New Projects Keep Jeff Scott Soto Inspired
By BRIAN HEATON
When it comes to being a rock singer, there isn't much Trans-Siberian Orchestra vocalist Jeff Scott Soto hasn't done. Starting his career in the early 1980s, Soto is not one to sit on his laurels. The singer forged a new band in 2009, W.E.T., and plans to explore the group's potential in 2010.
Armed with a self-titled debut record filled with catchy melodies and aggressive riffs, W.E.T. -- an acronym representing the melodic rock groups Work of Art, Eclipse and Talisman -- is eager to tour and hopefully record its second album later this year.
Comprised of Robert Säll from Work of Art, Erik Martensson of Eclipse, and Soto, a member of Talisman; W.E.T. originally began as just a project, but quickly became something more.
"It was the president of Frontiers Records who is a big fan of the three of us and our other bands," Soto explained, regarding the genesis of W.E.T. "He just had this light bulb go off wondering what [the combination] would sound like. There seems to be a demand, so I think we'll continue working together."
Predictably, W.E.T.'s debut does sound like a mixture of the members' other bands, but it also has an unmistakable whiff of Journey. This is primarily due to Soto's vocal phrasing, which is reminiscent of former Journey frontman Steve Perry. Although the comparison is high praise for Soto, the Journey reference is bittersweet for the vocalist.
Soto joined Journey in 2006 as a touring replacement for singer Steve Augeri, who couldn't complete a summer tour after injuring his voice. Together with drummer/singer Deen Castronovo, Soto forged a great new identity for Journey, with the duo taking turns singing the anthems the band is heralded for.
The chemistry was so vibrant between them, Journey announced on its Web site after the tour that Soto would be its new frontman. A few months later, however, the band unceremoniously dumped him in favor of current Journey singer Arnel Pineda. Understandably, it took Soto a while to commit to doing the W.E.T. album, mostly because it meant his fans would immediately compare it to what might have been with Journey.
"I knew sonically W.E.T. was something I didn't want to do right away after Journey," Soto admitted. "It's the whole Steve Perry influence. I'm not going to hide or mask it. I would have sung these songs regardless of my involvement with Journey. It's part of what makes me, me."
A New Groove
The part of Soto fans might not know about, however, is the vocalist's enjoyment of music outside the typical melodic hard rock sound. While past solo albums have embraced that familiar vibe, his most recent solo effort, Beautiful Mess, featured the singer focusing on a more groove-oriented approach.
It is a direction Soto found both refreshing and inspiring. Drawing a distinction between Queen and its late frontman Freddie Mercury's solo albums, Soto noted that Mercury's own work still sounds a bit like Queen, but explores different territory – exactly the goal he envisioned with Beautiful Mess.
"I've always wanted to challenge myself, especially with bands that influenced me," Soto said. "Talisman was the closest band of mine to tap into the funkier, groovier things, but it still had to have an element of 'riff rock' and solos and I'm kind of over that."
Immensely proud of Beautiful Mess, Soto recorded his headline show in Madrid, Spain, in 2009 as a document of the tour in support of the album. Set for release on Jan. 12, One Night in Madrid is available as both a two-CD set and a DVD from Frontiers Records.
The concert features a good helping of cuts from Beautiful Mess and Soto's extensive back catalog, including an iconic performance of "Stand Up and Shout," from the Rock Star movie soundtrack.
Soto's second live album as a solo artist – the first being Live at the Gods, in 2003 – the singer chose Madrid for the electric atmosphere that city's fans have provided him through the years.
"When I did my first solo tour back in 2003 … Madrid was the first stop ... and I had no idea if anyone would come out," Soto revealed. "When we hit the stage and saw the sea of people singing every song, it was such a cool vibe. So I wanted to [record the live album] there."
Although his influences are diverse, Soto never imagined taking his solo career in a Broadway-style direction. But when opportunity knocked to sing and tour with Trans-Siberian Orchestra came up, the singer knew he needed to answer the door.
Joining TSO for its 2008 tour, Soto hooked up with the group through good friend and TSO guitarist/founder Al Petrelli. The two met more than 20 years ago on separate tours in Europe, when Soto and Petrelli found themselves at the same hotel bar and the friendship has continued since.
"This is a real different outing for me as I'm not from a musical theater or Broadway rock opera kind of world," Soto admitted. "It's another challenge for me and I'm happy doing it but I'm not going to pursue Broadway myself. I'm not a show tunes guy."
Continuing on tour with TSO in 2009, the singer also appears as the main character in Night Castle, TSO's latest studio album. Soto is featured on five songs and is exceedingly humble about the experience.
"They were working on Night Castle for quite a few years and it took them that long to cast my character," Soto explained. "The fact they thought of me and called me in to audition was cool enough. The fact I got it was altogether incredible."
While TSO is an immensely popular holiday season extravaganza, Soto has no plans for extended downtime. It's always about the next challenge that lies ahead.
"I get bored too easily kicking back," the singer admitted with a laugh. "I'll spend some time with the family and get back to it. There's a lot of rockin' left to do."
For more on Jeff Scott Soto, visit http://www.jeffscottsoto.com. All photos courtesy of Frontiers Records and Jeff Scott Soto.
Copyright 2010, Brian Heaton. All Rights Reserved.