Toto : still on top after 35 years!

No, Toto is neither a simple AOR band from the 80’s, nor a band limited to worldwide hits like « Rosanna », « Africa » or « Hold The Line ». Toto is first and foremost a band composed of incredible musicians, like Steve Lukather, one of the best guitarists ever, or the deeply missed drummer Jeff Porcaro whose famous and amazing shuffle bears today his name. Toto is also a groove, with some strong melodies, rich harmonies, first class singers (almost every member can sing!) and diverse records (some of them often really rock oriented), with sometimes a jazzy, almost progressive touch, like the excellent Falling In Between, released in 2007, showed it.

By the way, it is surprising to notice that, when it comes to rock’n’roll, it is often David Paich – as stated by himself and who’s a heavy metal fan – who’s behind most of the combo’s heaviest parts and compositions. We took the opportunity of the band’s 35th anniversary world tour to reflect on their career and their future. Better to say that the fans can count on the best for what will follow, given the musician’s enthusiasm: “I think we’re living the best moments ever” confesses David Paich.

« Love for music and a sense of humor are the two greatest trait to keep it going. »

Radio Metal: You will be touring to celebrate your 35th anniversary. How do you feel about that?

David Paich: We’re just amazed that we’re still here after 35 years. We’re very thankful to our fans because we’re very lucky and very blessed to still be here. We really hold this all to our fans who still come to our concerts and write to us and tell us to keep touring. It’s amazing to take a moment, pause and look back on a 35 year legacy. We’re totally getting stoked when looking back at all the things we’ve done. When you’re in a rock band, you’re moving so fast all the time, you don’t have time to stop and savor all the moment. You try to do it as much as you can, but we’re certainly going to try and take time when doing concerts this year, and play a little bit of each of the albums that Toto’s put out and that our fans have enjoyed, and maybe in some of them do unusual tracks that we haven’t played before, hopefully, maybe show a little bit of footage on film, some of our fans, some of our past members… It’s quite an accomplishment, I’m very proud of the guys in Toto. You have people like The Rolling Stones or The Beach Boys that are celebrating their 50 years, but I think to last 35 years in the music world, to be out there and to keep touring is an accomplishment in itself, so I applaud my fellow colleagues and my band, and I thank our fans out there for all their support.

There’s a lot of great bands that can’t have the career you had and last for 35 years. What would be the difference between a great band that tours for 35 years and a great band that doesn’t? Is it the quality of the music?

You know, I think that it’s the personal chemistry within; first of all you have to have that musical bond, and everybody seeing the others eye to eye. I think a musician can’t stay in his own little musical circle and keep growing; you can’t just play the nine or ten songs that you first played in concert and keep touring playing them for ever. I think that’s an empty goal. But Toto has kept on growing and expending because we are great musicians. We still have challenges, and challenge ourselves when we go on stage. Secondly, I think that a band has to get along famously and have a great sense of humor because otherwise, if you take yourself too seriously in this business, if you never laugh… Love for music and a sense of humor are the two greatest trait to keep it going.

Does celebrating that anniversary make you feel somehow nostalgic?

Yeah, a little bit, because of the fond memories, we had such a great relationship, I think we’ve had a love affair going on with our audiences out there and we miss them. We met along so many people, they keep coming to our concerts so we have this relationship, this rapport with our fans, it’s almost like family to us. So I think of course there’s a bit of nostalgia involved, we look back now and realize again how blessed and lucky we are. It helps to keep going. Of course, we’re asked to keep playing songs like « Hold The Line », « Africa », « Rosana » or « Won’t Hold You Back ». I think the nostalgia is in us because Toto’s music has been the soundtrack in people’s lives. They come to our concerts and there’s a lot of memories that are not just the concerts; people have gotten married to our music, people have had babies and named them after our songs, so I think there’s a bit of nostalgia when we look back to 35 years and realize it’s not all just music.

« We try to not live totally on our past, our past is great, we respect the old things but we’re constantly finding new ways to arrange our music. »

Maybe people would say that for a band that lasts so long, the best memories are in their past. Is it the case for you or would you say that your best days are actually now?

I think our best days are right now! I seriously do. The line-up that we have… We have original members, Steve Lukather, myself, Steve Porcaro, Joseph Williams, we are playing with one of the greatest drummers in the world right now, Simon Phillips, and unarguably one of the best bass players that ever lived, Nathan East. With that band together, we have so much fun when we’re playing at such a high level of intense music, it’s a real chemistry. You have Nathan East who toured with Phil Collins and so on… Again, we try to not live totally on our past, our past is great, we respect the old things but we’re constantly finding new ways to arrange our music, as you’ll see, we came to explore and to extend some of the older songs so we can improvise, it even got us to do some jazz and a few other things which had been a lot of fun to us. I think our crowd enjoys it too because I think the music our audience is listening too isn’t just constrained to the pop world, I think there’s some jazz fans there, and fans of prog rock and of classical music too. We like to take people on a musical journey.

Now, tricky question: if you had to pick one word for these 35 years, what would it be, very spontaneously?

I would say music. We’re all about the music. If I had to describe Toto with one word I would use this one. We certainly aren’t pretty boys, celebrities and rockstars, so I think that it’s the one thing that binds us: the connecting tissue that has kept us together has been the music, our love for it. Our respect for the music keeps us going, and that’s what makes Toto a unique band of players.

Can we expect special shows for this tour?

Well, we’re working on that right now as we speak, we’re putting a setlist together for the new show here. The idea is to play something we haven’t done, to play something different from every album we have out. We’re going to try and look for rare, kind of unusual cuts that maybe crowds of fans wanted to hear but we never played because we had a different lead singer or we just didn’t have the right line-up at the time. Now we’re doing songs and doing extended arrangements, also I think we’re going to try and revisit [the work] of some of our past members and pay tribute, as well as maybe for some of our fans in each city, get on stage and sing together so we can make it a little bit of a special show. Hopefully, we’ll celebrate this fact that like I said, Toto for the last 35 years has been the soundtrack to many people’s lives musically on stage.

Is it frustrating to have to chose songs from 35 years of career? The fact that you can’t play everything?

It is, it’s a challenge but it’s a fun challenge. The last tours, we’ve been playing out songs we hadn’t played in a long time or never played at all, and we had fun because they were fresh. And again, putting together a setlist is a puzzle, we’re looking at the setlists right now and all we have to do is to mix songs we never played from the albums, but we haven’t the list yet. So over the next two months, we’re going to try and maybe reach out to our fanbase around the world to ask them to help us putting together our setlist, so hopefully you and the people will help us figure out what our setlist will be. And we can’t do something everybody likes, sure, but there could be some unusual surprise in there.

« I really enjoy Toto as a vehicle for writing, because you can write specific things that you can’t for a regular popstar. You can be more controversial, more ambitious musically with Toto. »

When the band reformed a few years ago, it’s been made very clear that making a new album was out of the question. Steve Lukather said: “Maybe a track some day but not in the near future.” How has this decision, this statement evolved since? Is it still out of the question?

As far as a new album goes, we’ve talked about it, it’s not on the agenda right now. When it comes down to Toto we never say never, we’ve talked about maybe releasing or do a one-time special, maybe a single for ALS awareness, about maybe doing something this year… Every time the band’s been getting together lately the chemistry has been so unbelievingly magical that every once in a while, a band member says that we should make a new album. Toto haven’t been up to big endeavors but I really enjoy Toto as a vehicle for writing, because you can write specific things that you can’t for a regular popstar. You can be more controversial, more ambitious musically with Toto. So first, we’ll talk about the possibility of doing a new album and if it’s meant to be, it will happen. Again it’s not on the agenda, but we got a lot of requests for another Toto album so maybe we’ll surprise everybody with coming up with something new.

And did you actually write something during the last three years?

Yes, I’ve been writing. I always have Toto in mind and I’m always planning down lyrics and ideas for possible Toto songs if we ever get back to the studio for songs. As a writer, you just follow, write stuff, and certain songs are forced to be for a certain artist, but there’s a certain kind of song that I write that are specially set aside for Toto, shall we ever get back to the studio and do a another record. So I’m constantly writing, working with my keyboard in the studio full of wonderfully magical atmosphere. I was specially influenced by the Beatles, and what they did with the Cirque du Soleil on the Love album. I think that’s one of the greatest album out there, it has captured limitless magic and imagination. I think all of the guys in Toto are always writing. Personally I’m a writing machine, I hear music in my head 24/7.

What are you listening to recently?

I’m listening to a group from Sweden called Dirty Loops. You can see them if you go on YouTube and type Dirty Loops. They’re a progressive group trio that sings and plays and it’s just great. In the end, I like different bands. I like Train, I like The Script, I like Mumford And Sons… I always love when Herbie Hancock does stuff, as a pianist I’m trying to learn more about it because you’ve never learn everything. I think we’re environed of great stuff and I just keep on listening to everything out there, you know. So yeah, definitely check out Dirty Loops, that’s pretty cool progressive stuff. I’m fond of them right now.

Since we are a metal radio station, I’d really like to know your opinion on heavy metal. What do you think about that genre?

I’m a big heavy metal fan, actually. Funnily, when I write Toto’s songs, you’ll hear a lot of harder things and people assume that it’s Steve’s look at it, but Steve writes most of the ballads whereas I myself, I love the harder rock things. It’s probably because when we were in high school, we used to play hard rock a lot in our band. Even when I was the keyboard player, we played a lot of Jimi Hendrix, a lot of Stones… And I worked with people like Mötley Crüe, I played on their records, and Mike Porcaro played on Kiss and Whitesnake records, we worked with various people and stuff like that, Jeff played with this guy named Tommy Bolin, who’s been in Deep Purple, on his first solo album. I think heavy metal is rock’n’roll, from AC/DC to Metallica to all the bands out there. Van Halen of course are friends of ours and they have been an heavy influence, Lukather is friends with probably all the guitar players, heavy guys from Slash to C.C. [DeVille], everybody that ever played out there, even Jimmy Page, all the great guitar players, there’s so many of them and they’re great players, they really are. It’s kinda funny when the term heavy metal kinda came out with Led Zepplin and so on I used the term a lot broader than others. Heavy metal is just a particular kind of harder, really hard edged rock that people put that name on, so I think it’s great and I myself, inside myself I’m a closet heavy metal guitarist. When I come back, I wanna come back as a heavy metal guitarist. It’d be the most fun thing in the world to do that.

« I’m a big heavy metal fan, actually […] Inside myself I’m a closet heavy metal guitarist. When I come back, I wanna come back as a heavy metal guitarist. »

By the way, I heard the band had some legal issues recently about the rights for the band’s name. Are those issues solved?

Well, I’m not really allowed to talk about it… Currently, we’re trying to resolve these issues. It’s funny because Toto’s always been very lucky not to get trapped into any business issue that could have kept us from doing music. Every once in a while, somebody will rear their head, and claim something like Toto owes them an extra album or something, and it’s a bit like a sidetrack in a landmine for a little bit, but I think that there is nothing prominent here. Like I said, I’m not allowed to talk about it. Toto has been trouble-free and we’ve never been ripped off and so on for the entire time, so I think we’re easy targets to take shots at for record labels or companies, and occasionally we have to stand up for our rights. Hopefully, we’ll pass over personal issues and landmines that are going on here.

OK, and how is it going between you guys? Because I’ve heard that when Toto reformed, Steve Lukather said that making an album was out of the question because he didn’t wanted to collaborate with some members of the bands for human reasons or something like that…

That couldn’t be more untrue. The relationship between everybody in the group is fantastic right now. I wouldn’t hesitate to do a new album with the guys in this band, I would look forward to it. I love Simon Phillips, I love Joseph Williams, they’re just my musical bros and my best friends outside of the band too. That’s funny because I couldn’t think of a better band to do another Toto album. I totally adore Steve and like I said, I would record with him. Musically and personally, I love all these guys, it’s wonderful, and I wouldn’t hesitate to make music with them.

You guys all have careers outside of Toto. Can you update us on yours? What are you doing right now besides Toto and what will you do after the tour?

The last couple of years, not the very last ones but the two before, I was the conductor for the Emmy Awards. It was challenging for me because I had never done that before but my father did, that’s what he was – a conductor of orchestras. Steve Jordan, who produced the Continuum album for John Mayer, called me up and wanted to know if I wanted to help him to be the musical director for the event. That was challenging! Outside of that, I’ve been trying to do a lot of work: in 2009, I went back and performed in Africa for the United Nations and sang to pay tribute to bishop Desmond Tutu, who was getting a life achievement award. I did different things for them. I’ve been also helping out found raisers for the fire department and the police department here. We call it “fallen heroes” and it supports scholarship for children of officers, policemen and firemen who were killed during their work, and also other things like that. I’m trying to give a little time to schools also. I think it’s paying back; after 35 years, I feel satisfaction giving back to the community, I mean the world’s community, and helping people that haven’t been so fortunate. A lot of my time I’m doing that, and when I’m not doing that, I take vacations, going to antigua for a week and scuba diving, so I try to balance my life with scuba diving, walking and spending time with friends and stuff like that, and try to enjoy life as well as music.

Do you have one last thing to say?

I wanna thank all our fans for their loyalty all these years, and tell them we will have a great show this time. We hope that they tell their friends. And please come and see us because it’s gonna be a great show and we wanna celebrate 35 years with them!

Interview conducted by phone on February, 26th 2013
Transcription: Chloé

Official Toto’s website: www.totoofficial.com

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