Intervju med Steve Lukather!
Jo jag vet, Steve Lukather är väl inte direkt förknippad med den hårdare musiken, men får man möjlighet att snacka med en legend så tackar man inte nej.
Jag kan inte påstå att jag har lyssnat mycket på Toto genom åren. Visst finns det låtar som faller i smaken och jag är personligen en liten sucker för det där slätstrukna och sockersöta soundet, men överlag har jag aldrig riktigt tagit bandet till mig.
Jag såg dem live i Göteborg i början av 90-talet och tyckte det var helt ok, men övernattningen i en iskall bil efteråt var betydligt mer minnesvärd.
Herr Lukather är aktuell med en ny soloplatta, "Transition" och jag måste erkänna att det inte låter dumt alls. Inte hårdrock på långa vägar, men det svänger rejält emellanåt.
Jag ringde upp Lukather i Tyskland och fick en trevlig pratstund om bl a nya plattan, livet som sessionmusiker, Janne Schaffer och Van Halen-bröderna.
Steve Lukather: How´s it going my man?
Good. How are you?
SL: I´m doing really well. It´s been a nice day. A long day, but a positive one. I´m happy about all that.
Are you in Berlin?
SL: I am in Berlin and I´m going off to Milan tomorrow morning.
You could do worse.
SL: You know what I mean? (laughs)
I´ve been listening to your album and I gotta say it´s a kickass album.
SL: Thank you very much! It means a lot. I mean, you guys are metal heads (laughs), but I love it all, man. I love all kinds of music and if you dig it that means a lot to me. I really do appreciate you having an open mind about what I´m trying to do here.
Definitely. Especially the first two songs, “Judgment day” and “Creep motel”. Great stuff. And the song “Once again” has a bit of a Bruce Hornsby feel to it.
SL: Well, it´s interesting that you´d say that. I can see that. I mean, I like harmony in my chords. There´s so much that´s just power chord 5ths an all that, which is great but it´s not my forte. I love a Marshall amp turned up to fucking eleven as much as anybody else, but I come from a different harmonics sense and I like to challenge myself but still trying to keep it rock a little bit. I still come from that world.
Are these all new songs?
SL: Yeah! Aside from the last song on the album (Smile) which is a song Charlie Chaplin wrote in 1935 or something, but the rest of it is all written for the record. I started last December and went “What are we gonna do today?” and the first song we wrote was “Judgment day” and that sort of set the pace for the whole record. I didn´t do demos. The demos are the record. We started out with these songs and we just started writing and then adding little overdubs and stuff and they took on a life of their own and then I started overdubbing real musicians on that. It was the opposite of what I normally do and it also worked out well for me and be able to take my time from the song writing process. I was kinda recording this album from September until last month when I turned in the final master version in between five different tours with five different artists. I´d go out and get inspired by what I was doing and writing lyrics on the road and working on stuff via the internet, so it was an interesting process but in the end I´m pretty pleased with how it all came out.
All the people playing on the album, how did you pick those guys? I guess you know them all?
SL: They´re all my friends and it was great because I was able to write songs and go “Hhmmm, who would be great to play on this?” and then I´d run into somebody somewhere, “I´m making a record, you wanna play on it?”. That´s how I got Chad (Smith) on the record and we hadn´t worked together before and he´s a bud and I love the way he plays. He´s the real deal. I ran into him and he said “What are you doing?” and I said “Well, I´m making a record.”. Chad went “Well, I wanna play on it.” and I go “Well, come down tomorrow night!” and he said “Ok!”. And he showed up and that´s what happened. A lot of the people are old friends and I was just thinking “Who would be great on this tune?”. People would just drop by. Phil Collen dropped by and he did background vocals on “Judgment day” and he sang on the last record. They´re just friends of mine and they just pop in. I mean, I pay people, but at the same time that wasn´t the primary motivation for guys who just wanna come in and jam with me. They were playing on tracks where the songs were almost done, so they could actually hear the song and play to the song so I was getting like first and second takes out of everybody. I was really looking to get their little stamp or style on this record as well.
There´s nine songs on the album. Were there a lot more recorded?
SL: No. Listen, I come from an era where records were no longer than 38 minutes. That´s a concentrated effort. I was going for quality and not quantity. Just because you can put 72 minutes worth of music on a CD, doesn´t mean you should. I didn´t want to put a bunch of crap on there just to fill up space and for some reason the last album I did had nine songs on it and that was received rather well and I was thinking laughingly in my head “Well, nine´s the magic number. I´m only gonna do nine.”. Not eleven, not ten, but nine. (laughs) It was kinda a running joke and it just sorta stuck. There´s still 50 minutes worth of music or so and that´s plenty of time for an attention span. Everybody has a short attention span these days. Everybody´s multitasking and stuff so if I can get anybody to listen, right on, I´m all for it.
That is true. What happens is that you put stuff on there that probably wouldn´t have made the cut if it was like back in the day.
SL: Right. You had to make choices. In other areas, the groove of having being able to have length on a record. I mean, I have people saying “Man, the good jam stuff´s at the in fade and in a few cases when I was just playing, I let it go out. Like the first couple of tunes have longer fades than I normally would have in the old school era, but I thought it was fun. People are going “No, don´t fade that shit out! Leave it on!” and I go “Really? It´s not too much?” and they go “No, it´s not too much.”. I didn´t really make a shred guitar record for the guitar players to go “Oh wow!”. There´s a lot of guys that do that a lot better than me. Millions of them as a matter of fact. I just went to my strongest point which is kinda when I broke myself back down and pulled myself out of the mud and became myself again. My strength lays in the melody and the way I play through whatever given chord changes I have. That´s what I did. I tried to make it interesting phrasing and interesting choice of note and not just blazing pentatonic scales, you know.
I was reading on your website about all the stuff you´ve done and all the musicians you´ve played with. What do you think it is that made you this incredible guitar player that ended up playing on thousands of records?
SL: You know man, I was just at the right place at the right time. That and my ability to morph into any situation. This year alone I started out doing this rock meets classic thing with an orchestra and Ian Gillan. A big orchestra and I came off that and worked on my record and then I went out with G3, Satriani and Vai and that was a whole other mindset and it was a lot of fun. Those guys are so fucking good it´s unbelievable. We had a big laugh and it was a great honor to be a part of that. I came home and worked on the record and then I go out with Ringo Starr all summer and that´s a complete other mindset and I played with Todd Rundgren and Greg Rollie and all these great players. I was taking all this input subconsciously or consciously and it was all inspiring me to work on the record. It wasn´t necessarily stylistically, but when you´re around great musicians you hear things and I take it all in. It´s really inspiring and these guys… being around the level of musicianship I´ve been around all year, helped the overall record, I think. I like to do different stuff. Right now we´re heading into the Toto 35th anniversary and they´re putting together this one degree of separation thing of all the records that all of us collectively have played on. Every major artist the last 50 years and it´s like 8000 records and you look at these little bubbles of every artists logo and what they all have in common is us. It´s really kinda scary to look at. I got it over the internet and I started laughing and I wrote back “Are you fucking kidding me? Is this for real?”. It´s not a puffed up discography. A lot of people lie about the things they´ve done. 10 turns into a 100 and turns into a 1000, you know. This is real and I´m looking at this collective discography of all the members of Toto. Guys who have been in the band and the guys that are currently in the band. You gel all that together and it´s a pretty staggering look. We´re not like any other band in that way and I have really enjoyed the diversity of my career. I love a great metal record, but I love a great jazz record or R&B record as well. I love a great pop song and whatever. I like all the classic rock stuff. I dig it all and why can´t you like it all?
Exactly. Of all the stuff you´ve done, are there one or two things that kinda stand out, that are more memorable than others?
SL: You know… you´re talking about a lot of different stuff. From a diverse stand point, getting to work with the people that inspired me to play in the first place, are three out of the four Beatles. That´s something I never thought attainable. Working on some of the biggest records of all time like “Thriller” and stuff like that. That´s gonna stand in the history books for a long time and then working with absolute legends like Miles Davis and all of the guitar players that I´ve had a chance to work with. I don´t wanna start just banging out names, but when I think about it every now and then when I´m asked, I kinda shake my head and go “Did I really do this or was this all just some sort of dream?”.
Did you turn down Miles Davis in order to do Toto?
SL: No, you´ve got the story sort of convoluted. Miles did call me on the phone asking me to join his band, but I was already in Toto. We had just finished the “Fahrenheit” record and Miles played on the record and then he heard the record and really dug what I was doing and he wanted me to leave the next day and come to New York and join his band and Toto was leaving the next day to go on a three month tour, so I couldn´t leave my guys and I would never do that. But I was very honored to be asked and I had to pass. I said “Call Robben Ford or Michael Landau!” and they called Robben, I think. And Joni Mitchell wanted me to go out on a tour for the “Wild things run fast” album and I couldn´t do that because of the Toto thing and Elton wanted me to join his band at one point when I was like 21 and we were doing “Hydra”. I stuck with the band. Jeff Porcaro was asked to join the Springsteen band and Dire Straits. We´ve all been asked to be lured away and we very respectfully and humbly said “Thank you so much, it´s a great honor but I can´t.”. I can´t do that to my guys. We´ve been in high school and the trenches together. There are things that would´ve been interesting and my life probably would´ve changed one way or the other, but my life changes being around these great artists. I´ll take it as at least I got to do that.
Right. As I understand it, you don´t do that much session work these days and everything has changed in the record business, but was it like in the 70´s and the 80´s? Did you do session work every week?
SL: Man, I haven´t done sessions per se in 20 years. I might do a couple of records a year for a guest spot or a friend, but I don´t do sessions really. Back in the day it could be 20-25 sessions a week, every week, six days a week. Then I´d make my own records with Toto and go on the road and then come back and do that. It was amazing. I´m looking at these “year at a glance books” that I´ve had since 1977, because I´m writing a book. I´m writing a book on my life in the studios and I´m looking at them and going “How the fuck did I do this?”. I was young and had the energy. I could just keep pushing and keep going and it was truly amazing. It was some of the most fun times of my life because I was getting a chance to work with the level of musicians I was working with every day and the fantastic artist that I got to learn from and all the producers. It´s a lost art, man! It doesn´t exist anymore. People make records at home or they share files. It´s not the good old days of showing up and going “Who am I playing with today?”. This camaraderie that we had. I mean, I did so many records with Jeff Porcaro. We were constantly together and it´s some of the most fun times of my life. I look back at it with such reverence and humility. I´m just thankful for the experience and being able to do all this stuff. I was there for the last era of the session man.
Was most of this done mainly in LA?
SL: Yeah! 95 % of it. You might be asked to go to London or New York or something like that, but 95 % of the sessions I did were all in LA.
There must´ve been some crazy parties?
SL: (laughs) Well, I mean, it was all business. If we were all fucked up, we wouldn´t have been able to do all this stuff. There are all these myths of how much drugs everybody was doing. Look at the body of work and then ask yourself the question, “Could this guy have done all this if he was that fucked up?”. I´m not saying we were angels, because we weren´t, but there was a lot of concentration at a very high level. One cannot keep up when you´re completely fucked up out of your head. Yeah, there might have been some late night hanging afterwards and when you´re young, you don´t need that much sleep and there´s some stupid shit that I wish that I had never done in my life, but it was the era and it was everywhere and everybody was doing everything. The late 70´s and 80´s were the excessive eras, so yeah, there´s some shit I wish I´d never done and regrets I´ve had a few, but it was that era and a lot of shit got done and nobody was that high, otherwise nothing would have gotten done. It´s like the old “Oh man, you should´ve seen it. It was insane.”. The people that spread these rumors were not there. Like I said, I never said I was innocent, but if I was that fucked up, nothing would´ve gotten done.
Makes sense. Was it more fun back then compared to today?
SL: Well, it´s hard to have fun when you´re by yourself. Yes, it was a blast! You´d show up at a studio and there were three studios filled with all your favorite musicians and the hang was great, all the laughter. “My amp fucked up, can I borrow your shit?” or “Hey man, I can´t do this session. Can you do it for me?” or you´d be walking down the hall and someone would say “Come on in, I want you to do a solo on this track!” and you´d do it in two takes or whatever and you didn´t even have it booked for the day. Fun things were happening and all my favorite players became my friends. There was all this love and so much work that everybody was so busy. Now it´s like nothing. There´s hardly any work. If I had to sit around at home waiting for the phone to ring, as a session musician, I´d be really fucking nervous. It´s a drag because I think the music suffers from it. A machine will not react to what you play to it. That being said, there is still some great music being made now. It´s just a different world.
This book of yours then? When can we expect it?
SL: It´s gonna take me years. How do you condense 36 years and 1000 or records, or whatever the number is… it takes a long time to get through that and try to make some sort of sense of it all and that´s not even getting into the Toto story. That´s just my life in the studios and without the sex and the drugs and all the silliness. It´s a boring cliché story anyway. It makes you look like a cheap fuck and an idiot. I really wanna talk about the music and how some of these records were made and the process of it. Working with legendary people. Watching Elton John write a song and cutting it. I was on the inside watching all this happen and everybody has a different process. How much fun it was. Who was there and who really did what. Those are all the other rumors, who really played on this stuff and what part did they play? Instead of answering the questions I´m putting it in a book and I´ve got a lot of great photos and stuff like that.
Are you doing it all by yourself?
SL: No, I´m writing it with my friend Lonn Friend. We went to high school together. We´ve known each other since 10th grade in high school. He´s kinda helping me walk through it, so I can keep a sense of humor about it. It´s not just gonna be “When I was five I heard The Beatles and started playing guitar.”, because then you´re already falling asleep. I wanna have a sense of humor and maybe not go in chronological order. Tell the story and jump from here to there and keep it interesting to read for a non musician to read. I´ve read enough biographies to know what works and what doesn´t.
Lonn has written a fun book or two.
SL: Yeah! Like I said, growing up in LA, people would never think that me and him were friends but I knew him before he went to work for Larry Flynt. We were like 14 or 15 years old. I felt comfortable with somebody who really knows how to write and who also knows me and I can trust him. I can be brutally honest and he can go like “You really wanna put that in the book?”. (laughs) and I´d be like “You´re right, I don´t wanna put that in there. I´ve got kids.”. (laughs)
I gotta ask you something. A Swedish guitar player, Janne Schaffer, do you know of him?
SL: What was his name?
Janne Schaffer. The thing is that the song “Hold the line”… there was a very famous pop artist in Sweden who had a big hit with a song called “Satellit” and the riff in that song is quite similar to a riff in “Hold the line”.
SL: News to me. I´ve never heard of this guy. By the way, I didn´t write the song.
The story was that this Janne guy was over in LA and met you and some of the other Toto guys and he kinda borrowed that riff from you. He heard it in a demo version or something.
SL: He stole it from us? I was there when David wrote it. Actually, David´s take on it was “hot fun in the summertime with hard guitars”, so that´s how that got written. I don´t know who this guy is and I´ve never heard the record. You have to play it for me and I might laugh. People go for similar licks in songs and there are always a certain amount of chords and things that may have been an accident. Who knows? I didn´t write the songs so I can´t tell you what my inspiration for it was. All I know is that when David played it for us, we loved the song and we cut it right away. There´s a lot of people that say “Oh yeah, I was supposed to be in the band!” and I go “Really? Did you go to our high school?” and they´d go “No.”. “Well, then you weren´t gonna be in the band.”. (laughs) Some people say “Oh, I played on that record.” And I go “No, you didn´t! Don´t lie like that.”.
When was the first time you met Eddie Van Halen? Was that in the early 70´s?
SL: Me and Michael Landau, another great guitar player, we had a high school band and we were auditioning for Gazzaris which was on the Sunset Strip and Van Halen was the headline band. We got the gig until they found out we were under age. We were only 16 and you had to be 18 to play there. I had always been hearing about this guy Eddie Van Halen and we finally met right after the first Van Halen record and we did this big festival in LA and we said hi to each other and then one day he called me on the phone and said “Come over! I wanna hang.” And we got together and we´ve been really close friends ever since. I think the world of Ed. He was a game changer and he´s been a very good friend through some dark times. I´m so happy that he´s in great form and doing ok. I got a text from him a couple of weeks ago before I left. He´s one of the finest ever. What can I say, we´ve had a lot of laughs together. (laughs)
Have you guys ever thought of doing something real together, like an album?
SL: Yeah! We´ve done things together. He played on my Christmas album and I´ve sat in with Van Halen live and we´ve written some things together on my first solo album. We hang out and do stuff, but generally when we hang out we don´t talk about music. We´re just regular dudes like everybody else. I´d love to do something with Ed down the line, but he doesn´t really do much outside stuff. The band is everything for him. I´ve been trying to get Alex to do something, but he just won´t. “I love you Luke, but I only play with my brother.” And I´m like “C´mon Al, we´ve been buds for some 35 odd years!” and he goes “I love your shit but I just don´t think I´d be the right guy.”. He´s a great drummer and Al doesn´t get enough love. He´s part of that Van Halen sound too. He´s a power house and he´s also got a lot to do with the concept and the writing and the overview of the band. He´s a really smart guy too. He´s really intelligent and we have a lot of really deep conversations and he´s a really funny guy too. I gotta give him a call. I haven´t talked to him in like a year. Anyway, I love those guys. I´m a big fan and we´re also friends.
Did you hook them up with Ross Hogarth for the latest album? I know you´ve worked with Ross before.
SL: No, I didn´t have anything to do with that one. Ross worked on my record and he recorded the drums and bass. Listen, we all live in Hollywood and we´ve all worked together before. I worked with Ross way back in the day. I forget what record it was, but everybody knows everybody else. Ross found his way there… I think through another producer they´re were gonna use, but they didn´t use the producer, they kept him. I forget what the story was but it´s not for me to gossip like that.
Final thing. I see that you´re playing in Stockholm in March. What can we expect?
SL: I am! Polka fusion music. (laughs) No, I´m gonna play my stuff. I´m gonna play some new stuff and stuff from all my records. I haven´t really put the show together yet. I´m still trying to figure out how I´m gonna play the record live, because I make this huge produced records and I gotta rethink how I´m gonna do it live. I´ve been picking out songs that I think are gonna work. I think I´m gonna wait and see when the record comes out and see what the reaction is and see what their favorite tracks are. I do like to listen to the people that like what I do. Those are your harshest critics. If a fan gives you critique it means something. If some guy who just hates me because it´s cool to hate me or whatever, I don´t listen to those people. I mean, what the fuck? “36 years later you´re gonna start telling me I suck?”. “Ok, you´re right, I suck. You´re much cooler than me.”. But people that buy your records and pay for the ticket, they deserve the attention and most of the time they have great ideas, so I listen to them. I can´t do all 200 songs that I´ve recorded, but if you get an overall consensus of what people like to hear and what would be different from the last time… I´ve really been working on my vocals a lot. I´ve got a new vocal coach and that´s always the hardest thing about playing live. Ask any band, any singer. There´s not that many guys that nail it 100 % every night. It´s a hard act and especially as you get older, but I´m really clean in my mind and body and I take really super good care of myself and with my vocal coach I´ve seen a really big improvement so I´m gonna stay on that road and I´m gonna give everybody the best of both worlds. It´s gonna be a rocking show. I´m not gonna be doing “Hold the line” and I´m not gonna be doing the jazz fusion set. C´mon out and see the diversity and dig some new stuff and some old favorites and I´ll be there.
Who are you bringing out on the road?
SL: My live band. They played on the album and co wrote and sang, so I´m gonna have my guys that I love and maybe a guest or two, you never know.
Cool. Looking forward to it. Thank you so much Steve!
SL: Thank you for the good vibe, man! Say hi to all the readers!