By the Way

Catching up with Boston’s Tom Scholz before ‘Hyper Space’ hits the Coast

Tom Scholz and Boston will be landing the mother ship at the Saenger Theatre in Mobile at 8 p.m. Friday.
Tom Scholz and Boston will be landing the mother ship at the Saenger Theatre in Mobile at 8 p.m. Friday. Courtesy

I was not the least bit surprised when Boston founding member and guitarist Tom Scholz told me he was trying to control Mother Nature.

“I’m working on making lightning right now at my house,” he said in an interview with the Sun Herald.

And no, Scholz is not concocting some Dr. Evil–inspired plan to control the world’s weather.

“It’s for the Hyper Space tour,” he said.

It’s been more than 40 years since Boston released its eponymous debut album, which managed to rule FM radio in the wake of both disco and the emerging punk scene. The album became one of the fastest-selling debut albums and yielded the hit single “More Than a Feeling,” which showcased both the songwriting and guitar abilities of Scholz and the tenor vocals of singer Brad Delp.

And much like the flying spaceship guitar that is the band’s logo, Boston was off and soaring, becoming one of the most beloved classic rock bands in history, all the while under Scholz’s direction.

Scholz has emerged has one of the most fabled and enigmatic musicians in rock ’n’ roll. He’s an MIT graduate who invented the Rockman amp, as well as his stage rig and he even has a hand in the lighting and sound on the Boston tours. Though some may paint a picture of Scholz as something a benevolent dictator, he’s merely a perfectionist who wants to give his fans, and himself, the best possible show, night after night. And not only should the show sound great, it should also look great — that’s the philosophy that goes into spending hours in the garage creating the perfect synthetic lightning.

“Everything we do except the actual lighting, comes from my wife, Kim and I,” Scholz said. “Pretty much what you see originated in the dining room or garage of my house — it’s definitely a mom-and-pop operation.”

Boston — Scholz, singer Tommy DeCarlo, guitarist Gary Pihl, mulch-instrumentalist Beth Cohen, bassist Tracy Ferrie and drummer Curly Smith — will debut the Hyper Space tour on the Gulf Coast on Friday with a show at the Saenger Theatre in Mobile. Tickets start at $46 and are available at Ticketmaster.com.

Q: It’s been a few years since you released “Life Love and Hope.” Do you have any plans to make another record?

A: You know, I’m always writing and I often find myself back in the studio, whether I like it or not. The odd thing is that lately I’ve been doing a lot of writing for things that we are going to play live. Hundreds of years ago, the masters that wrote all of these phenomenal classical music pieces, there was no such thing as recording. Every single thing they wrote was only for a live performance, usually at a cathedral.

I got into recording because I wanted to play live and I realized the only way I was going to get to play live was if I recorded some music that people could hear and would want to come and see. Now, I find that I’m in a position that I really need to write things that we can play at the shows. We play basically everything that people expect to hear that we can fit into two hours. We also do a lot of things that aren’t on any of the records by adding things and segues and instrumental parts, so I always have to come up with new stuff. It’s quite a challenge. I have to write new things for the tour every year, which is what I wanted to do in the first place. But I got sidetracked in the studio, recording. Now, I’m actually a performing musician, and I have to tell you, it’s much more fun.

Q: As someone who has called out the music industry over the years, do you like the freedom you have as an artist of not having to answer to a record label these days?

A: Unfortunately, it hasn’t resulted in good music, or at least better music. There are are a lot of downsides to what has happened with the collapse of the music industry. For one thing, you didn’t make the decision to make a recording without a great deal of sacrifice. It cost, typically, a month of someone’s salary to go in the studio and record a song. Now, anyone with a laptop can do an album in their frickin’ bedroom in a day — and they do — and there are literally millions and millions of songs on the internet that there’s so much crap out there that nobody can find anything and there’s no real incentive for making a huge effort to do something really special.

It’s really hurt music as far as people making music that’s really great. When I made that first Boston album, I wasn’t making it because I thought it was going to sell 17 million copies, or any copies. I didn’t even think it was going to get released. I was making the songs exactly the way I wanted to hear them and that was my only goal. No one was more surprised than I was that it became a hit album. But, I was totally in control of that and it took an awful lot out of me to do it. Now, you can do it with no real difficulty.

The upside is that some of the music that was recorded 30 or 40 years ago was some of the best music and production that has ever been made and it’s not being duplicated. It’s still some of the best music around and people like me get to go out and play it. I’m kind of thrilled, frankly, that music that was done at such a great cost both personally and financially is still the best in time.

Q: I saw the show last year in Biloxi and it seemed to be clicking on all levels. I’ve always thought Brad Delp was a great singer, but Tommy DeCarlo is pretty awesome live. Are you surprised with how well the band is playing, 40-some years later?

A: They are all really incredible musicians and singers — all of them — and they are super-dedicated and they work really hard. They are the cream of the crop when it comes to touring musicians. In my 40 years of playing, they are the best. So, I’m not surprised.

We got together early this year to rehearse for a few days and we tried a bunch of new things and we ran through the set in the first day and I thought, ‘Wow. There’s really nothing left for us to do.’ I felt guilty for keeping them for five or six days.

You bring up Brad — Brad was the greatest male vocalist in the studio that I’ve ever heard. Tommy DeCarlo is absolutely the best live vocalist. He does for Boston live what Brad did for it in the studio. We’re just very very lucky to have stumbled on him. He’s also a really good keyboard player, by the way. He handles a lot of parts — everybody does.

If you go

Who: Boston

Where: Saenger Theatre at 6 South Joachim St. in Mobile

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Tickets: Start at $46 and are available at Ticketmaster.com

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