Jeb: I'd like to touch base with you and talk a little about the new Toto album [Mindfields]. I gotta tell you, it sounds just as good as the old stuff!
Steve: Thank you man. We had a good time making it. It was like old times with Bobby back in the band.
Jeb: How did all that come about?
Steve: Well, it was kind of weird. We hadn't spoke to each other in... Jesus, I don't even want to say in how long! A few years back we put out an album called Toto XX for our fans. It was all unreleased material, old demos... it was a commemoration for 20 years of service. This was 1997. We got everyone together in the room and started talking. I mean all the old guys.
We put our differences aside and it was, really, a cool experience. Everybody sort of looked at each other and said, "Why are we mad at each other"? It had been like a decade or more!!! We started playing. We jammed a little bit and Bobby sounded great, better than ever. It was a really positive experience.
Jeb: I notice on your playing, your stepping on the fuzz a little heavy in places!
Steve: Heh, heh. The way I play on record as opposed to the way I play live is kind of different. I'm more conservative on record, because I think hot dogging it on a record is kind of silly. It was really fun. A lot of things were one-takes, live. We just let it happen. We tried to keep that natural feeling. Some of the other songs were more produced, depending on the mood we were in. It also depended upon the song. We have been playing together since high school, well, most of us have. It is like having one internal brain.
Jeb: It sounds like there is a very diverse influence in your music.
Steve: We have everything we have ever listened to in our entire lives! We all come from different musical places, and it just sorta comes out that way. We don't really talk about it. It comes out how it comes out, depending on whose in the room. I play with lots of other people and it does not sound like Toto. When you get that group of people together, then that's just how it comes out!!
Jeb: I see you played on the Alice Cooper tribute album...
Steve: Oh!! That was fun. I don't hardly remember doing that! I was in and out of there in about a half and hour. It does not take to long to do that stuff, I've been doing it about half my life!
Jeb: Tell me about your axe.
Steve: I'm playing my MusicMan through a Rivera amp. Both custom made stuff. Well, not custom, you can buy it at your local guitar center, but I helped design all of it.
Jeb: Are you still into using a lot of effects?
Steve: I've weaned myself off of all that! I had to go to echo anonymous!! I went through that period. When it was all new, I wanted it all. It was fun to step on all the gizmos and make the guitar sound not like a guitar! I've come back full circle. I use a little delay and that's about it. I don't use chorus or harminizors anymore. That sound kind of grates on me.
Jeb: I've heard a lot of Spanish influence in some of your lead playing.
Steve: Let's just say there is a lot more notes in the scale that the tonic! The blues scale is the basis of a vocabulary. There are so may more options that I have come by from playing with great players like Jeff Beck and Larry Carlton and other jazz guys. I have been very influenced and don't just play the same old blues licks. I try to set myself apart from it. I've been playing guitar since I was 7 years old and now I'm 42! You get bored playing the same old stuff. I still practice everyday. I still care about the instrument. I still, really, think there is a lot more to learn. When you here somebody great playing you realize you have so much more to get together!
Jeb: When you are composing, what approach do take to the lead?
Steve: I don't think about it much. I just play. It just comes. It's like channeling. There a couple of bits and pieces where I will work something out as far as a piece needing a Beatle thing or a melody. But 99% of the time. I say let me do a few takes and see what happens.
Jeb: As polished a sound as you have, you would think that you guys chart everything out.
Steve: NOT AT ALL. Toto has never written a piece of music and stared at it while we were playing. The only time would be while we are working out a string chart or a horn chart. We are all schooled musicians but when your playing in a rock band you don't read charts! 80% of the records I've ever done as a studio player, I just used a chord chart. We have to come up with a part within 5 minutes and then cut the check. You have to have big ears and you have to have your shit together in order to make it work. It takes a long time. People poo poo the session player and say, "those guys are hacks" or whatever but if your put in that situation and realizing what you have to do, it's a different story. If somebody gives you a chart that says 35 bars of F#, with nothing written on it and they want it in 2 or 3 takes, you better come up with a part. You can't just bang out F# for 35 bars. You would not work again if you do that. In essence, you are composing on the spot.
Jeb: Your name has been everywhere that last 10 years.
Steve: I've been doing this for over 25 years. I learned from the best. Before everyone had drum machines in their house, you had to hire a full rhythm section. I got a chance to work with the greatest musicians at the time. The great producers and engineers. You can't help but have that rub off on you. You learn how to make great records.
Jeb: Who were the most profound influences on your sound?
Steve: That's a real difficult one! I still have not figured that one out.
Jeb: Your still learning?
Steve: It's a work in progress. I don't think you ever "get it". I think there are high points and great moments. But you always look back and go, "I wish I would have played that a little different". That's just me. To the audience, they either like it or they don't.
Jeb: You still look at it as an art form...
Steve: Yes, I do. Unfortunately, the business end does not. If your a painter or a writer it's a different kind of thing. Nobody can go let's make a thousand paintings that look just like that. In the music business, it's let's make a thousand Brittany Spears. Boy bands are hot. Let's make a hundred million of them, so that we absolutely can't, fucking, stand any of them! When I grew up, there was only 1 Led Zeppelin there was only 1 Beatles. You did not have to ask who it was when the new record came out. You knew it was the, new, fucking, Zeppelin album! Then you run out and wait in line to see them. You get tickets to see the band, because thats the only way that you can see the band. You listen to the record and see them live. I really think MTV really McDonald's the whole thing, to me. Nobody wants to go see anything, 'cause they see them everywhere. If you look at the Billboard charts today, and you look at them 3 years from now, the same people will not be on them. If you go back 10 years, it's the same thing. A band can be the biggest thing in the world, but 2 years go by and you never hear from them again. Ever again!
Jeb: Radio used be more diverse as well.
Steve: The word format repulses me. When I was kid, you'd listen to FM radio and hear Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Hendrix and Jethro Tull. They would play the album cuts. It was more anti-establishment. Now everything is like AM radio to me. I'm 42 years old so I can remember what that was! Top 40. Everything is Top 40. Even Jazz. What is jazz anymore? The Wave?? That's not Jazz. Jazz is Miles Davis and shit!
Jeb: When I put on track one, of Mindfield, the new Toto album, I could tell right away who I was listening too.
Steve: Some people like that and some people don't!!
Jeb: I suppose that's true! But you guys are doing phenomenal outside of the U.S. aren't you?
Steve: Yes, we still sell out arenas around the world. Because we all do so many different things, the perception is that Toto is not a real band. The fact of the matter is that we were a high school band. We were able to read music and we studied. But we were not so studied that we did not have any fire in us. We still liked to go out and drink beer and be a fucking an asshole. We were as much rock and roll as the Rolling Stones at one point. We have calmed that lifestyle. That was the irony. Because of the people or the formats of our songs they would play on the radio, that's what people thought of us. You either fit into this format or that format. Now the format is "how old are you?" If your over the age of 30 then fucking forget it. We ain't playing your records unless your an absolute legend! We have never fallen into a crack. We were never in style, so we are not out of style. You either like us or you don't. Somehow we have managed to have this long career.
Jeb: What can we expect out of Toto now?
Steve: We have been on tour for the last year and a half. All of us do other things. I'm doing a blues jazz tour this summer in Europe with Edgar Winter. Dave is producing Boz Scaggs new album.
Jeb: Are you going to be playing in the States?
Steve: In and out. I did a live album with Larry Carlton. I'm producing this kid, Eric Gales, who is a young hot guitar player. I'm writing tunes for a solo record. I have a lot going on. I'm involved with this new record company and video channel that says FUCK YOU to the corporate scene. It has big bucks behind it and it is run by real musicians who actually really play and still make records.
Jeb: How long do we have to wait for that?
Jeb: I have to ask a question from the past. Did you do something for the Olympics?
Steve: We wrote one of the themes for that along with Quincy Jones and others. They called us! I love the world, but I love America!
Jeb: Will you be touring the States soon?
Steve: We will be in and out. We didn't want to go on one of those everyone from the 80's tours. We do this for the love of it as opposed to the need to do it. All of us make money doing other stuff. I will play with anybody. I love to play. But as far as these package tours, nothing against anybody, but we did not feel that was how we wanted to be represented. We do a 2 1/2 hour set and we want our sound to be just right. I'd rather play a smaller place and make it excellent than play a bigger place with 5 other bands from the 80's. To me it's cheesy. I'm more of a serious musician than that. I've got other things to do and I don't have to do it. I do things on my own terms.
Jeb: When is this solo album you mentioned.
Steve: It will probably be next year. I have so many other things going on that I have to do it in bits and pieces.
Jeb: What will it sound like? Any hints?
Steve: I don't know, I'm still writing it!!! I would imagine somewhere between Clapton, Beck and Pink Floyd with Earth Wind and Fire grooves. Some instrumental stuff, some longer pieces of music. Guitar oriented without being obnoxious about it.
Jeb: Thank you for letting us touch base with you. It has been great talking to you.
Steve: I really appreciate your time. Take care of yourself.
Classic Rock Revisited, 2000