Melodic hard-rock singer reflects on his time with the virtuoso guitarist
By Peter Lindblad
Jeff Scott Soto’s plate is not just full ... it’s actually spilling over the sides.
|Jeff Scott Soto - Damage Control 2012|
One of the busiest and most in-demand singers in melodic hard rock, Soto spent much of last summer touring North America with “Queen Extravaganza,” at the behest of Queen’s drummer Roger Taylor. Before that, he released a solo album titled Damage Control in the spring on Frontiers Records and EMI, and more recently, he’s been carrying out vocal duties for Trans-Siberian Orchestra, while also collaborating in W.E.T. with a couple of hot-shot Swedish musicians, Robert Sall from Work of Art and Erik Martensson of Eclipse, on an unexpectedly heavy, but also thoroughly accessible, second LP, Rise Up, that is due out in February on Frontiers Records.
In 2013, Soto is scheduled to hit the road in support of Damage Control, and there may be more tours in the offing with W.E.T. and Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Versatility is his calling card, as Soto’s strong, commanding voice works well with pop-infused heavy metal, album-oriented rock and even hot funk.
Perhaps that’s what Yngwie Malmsteen found so appealing about Soto when the virtuoso guitarist hired the then 18-year-old unknown as lead vocalist for his Rising Force project way back in 1984. It was the chance of a lifetime for Soto.
“Basically, [Malmsteen] left Alcatrazz in 1984,” says Soto, recounting how he first hooked on with Malmsteen. “I just happened to be at a friend’s house when the news came out on ‘MTV News’ that he was looking for a singer. And literally, I just sent the cassette in, and – Cinderella-story luck later – I got the call to go meet him.”
To say the least, Malmsteen was a demanding taskmaster, and at first, Soto wasn’t sure where he stood with the supernatural shredder, whose ambition it was to make to classical music and heavy metal co-exist in a manner few had thought possible. The legendary Malmsteen put Soto's feet to the fire almost immediately.
|Yngwie Malmsteen - Rising Force|
“It was a strange meeting and a strange situation to be a part of, but it took three weeks of singing with him at his house and demoing up things until I was finally inducted as the permanent singer of the band,” remembers Soto. “And even the first two songs – the only songs that had vocals on them on the first album, the debut, Rising Force album – I didn’t know the songs until he put me in the studio. I basically learned them as I was singing them, and he kind of gave me the, ‘Well, if you sound good on them, then I’ll keep you on them. Otherwise, I’m going to sing on them.’ And so I literally had the time I was singing on them to learn them and get a good performance in, and he actually really liked it. Strangely enough, I was 18 years old. I had no idea what I was doing, and I pulled it off.”
In addition to his involvement with the Rising Force recording, Soto also sang on Malmsteen’s 1985 LP Marching Out. With Malmsteen controlling almost every aspect of his musical enterprise with an iron fist, Soto felt suffocated and wanted to spread his wings. So, he left soon after Marching Out and then helped get Talisman – the band he played in for 19 years – with bassist Marcel Jacob, who had also played in Malmsteen’s Rising Force band.
As for his time with Malmsteen, Soto has mixed feelings about it. Though it was certainly a great learning opportunity and a chance for increased exposure, Soto wished for a bigger say in the music.
When asked what it was like working with Malmsteen, Soto replied, “Well, I usually answer that question sort of tongue in cheek, and I usually answer that the same way: I didn’t really work with him … I worked for him. There were a few times where he kind of let me do my own thing when it was time for it, and we were collaborating and co-writing songs together, but he always had final say. He had a vision of what he wanted, and if it strayed too far from that vision, then he would cut it. It was a great situation for me as far as cutting my teeth, but it also was a frustrating one, which led me to not sing with him too long because I was too strong-headed over where I wanted to go. And I knew I wasn’t going to get that singing with him too long.”
With Swedish rockers Talisman, Soto took on a more prominent role, and the band experienced success in their home country and beyond. Interestingly, during our interview, Soto advanced the notion of a possible Talisman reunion in the summer of 2013, as well as his involvement in some potential Trans-Siberian Orchestra studio work and less wintery live outings for the epic power-metal institution. Stay tuned for further news on those subjects.