There were some heated discussions on various rock related forums [like our beloved AOR-Mafia mailing list for instance] following Jeff Scott Soto's Australian tour. I guess we all agree that Jeff and his boys are among the greatest talents of the melodic rock of our times. So we are more than happy to present an interview with Soto/Talisman/Tamplin/Alcoholica/etc. guitarist HOWIE SIMON who along with shedding some light on a few industry related things, and generally appeared to be more than informative.
RockUnited: The extremely low attendance figures of your Australian tour raised serious discussions on various forums. Could we hear your take of the whole thing?
Howie: Yeah I read some of those posts and I think they were pretty funny. Look...what people have to understand is this- we are "Jeff Scott Soto"... not Aerosmith or Kiss or even somewhat recognizable older names like White Lion or L.A. Guns. As great as you and I probably both think Jeff is (and most of his fans who think he should be a huge recognizable celebrity), the fact remains he has NEVER had a hit album. He was never in any band that had a hit album. He was never even in any band that got REGULAR MTV airtime (Eyes may have played once). Most people outside (and even a bunch inside) this hard rock music "community" don't even know who Talisman is. The most world renown thing he has done (Yngwie) was completely focused on another member of the band... so much even that the video was shot with a different singer and it didn't matter. I think you're getting my point. Sooooo...with that in mind, as an unproven commodity, I think we went down to Australia for the 1st time EVER (with no expectations whatsoever) and kicked some serious ass. Not a bad review was heard or read by any of us anywhere. And with this trip we have laid the foundation to go back again hopefully in the near future and play to even bigger and better audiences just from word of mouth alone. Would more promotion (print ads and radio spots) have helped? I think MAYBE a tiny little bit but not really much, and the costs that Jeff would have incurred would have made it not feasible to go ahead with that stuff at all... these days it's just ridiculously expensive to pay for promotion like that. But we've already experienced this same situation in the UK...and we are heading there for the 4th time in the last 2 years this November! Bottom line is...we are a completely unknown act on a tiny little label with no tour support, yet we went to the other side of the world and played 8 shows and all came home with money in our pockets and left smiling faces on those who were in attendance. Not a bad situation at all!
Sounds like a fair deal then. I guess most of the people (including me as well) thought is must have been impossible to end up walking away with money in your pockets after shows with a couple of dozens people only, especially taking into account you had to fly the band over to the other side of the world. Speaking of money and such: have you always been a full-time musician or have you ever had any day-time jobs? If so what did you do? [My good old chemistry teacher would have said, "you would have made a great shepherd dog with that hairdo."]
The merchandise Jeff has (Queen CD and DVD, Gods DVD and CD, new CD, etc.) definitely helps subsidize the tours. And we all ALWAYS spend time with the fans after the shows signing the stuff and hanging out and partying with everyone. I still do have a day job... I teach between 15-20 guitar students every week. The money is actually pretty good in L.A. and I still get to make a living with my guitar in my hands which was always my long term goal. What the fuck's wrong with my hairdo? Haha. I actually had it "relaxed" a little bit to be straighter and not so big and bushy... and thanks for mentioning it!
How come European gigs (like the ones in Spain for instance) drew a lot more people than the tour in Australia, a country/continent where rock is supposed to be bigger than in Europe?
I've never ever heard that rock music is more popular in Australia than it is in Europe. Australia doesn't even have any really famous hard rock acts that I can think of right now that they are known for. I always think of Rick Springfield, Midnight Oil, Olivia Newton-John, INXS, Men At Work, Kylie Minogue and more pop oriented stuff when I think of Oz. I have no explanation for it, but it always seems the more non-English speaking countries (i.e. Spain, Japan, Brazil, etc.) seem to be drawn to the hard rock acts from English speaking places. Maybe it's a curiosity to see something from a different culture or maybe even something else... I don't know. Those places aren't as fickle and their tastes aren't quite as swayed by their media outlets, like we see so much of here in the U.S. and throughout Europe.
Do these things reflect in your record sales as well? Do you sell more records in those places (South America and such) or are those places more "infected" with pirated music?
Seeing that the records I have played on have been for other artists, I really don't know much about sales figures (as far as the demographics would go). You'd have to ask them. I really am just a hired gun when it comes to a lot of aspects of me working with certain singers... and I prefer it that way.
Do we - Europeans - have misconceptions about the status of the industry and rock is still stronger in Europe than in Australia or the US?
When you say, "Rock" that's a pretty general term. Ozzfest is fuckin' HUGE here in the U.S and though you may not like any of them... all those bands on the bill are rock bands. There are still tons of old school acts touring the U.S. every year...Scorpions, Whitesnake, WASP, Dio, Deep Purple, Poison, and on and on. Somebody must be attending these shows. Look... everything has to come to an end as a "new, fresh idea"...Elvis stopped in the 60's, the Beatles stopped in the 70's, disco stopped in the 80's, hair metal stopped in the 90's , grunge stopped here in this decade. Yet it has all come back at some point as nostalgia (grunge will be next)... but NONE OF IT will ever be what it was in terms of a "lifestyle". The kind of music I play is back. This is it. It's here now and all the old artists are still putting out albums...sorry cds! The internet makes it readily accessible but, again it will never be what it was. As far as Australia... from what I saw in clubs and on TV (and heard on the radio and heard from talking to people) there doesn't seem to be much presence of ANY style of rock in Australia, old or new. BUT...I was there for just 2 weeks and is that really enough time to get a good feel for the vibe down there?
You seem to be busy with several bands (JSS, Talisman, Tamplin, Alcoholica, etc.) what's next? Putting on Ace Frehley's mask for the Kiss Reunion #247 Tour?
Hey, whoever wants to pay me can have me... I have no problems with being a whore! Haha. As of completing this interview, I just got home from a gig with Graham Bonnet from the Paladinos in Tarzana. I have given Graham a couple of song ideas on tape and hopefully we will demo them up by the end of this year and try to do an album next year together. Also, hopefully I can get off my extremely lazy fat ass and finally do a solo CD next year. I will sing on most of it myself, and maybe try to have a couple of guests on it. As far as the things with JSS...we leave in 8 days for the 2nd leg of the LOST IN THE TRANSLATION world tour starting with Brazil, going all throughout Europe and ending in the UK. (Dates can be seen at http://www.hillockproductions.com/autumn2004dates.htm) Now we are just waiting to see what happens with Soul SirkUS before we know what's next with our band. We will also have a 2 DVD live and retrospective set from Talisman in the coming months... its almost finished. I have been doing some recording with Ken Tamplin, but its been for a girl singer he's producing named Daize Shayne, who is the women's longboard surfing champion of the world. Alcoholica is currently on hiatus.
Soul SirkUS got bad to average reviews. Why do you think it is? Is it because you weren't involved? :) Or is it just the typical problem with all-star projects and too high expectations?
It got bad to average reviews where?? The CD is not even out yet!! All anyone's heard are brief clips on a website... so let it be released first and then we will see what happens. It's smokin'!
Most Europeans know you for your work with Soto and Talisman. Could you please tell us a bit more about Alcoholica? What is the band all about and who are your partners in it?
Alcoholica was/is a Metallica tribute band that I played in for about 6 years with some friends. We only played Black Album and older stuff. We actually did a U.S. tour in 2000 opening for Cypress Hill and Limp Bizkit that was sponsored by Napster, playing to huge audiences... it was amazing. But I have been busy with my projects, and our James Hetfield guy named Darrell Roberts joined WASP as the replacement for Chris Holmes, so he has been extremely busy with that as I'm sure you would know. I'll bet that at some point before we all give up playing music and go to work at a carwash there will be at least one more show from us somewhere... most likely in Vegas since we used to play there a lot.
What is it you enjoy the most playing live? Queen, Yngwie, other covers or your own stuff?
Its great to finally, on this new tour, be playing something that I wrote for a change... there is no better feeling than that. Especially when the audience already knows the song. I still like doing the Yngwie stuff, since I grew up loving Marching Out. And I love every song I play with Graham as well, since those songs were all I ever listened to in my teenage years... the MSG and Alcatrazz stuff. And Rainbow too. It's no secret that I am not a Queen fan, so usually it's difficult to psyche myself up to do one of those gigs.
Isn't it kinda sad (from your point of view) that it is probably those Queen gigs that may break the ground for your other projects?
Sad? Why would playing in front of people all over the world be sad? Just because I don't particularly care for the Queen material doesn't mean it makes it a bad thing. We have only done a select handful of these Queen gigs anyway...and after this tour (where there is just ONE combined regular/JSS gig) we probably won't be doing the Queen thing again at all. Don't forget Jeff loves these songs and he does a great job of interpreting them his own way. It's also a great way to introduce ourselves to people who never otherwise hear of us. If we were playing Queen songs strictly at bar mitzvahs and weddings, then it would be sad. And yes- I'm available for those too!!
Have you ever planned recording/releasing instrumental albums? Or did you (do so without us knowing about it)?
Always thought about doing it but never did... as I said before I am pretty lazy. Now when I do a solo album, like I said, I will sing most of it... maybe have only one instrumental track. That kind of stuff without vocals is boring to me these days.
More and more guitarists/bassist/keyboardists decide to do everything on their own when releasing solo albums and many of them are doing great jobs vocal-wise. Paul Gilbert and lately John Young and Barry Sparks got raving reviews. (But if we think back to the 80's Richie Sambora, Kane Roberts, Kip Winger also come to mind as a prime examples…) Why is that? Are you waiting all your lives, practicing in the closets to "show it" to all those lazy-ass vocalists?
I could crack tons of lead singer jokes here by the way... Sometimes it's nice to work with other people and collaborate on something. And then sometimes it's also good to do something completely by yourself. I love working with great singers, but I also want to make an album where nobody else changes my ideas or tells me what to do. And thank god that John Sykes did it because he sings like a motherfucker!
What would you do if you were offered the third place for the next G3 tour? What kind of stuff would you come up with for that tour? And how long would it take you to get prepared for it?
What would I do? Probably shit my pants! Actually, I'd probably go out and do a half vocal/half instrumental set. I'd have to bear down and write a bunch of instrumentals cause I don't really focus on that kind of material anymore like I did when I was younger. The stuff like that I already have written would probably sound very dated next to Satriani and Vai, who both always write very fresh sounding material. Who knows how long it would take to get ready... I've never had to take control of a situation like that, where I am in charge of everything, so I'm not really sure how I would react to it. I'd like to think I would pull it together pretty quickly under pressure, and be ready to go within a couple of months.
Now before your fourth tour in England in 2 years, here's your chance to let people in England know why they have to get to the shows if they were there the last time and why if they weren't!
Obviously we are going to be performing different material including some stuff from the new CD! And by the time we get to the end run of the tour in the UK the band will be tight as a... um... I've actually got no joke here! Plus Jeff's hair is now straight and mine is straighter so that's always a plus!
by Endre "Bandi" Hübner (The RockUnited.Com Shepherd
all photos borrowed from www.HowieSimon.com