Young Guitar Exclusive!
Everyone forgot about Boston until they released the Third Stage album in 1986. Eight years later, the 4th Boston album (Walk On) was released this month. Boston has become a legend for releasing an album only every 8 years. So who knows, maybe the next album wonít be out till the year 2002! Even if itís sooner, Boston still only has 4 albums out in 18 years. That makes them the slowest band in rock history. But any way you cut it, a true fan can take any part of this album and say, "Yep, thatís Boston." But, Tom Scholzís guitar work is much more aggressive than on earlier albums, with a veteran guitarist feel. As on the Third Stage album, Tom uses his Rockman technology in the studio to get that perfect tone. This point should appeal to those young listeners hearing Boston for the 1st time.
"Iíve been working on the development of the Rockman
for the past 8 years."
Young Guitar: Iím sure the Walk On album as a whole carries a specific concept but, where did the title come from?
Tom Scholz: The title and concept came from the "Walk On Medley". Through this album Iím expressing emotions based on real peoplesí experiences. Anyone who can understand the lyrics can understand the emotions behind it. It may difficult for children but the average Boston fan shouldnít have any problem understanding this. Therefore, from the listener Iíd like them to listen to the album from start to finish in sequence. Thereís a lot of meaning in this particular song order.
YG: What kind of message are you trying to share through the "Walk On Medley"?
TS: Each song has a double meaning. It may be a significant or insignificant meaning. Itís a song of praise to those people who fight for righteousness. As human beings weíve come to this Earth and no matter what happens, we must continue looking forward and walk on.
YG: In the 8 years since Third Stage through everything thatís gone on, Iím sure thereís been many changes in and around you.
TS: Yes. I went through a divorced and moved to a new house. But now Iím glad that the album is finally done. Iíve never been this happy that I finished an album before. Iím well know for not listening to music on an everyday basis but for the 1st time in my life I had a car stereo installed. I brought in the Toyota Iíve been driving for the past 8 years to the dealer and asked them to install an original car stereo. The dealer almost went into a panic looking all over America for an original stereo for my car which had over 100,000 miles on it. [laughing]. Listening to "Walk On" in the car is the best!! Iíve known that for as long as Iíve been making albums but this is the 1st time I feel Iíve gotten it right.
YG: Iím sure everyoneís been asking you this but, what have you been doing for the past 8 years?
TS: Iíve been working on the new Rockmans. Right now Iíve only got 2 prototypes. Oneís in the recording studio, the other is in the rehearsal studio. At first my concept was to just take the Rockman one step further but as I developed it, I was never satisfied with "just one step further." Then I decided to make and finish the ultimate recording processor. We ended up making something totally different from the original Rockman so we thought up a different name for it. We still havenít decided yet but weíll probably call it the "Ultimatum Preamp". As a company we are hurrying to make a footpedal and rackmount version but itís a big project so itíll take awhile before itís available in stores. I used it on most of the new album.
YG: Whatís the difference between the Rockman and the Ultimatum preamp?
TS: I started by modifying the Rockman to include better compression and equalization but as it came together I started thinking that it may be able to become the Ultimate Rockman. Then I started to think about how I should redesign it for mass production.
YG: Your recording studio is different than the one you used for Third Stage isnít it.
TS: Yes. The old studio was too small so I started looking for a larger one. The new studio is all brand new technology utilizing a preset system. Simply put, any instrument I want to record is completely setup for the presets I like. For example, compression, equalization, etc. can all be assigned to any channel and activated by pressing a button. All I have to do is plug in the guitar and it goes into recording mode. Of course I can change the sounds too. For acoustic guitar, all I have to do is play in front of the mike and the necessary compressor and equalizer effects are all preset. The whole studio is setup like that for all the instruments I like to use giving it various meritsÖ For example, if I want to change the guitar section for the chorus 3 months down the road, I can do it and it would sound exactly the same as the prerecorded material.
YG: Any other characteristics of your new studio?
TS: Since it was designed to record Boston albums, the sounds used on my albums (drums, bass, Hammond organ, acoustic guitar) can be covered with no problem. The basic design took one year. Then another 2 years to build it. So it took a total of 3 years to finish the studio. I then started recording the new album in late 1990 and finished in February 1994. So roughly it took 3 years to record the album.
YG: So did you record in analog like always?
TS: Yes. In the end I did my mixdown from a 24 track analog recorder. Before mixdown I used another 24 track deck exclusively for vocals so I could try out any melody possibilities. Once I have everything down on the 2 decks, I synchronize them by hand for mixdown.
YG: So you donít use a synchronizer?
TS: Nope! I do it all by hand. You may think thatís an idiotic way of doing it but itís what I found that works best for me. Of course it takes time but [laughing] I have the freedom to work out the melodies like a puzzle.
YG: I assume that is not the standard way of recording but, are there any merits to doing it that way?
TS: The thing I like about it is that you can try out different lyrics over the basic tracks without ruining the basic tracks by overplaying them. I donít advise everyone to do it like this but itís one way I figured out to keep the sound quality of the basic tracks. Doing it the old way, by the time I got to mixdown, it was all muddy and warped sounding.
YG: I see. So you are experimenting with different ways of recording.
TS: Exactly! Itís not uncommon for me to play just one line 100 times to figure out how I want to do it. [Laughing]. Conversely, if I tried doing that with a synchronizer it would take even longer. So lately Iíve gotten pretty good at sitting in front of the 2 tape decks and synching them by hand. [Laughing]. Everyone else may think Iím weird butÖ[Laughing].
YG: Lately digital recording has become popular but what do you think of it?
TS: I just donít like digital recording. Iím sure I could still record the way I do using digital but, I donít think you can get a decent sound the way most people record. Sixteen bit recording just isnít enough but over 16 bits might be OK. Itís not enough to let normal people hear some exciting rock and roll that has been exactly reproduced. The thing thatís exciting about rock and roll is the combination of the sound of the compression and distortion (not guitar distortion but the overall delicate distortion feeling) in the music during playback combined with the natural distortion that normally goes unnoticed inside the listenersí head. Digital recordings just canít produce that effect. Most people say that analog recordings sound warm. You canít compare the amount of information obtained through analog recordings to that obtained from digital recordings. Thereís all sorts of information that comes through with the music. Itís that information besides the music that makes rock and roll exciting. This has been proven through physics.
YG: In other words, analog distortion is the key point?
TS: Yea. Even when I mix down the meters are in the red! My philosophy is that the best place to hear Bostonís music is from a live stage or through a car stereo system cranked up so it gets just a little bit of distortion. Thatís the basis for rock and roll!! [Laughing].
"The soloís I chose were the ones that were the
farthest from my imagination."
YG: Is the guitar you used for recording the same Les Paul Goldtop that everyone is familiar with?
TS: Ya, as usual I used the Goldtop. Gary Pihl played a Steinberger on a few songs but it wouldnít be a mistake to say that itís mostly my Goldtop on the album.
YG: As far as the guitar playing, is it fair to say that there was a lot of improvisation?
TS: Ya, I guess you could call it improvisation. I pretty much just left the recorder in record mode all the time and tried different things. The soloís I chose were the ones that were the farthest from my imagination. I can always use the ones that are in my head so I pursue the other possibilities. Thatís true not just for the soloís; the backing tracks have various rhythm patterns as well. Of course thereís different voicings, and in some parts there are different chords being played on the left and right channels. The timing and vibrato are different too. That helps give it a tight feel. Having said that, the way the track comes out mostly depends on the feel of the part at the time. So I guess you could say itís mostly improvisation.
YG: So, as a guitarist, would you say that the new album has changed from the other albums before it?
TS: Of course as a guitarist Iíd say thatís true but, as a composer Iíd say that Iíve progressed a lot since the Third Stage album. On the Third Stage album I was trying to get my message out but I canít say whether I was successful or not. But on this album, including the guitar playing, I feel pretty confident that I succeeded in expressing my emotions this time. So itís not just like writing a story. I believe that there is a technique for expressing the emotions that only come from real experiences.
YG: What do you think about the recent trend for the return of analog effects?
TS: Well, since I use an old Les Paul, Hammond organ, and other 70ís style effects and instruments, I really donít have much to say. I think itís an interesting phenomena. Iíve used lots of peoples Ď tube amps and from there I developed the Rockman. So as far the good qualities of tube amps, I think Iíve studied the science behind it more than anyone. But even though IĎve studied about them, I donít use them. Of course it depends on the kind of music you want to playÖ For the monotone, hard rock and roll music thatís in the American forefront today, a tube amp is OK. But you can only get one sound from it. The dynamics are also limited.
YG: Are you referring to Grunge music?
TS: Is that what itís called? [Laughing]. Iím planning on making a pedal version of the Ultimatum preamp for them. ĎCause all they need is one good sound and pedals are easy to use. For people like me who want a number of different sounds, thereís the rackmount type. When Iím up on stage I want to play what Iím inspired to play so I want all the best sounds. Thatís whatís in the new Ultimatum preamp.
YG: What are you planning for after the albumsí release?
TS: What, a world tour of course!! But in order for that to become reality there are various problems I need to work out with MCA first. But all that should be settled by the release of the album.
YG: We want Boston to tour in Japan too!! So the Walk On album is Boston masterpiece, right?
TS: It really makes me happy to hear you say that. I think itís the ultimate album. When I finished the 1st album, there were many times I worried that I wouldnít be able to do better. But if we put our minds to it, we can make it happen. Iím really satisfied with the deep meaning in the new albumsí lyrical and musical content . As far as the guitar playing, thereís plenty of places where I couldnít play the same part twice. They really depended on the situation I was in when I recorded them. I might be in trouble when I get to those parts in concert but Iím trying not to think about that now. [Laughing].
YG: When the 1st album came out I thought it was really sensational and Iíve been listening ever since. I think the new Walk On album is the closest youíve come to the 1st album.
TS: Thatís why I want to do a world tour this time. When we play the rock and roll songs from the album live in concert, the good things about those songs will come out.
YG: Lastly. Do you have a message for the readers of Young Guitar magazine?
TS: The most important thing is to know what you want to express to people. Thatís not a technique or a good sound, itís your heart- your emotions. Itís being able to find out what that is even one day sooner.