TOTO - Official Website - TOTO Interviews

Simon Phillips



During the European summer tour 2006 we met Simon to talk to him about the current tour and a look back at his tim with TOTO as well as his olans for further solo projects.
Simon, with the release of Falling In Between and the subsequent tour, youíve been hard at work for the better part of a year. Now, 6 months after the release and right in the midst of the tourís summer leg, how are you feeling?
Well, right now, we are just coming to the end of a 10 week run. Itís been quite a busy year. I started work on this tour on January 11th, and there was a lot of technical stuff to prepare, and I got into that pretty quickly. When we do new songs off any record, we have to get all of the sounds off the multi-tracks, figure out the arrangements, sort out the lyrics Ö. And of course, then we had rehearsals, as the first gig was February 24th, so yeah, weíve been going at it pretty hard. Also from a personal point of view, I had a son in June, so every time I went home after the tour, it wasnítÖthe most relaxing time, especially the 2 weeks we had off before he was born and especially the 2 weeks after he was born. And then all of the sudden I was leaving home to start this tour and Iím on a plane.

I wouldnít say the tour has been horrendously busy in terms of back to back shows; itís the fact that itís over such a long period of time. Itís a long show; the full show is just over 2 hours, and everything is starting to catch up with us a bit now, and weíre all pretty tired.

But otherwise, we are very pleased with the way that all the gigs have gone, especially in Germany. The German shows have all been really good, and I just talked to our management about the fact we felt that we made all the right choices with regards to the type of gigs that we did accept and the gigs that we declined. I would say that there was one show in Germany that maybe I was a little concerned about. I thought it was too small and I thought we shouldnít have played it, but all the other shows have been fantastic. So I am very happy... but tired.
Do you feel kind of blessed that you have the chance to travel the world and play live, or is it sometimes like a burden if you have so many shows in a row or so many months in a row.
You know I still love it, I still love it very much. Yes, it gets a bit much sometimes. I guess, the only thing I have problem with playing live is the repetition. We are always playing the same songs. And you would think, that even going out on a jazz tour, like when I go out with my Fusion band or Jazz band, you would think that might be betterÖ Itís not. Itís the same thing; you are still playing the same songs, even if there is more room to improvise. Itís funny that when you play shows night after night, sometimes that improvisation gets too planned out. I love playing when we havenít played for 4 weeks. And sometimes even though I may be a little out of practice and even if I havenít touched a drum kit, there is something about playing where it is all very fresh and new.
So, has TOTO considered changing the set, or would it be too difficult because of the pre-programmed lights, etc?
If it were my band and I were running the show, I would do that. Just like The Who do. When we did The Who tour, every night we had a different set list. I mean there was a skeleton set list of course, but every night, nobody would know what the set was until Pete and Roger had discussed it.
That sounds like it could work very well with Toto, especially considering the vast library of material.
Absolutely. But thereís a couple of people in the band who are just not very flexible when it comes to that sort of thing, and they love it to be exactly the same every night. But I would change it. Definitely. Iíd say, ďHey guys, letís do this one tonight.Ē But youíve got to be in the right frame of mind and youíve got to have played those songs not too long ago. But, yeah, I would love that.
How would this work in terms of equipment and effects? Toto is a very technical band; could this fact make it more difficult to play all of these different songs seemingly at random?
No, as I said, as long as we prepare for it, itís no problem. Same with the sound engineer, same with the lighting designer, if youíve got good people, itís just a question of wanting to do it. If you want to do it, it would be absolutely no problem. But thatís the thing about touring, the repetition, night after nightÖ. but I have to say I still love touring and the travelling, especially to new or out of the way places.
As you were recording the album, were you considering which of the new songs would work best for the tour, or was the recording process itself a completely independent process?
Totally independent. I mean, sometimes I think ďoh, this song will sound really good liveĒ, but really thatís it. Itís all about the record, producing the record. Some people might think ďhow are we going to do that live?Ē and my answer is ďitís a record; itís totally different to live.Ē You will figure it out. If you want to do this song or that song, you will find a way. Because itís different when you watch a band and you have a visual to when you put the phones on or sit in front of the speakers and listen, just like when you watch a movie or music video. ThereĎs a lot of stuff that you can get away with audiowise that you would notice if there were audio only. So no, I never really think about how it would be live. I just concentrate on the album.
So the set list decision was made later then, when you started rehearsals?
No, actually before rehearsing, we usually figure out the set list so we know which songs to learn. Because you have to remember that some of the songs we hadnít played, like ďFalling in Between.Ē We hadnít played that since March the year before, so nearly one year later weíve got to figure out how we are going to do this song. So we sit down and listen to the CD write down some chords and figure out how to play it again.

In fact for this tour, Luke and I had quite a few conversations before we came to a consensus about what songs we thought would work. Before we met, I sat down and put together a set list, and I started with a skeleton of the ones that I thought we have to do, ones that I thought we should do, and ones we should stop playing because we did them on the last tour. Luke came up to the studio, and I said, ďHereís a set list,Ē and Luke looked at it, and he was kind of amused and said, ďWhoa, okay, interesting, thatís good.Ē The only grey area was that I knew that we wanted to do a medley, and that was the thing I left empty. I said to Luke ďThis is your job, you come up with some ideas for that,Ē and he said ďOkay, greatĒ and he immediately came up with something. I put the songs from the CDs in Pro Tools, messed around with them, and together we came up with an arrangement, and suddenly we had a set list before starting rehearsals.

Itís always a good thing to have a clear idea and a vision in your mind about what kind of set you want to play, and we pretty much agreed about all the songs we should do off the new record. Some of the band wanted to do other songs, but I said ďHey look, I donít think this is really going to work live.Ē Sometimes we rehearse it, we can play it the first show, and we decide to dump it. You just kind to get a feeling of which songs will work live.
So does this happen a lot? Youíll pick a song, rehearse it, put it in the set, but then after the first show, it just doesnít work anymore?
Sometimes, yes, but on this tour, we didnít change one thing, except we were going to do ďSpiritual Man.Ē We actually filmed Dave, and had him up on the screen and it was all prepared and ready to go. However, we had a technical problem and it didnít quite work out. Unfortunately, other people got involved, and I was trying to mastermind it, but there were just too many people editing it, and in the end, it just didnít sync up. And when we got to Hammersmith, we rehearsed it and Luke actually was the one who said ďhey guys, I am really worried about this, I think this is wrong.Ē And you know what, funny enough I was caught up in the technical production of the tour, and I was kind of relieved and I said ďI have no problem with that.Ē We were a little behind in our production. Andy Doig, the lighting guy, was behind in his programming for the first show, and we just thought ďletís make it easier on ourselves, weíll bring it back if we need to.Ē Thatís the only change we made. The rest of the set list is exactly the same. Just the ending of the show we changed as it didnít work. Sometimes we do a shorter set, but otherwise, that first set list just seemed to work and I am very pleased about it.
So you had ďAfricaĒ at an earlier time of the show in the first place?
No, no, we always had it at the end of the show, itís just how we ended it.
This was a brilliant idea, slowly leaving the stage one at a time.
That was just a concept I had and I wanted to finish the show in a different way. But we couldnít quite get the ending right - we tried it but it didnít work. We had a couple of other ideas, and I suddenly thought ďmaybe we should just do it this way, letís just go very simpleĒ and it worked, and everyone loves it. Itís a different way to end a show but I am happy that everybody, especially Luke, went with it.
Some people have noticed some changes in your drum kit for this tour
Oh yes they have, havenít they!
Can you explain to us what you have changed and why you made the changes?
Well, the only changes really are the cymbal setup and the type of cymbals I am using. I think thatís it. First of all, I used to use all A-Customs by Zildjian. Weíve been working on a new prototype cymbal which is a lot more like the 60`s and 70ís vintage Zildjians. Due to the manufacturing process, pretty much anything in the world now, especially instruments, are different. One of the reasons is, they have to be different because the laws have changed, laws of waste, laws of energy. Also demand, they make a lot more now, there is a lot more automation involved.

So therefore Iíve noticed the change in cymbals. A lot of the cymbals I own are actually quite old. Unlike some drummers, I donít use lots of new cymbals. I prefer my old sets. I take care of them, and I very rarely break a cymbal. We try to keep them nice and clean, but they are quite old. Consequently, when I get new cymbals, they are just so different. Iíve been complaining a little bit to Zildjian about this, so theyíve decided to come up with a new range of cymbals which are more like the old ones of the late 60ís.

They came up with some prototypes and the best way to test them is to use them. And they are different, sometimes I miss a certain sound that I get from the A-customs, but they have something else to offer, so thatís kind of the reason for changing. In a sense, I am field testing at the moment.

And also I changed the set up a little bit. I just do that occasionally. Funny enough, right now itís like I used to have it long time ago like in the 70ís and early 80ís.

Thatís really the only change. I decided to put the Falling In Between symbols on a white head on the front of the bass drums just to keep the theme of Falling in Between a little bit more apparent, and I think itís cool, even though itís only the real fans who really pay attention who know what those two signs mean, so itís kind of cool to see how fans are really into itÖ and the only other thing I am using on this tour is a new signature snare drum which will come out next year which is a wooden drum.
Well, people notice even the smallest changes
Yes, I was amazed about itÖitís great, I mean I would have noticed those changes when I was a kid. I noticed every little change that Billy Cobham made to his drum kit so I guess itís the same.
14 years ago, Jeff Porcaro died. When you were asked to join the band, did you ever believe that youíd be with them permanently, now 14 years later?
No, not at all. Youíve got to remember, back then nobody in the band knew what the hell was going to happen. I donít think anybody really thought that the band would continue. When I stepped in to those rehearsals in August or September, as far as I was concerned I was literally just filling in for those 3 months just to get this tour done and promote the record.

In addition, I was going through an enormously stressful personal time. I was just about to start divorce proceedings, I had left England, which I was going to do anyway. So there was an awful lot going on personally so in a way when I was thinking about whether I should do the tour, it very much had to do with getting me away from reality for a bit. It was so unexpected, of course a lovely chance to play in a wonderful band with great musicians. And do something a little bit different. It was a very interesting time actually, but no, I had no idea that the guys were considering continuing, that they were considering continuing with me, and no, I would not have thought 14 years later I would be in the position I am in the band now.
And what was the situation in 1993, when they actually asked you to stay as a regular member? At that point you probably knew that they had plans for another studio record and wanted to continue with the band.
Funny enough, it was only about 2 or 3 weeks into the tour when Mike started making overtures about me joining the band Ė to me. And I think while the tour went on and as everybody became more comfortable with how it sounded I think the other guys realized that it was working.
And the fans were very positive about everything
In a way that was probably the thing I least expected. I was doing what I do, which was learning new music and playing it. I have been in that situation many, many times, especially filling in for another drummer, but I had done that before too, especially with The Who.

What I didnít take into consideration were the fans and the fanbase. I had a little bit of it with The Who, but it wasnít so profound maybe because the Who shows were much bigger as we were playing to 50-60.000 a night. And apart from recognizing the first two rows at every concert, you had very little contact with fans as there was a lot of security that kept them away. I mean they were outside the hotel and stuff, but I couldnít believe the amount of dedicated fans that this band (TOTO) had. And I think when we first arrived in Rotterdam, which I think was the third show of the Kingdom of Desire tour I was like ďwhoa!Ē I hadnít anticipated this and I was a little bit nervous, as all these guys were probably following the band for years and are very big Jeff fans. But I felt like I was pretty readily accepted, and I had a lot of fans over here anyway from previous stuff, so maybe some people came to see TOTO who maybe hadnít seen them before. A lot of fans who would come to see this band would probably come to see the stuff I have done, because if you are into music I think they would have probably recognized me from a Mike Oldfield concert or Pete Townsend. But it was certainly something I hadnít thought about. I was so concentrated on playing the show, learning the music, doing the job, and knowing it was really tough for the other guys, especially since the band was so tight-knitted too and is more of a family than other bands. So I just tried to concentrate on doing the best I could to make the whole vibe as good as I could for everybody. But I think by the end of that tour, I had a pretty good idea that they wanted to carry on. It just was not official. And they wanted to do some more shows, the US, South America, and they finally said, ďWell, we want you to be in the band.Ē And I thought that this is fantastic. Thereís a lot of things I loved about the way the band operated, management and Martin Cole, our tour manager, the crew and I was very impressed about the whole organization. So I thought ďyeah, you know what, thatís maybe the thing you should doĒ and it was great.
How do you explain the fact that TOTO is very big in Europe and Asia but has hard times in the English speaking countries like UK, USA or Australia
Oh boy, the million dollar question. Hereís the thing. Itís a bit of a knock-on effect. The band toured the states in the early times but not that much from what I understand. The band was broken in Europe from what I understand in Holland., mainly with the help of Alfred Lagarde.

So there was a lot of help from radio stations and the record companies were a lot more helpful in Europe in the different countries too. In the States, after those Grammys were won, there was some problem with some of the people in the band and people in the record company. What happens is that people leave record companies and others come in. And I think there was a lot of political bullshit and a bit of personal stuff, maybe a grudge or something, so Sony, or Epic at that time, in the States decided to try to bury the band. Without the help of the record company in the States you are finished, in the traditional sense. Itís changing now a bit but you really donít have much of a chance. The band started coming over to Europe and based on the success of radio play and the couple of hits over here, they started playing more shows and bigger shows and they kept coming back and building this wonderful fan base. So I think it just dropped off in the States.
And why did it never really work out in the UK?
The UK follows the States in terms of musical things. If itís cool in the States itís probably cool in the UK. The UK likes to think of itself not as Europe, especially in musical terms. Even if the UK does produce some of the worstÖbestÖworst boy bands in the world and some of the kind of bubblegum music, but generally it likes to follow the trends of the US, especially when it comes to rock bands. And therefore if itís not happening in the States, it probably wonít happen in the UK as itís not cool.
But if you are doing shows in the UK, they are usually sold out and a lot of UK fans often wonder why you donít play there more.
We canít sell tickets over there like we can in Europe. When we do a UK show, itís very carefully and strategically planned.
And it works for this one show, but it wonít work for 10 more?
Yes. The reason we didnít do another show this year was that we werenít actually convinced we could sell out 2 shows. Like Manchester and London. If we are playing a bigger place in London, we needed to make sure that this one is a really good seller. And the festival thing, for some reason we just donít get asked to do the more festival type of shows over there. Yeah, we have a fan base in England, but itís not enough, unfortunately. Also, because of that, it becomes a logistical problem, it becomes a very expensive problem for us, to have all the equipment, the trucks, crew, etc. then everything and everybody has to get on a ferry to get over to Europe. It slows down the way of getting to Europe and therefore the costs go up. Itís a decision, unfortunately, our management knows itís not really going to work. Unfortunately itís a bit of the chicken and egg thing. We can probably do 2 shows, but on this tour we felt best to do just one, however we will probably do another show in the UK next year. I hope so.
And presumably thatís also the problem with Australia, shipping the crew and equipment and everything down under.
It really, really is. It doesnít really pay off. The reason we could do Australia the last tour was that we were fairly close. Do we make any money out of those two shows? No, we cover our expenses. We really donít make any money, we just break even. We wanted to do these shows as we did in 1992, so we did them. And we did two large clubs and, boy, were they sold out and we had two great shows. But in order to make money we need to do a lot more shows over there and we need to pull more people then and weíve got to be somewhere close so that the shipping is not too high. Itís tough.
After you joined Toto, it was more an on and off thing. You did solo projects and tours, as did Luke. This has certainly changed over the last 5 or 6 years, as Toto has been very active. Now weíre hearing Toto have started scheduling dates for 2007 for the 30th Anniversary. Was turning all of your focus to Toto a conscious decision, or did it just happen that way?
No. You know what it is, itís really the state of the music business. The music business has changed. None of us are really doing any sessions to speak of. Luke and I probably do the most sessions out of the band, and Greg as well, as thatís been his business for a long time. For us, really, the only thing now we do that we can earn a living at is Toto. I run a studio in LA, and itís REALLY tough. Even though I would much prefer to have the time, certainly, to continue doing some solo records and other things, it just doesnít make any financial sense. So weíve got to a state where Toto is ďour thing.Ē There are hardly any sessions any more in LA, Nashville, or New York. Itís come to a much smaller circle, there are less records being made. Budgets are atrociously low Ė laughable, in fact. You just throw up your hands and say, ďI canít do it!Ē Not for that kind of money. I mean, it doesnít even pay for the cost of the studio! So, really, in that scenario, Toto is the only thing we have that really earns a decent living. On the other side, funnily enough, demand has grown. Even our management is baffled at some of the offers weíre getting now, they are the best offers weíve ever had. Weíre actually even having to turn down stuff! We just canít do it because weíre already booked.

Weíve had half-hearted conversations about moving to Europe, because, really, this is where we do our work. My wife is European, I wouldnít mind having a house somewhere in Europe and spending a little more time here. And politically, the way the States is goingÖ. itís not like it used to be. LA is still lovely, and I love the fact that some of the greatest musicians in the world live here, but itís just not the same. As a place to live in, itís really changing. And politically, itís a mess. I donít like the way itís becoming so isolated from the rest of the world. Iím a little bit disappointed. Iím hoping thatís going to change and weíll get some one else into office to shake America up. SoÖ. Europe, thereís a lot more work for us over here.

Luke and I are the only ones that have a solo career, but it still doesnít make any sense. I put together a tour a few years ago, but I had to cancel it because the offers werenít paying for the cost of the tour! Prices went up, wages went up, trucking, bussesÖ.yet offers were lower. Both tours I did I subsidized, and I know Luke did too. I know a lot of people loved it and we had a great time. Same with the recordsÖ Itís a shame. But, I still want to do it from a creative point. But, thatís the reality. So weíve committed to make Toto our main gig.
So you have thought of solo projects?
Oh, absolutely. Itís all in my head. I even know who I want on the records! And where to do it. But first of all, I have to write material, and that will take a while, at least a few months, and Iíd really need to concentrate on it. I canít do it with all of this touring going on. I do want to record in different towns. I want to go to New York and use some New York musicians. Get some European musicians, and make it more like a ďworld record.Ē I really have a concept and idea. Itís just a question of time, financing, and marketing. I donít think in the future the album, as we know it, is going to exist. So what do you do? Record a couple of tunes and put them on the Net? I donít want to do all that work and have it disappear in a few months.

You know, with Falling In Between, we spent 10 months making that record. Where is it now? It did very well by todayís standards, but by yesterdayís standards, dismal. So itís very difficult to know whatís going on in terms of selling music. I think itís a great album, one of our best. Iíve seen reviews that say itís the best since Toto IV, but I wish that the sales would reflect that. Itís weird, it just didnít really have a shelf life.

You know, the way radio has changed so much and the play time is limited, maybe people just donít know about it.
Yeah. I mean, I know the record will be around for a long time. Weíll look back and it will still be good music. But I wish there were a way to promote a little bit more. Itís been great for the tour, of course, though. The gigs in Germany have been very well attended. You know, how much did that have to do with us doing Wetten Dass, I donít know.
I think that was really important, not only for the tour, but for the album sales going up for a few weeks.
Didnít help that much, actually. Maybe a couple of thousand more copies.
Well, there were 16 Million people watching that show, and I bet 90% didnít even know that Toto were still around. Itís not the Toto audience that it needed to reach.
You know, Iíve heard some interesting things about that show. Because we tried to do something different, we tried to do it live. And some people complained that the sound wasnít that great, and I thought it really was. And people have said, ďDid you play that live?Ē But a lot of people are not used to hearing Africa with Greg, or especially, with Dave singing it NOW. Theyíre used to it from 25 years ago. But this is a point we need to make. It DOESNíT sound like that anymore. If Iíd had my own way, I would have only played Bottom of Your Soul. But, we were requested to play 2 of the older songs as well. But Iím not sure if the mentality of that was right. Does it matter if people know who the band are? Maybe if it was just the new song, people would have just loved that Ė maybe it wouldnít matter that weíve been around forever.
I also think it would have been better to just play Bottom of Your Soul. It wasnít necessary to play the old stuff.
I think itsí just better to promote it as a new song, and if people know the band or not, it doesnít matter. But THEY asked, they requested it. But, itís very difficult to know what to do all the time, and sometimes we might make the wrong decision.

But getting back to the attendance, in Germany, everyone knows the new songs. Theyíre all singing Bottom of Your Soul and King of the World. So I guess weíre doing something right.
Youíve worked with Derek Sherinian on his new album Ė writing, and producing. Would you like to do more of that?

Oh, absolutely! I miss it tremendously. Like I was saying with the live music, the repetitive nature of it, itís not creative. I love going into the studio and creating something new music, recording, producing, etc. I wish I could spend 6 months touring and 6 months at home. That would be ideal. The last few years it has been impossible. And Derek was asking me to do a lot more than that. I think I mixed 3 and a half songs. I was trying to do 4, and I just didnít have time. I did what I could, and it just happened that the mixes came together really quickly and they were sounding good very quickly as well. But I started a 4th mix, and I told Derek that that was all I had time for and that he needed to finish it off. The 3 that I did I really enjoyed, and it was really fun. Iíd love to do more and with other artists as well. If I have the time.
Are there any plans to re-release any of your old albums because a lot of them are out of print right now.

Oh, yes there are. Well, I do and I donít. I have all of the rights to the records now, but I refuse to put them out until I have someone who can really invest in some marketing and get them out there. But really, I havenít had time to do it. I started putting the first record together. Itís not mastered yet, but itís sequenced. The artwork is almost done. But, itís all in a pile in the office. I get home and Iím exhausted Ė I just donít have the energy. I really want a record company to come and ask to re-release all that stuff. But I just donít have the time, the energy, or the knowledge to do all that stuff. I like building and making the music; I donít like selling or marketing it. The only new thing thatís come out is this DVD I did, and it actually came up for an award at the annual DVD awards. It was nominated in 2 sections. Video Independent Label and Audio Independent Label. That was really cool that it got that far. Itís a great sounding DVD. Itís a pretty good looking DVD, but the concept of it was not as a performance DVD. It wasnít live in front of an audience, it was more live in the studio. From a video perspective, a few things could have been better, but from the audio side, it sounds great.
Do you think thatís the future? 5.1 rather than stereo?

I really wish it were, because I love surround sound. But unfortunately, itís kind of dying a death already. Surround for theatre is fine, but for music only, itís a small market. Real audiophile buffs are not into it yet Ė they still want 2 speakers, and vinyl. Iíd love to be doing 5.1 stuff, as thatís what my studio is configured to do. I was hoping to do a lot more of that, but so far, I donít really see it. I thought it would have a lot bigger impact than it really does. At the end of the day, not that many people really have surround systems. Itís really surprising.
The market is still too small?

Yep, but there is a small market of people Ė lawyers, doctors, etc Ė who REALLY need content and who are total fanatics. Thatís who we make this stuff for. Itís really confusing, and Iím not sure where the business is going as far as that scenario. But Iím disappointed in it. I had hoped it would catch on. It really sounds fantastic, and it gives you a whole new perspective on the music.

© www.simon-phillips.com 2006