What is Soul SirkUS and why has their website (www.soulsirkus.com) received over 100,000
hits in only two days from fans all over the world?
Soul SirkUS is a group of melodic hard rockers born out of the
ashes of Planet
US, a band originally featuring
Neal Schon and drummer
Castronovo of Journey along
Anthony of Van Halen.
When Hagar and Anthony left the band
to return to their roles in Van
Halen, Schon and Castronovo joined forces
with singer Jeff Scott Soto (Yngwie Malmsteen, Talisman; also provided lead vocals for the
feature character in the movie ďRock StarĒ) and bassist Marco Mendoza (Ted
Nugent, Whitesnake) to create Soul SirkUS and pick up where Planet US left
Thanks to the Internet, word about
the band is spreading like wildfire and those 100,000 people from around the
world are already eagerly awaiting the bandís forthcoming debut album, which
should be released by early 2005.
The album was recorded at Journey
keyboardist Jonathan Cainís home studio (Wild Horse Studios) in
San Francisco, CA in only two days. Cain engineered the project and Schon and Soto sat at the producerís helm.
Interview with Jeff Scott Sotto from Soul SirkUS
Q: Youíve got quite a background.
A: Iíve done a lot of music that most people donít people really know about. Then they start digging through my website, and go how come Iíve never heard of this guy?
Q: I know Ė 17 pages printed out dude. Youíve been around how did you hook up Neal Schon and Soul SirkUS ?
A : It was during the NAMM show, which is a big music convention that they have every year in LA and we just happened to both be attending and he was doing a guitar presentation. Like jamming itís a party for Gibson, a company that he endorses. And he asked if I wanted to do a little jam with him because weíd just spoken for the first time a couple of days before that. And thatís where our official meeting place was going to be and he said we might as well knock two birds with one stone and we ended up jamming and checking out the vibe instead of having to wait and doing it the following week and trying to feel it out and sitting down and writing. We actually got the most important part out of the way, which is Ė is there any chemistry live? Because obviously you could work with anybody in the studio and get all that and get them on stage and go whoa Ė thatís not going to work. So we were able to knock that one out of the ballpark first. And then the rest was cake.
Q: I can see you play piano also.
A: Yeah. I dabble. When I'm writing, and when Iím goofing around and playing cover stuff or whatever. But, for the most part, I wouldnít consider myself a piano player.
Q: I heard you during the sound check playing some of the classics.
A: Yeah. Thatís all I know. I just know what I knew back in the day.
Q: So youíve been together about a year now?
A: Just over a year.
Q: This new CD ďWorld PlayĒ Ė the one thatís out now with the 12 songs. Is there anything else youíre going to be adding to your show? This is the last day of the tour.
A: Yeah. Well we did a live shoot at the Fillmore the other day, so we got all that basically in the can. And weíre going to check that footage out and wrap it up with this and see what kind of live DVD weíve got our hands on.
Q: Whatís your goal after this? I understand that Journeyís going to be taking off and doing their own thing.
A: Yeah. They're going out for about three or four months, starting in July. Weíve got to kill some time in between then. But the idea of the plan is, on paper so far, is to go back out there in the fall as soon as heís done. Maybe he can take a little break and we can resume. Because by then we should have the distribution thing down as to who is going to be putting it out in the states and then the album will be officially released. Right now itís still so unofficial. The first version was only available on-line with a limited amount of people that bought it. And the only other people that are able to get it are at our shows. So, itís not really officially in stores right now and until that is, the album still is brand new.
Q: I listened to the CD several times all the way up from San Francisco to South Lake Tahoe here. It really sounds great.
A: Thanks man.
Q: I especially like some of the real mellow songs. The last one that you were doing under lights there.
A: Oh ďSoul Goes On.Ē Yeah. Itís one of my favorites.
Q: You have quite a range to your voice .
A: Itís all the years of just emulating all my heroes. I grew up listening to a lot of soul black music all my life. R&B stuff. I didnít get into rock Ďn roll until I was in high school. Most of my friends are singers and people that I know that are rock singers, thatís all they ever liked. They never really ever saw the other side or discovered the other side and added that to their influence. Or vice versa, the only other guys that I knew that had that influence couldnít do the rock stuff. I never wanted to be jaded as to just one style, one type. I always try to emulate everything from the Motown's to the Judas Priests out there. I wanted to do it all. I wanted to have a wide spectrum.
Q: That takes quite a wide vocal range though.
A: I guess it just comes from emulating it. Realizing that I could copy all that stuff, made me realize that I could on my own voice when I was doing rock stuff, use those influences in all aspects.
Q: I find that lacking a lot nowadays Ė a group having somebody that has a good voice. Thatís what really carries you through your whole career.
A: Iím old school. Iím from the school where you had to have a good voice to be in a good band back in the day you know. Iím almost 40, so back in the day when we were in the 80ís, everybody was always looking for the guy Ė they wanted a Steve Perry or a Lou Graham or one of those guys.
Q: Did you sing the soundtrack for the movie "Rock Star" ?
A: Yeah. I did the voice for the original singer that was in the band, not for Mark Wahlbergís character. I did the one when Wahlberg was in the audience watching the band on the stage while they were doing ďStand Up and Shout,Ē thatís my voice. That was another singer that did Mark Wahlbergís voice after that.
Q: Did your voice hurt after that loud ďStand Up and Shout?Ē
A: You know, thatís probably the easiest stuff to sing.
Q: No kidding.
A: Yeah. Because itís all throat. You just let it go. Where the other stuff is more controlled in the diaphragm. You actually have to work at that.
Q: Iíve seen Axle do that also. Axle changes his voice and starts shouting. When you were with Talisman, was that your longest gig with a band?
A: Yeah. That was my longest term band that Iíve been involved with. And still to this day, we have this ongoing relationship with the band. Itís never over. Weíre always taking a hiatus, but we never actually break up or never say thatís it, weíre done.
Q: What does that do for you, being in so many sectors of bands stuff? Does it make you more creative?
A: It definitely gives me other creative outlets. It doesnít help as far as audiences locking in and trying to find out who I am and what Iím all about, and so Iím kind of putting a strangle hold on that now. I donít want to keep confusing people and making them think ďWell, what is he really into. Heís doing this, heís doing that.Ē Now itís Soul SirkUS and my solo career. Thatís all Iím really concentrating on.
Q: People can get confused easily.
A: Not only that, I spread myself too thinly too and I donít want to bastardize anybodyís situation Ė especially Soul SirkUS. I mean this is something weíre trying to build. I donít want to be jumping into another band and working with another artist thatís going take away from this.
Q: But it is more acceptable now. You see a lot of people do solo things.
A: The solo thing, there is no confusion there. But if Iím doing something with another artist or another guitar player, that type of thing. Theyíre like; well what does that mean youíre supposed to be doing this with Soul SirkUS. Itís best to just keep focused right now.
Q: I donít mean to stay on such a serious tone here but it seems like being your last show Ė Iím just curious, where are you going to go now?
A: Iím contemplating actually just working on another solo record just to get it in the can. Not necessarily to release it right away, but just to get it done. That way when I find out whatís happening in the distant future for Souls, I guess I can either release it then or I can just hold on to it for whatever period of time.
Q: There were other members of the band too before right? .
A: Well when it was Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony, that was Planet Us.
Q: Did that make any changes when Neal came along?
A: Absolutely. I mean it was a whole different idea and a whole different band altogether and once he got me involved, he realized the whole focus changed and he was able to actually go to other areas and other arenas that he wouldnít have been able to go with those guys. I mean with this band, the skyís the limit. With those guys, it would have been a great Rock Ďn Roll band, but with us, weíre a great rock Ďn roll extreme. Because we can go funk, we can go soul, we can go punk, we can go country, and we can do anything with this band.
Q: I noticed with this CD ďWorld PlayĒ thereís a very good consistency to the whole thing.
Q: What I like is you break it into a couple of nice mellow songs...
A: We just want to show everybody the versatility of the band and the fact that you are indeed coming to a SirkUS. Youíre coming into a carnival of sounds so to speak. For the most part, itís all very soulful, whether it be the Rock Ďn Roll side or whether it be the heartfelt side, itís all very soulful.
Q: You did something in Japan and Germany with some other people?
A: Yeah, Iíve done a lot of different things with other guitar players. Since my stint with Yngwie Malmsteen back in the mid-80ís, a lot of people lumped me in with the guitar playersí singer, so I ended up doing a lot of those things through my years.
Q: I was just trying to figure out if Sotto, your last name, if it is Japanese?
A: No, Iím Puerto Rican. Iím Spanish.
Q: You were raised in New York?
A: No, I was actually raised in L.A. Born in New York.
Q: I guess being in L.A., you were around all that music.
A: I always naturally gravitated to hang out with other musicians and people that loved music and as I got to school and started hanging out with all the guys starting up bands, it was a given Ė I got right in there.
By Randy Cohen