With three multi-million selling albums in a row, Tom Scholz, the composer and multi-instrumentalist leader of Boston, and his trusty singer, Brad Delp, have more in common with the tortoise of the fable than with any other legendary hit-making conglomerates around. As devoted fans who jubilantly celebrated the release of Third Stage a couple of years ago, after a six-year layoff, will learn from this interview, all three Boston albums of first takes couldn't have happened any faster. We sat down with Tom and Brad to find out which might come first, the next Boston Lp, or the millennium.
Tell me about the evolution of the band.
BRAD: I met Tom around 1970. About two weeks after I met him, the band had made plans to go into a local 8-track studio to do a demo. So I went in with them and one of the first songs we did was called "Ninety Days," which later turned into "More Than a Feeling." Another song that they'd already recorded once and we re-recorded was called "San Francisco Day," which turned out to be "Hitch a Ride," which is also on the first album. So, those songs had their inception back then.
The vocal harmonies seem to have been a trademark with the band from the beginning.
BRAD: When I first started playing with Tom, we didn't have any harmonies at all. I was the only singer, and we were doing a lot of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin and that kind of stuff. It was only when we got in the studio that we started doubling up on the lead vocals, and we'd try little harmony parts here and there. My big influence in music was the Beatles, and prior to meeting Tom, I was in a band that did almost all Beatles songs for a while. So, we used to work out all their harmony parts. When Tom and I went into the studio, we'd start with a basic three-part harmony idea and work little changes into it as we went along. Just changing one note would change the whole chord structure. We'd just go back and forth making little changes and go along until we hit upon something that we'd like. I was the only singer, and would sing the background parts as well as the lead vocals. I wound up doing that on the records as well. I'm actually the only voice on all three Boston albums.
TOM: I really like harmony singing. It's just my taste. The Hollies and Byrds were the most influential for the vocal harmonies. The guitar harmonies I first heard played by Todd Rundgren and by Jimmy Page on Led Zeppelin's first album. Two or three notes were done in harmony on that album. I stopped listening and thought, that guy hit on something there. He never did it anyplace else on the record.
Did you develop your musical philosophy during your bar band days before you recorded?
TOM: The task of getting up to the first Boston album was a very circuitous one. Almost nothing that I did while I was trying to play in bar bands applied. It was almost totally for naught. The only things I ever did that ended up contributing to the Boston repertoire or sound were done from recording, which goes back to '69 or '70, and from song writing on my own. A year and a half or two years before the first Boston album, I specifically told the people I'd been associated with, who were playing in bands, that I was through playing in bands. It wasn't that much fun, it was definitely getting no place, and I didn't see anything creative coming out of it. It was slowing me down. I stopped all together to do nothing but work on writing songs and recording them, which I did largely on my own, with the exception of working with Jim on rhythm tracks and Brad on the vocals. Barry Goudreau also helped. I pretty much stuck with that formula. The very first thing I ever recorded was "Foreplay," in Jim's basement, on a two-track. And all the things that got us on the way to the record deal were based on that.
Was there a point when you knew you had a Boston sound?
TOM: Even after there was a deal, I never really believed that. I didn't know if it was particularly original or not. At that point, I was doing something that I was just learning to put together. I wasn't listening to a lot of other music at that time, back in '74 or '75. I wasn't sure how it fit in or didn't fit in. I had a number of people telling me that I'd blown it, that disco was the thing and nobody wanted to hear this kind of rock 'n' roll. I would have been very egotistical to consider what I had as a 'sound.' I didn't know if twenty people besides myself would want to sit down and listen to it I was quite surprised when "More Than a Feeling" took off the way it did. In fact, I never left my full-time job. I was still working when it was on the radio.
You've always treated the vocals and guitar as equals.
TOM: Yes, that's an intentional arrangement technique, and just natural for me. I don't favor one over the other. I think they're both important in this particular type of music. I suppose if I were a singer there would have been all vocals, because it takes forever to play the guitar parts. I never cared that much about vocals when I first started listening to music, which was all instrumental and mostly classical. I was just interested in melody and power. I didn't start to really listen to words at all until I started to write songs. Then it started to dawn on me that a vocalist could be treated like another instrument, and as a way to get feelings across with a lot of power. Once that finally dawned on me, I managed to start doing something about getting vocals that really added something to the song. The guitar was always a natural as far as being included as a sometime carrier of the melody. That goes back to classical ideas as well.
So you're trying to bring the vocalist up to par with the instruments?
TOM: Not quite. In my case the lyrics are always written to complete or augment the feel of the song. What I was trying to say is that the vocal can be as powerful a tool as the lead guitar is or; some other lead instrument, as long as you ebony porn think of it that way. I don't just think of it as some vehicle to get my words out on the radio. The music as it's arranged is kind of a throwback to classical music, and the vocal is really being used as an instrument. Part of the problem about writing lyrics for Third Stage was the difficulty of writing what I meant to say, making it fit in a verse form with a rather regimented rhyming scheme, and having the right sounds at every point The vocal that's singing an E is a lot different from the vocal that's singing an A. One is right for one section and the other is right for another, and you're a slave to using that sound, and the words will have to be figured out in order to make it fit. I try very hard not to allow the lyrics to compromise the sound. At the same time, once I get to that point I m damned if I'm going to put out something with lyrics that don't make sense or don't say what I want them to say. Consequently, that takes ten times longer.
How are you presented with the material?
BRAD: On cassettes. For example, when I first heard "Amanda," which was the first song we worked on, there were no lyrics. I got a cassette with just the instrumental tracks, and Tom asked me to see what I could come up with. He had a couple of ideas that we started out with, and I think we actually wound up doing two or three versions of that before we settled on the final lyrics, which were mostly Tom's. On that particular song, he did something that he very rarely does--he sang the melody. Sometimes he'll play the part, or sometimes when I'm at the house, he'll sing it to me over the track. But in this case, he put it on the cassette, just in the background, to give me something to go by. We went back and forth like that. But I would be amiss if I didn't say that for most of the stuff, he had a pretty good idea at the onset of what he wanted, at least as far as the melody line.
How disciplined are you at songwriting?
TOM: I've never been any good at creating on a schedule or when I'm supposed to. Actually, songwriting is a real long series of events. Somewhere along the line I have to have an idea, which might be a chord progression or a little riff of some kind. Sometimes that may be accompanied with a melody idea, but not necessarily. I don't know how that happens, and maybe if I could find a way to make that happen more often it wouldn't take six years to do an album. A lot of times I get the ideas just by playing piano, organ or guitar. Sometimes I will actually have an idea without an instrument and sit down and try to play it. I've never come up with all of the fundamental pieces of a song in one sitting.- I've never done that in my life. I've gone years and years between various pieces of the song before I've gotten what I'm looking for.
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