the lettuce and the tomatoes and the meat and the cheese and the mayo – without all those components that go to make up that sandwich, without them you would not have a great sandwich!

Mark: Well in that case this is the best damn sandwich I’ve eaten in quite some time.

Jeff: (laughing)

Mark: And I’ll be eating it all year!

Jeff: (laughing) fantastic!

 

Jeff Scott Soto

 

Mark: Inexplicably over the years we’ve never spoken before, the site has interviewed you but we’ve never caught up so I get to ask you one of my favorite questions about that initial ‘spark’. Where did it start for you Jeff? When did you know that music was going to be such an important part of your life? For some it’s a blinding flash, for others it’s a gradual realization. What was it for you?

Jeff: Well it’s a bit of a cliché answer in terms of I’ve been singing as long as I’ve been talking. Music found me, I didn’t find music, I have all those cliché answers but to be honest with you, I knew early on. I knew when my mother was listening to Tom Jones records and then I graduated onto buying the ‘Jackson 5’ albums and singing with the butt end of a butter knife. I knew even then at five or six years old that I wanted to be a singer. Not to be a singer of a Rock band, that took much longer because I didn’t grow up liking Rock, I actually couldn’t stand it because the Rock that was present and in my life when I was still kinda soaking it all in didn’t grab me. As a potential singer I always listened to Rhythm and Blues and Pop, Earth Wind and Fire and Motown, all those factors were so important to me growing up. As a singer I always thought I would be more of a Pop singer and it wasn’t until bands like Toto or Journey or Foreigner came about where you had these singers that you could tell they were influenced very heavily by black Soul Music. Without Sam Cooke there would be no Steve Perry, and Bobby Kimball singing those early Toto records, he sounded like a black man – he sang like a Soul singer. And it wasn’t until I heard what you could do with Soul music and a Soul voice mixed in with distorted guitars that it actually hit me that I did like Rock. So my early stages of incorporating Rock into my DNA was with those bands, and then I started realizing what I was missing and then the Kiss and the Van Halen and the Judas Priest and all those other bands came. So I came to the table very late, I didn’t start getting into Rock until I was maybe 14, 15. And when you think I was in Yngwie Malmsteen’s band at 18 it’s kind of a double answer when you ask was it always there or was it a flash of lightning. It was always there AND it was a flash of lightning! (laughs)

Mark: (laughs) I grew up in a house that was playing a lot of Soul and Motown and stumbled into Rock at the same sort of age when someone handed me a Kiss and a Led Zeppelin album and I though what is this! Great music is great music. Like Steve Marriott said great music is great music if you can touch someone with just a guitar and a voice you know you have a great song. The rest is just how you treat it. I loved ‘Origami’ I’d love to see you bring that over her.

Jeff: That would be great, I’d love to get over again. That was one of the plans for Sons of Apollo especially since we just did a short Japanese Tour last time. Next time we said we’d have to do more in the Pacific Rim and get down under as well, maybe even New Zealand. But unfortunately that plug was pulled!

Mark: So bringing things right up to date what are you working on at the moment?

Jeff: Well it’s kinda quiet now because obviously the holidays and because all the things that I was doing in 2020 are now coming to surface. I haven’t made any immediate plans, originally because we booked the Sons of Apollo tour four times already – I didn’t want to fill my early months with just singing so much, and burning myself out, before an actual tour that I didn’t really plan or structure anything. But now it’s starting to look like even these dates in April and May aren’t even going to be able to happen so I’m starting to look into a few things and just keep myself busy here at the house in the home studio. I did a lot last year because number 1 – I had the time, and number 2 – it serves as a bit of a therapy – just by continually staying creative and being busy. Just making new music, doing sessions and even challenging yourself to do things you normally wouldn’t accept- that kinda kept me sane. I found a positive in the negative that was the year 2020. And I don’t want to go into 2021 with the same ideal, I want to believe that we’re going to get back to things soon, but the first order here, especially in the US – we gotta fix this country! It’s too much of a shambles at the moment and it’s really disheartening – and a lot of my lyrics lately have been significant on that – even the Sons of Apollo lyrics and the ‘Wide Awake in My Dreamland’ album (Jeff’s 2020 solo release)  were significant to what we’re dealing with here in the US.

Mark: It is interesting and a little scary to see what’s going on back home. With that in mind what are your wishes for 2021, it’s looking more likely that we’re going to be moving towards normal but it’s just a case of will it be early or late 2021?

Jeff: It’s gonna be a slow burn, if anyone thinks once everyone’s vaccinated and once the Covid thing is just pushed aside, I don’t think we’re going to just jump back into things. I think it’s going to be as slow a burn to get back to where we were when we can feel comfortable and confident to be together without any real concerns. I mean when I see concerts or any sort of gatherings now I get ‘squirly’ inside and think “Oh my God look how open we were” – sure we were sicker before, we’d catch colds or flu or what anybody had because it was so open – you never had to think about things so much. And now this pandemic has made you put a certain awareness behind everything you do and makes you think “I don’t know if I ever want to be like that again?” And there’s gonna be a lot of people with that ideal for a long time before we can actually feel comfortable and confident in doing that, the way it was before. And I’m one of them, I don’t necessarily want to be in a large environment with people that I don’t know what they’re exposed to and that’s a shitty way to have to live life. But this is the trauma that comes with something like this that we’ve been dealing with.

Mark: It is, and it’s so different wherever you look and we can only go by our own experience of Covid. Here we locked ourselves away so we have no Covid but we also have no international visitors the last international music I saw was Kip Winger solo and acoustic on March 16th 2020. It’s crazy.

Jeff: The last show I did was March 3rd 2020 so it’s almost a year ago now since we packed up and came home when things were starting to blow up in Europe.

Mark: We want that back soon Jeff.

Jeff: Let’s hope so.

Mark: Let’s end in a cheeky way. We’ll fast forward to 31st December 2021 and I’m anticipating that the W.E.T. album is our album of the year, Can I have an acceptance speech please Jeff?

Jeff: (laughs) I want to thank you all for allowing us to make what was the best album of the year, but… the next best album of the year is coming up very soon.

Mark: (laughs) That’s brilliant. So what’s the secret?

Jeff: You have to go in with the ideal that you’re making the best album of your life otherwise there really is no point going in and making another record.

Mark: It must be unbearable Jeff – three of the very best albums of your career just out of the traps and this ‘shit’ is happening!

Jeff: Well Mark you know the bottom line is when an artist is just starting they’re either coming up with the greatest material of their career that they can never quite match or replicate, but I feel somebody like myself needed the last 20, 25 even 30 years  to get where I am at now because I do feel like I’m making the best music of my life now, better than I could have made or would have made back then.

Mark: I completely agree and thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today Jeff, you stay safe.

Jeff: Thank you for having me Mark it’s been great to talk. Cheers,

 

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