Reggie: Can you update us on what you've been up to since Toto and some of your recent projects.
Simon: "When I'm at home I run a studio called Phantom Recording. It's a commercial studio. It's a bit of a challange. It's kind of rough trying to run a studio when you're on the road so much with Toto. That's one of the reasons I wanted to get off the road so much with Toto. So I could concentrate more on getting the studio running. I get projects too. People want me to play and I record in the studio. I did two records. One with Steve Hackett who used to play with Genesis and Chris Squire of Yes. I haven't heard anything or seen it out yet. So I'm not even sure it's been released yet. But it was really fun, it was great!. And I'd have to say Steve sounded incredible on it. So I'm kind of intrigued to find out what's happened with that one.
The other record I was asked to do was the new Michael Schenker album. Funny enough it featured the same singer, Gary Barden, as the first MSG album I played on in 1980, almost 30 years ago! That was fun. That album's out now. That went rather quickly. I didn't have much contact with Michael at all. I spoke to his producer. They left it up to me. I sent them all the files back. They mixed it and I think they loved it. Since then I took my band out on the road. I've been to Japan once. I've done a Tour. I did a thing called the Modern Drummer Festival in New Jersey. I did New York earlier this year. I'm about to leave again to Jakarta to the Java Jazz Festival in March. Then go back to Japan with the band to do another week of gigs over there."
Reggie: It sounds like you've been pretty busy!
Simon: "The funny thing is we came off the road in March with Toto. I had a few things lined up. But obviously one of the things that I haven't been able to do for the last few years is my commitment to Tama Drums to play drum seminars and clinics around the World. As soon as they knew I was off the road they were sending me everywhere. I hadn't been home that long. I went over to Europe, I did a Tour of Switzerland & Germany. Then I went back over to Japan to do a Tour with my band. I was home a little over a month and then I went over to the far east Jakarta, Taipei, Bangkok, Indonesia and New Zeland. They were all places that we just played with Toto oddly enough. I ended up being away from home as much if not more than with Toto. It was very different stuff which was great. When I'm home there's always something I'm doing in the Studio. There's always projects backed up. That includes anything from me being the house engineer and engineering sessions that come in. It's kind of funny because sometimes I get these referrals. Somebody rings the studio and they don't know who I am. I'm also the studio manager. They come into the studio for a day or two or whatever and I'm engineering. They can be quite young and they have NO idea! (who I am). It's hilarious!"
Reggie: That's incredible!
Simon: "I love it! I'm doing something that I've been doing for quite a long time. A lot longer than people actualy think. I am known as a player, not an engineer because I haven't spent as long doing it. I've been a professional engineer since 1983."
Reggie: The last time I interviewed you, you said you didn't join Toto just to be a drummer. Your list of producer, engineer and mixing credits are starting to pile up.
Simon: "Yes,it's funny. I grew up in the studio. I was in the studio before I was born! My mom took me in there when I was in the womb! The studio was always there. My father was always recording. I actualy did my first recording in a studio with his band when I was six years old. So I'd been in the studio a few times before then. So I know the whole concept of shut up when the red light's on dumkoft, don't eat sweets, don't get up and walk out. I knew what it was like to be around a live michrophone. In those days, we take it for granted now, the mic was like the Holy Grail! Today we just grab the mic. Back then the mic got set up by a guy in a long coat. Nobody else would touch those michrophones. You had to literally step very carefully around them. It was a whole different thing. That's what I grew up in. I'm not going to say to the begining of recording, because recording had been around for a long time, but it was before multi track."
Reggie: It sounds like recording is in your blood.
Simon: "Ya! When I was going to sessions it was mono, four track, 1/4 inch. Most of the sessions I did as a child was because of playing with my fathers band. Because of the broadcast that we did, they weren't in stereo yet. My first sessions were with a nine piece band. It was probably with, we used to share mics in those days, 9 or 10 mics total, which were mixed, a live mix, to a 1/4 inch, four track tape machine. It came out to one speaker in a control room at the B.B.C. As late as 1970 or 71 they were still doing that."
Reggie: Those kids that didn't know who you were, weren't even a thought yet!
Simon: "Hey! Even the people I've been playing with. With respect, I don't think anyone in Toto actualy had that experience with four track 1/4 inch. Maybe Paich (David) when he was accompanying his father when he went to London. I think the stuff Marty (Paich) was doing was more movie sound track & more phonogram records. Maybe by that time thet were stereo."
Reggie: I was lucky enough to see you at the the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Show for your 30th anniversay celebration with Tama. I was watching the Show with Doug Aldrich & Timothy Drury of Whitesnake and Denny Seiwell of Wings. Tell us about that night and playing to a room full of top notch musicians.
Simon: "I enjoyed it thoroughly! I thought the audience was a bit tough, talking to them. It was like, come on guys, are you really enjoying this? But I did notice that the room was plenty packed most of the time. But when we did the retro set with the Judas Priest songs, the Pete Townsend stuff and towards the end the Jeff Beck stuff. The room was pretty damn full wasn't it?"
Reggie: Oh ya. It was jam packed! The crowd seemed to pick up inintensity during that part. The NAMM Show is a really tough crowd!
Simon. "It is. They're ALL pros. I know the sound could have been a lot better. I was a bit disappointed about that. There were a lot of factors leading up to that. I don't know if you know this but I was actualy pretty sick during that whole Show. I had been very sick for about three months. And I've only just started to get over it. I really got knocked for six. Unfortunately it was one of those things that couldn't be avoided. I had a flare up with a tooth. The dentist said this is a huge infection. We'll have to kill this with some anti-biotics. And with my present condition, the condition I've had for many years, it's the worst thing I could have taken. It gave me a secondary infection, which I've been on anti-biotics for nearly three months trying to get rid of. Finally now I can get on steroids to try and get rid of all the other stuff. At the start of rehearsals which was Monday (for a Thursday show) I was ready to cancel the show. That was a three hour show for me! I hadn't touched a drum kit since December 7th (for a Jan 15th show). So that whole night I was incredibly under rehearsed and under practiced."
Reggie: I knew you were under the weather but I didn't know the severity of it!
Simon: "It was very severe. I just kinda got in a Zen mode and closed my eyes and played. Playing music is a most amazing thing. I had asked a few other people to come and guest. But for weird circumtances they just couldn't do it. It ended up actualy best. Andy Timmons was my MD (Musical Director). I said to Andy I need help. And he took over. He was fantastic. All of the musicians knuckled down & learned everything. Especialy the guest singers.It was just a pleasure to play those songs. There were two songs that we played, mainly the Beck stuff. The first time we rehearsed "The Pump" it was the same feeling as when we played it back in 1980. And when we played it the night of the show, it was the same thing. For some reason with Mel, Andy & (Steve) Weingart we hit it! It's very hard to hit that real right. You just have to have kind of a feel. And even though I'm playing it,it's just not me. It has to be everybody else. I was really pleased with it. I think Andy's performance knocked a lot of people out! I think that's one of the best versions of "Space Boogie" that's ever been played. I loved it! My problem was trying to get through the night and not collapse. That's why nobody saw me at the NAMM Show for the next few days. I woke up on Friday morning and said I've got to go home and sit on the sofa. I loved it! But one of the balls I dropped was I couldn't get the sound engineer that I wanted. I should have gone further. But it just wasn't that. It was the set up. The P.A. and everything. I can do a lot of that stuff but not everything. But that day I just couldn't deal with it. I was hoping it sounded o.k. People who are honst with me told me it wasn't great but it wasn't bad."
Reggie:It was great. We had a fun time. It was a great celebration of your 30 years with Tama.
Simon: "I was grateful that Tama put all that money into it. It was quite a production. I'm glad you enjoyed it. And I'm glad that the other people around you did."
Reggie: You have an amazing amount of sessions. With Pete Townsend, Roger Daltrey, Mick Jagger and Jeff Beck at the top of the list. But what caught my eye was the diversity in playing on a Whitesnake, Judas Priest & MSG record and then an Art Garfunkel, Tears for Fears and Bonnie Tyler record.
Simon: "There's even more diversity than that. I can also go into the straight ahead world and do a Be-Bop album. I made a Be-Bop record called Vantage Point. It's funny, especially in this country how pigeon holed you get. A lot of people don't know that I can play straight ahead. The funny thing is that's what I grew up playing! And I think even here a lot of drummers here don't understand that because they haven't heard me play in that context. I do tend to play it a little bit wacky, a little bit different. I grew up playing straight ahead. That's my background, not as a rock drummer at all. So for me to sit down on a kit and play ding, dinga, ding dinga, ding is kinda like picking up a spoon. In Europe we don't have that kind of radio & television programming, that says that one record company produces that kind of music. What America's all about, and that's what I love about America is that you had Stax and Motown. You had all those record companies that specialized in a sound. In England and Europe it wasn't so big so the record companies had to do a multitude of different musics.
So you had a lot of local radio stations that played certain kinds of music. In England, the way it's governed. It's not free, you have to pay. You have to have a license to have a T.V. The radio waves are stictly governed. That goes back, probably to the war, actualy. The only way to set up a radio station is you get on a boat and you sail three miles out side the British Isles. And if you sail in they will send out a military craft and get you! That's how strict they are! So now bring that back into how radio stations work. Obviously there's only a few. They cover a long ways. They're actualy very high quality, very strong, the antennas are stronger than here. I'm talking about the 50's and 60's. But the music had to be programed during the days. In the morning you'd get light music, then you'd get Pop. It wasn't until later on that they started with Radio 1, Radio 2 and Radio 3. Radio 1 was light music, Radio 2 was Pop and Jazz and Radio 3 was talk or classical. As a musician in the 60's and 70's you had to play lots of different types of music. And the funny thing is all the Heavy Metal drummers as they are known now. All these drummers that the Trash American metal drummers love, started out playing Dixieland and skiffle. So John Bonham could sit down and play Dixieland if he wanted to. All those other drummers, John Heisman, Ian Paice, I mean you name it. That's where we all started! That's why I think it's quite funny when they think of John Bonham as being this heavy drummer. It wasn't until much, much later that he started playing that loud. And he really didn't play that loud compared to how loud people play now. He had a lot more finesse and that's how he got that sound. Actualy the drums weren't that loud. The placing of the mics, the recording technique, experimenting a bit more. It's kinda funny when people over here, their concept is so different. I know this is a bit of a long answer, but the point of it is we grow up having to be very diverse. I would get a session at 10 in the morning and it would be a jingle. I'd have to play a stagecoach rhythm on the side of a drum. And the next session would be Barry White. That's really where we got it from!"
Reggie: Steve Lukather has a reputation for being able to get his guitar parts down in sessions rather quickly. What's it like with him in the studio and what's it like playing with him live?
Simon: "Actualy the funny thing is, they're two diferent animals. One of my favorite ways of working with Luke is when we're on another project (outside of Toto). In other words I'd have loved to been here in the 80's doing sessions with Luke, because it's remarkable. I've engineered with him many times with him doing other sessions. We get the track up and he has the chart in front of him. We get a sound, it may not be the right sound but it's "a sound". Then he'll set the amp and that's probably the last time he'll go out to the amp unless you want something completely diferent. It's mostly in his fingers, the way he approches, which is how a lot of us do it. Believe it or not, I do the same thing with the drum kit. With Luke I always hit record, I don't even hit play. I just hit record because I always know I'm going to get something that's a keeper, if not almost a keeper. It's just amazing to watch him go through this chart, formulate and play purely by instinct! It's the most beautiful thing to watch. I'm just amazed! There are a lot of great musicians around, I've worked with them. But, boy I don't think anybody does it like Luke! There are a few guys that do, but boy that's him totally on instinct and intuition and that's how I love any musician.
The other thing is I like working with him because he's quick, and he gets a great sound! If I can't get a decent guitar sound on him I should go home! Really, it's the easiest. It's just amazing. But not only that, we're talking guitar. I'm talking about him on the keyboard. To do vocals with him is just a dream because he's so accurate. He's so in the moment. His reads are always really good. We all need guidance and when he works with Paich (David) it's great. I just concentrate on listening and sound and everything else. I might come up with something and go blah, blah, blah, but really their working relationship is facinating to watch. So I love working in the studio with Luke."
"When we were playing live it was obviously absolutely great. When the band hits the stage it's amazing! My issue, and this goes for every live scenario, and it may have to do with my jazzy background, is I like to change things all the time. I'm not happy being the same. I think the problem is when you play night after night, it's kind of easy to get into a routine and it starts getting into the music too. I know that's something that since I've been in the band, I think changed a lot more than before. That's just the way I play. It will be the same for a while and then suddenly I'll do something and it's great to see how people react. If the tours are not too long and we're all enjoying it then it's fantastic. The problem comes when the tours get a bit too long and we get tired or there's some stuff going on. The last time we went out there were a few issues. It's nothing out of the ordinary. If you're in a band, you're family and you're running a business. Every band goes through it. Compared to a lot of bands I think we do amazingly. I think it was because we've been on the road a lot. I had wanted to come off for a while and I think that's what it was really all about. We needed to do something different. That's what it is."
Reggie: You've worked with Luke outside of Toto with Doves of Fire. Is there any chance of some gigs down the road at any point?
Simon: "Yes, but not at the moment. Luke is very involved in his solo project. These days it's tough out there. We're not making records the way we do. I'm right in the middle of making a solo record, actualy because of the time it's been two years now. I've not gotten very far with it. I've got four songs recorded. Actualy Luke's going to play on a track that I've done. It's actualy beautiful. He'll lap it up! Yes, we'll be doing work together. Luke and I will always have a relationship regardless of Toto. We have something even though it started with Toto. I think the first time we played in Los Lobotomys together it was like, oh okay, we can do other things. So we'll always do stuff. We're very fond of each other. In fact I just spoke with him yesterday."
Reggie: Luke told me that he may do a session with you this week.
Simon: "Yes, exactly. That's something that we're trying to sort out. In fact I'll probably call him when we are finished. So I want to try and get him on this track before he leaves for Europe. And I think he wants to do something too. So maybe we can put them together. So as time goes on you will be hearing from us."
Reggie: One of the other things we touched on last time was the two recent Toto DVD's The 25th Anniversary Amsterdam and Falling in Between, which was just coming out. You did a lot of work on both. They seem to capture the true essence of a live Toto Show. Could you give us a little more about them?
Simon: "With Falling in Between the actual album, my goal was to try and capture the band the way it sounded live. Regardless of all records I just feel the band always sounds different. I think on F.I.B we managed to get that. Obviously the live stuff is where the band turns into a different animal and I think that's absolutely wonderful. I think Steve MacMillan did a wonderful job mixing F.I.B. It sounds different to my one. Mine in a way is a little more natural. I tried to make mine a little more like you were there, without overdoing stuff. But Mac's sound is phenomenal. There just a little bit different, different approaches, different people. But I think as DVD's go , we put a lot more time into it. I know we spent a lot more money, our money, but we usually get people screaming at us because we're late. I guess were not happy to let it go like some people are."
Reggie: I think the proof is in the end results of the product. I can watch those DVD's over and over without getting tired of them.
Simon: "Really? You know what's nice about the DVD's is the way they are shot is totally different. The Live in Amsterdam is really cool because we weren't using screens on that one. There's something kind of eerie almost, with the shadows on the back and the lighting. It's really cool actualy. I really like it. It's a little more theatrical. F.I.B. is a little more like a Rock Show. It's kinda cool that they're quite different.
Reggie: Is there anything else you'd like to add, promote or any web sites you'd like to link?
Simon: "I'm actualy planning on redoing my web site fairly soon. It's kind of antiquated."
Reggie: Thanks again for your time.
Simon: "Cool, thank you!"
Luke about Si
I spoke to Luke and let him know all the nice things Simon had to say and here's a few words from Luke:
Luke: "Ahh schucks... hahaha. Simon is a very sweet man. He is an A type personality and can wear many hats and has to be great at whatever he does. Thats a good thing. I am not like that. I look at life in a much looser "roll with it" attitude but I am also very impatient and like to work very quickly. Odd combination, hahaha. Not just his amazing drumming but he is a first class engineer, producer and composer and has a knack of getting things out of me that few can. I remember doing Derek Sherinian's records. He was pushing me because most of those charts were hard!! He always gets a great sound no matter what gear is in the room and he is a joy to work with. We have been in many different situations together and we have always gotten on really well. We are VERY different people, and I mean that in a nice way. He is an English gentleman, "Tea time" and all that, proper, well read, schooled guy, and I am an LA punk by comparison, hahaha. I do mean that in the nicest way. I know HE will laugh and agree. I know we will work together in the future even though Toto is finished. There is more music to be made and a life long friendship as well."
Web link: simon-phillips.com
stevelukather.com, February 24th 2009