RUSHONROCK editor Simon Rushworth caught up with talisman Steve Lukather ahead of the show – before reporting on the main event on Thursday.
RUSHONROCK: Did you ever imagine XIV would see the light of day?
STEVE LUKATHER: I couldn’t have foreseen another studio album after Falling In Between. In 2008 I thought that was it. It was a really weird time in my life but everything has changed since then. And for the better. It’s the old adage ‘never say never’.
RUSHONROCK: So how did this album finally come about?
SL: It was born out of litigation! It started out as ‘what the fuck’ and became ‘we really give a fuck’. We realised that if we were going to this then we had to do a really, really great record even if it turns out to be our swansong album. I don’t believe the album is dead. I don’t believe rock is dead. It’s not. Toto are moving into one of the most successful eras in the band’s history but I did not expect to do another album. We just became very motivated to make a point. We kept hearing that a bunch of old guys couldn’t make great rock albums any more. That made our blood boil. We made Toto IV when we were really pissed off – at that time we were told we had one more chance or we’d be off the label. We approached this album with the same sense of vengeance.
RUSHONROCK: And how did the band respond to the challenge?
SL: Steve [Porcaro] is back, Joseph [Williams] is killing it – he sounds even better than he did on The Seventh One – and I’m healthy again. The reaction building up to the 35th anniversary was so huge that we thought we’ll just keep doing this for another year and another and…well, who knows? But we got sued for trying to put out a DVD and so things still weren’t easy. But I vowed a long time ago that I’m not going to be Mr Negative Guy. I’m not angry. I’m not a young man but I’m not an old man and I still think I’ve got a lot to give.
RUSHONROCK: What was the vibe like in the studio?
SL: We were all stood together in one room making this record just like we used to do when we were kids. And it wasn’t long before we decided to call the record Toto XIV. It’s double seven, a lucky number. And the Roman numerals have always been lucky for Toto. There were a lot of ideas. There’s a song on there called Great Expectations and that was a frontrunner for a while but it all sounded just a little too Charles Dickens. It’s our 14th real studio album and I’ve always liked the artwork around the Roman numerals.
RUSHONROCK: Was the new record always meant to evoke classic Toto?
SL: We used three lead vocalists in one song! There’s all the big production values, it’s very melodic. We don’t feel as if we’re following any rule book but then we never have. We’re very, very proud of the new album. Tom Scott came in to add some horns. It really is the best of what we can do. We used a number of bass players and the recording process almost became a tribute to Mike [Porcaro] in terms of the calibre of musician we brought in. Everybody sings and everybody writes on the new album. There was a great feeling surrounding the recording process. I don’t want to over-hype the album but we did everything we could to ensure it was the best we could possibly achieve.
RUSHONROCK: On reflection do you feel there have been too many wasted years during the last 20 years where Toto are concerned?
SL: Looking back I have no regrets that this is only our third studio album in 16 years. Everybody had to regroup and figure things out. When the time came we did it because we had something to prove to ourselves – XIV isn’t based on money or egos or anything like that. We’re not just a bunch of guys who can’t make music any more. We’re better than that. And we pushed ourselves all the way on this record. Some of the stuff just wasn’t good enough. Some reasonably good songs got thrown out. We had a lot of music in the bank and what you hear on the new record really is the best of the best.
RUSHONROCK: Is there a different recording dynamic now that you’re all older and wiser?
SL: The first song we recorded was one of Joseph’s songs. The band had changed. Simon [Phillips] had left and Keith Carlock came in. Lenny Castro was involved again with the percussion as he always is and there was definitely a buzz about the place, like the old days.
RUSHONROCK: Once you made the decision to make XIV did you start to feel the pressure?
SL: We felt the pressure in terms of making our point and wanting to prove our point that we’re not all washed up. Older guys really can make fresh, non clichéd music. We weren’t interested in showing off but we were keen to prove that we shouldn’t be written off. There’s some great work from everybody involved on XIV. The great thing is we’re not trying to compete with anyone. What we want is for people to listen to the new album and think ‘fuck, I didn’t see that coming’. Or ‘I never expected that from them’. We devoted a lot of time to getting this record exactly right. There was a lot of massaging of the sound, rewriting the lyrics and fine-tuning everything.
RUSHONROCK: Are Toto a better band for the advancements in technology?
SL: Technology plays its part but it plays too great a role these days. It’s like bronzing a hamburger. I’m sick of all the auto-tuned, generic shit that people call music these days – and I’m talking about broad based pop here. The top 40 is repellent to me. I think people are getting dumber in terms of what they’re prepared to accept as music. But I’m an old guy and I just don’t understand it. People don’t play music in a room together any more. And the fans are used to hearing auto tune to such an extent that if something doesn’t sound perfect it’s seized upon. We sat in a room and learned to get it right together. The only upside is that the rock musicians who are really good these days truly stand out in the face of so much dull and generic rock shit.
RUSHONROCK: Is rock struggling to the extent that many of your peers suggest?
SL: In the past you used to play for the masses and try to hit the home run. One big single could shift millions of albums. But there hasn’t been one platinum record in 2014 and that worries me. It doesn’t mean people aren’t listening to music – they’re just not buying music. First impressions are the only impressions that count these days. We’re living in a world of musical idiocy but that’s why we had to get it right with XIV.
RUSHONROCK: Can new rock heroes still emerge in 2015?
SL: Metal still produces virtuosos and there’s a lot of stuff from that genre that I dig. But there used to be a time when virtuoso musicians could make their mark in the pop world too. Nowadays any idiot can make a record. They learn the licks but they don’t know how those licks came about. Finding your style and learning your trade takes years. It’s trial and error and you learn from your mistakes.
RUSHONROCK: And did you learn?
SL: When I was 18 I was out of the house so fast you couldn’t see me. I suppose it was easier in a way because there was a lot more money in the music business back then. But I wanted to get out there, work hard and make my mark. I learnt a huge amount along the way. Then the madness took over and MTV took over. The business took over the music. At that point there was a different attitude to making music. I grew up obsessed with music. I was either playing in my room or practicing or studying. There was no room for anything else in my life. Can you say the same about some of these kids who make albums today? The one thing you cannot take away is the live experience and that’s what we’ll bring to the table at Sweden Rock.
RUSHONROCK: Is this a golden age for Toto fans…for as long as it lasts?
SL: As a songwriting team Toto is firing on all cylinders. We’re all at the top of our game. A long time has passed since we put an album out and I can tell you this – there’s some real classic Toto shit on XIV. One piece goes all the way back to ’77 – production-wise you wouldn’t know that but there’s an early vibe to it. Having said that there’s a lot of freshness to the music and it all came so naturally. The four of us are old friends making music like we used to and hopefully we’ll keep this thing together for as long as we possibly can now. The four of us have known each other for 42 years now and after that length of time you develop a very special bond.
RUSHONROCK: But is there an appetite to record more music?
SL: Will this be the last Toto album? I hope not but honestly who knows? I can’t say for certain whether all of us – or any of us – will still be here in 10 years’ time. We’re so lucky to still have a business and a career and we appreciate that. We’ve got another shot at this and we understand how fortunate we are. The last DVD went to number one all over the world and that told us that we’re still doing something right. We’re back at the right time and everything just seems to be falling back into place. Before you know it it’ll be time to celebrate Toto’s 40th anniversary!