Interview: Tom Scholz of Boston: ‘It’s Just A Matter Of Trying To Do The Best I Can’
Boston are one of the quintessential bands of ’70s classic rock, possibly because they released two LPs in that decade, a feat of prolific album recording that they have yet to top. We’re not kidding: they debuted with their 1976 classic self-titled album and followed it up with lightning speed (for them, anyway) with 1978’s Don’t Look Back. But each subsequent decade has seen Tom Scholz and company release just one album. Like the Paul Masson Winery who sell no wine before its time, Scholz spends a lot of time working on Boston albums before they reach the public. A lot of time. He spoke Radio.com about why it takes so long to finish an album, the possibility of a Boston box set (don’t hold your breath) and more seriously, the matter of using vocals by Boston’s late singer Brad Delp on the band’s brand new album, Life, Love & Hope.
How do you know when a record is done?
I’m done with a record and a song when one of two things happens. Either I’m so burnt out on it, and I can’t work on it anymore. Or, I’m scared to change anything because I really like what I’ve got and I don’t want to take a chance of losing it. That’s when I know I’m done. I work mostly alone, and I try an enormous amount of ideas. 99% of what I record in the studio, nobody else hears. Occasionally my wife or my dog, but they’re very good listeners.
Why does it take so long?
The problem is that once I start on a song and get a rough idea of where I might go with an arrangement, I try dozens, sometimes hundreds, of different things on a song. The bass, the backing guitars, the lead guitars, the keyboards. It’s a long process. It’s like 100 steps forward and 99 steps back. I have to make decisions about what I’m going to keep and what I’m not going to keep. One of the hardest things about recording a song is deciding which ideas to leave out.
It sounds like there’s a lot of extra material for a massive box set of outtakes and alternate versions. Is that something you’d ever consider?
Probably not. I do have completely different versions of many of these songs. Sometimes, I’ll record an entire song and then I’ll realize that it’s isn’t in the best key for the vocalist, and then I’ll re-record the whole thing. But since you bring it up, there is a bonus track on the Best Buy version [of the new album], “Te Quiero Mia,” that was the original version of the song that was [later] released as “I Had A Good Time” that’s on the Greatest Hits album. I heard this version again a year or two ago and I went “Holy crap, that was better than what I ended up with, I should have kept that one!” So that is one instance. But I wouldn’t really plan to make a collection of outtakes. First, I wouldn’t know where to start. If you listen to my tapes, you’d hear 14 different ways to arrange the rhythm guitar behind the harmony vocal, and then 14 different ways with a different vocal. You’d have to really be a music lover to sit through that and find it entertaining. I enjoy it, but I’m easy to please.
But you take a decade to put out an album, how “easy to please” can you be?
I’m very easy to please, but I’m very picky about what ends up on a Boston album.
Even though your Corporate America album came out in 2002, you weren’t finished with it; you revisited two of the songs on Life, Love & Hope.
I felt like I missed the mark when they were released. “Someone” and “You Gave Up On Love.” “Someone,” right after that album was released, I went back to work on that song. I was really annoyed that I missed what I was looking for. I tried a few different things and rearranged it and remixed it, it’s quite a bit different from the original version. “You Gave Up On Love” is even further, and now when I listen to it, I say, “Now it’s a Boston song.” Now I love listening to both of them. Back in 2002, I couldn’t listen to either one.
Are you this much of a perfectionist in every aspect of your life?
It’s not really a matter of “perfect,” especially when you talk about art, it’s sort of a meaningless word, and and I never feel that anything is “perfect.” In the case of Boston, it’s just a matter of trying to do the best I can. I don’t really understand where that motivation comes from, I grew up that way. I have to credit my parents with that. Or blame them. Someone will say, “Well, that’s good enough.” As soon as I hear “Good enough,” it really bothers me. I spend as much time as I think I can on anything I do. I try to do that with the people that work with me. I try to get the best out of them. I’m never looking for perfection, I’m never looking for a specific exact thing, I just want to get the best that people can do on these projects.
Boston now uses a variety of lead singers: how do you decide who sings on which song?
It’s really a matter of, I’ll take a guess, and I’ll try someone and it may not work out. “The Way You Look Tonight” was sung by four different people. Very time consuming! It isn’t a matter of who is more on key, it’s just a matter of… it’s a purely gut reaction to the song. Sometimes I don’t know until I hear the performance.
Is there a rivalry going on between the different singers?
They hate each other’s guts! (Laughs) I’m kidding, of course. This group of people gets along very well, which makes life wonderful, both in the studio and on the road. There’s very little ego going on, a lot of hard work and dedication. I really have a lot of respect for all of the people involved with Boston over the last few years.
Was it a difficult decision to use Brad Delp’s vocals on “Didn’t Mean To Fall In Love” and “Sail Away?”
When he was doing those vocals, he was anticipating them being on the new Boston album. I’m sure if he were alive today, he would be upset if his vocals weren’t used. I’m sure that, somehow, he’s happy that that’s all come to pass finally.
Did you write “Life, Love & Hope” with Brad in mind?
“Life, Love & Hope” is… I’m thinking “larger picture.” I’m not trying to preach to anyone. We all get lost and caught up in our everyday problems. Your cellphone doesn’t work, or you got a parking ticket, you had a bad day at work. You can lose sight of the really important things in life, that’s what the song is about. Life, love and hope, in my mind, are the important things in life.
You make your debut as a lead singer on “Love Got Away.”
That was not a decision taken lightly, by the way! I don’t consider myself in the same league, as far as singing talent, as the singers on the album. But it was a very personal song, about an autobiographical story, I felt that I wasn’t going to get the feeling I was looking for unless I did it myself, so everybody is just going to have to put up with the writer singing his song for once. I’ve been listening to other people singing my songs for thirty plus years.
Will you sing it live?
Oh geez, I hope I don’t have to do that. That’s my least favorite thing to do live, singing lead. I have so much to do onstgage, there’s an awful lot of very difficult parts to play. If there’s an enormous clamoring for me to sing that song I might, but I don’t expect that to happen.
So, what are the tour plans for 2014?
We don’t know yet, it’s still in the planning stages, we’re open to a lot of things. We’ve gone out solo and had opening acts, we went out in 2008 with Styx, that was awesome, we did it solo in 2012 as well, we’ll have to wait and see. Our biggest goal is to cover as much ground as possible.
— Brian Ives, Radio.com