Toto's David Paich talks 'Rosanna', 'Thriller' and 'Forgotten Toys.'
David Paich has been keyboard player, vocalist and songwriter for Toto for the last 4 decades. He's composed some of their biggest hits including, 'Rosanna' and 'Africa', alongside writing for other artists and playing on the most successful album of all time. He's been so much in demand that he's only just released his first solo record 'Forgotten Toys'. We talked to David about his new album and being an in-demand session musician and possibly going country.
Photo: Alessandro Solca
PHOTOGROUPIE: Congratulations on your first solo album. What made you take the plunge?
DAVID PAICH: I had a lot of encouragement and nudging and prodding from my two bandmates, Steve Lukather and Joseph Williams, who were working on their solo records. So they didn't want to let me get off scot-free and sit around doing nothing. So they forced me, they bullied me into doing a record and I'm glad that I did because I get an immense, immense amount of satisfaction from it. I had Joseph Williams, co-producer on it with me and help me frame the odds and ends and dust off the old pieces of songs. It was kind of a musical puzzle we had to put together.
PHOTOGROUPIE: With the exception of 'All The Tears That Shine', were all the songs that were they especially written for the album or ideas you've had around for a while?
DAVID PAICH: They were little pieces that I've had for a while, but they weren't specifically written for this album here. I just started to collect them and put them together to see what pieces fit with what. The only one that had been written a while back, was 'All the Tears That Shine', which I recorded on Toto XIV. But I was not happy with my vocal performance. So I wanted the co-writer, Mike Sherwood, who passed away this last year, by the way. He sang an incredible vocal on it, and I wanted everybody to be able to hear that.
PHOTOGROUPIE: You're a big fan of the Rolling Stones and 'Queen Charade' sounds a little bit like a homage to them as well. Was that so?
DAVID PAICH: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. About four years ago, I got the chance to work on Keith Richards' solo record. I got to play an overdub and Steve Jordan was producing it, he's coincidental, the current drummer with the Rolling Stones, who played on 'Queen Charade'. He hired me to come in and play and work with Keith, and I got to meet him and he had his arm around me singing. We had a grand old time, and it was definitely a pinch-me moment. I'll have to cross that off my bucket list.
PHOTOGROUPIE: I've got a friend who says they're just a pub pop band that got lucky. So you've got to have the final word on this.
DAVID PAICH: (Laughs) Well, I've been in a pop band that got lucky myself.
I can totally appreciate that comment.
PHOTOGROUPIE: I suppose anything in life is an element of luck, hasn't it, and of course talent?
DAVID PAICH: Look at the Stones they have been for 60 years. Toto's going for 40, almost 45 years now. And there's got to be a certain amount of luck in it when you stay around that long, you know what I mean? Like we had Weezer, come back and did 'Africa', and they kind of spiked their career a little bit right there. And it's all good. And we've been very blessed, very lucky. We have a lot. We're very grateful to our fans out there who have kept us going all these years.
PHOTOGROUPIE: Yes, of course. And you've kept it fresh. And you've obviously written amazing songs. I mean, you're really the musicians, musicians, aren't you? And so I think the fact you've incorporated a lot of musicians into the band, different vibes, different feel to keep it fresh. Do you think that's helped to make the longevity what it's been?
DAVID PAICH: I think so. I think the fact that we've been very diverse as far as our musicians that we have coming and going like a revolving door. Once you're in, you're never out. And I think that Toto was always trying to be on the cutting edge of music and pop music together. I think we try and push some of the boundaries we think out of the box and it's been a challenge and a magical experience.
PHOTOGROUPIE: 'Lucy' appears at the end of the album and has a really jazzy feel to it, where did that come from?
DAVID PAICH: My father was a jazz pianist, so I followed in his footsteps. My first love was jazz before The Beatles came out and then they changed the whole texture of music. It was just kind of a homage to my father, doing the one jazz cut right there. You know, he used to work with Mel Tormé. So I brought in his son James Tormé and did some scats on the record for me. So I got a big kick out of that.
PHOTOGROUPIE: Yeah, that's a talent in itself. The scat singing actually reminded me of Al Jarreau.
DAVID PAICH: He used to be incredible. My dad used to work with Ella Fitzgerald. I love her very much as far as scatting goes. And Mel Tormé. I like Bobby McFerrin. I love that Bobby McFerrin is able to utilize his voice. So Al Jarreau is right up there.
PHOTOGROUPIE: I really like the melody and the lyrics of 'The First Time.' It's very tender. Tell me a bit about the track.
DAVID PAICH: It's a song about a father and a daughter. It was a very personal song. I wrote about my daughter coming of age and watching her grow up. Now she's in her early thirties and my hope for her to find true romance, true love like me and her mother have found. We've been married 37 years. She snuck into the studio without asking me and put her voice on the track to do the answers for me. I was taken aback at first, but when I heard it, it just melted my heart. So I really loved it.
PHOTOGROUPIE: You've said that Elton John is one of your heroes. Why and how and how much of an influence did he have on your music?
DAVID PAICH: He just changed the whole climate of what could be done on piano. I was a boy going to an all-boys prep school and I had short hair and wore glasses so I could relate to Elton, the way he looked and everything. His piano playing was on the classical side and he sang bluesy, and he just had it all, as far as I was concerned. And besides that, he's turned out to be an incredible humanitarian. And he's just incredible, the work that he's done for other people, for charities, the fight for AIDS. But I love his music. I think 'Levon' is one of my favorite songs, but I love all the Elton John records, especially the early ones. 'Man Across the Water', which I think was my favorite.
PHOTOGROUPIE: What are your classic albums from that era, apart from Elton?
DAVID PAICH: Oh, that was around the early seventies right there. I liked Procol Harum a lot. I like Rod Stewart in the Faces. I'm a big fan of Traffic. Emerson Lake and Palmer were a big influence too. All the English progressive rock bands we were listening to. The early seventies were a great time for music.
PHOTOGROUPIE: Which Toto song are you most proud of writing and why?
DAVID PAICH: I think it would have to be 'Rosanna' because I think it's indicative of the way the band sounds. It not only is a song within, a song, but it also has different elements, and different sections I think that are interesting. I really think it shows off the talent and expertise of the various members of the band playing a pop song. So I was pretty proud of the way that turned out.
PHOTOGROUPIE: It's a great song. There are a few classic Toto tracks that I guess you're expected to play. Do you get fed up with playing them?
DAVID PAICH: I don't. The reason is that the audience, no matter if it's two people in a room or 20,000 people, you communicates with the audience and you get that certain energy from them that's different every night. So it makes your playing and your attitude toward the song and what you're thinking about while you're playing the song change every night. So it kind of keeps it fresh.
PHOTOGROUPIE: Given your love of jazz, do the band improvise sometimes? Do you go off on one?
DAVID PAICH: Sometimes we go off on some things. Steve Lukather, is a great soloist. We have Warren Ham, who plays tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, and flute. So he goes off and plays a little bit during 'Africa' and he plays during a couple of other songs. So we try and keep a little bit of jazz thread to the fabric of the concert.
PHOTOGROUPIE: This also keeps it fresh for you guys as well, because it just gives that little bit of a different edge to it every time.
DAVID PAICH: I'm sure he does. You know, we're not just playing like cookie-cutter robots.
PHOTOGROUPIE: Another album that you worked on was 'Thriller'. What was it like working with Michael Jackson?
DAVID PAICH: It was fantastic because Michael Jackson is a perfectionist and the people in Toto are perfectionists as well. So we all understood that level of making pop music. And Michael is the sweetest guy you ever work with. But he also knows what he wants and what he doesn't want, and he gives you total freedom. So that was fantastic. One of the great moments of 'Thriller' was getting to work with Sir Paul McCartney, with Michael Jackson on 'The Girl is Mine'. We had George Martin in the room, we had Quincy Jones and Linda McCartney was there shooting pictures, and it was just like a full house of super talents. It was my two favorite producers and two of my favorite artists in life. It was a lot of fun, but we had to get knuckle down and get to work and make a record out of it. We had to focus and it was a memorable experience.
PHOTOGROUPIE: You're the arranger and the musical director for Toto. Do you like that as much as playing?
DAVID PAICH: I think that I do. I think arranging is an integral part of the composition, even though the song and the words, and the melody are very important. The way Toto approaches arranging, that's part of our signature. Part of the thing that we love to do is be creative with the arrangements to the point where they're, like I said, infused in the song so that you can't really separate the two. My father was an arranger, so that's probably why I'm so up on arranging. He was one of the great arrangers. My father was with many singers, and so I learned what I know from him, I was very blessed and very lucky as a child to grow up in a musical family that had a father who was an arranger, that supported and loved music.
PHOTOGROUPIE: I imagine it's a difficult thing to be able to keep all those parts in your head at the same time simultaneously and shuffle them around. How do you approach that?
DAVID PAICH: Occasionally I pick up a pencil and write it down, but I try and keep as many parts in my head as I can. I'm lucky enough to have a studio now so when I hear something in my head, I can go over and record it immediately. Technology is great so, it's a great train set for a boy to have right now.
PHOTOGROUPIE: Before you started Toto, you know, you'd all been session musicians and you were seasoned pros by the time you got into the studio and even began writing with Toto. So you had that wealth of experience behind you.
DAVID PAICH: That was the whole idea. You know, we've been a band in high school. We each played with several bands that were the same guys in high school. And when I started doing sessions. I got on and played on a hit record called 'Diamond Girl' with Seals and Crofts. And once you get a hit record in Los Angeles, your name kind of gets around. Then we did 'Silk Degrees' with Boz Scaggs, and that was a very big album in the United States and it shed a lot of light on the Toto rhythm section.
PHOTOGROUPIE: So everybody wanted you?
DAVID PAICH: We were in the limelight on a lot of records, and we became important to record companies because we were a rhythm section that was playing on hit records. So they thought we should start a band and we were like, Oh, that's a great idea. We never thought of that, you know, and all the time we'd been planning it, you know! So we just dropped the bomb and told them we have a band and we want to make records.
PHOTOGROUPIE: Did you have do you ever miss the old days and the sessions?
DAVID PAICH: I do. I do, definitely when guys used to interact and play with each other. It's so much easier to find parts and to make sense of a new song, when you have the other players there who are making adjustments, it's all about adjustments. Everybody serves the singer and the song. And when you have great musicians around you, like the guys in my band and the ones that I used on my record, it really helps for creativity. It's instantaneous spontaneity that happens in the studio and I miss it. I was that was a great era for us in our band and I don't think we'll ever see an era quite like that again because people now make their own records at home. On computers and making great records. But there's a little bit of the interaction between the musicians that is missed in today's music, I feel.
PHOTOGROUPIE: There seems to be a period where anything that Toto did turn to gold. It was like almost a magic potion, song after song, album after album. Did you ever think, you know, is this bubble ever going to burst?
DAVID PAICH: Interesting, because you want to believe that that's never going to burst. But seeing so many of our friends that we work with, people like Leo Sayer, Jackson Browne, different people who then saw their careers go up and go down and then back up and down. So we knew that it was kind of a roller coaster ride. But I'll tell you when you're in the middle of it and you have a swarm of hit records and the press is on your tail every day. Yeah, it's very exciting. And you hope that it never bursts. You never want that dip again. It comes. It comes. And then it goes, fluctuates. It comes back up. Like Toto is as popular now, as it's ever been. And we were opening for Journey in the United States last year, and we're opening next year for Journey as well as playing Europe and stuff like that. So Toto's live career is blooming right now.
PHOTOGROUPIE: So will you sit in on any of the gigs? I know you don't tour anymore.
DAVID PAICH: I do. I do. I just came back from I was in Amsterdam because Toto played the Ziggo Dome. They sold out for 17,000 people. Wow, it was great. It was just like it was our little Wembley, you know, and it was so much fun. And it's a couple of cities in the United States, New Orleans and Nashville. I flew out and played to keep my foot in it. It's really fun. And I started the band, I was the co-founder with Jeff (Pocaro), so I feel a sense of responsibility.
PHOTOGROUPIE: Are you going to be doing a mini tour on your own?
DAVID PAICH: I don't have any plans. But that's not to say I might do a performance here or there in the future, but I need time to think about that.
PHOTOGROUPIE: Can we expect a new Toto album?
DAVID PAICH: I think with the advent of everybody working on solo records, I don't see that in the future right now. Steve Lukather still has another solo record he's working on. I think that Toto's recording output is on hold and so we're taking a sabbatical from that right now.
PHOTOGROUPIE: So what's next for you?
DAVID PAICH: Well there are people that I'm writing for right now, I'm going to be working with Richard Marx. I hope to be writing with Shania Twain. I'm going to see her in Zurich for the film festival, and I think she's going to be doing a little bit of recording there. So I want to be involved with her. And she's just a gigantic talent, one woman powerhouse and a dynamo.
PHOTOGROUPIE: Do you like that whole country genre as well?
DAVID PAICH: I do. My first hit record when I was when 18 with Glen Campbell: 'Houston, (I'm Coming To See You.)' I got a publishing award for it. That was my first award and my first hit, so it was a lot of fun.
PHOTOGROUPIE: Do you think you might add a country flavour to your music?
DAVID PAICH: I have a little tendency for that. So I'm going to explore it. I'm going to explore it a little bit more and see how that works.
PHOTOGROUPIE: Is there anything else you'd like to say before we wrap up?
DAVID PAICH: I just want to say thank you to all our friends and fans in the U.K. and how very grateful we are and how blessed we are. And we couldn't have done it without you.