Toto Back with New Album, Re-energized Lineup

By Jim Barber

www.totoofficial.com

In 1982, the American rock band Toto was one of the most popular groups on the plant. In the infant days of MTV, the band’s fourth album Toto IV was dominating the airwaves on both radio and television, and would feature the band’s two biggest hit singles – Rosanna and Africa, and would also garner the group a handful of Grammy Awards.

It was the culmination of a lot of hard work and a band with deep progressive rock roots adding just a touch of mainstream populism into their musical formula. Toto had a decent hit with Hold the Line off its 1977 debut, and then made the music industry stand up and take notice with their next album, the lushly produced, musically and thematically company Hydra, before starting to slide a little more into the pop/rock vibe with 1981s Turn Back.

After Toto IV, the band continued to release new music regularly throughout the 1980s and less frequnently in the 1990s and 2000s, but through various lineup changes and the fickle nature of music fans and the broader entertainment industry, could never seem to recapture the magic of Toto IV.

But Toto, including co-founder Steve Porcaro (of three Porcaro brothers to have been in the band: Jeff passed away in 1992 and Mike is suffering from ALS but still considered to be an official band member) believe Toto’s forthcoming album, Toto XIV is a return to the formula and musical philosophy that made Toto IV one of the iconic albums of the early 1980s.

“I mentioned in a press quote that I thought this was the logical follow-up to Toto IV and most people in the media have been leading with that. But I kind of feel bad because I didn’t mean to discount all the hard work that went into the actual follow-up album, Isolation, which came out a couple years later. I don’t want people to think I am dissing that record or anything that’s been done since. What I am trying to get across is that it took all this time to get to the point where I think we rediscovered whatever we did back then and just leapfrogged forward to 2014 with that same energy,” Porcaro said.

“It was weird because we didn’t actually jump right in the studio to do the follow-up. There was this extended period of time that wasn’t too good for the band looking back in hindsight. People left the band, and we did the music for the movie Dune {which was a big-budget flop in 1984, although Sting seemed to have survived unscathed] and all these distractions before we did the follow up. And by the time we did the music landscape had changed, our record company president had changed and people really had us second guessing ourselves. So we lost that momentum.

“Now we’re all back to completely believing in ourselves and we’re allowing all of our influences to come out without worrying about what other people are saying.”

Toto XIV is being released through Frontiers Records in Europe on March 20, the UK on March 23 and the following day throughout North America and is the band’s first studio album in nearly a decade since 2006s Falling In Between. For a couple of those years the band had actually broken up. And since the reformation in 2010 that saw Porcaro rejoin the band (he left in 1987) alongside co-founders Steve Lukather and David Paich, the band has toured relentlessly around the globe alongside singer Joseph Williams (who had an earlier stint in the band in the late 1980s) and a host of talented accompanying musicians. And those tours have been to an ever-expanding audience. The lineup is augmented by new drummer Keith Carlock, who took over for longtime skin basher Simon Phillips and another original member, David Hungate, who was in Toto from 1977 to 1982 on bass and is essentially filling Mike Porcaro’s slot on tour. Nathan East held that position since the band reformed in 2010.

The constant touring is one of the other reason’s it’s taken so long to write, record and release new Toto music. But once they were committed to the project, Porcaro said it was all hand’s on deck and ended up being one of the best and most rewarding experiences of their long careers.

“Once the call was made to go ahead it came together pretty quickly. It’s not like we took an inordinate amount of time to actually make the album. It’s just been so good over the last few years; it’s been such a pleasure being out on the road that we wanted to make it something special. We decided that it would have been very typical just to phone this one in for the sake of putting out a new album, I mean albums aren’t really selling like they used to anyways, right? But we chose to do the exact opposite and make like it really mattered – because it did,” he said.

“And I know for me, I am in this place in my life where my creativity is probably at an all-time high. The songs are just rolling out of me. I have 10-year periods where that’s just not the case. But it’s just flowing through me and I think it’s the same for the other guys too. And our attitudes are very different. We’re celebrating what makes each of us unique and good at what we do as musicians and songwriters. Back in the day I might have been seen as extravagant and taking up too much time in the studio being self-indulgent, whereas now we appreciate those sorts of things in one another. Now the guys count on me to be a little indulgent.

“When we look back at the band’s discography and all the music that we made, what has really stuck with people was the music we made at the time when we were really being ourselves and doing our thing, not trying to second guess everybody and ourselves or trying hard to make hits. We were being the best version of ourselves and that’s how it felt making Toto XIV.”

The excellence of the final product is not due to any internal pressure, Porcaro insists, but because Toto as a collective entity, and the individual musicians who comprise it, wanted to make a statement.

“The guys aren’t done yet and neither am I. We really feel that we’ve got some very real music in us still, some pertinent music that people would want to hear and not just because we’re the guys who used to make records people liked. Yes, we’ve got that built-in audience and those hardcore fans who would probably buy whatever we put out, but we really think we can go beyond that. We think we can draw in new people,” he said.

“There’s so much stuff out there these days including even our contemporary legacy acts, or whatever you want to call them. We know that we have to be ourselves; that’s how we’re going to differentiate ourselves from everything else, by having it be real and having it be us without any second guessing.”

While Toto’s progressive rock-inspired brand of melodic rock may have fallen out of favour with critics, record labels, radio programmers and other so-called ‘taste makers’ throughout much of North America, the band has found it is as popular as ever elsewhere and is even gaining new fans in other parts of the world.

“We have done all through Europe and over to Japan mostly over the last few years because we keep getting booked there over and over again. And what blows my mind isn’t so much that we are selling out big places like Budokan, but I am expecting the people down front – the hardcore fans – to be of a certain age and to see a lot of grey hair. But at Toto shows in Europe and Japan the first 50 rows are kids – 20 somethings. And they have all gotten into us from their parents. But they are the ones who are waiting in line early to get the best seats at our shows,” he said.

“We are also pulling in the older fans who are coming to hear Toto play their hits, but the younger kids like both; the like the older stuff but also the newer material too. It’s incredible.”

But even back home in North America, Porcaro has noticed younger folks rockin’ out at the band’s shows and feels it’s because a significant portion of young fans are learning to appreciate the great musicianship on display at Toto’s live shows and on record.

“I work with some EDM (electronic dance music) guys and they live in their computers. To guys like them and a lot of people who like modern pop music, we’re an oddity. They are the sweetest guys and great to work with and are doing some amazing stuff, but they look at guys like me and David and Steve like we’re freaks. It’s like we’re from the jungle somewhere and they’ve just discovered us playing on our native instruments or something. I think for many younger people, there is a certain novelty to seeing guys that can actually play the shit out of their instruments,” he said.

As far as touring, Porcaro said Toto will proudly be playing songs from Toto XIV as well as their back catalogue as part of their extensive set list during their upcoming world tour, something which not all of their classic rock contemporaries seem to do.

“I know some bands that will release a new album but won’t play a single song from it on tour. They know what the fans are there for I guess – they’re there to hear the hits so you just play the hits and get the fuck off the stage. When we go out on the road this time, it will be like the old days of touring an album. We’re really excited about it and we’re anxious to play it live, so there will be perhaps four or five tunes off it in the live set,” he said.

With brother Mike suffering greatly from the final stages of his battle with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Steve said the band makes every effort possible to use its celebrity status to help generate awareness and badly-needed funds for various ALS-related charities.

“Depending on the ALS Association presence in the particular town we are playing in we will always try to do something. We invite them to the shows and allow them to put an information booth out there and there’s always a presence at the merch table. There is always a place to give to the local ALS group so people can learn about it. I check on that personally,” he said.

“But it’s never enough and we’re dealing with it at home too. It’s going horribly for Mike. It’s a fucking nightmare. We take care of our own and make sure he’s looked after, but right now we’re all in panic mode. He’s not doing well – he’s just trapped in his body. We’re all just hunkering down and trying to support him and his family and also do what we can to get the word out to everyone about ALS.”

With a new album, and slew of tour dates that will take them through 2015 and well into 2016, Toto seems like it will be making and playing music for many years to come.

For more information on the band and Toto XIV, visit www.totoofficial.com