Jeff Scott Soto, Interview – ‘Wide Awake (In My Dreamland),’ Eddie Van Halen + More


Interview: Jeff Scott Soto discusses his new solo album, "Wide Awake (In My Dreamland)," the recent passing of Eddie Van Halen and more.

Jeff Scott Soto – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Lexie Boezeman Cataldo

Jeff Scott Soto joins Anne Erickson to discuss his new solo album, “Wide Awake (In My Dreamland),” the recent passing of Eddie Van Halen and more in this in-depth interview

Jeff Scott Soto is one of the most prolific voices in rock and metal music. Having sung with everyone from Journey to the Trans Siberian Orchestra, Soto is simply a go-to in the heavy music world when a band is looking for a dynamic lead voice.

Now, Soto is out with his seventh studio album, “Wide Awake (In My Dreamland).” The album, recorded and written Alessandro Del Vecchio, features a mix of Soto’s characteristic melodic rock and album-oriented rock with heavy influences.

Soto spoke with Anne Erickson of Audio Ink Radio about the new album, what it’s like releasing new music during the current pandemic, his thoughts on the passing of Eddie Van Halen and more. Read the full interview below and hear it via the Audio Ink podcast on Apple Podcasts here and Spotify here.

Anne Erickson: You’re on your seventh studio album, “Wide Awake (In My Dreamland).” What makes this album stand apart from the other records in your discography?

Jeff Scott Soto: I always try to dabble into something new. If it’s not material in terms of like direction or experimenting with a new sound or vibe, it’s going to be new people. This time around, it has been people. I’ve known my producer, Alessandro, for quite a long time now, but we’ve never actually worked together. We’ve always vowed to work together, and while I’m waiting for that day to actually happen, I’ve watched this guy just grow leaps and bounds in terms of what he does and how he does it. He’s become a great producer, songwriter, engineer– you name it, the guy just beats everything above the board. He’s just been just killing it. So, when we had a sit down with Frontiers Records when I did their Frontiers Rock Festival last year, we’re talking about the new album, and one of the first things they said was that would love for me to collaborate with Alessandro on this new album and see how we would do something. I said, absolutely. We’ve been talking about it long enough. Now, it’s time to do it.

Would you say there’s an overall theme at all to the album?

Not necessarily. I didn’t put a theme or a concept behind it. I always try to give my titles a little more than just choosing a song on the record and just calling it– okay, well, this is a song I really like, so this could be the name of the record. After I wrote the actual song “Wide Awake in my Dreamland,” I loved the way it resonates, because it truly represented, especially here in the U.S., the division– the division between politics, religion, social issues, all of that was already happening before COVID-19 hit, but now even more so the COVID-19 is here. This life that we’re living right now truly feels like we must be dreaming. This is no way this can be real. But yet, we are wide awake and living this absolute dream-nightmare, whatever you want to call it, this is the reality, and this is what we have to get through. So, it kind of brought on a new meaning that I wanted to call the album “Wide Awake In My Dreamland.” That’s where it originally came from.

How has releasing a record right now during the pandemic been different for you?

There’s not really much difference. I don’t always tour for my solo records. I didn’t tour for the “Retribution” album. I was able to do two videos for that album, but the only real difference is that if there was a demand, if the album sold really well and it was a sleeper hit somehow and there was a demand for me to go support it on the road– that’s the only difference. But, my albums don’t usually, generally sell well enough for me to go on tour. I usually go on tour because I want to, and that’s kind of the incentive, too. When you have a new album, you kind of find that incentive to go on the road. It’s not necessarily to sell records, because for the most part, let’s be honest, when I’m on the road, the crowds out there, they’re more or less waiting for me to do some of the classic moments of my career, my life, more so than they’re wanting to hear the new stuff live. That’s why I’ve been initially going on tour in the past. I know it gives me an outlet to go up there and play some of the stuff that is more familiar to my fans and that they’re more expecting to hear, more so than maybe something from the new records.

What are your thoughts on when traditional touring might actually be back?

You know what– my thoughts are probably the same as yours or the same as anyone else’s. There’s no crystal ball. There’s no idea of when we’re going to be able to kind of resume back to normal, so that being said, I’d rather not make any suggestions, hints, promises. All I can do is wait it out like everyone else and hope for the best, because as far as I’m concerned, I think even once we do return, everybody’s going to be screaming and wanting to get back to live shows and everything, but I think there’s going to be too many regulations and mandates involved that it’s just going to take away the experience that we remember– the thing that we grew up loving and feeling about live shows. I think there’s going to be a kind of a new normal of getting through first, before we can get back to that again, and I have the feeling it’s not going to be the experience we remember it as.

Do you think the music industry will be forever changed because of coronavirus?

You know, it’s always forever changing, and this is another parameter or another kind of a roadblock for us. It’s been changing constantly since I started my career in the ’80s. I watched it in the ’90s, as I brought up earlier that the physical sales are not really that valid anymore. Everything’s constantly changing with what’s entailed in what’s involved in being a musician. In the past, when somebody asks, do you have any advice for a young musician? I think my answer might be a little different these days, because I realize how much more difficult it is now. It’s not even the competition anymore. It’s not even if you really wanted to stick with it kind of answer. I can’t even give them any hope that by sticking with it that they’re going to be able to achieve what a lot of us were able to, or what a lot of us were even trying to achieve already.

There’s always going to be a new model of the format or something to get used to in terms of what’s happening, and COVID is certainly going to now be another parameter in that, which, who knows what that’s going to entail in the future. So, I can’t make any predictions, and I refuse to be a part of any, “Well, I think it’s going to be this or that and the other,” because all it’ll be mocked later. They’ll say, “Well, it looks like your prediction didn’t necessarily come through.” All I can do is wait it out like everybody else and hope for the best.

You are such a great singer, and you’ve sung with some incredible bands. Is there one experience, looking back, where you kind of had to pinch yourself and say, I can’t believe this is happening?

Oh, absolutely. That’s an easy one. I mean, my time with Journey was one of those pinch me moments in terms of– this is one of my favorite bands of all time growing up. I know their entire catalog, B-Sides, Japanese bonus singles and all, and now, all of a sudden, I’m singing with this band– their songs in front of their audience. Of course, it was an incredible moment. But, on the other hand, I knew that I couldn’t really bank or capitalize on that, because when I did exit that band, I didn’t necessarily bring their fans along with me. If I’m lucky, out of the million or so people that I played in front of the short time I was in that band, I maybe got about 3 or 4 percent of them to continue following me from there. And, rightly so. That’s Steve Perry and those guys’ legacy. It’s not my legacy. I was just basically there helping them bring it on the road and continue their legacy. I can’t take any credit for it, but it truly was a defining moment for me to be able to sing these amazing songs and get to live out a fantasy as a kid. I mean, it’s almost like a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy. “You’re going to sing for Journey for 11 months! What do you think?” It was great.

You’re also a member of Sons of Apollo. Is there anything new on that end?

We have rebooked the remainder of the tour several times already, and this is another reason why I won’t– I refuse to predict anything, because having already done it twice and knowing that it might actually happen a third time, just because if things continue as they are, there’s no way we’re going to be able to follow through with it. That’s the first order. That’s the first business. We have to go make up that tour. We have to try to resurrect the life of an album that’s already going to be a year old that we didn’t get a chance to do properly. It was pulled. We did four dates on that tour, and we had to come home, because COVID was just starting back in March. We didn’t want to risk it. We didn’t want to be stuck somewhere in an army hospital. So, we pulled the plug, and we’re excited to get this back out there, but again, it was to be within the parameters of everybody being safe, everybody feeling like they want us and they want to come see the shows and us feeling the same way.

I’ve seen so many bands book tours and then rebook them and book them again, and it’s to the point where I wonder why they’re rebooking anymore.

Well, the main reason is you have to do it. It’s semantics more than anything. If you don’t get those spots, if tomorrow, the vaccine is here or the storm is over and everyone goes back to what they were doing, everything is going to be sucked up and taken, and you will have to wait another year, because there won’t be any openings left. So, we kind of have to put the crystal ball out there that we’re going to be able to do it and at least have it ready for us, so if when we’re ready, it’s ready.

Do you have any new Sons of Apollo music on the way? I know you recently released a new album with them, but with this downtime, I’m wondering if you’re working on new material.

We discussed it. I think the overall consensus without really talking further, after we were talking about, maybe we should just have another album in the can– I think the overall consensus from everybody was this album is too good to just say, let’s forget about it, or, let’s do a new album. So, when we go on tour, now we have three albums of material to choose. I would hate to drop anything we were doing on this current tour, because now we have to fit other songs in. That, to me, says we’re still going to go out there and push this record, and that makes me happy, because I was so proud of this record, and I was so excited to do an entire year of these songs, that we would now have to say, “Well, we can’t fit everything in.” So, we have to start taking things out to squeeze in other things. That’s the consensus now. I’m not speaking for everybody else. I’m speaking for me. Maybe they’ll surprise me and say, “We’re going to be starting new record,” but that’s where we’re at right now. That’s how I see things.

What are your thoughts on losing the great Eddie van Halen?

There truly are no words. The way I felt, personally, is that it’s been a horrendous year for me in terms of losing people, because the first big one for me was Kobe Bryant. I grew up with massive Laker’s fan, and Kobe is a staple for Los Angeles, and me being an L.A. guy, losing him was a huge one for me. Then, before him, the biggest other loss for me was when Prince died. So, losing Eddie was kind of like a combination of losing Kobe and Prince. That’s how big that one was for me, and I’m sure for everyone. Eddie wasn’t just a great player. He wasn’t just an innovator. He wasn’t just a game changer. He was all of the above. But, the one thing that really struck me the most that I never really thought of or saw him as until the day he died– because the news I got the news, and the very first thing I saw that we lost him was the post that Wolfgang put out. Without mourning or being sad for him as an artist and an innovator and all of the above, I was sad for a father and son moment of Wolfgang losing his father. That, to me, was the first thing that hit me. Then, all the other stuff just started washing in afterwards.

It was heartbreaking to see that, because I think everyone can kind of relate to that, as well.

That to me is what made me more sad than losing Eddie, because we all knew he’d been dealing with his own health issues and struggles. Of course, he’s so private. No one knew that it was this extreme or this bad. We just thought he was getting treatment, and hope he’ll bounce back when he’s ready to bounce back. In the meantime, give him his privacy. Give him his space, and let him get treated and get better. Had we known we were about to lose him the way we lost Frankie Benelli, who was, I’m not going to say he’s a dear friend, but I was definitely close to Frankie in that term. He was a friend. He wasn’t a colleague. He was a peer. We knew he was suffering. We knew he was slowly fading from us, and we were kind of preparing for his loss. Nobody could prepare for Eddie’s loss. So, I think it was more devastating that way.

I agree. When I heard about Frankie, I was heartbroken, but I also knew that he had that form of cancer (pancreatic) that is so hard to fight back against.

The other thing was Frankie was really open with it on his Facebook page. He would give updates. He would even say when he was in the hospital or that he an episode, and he was really forthcoming with everything that was going on in this condition. That’s why I’m saying we could kind of see him deteriorating. We could see what it was a little better, but we also knew that based on the cancer he was dealing with that it was just a matter of not that much time. It wasn’t something that he was probably going to be able to beat because the odds were certainly against them.