Recording takes more than a feeling for Boston’s Tom Scholz
July 30, 2014
If you go
What: Boston and the Doobie Brothers
When: 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 3
Where: Harveys Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena
Tickets: $49.50 and up
oston's Tom Scholz, the man who has written nearly all of the group's songs and created the band's signature sound, has often said he regretted allowing Columbia Records to release the second Boston album, "Don't Look Back," when it did.
He felt he was rushed into releasing the album before it was truly done. He has made a firm decision since then.
"Basically, I decided after the second album that I just wasn't going to get pushed into releasing something before I thought it was the best that I could do," he said in a recent phone interview.
Scholz has made good on that promise ever since, and, as a result, there have been a grand total of four Boston album released since "Don't Look Back" arrived in 1978. The latest Boston album, "Life, Love & Hope," has now arrived – a scant 11 years since the previous Boston release, "Corporate America."
“I was told after people heard the … demos that there was no chance this was going to be a big success because disco was the new incoming thing.”
Scholz actually thought he was close to completing "Life, Love & Hope" in 2008, telling this interviewer at the time he felt he was one or two songs short of a finished album.
Then another five-plus years and two more Boston tours came and went before "Life, Love & Hope" finally arrived in December.
"I did record a few more songs than I anticipated and actually made some fairly significant changes to some of the songs I had already done," Scholz said, explaining part of the reason why the latest album arrived when it did. "That's always the problem, of course. I never run out of ideas. I just run out of time to try them. The longer I live with it, the more I experiment, the longer it takes. It's really a vicious cycle.
"In fairness, there were some unforeseeable delays during the recording of this album, and we did go out on four tours (after "Corporate America")," he added. "Every time we do that, even if the tour itself only runs for three months or so, it basically takes me out for more like eight months. It's a long time upfront for planning, set design, set arrangements, arrangements for the songs, new segues and so forth. So each time (we tour) it's a major undertaking for me. I mean, it's a total immersion thing. So I don't record once I get in gear to go on tour."
One thing that separates Scholz from many artists is he almost always works alone throughout the writing and recording process, usually playing the parts himself or supervising every last detail of the music and vocals as they get completed.
That was the way he worked when he did the final batch of demos for Boston's self-titled 1976 debut album – although he said for a time he thought it might be wasted effort and he would give up on the music business without ever getting the album released.
"I had no expectations that it was going to have a massive audience," Scholz said of the first album. "In fact, I was told after people heard the (earlier) demos that there was no chance this was going to be a big success because disco was the new incoming thing. So I was prepared for relative failure in a commercial sense. But I just wanted to do something that I liked and I was proud of. So the demos that I made were strictly based on how I wanted to hear the music, and voila. For the first time ever, I suddenly had three major labels contacting me saying they were interested in my recordings."
The rest, of course, is history. The "Boston" album became one of the most popular rock albums ever – its sales are now more than 17 million copies – and hits from the album like "More Than a Feeling," "Long Time" and "Peace of Mind" still get regular airplay on classic rock radio.
The one time Scholz let others into the writing and recording process was for "Corporate America." It was a mistake, he said.
"'Corporate America' was the aberration," Scholz said. "That was the one time that I didn't do it all myself. I involved other people, other writers, other players, even people working on production. It was an experiment and it was a failed one. I tried it. It didn't work. The first thing I did after that record was done was decide I would never do that again."
So Scholz started the 11-year journey to finishing "Life, Love & Hope" by once again taking control of the songwriting and recording, meticulously crafting the eight new compositions on the album.
He also revisited three songs from "Corporate America." He went back to two of the songs, "Someone" and "You Gave Up on Love," because he was unhappy with the versions on "Corporate America."
"I wanted a do-over," Scholz said. "I blew it. I knew it, and I said someday, somewhere, somehow I'm going to get a chance to release these songs again. I thought that the songs themselves had a lot of merit, and I didn't want them to let them get lost. And the other one, 'Didn't Mean to Fall in Love,' that's actually the only song on this album that I didn't write in its entirety. Curly Smith came up with a verse, chord changes. And he and a friend of his came up with a lot of the lyrics in it. I loved the song, so I just basically wanted to give that song another chance at a wider audience hopefully."
"Someone" and "You Gave Up on Love" indeed got significant facelifts. For the former song, Scholz tweaked the arrangement, gave it a crisper sonic treatment and inserted new vocal parts by original Boston singer Brad Delp before the vocalist, in 2007, committed suicide.
"It ended up taking me a few years to figure out how to get it so it had the effect I was looking for," Scholz said of "Someone."
"You Gave Up on Love," meanwhile, got a new a cappella vocal intro and an instrumental and sonic makeover.
"Now I'm very happy with the song," Scholz said. "'You Gave Up on Love' now sounds like a Boston song with the big harmonies opening it up, and the little slide guitar gives it a nice offset to that flute going into the verses. I actually had a good time, a lot of fun, going back and rearranging and re-recording that song."
The rest of "Life, Love & Hope" sounds very much like a Boston album, too. Melodic rockers with the familiar blended guitars and layered vocal harmonies ("Heaven On Earth," "Someday" and the title song) fit right in alongside earlier hits like "More Than a Feeling." Those songs are balanced by ballads like "Didn't Mean To Fall In Love" and "If You Were in Love," as well as a pretty instrumental, "Last Day of School."
Scholz said the touring lineup for Boston this summer will be mostly the same as the one from 2012. He will be joined by vocalist Tommy DeCarlo, rhythm guitarist/vocalist Kimberly Dahme, guitarist Gary Pihl, bassist Tracy Ferrie and either Curly Smith or Jeff Neal on drums.
"The last tour (in 2012), I'd rate it as maybe the most enjoyable I've ever been on," Scholz said. "It's a combination of having the music work and having the set work for you and also the people that you get involved with. We just had a really excellent group last time, the crew, band, everybody. There were very few dry eyes at the last show of that trip."