February 2008 Interview
In this interview Bobby talks about TOTO, his solo projects and the music scene in general.
Your new live DVD shows all sides and songs from different periods of the band. Do you feel there is a connecting element between all the different line ups and versions of Toto?
If there is one thing that binds all of these elements together, it is our demand that each person be a top level, well studied musician, and willing to give it their all to make it the best it can be,...every night and on every CD. Since we started with no songs, and no idea what would come next on the FIB CD, we took each day's recording of everything that got played, and extracted the very best parts that sounded like verses and choruses, then one of us would take that unmixed CD home and begin the process of writing lyrics and melodies. I wrote a lot of the lyrics, so I'll have to take most of the blame for any bad one's. We had a great time recording FIB, and everyone got to inject their feelings into the mix. That's why it has so many different emotions and irreducible elements on the tracks. I have to say that we're a very lucky band to have amongst us the likes of Simon Phillips, Leland Sklar, and Greg Phillinganes. These are some of the "best of the best" players in the world. Steve Lukather IS the best guitarist I've ever heard, and I "ain't no schoolboy" on vocals. We put together a great band and we've had the time of our lives for 30 years, no matter who was playing in whatever position.
What are the most important musical elements of Toto's music?
I think that would be our ability to play off one another very easily. It's almost like a "single mind" onstage when we play a concert. If we make a mistake once, it's a mistake,... if it happens again, it's a new arrangement. Not many bands can improvise on the spot like Toto, and I feel very fortunate to have been onstage with this band at all.
Although there are new musicians in the band (Lee Sklar on bass, Greg Phillinganes on keys) the band sounds more like classic Toto than some of the CDs of the 90s. Is there a sort of band sound or spirit that is now bigger than the personality and influences of the single members?
If you'll refer to your first question, I think I covered that. It's just that anything but the very best musicians would be unacceptable in Toto. Everyone who has taken the stage with this band has been the best at what they do,..maybe one exception.
You're back in the band since 1998. Do you feel your return made Toto complete again?
Closer to the point,...I think they made me more complete. Of course the band is more in it's original state with me there, but no one was happier than me to be asked back into the band. There is no other experience like being in Toto.
Where did you record the Live DVD?
That DVD was recorded in Paris at Le Zenith Arena. What a fun night that was.
Did you do several shows and picked out the best parts or is it one complete show?
As our "Live In Amsterdam" DVD, it was only one night of recording, and very little fixing on the mixes. I did no vocal fixes on the Live In Amsterdam DVD, but I fixed only a couple of vocal lines I was unhappy with on the Paris DVD. Each of us had minor fixes, but for the most part, it is a DVD in-tact of a single performance. I know most bands record several nights and pick the best of the best cuts of various songs, but we had one shot at getting as good as we could. I don't think you'll get many complaints.
How do you pick the song-list, apart from the greatest hits like Rosanna, Africa etc.?
Mostly we do the songs that we haven't played for a long time, and, we ask the fans on our Website and Network (www.toto99.com, www.Totonetwork.com ) what they would like to hear on the tour. We have a very close relationship with our fans, and they have helped us all along the way. We also try to pick the songs that flow well together and make a coherent set that moves the crowd.
How do you prepare for a world tour like that? Do you do a lot of rehearsals or is it pretty easy after playing together for such a long time?
I can answer that with a "YES". Both are correct, but we don't really rehearse that much for a tour. Once again, the players are so well hinged together, the songs seem to fall into place immediately. I think the longest we've ever rehearsed for any tour was about two weeks. After that, the magic starts to kick in, and our "mistakes" become the new arrangements during the tour.
Do you do any vocal exercises before shows and rehearsals?
Absolutely I do. So does Luke. I've been a student of Seth Riggs for about a year now, and he's one of the very best in the business. He teaches a method called "Speech Level Singing" where you can sing at speech-level and achieve the same results as when you try to scream at the top of your voice. His method has saved me many times when I was less than "in good voice". I recommend his method to any singer who aspires to reach for those impossible notes. If you Google "Seth Riggs", you'll see all about him and his method. I'm also one of his teachers, so we sort of work together.
Is it hard to keep your voice during a long world tour with the typical tour lifestyle (traveling a lot, less time to rest etc)?
I had to make a commitment to myself that I would do whatever it took to be able to do my best every night. Sometimes I miss the mark, but for the most part, I get plenty of rest after a show, very little partying and staying up late, and vocal exercise before going onstage. I drink a lot of water and I also use a product called "Thayer's Dry Mouth Spray". It keeps my throat lubricated and wet while I sing. Sometimes, it's the only way to make the notes I have to achieve. If you plan to sing with a band as great as Toto, you'd better resign yourself to this kind of commitment. You can't go out and party all night and expect to keep up with this band. You have to use all the tools you can get: i.e. Seth Riggs training and Thayers Dry Mouth Spray. You're so much better off not going out and partying, and really taking care of yourself.
Is there a sort of musical director, who leads the rehearsals and the live shows or are you a more democratic band?
It's a democratic band and always has been. I think the day it's not, will be the end of Toto. You can't take musicians who are top level and expect to be their boss and tell them what to play or do. We're all mature musicians and have a lot of history together. We all individually know what we're doing, so there's little room for anyone being the director. That would be a terrible erroneous fallacy, and I know for a fact it wouldn't work with Toto.
How much of the show is written out and arranged?
Actually, the only thing that's really written out is the set list. This band can jam better than anyone. No need to write out parts. Music falls out of them like honey.
Do you have certain songs or parts where you can add spontaneous elements?
We've never played the exact same concert two nights in a row. Each night has it's own personal image. Whenever anyone onstage feels like throwing in a new part, anything goes up there. This is one of the deepest wells of musicianship out there, and the library is like the "well of souls".
Is it hard to be a singer in a band with so many virtuoso musicians that take long solos and add complicated elements to pop songs?
That answer would be yes,...but that's why I'm here. I love what's going on onstage every night. The solos, the complicated parts that gets improvised, the near impossible that becomes so regular up there,..all of these things make each night fun and unforgettable. It's all of our willingness to bend to every situation that makes Toto a great band.
Do you use inner ear monitoring on stage?
I use Sensaphonic In-Ear monitors on one ear, and a floor monitor on the other side. This way, I can hear myself in the in-ear monitor, and the band in the floor monitor. After much experience, I've found this to work best for me. Everyone likes something different though, so whatever works best for them is best.
If yes, how does that change being on stage?
Before I used the in-ear monitor, I was locked into on spot onstage. I couldn't really hear myself if I moved away from my station. Now, I can always hear my voice from any vantage point onstage, but I like to be near my floor monitor for obvious reasons.
In general, is the stage volume high with Toto and is this a problem as a singer?
Our stage volume is sort of loud, but the band is very well mixed onstage. We use only the best monitor guys, and our front of house mixer is the absolute best. Since I have my voice isolated in the in-ear monitor, I get exactly what I need to make me happy each night. Some places we play are a bit confusing "mix-wise", but for the most part, it's all good onstage for me.
How would you describe your part or job in the Toto music?
To me the melodies keep the sometimes fusion like song structures and parts together and make them real songs. My "job" is to be able to sing those high parts every night, and keep my health under control so I can. It's true, sometimes there is a need to bring things into the fold with a melody to give it structure, but the band is at it's best when they jam. We always make the puzzle parts fit when the need arises.
Do you play any instruments yourself?
I play keyboards,..but not around Greg Phillinganes or David Paich. I love to play piano, and that's the instrument I write on, but all parts are more than covered with our keyboardist.
Can you name your most important influences as a singer?
I can. It was Ray Charles who first got my attention and at that moment, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. There have been many more, but Ray will always be my hero. I had the honor of singing on a song with him many years ago, and it was a moment I'll never forget.
Are they still noticeable in your style after such a long time as a singer and professional musician or did you create your own individual style long ago?
Any fool could say that they started out with an original style,...but all musicians and singers styles are basically a conglomerate of all of the musician/singers they've heard and loved. Personally, I took tiny pieces from each singer that affected my life/voice. From each one, I hold a special place in my heart, and though you may not know where that sound came from, I don't kid myself about where it originated. I'm a composite of so many different voices, all of a sudden, it became an original voice. I draw on all of my vocal heroes to make my voice what it is. All night long, I'm thinking here goes Ray, Aretha, Wilson, The Beatles, Arrowsmith, The Who, Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder,...etc. I could name them all, but I digress.
Are you already working on a new album?
If you're asking if I'm working on a solo album/CD, the answer is yes. I'm working with Jason Scheff (Lead singer with "Chicago") and we're co-producing my solo CD. Some of it is done, but there's a long way to go. We have so many songs, it might just be a double CD. Hopefully we can stop at a single CD though. In today's market, it's a little tough to put that much energy and money into a double CD. Most of the songs are one's that I've been working on for almost 20 years. Some of them were written for the 4th Toto CD, but never got recorded. There were so many great songs for that CD, there just wasn't room to put everything on it.
With a band like Toto, there are long periods, where you don't work on new songs or record anything. Do you take a break from music when you're not working with Toto or are you involved in other musical projects/your solo music, too?
There are long periods when we don't record. I will be working very hard to finish my solo CD in the months after March 2008. We don't really have a plan after that time, so I've found my slot to record my CD. I do take a break from music totally when I work with other things I'm involved with. I sit on the board of 4 companies in LA. One is a leasing company, an "eco-friendly" computer disposal company, A hearing-aid device company, and a Corporate Music Company. I'm also involved with a company which makes "Green Energy Machines". I have very little free time, but I enjoy getting involved with things that are non-music related. It keeps the music very interesting for me to get away from it for a moment. I try to live my life to the fullest I can, and I have many other interests than music. However, it's music that made all of these things possible.
Are you interested in musical styles that no one would expect from hearing you with Toto?
Absolutely. I was brought up in the "Deep South" in Louisiana, and I have a great respect for New Orleans style music. It was how I began and some things never leave your heart. I think it may have been one of the defining factors that intrigued Toto when I added the unschooled rough vocals to their slick style, and it became a unique sound in LA and then the world over. I also love ballads, but Luke is our ballad guy. I'll be doing some fantastic ballads on my solo CD.
How does Toto fit into today's music scene? You're more interested in virtuoso playing, advanced harmonies and a high level of musicianship than a lot of currently successful bands.
Toto is it's own animal onstage. We do what we've been doing for 30 years,...make great music. Sometimes it's a bit strange to hear what is popular on the radio and what's selling out huge concerts, but we know the truth about what great music is. We're playing the "real deal", and we're not ashamed to admit it. Anyone who wants to come up and trade licks with us, is very welcome to take that shot. We don't judge our success on money, but more on how our music makes us and the crowd feel at the end of the gig.
Do you feel like keeping up the flag for something more advanced than the punk rock/alternative music thing?
If you want to compare Toto with Punk Rock bands, and alternative bands, we need to talk a little more in-depth. There is no comparison in that capacity. We're totally inert to these styles, and the twain shall never meet.
You spend a few years in Germany. What do you like about the country and how does it feel, when you return with Toto?
First of all, my Grandfather was from Frankfurt. I feel so at home there, and lived there for over 5 years. There is something of a kindred spirit there for me. I also have some of my best friends in the world in Germany. Since I'm part German, I immediately felt a kindred spirit there, and I love it so much. I feel a great part of my spirit came from Germany, and I'm always happy to return there as often as possible. I'm sure I'll be spending a lot of time in Germany over the next few years.