By John Katic
Boston’s Tom Scholz has been blazing ground with new technology since before the band’s groundbreaking self-titled debut album in 1976.
Scholz has remained the foundation of the band for more than 37 years and, along the way, has composed and recorded countless rock staples and developed his line of Rockman guitar products.
One thing that hasn’t changed is Scholz’s approach to recording. In this age of Pro Tools and Garageband, when results often can be quick, Scholz prefers his tried-and-true methods of analog recording. The results can be heard on Boston's new album, Life, Love & Hope.
We recently got inside the head of the mastermind to talk about the process.
GUITAR AFICIONADO: The new Boston album, Life, Love & Hope, sounds fantastic. How did this particular collection of songs came together?
That’s a long story [laughs]. Pretty much the same way I’ve done all the Boston albums, which was I started with an idea for a song, maybe a chord progression or a lick for the chorus or verse. I’ll start with that on tape and then sort of see where it takes me. It's an iterative process, definitely not step by step.
Every time I put something down, I get a million more ideas of where it could go from there or how it could be done differently. I don’t try them all but I do try a lot. Once I have a rhythm guitar track and a drum track down, I will start a bass track and pretty soon I realize if I use a different chord form I could maybe do a different bass line, so I have to go back and redo parts.
Each new layer I put on adds a new world of options and possibilities. It’s a mathematical progression that expands at an exponential rate. By the time I’m done with a song after months and months, assuming it’s one that ends up on the album, 99 percent of what I’ve recorded doesn’t make it on the final track. I describe it three steps forward and 2.9 steps back.
Obviously the technology of recording has changed tremendously since Boston’s 1976 debut album.
For some people! [laughs]
Has your process changed at all, or do you still do it like you did it in the 1970s?
There is one change. Regrettably at the end of the process I have to do a conversion from analog to digital. I have to deal with what that does and do maybe some editing. Typically I will spend three to six months recording a particular song. As I’m going along, I have versions and incarnations.
I like to relax a minute at the end of the day and let the tape play. I really enjoy that. But in that last step in converting to digital, even “good” digital at 24 bit, after a few hours I don’t want to hear the song anymore. It’s an agonizing process for me. It’s heartbreaking. What I hear is fantastic. It sounds spacious and beautiful. Then it gets converted to digital and sounds like crap. I can’t do anything about it.
However, I have made a series of mixes that are completely analog. So for most of the songs all analog versions. I’m just in the process of finishing that up and we will be releasing this on vinyl, which will be completely analog. I’m very much looking forward to that. I’m not sure if there are any other analog recordings on vinyl these days. It sounds great. I can’t stand digital. I can't stand listening to it. If I had to record in digital, I would stop.
When the label put out the first few Boston albums on CD, you would get them and think it was the newest and greatest technology. But at the end of the day, you ended up back at the record because it sounded much fuller. I can’t imagine how good these new songs sound to you because they sound so great even on the CD.
Thank you. I work as hard as I can to make it work with this digital format, but it's always a big step down for me. Analog can’t be beat. There are three technical reasons digital is not as good as analog. Clearly it bothers some people a lot more than others. Some people look at me like I have two heads when I say it bothers me. Others couldn’t agree more and can’t stand it.
Of course, to add insult to injury, they added compression. They compress the files and make these ghastly mp3 files everybody loads onto their iPods. I can’t imagine that. I can’t stay in the same room when someone plays one of those. When somebody puts their downloaded stuff on the sound system where I skate at, I’ve been known to leave [laughs]. I can’t take it.
It’s more than just the sound. Probably the record-buying audience is too young at this point to appreciate what vinyl and cassettes sound like in comparison to CD’s, but also you guys were always known for amazing artwork on album covers and the liner notes. That seems to becoming a lost art.
Yes, people really latched on to this whole “more is better” thing online where you grab a song from here and a song from there. The whole experience of getting an album from an artist you like and listening to it from beginning to end is sort of gone. Now it’s piecemeal.
The best most artists can hope for is a “greatest hits.”
The only two rays of hope are that there are this group of people setting up to play vinyl. One of the most promising parts is that those people aren’t all older adults. They are college kids. When I was in college, that generation created the market for great audio sound. That was the generation that started buying stereo LP’s and power amps and all these things to have great audio.
Somewhere, that got lost along the way many years ago. College kids were at the front of the line for downloading junk off the Internet in any cheap way possible. It’s really good to see that there is a start of that movement toward quality. The other thing is, although I’ll probably never be a fan, there is finally a provider that has started to offer higher-resolution digital copies with a much higher sampling rate. That was my biggest complaint about CD’s.
For the rest of this interview, visit GuitarWorld.com.
Boston’s new album, Life, Love & Hope, will be available in the US December 3 via Frontiers Records. Visit bandboston.com for more information and future tour dates.
John Katic is a writer and podcaster who founded the Iron City Rocks Podcast in 2009. It features interviews with countless rock, hard rock, metal and blues artists. In 2013, he started Heavy Metal Bookclub, a podcast and website devoted to hard rock and metal books.