David Paich Interview: Toto Vocalist Talks Debut Solo Album
Written by Marc Parker and Melissa Benefield Parker, Posted in Interviews Musicians
Image attributed to Alessandro Solca
The son of musician and producer Marty Paich, David Paich is best known as being the co-founder, principal songwriter, keyboardist and singer of the rock band Toto. Formed in 1977, the group’s original lineup included lead vocalist Bobby Kimball, guitarist and vocalist Steve Lukather, bassist David Hungate, keyboardist Steve Porcaro and drummer Jeff Porcaro. Paich has written or co-written many of Toto’s original material, including “Hold the Line,” “Rosanna” and “Africa.” With Toto, he has contributed to 17 albums and sold over 40 million records.
The six-time Grammy Award winner will be releasing his first solo album on August 19, 2022. As much as Forgotten Toys may be a solo album, Paich couldn’t help but invite a few friends to play. Joined by Joseph Williams as co-producer and sometimes co-vocalist, he welcomed everyone from Toto’s Steve Lukather to Brian Eno, Michael McDonald, Ray Parker Jr., Don Felder and Steve Jordan of the Rolling Stones. The album cover artwork provides a poetically nostalgic representation of the concept and features a variety of memories Paich’s wife has held onto over the years.
"I’ve felt satisfied with doing Toto records all these years. Then my bandmates in the band, Steve Lukather and Joseph Williams, both started working on their solo records right before Covid hit. So they were working on them, and in the meantime, they were urging me and trying to get me to do a solo record, too."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: David, all of these years and no solo album.
David Paich: Until now.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Why now?
David Paich: I think there were a couple of reasons. One is that I’ve felt satisfied with doing Toto records all these years. Then my bandmates in the band, Steve Lukather and Joseph Williams, both started working on their solo records right before Covid hit. So they were working on them, and in the meantime, they were urging me and trying to get me to do a solo record, too. I said, “I’ve just been fine with the Toto records.” They said, “No. You need to get this other side of you out,” talking about the stuff I was playing them on my EP here.
So I worked with Joseph, and he helped frame some of them. It was kind of a Covid record. People were going to their studios making music, and I was no different. It had to have a nice chunk of time in there to make a record. I dusted off all these odds and ends, pieces of songs that I had before that were in my kind of digital closet, and I just found that it was time to try and put something out.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Was there any particular theme to the music?
David Paich: There wasn’t. It was just another side of me, you know, just trying to show another side and a collection of songs. I really didn’t have a theme. I’d always had this title in my head for a solo album called “Broken Toys.” My wife said, “Your songs aren’t really broken songs. They’re just forgotten songs.” So I changed the title to "Forgotten Songs." Then she conceptualized the album cover with putting all these little collectibles and small toys on it, so it would be represented metaphorically. These songs had been sitting around for a while, or pieces of songs, I might add, that are now put together.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I really enjoyed the music.
David Paich: Oh, I’m glad.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Actually, one of my favorites is “Lucy.”
David Paich: That seems to be the favorite of a lot of people. After people listen to the whole album, they say, “But I like that ‘Lucy.’” You must love jazz.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Yes, and I certainly hear the influence of Miles Davis in the song.
David Paich: Yeah. You know, Miles Davis played on a Toto record at one time. It’s called “Don’t Stop Me Now,” and it’s on the Fahrenheit album. We got him to play a solo on it, so I share that kindred spirit when it comes to enjoying Miles Davis.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Oh, absolutely. What’s the inspiration for “The First Time”?
David Paich: That’s about my daughter and about her coming of age and trying to find true romance. That was one of the first songs I did on the record. The very first four bars are really the demo I was making at the time. Joseph Williams came in and helped produce the rest of it, helping me put the players on it and realizing it into a record. My daughter did a little step out cameo on it, too. She sings the high part. That was a real special treat for me.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Your daughter, Elizabeth, is also in the music business?
David Paich: Yes. She produces video game music with symphony orchestras. So she’s involved in the administration and the hiring of the big orchestras to do video games. So we’re kind of connected, you know. Her office is right next to my studio. Actually, this story is charming. She snuck in my studio with my engineer and put that vocal on without me knowing it and kind of gave it to me like a surprise gift. I was kind of flustered at first and said, “What are you doing overdubbing my songs?” They I heard it, and a tear came to my eye. Proud dad.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Aw, that’s very sweet. What were Michael McDonald and Don Felder’s contributions to the album?
David Paich: I heard a higher voice on “Spirit of the Moonrise,” and I wanted someone to sing it with me. I called Mike McDonald, so he sang the chorus with me. He just said, “Yes,” immediately, and I sent him a track. He sang the choruses and then did some high step outs at the end on that one. You can clearly hear it is Mike McDonald, who I’m really thankful to.
We did “Queen Charade,” which is kind of my Stonesy rock and roll song. I asked Don Felder, who’s a friend of mine, and I work on his records, too. He said, “Yes,” immediately to playing slide guitar because I wanted that kind of rock and roll authenticity. He’s a fantastic guitar player and really plays great slide, too. So I invited him to play on the record, and he did without hesitation.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you think you would have chosen another career path if your dad had not been in the music business?
David Paich: I think so. I think I probably would have enjoyed it and wanted to be in music, but I think I would not have had the insights on the journey there or how high the bar is set to be a professional musician if I hadn’t had my dad taking me with him to sessions to see how professionals at that level played. So I think that he planted to seed, for sure.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: And yet, all of that didn’t scare you? (laughs)
David Paich: It frightened me to death! I thought, “How am I ever going to get up and do that?” I just kept practicing and working at it, you know. They say that the first million hours is the secret (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: (laughs) I was blown away when I found out your father handled the production for the song “The Way We Were,” which was the number one single of 1974.
David Paich: Oh yeah. He produced that and arranged it. I got to play on it. That’s me playing on it. Not piano, I’m playing electric piano. That was quite the record. I think that was done in one or two takes. So that was fantastic.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Is that because Barbra Streisand is the ultimate professional and well-known for her perfectionism?
David Paich: Oh, yes! My dad’s a professional also. He could go in and get the things in one or two takes. Same with Streisand. Seeing that a lot was the magic of growing up in the industry. My dad worked with so many people like Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles. I’d see them get performances quickly because when I do vocals, I’m struggling all the time, trying to get them to sound good and everything. So to hear a titan like Barbra Streisand sing, she just has a voice like an angel.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: So tell me how Toto came together.
David Paich: We were in high school band together. When I was 15 years old, I joined Jeff Porcaro’s band, and it was a great band. It had horns like Blood, Sweat & Tears meets Sly and the Family Stone kind of thing. In the back of our heads, we all wanted to be session players, but we were just playing in high school at the time. So we decided we wanted to form a band when we got out of high school, but we wanted to get experience first. So we decided the best road was to start doing sessions and get experience for our band.
I think we formed Toto probably six years later after we got out of high school. That was just from our band friendships and trying to play music like we remember having fun with the music again. We just wanted that feeling again. Our level of playing had elevated to where we were trying to do something new, and we wanted to form our own sound together, so we would have a style.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What did you envision that style would be?
David Paich: We saw that we could do about anything we wanted to do, which is why we have so many styles on records. We would just explore and try and find out what our limitations were, which there didn’t seem to be too many except that we wanted to be a rock band and play R&B at the same time.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Jeff Porcaro was probably one of the best drummers in the world at that time.
David Paich: Yeah. He was one of the best drummers I ever saw in my life. This is when he was 14 or 15 years old. Jeff played like a professional, like a guy 25 or 26 years old. He was a phenomenon. To the very last, we were making records together, and he’s largely responsible for, I think, part of my songwriting success, as he did great intros on “Lowdown,” “Lido Shuffle,” on “Rosanna” and “Hold the Line.” All of those songs had compelling drum beats.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Toto had its share of critics in the early years. Was that possibly because Toto didn’t sound like other bands?
David Paich: Yeah. We didn’t sound like the others. They wanted us to be a band that sounded like we were playing on stage at a bar kind of thing. I think it was because we were just a little too diverse for them. We opened up with a kind of a classical sounding rock shuffle and low on it, then at the same time, we had “Georgy Porgy” with Cheryl Lynn singing on it at times. So we were torn between doing R&B and rock and rock. None of the bands had really done that kind of diverse stuff.
You were either a rock band or you were a funk band before, and we wanted to be both. So I think that gave the critics something to focus on. I was just learning how to lyric write at that time and trying to write my role playing type of lyrics. We were trying to follow in Steely Dan’s footsteps a lot, trying to be very eclectic with our music and our lyrics. I think everybody’s still trying to do that (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: (laughs) Do you believe that Toto received enough credit for their contribution to Michael Jackson’s album Thriller?
David Paich: We played on “The Girl is Mine” and also on Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.” I think it was a great experience, and I think that we were credited. Toto’s pretty known now for playing on Thriller. It wasn’t back then. But now, it is. Because of the internet and technology, people know a lot more about musicians than they used to. I think it’s just a good revelation for everybody.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How did Toto playing on Thriller come about?
David Paich: Quincy Jones reached out. He produced Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall album, and we ended up working with Quincy on James Ingram and Donna Summer records. So he was getting ready to do Thriller, and he was getting his crew together. He had people like David Foster and myself who were keyboard players. Steve Porcaro and Michael were doing the synthesizers, and I think Jeff and JR Robinson were the only two drummers on it. It was a very tight group.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: The internet may forever debate who played the guitar solo on “Beat It,” Eddie Van Halen or Steve Lukather.
David Paich: That’s right. Steve Lukather and Eddie Van Halen were best friends, too. I think that pretty much says it all on how the camaraderie goes, you know what I mean? Ed knew Steve was playing on it, so he put a solo on it. But that’s Steve playing bass and all the guitars except for the solo, and that’s Jeff playing drums. So he and Jeff did everything on “Beat It” except for the solo.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You know, I just have to talk about “Africa,” which is one of my favorites.
David Paich: Oh, great! I’m so glad you said that. It would’ve been a terrible time if you’d said you hate that song (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: (laughs) I think “Africa” and “Till the End” are my top two Toto songs.
David Paich: I’m glad you like that one, too. “Till the End” was me doing my imitation of Earth, Wind & Fire kind of thing with a little rock edge to it. “Africa” was an 11th hour song, believe it or not. We had the whole record done, and I started writing the song. I’d just gotten a new synthesizer from Yamaha, and the first sound that I heard was the sound you hear on the intro of “Africa.” I just played that riff on the instrument, and I couldn’t get it out of my head.
Then what came next was the verse melody. I just started singing this first melody in my head, and then I switched to piano to play it. I started playing the chorus, and when I did the chorus, I started singing those words that are in the chorus. I said, “Man, I know I’m a decent songwriter, but this is higher level. This is coming from above. This is God’s divine intervention here.” So I started writing these lyrics down really fast, and those are the lyrics of the song. We made it from scratch.
I wanted Jeff Porcaro to be co-writer on it because I wanted him to arrange the percussion and make it so special that it would be hypnotic, that it would last over repeated listening. So he came up with all the drum groups on it, and we made a loop like the Beatles used to do. We had analog tape wrapped around the studio around these microphone stands to make the tape loop. Then we overdubbed all the individual instruments on it. It was just a magical experience.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: But a couple of guys in the band were like, “Serengeti"? (laughs)
David Paich: (laughs) I know. I got toasted for that. They were like, “People can’t understand these words.” I said, “I went to college, so I’m writing for college people.” I got a lot of shit over that. Plus, they said that I should save this song for my solo album. That’s a nice way of saying that it’s not good enough for the album, you know. It’s so unique that it’s done what it’s done today considering it barely made the record.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Surely you said, “I told you so,” when Weezer covered it, and kids who’d never heard of Toto now know all the lyrics to “Africa.”
David Paich: Oh, yeah. I didn’t have to. That said it right there.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: David, you also played on “We Are the World”?
David Paich: When Quincy got that call, he put it together with Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, and he invited everybody to play on it. Of course, we were part of Quincy’s team, so he invited me and Steve Porcaro to go and play on it. We put some little African Kalimba stuff on it at one point. Again, it was a magical experience having all those people doing that for a just cause. It was really heartwarming.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What’s a favorite memory you have over a career that spans five decades?
David Paich: I think “The Girl is Mine” we did for the Thriller album. We had Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson singing a duet on it. So when we went in the room, there was George Martin and Geoffrey Emerick, Paul and Linda McCartney and Michael Jackson. So it was kind of a “pinch me” moment. I had to like snap out of the fog. I was starstruck a little bit. Sometimes, you’ve just got to pinch yourself and go, “We’ve got to go back to work here and make this record.” So that was definitely one of the most memorable occasions.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Have your musical tastes changed over the years?
David Paich: Yeah. I think I’m getting more used to a lot of the bands that are out here changing music. I have some favorite artists like Adele and Harry Styles. I love hearing good singers with good songs. I will always be a Sting fan, a Phil Collins fan and a Peter Gabriel fan. But those are older artists, you know. I think some of the groups today are doing some neat things like Weezer and Imagine Dragons. I try and keep an open mind. I love jazz and soundtrack music. I love what John Williams does. Of course, his son is in my band. We keep the family very close.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Will Toto ever be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
David Paich: I don’t think the guys think Toto will ever get into the Hall of Fame just because of the politics involved. We used to get snubbed in Rolling Stone magazine all the time. So when we won all those Grammys in 1983, and they asked us to be on the cover, we said, “No.” I think we’re the only band that turned down Rolling Stone and said, “No” to the cover. So I think they’ve held that against us. At least Lukather thinks that we’re on their blacklist. So I don’t think we’re holding our breaths for that one.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Toto’s on tour, and you made a stage appearance with the band in mid-July.
David Paich: I made an appearance in Amsterdam at Ziggo Dome, which was sold out at 17,000. I don’t usually go on the road, but this was a special thing, so I flew out there for that show.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How is your health?
David Paich: My health is doing very good. I went through a really bad patch there. I did touring for two months, and it was wintertime in Scandinavia. In between the bus rides and the freezing cold, I got very fatigued and exhausted from touring. It’s borderline depression and anxiety from being on the road. So I had to take some time off. My physician said, “You need to hang up your road boots and just take some time off.”
So I did that, and in the meantime, Toto wanted to still keep touring. We found some new younger players to fill the bill. Now, Toto’s got a new band called Dogz of Oz. It’s called the Dogz of Oz Tour, and it’s an incredible band. It’s probably one of the best Toto bands that’s ever been. They’re young kids, a young keyboard player from Prince’s band, a drummer from Snarky Puppy, and there’s a lot of young energy in the band right now. I’m very proud of the guys. They’ve done a great job.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Steve Lukather says Toto is still your band, and he’s just holding the keys to the car.
David Paich: It’s our band, and he’s the leader. He’s really the unsung hero. Being the leader, Steve’s the face of Toto. He manages Toto. He makes all the decision, 90% of them. He lets me come in and make a couple of decisions every once in a while just to keep my foot in there. I’m the musical director, but Steve’s as much Toto as I ever was. He’s very generous with his praise.
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