Damage Control is the antidote to JSS’s polarising previous effort Beautiful Mess and sees the former Journey/Malmsteen man is stunning form.
rushonrock editor Simon Rushworth spoke exclusively to one of the finest vocalists on the hard rock circuit. Look out for a full review of Damage Control on Sunday!
rushonrock: When did Damage Control start to take shape?
Jeff Scott Soto: I started piecing the idea together during the summer of 2011. I’ve been so involved with Trans Siberian Orchestra for the past few years and even more so since Beautiful Mess was written.
rushonrock: Did TSO mean you took your eye off the ball in terms of the bigger picture?
JSS: TSO has dominated my career and my attention span in the last few years and I realised I hadn’t put enough effort into what I should be doing for myself.
rushonrock: Did you worry your fans had lost sight of what you do best?
JSS: Sometimes it’s good for an artist to appear to go away for a while. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and you start to generate a bit of a buzz because of what you’re not doing. But Beautiful Mess was released digitally at the end of 2008 and physically in 2009 so that’s almost three years off the scene as a solo artist. It was time to make Damage Control.
rushonrock: Was the writing process difficult?
JSS: This wasn’t an easy album to make. I have to admit the well kind of ran dry during the Beautiful Mess writing process and hence there were a lot of external credits and my input as a songwriter was minimal. There was a hangover from that as I was starting to pull together Damage Control – I just wasn’t in a creative frame of mind to begin with. I had become lazy as a songwriter and it did take me a while to get back into the swing of things. Then it suddenly clicked and I thought ‘I’m back but where have I been?’.
rushonrock: Beautiful Mess leaned heavily on outside writing support so were you keen to take greater control this time?
JSS: I still wanted to work with other people on Damage Control. I went to all of the people who I thought would fit the bill for this record and asked them all the same question: what have you got for me? They came back to me in their droves and pretty quickly I had enough quality material for a double album. From that point I had to scale things down to 14 songs and all the time I had the support of Frontiers Records. I told them that there were 21 songs that I wanted to use and 14 of those that I was married to. I told them it would be a struggle to let any one of those 21 songs go but these 14 must see the light of day. And on the deluxe version of Damage Control I’m glad to say they do.
rushonrock: Ultimately it’s another star-studded record…
JSS: I’ve been very lucky. Dave Meniketti came it at the 11th hour and made a very special contribution to a song I’d already completed. It was a last-minute addition but he provided a stunning guitar solo. It’s the only ballad on the album and I’d recorded all of the parts except the lead guitar but then Y&T’s Mike Vanderhule offered to lay down some drums. When he heard the track he said what it really needed was a Meniketti solo and I asked him if Dave would do something like that. The answer was yes and even though I told Dave I needed to solo by yesterday he came up with the goods – I dropped it in the mix and it sounded amazing. I’ve loved Y&T since high school so to have him on my record is a huge thrill.
rushonrock: Did you enjoy working with Jamie Borger again?
JSS: Just like Aerosmith have The Toxic Twins I have a nickname for me and Jamie Borger when we’re writing together – The Cheese Factory Boys. Whenever we come up with a song it’s pink, fluffy, happy-chorus AOR music. I knew that I needed a couple of those songs for this album and Jamie gave me these two gems that started the ball rolling: Elena and If I Never Let Her Go.
rushonrock: How did the Joel Hoekstra link come about?
JSS: Working with Joel Hoekstra was one of the things that almost didn’t happen. I contacted him right when Night Ranger were about to go out on the road with Journey and Foreigner across North America and he was basically busy for the next six months. But Joel is as much of a work horse as I am and I thank God for that because he called and said he’d got two songs for me. One of them is the lead single from Damage Control called Look Inside Your Heart and Never Ending War. When I first heard them I thought this is absolutely what I need! They sounded so perfect that I said he had to play on the album – and he did!
rushonrock: Does Damage Control do what is says on the tin?
JSS: I made this album to have the Damage Control over the Beautiful Mess that I left behind. Beautiful Mess was kind of a career killer for my traditional fans but Damage Control is getting me back on the right track. It’d filling the void for the die-hard Jeff Scott Soto fans and it’s full of the music I missed last time around.
rushonrock: Are you in denial when it comes to Beautiful Mess?
JSS: When I talked about Beautiful Mess three years ago I said I hoped it would revitalise me as an artist. It did and it didn’t. The people who didn’t buy it were my hardcore fans and that’s never a good thing. They prefer me as more of a hard rock/AOR singer. But the small number of people who did buy Beautiful Mess gave me a broader audience for the first time. Now I can deliver a record for both groups and I hope Damage Control does that.
rushonrock: Is Damage Control the definitive Jeff Scott Soto record then?
JSS: I think the new album offers the perfect blend of what is expected from me as a musician and then some more. But I’d really urge fans to check out the deluxe edition which includes all 14 of the songs I wanted on Damage Control, rather than the 11 you get on the standard edition. The deluxe edition is like my director’s cut – it’s the ideal piece of work and the full package. It’s the album I’m focusing on. I’m hoping my fans will spend an extra couple of quid on the extended version because if they don’t they’ll miss out on a couple of brilliant songs. Afraid To Die is an anti-suicide song and a tribute to my brother in Talisman Marcel Jacob. Then there’s Take You Down – it’s a full-on rock song that will rip your head off.
rushonrock: Now is the time to be reborn as a hard rock hero – are you ready to ride the wave of retro AOR success?
JSS: I like the fact that everything comes full circle but the knowledge that things will be out of fashion for a period is one of those bummer things you just have to deal with. I know all good things must come to an end but then if they’re that good they’ll make a return one day – and that’s the case with AOR. I do see it making a strong return right now. To still be creative and be playing a part in the scene now, as I was in the 80s, is a great feeling.
rushonrock: But it’s still not like the ‘good old days’…
JSS: The music business is in such turmoil these days that it must be quite depressing if you’re a new artist trying to make your way. Fortunately I can just about skate my way through the peaks and troughs and find a way through it all.
rushonrock: When can we expect to see Damage Control performed live?
JSS: I’m actually planning this year’s touring schedule as we speak. I’m looking at where and when but I can promise I will be hitting the UK stage again in 2012. I had to turn down the spring leg of the latest Trans Siberian Orchestra tour because I realised I’d taken enough time off as a solo artist. Sometimes you have to walk away from one project to get the most out of another. And I knew that if I didn’t return to what I do as Jeff Scott Soto pretty soon then I’d be forgotten.