Steve Porcaro on Toto’s 2018 U.S. Tour, New Music and the ‘Horror’ of Singing

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Steve Porcaro joins Preston Frazier to preview Toto’s upcoming U.S. tour days, discuss the prospect of more new music – both from the band and himself – and talk frankly about the challenges of taking over vocals on stage …

PRESTON FRAZIER: Your European tour earlier this year went really well and you’ll be kicking off the American summer leg soon.
STEVE PORCARO: Yes, and we’ve finished off the additional songs for the upcoming box set. You’ve already heard the three new songs from 40 Trips Around the Sun. We also went in with Elliot Scheiner remastered every record in the catalog. We have a new song called “Chase the Rain.” It will be included on the “All In” limited-edition box set, and on the “Old Is New” LP. The “Old Is New” set is mastered by Elliot Scheiner, along with the box set and is due out this fall.

“Chase the Rain” features my vocals. I had finished my record and finished a tour with Toto, but I was a little disheartened with the response to Someday / Somehow. I hadn’t written a lot after my solo album, but this came to me. It really was something in my wheelhouse. I wrote it quickly and had the vocals really quick. The guys liked what I had and contributed. Luke [Steve Lukather] wrote a verse, Joseph [Williams] helped a lot with the lyrics. It really became a band-written thing. You’ll still be able to tell that it’s my baby. It’s the only one I’m singing lead on. For these songs, including the three which already came out, we were all in the room – and we all had writing, arranging and production input. I think I’m on bass for “Chase the Rain.”

PRESTON FRAZIER: Was it a Moog?
STEVE PORCARO: No, it was something else, one of my plug ins. Shannon Forrest played drums. Shannon’s incredible. I love the way he plays.

PRESTON FRAZIER: What can you tell me about the other new songs?
STEVE PORCARO: There’s one called “Chelsea,” which was Joe’s baby. He started it off. He did an amazing job with the lyrics and vocal arrangements. He engineered the track. That song is really strong. It’s one of the new ones. One of the older ones of mine called “In a Little While,” we revitalized. It features Jeff Porcaro and David Hungate; Lukather sings lead on it. It think it’s credited to me and Dave [David Paich], but it’s Lukather singing lead. “Oh Why” has a real old-school Toto feel to it. David Paich started it a long time ago. It’s very characteristic of his writing style back then. There’s a tune called “Devil’s Tower” then “Fearful Heart.” “Alone,” “Spanish Sea” and “Struck By Lightning” will also be included on “Old Is New.”

PRESTON FRAZIER: This is really exciting. Let’s shift gears and talk about the American tour.
STEVE PORCARO: I’m looking forward to the U.S. leg. We’ve been of the road for a bit. I’m using a new Montage controller set up, which I started playing on the European leg. The set up I have now is really cool compared to what I used in the old days. It makes recreating the sound much easier.

PRESTON FRAZIER: How about your set list?
STEVE PORCARO: We may do a few new ones from the ‘new’ albums. We’ve met quite a bit to discuss what we are doing this time, since it’s the 40 Trips Around the Sun and we have but so much time. Do you do a set list for the Toto fans and give them a real deep cut set list with stuff they rarely hear, or do you put together the best set for the casual listener or the friends who know the hits?

PRESTON FRAZIER: The thing about Toto is that you have such a deep catalog. Also the European fans know the deep cuts better than the U.S. fans.
STEVE PORCARO: Especially the later stuff. You know, there are some songs which come up in the set and I say, “guys, do we have to do this,” and Luke might say: “Yes, this was popular in wherever in the summer of whatever.” We are going to do a great mix. Luckily, with the software I have now it makes the process a lot more sane for me to find the sounds than in the old days. I actually enjoy it. It’s like a puzzle that I’m really good at.

PRESTON FRAZIER: The last US tour seemed to have a lot of deeps cuts! You did “Great Expectations.” You did “Chinatown.” It was amazing.
STEVE PORCARO: Yes, a lot of fans would mention how they wanted to hear “Chinatown.” We like playing it. It’s got such a great old-style Toto groove.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Will Shem von Schroeck and Warren Ham continue with you?
STEVE PORCARO: Yes, and Lenny Castro on percussion and Shannon Forrest on drums. I loved Shem’s contributions. It’s great to have a real strong tenor to handle the high backing parts, just like on the records. I hated having some poor guy have to sing falsetto or have a girl sing the parts. Most of our backing vocals are male. We always brought in a real tenor, Tom Kelly or the Eagles’ Timothy B. Schmidt, as a ringers. It’s nice to hear those parts sung the way they were meant to be performed: Loud, proud and in tune.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Speaking of vocals, two U.S. tours ago you sang the song “Bend,” but on the last tour you didn’t sing any of your signature songs.
STEVE PORCARO: I don’t think I’m singing anything on this tour. I hate seeing my stuff on YouTube, and I feel that I could have done better. If my voice had some magical Tom Waits kind of character to it maybe I would, but it’s just too much work. I’m just not a singer. It makes me not enjoy the concerts. I know there are people out there who want to hear me sing, but it’s a horror for me. It’s just not fun for me.

PRESTON FRAZIER: I understand. I remember talking to your cowriter Michael Sherwood about the song “The Little Things.” I know he didn’t co-wrote that one, but he was so complimentary of your vocals.
STEVE PORCARO: Preston, you have to understand. I mean, that song is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. My voice – it took a lot of work to get that performance. It looks hours and hours and hours to get that sound. It’s not artist stuff; it’s drudgery. I love the finished product, but its work. I love to be there belting out my songs on stage and making eye contact with a pretty girl in Row 4, but it’s really a horror for me to sing these songs in concert! Now, everything you do and every fuck-up is on YouTube for the world to see.

PRESTON FRAZIER: I’d like to circle back to your solo album, Someday / Somehow. Are you and Michael Sherwood thinking of a follow-up?
STEVE PORCARO: Yes, absolutely. I have my own studio; I can record when I want. Given the way the music industry is, I can’t survive off my own music, but that doesn’t deter me from making new music. Will it be an album or a handful of songs released one at a time? I don’t know. I love working with Mike Sherwood; he’s a soul brother in a lot of ways. He’s quite a talent and a character. I can’t wait to do more, and I think I’m writing the best stuff I’ve ever written.


Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier is a bass-playing lawyer living in Atlanta. His first Steely Dan exposure was with an eight-track cassette of 'Pretzel Logic.' He can be reached at slangofages@icloud.com; follow him on Twitter: @slangofages. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Preston Frazier
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