Tom Scholz - Leisure Preparation for Another Boston Tea Party

Tom Scholz -- the guitarist, producer, chief songwriter and all-around leader of the band Boston -- has never set speed records for making albums. Nor does he want to. A graduate of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Scholz was an engineer at Polaroid and a music hobbyist before leaving the corporate environs and entering the music lab where he created Boston, the 1976 debut album that sold more than 20 million copies, launched a slew of hits (More Than a Feeling, Peace of Mind, Foreplay/Long Time) and set new standards for record production. Its successor, 1978's Don't Look Back, sold a measly two million copies and left Scholz with a bad taste in his mouth about the music industry -- particularly when his label, CBS, sued him for breach of contract during the early 80's and froze the group's royalties. Ever since that experience Scholz -- who has kept only singer Brad Delp as a Boston mainstay -- has taken his time, spending eight years working on 1987's Third Stage and another six to craft Walk On. Scholz once remarked, "There's been a new  president for every album," and he's not kidding; only Walk On and 1997's Greatest Hits share a political administration (Bill Clinton's). Things have been quiet on the Boston front during the past few years, with Scholz working on his figure skating skills and (presumably) fine-tuning some new music. It may come next year. Or the year after. Or the year after that. In other words, don't hold your breath -- just a spot on the CD shelf for whatever Boston's future brings. Wasn't it a little risky to quit a solid job at a place like Polaroid to make rock 'n roll records?

Tom Scholz: I think I was working at Polaroid trying to earn money to record. Actually, my objective was to get into a band and play guitar for a living. I didn't specifically want to start a band and write songs -- I just wanted to be a guitar player. But to get into the position I wanted to be in, I found I wanted to do just about everything. You take so long to make your albums. Should we even ask for an estimate on when we can expect another Boston album?

Scholz: (laughs) I am pretty slow in the studio and not particularly methodical, either. But I'd rather be slow making the music rather than being slow preparing to make music. Maybe 20 years ago, I needed all the highly technical stuff to make up for whatever deficiencies I had as a musician. But over the course of doing it for [25] years, professionally, if you have any motivation then you do get better...although I know a few people who have gotten worse. Have you been able to use advancements in recording technology to speed up the creative process for yourself?

Scholz: Nowadays I can go in and punch a few buttons and be a creative musician rather than having to think like an engineer and a producer all the time... all of that stupid stuff that gets in the way of the original idea of the song. It's definitely made working on the songs more enjoyable. Of course, it frees me up to do a lot more experimenting; I end up trying more and more things rather than going faster. Has that made you write the songs any differently, then?

Scholz: Not really. My guidelines [for writing songs] have always been doing them the way I wanted to hear them. You never know what person X or Y is going to like, but I know what I like. So the guideline is whatever sounds good to me. I've listened to these songs thousands of times, which would make you sick of most songs. If I'm working on something and I really don't want to hear it again, I throw that song out. Not one song on the albums has failed that test. Don't Look Back, Boston's second album, was one of the great sophomore slumps, even though it sold a not too shabby two million copies. It was also your quickest turnaround between albums. Do you think there's a correlation there?

Scholz: Absolutely. The management and record company literally pulled the rug out from under me at the last minute. That record was never done; I still don't consider side two to be a completed side of music. There was no doubt that I was compromised. After that, I was determined not to let something like that happen again. A lot of people said, "You're crazy. You should put an album out every two years. You can make millions!" If the object was to do that, I wouldn't have started [music in the first place]. I was already in a good direction with a good job at Polaroid. I want to be limited just by whatever talent I can muster. I didn't want to be limited by somebody else's clock. That's not how you make music; it's how you make money, I guess. Not everybody shared your vision, of course. You wound up in court with CBS over your glacial work habits.

Scholz: I don't know what those guys were thinking. If I was in the position of having first dibs on a project that had the potential for selling millions and millions of records and it wasn't costing me a dime until it came out, I wouldn't have done anything to upset those guys. I guess they were just upset because they couldn't control me. I don't believe they ever felt they had a prayer of winning. They wanted to try to cost Boston a lot of money, and they failed at that. Brad Delp is the only member you've kept around for Boston's entire career. Why?

Scholz: Brad's unbelievable; he's the best singer I've ever heard, period. I have worked with a ton of 'em, and nobody can do the things that he can do. I'm not talking about singing high notes; lots of people can do that. He can do amazing things with his voice, and his grasp of music is just mind-boggling. It's like youre tapping into some kind of computer memory bank or something. He remembers melodies from the first verse after working for three hours trying different third verses. He can go back and sing a harmony part to a chorus that he did two weeks ago and he doesn't have to listen to them first; it's just there. He's got this total recall sort of musical capability. How did your version of The Star Spangled Banner from the Greatest Hits album come about?

Scholz: I had recorded it for the Fourth of July a couple of years before. I've never liked The Star-Spangled Banner that much. I thought if it was arranged right and was a real rock 'n roll version, not a solo thing like Hendrix did but a real rock 'n roll rendition of it, then maybe I'd like it. I started out on July 2nd and it was going really well, so I stayed up all night and actually recorded it in 24 hours. (laughs) I can't quite seem to figure it out; if I can do 'em all in 24 hours, it'd be like an album every two weeks. Do you have a favorite Boston album?

Scholz: I think Walk On. It was the first album that I thought I had really pulled together the way I wanted to and the way I wanted to hear it. If I'm going to listen to anything I've done, that's the one I put on. You wrote the song "Higher Power" about a friend who was recovering from addiction. Did you ever experience those problems during your rock 'n roll career?

Scholz: No. I think I was too... I don't know what happened to me. I just was never interested in it. I never even smoked dope. I would have the odd drink now and then. I get addicted to other things; I'm so busy with things, when I get into something I get totally engrossed in it. Like ice skating, I skate at least two hours a day, and I am not a professional skater, nor do I have a prayer of becoming one or getting recognition from it. I just really love the feeling of zipping across the ice and parting company with it and coming down in one piece. I kind of do that with everything, so I guess I don't need any bad habits. I've got enough other ones. In some ways it's seemed like you treat music like a hobby.

Scholz: It's been very consistent that way. I would be involved with music whether I had a career or didn't have one. I'm always going to be writing songs and recording them. I wouldn't want to guess at whether anybody will always know about it. So we'll hear that next record in...?

Scholz: (laughs) I make no guarantees. I won't even guarantee a next record, let alone a time. If you haven't figured out by now, I'm not someone who likes to do things in a hurry.

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