From Michael Jackon’s Thriller and Stevie Nicks’ The Wild Heart to Toto’s entire catalog and an über-successful solo career, Steve Lukather’s genre-defying and generation-spanning career has been filled to the very brim with adventure and expertise.
The past year has been a whirlwind for everyone, even the rockstars. Just ask Steve Lukather, fondly known as Luke, who has suddenly found solace in gardening around his Hollywood Hills home and meditating on a spiritual level. The musician’s unmatched skill and incomparable resumé should mean that this period of time has been a welcomed break to relax and refresh. While that’s been the case to a point, the lack of being able to embark on worldwide tour dates, take a seat in a star-studded recording studio, or even get the mail in a normal fashion has been frustrating. With his girl by his side and the most talented friend group, he’s coming out on the other side with a brand new album, I Found The Sun Again. He outlined all of that and more to us in an extensive, but always hilarious and vivacious phone conversation.
How are you, Luke? What are you up to today?
I’m just up here in my house – imagine that! [Laughs]
You know, I haven’t heard of people doing that. What’s that like?
Oh man, it’s been the year of “What the fuck!”And you can quote me on that.
I might just have to, because you really hit the nail on the head.
Seriously, I don’t care. I swear. I’m a 63 year old guy, so I’ll say whatever the fuck I want to say [Laughs].
If there’s any a time to be honest with people, it’s now.
Well, you know, I got 45 years in this business. 45 years. I’ve seen it all. I could never have seen what’s going on now, though. For us musicians, it’s been crippling. It’s been crippling us because we have nowhere to play.
That’s true. And I think with a lot of musicians, a big part of what they do, like including yourself, is touring.
I’ve been on the road for 45 years! In the studios and on the road for 45 years, ok? Then all of a sudden somebody just brick walls it? It’s like, “Ok, we don’t know when it’s going to start again – if it’ll ever start again.” It’s staggering. You know, I’m at the height of my powers. It was like, “Whoa, what?” You know, I met a girl a year ago, thank God. A woman, a wonderful woman, who’s taking care of me, and she hasn’t heard or seen all my shit, so I’m going back and looking at old stuff that we did, live stuff we did, and I’m going, “Damn, man… the energy, the vibe, we played that live!” We were pretty fucking good. I don’t care what the critics say.
Absolutely, so now you can look back and feel nostalgic for things that really weren’t that long ago, but feel eternities ago now.
I live in a little compound in the Hollywood Hills. I have a nice yard. I garden now. I do things outside. Me and my girlfriend are just planting things like flowers and vegetables and spices. I have a little pool, my kids come over. I see six people. I have a lot of time to think about life and the life I’ve led and what regrets I have…. Boy, do I have a lot of those. But I do this and I smile and go, “Wow, man, 45 years. I did ok.” I have a new record coming that I think is my best shit, too, because it’s just me being honest me. I’m not trying to write a hit record. I’m not going to try to sell a million albums or anything like that. It’s a musical statement from an older guy who’s been around and still gets up and plays the guitar at five in the morning. I used to go to bed at 5:00 a.m., now I wake up at 5:00 a.m., have a coffee and take a gummy bear and practice for a while.
That domestic life can be lovely, but it suits you. I think this new album felt so freeing for you, even just as a fan listening to it I could tell that it was like that.
Oh, for sure. For sure. But the whole point of it was to see if we could still do it that old school way. No rehearsals, no demos, no computers, no click tracks, no “let’s lock it up to this and mutuate this.” It was putting microphones in the room, getting some great musicians in there, and saying “Here’s some music, guys. Read the music, you know these songs, what are you going to come up with? What are you gonna play?” I hired all the best, fantastic musicians. I mean, really. I’m really proud of this album in the sense of it’s a vanity record. It’s for me. I made it for me. I did what I wanted to do. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to make a record like it was like 1970, you know? I can still see Steve Winwood’s picture playing Hammond on “VooDoo Child.” That whole era of Jimmy and Steve Winwood and the whole magic of playing in a room where you can hear people breathing and slowing down, picking back up again, and stuff like that… nobody makes records like that anymore! Talk about a niche! So I figured I can’t compete with the kids today anyway. Justin Bieber just ripped off one of our songs and that’s funny.
Oh my goodness. Who does he think he is?
Yeah, it’s a total, total rip off of one of our songs. I didn’t write it, but one of the guys in my band did, and I believe lawyers are involved. [Laughs] Like, yeah, nobody’s ever heard of Toto’s Greatest Hits record. Oh, okay. I get it.
It’s Toto! Wow, at least you have very much your own original, fully authentic, and such a fun album now to relish in. Did you have as much fun making it as I think you did?
Yes, I did. It was totally self-indulgent. I had a hit record. I know what it feels like. I’ve had hit records and it feels great, but you can’t be number one all the time. You got to grow as an artist. My son’s band LEVARA, they dropped a record this weekend. Check it out on YouTube. That’s my son! That’s my son. I keep going, “That’s my kid!” It’s his time. It’s his time to write the hits. You know, it’s my time to be an artist. I fall into so many cracks, too. Am I a rock musician? Yeah. Am I a jazz musician? Kind of, but no, not really. I never studied the real that shit. I understand music and theory. I studied it. I did study music and I twisted it up with a Joe Walsh sense of humor. Joe Walsh was a big influence on me as a writer, as a player, as well as Jimmy and all the rest of the greats. Walsh hit my soul, man. That’s why I paid an homage to him on the record –and by the way, I heard back from him and he said he really liked it. He said it was an A+++. It was wonderful. He is a friend of mine and I adore him. He’s one of the greatest of all time. I can honestly say he’s my friend. Wow, dreams come true. Ringo’s my friend. I mean, I can’t believe that. We’ve been friends for nine years now. We FaceTime all the time and we’re just small, nuclear people living in our houses, wishing we could be together, hug each other, and play together. We even made records together by distance. You know what we’re missing? You know what the world is missing? HUMAN CONTACT.
You said it, Luke!
I was out in the neighborhood, and I live in the Hills, the Hollywood Hills. I got a nice view of the mountains and all this stuff. You wouldn’t even know that I was in the middle of Los Angeles right now. I was very lucky, as a very young kid I bought a house and kept it. Now I’ve turned it into this extravaganza garden, deck overlooking the blue skies, sun, pool, all that – because I have nothing to do! My girlfriend’s an artist and she’s just a natural. She’s putting all this stuff in here. I’m just trying to make music naturally so I made this record. My new record of something you put on and just groove. If you’re a real musician, you can listen hard to hear all the real fucking deep shit, but if you just want some music to make you feel good and something you haven’t heard that not just zeros and ones and has got some lilting movement to it, this is it. You know what I mean? Everything is so rigid. They used to say that Toto was slick. “Slick.” What they meant to say was, “Those guys play really good and we hate them. They play really well. They’re too good. No one should be that good to be able to play all that shit. Nah, they’re not real musicians.” I mean, who fuck were these fake leather jacket wearing reviewers back then? Back from the seventies wearing a Ramones t-shirt going, “Yeah, I got the pulse of the music of the world.” Say that to Mile Davis! Miles Davis asked me to join his band, so fuck you! [Laughs]
It must be out of this world to have worked with and been approached by these strong, talented musical icons and influences of yours – critics aside.
It is. I tried to make a record that was inspired by my early seventies influences – and they’re blatantly obvious. I bowed to them in the credits, too, like The Who, Joe Walsh, of course, Hendrix stuff. Then there’s the jazz like Jeff Beck, my hero. He could play “Happy Birthday” and make me cry. That’s the kind of shit I’m going for. There’s a seven year old girl in Japan that could play so fast that if you blinked, you missed it. It’s become a pointless, masturbatory way to play music. It’s like if everybody knows the magic trick. it’s not a magic trick anymore. And so I know I can’t compete in today’s market. I’m an old man. I’ve done it all…. And I’ve done it all wrong, too, with many regrets and many “I’m sorry” notes to a lot of people. At the same time, I grew up and I blossomed and I just wanted to do this record just because I wanted to see if I still had it in me. One take, no fixes, no computer enhancement. Can we really still do this? So I call my best pals, I put together a little nice gumbo of musicians from all walks of life – and some of my Toto guys, too. Joe has a big place on this record. Joseph helped me so much with the vocals and stuff like that. We did a song a day. One song a day and then the whole song ready to mix. Next day, we would show up, put the charts up – while in terms of the cover songs, everyone knew the cover songs.
What I wanted to do was kind of be like, “Let’s pretend like we’re in Miles Davis’ band, but we’re not. [Laughs] Just play your shit and I’ll point at you when it’s time to solo.” Like the old days, like Hendrix, we were just trying to emulate our heroes. My music fits into everything – I’m not boxed into one place. I like to play and improvise and try weird music and play over changes and stuff like that. But I want it to be musical, not just math music that impresses like a bunch of teenage boys. I want music to move you.
I want to ask you a little bit about just the title of the album, because while I know there’s a title track that it can be based off of, I feel like the sentiment of finding the sun again is so needed now.
Oh, I love this wonderful girl, Amber, my woman. She fell into my life and God put us together. It was the weirdest thing in the world. I didn’t have any music written for the album then, but I knew I had to make an album – well, not had to, but I wanted to make an album and I had the opportunity with a record deal and all that was on the table. She fell into my life, right? At the end of the year, before the world died, we fell in love. It’s like we’ve always been together. I’ve been married twice and I’ve been single sitting on this hill alone for 10 years. So for me to sign on again to have a real relationship – I mean, she lives here now! – has been a blessing. I found the sun with her here. We all need human contact to feel alive and inspired. I mean, it’s scary without it. I went out on the street and I live in a cul-de-sac, which means that it’s a private street and all the neighbors have gates around the house. I haven’t seen my neighbors at all, but all of a sudden, accidentally, we all went to get the mail at the same time. It was like, “Hey man, we’re like 20 feet from each other talking to each other.” It’s like we’re in The Twilight Zone.