Singer-songwriter Jeff Scott Soto has built a successful career not only on his unique, versatile vocal resilience, but his ability to transform as an artist. So, it is no surprise that when drummer Mike Portnoy (Winery Dogs, ex-Dream Theater) asked him to be part of this rock supergroup comprised of bassist Billy Sheehan (Winery Dogs, Mr Big), keyboardist Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater) and guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (ex-GNR) that Soto was quick to get on board.
Sons of Apollo released their debut album (produced by Portnoy/Sherinian) “Psychotic Symphony” in October 2017 and have embarked on a tour that will take them everywhere around the world including a stop in Montreal. Soto took the time to talk to us all about SOA and the chemistry that fuels 5 guys who have so much going on in the music world.
Thanks for talking to Montreal Rocks. How has the tour been so far?
A lot of travel (laughs) I’m in South America which means travel is crazy; after every show, you have to fly to the next destination, no trains, buses, car transportation… but the audiences are amazingly crazy.
Tell us how you were approached to be part of this band or project, should I be calling it a project?
This is a band for all intents and purposes. A lot of people don’t realize that of all the members of the band, Mike and I are the most busy… but it is absolutely a band and we went into it as that. We want to make it clear that it is not a project. Mike came to me a couple of years ago with a project he had with Billy and PSMS, which were instrumental versions they did for a few albums; they wanted to do a new album and put vocals on it this time. So when they were going to have to do shows, they wanted to expand on it and actually have a frontman. From that, Bumblefoot got involved; they felt he had more contemporary writing cred in the sense of giving them an edge, something that’s more fitting with what’s going on today as opposed to just doing classical or the kind of stuff they were already doing. That’s why they decided to go with him and it went from PSMS to Sons of Apollo.
Putting together this album, what was the creative process? Did everyone come in with their ideas?
It started with Derek. He is not a conventional keyboard player. He plays and writes things like a guitar player. A lot of ideas, riffs start with Derek, but there were no demos; it wasn’t like we were sending each other songs to write my lyrics and melodies and send it back. Everybody was busy doing their own things at the time we were getting ready to go into the studio. Mike said we’ll lock up in the studio for 10 days, the band goes in and all the little ideas that everyone’s got, we’re just going to piece together-basically write a song a day. And when we are finished writing that song and working it in the studio, we are going to lay it down and move on to the next. They had a chalkboard and they would chalk off how many songs, how long… all that stuff. I was on tour with Soto when they were doing that, so I wasn’t able to join them in the writing process, but they were sending me a song a day while I was on tour and I was getting more & more excited about it thinking this is going to be a monster! Mike, Billy, Derek, Bumblefoot in the studio for 10 days, written and recorded right there and then.
I came back from the road and wrote a few things on my own as far as melodies, lyrics, but for the most part, it was Mike & Derek. The three of us got together to put together all vocals as a team, went in the studio and knocked everything out in a couple of weeks.
Would you say it is easier working this way given the way you have always recorded?
Not necessarily easy, but it was a necessary process for this sound, for what we actually came up with for this record as opposed to the normal way I have been used to writing records.
Was it difficult to get it down to 9 tracks?
I don’t want to say hard. Again, it’s its own process. These guys are so ridiculously talented. They are always trying to exceed themselves – top themselves. It was a process of knowing if this is too simple, too easy, or elementary that we have to take it to the next notch. I think that’s what they were doing when putting together the material. It is certainly what we were doing when getting the vocals together.
Favourite song? Does it differ between the group?
Oh, boy. It’s tough to choose. I think it’s a toss-up between Labyrinth and Sign of the Times because those two songs are so complex. They have general straight ahead parts when I’m singing, but then they take you to other planets and worlds… that’s what I love about SOA. You can sound like a classic hard rock song that takes you to another place altogether. Yeah, I would imagine everyone has their own opinion. For the most part, we just love this record, the personalities and everything that’s become of this because one of the difficult things especially in putting something like this together is you’ve got 5 different egos, 5 ways of thinking & working and coming together and forced to actually work- sometimes it doesn’t work… this time it did perfectly.
With social media and fans’ feedback and all 5 of you having your own fan base, do you feel a difference when playing live?
Yeah, it was one of the learning curves we had to get through especially in a live format. Getting in the studio is easier because everyone respects one another and where we all come from. So, from that and putting an album together was more of a natural process, but on the live stage how do we actually interact with each other, where does the chemistry come from – does it come from the fact that we are all friends, that we all know the music so well that we let loose… all this is a learning curve and process you’re going to start to see really come forward by the time we get to Montreal.
Is it a different vibe from city to city?
For the most part, especially for me, I give everything whether I’m playing for 3 old bone guys to 50,000 screaming young fans. I give the same energy because when I am on stage the music takes over. I forget about who/what is out there or in front of me. Even in rehearsals, I can’t help but really get into the music. I kind of forget whatever the focus is around me. Of course, when you have an audience that’s bouncing off you, the energy level picks up even more so. If an audience is reserved, I let the music do the talking.
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