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Steve Lukather

During his recent European tour with "El Grupo" Steve Lukather kindly took the time to talk about his latest project and the long-awaited new TOTO album and tour.
How did El Grupo get together and what's the story behind the name?
Well, we were all just friends in LA. I've known Joey Heredia for 25 years. He introduced me to Steve and Oskar. Last year Oskar and I got called to do a gig at the Blue Note with Nuno. We went to see Joey's band, and decided to get those guys to play with us! We had a really successful run in Japan, and we wanted to keep going. But Nuno had to finish his record so we had to stop. Check that record out, I'm sure it will be excellent! Anyway, we continued on and did a Summer Tour. The El Grupo thing came from nicknames we had for each other like "Seņor Grupo" and the band name just kind of grew out of that.
How do you pick the songs you play with El Grupo?
We never rehearse, so we just picked songs that we knew! This is a labor of love, this is not anything serious.
It's a very busy year for you with the recording of the new TOTO album, so what was the motivation for you to besides all that work to go on tour with El Grupo, even before you even had an album out?
You know I've been sitting behind a recording console with Toto all year, and I just needed to get out and play. I wasn't supposed to be here before the Toto Record was finished. And the Toto record is supposed to be done by now but we went over because we wanted to spend the time and make it great. But you know, all the recording is done. Dave and I lived through 6 or 7 mixes, and they're still sending me mixes and I'm making notes. Simon is listening from China as well. You know, the schedule's all fucked up. The story of our lives! Hahah But you know, it's almost done. It's coming along. Everything's really coming together. Many of the tracks have turned out better than what I expected. I already know what it's going to sound like - as long as Paich doesn't fuck it up! [Laughs]
In the last 12 years you've done a lot of solo touring (with the Canyman and the Luke albums, Edgar Winter, Larry Carlton, now with El Grupo), but never twice with the same band, always with different musicians. Did you do that on purpose or did it just happen?
I never really thought about it, but I guess I just have a tendency to work with different musicians so I can come away with something different from each gig and be a better musician. But we have a great chemistry with this - it's fun, it's easy. You know, these guys, they're playing and working all the time, so we have to plan things in advance. Steve is always out with Dave Weckl. This could be the last time we play together for a while. Sad to think about it! I'll be back out with Toto before long, and you know, that will be a whole different level. Huge production - screens, visuals, all kinds of stuff. It's going to be some expensive-looking shit!
As you just said, the new TOTO album is almost finished and you've been working on it for a very long time. What would you say are the major differences between this album and the previous albums like Mindfields or Tambu?
Well, I think we've written much better material! We spent like 9 months making this record, and it was a 99% band-written record. We knew there was great expectations from the fans. You know, the last record was a fun little record, but we got complaints that we couldn't write our own songs, you know. Mindfields was cool, but it wasn't great. And now of course we have Greg Phillinganes in the band, whose brought new life to song writing and intensity. Steve Porcaro came back and was very involved in the record. We even had Joseph Williams come back and sing with us! Lenny Castro was there as well. The sessions were just really inspiring, and it was just a lot of fun to work with everyone again. We did it all in Simon's new studio, and he did a great job cutting the tracks. We're very proud of it, and I think it's our best work in many, many years. So far the reaction we've been getting is "Holy shit, that's you guys?" And that's the desired reaction. We're not trying to write hit singles. We're trying to write music that we will be proud of and dig to listen to ourselves. We've listened to the criticisms and read them on various message boards and people sending mean personal emails and shit. Some of it is very valid! So we DO pay attention! Not the mean shit!
Some of the songs like "Bottom of Your Soul" are very long with 8 minutes, others like "Simple Life" with 2.20 minutes are extremely short. How do you decide if a song will be 2 or 8 minutes long? At what stage of the composing or recording process do you know if a song should be shorter or longer and what are the factors that determine this decision?
When you're writing is when you find out. Could be 8 minutes, could be 2 minutes. Why not? We wanted to stretch out, and we didn't have any constrictions. We don't have a record companies pressuring us to get a hit single. And at our age, that would be very hard to do, since they all cater to 17 year olds! They shouldn't do that tho, because the people who get all the money are the people are older!
Your ex singer Joe Willams is featured on one of the songs of the new album, but generally it's rather unusual that a band invites an ex member to a new production. Do you have any plans of continuing to work with Joe in the future, it seems you all get along very well now and even Joe and Bobby rather seem to be friends than competitors.
Well Joe is really special. There are a few singers that, you know, if I never see them again, I don't care. No disrespect, it's just these are people that I didn't have anything in common with. Joseph always had a strong bond with the band musically. I mean, he's an old friend from highschool. I've known him since I was 15. And we made some very successful records with him. You know, we had a bit of a rough spot, but we've all been down that road. I was certainly not innocent myself! We ran into each other somewhere - it's never been ugly with Joe, it's never been like "Fuck You" and he never went out on the road doing Toto songs like "Mr. Toto" or anything -- he has his own talent and he doesn't have to ride on our coat tails. That sort of thing is ridiculous and embarassing, especially when we see guys that used to be in our band doing that kind of thing. I don't get it. But, Joe... we've always had the utmost respect for Joseph, so we asked him if he wanted to come in and record a tune with us. The fans have always been saying to bring Joseph back, and Bobby loved the idea. He came in for one day, and he had some brillian ideas for harmonies, and he sang his balls off! We had a lot of laughs talking about the old days. I definitely see us working together again, definitely! Not at this very moment, as he's got a great TV and Film career and prefers to hang at home. But we've discussed it. He'd love to come out and do a show or two. Maybe for our 30th Anniversary we'll drag out Joe and Steve Porcaro and make a DVD for old times' sake. We'll see what happens. But we'll definitely work together again. With both of them! Steve and Joe definitely. On whatever project, in whatever capacity, cuz I love them both! Steve is fucking brilliant man!
And it seems Steve Porcaro has never really left the band. He worked on every album!
Yeah! But he really stepped up this time. I told him to break out all the old polyfusion shit, and we just let him run with it. We'd send him the tracks, and he would send back some mind-blowing stuff.
Any chance Steve would tour again with you?
Well he's been working on his TV and Film career as well, and you know, you need to stay home to do that. You can't leave for 6 months, or you lose your clients. He makes a great living doing it, and he's got little babies now! So he needs to stick around. Plus he had a bit of an illness last year, but he's okay now! He had a tough year, but he's okay now. Maybe we could get him out for like a year or something, but we'll have to see. But you know - I'm just rambling, we haven't made ANY plans yet! It would be something cool to do a special event, but nothing permanent. Would definitely be fun!
How big was Greg Phillinganes influence on the new songs regarding composing and recording? What new "elements" did he add to this album?
He brought a whole new energy and a lot of new ideas. And it really made us all step it up a bit. And he's so excited to be in the band, and that rubbed off on all of us. It was a burst of new energy. It was a blast to record, lots of laughts. We wrote, rewrote, wrote again, wrote in the studio. We'd come into the studio in the morning with nothing and we'd leave at the end of the day with a whole track. Bobby would start writing first-draft lyrics on a lot of the stuff. But you know, we were also all working on other projects at the same time, so we've all been really busy.
And now you have four keyboarders on this record!
Including me! To be honest, this is not a flashy guitar record! You know I wrote some really cool rifs and stuff that I think are not typical, but I'm not going crazy. I let the keyboards shine. That was one of the complaints we'd read - "where are the keyboards?" So here they are, we're giving them to you! I mean, I have some cool moments, but it's just not about me shredding on guitar. That's why I have El Grupo. In Toto I'm doing what's right for the compositions. My solo on Dying On My Feet was one take, and everyone just loved it. We tried to keep it loose for when we play it live. You know, we just sat in a room and played it. It isn't pro-tooled out. Pro-tools is great when you're recording vocals for edits and copying, but we'd rather sit in a room and play to get a take. You know, vocals were Dave, Greg, Bobby, and I. Steve McMillan is doing a great job mixing. And we've got a really cool, different cover. It's nothing like anything we've done. We were going to go back to sword-world, but I said that I thought it was time to move on. And we've got some great photos. Pamela Springsteen, Bruce's sister, she did all of our black and white portraits. We look like old jazz musicians! There's no point in us wearing skulls and pretending we're rockstars anymore. You know, there are these aging rockstars that still think they can fit into the spandex and tight shirts.... we decided to leave that shit behind!
The fans continue to ask about David Paich. Is there any chance for the fans in Europe that David might join you here for a show again one day or will he only play live with you in the States from now on?
Davida! Not this tour. He's got some serious issues back home. I'm sure you'll see him again. He's not gonna retire, he's still in the band, and he's still very involved. But he just doesn't want to do the tour thing as much anymore. That's why we got Greg involved. A lot of people miss Dave, I know I do! But you have to respect the man's life. There's more to life than traveling on a bus, he had some intense issues to deal with.
Do you have any information on when FiB will be released in the US?
We're finalizing a deal, but we're hoping it will all be at the same time.
Can you tell us your plans for the Falling In Between Tour?
We're putting together a whole new system, new technology. Screens all over the place. I haven't seen the diagrams yet, but I'm really excited about it. We'll do about a month of rehearsals in LA, we'll do a couple of real low-key shows in California to try out the setlist and see how the set is working. Then we'll go to London to do some production rehearsals at Hammersmith - the Apollo. And then we're off! And we WILL be back! This is only the first leg. We'll do 3 legs. The first leg is the big cities. We'll do a festival leg in the summer, and then we'll come back in the fall for all the places we missed. And we'll also do the US, Asia, like Japan and Singapore. Unless the planet blows up by then! It's a bit intense watching CNN recently.
So the fans who miss the first leg don't have to worry.
Definitely not. Over the course of two years, everyone will see us. We always come back. We like to do the tours in spurts now. Trust that we will come to your neighborhood soon. Even in the US! We have brand new agents, so we're trying to break into the market there again as well. We broke the attendance record at the New York State fair - 12,000 or so. It's just a matter of finding the right agents.
Thanks for sitting down with us Luke.
Thank you everybody! New record's coming soon! Just a few more mixes, tweaking the artwork. Coming soon!

© 2005