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© Gary Pihl
Asking Tom Scholz to describe the pressure he feels while working on a new Boston album requires a considerable amount of context: Since 1976, the guitarist, who writes, produces and performs as a virtual one-man studio band – refining a sound that began as a highly individualistic means of expression and became hailed as innovation – has released only handful of discs. It's a pace that has amounted to, beginning with Boston's second full-length, 1978's Don't Look Back, roughly an album each decade.
“The pressure is all self-imposed," Scholz explains, "and it’s to live up to the expectations of people who are going to shell out their hard-earned cash to listen to the music. It’s actually more than that, though. I wouldn’t want to make a record that didn’t live up to my expectations. So the pressure comes in trying to write and play and produce something that sounds good enough to be something I would want somebody else to hear."
Expanding on that thought, Scholz, who admits to compiling "thousands of hours" of cassettes – yes, actual tapes – full of ideas and variations on songs that will never see the light says that he can also be extremely easy to please. "I can sit down at a piano or with a guitar and just chug away for hours and be perfectly content with whatever comes out," he says. "But when it comes to something that somebody else is going to listen to, then I do feel a great deal of pressure to do something that’s exceptional, at least in what I consider to be at the limits of what I can do.”
Scholz is a fascinating and somewhat contradictory fellow: a highly successful creator of populist entertainment who hasn't paid attention to the radio since the mid-'70s and couldn't even begin to tell you who's on the current Top 10; a sonic innovator who remains slavishly devoted to two-inch tape and analogue gear; and the kind of guy given to an almost "aw-shucks" response when you tell him that you like his new record.
The forthcoming Boston release, Life, Love & Hope (due out December 3rd), once again finds Scholz to be a virtuostic choreographer of guitar riffs, solos and textures. Wickedly dazzling six-string masterstrokes of such a high order could overwhelm most songs, but the 11 tracks on the new set are as rapturous and hyper-melodic as anything the guitarist has done before. With rare exception, it's a Scholz solo instrumental show (band member Gary Pihl pops up occasionally on guitar, most notably contributing a blissed-out lead on the title track). Vocals are handled by an array of singers, such as David Victor, Tommy DeCarlo, Kimberly Dahme and Scholz himself, but the record also features the last performances of the late Brad Delp, who committed suicide in 2007.
The famously press-shy Scholz sat down with MusicRadar to discuss the recording of the new album, the electric and acoustic guitars he uses, his opinion of other effects-loving sonic architects (his answer will surprise you), and another recent offering, the Gibson Collector's Choice #10 Tom Scholz 1968 Les Paul.
The overall theme of the album holds true to the title – Life, Love & Hope. Your work is pretty much always rooted in optimism. Is it hard sometimes to maintain a positive outlook, especially when making music?
“The music makes it easier, to be honest with you, because music has always been my escape. If things aren’t going well, music is what I turn to so I can get away from it, to take my mind somewhere else. The music actually does make it easier. I… I don’t know if that’s an answer or not." [Laughs]
Sure, it is.
“I’m very realistic in my outlook on everything in life. When I look ahead in my mind to see what’s going to happen next, I see the good, and I see the bad. I’m often criticized for being able to see what the worst possibilities are coming up, but truthfully, the only reason I can undertake a project like this is because I have hope. [Laughs]
“I think I have a good balance of optimism and pessimism – or realism – because if I didn’t, I would never last through a project, especially this one, which took so long. There were many, many times I thought, ‘How am I ever going to get this done?’ If I didn’t have hope, I wouldn’t have kept going.”