Steve Porcaro, of Toto: Something Else! Interview
As a co-founding member of Toto, Steve Porcaro made his legend as one of three brothers in a larger collective. Sure, he participated in outside collaborations with stars like Boz Scaggs, Michael Jackson (on the ageless “Human Nature”) and Gary Wright along the way, but more often Porcaro was considered an ace songwriter, a trusted sideman, the ultimate team player. However, after a career that saw him establish a regular songwriting presence through Toto’s initial six releases, then make a triumphal return with two tracks on their latest album Toto XIV, Porcaro is ready to step out on his own. His solo debut, titled Someday/Somehow, will be available June 10, 2016 via iTunes, Amazon.com and steveporcaromusic.com; it features several of his long-time companions in the Toto family, including Steve Lukather, Lenny Castro and both of his late siblings. Steve Porcaro joined Preston Frazier for a Something Else! Sitdown to discuss Someday/Somehow, as well as his lengthy history with Toto and their latest plans …
PRESTON FRAZIER: Congratulations on Toto’s tour. You are gearing up for the U.S. leg now. How did Europe go?
STEVE PORCARO: Great. The band is clicking on all cylinders. The U.S. tour we are doing starting in August is a little different than the ones I’ve done since being back in the band. We are touring the states doing an evening with Toto. There will not be a co-headliner, so we will be doing a full concert.
PRESTON FRAZIER: It’s been great to hear songs like “Takin’ It Back” and “Bend.”
STEVE PORCARO: The guys have been really receptive to having “Bend” in the set. They appreciate the mood of it and how it works with the other songs in the set, and I enjoy playing it. We are very happy with how the tour went, and have a few surprises are planned for the U.S.
PRESTON FRAZIER: One of the musical surprises on Toto XIV was your song “The Little Things.” It has both a strong melodic and sonic hook. Lyrically, it was poignant.
STEVE PORCARO: Thank you. I wrote that with Allee (Willis, songwriter of “I’ll Be There for You,” the theme from Friends).
PRESTON FRAZIER: Did Allee write on your solo album, Someday/Somehow?
STEVE PORCARO: No, We just did the one thing so far. Mike Sherwood’s my main guy, but I always look for other help lyrically. It was a funny thing how the lyric writing session went with Allee. It was a reversal of what you would think, where I wrote most of the lyrics and she wrote most of the music. I had the chorus and the title and she was very encouraging.
PRESTON FRAZIER: How has your role in Toto changed since the Fahrenheit album?
STEVE PORCARO: It’s completely different. It’s a combination of me growing as a writer and also not being the wild man that I was, and the band also accepting me for who I am. I’m not the kind of musician they are. You’re not going to see me at the Baked Potato (L.A. fusion club). I’m not the kind of musician that (David) Paich, Jeff (Porcaro) and Luke are. I’m not that guy, but Toto realizes what I bring to the table where I provide a unique feel and texture which works. Before, I always felt like an outsider and a little intimidated by their playing – plus I was a synth guy who brought in sequencers and drum machines that the guys for the most part hated. I got tired of trying to prove myself, and it was also at the time of grunge where the band was intending to include less keyboards and less orchestral keyboard pieces, which was my forte. Now, they beg me to do my thing.
PRESTON FRAZIER: How did you find time to work on Someday/Somehow? Why the solo project now after years of success as a composer and musician?
STEVE PORCARO: I’ve been working on demos for 20 years; two songs (“Back to You” and “She’s the One”) where sitting around since the ’80s. The six years working on the TV show Justified taught me the discipline to finish projects and work at a more steady pace. Without a deadline, I’m useless. I’m easily distracted and, when a song became hard work, I would usually start something else. I love my own songs, but I’ve always been afraid to force it (the writing process). I was also in a band which had plenty of material and were not waiting for me. I was also very distracted by the technology and synthesizers, and felt that that end was my lot in the band.
I used to hear about how when Randy Newman had an album to write, he would rent an office and write from 9 to 5. What I’ve found is that even if I force it, and the stars are not aligned, I still can come up with something I wind up loving.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Let’s talk about some of my favorite songs on Someday/Somehow, beginning with “She’s the One.”
STEVE PORCARO: I wrote it in the ’80s, after a CSN concert which featured James Newton Howard on keyboards, before his film career started. I started it on a piano at David Paich’s house.
PRESTON FRAZIER: How about “Back to You”?
STEVE PORCARO: It has a magic and atmosphere which I felt was perfect for Toto. I had a big fight with my girlfriend, and hung out at David’s all weekend and finished the demo. I submitted it to the band, but we never could find a guitar part for Steve Lukather to play so they left it. Years later, I pulled the original tape from my locker and transferred Jeff and Mike’s parts into the computer. I added a second verse lyric, did a new vocal, spliced in a bridge, and it was done.
PRESTON FRAZIER: “Ready or Not.”
STEVE PORCARO: This was one of the first things I started for a solo album, and we even considered a Porcaro Brothers project with my brother Mike. Five or six years ago, I started working on the project with Mike Sherwood. I started it, then brought it into Mike, adding to his lyrics. Mike Sherwood is very good at adding a chorus or additional elements to build a song. The song is very inspired by my kids, and playing hide and seek with them. It’s a look at missing your kids on the road, and them missing you.
PRESTON FRAZIER: “Face of a Girl,” which features Jamie Kimmett from Scotland on vocals.
STEVE PORCARO: Jamie came over and worked well with Mike and I. We were on a roll. They helped me finish this one and got the vocal quickly, then he came back months later and wrote “She’s So Shy” and “Night of Our Own” with Mike and I. Jamie was the original vocalist on “Night of Our Own,” but I replaced him with Michael McDonald! A year ago, when I considered doing a solo album, I thought maybe I’ll sing one song. I don’t think of myself as a singer; I’m more about being a songwriter. It’s about the songs. What I hope for is that great singers will want to cover them. It is about the vibe, though, and there are no rules where that’s going to come from.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Let’s talk about “Love by a Fool” next.
STEVE PORCARO: I rerecorded it to a lower key, so I could sing instead of Mike Sherwood. For someone as mic shy as I am, seven songs is pretty damn good! The good news is that half of the material is very recent, and I can come up with another album much faster. I’m looking forward to doing more.
PRESTON FRAZIER: “To No One.”
STEVE PORCARO: I wrote this around the time of “Bend” and “More Than I Can Take.” They all contain elements related to my brother Mike (who died in 2015 after a lengthy battle with ALS) and what he was going through. “To No One” is about me doubting my atheism and about my brothers. It came from a 30-second cue from Justified. “The Little Things” came from a Justified cue also. It’s a vibe, it’s a chord change or eight bars that repeat but created a mood.
PRESTON FRAZIER: I understand that Shannon Forrest played on the album.
STEVE PORCARO: Yes, Shannon did a fantastic job. He has his own studio and got an excellent sound and literally played his ass off. Seriously. He no longer has an ass.
PRESTON FRAZIER: You can also tell which track Jeff (who died in 1992) was on.
STEVE PORCARO: Yeah and you can hear Greg Ladanyi’s engineering. Mike plays amazing. They were all great.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Someday/Somehow is like a dear old friend that you run into and instantly reconnect.
STEVE PORCARO: Thanks.
PRESTON FRAZIER: What are your top 5 favorite albums?
STEVE PORCARO: Sgt. Pepper’s by the Beatles; Close to the Edge by Yes; Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles; Royal Scam by Steely Dan; and Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson Lake and Palmer.