The song writer’s song writer, David Paich has worked with the great and the good, scoring huge hits along the way. As a member of Toto, he not only sang lead vocals on ‘Africa’, but co-wrote it along with many of the band’s landmark tracks. Outside of Toto he was instrumental in the creation of the biggest selling album of all time - Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ - and has worked with Elton John, Paul McCartney, and more. That doesn’t mean that he’s complacent, however; “a painting is never finished, and I feel that way sometimes about music”, he tells us as we sit down for a chat. Readying brand new solo release ‘Forgotten Toys’, was caught up with the maestro for a chat about the new album and his glittering career. Holding the line; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi David, how are you doing today?
I’m doing very good, thank you. This record has been my life, getting this done over the last several years. I’m really proud of it. A lot of my friends worked on it. They came out and said; “hey, we want to play on your record!” People were just calling me asking if they could play on it. Everybody was just fantastic about it. It’s the journey; it’s not so much the final end product, but the journey in making it.
Before we get into the new album, I wanted to rewind to 2018 and your 40 Trips Around the Sun trek; how was that for you?
I remember how great the crowds were. The crowds were vociferous and vocal and musical, and they were singing along, and it was really great. It was a great to stop and catch your breath and look around and say; “well look, what have we done, what have we been doing?!”, you know, with our lives and stuff, and to look back and say that we have a legacy; we actually have a legacy that we can be proud of. I’m very proud of the guys in the band, and it’s surreal when you have done it. It just seems like we just started yesterday, and here we are forty years later doing ‘40 Trips Around the Sun’. It’s quite an achievement, I think.
How are you doing health-wise, because towards the end of that tour you had to miss out some Toto dates?
My health is good. You know, I had fatigue and exhaustion on the road, combined with anxiety and depression, and I was going through a lot of things. It was a very down period, but I’m doing really good right now. I’m back on track, I’m doing great, and I’m at the beach today in Carpenteria, which is just below Santa Barbera, between Santa Barbera and Los Angeles. Sunny California!
So, in 2021 I spoke to both Steve Lukather, and Joseph Williams about their solo albums, and now yours has come along; it’s like buses, isn’t it?!
Yeah right! There were pieces of songs and little bits that I had in my head and I had in the closet that I wanted to just dust off. I thought were valid but they just didn’t have a home yet; they hadn’t found their fruition. I felt I wanted to get those done, and also, I had the encouragement of Lukather and Joe Williams, who were very supportive of this album here, and were pushing me along. They said; “you need to get your foot in the water; you need to get baptised with your own solo record!”, because I’ve been very satisfied with just being a co-writer and a member of Toto for years.
It sounds like it was the right time to do it for you.
Being in Toto has really satisfied a lot of my writing and creating, you know, so this was just something that was a labour of love, and I did it myself. Joe Williams co-produced it with me, and a lot of friends were involved, and it was a very fun project and was a part of my healing process.
It’s a very personal album; did you find that it really did help as a part the healing process you mentioned?
Absolutely. Just to have something to do every day, and work on it. It was something I enjoyed working on, and there was no pressure, there was no time constraint, because I financed it myself, and there was no pressure on me to get it out or release a time date or anything. It was really great. But I’m glad I’m with Mascot Label Group right now.
The album is very varied, but the first track to be released is ‘Sprit of the Moonrise’, which has a real mood to it; why did you go with that one?
I think they wanted to go with something that was ‘up’, and something that was indicative of the album; not that that’s indicative of the total album, but that was the label’s choice because I let them pick the first song to put out there. It came out of a dream that I had, as it says in the song; “I saw it in a dream”, and little pieces of recurring dreams. Joseph helped me to put the lyric together, about how to make verses and choruses out of it. It was kind of surreal, and we got it down on paper, and we got it down on Pro Tools!
Have you been looking at the comments that people have been making in reaction to it?
I have! My daughter reads me all the comments. I can’t believe how positive people are, how great they are, their reaction. It’s something I’ve never gotten into; I kind of stayed away, with Toto too, as far as comments, both negative and positive; I just turned a blind eye to them. But now I’m actually into it. I’m on Instagram for the first time, and my daughter’s helping me navigate this new world! It’s a lot of fun.
The most Toto-like song on the album is ‘We Belong to You’.
Yeah, that's Lukather playing on that, and it has a lot of Joseph’s lines and verses from the demo that we made. So we got Lukather to come in and play on it, and then Dean Parks is playing on it as well, who’s a great guitarist in L.A. Yeah, that was a tricky one, and it was fun watching that come together. We all had these pieces but we didn’t know what the puzzle looked like until we got it done.
Was it nice to be working with Joseph again, given that he had been out of Toto for quite some time?
Well, he’s totally focused and doing really good, singing incredibly, but as a producer he’s just a monumental talent, as far as operating Pro Tools, and being able to get vocals out of me! He’s very good at that, and I can’t say enough about Joseph Williams’s input on this album. There’s just a communion, a brotherhood that goes on with me and him. We have a symbiosis between us. We kind of read each others’ minds; we’ve a shorthand, so it makes it pretty easy.
‘Queen Charade’ is almost like a party song, isn’t it?
It is! I’m a devout Rolling Stones fan and I got to play on Keith Richards’ solo album a few years back. I got to do an overdub, and just meeting him and hanging out with him and doing an overdub on his record inspired me to want to do something along my roots, like I did with ‘Jump Street’. I had ‘Jump Street on the [Boz Scaggs] ‘Silk Degrees’ album , which is kind of rock and roll, but I wanted to do another reckless rock and roll song, so that’s ‘Queen Charade’. I was lucky enough to get Don Felder, who wrote ‘Hotel California’; he played slide guitar on it.
You’re clearly in a position where it’s not difficult to get collaborators!
It’s not! I pick up the phone, or sometimes they call me.
Perhaps my favourite track on the album is ‘Lucy’, which is really jazzy; it sounds like that was a lot of fun to record!
It was! It started with a piano riff. My father was a jazz pianist, so I had heard jazz piano playing all my life, and I was also a big fan of Vince Guaraldi, who did the theme for ‘Peanuts’, the cartoon, so I wanted to bookend it, so I called it ‘Lucy’ because of Linus, and Peanuts. I came up with this riff and then Mike Lang, who’s a great, legendary session piano player, he helped co-write it with me. He wrote the middle section where he plays this beautiful solo. And then I had James Tormé, who’s Mel Tormé’s son. My father had worked with Mel Tormé years ago doing jazz records, and so I brought James in to do some background vocals on it and some scatting, and it was fun, just like you said, getting to make some adult music and showing people a different side of me that normally they wouldn’t get on a Toto record.
Moving on to talk about your legacy; what was it like to come from being a hard working band, to winning an incredible six awards for ‘Toto IV’ at the 1983 Grammy Awards.
That was surrealistic, because we were never in the spotlight like that. That was certainly great to get accolades from your peers; that’s what the main thing about it was, was that the Grammys were voted on by Grammy members. So, it’s like when ‘Rosana’ won Record of the Year, Elton John was the first guy to stand up out of the audience, and he’s been like, my mentor and hero ever since the early seventies. So it was nothing but sheer joy and satisfaction in finding out that other people enjoyed the same kind of music that we do and we make.
I’m glad you’ve mentioned ‘Rosana’, because it’s often singled out as the perfect song; from that shuffled beat, to Lukather’s blistering solo.
Right! And Steve Porcaro did the synth solo, which is amazing, and I tip my hat to Little Feat at the very end there [with the piano solo], so that has a little bit of everything in there.
You must have known when you were recording it that you had something special.
I know when I wrote it I designed it to be special. We’d had trouble. We were starting to teeter with our record company who were losing faith in us after the ‘Turn Back’ album . So I said I’ve got to write something very special to kick off this next album, and it surpassed all my expectation, so I think it turned out great.
We can’t talk about your career without mentioning ‘Africa’; how does it feel to have so many love that song, and for it to have become so successful?
It’s the ultimate reward, to have people sing your songs, like in a bar. It’s like; “you’ve done good here”, you know what I mean? ‘Africa’ is just one of those songs. We just did a mix of it with acoustic guitars, and it’s really a folk song if you strip away all the Toto stuff in it and just play it on acoustic guitar. I think it has that kind of fundamental, basic legs in it, which it really makes me happy to see people singing along with it, and hearing that, in every language. Every time I go to a different country, they’re singing in English ‘Africa’.
The harmonies and the vocal performance in it is just immense; from your low baritone verses to Bobby Kimball’s incredible falsetto.
The construction of the vocal, Toto is a vehicle for songs that allow you to jump ranges like that. I was able to do it on ‘Rosanna’; I did the same thing, where I started out with Lukather singing the verse, and then Bobby singing the second verse. The same thing happened with ‘Rosanna’; I didn’t let the fact that I couldn’t hit those notes stop me from writing the song. I hear melodies, and I just want them to be sung, and so Bobby sang that, and he sounded brilliant on it. That wasn’t falsetto, that’s him singing full voice! We also brought in Tim Schmidt; he’s singing up high harmonies on that, and Lukather and Bobby are singing the harmonies on that.
It must give you incredible pride that the work you put in was rewarded.
It does. We did put the work in, very much so on that, because there was a loop, and we had to overdub carefully each element, one at a time, which again, back to hearing the crowds; people send me YouTubes of ‘Africa’ all the time, and they range from folk guitars to the oddest things in the world; one guy has a stereo playing out in the middle of the dessert playing ‘Africa’. You get all these crazy things. It just warms my heart. It just really makes me love our fans.
When I spoke to Steve Lukather, he was surprised to learn that one on my favourite Toto songs is ‘Don’t Chain My Heart’.
I remember starting to write that song. I was in Griffin Park with my family, and I just heard this riff [sings the intro bass line]. That’s what I had in my head, so I sang that in my head for a week before writing the rest of it, before starting to write the verses and melodies with Luke.
It’s a very sparse song until those huge power chords arrive in the pre-chorus.
That’s kind of our sound, and Lukather, he’s just a creative force, and whenever he picks up and plays his guitar, it means something. And when he sings, he’s a great singer; I think he’s the most underrated singer around.
We also have to touch on your work on Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ album; did you know that that album was going to be as big as it eventually turned out to be?
No. I don’t think anybody realised it as going to be that big. Everybody knew it was probably going to be pretty good, but nobody had any idea of the spectre that ended up being ‘Thriller’. But it was a great, typical Quincy Jones [producer] time though. Quincy invited all the best players, and so there was a lot of great musicians hanging around in the studio at the time. Quincy and Michael would just pick a pair of people to go into that room, and some people to go into that room, and work on the record. And so I got stuck with Michael on ‘Billie Jean’; I didn’t end up playing on ‘Billie Jean’, but I worked on it with Michael. We went through a process. He was a perfectionist, and so great to work with. I can’t say enough great things about him, and his gifts and his talent were immense.
What’s also unlikely but fascinating, is that you worked with Mötley Crüe on their much maligned 1997 ‘Generation Swine’ album.
Steve Lukather was the connection. Him an Tommy Lee were like best friends, so Luke said Tommy said; “I need a keyboard player” to play on the song for his son [the song ‘Brandon’], and they had me play keyboards on it, and then I had to teach it to Tommy after for the live show. That’s the one song I got to do with them. It was really an experience. Those guys were super nice, and really great. ‘Brandon’, yeah that was it!
So that’s you actually playing the keys on the album?
What’s the status of Toto currently; Steve Lutather told us; “we’ve paid for the name, now let’s use it”.
That’s right, absolutely! Privately we’re called the Dogs of Oz. We changed our name, but decided it was a good thing to keep the Toto moniker out there. The band is a great band. It’s going to have Joseph Williams in it whose been with us for years - and he’s singing like a trumpet now - Steve Lukather from the original band, and myself, I’m the MD. The rest are pick up guys that we’ve found by word of mouth, great musicians. We have Warren Hamm from Ringo [Starr]’s band, and we have a new drummer who’s nicknamed ‘Sput’ [Robert Searight II], and he’s from Snarky Puppy. He’s just a ball of energy. And we have another guy who’s a keyboard player, he’s from Prince’s band, and we’ve got another guy named Steve Mangiori who’s just a great keyboard player, and a bass player that Steve Lukather knew, John Pierce from Huey Lewis.
So it’s practically a new band.
The band sounds like the best Toto band that’s ever been; that’s how tight and how much attention to detail everyone employs in this band. It’s really great to hear. I would highly recommend them. I’m a big fan.
So are you going to be playing further live shows with the band?
I did six dates in the States, sporadic dates in cities that I wanted to play. But I’m not going to be touring too much with the band; just occasionally, I may show up in a city here or there.
What for you are the greatest moments or memories that you cherish when looking back over your career?
Well I’d have to mention the McCartney / Michael Jackson [‘The Girl is Mine’, 1982] song. It was a real ‘pinch me’ moment, with George Martin and Linda McCartney. That was pretty special. Working with Elton John was another pinch me moment. We did a song called ‘Nobody Wins’ , with James [Newton Howard], and myself; we played on it with Elton’ And he’s such a special person in my life, he’s been a mentor and my hero, and I can’t say enough good things about him. When we won the Grammy, the ‘Record of the Year’, Elton was the first guy to stand up out of the audience and give us a standing ovation, so it means a lot to me to be validated by a guy like that.
Is there any possibility of a new Toto album?
Well, you know, we get around it by not taking about it. We kind of just keep making music and we’ll see some time where we go; “you know, this can’t be on one of our solo albums, this belongs on a Toto record”, so we’ll see. I’m sure something will happen naturally here in the near future.
Finally, what’s next for you?
Well, I’m doing interviews mainly right now, and then I’m going Greece for a vacation. That’s my summer, right there, and I really have no plans after that except banging away in my studio, and keeping writing and trying to be a better song writer. I’ve just got a quote from Pablo Picasso that says; “a painting is never finished”, and I feel that sometimes about music.
David Paich's 'Forgotten Toys' is available now, via The Players Club / Mascot Label Group.
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