Steve Porcaro Stampa
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Giovedì 04 Giugno 2009 21:16


It's a great honour to present Steve Porcaro's first interview in over 10 years. We started to talk a year or so ago about doing this but due to Steve's hectic tv and film scoring career, and more recently his very substantial involvement with Toto's new album "Falling In Between", we put the following interview together by email over the last few weeks. I'd like to thank Steve for all the time and soul-searching he put into his open and heartfelt answers. It's been a privilege to delve deeply into some fascinating and previously unpublished Toto history!





Will: Hey Steve! It was good to see you again at Simon Phillips’ studio in September.

Steve: Likewise Will!

Will: I think it’s been 10 years or so since you last gave an interview, so we’ve got a lot of territory to cover! It would be a great start if you could tell us about your involvement with Toto’s new album, Falling In Between. I have to say, without wishing to sound gushing, your contributions are really fantastic. Your sounds add a dimension and touch that seems to have been missing for a while.

Steve: Thanks Will. The guys this time around were very specific about what they wanted. They would drop off files of the tunes with strict instructions to do whatever I wanted to!

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Will: That’s a great position to be in! So, they sent the files to you, you’d work on them and then return to Simon’s studio “bearing data” as Simon would say!

Steve: Yep. If that would have been the situation on the last two albums when I was a band member, and they would have thrown in an occasional deli tray, I would have never left the band! Seriously.

It was really fun for me, because I got to try the stuff that used to cause a great deal of concern amongst the band. It doesn't take three days to realize an idea anymore because of the technology that's in place now, that wasn't then. It also helps that my work habits aren't as, shall we say, chemically induced.

Will: Right. You've never really "left" Toto as you've worked to a greater or lesser extent on all albums since Fahrenheit. So that this one can be cleared up as it’s often asked, what was the main reason behind you deciding to "contractually and legally leave" Toto in 1987?

Steve: Deep breath. The truth is, in the old days, I often felt that I had to hide what I was doing from the other guys (the exception being David Paich), because they wouldn't approve of how I was spending my time, the band's money or "get" what it was I trying to do. Also, a lot of the time it was a simple matter of me being out of my mind and just plain self-indulgent. But I was always certain of what my job in the band was, even if they weren't. It was my job to go for it. The fact I wasn't a "player" in the sense that everyone else in Toto was, created a situation, where I don't think they always knew best how to exploit me and celebrate that difference instead of bumming out about it. They use to beg me to just do what I did on a Quincy Jones or David Foster session when I would do the synth overdubs on three tunes in an afternoon. 'Why couldn't I just do the ****ing string pad and move on to the next tune?' was the vibe I often felt.

Will: “It’s a feeling, I don’t belong here”?

Steve: I really felt bad for them sometimes. They thought I’d forgotten that the reason I was in the band in the first place was to program synths for David, and to cover those synth overdubs live. I’ve got to say right now that while that may have been David’s initial reason for me being in the band, he soon got what I was about and was my biggest supporter. I felt that the rest of the guys, just didn't get what was possible, and when I would make the mistake of explaining to them what it was I was trying to do, I would get a look like ‘why in the world would you want to do that’ and/or ‘save it for your solo album’. Mind you, this is merely MY perception at the time. Anyway, the fact of the matter was, if my lot in life was to be the synth player, and rarely record my songs, I was going to make it as interesting as possible whether they liked it or not and... I was just having so much fun, I couldn't help myself. I think they get it now. Are you sorry you asked?

Will: Not at all! A lot of fans frequently ask whether you’ll be touring with Toto at some point in the future.

Steve: I LOVED touring. I loved pulling off what I did on the records live. I loved trying as hard as I could to make it look as easy as I could. I never was going for the mad scientist effect and 'ooo he must be such a genius with the modular synthesizers' and all that crap. I wanted to make it seem like “all this stuff’s a cinch” (when it wasn’t at all). I wanted to be Pete Townsend live and this guy I saw when we were on the road with Boz. I remember Paich and Boz were with me at this club. Maybe Luke and Jeff. There was this English band called Doctor Feelgood and their guitar player would look in one direction, and walk really fast in the other direction while he was wailing on guitar effortlessly and he did this through the whole set and he just cracked us up. I'm not sure what that ever had to do with me, being stuck behind keyboards, but I loved stumbling and dancing around on stage, and have all these cool synth sounds just happen to appear under my fingers right where and when I needed them. Keith Emerson was a major influence. Of course it took a ton of preparation. I loved it. It would drive the guys absolutely nuts when I wouldn't know the chords to one of the tunes during rehearsal, and then they'd walk in the next day and I'd be working on a tape intro or keyboard spot. We had different priorities. I never was on stage with Toto not knowing the chord changes to any of the tunes, but I wish there were more tape interludes/intros that made the live experience unique. Again, that's what I felt my true job was in the band even if the band didn't agree. I saw Toto having tons of that kind of stuff in their live show. I lived for that crap. That's why fate put me in this band of incredible musicians and songwriters. It was going to be this chemistry of the off the chart musicianship that we all know was there to begin with, along with this loose cannon (me) who saw Jethro Tull thirty times and used to fall asleep to "Close to the Edge". We'd be selling out stadiums in no time. Living in the lap of ****ing luxury. What was the question?

Will: Plans to tour with Toto in the future.

Steve: While I never say never when it comes to anything to do with the band, I don't think my Emperor Ming outfit would fit anymore. But who knows? I'm very vain and I hear they're doing amazing things with girdles these days.

Just to finish up MY version of band history, before you start talking tech, Jeff and I really bumped heads. I don't think he could forgive me for having lousy time (I rush like a mother****er by the way... always have, probably always will) And I could never get through to him the fact that it was ok because EVERYONE else in the band had amazing time and that was the least of our worries. My job was to produce Rosanna type solos and be the guy who made intro tapes for the live show. Seriously, there was no horrible blow-up or ugly fight. We were on our way home from the Fahrenheit tour and I remember us feeling pretty good about everything for the most part, (Joseph Williams had just sung his *** off the entire tour) when I told the guys that while I wouldn't be leaving them high and dry, that I no longer was going to be a band member. Of course David figured I just ate a bad shrimp or something and figured I'd be over it soon, but it was something I'd thought a lot about and it was a very calm decision for me. Nirvana was huge at the time and keyboard players in bands were becoming very unpopular, let alone a band with 2 keyboard players. The guys kept talking about how sparse and raw and scaled down things were going to start being, and I felt like saying "look at me when your talking to me!" An issue I've managed to avoid is the fact that I was nurturing a serious cocaine addiction that I'm sure never helped my cause, and even though things didn't change for quite a while, I knew it then that they had to if I was going to live.

I want everyone to know that while I'm telling you what was going through my head at the time, and the negatives, I'll never be able to express how much I loved being in Toto and the opportunities they gave me, how much I still love everyone of the guys, how much I miss my brothers, how much the fans mean, how forever grateful I'll be to my brother Jeff and David for letting me in their band. I had an absolute blast. And I still have an absolute blast when we're together. I feel like I've won the lottery ten times in my life, and 5 of those were being in Toto, being with my brothers, being with my heroes and being with my best friends.

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Will: Sure. So you're not ruling out the possibility of performing with Toto on their 30th Anniversary Tour in 2007? Luke's mentioned to me that he's hoping you and Joseph will hook up with the band to perform songs from Toto IV and The Seventh One and other material! Joseph told me over lunch in September last year that he was very keen on the idea of performing 5 or 6 songs from the Fahrenheit/Seventh One era! Wouldn't it be great!

Steve: It sounds like fun and is something I’d consider. I’m not being cute when I tell you I’m still trying to establish myself in the music business. Film in particular. That’s a priority with me.

Will: What’s your favourite touring memory? These interviews are becoming notorious for sordid details!

Steve: At some point, we should talk about your obsession with sordid details! Anyway, one of my favorite road memories is that after staying in some hotel chain and seeing the same art work one time too many, Jeff would take a picture down from the wall and in the style of the artist, do some kind of "enhancement". I can guarantee you that there are a couple Sheraton Hotels somewhere in middle America that to this day have a beautiful painting of some idyllic rural countryside that if you look closely, you'll find a dog lifting it's leg, pissing on something or someone. That, and/or a guy with no legs on a cart, pushing himself along with two tin cans. Don't ask. Mind you, great pains were taken for it to be in the style of the rest of the painting. Kind of a demented "Where's Waldo" if you will.

Will: Classic! What synths and new gear are you using, and do you still use the modular polyfusion synths?

Steve: I run Logic 7 and Pro Tools . About 95% of my synths are soft and include Arturia's Moog Modular V, MiniMoog, CS80V, ARP2600 as far as analog models go. I also use most of Native Instruments' stuff especially Reaktor, Absynth, B-4 and Kontact. I use a lot of Logic's

Softsynths especially EXS-24, Sculpture and Tascam's GigaStudio holds a lot of my stock samples. I also run Ableton Live and Propellorhead's Reason. Spectrasonic's Atmosphere, Trilogy, and Stylus RMX are also

staples these days. I'm trying to put my synths in one of two categories. Either I poke through the presets like a novice and don't delve any deeper, (which is hard for me) or I try to totally master the synth/software so I know it inside and out. (which is hard for me).. The Polyfusion stuff lives and quite well at that. I know everyone's worried, but rest easy... The cases were recently refoamed and it's all in great shape. It's not currently in mine or David's setup, but it's always close to our hearts.

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Will: Did you use the modular Polyfusion synths on Falling In Between?

Steve: No, but what we learned using the Polyfusion came into play several times during my use of Arturia’s Moog Modular V. It’s a software version of the modular synthesizer bearing Moog’s name. I used it all over “Falling in Between”.

Will: Paich told me recently that your contributions pretty much saved “King of the World” from being scrapped.

Steve: There was one section that really bothered me, (and I think almost everyone else but I didn’t know it at the time) so I just edited it out of the tune as an alternate version. I think it’s some of the best lyrics Toto’s ever had. I love that tune. Working on it was a joy.

Will: Which are your favourite tracks on Falling In Between?

Steve: Definitely King of the World, Luke’s ballad [Simple Life], Let it go and several others I don’t remember the titles to.

Will: As a hack keyboard player myself, I love the sounds all over the new Toto album. I just can’t find those sounds on my Korg Triton and I don’t have the patience to spend hours programming it! Whilst I appreciate that you would have used an array of equipment from your keyboard arsenal, which synth would you currently recommend to best emulate Toto sounds in 2006?

Steve: Just talking about my stuff, it would be Arturia’s Moog Modular V. It helped me do what I was trying to do in 1982. These things take time.

Will: With keyboard-orientated rock at the fore these days with the likes of Coldplay and Keane, do you think Toto may experience a change in fortunes in America?

Steve: Wouldn’t that be great ? I hate to say it, but I think ageism is the band’s biggest problem from without at this point.

What I love about both of those bands, especially Coldplay, is that with so much out there that I can’t relate to, it’s great to hear music that people who buy records are responding to that I CAN relate to.

Simple pop songs. I often wish the band would do more of that.

I get the feeling often from the guys that since radio isn’t going to play their records, they’re going to make the music they really want to make. As if that wasn’t what we were doing all along.

A big part of Toto was always the musicianship. Much more so than the lyrics often to the critics chagrin. But it was just naturally who we were as a band. Now, I sometimes feel like they’re ramming their amazing chops down everyone’s throat, trying to prove how much better they are (god damn it) than everybody else.

I wish we could all be the elder statesmen at this point, and show off with our finesse and choice of notes, and write some simple, magical, heartfelt power pop songs especially with the great lyrics the guys are writing these days.

Our pompous classical tendencies (Lovers in the Night) always sounded like we having fun to me as oppose to the “Mahavishnu” tendencies that are permeating the band’s sound now.

But it’s really just who they are now, but I wish they’d save that stuff for MY solo album.

Will: What other projects have you been working on recently?

Steve: "John and Abigail Adams" a 2 hour PBS "American Experience" - I composed the music for will be airing January 23rd I think at 9 P.M. I've also been working on my solo album and a Porcaro Bros. album for the last thirty years. Song selection has been a *****.

Will: Right! Not surprising, with 30 years material! Which takes us back to where it all started. Your high school band was an unbelievable line-up! Luke, Carlos Vega, Mike Landau and John Peirce. What memories do you have of your early gigging days and the jam sessions at your parents garage?

Steve: My band in high school was awesome! And believe me it was my band. I was quite the tyrant. I just surrounded myself with best guys there were. I was definitely the weak link. Believe me though, what I lacked in chops or talent, I made up for in vision or at least equipment. Are we noticing a pattern yet? The band (Still Life) was a continuation of the band (Still Life) that Jeff, Paich and Mike had in high-school along with a great sax player Steve Leeds and the legendary Scott Shelly on guitar, not to mention Kelly Shanahan on double drums. It was a huge band with horns, modeled after the Joe Cocker band "Mad Dogs and Englishmen", with Leon Russell, Jim Keltner, Jim Gordon, Bobby Torres, Jim Horn and many others. They did almost their entire set verbatim, along with alot of R&B classics and some Stones tunes thrown in for good measure. When they graduated high-school (and Jeff and David Paich went on to join Sonny an Cher on tour (recommended by their bass player, David Hungate)) I took over the band along with my best friend (and Steve Leeds’ younger brother) Andy Leeds. We did the same tunes, same arrangements, horns and everything. Same name ! Not too long afterwards, Andy wanted to try his hand at engineering, and we thought we'd scale down the band, lose the horns, and check out some of these new guys we were meeting at school. Andy had met Carlos Vega while they were both ushers at the Hollywood Bowl the previous summer. Up to that point, my guitar players were Danny Costello, and then Bruce Gowdy both great guys, great musicians, and friends to us all to this day. I'd heard about these two guys who were really close friends. I don't think I ever saw one without the other. I asked the more outgoing of the two Steve Lukather, to audition for the band. He came over, played amazing, and I was sure that would be that, I just wanted to check out his friend Mike Landau who seemed really shy, so I asked Luke if he would come along with him to the audition. Luke graciously agreed, and I reminded everybody there was no way in hell I wanted two guitar players. Anyway it's way too late to make this long story short but suffice to say they took one of the audition tunes, Edgar Winter's Free Ride and burned the double lead solo from the record perfectly. We were doing tons of Steely Dan (two guitars) and it wound up working out great. When the prom committees and Homecoming Dance committees would show up at my parents house auditioning bands for their upcoming dance, they wouldn't know what hit 'em. We had a lot of laughs.

Will: That’s a great story! You’ve contributed to all Toto albums to a greater or lesser extent, but would you say you’ve made your biggest contributions this time since Fahrenheit?

Steve: Yes, but with Fahrenheit I had more control over the finished product. On this album they had some new guy who doesn’t have much studio experience by the sound of things. Craig Fillinless or somebody.

Will: Craig Fillinless indeed!!! I believe that you met James Newton Howard during his involvement with Toto IV. I gather that he was "instrumental" in helping you start your film scoring/composing career?

Steve: I met James earlier than that. We knew about each other for quite awhile then started doing sessions together. First a Pablo Cruise record produced by Bill Schnee, and then the Pointer Sisters and others with Richard Perry. I think the Valerie Carter album James produced was before Toto 4 but I could be wrong. James is the only reason I have film career, meager as it is. He's always been there for me and given me a leg up, and continues to be a tight, tight, part of the band's inner circle. If you speak to him, could you ask him to return our phone calls? Thanks.

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Will: I noticed that you've been out recently with Randy Newman, Shankar, Jay Graydon, the Michael McDonald tribute NAMM gig and I guess there are a few others too?

Steve: Those were all one offs. I love an excuse to play live.

Will: You also performed at the reunion concerts with Bobby and Joseph in 1998 and the Jeff tribute shows in Koblenz. These must have been pretty special occasions for you.

Steve: I love performing for the reasons previously mentioned, especially when it’s with two of my favorite singers in the world at the same time.

Will: I read in a Keyboard magazine interview shortly after Toto IV was recorded that the Rosanna solo was a compilation of many solos and that some parts were "accidentally" erased during the mix? Could you tell us more about your work on this legendary solo!

Steve: You’re gonna be sorry you asked but... here's exactly what happened. I remember early on, I had announced that I was going to do a solo on Rosanna. David, at some point I think soon after the tracking date, had tried a solo that I remember as being quite forgetable except for this really cool backwards Hammond run at the end. I actually spent about two weeks "conceptualizing" it which consisted of a lot of experiments, a lot of chemicals, and a lot of long hours. Did I mention a lot of chemicals? Anyway, after they put the horns on, I remember sitting down one day to take another stab and the opening figure came to me, along with where that sound would reappear answering the horns.

Flash to 3 AM in the morning, the day Greg Ladanyi is suppose to mix Rosanna. David and I are in the studio, everything's setup and working great. ‘We’re gonna finish this ****er, it's the eleventh hour once again’. We decide to use everything in the room and just go around and fill the holes with different “events”. We had the opening line. Then David came up with the descending sequencer line using our Roland Microcomposer playing a Jupiter 8. Then David overlapped that with the gliding Minimoog sound asking me to cop that Rick Wakeman thing with the filter being tracked by the keyboard ala "Catherine of Aragon" - are you still with me?

Will: It’s all good!

Steve: Lead sound answered by horns answered by lead sound, then David on that sliding ribbon controlled CS-80 riff, then we're stuck. Engineering all of this myself (for which I was nominated for a Grammy award, thank you very much), led us to a happy mistake. Needing tracks, I had erased David's old solo. These were the days when you had to make decisions. Or so I thought. When David and I were trying to figure out what we were going to do for an ending and we just listened through, the final riff appeared out of nowhere, and at the perfect time. I hadn't erased his track all the way through. Thank god. We had all the pieces recorded and sounding great at which point David said "Let's leave it and wait for Tom Knox to come over and bounce it properly". I said "let's not", bounced exactly what we were hearing with all my effects that I was always made to hold off on until we mixed, (then never heard again), and then just hours later beamed, as I watched Ladanyi crank up only two faders, that was our solo. I've always taken credit for the Rosanna solo where in reality, Paich had as much to do with it as I did. Especially the synthy stuff ! All I played was the opening line on the modular horn sound and it’s answers later. What I will take credit for is conceptualizing the whole thing. Thinking like that. Really orchestrating a solo and using all these synths I spent so much time with and showing what could happen when I was given some space that could never ever happen with everyone breathing down your neck. Of course it always helps to have a mother****er like Paich in your corner, willing to do your bidding. The bands response was that they liked it so much, next time I'd do it in a real studio with a real engineer. They just didn't get it. All I wanted was a deli platter every now and then. Not that I would have eaten it. If I remember correctly, I was having trouble chewing that year. That's more than anyone should ever need to know about the Rosanna solo.

Will: As far as rock/pop records, Rosanna is surely the synth solo to end all solos! Your soundscape in "Living for the City" on 'Through the Looking Glass' is incredibly atmospheric, it puts the listener right there in Lower Manhattan on 9/11. How did you go about creating this sampled sequence?

Steve: I remember JJ (John Jessell) had done a lot of ground work, the guys came and I did my thing. A lot of sound design, you know…keyboards and electronics.

Will: The synth parts on Child’s Anthem are very similar to the end riff of "Lido Shuffle". The groove, the sounds… Toto picking up where the Silk Degrees tour left off?

Steve: You'd have to ask David, but I think you may be on to something.

Will: That's you on the cover of Hydra with the infamous Toto did that come about?!

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Steve: Jeff's concept. My ribs. Photography by Jim Hagopian.

Will: Your contributions to Don Henley’s ‘Boys of Summer’ really make that song as "haunting" as it is. What do you remember about the recording of the 'Building the perfect beast' album?

Steve: Jeff had recommended me for “Dirty Laundry” on Don’s previous album and things just clicked. Don co-produced with Danny Kortchmar and Greg Ladanyi and we had a great time working together. I didn’t have to tip toe around with those guys and we got a lot of cool stuff.

Boys of Summer had already been recorded. The "haunting" aspect was already there. Don just wanted it up a half step (demonstrating the importance of key for all you would be producers out there). They thought I might have some magic box that would transpose the whole song. (we do now). I just wound up completely remaking the track from scratch with Mike Campbell from the Heartbreakers the co-writer of the tune and Danny Kortchmar. It's not exactly what they had in mind, but it worked out. I always had a blast working with those guys. Don in those days and on his first album was one of the coolest, accessible and most generous guys I ever worked for. Not to mention having a true gift. He really gave me a lot of rope, and took some chances that I thought paid off.

Will: Thriller...The biggest selling album of all time, and you're all over it!

Steve: ’82, ’83, a great couple of years, huh?

Will: It must have been very flattering when Miles Davis recorded "Human Nature", as well as it being a big hit for Michael Jackson. I believe Miles recorded that around the time "Don't stop me now" was recorded with Miles?

Steve: Miles recorded it for his "Your Under Arrest" Album. I think the album he was working on during the "Don't Stop Me Now" recording was TuTu. Flattering does not come close to describing how I felt and still feel. Miles recorded one of my tunes. No one can take that away from me.

Will: Your Starlicks Masterclass video (1987, I think) was a cool "behind the scenes" demonstration of your technique and secrets, as to how you create a lot of the famous Toto keyboard sounds and sequences. On the video, you explained that you like to share your knowledge and you seem to have spent a lot of time collaborating over the years, obviously with David, Amin Bhatia, James Newton Howard...

Steve: You’re giving away my secrets! Always work with better musicians than you are. People hear about you hanging out with them and they figure "He must be good"!

Will: I gather that you married Pam in 1998? How is your daughter Heather getting on with her songwriting career?

Steve: My daughter Heather, a true renaissance woman of the new millennium is doing great with her music and other artistic endeavors. I was flattered recently to play on some new tracks of hers and I can honestly say it's absolutely her best stuff. My son Dominic is in the middle of first grade and can't wait to go to school every day. My youngest, Michaela, is the sweetest little girl you ever saw. Pam should be given a medal for what she’s had to deal with. Between my recent illness and being married to an egomaniac with an inferiority complex, I’m truly a lucky, blessed man.

© Will Minting, December 2005

Ultimo aggiornamento Giovedì 30 Settembre 2010 11:07