July 29, 2015 Interview – Steve Lukather of Toto
When one thinks of some of the essential Rock bands from the 1980s era, chances are Southern California’s Toto comes to mind. Formed back in 1977, Toto quickly earned success on charts with singles like “Hold the Line” and “I’ll Supply the Love,” but the band’s biggest success was yet to come. Experimenting with their sound and crafting music their own way, Toto found their back’s against the wall by the time 1981 came, and as a result put out the epic Toto IV record in 1982. Yielding unforgettable hits like “Africa,” “Rosanna,” and more, the record won six Grammys, as well as won Record of the Year. Selling over thirty-five million over the course of their career, Toto has become a part of Pop culture that no one can deny. Recently we sat down with co-founding Guitarist/Vocalist Steve Lukather for an uncensored look at the history of the band, their brand new album Toto XIV, touring with the band, being able to laugh at themselves, and more.
CrypticRock.com – Toto has attained quite an amazing career in Rock and Roll over the past four decades. You have achieved a load of top selling records and many would argue that you have some of the most distinctive songs of the 1980’s. What has the journey been like?
Steve Lukather – The journey really started in High School, in like 1973-74, when I met the Porcaro brothers. That sort of changed my life, and from that moment on, I have not really looked back. It has all sort of went by really fast. Then again, if I really think about it or if someone shows me a picture of us at our first tour; I look like I am twelve years old, I realize, “Wow man, this has really been an amazing journey.” To add on beyond just our career as a band, Toto, we also played on thousands of records for other people. I am not exaggerating when I use those numbers; every style of music. We have had a very unique career and I believe very misunderstood by some mainstream Rock press for sure. Then again, you cannot put us in a little box, it just would never work. We have always had multiple singers in the band, some have come and gone.
From the beginning we always patterned ourselves after a band like Fleetwood Mac or the Eagles were they had lots of different singers in their band. Some of the songs sound different from the guy that sang before. So stylistically we morph as well. We like lots of different things. Every song is not combined into one and stuffed into a Rock band, for lack of a better “term.” We are musicians that make music that we like music. The music comes out of every influence that we had from The Beatles, to Jazz, to Classical, to Pop, to Blues, to World Music, to Prog Rock, to this, to that. I do not know what the hell we are, we just plug in and play, that is what it sounds like. We have never actually had a conversation.
CrypticRock.com – Right, well obviously the band’s sound is very broad; as you mentioned, you have had different singers. Nowadays, a lot of Rock bands only have one lead singer, they do not have multiple singers. You look at a traditional Classic Rock band; such a yourselves, or like The Beatles or Fleetwood Mac as you said, they have multiple singers.
Steve Lukather – We patterned ourselves after that. When David Paich and Jeff Porcaro started with the band, they were older guys and they looked like older brothers that we looked up to; the original concept was to have a band that everybody writes, and everybody can sing their own songs. Therefore, when we have had to make a change in the lead singer department it was not so tragic because David Paich sang “Africa,” our biggest hit. I sang, or c-sang, eight hits of ours, so we have always been there; other guys come and go. Joseph Williams, who is a childhood friend of ours and we had multi-platinum success on two albums with, is back with us. He fits the band and our personalities more so than in our original band. Our bassist, David Hungate is back, New York’s own Lenny Castro is back. He is one of my oldest friends, godfather of my first daughter, as well as one of the world class percussionists of all times, and played on all of our records. This is the first time he has toured with us since the ’80s. I think we are putting together a pretty kick ass little band. It is as close as we could possibly get considering who is left since we have tragically lost two of our key guys, Jeff and Mike Porcaro. We are trying to carry on in their honor.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and it is a great thing to see Toto carrying on. The reception has been positive and you guys are doing a great job.
Steve Lukather – Thank you, we are trying, we are giving it all we have got. I think we are actually in a better head space, healthier, and more motivated than we were twenty five years ago. I think we are a little more improved now, and we are getting another look from people. All of a sudden, the reviews are great, the last DVD 35th Anniversary Toto Live in Poland was number one all over the world including the United States, which has really tripped us out. We have this great tour with the band Yes, who are childhood heroes of ours. It is a very interesting bill. We have avoided the obvious people, the people others think we would go out with, we did not want to do that, even though they are good friends of ours. It is just, this one made sense, if we are going to do this. Around the world, we go out and headline ourselves, so, it is a very exciting time. We over in Europe for two months, then we are going to hit The States starting August 7th. We are going to be full on kick ass and polished by the time we we hit The States. It has been a really fun year, we are really excited about it.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it sounds exciting, and it will be exciting to see the band perform in The States again.
Steve Lukather – Yes, we are breaking down the invisible wall that we were told cannot be broken. Once we started doing everything ourselves with a staff, everything started to fall into place. Everyone said, “You cannot do that guys, nobody wants to hear it, you cannot do it, you cannot do it,” we realized we could do it. We are going to be on TV in the United States, we are doing a major tour at great venues, and we are doing all of it, all the stuff we were told we could not do. We have a great relationship with our new agents that have really done some amazing stuff for us. We are managing ourselves with a great staff of people that help us out. We have some other people working with us, and we are coming out swinging, ready to go. I have never been happier myself.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, as you said, you are playing some great venues when you hit The States. You are playing in some really big places, which is really nice, which will be great to see.
Steve Lukather – It is great. We get to play ninety minutes and Yes gets to play ninety minutes. Obviously we have to play the biggest hits, and we will, but we have a new record and we also have a fourteen album catalog of stuff to play. We are digging out some real deep cuts, and we will see what the fans say on our Facebook page. That is who we are playing for, we have millions of fans. What do you guys want to hear? We actually listen to what they want to hear, because they spend their hard earned money. We want everybody to have a good time and we still get off on doing what we do too. We play the hits like they are on the record, so people are going to hear it like that. We stretch out a little bit here and there, but we are not going to come in and make unrecognizable versions of the songs that people grew up with. Some people, fans of our age, do not want to do that. We just said, “No, let’s go back to what people liked about us.” That is what we are playing to at this point.
CrypticRock.com – Right, well that is a good thing too. Now, perhaps one of the most defining moments in the band’s career came in 1982 when you did release Toto IV, which was really an amazing record because it went triple platinum and it had the top selling singles. Looking back on that considering it is such a massive record, what do you think made that record as magical as it was?
Steve Lukather – The record company told us if we did not have a hit record they were dropping us (laughs), so we were motivated. We were fighting this image problem that we had. The problem was we started listening to the critics opposed to ignoring them, because you should never listen to what other people say when you have had a successful record. Even if the Rock critic hates your record and it sells like four million copies, to start trying to play to them, as opposed to the audience that gave you the success is where you miss the boat. We were young. When we did our first album, we had never played live together as Toto. We had been playing together since we were in High School, but as a band we made the record first and then went, “Okay, how are we going to play this live?” We went out, we had a great first tour, and the first record wailed, it was beyond our wildest dreams. Then we had to follow it up, and we said, “Okay, now we have everyone’s attention, let’s do something completely different,” which, looking back on it, was it a good idea, maybe not at the time.Back then, if you had a platinum record after a triple platinum record, then that is considered a failure. Like at poor Michael Jackson; he did Thriller in 1982, and the next album comes out and only sells ten million, and that is considered a failure? It is ridiculous.
Sometimes you hit a nerve, sometimes you do not. For Toto IV, we went back in and went, “Okay, look, the rules are gone, we are not going to do any, we are going to make a record we like and try make something accessible for the public.” At that time, one of the first things we cut was “Rosanna,” and the record company heard that and were like, “You guys are back on track again.” They put money behind it, we toured behind it, and it was a great success for us. We saved our asses right there, otherwise we would all be in different bands working for other artists right now. We have been offered gigs from very famous people, all of us individually, to leave the band and come join my band, and so and so. We turned that down because we are High School brothers and we still believe it. We have tried to break this band up, the world has tried to break this band up, but something keeps drawing us back, and this time, we feel very comfortable in our own skin. We are just going to go out and be who we are.
CrypticRock.com – It is great you kept the band together this long because it has been going strong, and now you just released your fourteenth studio album, Toto XIV, which you just talked about. What was the writing and recording process like for this new record?
Steve Lukather – First off, it was born out of litigation, we did not really plan on doing it, it has been ten years since we stopped writing and recording a record. When we put out the 35th Anniversary Toto Live in Poland DVD, they said, “In order for you to put this out, you do realize, if you do, you owe another album.” We said, “What are you talking about.” One of our ex-managers had us sign something he did not read perfectly, and we were stupid enough to sign without knowing what was there. It was easier to make a record than fight it out in court. We said, “If we are going to do this then we gotta dig deep.” We cannot just phone it in to get a check and fulfill a contract, we owe it to people that like our music a lot more than that, and we owe it to ourselves to see if we have one more good one left. So we said, “Okay, Steve Porcaro is back, so we went back to the format of the era of when everyone was writing, singing, and contributing together.
David Paich, Steve Porcaro, Joseph Williams, and myself have not been in a recording studio writing new music since 1987, so, it was kind of a challenge to get back in there and do that. It has all been natural, everyone had a lot of fresh ideas, and once we started cutting it, we never looked back. Ten months went by and we finished the thing. Everyone gets to shine, everybody gets to sing, write, play, have their moments and to show off, or not, or just play. We worked hard on the record and give a lot of props to our co producer CJ Vanston for patience and hard work that went into this project, because I needed a third ear. I needed someone to keep us from killing each other. It is like putting five bulls in a pen with one cow.
CrypticRock.com – (laughs) That is a really interesting story, that it happened that way. As you said, you had not made a record in ten years, it has been a decade. Seeing that the band had never gone four years without making a record in the past, with all your records in your career, this was a really long gap. Was it a different situation for you going in?
Steve Lukather – Simon Phillips left to do his own thing, we are still close friends and everything is cool. We bought Keith Carlock in to play drums and on the record, he works with Steely Dan, and he comes from the same sort of a background we do. I loved his playing when we worked on a project a few years back and I thought, “Well this will be an interesting, fresh dynamic to the band.” David Hungate, our original bass player, came back and Lenny Castro. There is a whole lot of us that have known each other for the better parts of our lives,sitting in a room and making music together again since we were teenagers. It was a lot of fun. Sometimes we yelled and screamed at each other, but great art needs a little tension in the room sometimes.
When I say great art, I kind of do that tongue-in-cheek,winking at myself. We do not think we are that great, we are just trying to do the best we can do, given the circumstances we have, the time we had to do it, with the people that we had to do it with. We are not trying to follow a trend or write a hit single. They are not going to play our new music after the new Kayne West single.
CrypticRock.com – (laughs) Well, the proof is in the music. The tracks are very strong on the record and they certainly keep that classic sound of Toto, but there is a modern sensibility about it.
Steve Lukather – We cannot help but be influenced by everything we hear, whether peripherally or subconsciously, we take it all in. Like I said, my oldest kid is going to be thirty and my youngest is four; I have got everything in between. I have got four kids, so you cannot help but hear what is going on. My oldest son is a musician, he has been on the road, and I am kind of like, “What’s happening, what’s good that I should be listening to?” There is a lot of disposable Pop music now that is made with machines. It sounds like everyone is using the same plug-ins. Therefore, a lot of these records sound very the same production wise, sonically, and even the chord changes are very predictable. We just said, “We aren’t going to do that.” You can still write interesting music. Where is the harmony? We brought back all of that, threw out the rule book, and just made a really big production, linking all the records we liked growing up. Some of our more successful records have been the ones we put the kitchen sink in. We did not deny that and it is still us playing, singing, and writing. It is what it is. So far, it has been the best reviews we have had since I cannot even remember. (laughs)
I think maybe we are getting a second look from people going, “Damn, these guys will not die. We tried to kill them, but they won’t die.” We are back and we kind of laugh at ourselves. Believe me, we laugh very hard at ourselves. I sit there watching Family Guy and all of a sudden Peter Griffin is David Page in “Africa.” I am dying laughing and I called him on the phone and said, “Turn on the TV now!” I was a South Park character as well, and we loved the Jimmy Fallon/Justin Timberlake thing. We laugh at ourselves man. Everyone thinks we are serious and cannot make fun of ourselves, and it is bullshit, come on. I think it is classic to be part of Pop culture like that. I loved it.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, if you cannot laugh at yourself then what can you laugh at? You have to have a good sense of humor.
Steve Lukather – You should really be in the room at rehearsals and watch us rip each other to shreds. There are cuttings sessions that are only people that have known each other since their youth could pull. People walk in and go, “Whoo, well that was chilly,” and we are all laughing. We all know each others Achilles heel and and we do not hesitate to use it. The humor and the laughter is probably what has kept us together more than anything in the world. There is a deep love and we have shared experiences that no one else in the world could possibly understand unless they were there. We have that, we are lifelong childhood friends, we are not just guys that went and started a band.
CrypticRock.com – That makes sense. You had mentioned you have been involved in a number of other projects. You have worked with a lot of great bands and musicians, you have had a solo project, but you have also been part of Ringo Starr’s band.
Steve Lukather – Yes, I love it. That has been the best three years of my life. I love that band, I swear to God. One of the coolest people I have known in my life, and sort of a mentor for me at this point. Here is a guy that just turned seventy-five years old, looks like he is forty, still has that “Hard Days Night” sense of humor, is wise, funny, soulful, and still plays his ass off. Anybody that says Ringo Star cannot play has never played with him, or obviously never heard a Beatles record. I mean come on, there are no click tracks back then, that is real. Those guys really did all that. If you hear their isolated tracks, it is genius. The Beatles are our Classical music, that is all I can tell you. Maybe it is my age, maybe it is because I love them that I play music. Last year, I am standing there and I am part of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles being on TV, I am looking at Paul, looking at Ringo, and I’m going, “I’m standing here fifty years later man, when I was a little kid, if you would have told me,” it was like a surreal dream come true. Now we are friends.
I truly adore the guy. It has been three years of my life with them, and wrote some songs on his new album, Postcards from Paradise, which is a really cool album actually. Todd Rundgren and all the guys, it is a great band of people and I enjoy it. I am going to keep doing it until he fires me (laughs). I manage to make it work. I am almost on the road 200 days of the year, but that is okay with me. This is what I do. I love my life. I am very grateful for the opportunities that I have had, to have this long, four decade career. It kind of freaks me out that it has gone by so fast, but it is a great honor. I got to live the dream, what can I say. I can take the punches from people who do not know me, it is par for the course. I have got a career, I got a life, you cannot please everybody. Nobody likes everything. I do not like everything. I do not expect everything or everybody to like me. I try my best, we try our best, and we play to the people that like us now. That is the world we live in.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, that is true. You cannot please everyone, nor should you try to.
Steve Lukather – Look, we have been called every name in the book. I laugh at it now, like is that all you have got, really (laughs)? Now, it is weird when we get great reviews. I keep waiting for the sucker-punch, but it is not coming yes. What a nice change of pace.
CrypticRock.com – You are right. You obviously have to have a thick skin, but it seems like, now days, with the internet the way it is, everyone is easily hiding behind a computer keyboard. They are really ready to rip into anything at anytime just for the sake of ripping it.
Steve Lukather – Have you ever noticed that, for example on YouTube, there is always, no matter how great something is, even if it is non-musicals, if its just whatever, there is one dislike; there is always one guy. It seems sort of unfair that everybody can look me up, go see pictures of me, see my life, and make fun of me. Yet someone else on the other side of it has a fake name, no profile, and no credentials to say anything. Stuff that people would never say to your face, they will rip you online for. There is a lot of really upset people in a fucked up world, and I do not blame them. It is an angry time in the world and it is sad to see it like this; the racism, the division,and the hatred. People are lashing out because there is a lack of opportunity and hope in some cases.
There are probably more nice people in the world, but like anything else, like the news, you do not get the good news. You open up your computer in the morning to see what is up, having a coffee, and its all bad news coming at you; so and so was killed, so and so was beaten, the world has gone to hell, we are all going to die, we are starving, we have poisoned the world, you know. That is really hard to wake up to every day. Everybody wakes up, and most people have a job they hate, and it is a tough time. I had a pretty good life. I cannot really bitch about getting my ass kicked by strangers once in a while because it is just par for the course.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, you are absolutely right. You have mentioned that you obviously grew up with the Beatles and so forth Since the band and your sound is so eclectic, what are some of your other musical influences?
Steve Lukather – I listen to everything, really. I can listen to Miles Davis and Slipknot in the same afternoon. I like a great Pop song, I like a great R&B song, I prefer old school R&B. I am not super keen on machine music, although, we did have a wonderful opportunity as of late to work with a band called Whats So Not and Skrillex- the DJ’s. They came to us and said, “We want to work with you guys and create something in the studio together, for our end and for your end.” We made a really cool collaboration, which i think is going to come out towards the end the year. I have gotten to see the process from Skrillex and the guys from Australia. Their process of how they make music is so different from the way we do. My slant on EDM has really changed. I have a new respect for how they do it and the group of soulful people that create it; they are not like poser musicians standing in the club going, “I play guitar faster than you asshole,” or this humorous mentality of very Wayne and Garth or just Beavis and Butt-head.
These guys come to it from a different place. It is almost like hippy, soulful people, and we were welcomed into this little room full of really nice people and came away from it going, “I’m not going to go EDM on you or nothing like that,” but all of our songs have been sampled and been hits for other artists. Jay Z did “Africa,” I had a big number one hit with DJ Roger Sanchez who sampled “I Won’t Hold You Back.” Toto IV got a lot of taken from it, it was re-recorded, and quietly, people do not know it was really us. “Africa” has a life of its own, I cannot even explain that one. When we cut it, I said, “This is a really eclectic, weird, quirky tune, but it will never be a hit.” (laughs) That is what I know. All the hit records we have ever played on, like when we did “Beat It” with Michael Jackson, and I am laughing, going, “Come on guys, really?” Once gain, what do I know.
CrypticRock.com – You never know, It is hard to tell what turns people on (laughs).
Steve Lukather – Listen, if I had knew that, you would be talking to me from my own personal space shuttle right now. Somebody knows what hits a nerve. Whats is a hit song? It is the same guys making the same changes, one time it hits and the next time it does not, What is that? It is a chemical timing of the universe, without getting too hippy dippy on you, but you do not know. In some cases it is cold, hard cash, when you hear some bullshit on the radio and you go, “How think how the hell did that get there?” The answer is $1 million got that there, (laughs) there you go. We do not play by those rules anymore, it still exists, obviously, but thankfully we do not have to play that game anymore.
CrypticRock.com – (laughs) Right, its so true though, what you are saying there. My last question is actually pertaining to movies because we cover all types of music,but we also have an interest in Horror movies. I am interested, if you are a fan of Horror movies, do you have any favorites?
Steve Lukather – Hey, leave my life out of this (laughs). Yes, when my older kids were young, we used to have bad Horror night. We would go rent the worst ’70s movies where people were eating each other’s faces off and stuff. My favorite one, The Exorcist (1973) was a classic. When I saw that when I was fifteen years old in Westwood, NJ, it scared the shit out of me. I had no idea what the movie was about. I had to sleep with the lights on for like three months. Now, when you look at it, it is pure comedy, but at the time it scared the hell out of me. I think that was a game-changer in the Horror genre because you could really scare people. I mean then there was Dawn of the Dead (1978) and all that stuff where the guy in the helicopter chops off the guys head. The Zombie movies are great. I love Zombieland (2009), the Bill Murray zombie. I like the Rob Zombie stuff. Slash has a new one, he is involved in the genre now, and I cannot wait to see what he comes out with.
CrypticRock.com – That is great to hear you enjoy a good fun Horror film. It is also cool that you actually watch Horror movies with your kids like that.
Steve Lukather – I was definitely pretty liberal with my older kids, but you know what, they have turned out fine. Nobody died.They are not weird kids. We used to just watch and laugh at it, “Look at that guy eating his face off.” My kid was like nine years old and they knew it was fake. My dad and my grandfather were in the movie business. I grew up going to TV sets and movies sets when I was a kid, so I obviously knew the difference between what was real and what was fake. I stressed that out to them, so therefore they did not have nightmares. Therefore, I let them continued to watch them.
CrypticRock.com – Right, that is understood. As long as the parents give their children the right frame of mind.
Steve Lukather – It is parental guidance, you sit and you watch this shit and with your kids. I never understood why it was okay to see people get their heads blown off, but God forbid you see a nude woman. What is obscene about a moment of nudity that? It is okay to put stuff on TV where people are blown up, death, destruction, and all this horror, but a naked body is considered obscene? It is strange to me. Like I said, I did grow up in the ’60s where peace and love was not a joke.