Steve Lukather Interview: Talks "Toto XIV" and Reflects on the Passing of Bandmate Mike Porcaro
Image attributed to Toto
With over thirty-eight years together and thousands of credits and accolades to their names, Toto remains one of the top-selling tour and recording acts in the world. The band, not afraid to take chances and stretch their songwriting abilities, will release their thirteenth studio album and first since Falling In Between (2006), titled Toto XIV on March 23, 2015.
Toto XIV encompasses rock, pop, jazz, blues and progressive. The deluxe edition comes in ecolbook format, including an expanded booklet featuring a three thousand-word essay with exclusive interviews, exclusive pictures and a bonus DVD including a documentary “Making of” the album.
“I had just come back from the last Ringo gig, and Steve Porcaro called me and said, “We lost Mikey.” I sat down in my office. I was by myself, and I did some serious reflection of our time together on planet earth and all the emotions that go with that.”
The band now includes original members Steve “Luke” Lukather, David Paich, Steve Porcaro and original bass player David Hungate. Joseph Williams came back to handle lead vocals, while Keith Carlock is on drums. Original drummer and band co-founder Jeff Porcaro died in 1992, and on March 15, 2015, his brother and former Toto bassist Mike Porcaro passed away due to complications from his battle with ALS.
Lukather is not only known for his work in Toto, but he has recorded guitar tracks for about 1,500 albums representing a broad array of artists and genres and has released seven solo albums. The legendary musician has been touring as a member of Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band whose current members also include Gregg Rolie, Todd Rundgren, Gregg Bissonette, Richard Page and Warren Ham.
Toto will embark on a massive world tour in 2015 where they will unveil some songs from their new album, share some deep tracks from past Toto albums and perform all the hits their fans have come to love and expect.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Luke, how are you today?
Steve Lukather: Oh, you know. Every day’s an adventure.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): First, let me offer my sincere condolences on the loss of your bandmate and friend, Mike Porcaro.
Steve Lukather: Thank you. The last time I saw him he was in dire shape, man. It was really tough to say goodbye. I knew it would be the last time, but we said the words we needed to say to each other, and it was a very beautiful sad moment, the two of us saying goodbye to each other. He may not physically be with us, but his music, his vibe and his memory is very strong in my heart and will always be there.
I had just come back from the last Ringo gig, and Steve Porcaro called me and said, “We lost Mikey.” I sat down in my office. I was by myself, and I did some serious reflection of our time together on planet earth and all the emotions that go with that. I’m really going to miss him, the sound of his laugh, the groove of his playing. But I’ve got his kids to look at. I can still see Mike in his kids. There is something to be said for all that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That has to be extremely difficult for a family to lose two sons prematurely.
Steve Lukather: Yeah, man. We can only imagine what that’s like. I was with everybody yesterday. What’s amazing is their mom and dad! Talk about dealing with tragedy like this. I’m a father of four kids. If I had to bury two of them, I don’t think I’d ever smile again, but these are people that have such class, grace and faith. His mom actually looked like she was a bit relieved, not in a weird way, but in a way like, “My son’s not suffering anymore.”
Two brothers from the same family … no parent should ever bury a child. When you’re young, you think you’re going to live forever and all that shit, but that’s not the way the world works. In my own faith, I believe he’s in a better place. That was no way to live. Mike’s oldest daughter will be getting married in a few months, so I’m really glad his wife has something positive to look forward to.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is there a special memory of Mike you’d like to share?
Steve Lukather: There are so many. How do you put a lifetime in a sentence? All I know is he was one of the most acerbic, sharp- witted, intelligent people I’ve ever known. Just when everybody had exhausted every possibility of what could be said in a ridiculous situation, Mike would bat cleanup, walk into the room and eviscerate everyone in the most humorous way.
He had a devastating sense of humor and a devastating groove as a musician and was very underrated as a player because he wasn’t super flashy. I can feel my brother close by. I really can. Energy doesn’t die.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It’s so tough to lose a loved one even though you are somewhat prepared for it. How was the tour with Ringo?
Steve Lukather: It has been a ball, man. Ringo’s one of my heroes and now a very dear friend of mine. The band that he put together, going on three years, is by far the longest version of the All Starr bands that have existed. I got to write a song with just Ringo and me for his new album. We love hanging out with each other. We love playing together. It’s really a gas for me.
The Beatles are the reason why I started playing music, and I got to play with Ringo, Paul and George at some point over the years, so coming full circle is kind of a trip. I love all the guys in the band. We have a blast. It’s a great friendship and a great vibe. The music’s good. What can I say?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The music is also very good on Toto XIV!
Steve Lukather: Oh, thank you so much. I really appreciate you saying that. We worked hard on it, man. We worked really hard on it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): In the video promo for the album, you say that the band went through a lot of shit to get there …
Steve Lukather: Well, yeah, because it was born out of litigation. There was Mikey’s unfortunate illness with ALS. All of us have been through a lot of changes over the years, and to come back like this, almost forty years later, is amazing. It’s the first time this group of musicians has made a record since the 80s.
When we came through the litigation, all the shit left over from management that screwed us and all the other negatives, we decided to turn the negative into a positive. When we put our minds to do the record, we said that we had to make as good a record as we possibly could with all the tools and all the talent and all the experience we’ve had and not just phone it in for a check. We had to dispel the myth that the album was dead or the older guys had no fresh ideas and couldn’t make new music worth anything, just rehash old shit and go out and make money like a lot of classic bands have been accused of.
We said, “Bullshit!” I called bullshit on that. I’m not saying it’s not true, but we had to work at it like anything else that’s worth anything. You have to work at it. We did not accept just “okay.” We pushed ourselves. We made this record for ourselves first. Sure, we had to fulfill some business obligations, but whatever. Everybody wins in the end.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Everyone in the band is a writer and singer, so was it difficult for all the guys to get on the same page musically?
Steve Lukather: Oh yeah. Everybody is a producer, songwriter, singer, musician in their own right, so it’s like putting five bulls with one horny cow. Everybody wants to have his way with the cow (laughs). I figured I could use that as some sort of humorous anecdote (laughs). Yeah, but we push each other. We’ve known each other for forty-three years since high school, so to impress somebody with new ideas that knows all your stuff is hard to do, but it made for a better record.
We pushed each other, and sometimes we made each other angry. That’s what you do. We’re real brothers. Real families yell at each other. Then you laugh and hug. We never went to bed mad. There were some heated arguments over how things should sound, but I think in the end, it makes for better music.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Apparently it does. The sound is really great.
Steve Lukather: It’s really up to you guys, if you get it and enjoy it. So far the reviews have been stellar. What cracks me up is a few people who rip off an MP3 copy from somebody because all the legitimate ones are watermarked. An MP3 quality version is not going to sound the way we’ve mixed and mastered. There are lots of people who think they are mastering engineers or something like that.
You’ve got to be really careful not to let all the shit get under your skin. They just need to wait and get the real thing before making a critique. They say, “I’ve heard the whole record.” Well, that’s impossible. You must’ve stolen it. I don’t care if people share music, but don’t pontificate upon a subpar version of something before you actually get a chance to hear it. We worked hard on this shit!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Jeff Porcaro, who died in 1992, was such a phenomenal drummer. While making this record, did you ever think, “It would be so great if we had Jeff’s input?”
Steve Lukather: Obviously that’s impossible, but Jeff was always in the room with us because many times we thought, “What would Jeff think about this?” I think Jeff would’ve loved Keith Carlock, and they would’ve been close friends. If Jeff were still alive, a lot of things would be different in everybody’s lives. It’s a butterfly effect. You lose somebody like that, and then a lot of lives change. There are big holes in our lives where Jeff used to be, and now Mike.
It’s almost twenty-two years later, and I miss Jeff every day. I have pictures of him all over my house. He was like the big brother I never had. Now we’re dealing with Mike … I don’t know what it is, man. Something keeps drawing us back together. The band should’ve been toast a long time ago, but something keeps bringing us back, bringing the core of us back together again. And somehow we’re getting another look now, and the success is growing, not fading away.
In Amsterdam, we had an arena show of 10,500. They moved it up to 14,000 because it’s sold out. That shouldn’t happen to bands like us at this point. We’re going on the road this summer. We’re moving up again as opposed to a lot of people in our peer group. We hung in there. People are sick of the same eight bands going on the road every year in various configurations. We never jumped on that bandwagon. We were always working overseas where we could do it on our own. We’re trying to get back into the whole world’s face again, and we’ve got this great record that’s getting us really positive vibes.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Then tragedy strikes again.
Steve Lukather: It’s bittersweet. It’s very bittersweet. We’re trying to stay in the light even though … we’re just like everybody else. Everybody has family issues and losses, but there’s also great fun and successes. That’s what life is. As far as the music goes, it has kept us together in our friendship through the good, bad and the ugly.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): My favorite on the album is probably “Orphan,” just a really fun sing-along song.
Steve Lukather: My seven-year-old daughter loves that song. She makes me play it taking her to school every day. If it appeals to all age groups, then you’ve hit a nerve. If we had an extra million dollars to buy ourselves on the radio like everybody else does, we’d probably have a big hit record. At this point, we’re doing pretty well. People are buying it on iTunes.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): In the song, “Holy War,” are you saying that all war is bad?
Steve Lukather: You have to ask that question? Tell me, seriously, in history when has war ever accomplished anything really in the end? You’re just sending eighteen-year-old kids out to kill each other for profit. People you don’t know … you’re supposed to hate that person enough to kill them under the name of God? Don’t you think that if Jesus came down today, he would go, “What the fuck have you guys done? You missed the whole point!”
Am I saying you shouldn’t protect your family? No, of course not. The people that start the wars don’t fight in them. They only profit from them. Look at the Crusades. Come on. Killing in the name of God? I got into a lot of trouble talking about this because people started saying, “You liberal fucking piece of shit. Fuck you! You’re anti-Christian!” That sort of thing. No man. That’s not what I meant at all, and how dare anybody that’s never met me lay that on me. We’re making a broad stroke here, you know? I’m not trying to change the world. We watch the TV. We see the news. We’re older people now.
Many of us have multiple children, and in some cases, even grandchildren. We’re in a modern era where we’re supposed to be smart, and the world can see what the world is doing at all times. But our leaders lie to our faces in every single country, and they use God as an excuse to kill you. ISIS just fed a mother her son. What kind of sick fuck does that? I don’t think Mohammed wants you to do that. I don’t think Jesus wants you to kill everybody. That’s my personal opinion. If that makes me some fucking liberal asshole that should be shot, then fuck me. What can I say?
I’m fifty-seven years old. I’ve seen it all. My father was a marine. My uncle was in the army. I know all the horror stories. War is not good for anybody except for the people making fucking money from it. You take the money out of war, and I guarantee you people would not be doing it. That’s just my opinion, and fuck me for having one. Pretty soon in the police state of the United States we live in right now, I won’t be able to have this conversation, but at this point in the game, I care. I care what happens in the world.
We’re poisoning the world, but more people care about Kim Kardashian’s ass than the fact that the entire Pacific Ocean’s been poisoned by radiation. This is my point. We’re going, “What the fuck?” because I grew up in the peace and love hippie time where there was no racism and no war. Aren’t we smarter than this? Aren’t we more evolved as human beings? We keep doing the same things over and over again when we know it doesn’t work. We’re trillions of dollars in debt in our country. Does anybody really realize that will never ever be paid off? Yet we’re still adding to it. Everyone has blame, but no solution.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How can the country that remains so politically divided cause this change?
Steve Lukather: I’m going to be nonpartisan here. I think the extreme right and the extreme left are the same. I think that doesn’t work anymore. I think we need to be a little smarter about what world we’re leaving to our children and grandchildren. How sad for us that people don’t even fact check. The Internet’s a cesspool of misinformation and bullshit.
I have relatives I don’t speak to anymore because they believe all this crap. I’m like, “Did you factually check all this out?” God, we’re all just human beings sharing time here. It could be a nice place. That’s my point. It could be.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Social media has perhaps also played a part in misinformation and people losing friends and family because of different political/world views.
Steve Lukather: That’s right! God forbid you have a difference of opinion. If you wrote down everything I just told you, I guarantee you some motherfucker will hate my guts for it. They’ll say that I’m unpatriotic and that I’m not Christian. They don’t know me. They don’t know what my beliefs are because I made a broad statement that’s unpartisan.
I’m just speaking as a human being looking at little children going, “Okay, kids. Someday this is all going to be yours. I’m sorry I didn’t fix it for you. It’s kind of fucked up, eh? Have fun. I’ll see you in the next world.” That’s what I’m talking about. Sometimes it’s just like children playing on the playground, but with power. The people causing all this shit never really has to deal with the decision-making that effects millions and billions of people. Everybody says, “Racism is dead. Everybody is more evolved than all that.” There’s more hatred in the world now more than ever! People say some of the most inane, stupid things on TV that people take as fact, and that’s scary.
When I was a kid, you looked at the news, and there were three channels. They told you the facts, and they didn’t wink at you afterward. If there was an editorial, they’d say, “This is a personal editorial from so and so not affiliated with the channel.” What happened to facts? Anyway, that’s a lot of what the lyrics are all about.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Speaking of social media, on your Twitter page, you say that you’re a member of the most misunderstood band ever.
Steve Lukather: (laughs) I think so.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why have the critics always seemingly loved to pan the band?
Steve Lukather: I don’t know. They think we came out of punk rock because they’ve compared us to Sex Pistols. Come on. What kind of a comparison is that? It’s laughable on both sides of the fence. We’re not punk. We were musicians that studied music, and this thing happened at the same time, then the MTV thing and so forth. We had the name “Toto,” which I think didn’t help (laughs). I always kind of fought against that, but now it is what it is.
I’m happy to be in Toto. It has been very good to me. We have an incredible sense of humor about ourselves. We loved Family Guy, the South Park stuff, Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake doing all this stuff. We think it’s hilarious. How cool is that to be a part of pop culture where they take enough time to make fun of you? Family Guy did a whole episode on “Africa.” It’s funny to me. I think, “Wow! Cool!” I get the joke. We laugh at ourselves more than anybody could imagine. But some of the critical punches are based upon they’re supposed to hate us.
If you look at our history and some of these amazing stats and figure out what they were, collectively with all the people that’s been in and out of our band, we’ve been a part of 5,000 albums, 225 Grammy nominations and some of the biggest selling albums of all time like Thriller. We’ve had a lot to do with some of these records, yet we’re not even a footnote. We’re not even in the database of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as ever existing as if we’re some shitty fucking band.
Some of it used to piss us off. We’d go, “Why the fuck are you beating us up?” Now they’re on to other bands to hate. They say to us, “Look at those guys. They take forty years of shit, and you can’t kill ‘em. We’re tried, but they’re like zombies who come back from the dead!” We were working on Don Henley’s first solo album in 1980 and sitting around the table talking. At the time, we kept getting the shit beat out of us every time we did something.
I say to Don, “What the fuck?” Don said, “You know what, man? If you hang in there long enough, it’ll turn around.” Well, thirty-five years later, I’m having this conversation with you. I never thought there would be people who’d fuck with us and hate us. The people at Rolling Stone are never going to talk to us because we turned down the cover of their magazine. That pissed them off. Talk about a punk rock move. Nobody in history has ever done that. They’ll never write about it because then they’d look like assholes.
The fact that we’re having any success at all again just proves that hateful critics don’t really have that much power because most of the shit they like doesn’t ever sell. We’re not the greatest band. We didn’t change the world, but we’re not as bad as they said we were. Look at the artists we’ve worked with. If we were that bad, do you think everybody would’ve hired us?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What was your time like with Roger Waters?
Steve Lukather: You know I’m a huge Pink Floyd fan. David Gilmour is an old friend and also one of my heroes. We were working on Kingdom of Desire next door to Roger when he was working on the Amused to Death record. The engineer, James Guthrie, and I were friends, and the producer, Pat Leonard, and I were friends. I was just in the hallway, and said, “Okay. I’ve got to play on this record, man. Don’t pay me. I want to just play. Give me something to play.” They said, “Yeah, okay. We’ll give you a couple of overdubs.”
I got to play on it. That was a big thrill for me. I’m a huge fan. I took my oldest daughter to see “The Wall” (the new one) at the coliseum last year. As a mater of fact, Marc Brickman, the guy that designed the whole show, is working with us on our new tour, designing our tour right now. He’s an old friend from the Boz Scaggs days back in 1977.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): There is basically no such thing as a “session guy,” in this digital age of music, correct?
Steve Lukather: I think we were like the last generation. Jeff Porcaro and I crossed over a lot of lines. We worked with Quincy Jones and Kool & the Gang. It was the whole feeling of walking through a studio not knowing who you would play with. Those days are gone. Never going to happen again. I’m very fortunate to say that I was part of the last era of the “great session man.” All of those recording studios are gone. There’s only about a handful left.
When real musicians were hired with a real studio with vintage mikes, a great console and experienced players, engineers and producers, magic happened. But I’ve got an open mind. We worked with Skrillex. We did a collaboration that’s going to come out later in the year.
I’m open to new music, but there’s something to be said about guys sitting in a room creating music together. I’m not talking about sitting there reading little dots on pages. I’m talking about really creating new music every day in different styles, and there was no way to prepare for it. You just had to be ready.
It was fun. It was exciting, and the music was better. You had to work for it. You had to be really good to get in the game. Now with all this auto-tune time correction and creative editing, you can be crap and make a record that gets on the radio. You can be a fraud. You can be a fraud live and go out and swing your ass around because Pro Tools are playing your record, and 14,000 people paid 150 bucks to see it. I don’t get that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What keeps driving you to get on that stage night after night?
Steve Lukather: It’s the greatest high in the world. I just played in front of 80,000 people with Ringo in South America. 80,000 screaming people. That’s a rush, man. I don’t drink anymore. I don’t do drugs. I don’t smoke. I don’t do anything bad, but music gives me a great buzz.
I have a really cool job, but it’s still a job at the end of the day. I’ve been ripped off financially, but that two hours I get to walk out on stage is what it’s all about. And they pay me for that? Fucking cool. I’ll take the job. I don’t care what any smarmy ass critic has t say about me. They would suck dick on You Tube for my job.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So no regrets?
Steve Lukather: Oh, I’ve got lots of regrets. I’d love to get a few do-overs in life. I’ve made tons of mistakes, and I’ve tried to learn from them. I think, “Can I just do that part over again? It would really fix a lot of things.” I regret if I ever hurt somebody’s feelings. I wish I’d never done drugs. I wish I’d done better business when I was young. I wish I hadn’t made certain decisions in life that had a negative effect and perhaps been a little more articulate in my feelings.
I’m a sensitive person. When I talk about war and all these things, I never had to stand at the front lines and tear somebody down, saying, “It’s me or you, bud.” I’ll never know that, so I have a great deal of respect for our troops. I have a great love for them because I come from a family of soldiers.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Has it been difficult to balance family at home with life on the road?
Steve Lukather: Being that the record business was sort of stolen from us, on the road pays the bills, and I do a lot of it. I was on the road 186 days last year, and it will be 200 this year. It has had sort of a negative effect on my personal life, but I’m still best friends with all my ex-wives, as awful as that sounds (laughs). I’m not a hateful guy. I’m just never home.
We’re a very odd family, but it just seems to work for us. There’s a lot of love in the room. There’s no fighting. There are no court battles. My kids have never heard their parents yell. We like each other. We just don’t live together. The kids are groovy. I have generations of children. My oldest son just left to go on the road for two months, and my youngest son goes to nursery class (laughs).
I have a married daughter who lives in Vegas, and I have a seven-year-old daughter in first grade. That’s my life (laughs). I have an extraordinary, weird life that most people wouldn’t be able to handle. You only see me two hours on stage with people applauding. It’s more difficult behind the scenes. Let me tell you that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): When your seven year old turns eighteen and tells you she wants to go out on the road as a musician, you say …
Steve Lukather: They can do whatever. My oldest son is out there working now. My oldest daughter had no desire for music and lives a straight life. She’s very happy doing that. I’m never going to keep my kids from their passions. I was nine years old when I told my dad I wanted to be like the Beatles. He just patted me on the head and figured I’d grow out of it.
I was terrible at sports and was bulled unmercifully. The music was my shield, and I immersed myself in it. I still do every day. I still care. I still practice. I still love it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What’s next?
Steve Lukather: We’ll be on the road all summer until mid-September, out again with Ringo in mid-October, back with Toto all of 2016. There’s a lot of stuff to be done. It’s never dull at my house, When I’m off, I’m 100% dad. I love my kids so much. I pick them up from school. I do all the corny dad stuff you could ever imagine.
I love my kids, and I want to enjoy them and see my friends and enjoy life. Sometimes it’s hard, but not as hard as some people have it, so I thank God every day for my blessings. Believe me.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will there be a tribute to Mike during the tour?
Steve Lukather: He’ll be mentioned, of course, as we always mention Jeff as well. We’ll be playing from the heart for both of our brothers. It makes me sad that I won’t see Mike again in the flesh, but we can do our best to try and keep the music alive. It has brought us a lot closer together, if that’s possible.
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