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TOTO

TOTO
August 29, 2006 | Author – Marcel Yammouni

lukatherTheir name is inextricably linked to the eighties, a musical period many believe should only be mentioned in hushed tones. However the degree of success American band Toto achieved cannot be denied.  They had an incredible string of hits, particularly between 1982 and 83. Tunes like “Africa”, “Rosanna” and “Hold the Line”, can still be heard regularly on radio today. The thing that separated Toto from their peers was their musical pedigree. They always were, and remain … a musician’s band. Recently Australian audiences were fortunate to see the band in as close as possible to it’s original incarnation featuring vocalist Bobby Kimball, the voice heard on all of those memorable hits. It was hardly surprising to see a large proportion of muso-types in the crowd. One of them was longtime Toto fan and talented local guitarist Marcel Yammouni. Marcel got to sit down with virtuosos Steve Lukather (guitar) , Simon Phillips (drums) and Greg Phillinganes (keyboards) and chose not to labour on the past but opted to discuss the recording of their new album ‘Falling In Between’. He began by asking Simon Phillips about his new studio where the band recorded the album.

The success American band Toto achieved cannot be denied.  They had an incredible string of hits, particularly between 1982 and 83. Tunes like “Africa”, “Rosanna” and “Hold the Line”, can still be heard regularly on radio today. The thing that separated Toto from their peers was their musical pedigree. They always were, and remain … a musician’s band. Recently Australian audiences were fortunate to see the band in as close as possible to it’s original incarnation featuring vocalist Bobby Kimball, the voice heard on all of those memorable hits. It was hardly surprising to see a large proportion of muso-types in the crowd. One of them was longtime Toto fan and talented local guitarist Marcel Yammouni. Marcel got to sit down with virtuosos Steve Lukather (guitar) , Simon Phillips (drums) and Greg Phillinganes (keyboards) and chose not to labour on the past but opted to discuss the recording of their new album ‘Falling In Between’. He began by asking Simon Phillips about his new studio where the band recorded the album.

SP: I took over the lease of an existing studio. I took it over from Sheila E who had it for three years and it was in need of some renovation. My studio was previously at my house so I had all the equipment. I rewired the studio to my specs and more or less started from scratch. It’s kind of an old fashioned studio in the vibe of a late 70s, early 80s styled studio, especially the playing room. Whoever designed it, did it well. It’s not like a modern room where’s there’s lots of angles, but for four or five guys to play in there at a decent volume it’s really good.

What about sound separation issues?
SP: Well you know I’m an old fashioned engineer, a bit of mic spill is not such a problem as people think it is. The guys actually hadn’t even seen the room, yet really it was just a lot of faith. They’d been to my house and recorded there. We’d done a few projects there, so they thought I guess it’s going to be OK. They all turned up for the first time and I think that they were totally surprised with it all.

SL: Yeah Simon is one of the finest engineers I’ve ever worked with, forget about the musicianship for a minute. I mean he loves the process and does the homework and is willing to try new things. I mean he has a real passion for it. I mean I speak the speak, but he walks the walk. To have a band member control the sound .. I mean, it’s supposed to sound like there’s a lot less talking than would go on with an outside engineer. Simon knows what my stuff is supposed to sound like. I can’t think of a time where he hasn’t got it, he’s always experimenting with new mics and sounds and I completely trust him.

SP: You know if you’re looking for something, you have to make a few mistakes to get there. If you want to do something a little bit different, you try and you listen to it and say you know what … I really don’t think this is working and we’ll go back to square one.

SL: Sometimes it may not be the sound, it may just be the part. If it’s the wrong part, it doesn’t matter what you do to it, it’s not gonna sound right. That happens more often than a sonic problem and occasionally things fly off the top so quickly where we didn’t really hone in on the sound, but we got a great performance and you gotta live with that as well.

SP: I think really the basis for this album once everybody came in and set up, was … I got sounds on everybody and really, it was a classical old fashioned technique of recording. If everybody has got great sounding instruments, that’s where it starts and it enabled us to start writing in the studio.

So how long did the album take to do?
SL: Ten months!

SP: The mixing itself took up two months, but the actual backing tracks and writing was about three weeks

SL: Oh the initial writing was right away but it took most of the time to write the lyrics, do the vocals, organise the special guests.
So how do you engineer a recording from the drum kit?

SL: That’s funny actually because he does have a remote at the kit

SP: Yeah actually I do, but for this record I had an assistant as I wanted to relinquish that. There are a few technical issues in trying to do both. When I play drums, I just want to be the musician. My assistant will operate Pro Tools while I’m at the kit, but after that I usually walk back into the control room … maybe do some edits and check everything out. Once we get into overdubbing, I’ll usually take over. Especially if we’re working on a solo. Luke and I have worked together a lot over the years and do so at a really good pace.

SL: Yeah ,there’s usually no one around and he knows what an impatient f@%# I am (laughs). He’s the patient one. I’m the impatient one, but he always gets a great performance out of me. He’ll say ‘Come on man, this isn’t working’ and I’ll say ‘Oh really,’ then I’ll actually play something good.

GP: Producing is all psychology and you have to understand the personalities that you’re dealing with. Simon knows about Luke’s personality which is different to mine and Dave’s or Bobby’s and so on.

So you’re constantly adapting all the time?
SP: Oh totally. For example, at the beginning of the day we may do a vocal with Bobby and usually that would be myself and Dave at the helm. Dave is absolutely brilliant with vocals. From my point of view as an engineer he really knows how to read a song and get the best vocal performance.

SL: Yeah I’ve been doing this with Dave since 1977. I feel very comfortable with him even though he pisses me off sometimes.

‘Falling In Between’ is out now on the Frontiers label through Riot Distribution Australia.

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