Interview with STEVE LUKATHER (TOTO)

Metal Express Radio: You’ve literally JUST finished a series of UK shows last week. You probably thought you’d be getting some time off now?

STEVE: Time off?? I read about that once!! I’m at my happiest when I’m working and I’m really happy now as everything’s going so well. My album’s doing really well, my tour has sold out, and the reviews I’ve been getting have been fantastic. I’m healthy, sober, and together and I’m singing and playing better than ever.

MER: You have a new album out, All’s Well That Ends Well. You must be pleased with the positive reviews that are coming through for that?

STEVE: I’m actually flabbergasted at how positive they’ve been, it’s been great.

MER: Have many of the new songs made it into your setlist?

STEVE: I play for almost 2 hours and there’s some stuff I do where I just open up and jam, and we try to change it up a little bit. I do some new songs and plenty of other songs from my other solo albums too.

MER: Do you take requests from the audience at all?

STEVE: I do this VIP thing sometimes where people come to the sound check and I give them extra special treatment . I tried this for the first time last year and it was a huge success. People come along and shout out things and just for fun I’ll start to play parts of songs. During a show it would be like going to a play and shouting out for something else. I think you should just let the artist be the artist during the show, but it’s fun to do at the sound check. If I opened my mouth and asked what everyone wanted to hear then I just set myself up. I understand that people want to hear certain favorite songs, but I don’t go out and play “Rosanna” and “Africa” anymore as there’s still a version of the real Toto that goes out and plays every once in a while. Last time we did some shows for our brother Mike Porcaro, who is suffering from ALS, and it was a great success and Toto will be doing some shows next year too.

MER: You’ve played with just about every musician or artist that there is and your work must be in most people’s record collections at some point. Who have you got in your touring band at the moment?

STEVE: I’ve got some guys from Los Angeles who are a very interesting and eclectic bunch of people. I have Eric Valentine on drums and Steve Weingart on keyboards and his wife, Renee Jones, plays bass. It’s a very tight unit that works really well. These guys played on the record. They are friends and we all get on really well.

MER: All’s Well That Ends Well that was released in October. How do you see this as a progression from your last album Ever Changing Times that was released a couple of years ago?

STEVE: It’s the most successful solo album I’ve ever done in terms of sales and reviews. I’m being taken really seriously now, which is great. I think it’s the best solo record that I’ve done.

MER: There’s a family connection on the album too as your son Trevor and daughter Tina both perform on there. That must make you a very proud Dad…

STEVE: Trevor is a really great guitar player and singer and also a great songwriter and he’s working on his own album right now and he’s doing sessions for other people. He’s an up and coming cat, man. He’s a star, a real star. My daughter lives the simple life; she’s a hairdresser. She can sing so I dragged her in so the whole family could be on the record. My three year old Lily will probably end up on my next record. It’s a bit soon for her now though, she wouldn’t be able to sit still long enough.

MER: Were you conscious of this when deciding on how many songs to use on the new album?

STEVE: I can’t understand this obsession with having over 70 minutes of music on an album. When I was a kid an album was what? 40 minutes long? It’s not good for the attention span for an album to be so long. I like chocolate cake, but I don’t want it for every meal. There is such a thing as overkill. It’s like a show, I don’t want to go and see a three hour show unless it was The Beatles or Hendrix, but even then it would still wear you out. A lot of people just put their I-Pod on shuffle now and don’t listen to whole albums like they used to. If an album is interesting, it’ll keep your attention. If you make an album with one good track on it, then you can’t then be pissed off if no one buys your record. I grew up at a time when you tried to make the best record you possibly could, and would try to make every song really good. Why put crap on there? My name is on that and I don’t want it to be crap. Mind you, “crap” is subjective and there are some people that don’t like what I do, but that’s fine so long as I think it’s a good record and I’m happy with it.

MER: It’s a very song-orientated album, rather than just an excuse for you to show off what you can do. Was it important for you to make this a song-based album?

STEVE: I think there’s shredder guys that do it really, really well — much better than me. I tap danced in that arena for a little bit, and didn’t really feel comfortable. I’ve got some chops, but I use them sparingly, especially now since I’m older I don’t feel the need to compete. When I was young I had to try to be better than the hottest guy around. It was the fastest guy in the West mentality. I wanted to make something more memorable, a little more interesting — not just trying to compete by playing fast. I wanted to write music and lyrics that weren’t the norm. If people go “Wow, that was cool!”, then I’ve done my job.

MER: There’s a lot of variety on the album. “Flash in the Pan” has a real Funky vibe while “Darkness in My World” has a broody Zeppelin groove to it, whereas “Tumescent” has a real Jazzy feel to it. Were you looking to cover a lot of ground when you were writing, or did it just happen to turn out this way?

STEVE: I just kind of let it happen organically. I truly feel good about covering the ground that I wanted to cover without overthinking it. I didn’t sit down and say “I must do this kind of song then that type of song.” I just let it happen and this is how it turned out. At the end of the session, I had a couple of other things I could have cut, but I just thought that we were done. We didn’t need anything else. Why paint over something that doesn’t need painting?

MER: You co-wrote much of the album with CJ Vanston, who is a renowned film composer. You’ve worked with CJ for many years and he worked on your first solo album in 1989. How did you get involved with CJ?

STEVE: I’ve known him for over 20 years and met him through Richard Marx. We’ve stayed friends for the whole time. He was actually in London playing the same night that I was there and we would’ve played at each other’s gigs if we could have. I hired CJ to work on the Spinal Tap album with Christopher Guest for the album that I produced back in 1993 or something like that. He went on to work with those guys live and we always stayed friends and always used to say that we had to do something together and the opportunity just hit with this record.

MER: How did you write together? Did you bounce ideas off each other or did you write most of the songs and he helped with the arrangements?

STEVE: We sat in the same room together and I wrote most of the words and wrote the music with CJ. It’s a very autobiographical painful record with the passing of my mother, the breakdown of my marriage, and a lot of other crap that I had to go through in my life. I just tried to sit down and write something that was accessible, but not obvious. If I hear that A minor, F, C,G chord change again I’m going to shoot myself in the head. I mean, we all use those chord changes but at my time of life, I don’t want to write the obvious, so that you can shout out the chord changes before they happen. I like to write unpredictable music that is still accessible and that doesn’t throw people into saying “Oh, no this is fusion music” or something.

MER: A couple of years ago, after a highly successful tour for your Falling In Between album, you announced that Toto was no more. Were you burnt out with it all by then, or had there been too many changes from the original line up that you’d lost interest?

STEVE: At the end of it I was the last man standing. David Paich had gone and there were no Porcaro’s in the band. There were a lot of issues business-wise and with the newer guys, although they were great players and I was friends with them, it just stopped sounding like Toto. It was more like a really great cover band. Bobby’s voice was beat down and certain things came into play on the business side and technically and vibe-wise, and I was also drinking myself to death and was so miserable. I wanted to stop it before it fell apart. I was able to come home , get my shit together and get healthy. I was able to clean up my act and become focused again. I was doing my solo record and the opportunity for Toto came up again. I thought if all of us High School buddies were going to do it and it was for Mike Porcaro, then I was in. I really enjoyed it and it was such a huge success. We were playing to 25,000-30,000 people at night at some of these festivals in Europe. We really enjoyed each other and appreciated the legacy of the band. All that bullshit that we had gone through had just gone. We were 15 years old when we first got together and the core band is still very close as friends and brothers and we’ve been through a lot together. A lot of stuff that’s kind of difficult to explain to people unless you’ve actually been through it. It’s hard to imagine that all this time has gone by. It only feels like 10 years, but it’s over 30 years!! Thanks to the internet you see photos of when I first started the band and I look like I was 12 !! You look at your old hair style and clothes on MTV; it’s totally brutal to re-live!! You have to have a good sense of humor otherwise you’d go and hang yourself in the closet.

MER: Mike Porcaro unfortunately suffers from ALS, which Steven Hawkins and Jason Becker also suffer from. How is Mike doing at the moment?

STEVE: He’s not good, man … he’s paralysed in a wheelchair and he’s not going to get out of it. It doesn’t end well, I can tell you that. This has devastated all of us. He’s a childhood brother of ours … it’s really terrible.

MER: You played a few shows earlier this year to help Mike. This also included David Paich who had retired from touring back in 2005. Has this reignited your love of Toto?

STEVE: Now that we’ve got Steve Porcaro, David Paich and myself and Joseph Williams, who went to High School with us, he’s got his voice back 100%. We’ve also got Simon Phillips and Nathan East and two great background singers including Jenny Douglas who sang with us many years ago. We’ll play a lot of stuff from the Joe era that we never got to do and will do all the hits. I’m doing songs that I said I’d never do again. I’m past all the bitterness and weirdness. It’s like going to summer camp with my High School buddies; we laugh a lot and everybody is together and we’re doing it for the right reasons.

MER: Your schedule is fairly relaxed for a tour these days, with a couple of days off between shows and really playing select shows in a few countries. You’re obviously doing this on your terms because you want to. Was it important for you to have a well-balanced schedule so you could go out and enjoy it rather than it becoming a hard slog like it has in the past?

STEVE: That’s not the final schedule. We’ve left space to either add more dates or add a second night at the same city.

MER: With all this touring activity and working on your solo album, has that left you much time for any session work or have you put that on hold for the time being?

I’m going to New York City to play with Bill Evans, Will Lee and Keith Carlock, who played drums for Sting and Steely Dan. I’ve just done a record with Lee Ritenour called Six String Theory that I wrote and produced, which had something like 15 preliminary Grammy nominations. I wonder if we’re going to get one?? That’d be cool. I’m also going to play with Jimmy Vivino who’s the guitarist with Conan O’Brien.

MER: With the resurgence of bands like Journey, do you think that Melodic Rock is finally making something of a comeback?

STEVE: All of a sudden this type of music is popular again. There’s this huge AOR craze thanks to my buddies in Journey. Toto always worked well in Europe and sold arenas out, you know, and we’ll be back out next summer again and it’ll be a big success. People are cashing in on this AOR thing now, but we never stopped and then when we did it became popular again. We were asked to do some of these package tours with other bands, but we just thought that those guys should do their thing and we’ll do our thing. We can do it on our own, so why go out on a package tour? I mean I’m friends with all those guys and all our kids grew up together. I’m happy for Neal and the guys in Journey. This music is coming back for some reason; maybe people are sick of the machine and their autotune. Great musicianship, great harmonies, and great melodies with timeless music — it never really goes away. If someone can pull us up and all of a sudden make it cool, that’s great. It’s ironic that it is because it was hated for so many years and all of a sudden it’s cool to like this music … I find it so humorous. They didn’t like us then ,why they hell do they like us now?! We’ve stood the test of time. I’m here almost 35 years later, and I’m as busy as I ever have been and the music lives on.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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