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TOTO 2004 Playing a whole show with a symphony orchestra was quite an experience for TOTO as Luke and David told us right before the Atlanta show.
Whose idea was it to play with orchestras? Was this a band idea, or were you asked?
David: It started back on the first album. It was really a collective effort. I can't say that it was my idea, and I don't think anyone else can either. We would all say and be in agreement on questions like, 'should we use an orchestra here, or should we use synths?'
Luke: Well, Dave's simplifying. I remember when we first sat down and we were doing the album - the first album - we wanted to make it orchestral. We wanted to do things that other rock bands don't normally do - adding horns, adding strings, and expanding the sound of simple rock and roll. So actually there weren't too many people other than us that had done that.
David: Elton John had done some of that.
Luke: Yeah we were really fired up by Elton's work.
David: You have to understand, this was before they had samplers and those kinds of things. All there was at the time was synths, orchestra, and loud guitar.
So this has been in the works since the beginning then?
David: Yup, since the first album. We definitely used orchestra on the first album.
Luke: We also did this kind of thing in 1994 during the Night of the Proms. That was the first time we really thought about fully incorporating an orchestra into the full set and into the full record. This last time with Night of the Proms really showed us that this was the way to go. Some of that orchestral sound is really rockin.
So, could we see at some point a Toto record with a full orchestra behind it on every track? Or perhaps another live recording from the Symphony Tour?
Luke: Well, some of it.
David: Maybe, possibly a live album, if we have something good for them to play. This is only the beginning, the first concert in the mainland States to kind of n urture and kind of plant the seed. We like the challenge, we want the challenges, and we're constantly looking for new ways to challenge ourselves. It's a challenge to play with an orchestra. I think people hear more of what Toto really sounds like when we're with an orchestra and you have to play together. And we're going to start writing more stuff just for orchestra stuff, like the overture and things like that. That way we have stuff for the people that come to see Toto, and also for the people that come just to see the orchestra.
Luke: For us to play in the United States has always been difficult. We hardly ever do it because it's so hard on us financially. It just isn't financially viable. You know, we end up breaking even and not making any money or losing money, and not getting in front of any people because we get no promotion. And we have such a bad rap as a suck ass pussy band. People think that we're all about ballads. But if you come to see the show, people realize that that's not what we really are. We have an entire repertoire. But getting back to the orchestra thing, for us to play in the United States, getting on the run like this, we could sell out shows. We sold out two shows like that already in Hawaii. I don't know what we're gonna do tonight. I know it's gonna be good though! But, I mean, we're just breaking in to this market. We don't want to go out all the time and play the House of Blues across America because those are open for other bands. That's not what we want to do and it isn't financially good for us. We don't want to be on the road for 6 months and not make any money.
I heard that they've sold close to 3000 tickets so far tonight. That's a pretty substantial number in the US.
Luke: I think they'll end up doing 3500 because it's such a great day. We've been blessed with an awesome day, so hopefully we'll get a lot more. I don't think we'll sell the place out, but we're happy so far. It's gonna look good.
David: Also, we haven't played here for a very long time. Especially with a symphony. So hopefully we have a good turn out and that it gets reviewed well. We hope people will see that there's a "new Toto" here.
What kind of prep work goes in to playing with a full symphony orchestra?
David: First of all, I have to say that the band has to get into a mindset - needs to get adjusted. When you're playing with 6 people, that's one thing, but when you're playing with 90 all with different acoustic instruments, that's 90 people you have to listen to. We have to adjust the volume.
Luke: Speaking of which, there's a 97 db limit.
David: 87. 87.
Luke: 87? Oh my God. That's a snare drum.
David: That's about the level we're talking right now.
Luke: Seriously. A rock band playing at 87... That's Simon's drum set acoustics. Playing without a PA.
David: That's when guys mix on small speakers. It's about that volume.
Luke: That's exactly right. It's a drag. If you want to feel the power, you can't, and they won't allow it. They just turn your shit off.
So even when playing without the orchestra tonight, will you have those volume constrictions?
David: Yeah, it all comes from the same station and gets microphoned through the house engineer. It will be interesting to hear how it all comes out. But yeah, we will play some tunes without the orchestra.
Luke: But Dirk's there too. He's our sound guy - definitely one of the best in the world. He doesn't do many with us, just once in a while. But he's great, we're lucky to have him.
So it will be another TOTO year?
Luke: Yes
Who wrote the arrangements for the orchestra? Do you use the original ones or is everything new?
David: There was a guy in Antwerp who wrote a lot of the arrangements for the Night of the Proms stuff. Chris Gordon had written a show for us in the original Night of the Proms, and a lot was adapted from that stuff. And all of that had been adapted from the original charts that I had done with James Newton Howard and my father on Toto IV and Toto I.
So the orchestra has some of the originals?
Luke: Some of the original stuff. The chart is right off the record. If there's ever a record with some strings, those are the charts that the orchestra will get.
David: Like I said, this has been a work in progress. A lot of times we'll use just a string section, or maybe just some French horns. But here it gets expanded to 90 pieces - bassoons, oboes, harps, and all kinds of different instruments.
Will performing with an orchestra make it possible to perform songs live that have not been played in the past because they sounded too 'thin' with only 5 band members.
David: I think it does, absolutely. Otherwise you're hearing our adaptation with keyboards. And a full orchestra really rocks. There's nothing like hearing the tune with a 90 person band. I think you hear Toto more the way it is like that.
How do these shows here differ from the Night of the Proms shows?
David: Not a whole lot, other than the fact that it's so much longer. You know we do half an hour at Proms. A lot of it is the Proms idea but with more songs. More progressive stuff - like Better World. We're definitely getting musically progressive and adventurous.
Luke:Also, we're at the mercy of how good the Orchestra is. The Hawaiian Orchestra was great. We brought over that conductor to work with the orchestra here.
David: And that's the thing. It's the little bit of the sure factor that makes it electric. We only have a few hours to rehearse with the orchestra before the show. Normally orchestras rehearse for a few days. There's definitely going to be things that these guys are going to have to be site reading tonight. It's always a first time thing.
Luke: There're certainly potential for mistakes.
David: But symphony players are known to universally come through for the performance.
How do you rehearse with the orchestra? Do they get your sheet music before and start working on their parts or do you work it all out together once you get there?
David: I believe they've had the sheet music for a week, but I'm not sure if they've seen it yet.
Luke: I guarantee they haven't.
David: I know they haven't rehearsed it at all.
Luke: A lot of times though, they assume that stuff we have is going to be really easy. But we have some REALLY difficult stuff to play. You know, there's some really hard stuff.
David: Stuff like the Josh Groban stuff is a lot of long notes - whole notes. Here we have a lot of quick notes, and the timing has to be gotten exactly right. This is why we brought our own conductor. Having our own conductor is really key to doing something like this. A lot of bands like the Moody Blues, Yes, bring people like my father, who was a traveling conductor, so they all have their own conductor. Because of the short amount of time, our conductor knows the more difficult stuff to review with the orchestra. He knows all of the little idiosyncrasies of our music. Because there's no time to rehearse the whole show, we need something like this to make it work.
Now will the current conductor, Matt Catingub, be your "full time" conductor?
Luke: Absolutely, we love Matt. But, I mean, we're not doing another show like this for a while - probably not for another year, like next summer. And we're still trying things out.
David: This is an experiment. We're hoping it yields good things.
Since you've said that you used many of the original charts, are these shows actually closer to the original recordings or are they now kind of newly orchestrated?
Luke: Well it will sound different because some of our tunes weren't originally written for a full orchestra. We've added a lot of parts to make up for the extra instruments tonight.
David: The songs that had more orchestra on it will sound more like the records, though, for sure. But we've added orchestra - in ELO Style - on some of the rock and roll things so everybody can jam together a little bit.
How do you choose songs for a show with an orchestra?
Luke: Really, the same way we always do. We're incorporating our 'greatest hits' but because we get to play 2 hours tonight, we really get to add some good stuff. We'll have 2 sets tonight, with a few hits in the first set and a few in the second, so we have to pace that. And we have to incorporate our solo spots and stuff like that. We're doing a lot of the new set - like Pamela and Only the Children.
David: We're doing a lot of stuff that had orchestra on it before or that we knew could be adapted to sound really good with the full orchestra.
What songs did you think would NOT work well with an orchestra? Were there any from the recent set that you had to cut because you felt it just wouldn't work? I was talking with some people, and we thought it would be hard for the orchestra to keep up with something like Jake to the Bone.
Luke: Jake to the Bone would have been great!
David: We will probably end up adding that at some time. This time there just wasn't enough time to do it. But like I said, this is a work in progress. A lot of bands will start adding and subtracting once they get into the flow. But Jake to the Bone is a perfect candidate for later.
Luke: Look what Yes does. Close to the Edge. Can you image that orchestrated? That's a chart, all right. It's like a 20 minute piece.
David: [laughs] They'd need a few hundred music stands per player!
So the orchestra thing doesn't limit your song choice then? All you have to do is get the charts made and it's all cool?
David: No, never a limit.
Luke: We're actually going to do a couple of songs that don't have charts.
David: Right.
Luke: The orchestra won't play, they'll just sit there. And people do that all the time. Originally we didn't have enough time to write all the parts to make it to the show, so that works out better.
David: And it gives the audience a break. You know, like on Gypsy Train, you don't really need an orchestra. It's nice to take a break from it.
What do you see as being the toughest challenge for the orchestra musicians when it comes to playing the songs?
Luke: Having a good attitude about playing with a rock band! A lot of classical musicians dread this portion of their yearly thing.
David: Playing in real good time is very hard. Faster time is much more elastic than rock and roll time.
Luke: We have a very specific pace we keep, and the conductor has to be ahead of the beat to control the orchestra and have them play the correct notes at the correct time. It looks weird, he may do some odd things, but that's the conductor trying to get the orchestra caught up. Conducting is an art form, man. It's not just a guy waving his hand up there. It's a whole scene.
David: When you see a conductor with an orchestra, he makes gestures for a down beat, that orchestra will come in an 8th note later, so there are some major adjustments.
What about the biggest challenge for you guys with the orchestra?
Luke: I'll just play. I hope they can keep up!
David: We play the way we play. The conductor has to follow us.
Luke: That's why we bring our own conductor. He's a rock n' roll conductor. He's a young cat.
David: It gets back to the original concept of music where people actually have to listen to each other. Everybody has to play and listen together. Essentially, the orchestra is augmenting us.
Luke: We tried to keep it fairly simple for them so that there's not a lot of room for error. We're just fattening up our normal sound.
Would you like to do more such shows in the future?
David: Absolutely yes.
Luke: It's our best shot in the United States without selling ourselves out to do a "classic rock tour." That's not to say we wouldn't do that, but I don't see the purpose of it unless we're getting paid a shitload of money. I mean, why would we want to be an opening band? We're better than that, we're better musicians that that. We'd rather do things like this, for the challenge, that would enhance our monetary value in the States.
David: You have to understand too, when playing with a symphony orchestra, it brings people in that normally wouldn't come to a Toto concert. The symphony grabs them. We were going to do this a long time ago before it was normally done, but then Metallica did it and Kiss and everybody has been jumping on. But I guess it's the natural progression, and finally, here we are! 2004