TOTO - Official Website - TOTO Interviews

Dave Carpenter, Jeff Babko, Simon Phillips

After the Vantage Point show in Aschaffenburg, Germany on January 29th 2001, Simon, Jeff and Dave took some time for a new Interview.
How did you get the idea of making a jazz record?
Simon: When I first met Jeff in '96 he gave me his solo album which was an acoustic straight-ahead thing. I thought "wow", obviously the piano was very close to his heart. A couple of years later I wanted to do something in that style and from a production point of view I was interested in the sound of acoustic instruments and also playing something different to what I had played before. So I approached Jeff and said "You fancy doing a straight ahead thing?" He said "Yeah, sure." And we got together and started writing music. The only way I really wanted to do it was to write original compositions.

Jeff: I think it really started with a gig, we wanted to do a gig.

Simon: Yes, that's right.
So it was your plan from the start to have Jeff collaborate with you on this project?
Simon: Oh yeah.
"Vantage Point" was inspired by the more progressive sound of 70's jazz artists. Why did you choose this particular approach and not "traditional jazz" for example?
Simon: That to me is the only kind of jazz that makes sense to me. The only kind of jazz that I love playing. I love the Miles Davis Quintet, Herbie Hancock, V.S.O.P. Being more from the rock'n' roll thing that made sense to me. I grew up with my Dad's music which was incredibly polite, safe, and I wasn't into that.

Jeff: We're playing traditional music with energy. And that's what a lot of guys were doing in the seventies. When I think of any artist in the seventies it's that energy. Rock'n'roll wouldn't sound the same in the fifties, that didn't exist.

Simon: Absolutely, yeah.
Was the writing process for this album different from the way you've worked on your "electric" albums?
Simon: Oh yeah, very much. For a start, I've never written this kind of music before. The music I had written had been very polyphonic with both the guitar and playing chords at times. I've never written for instrumentation that only had the possibility of thirteen notes maximum - piano (10 notes) then three more notes (sax, trumpet and bass). I was really curious how that would work with my style of writing. First I had to make sure that I knew the range of each instrument and then that I was writing in the right register for each instrument. And then, how am I going to deal with the harmony? Jeff grew up writing that stuff. But to me it was very new. I just sort of threw myself into it, and when I started it was confusing to say the least, but then I said okay, let's work with it. And I remember how my Dad used to work. He would use the piano to make the horn section sound bigger. He used the bass as part of the chord perhaps. Even the drums. There's a section in "Bewilderment" where I'm using the tom-toms, it's almost like it could be a trombone section. It's actually tom-tom, bass and left-hand of the piano. I guess I was aware of that, I just didn't have the know-how how to do it. "Bewilderment" was a song we wrote together, but separately. He would come to my house listen to what I had so far - come up with another part, leave, and I would work on the next section. The next time he came around I would play him what I had done - and so on until the song was finished. In the end it worked out great.
So the songs you've written together you haven't actually written together in the same room at the same time?
Simon: "Sting Like A Bee", that was amazing, that was something that I hadn't had time to work out, so I actually sang it to him. "This is my idea", and then Jeff said "Okay, great" and he came up with the next bit.

Jeff: "Doubletake" we wrote together.
Did you modify your drum kit for this album? If so, what changes did you make?
Simon: As you have seen I have a smaller kit. Single bass drum. I had Tama make me an old-fashioned size bass drum, like the bass drums you bought in the 60s and 70s. Everybody makes it slightly deeper now. The shallower shell lets the front head react quicker. I went back to using floor tom-toms, just like in the 50s, 60s and 70s. And I even used different heads to change the sound a little bit. One of the bigger problems for me was the volume aspect. I've been so used to playing at a certain level for so many years playing with electric bass and guitar. Now there's an upright bass and a piano, and I was just way over the top, volumewise. So I had to change the way the kit worked. I even used different sticks, they're much lighter. And the way of playing, I had to learn how to ease off the kick drum. And still, every night is a learning experience for me. So the kit is very different, the cymbals are very different. And this set of cymbals I'm using I brought from the States with me because playing this kind of music the cymbals are very very important. It took a while to figure out which cymbals would work best with the instrumentation. One has to be careful not to overpower the other instruments.
On the album sleeve it says that the album was recorded in one day. Can you tell us a little about this session? How did it work?
Simon: It was a traditional jazz session, really.

Dave: It was the only day we could get everybody together, I think.

Jeff: Right, I had a TV show the day of the session, I had no idea how I was going to fit it in. We were going to do two days but then we went with one.

Simon: That's right, it was a bit rough getting everybody there.

Jeff: It's amazing we're getting everybody here for ten days.

Simon: It is so great to have the same band playing this tour. That's how records were made in those days. When I made records with my Dad we would do a record in two sessions. That includes rehearsing. We used to do broadcasts in three hours. That was an hour and 15 minutes of rehearsal, a 15 minute break, and the rest of the time to record 12 songs usually all in one take, maybe two takes on the first song. That's how it was.
How was it with this album? Did you rehearse one song and then record it, then did the next one or how did it work?
Simon: I wanted to do this from a production point of view, so I thought very long and hard "How are we going to record this music? How am I going to get the best performances out of everyone?" We're playing music that is essentially live music, it's very hard to put this in the studio and get the same result. So we actually set up a live gig two days before and I recorded that show. I wanted to capture that night and also get everybody used to the fact that we're recording everything. If you record every show like I did with the "Symbiosis" tour, you forget that a tape machine is running and just get on with playing the music. Two days later, after a setup day, everybody came in to the studio and we played. We had the benefit of playing a live gig, which to me is worth 5 or 6 rehearsals, so everybody got a feel for how the band sounded, and then we did the record.
So you didn't really rehearse the stuff, you had this one gig and then it was already the recording session?
Simon: We did a little rehearsal for the first gig. You know, we didn't rehearse for this tour! We just came over and did a long soundcheck the other day and played. As soon as you play the head and you know the arrangement, the rest we'll play without any rehearsal. It is jazz after all, and it's great combination of people and we are all listening to each other.
So what is on the record is also kind of improvisation?
Simon: It's jazz.

Dave: But it's a better environment to improvise when you're in the studio. Sometimes the sound problems live make it more difficult. Not any less enjoyable, but...

Simon: When musicians play in front of an audience they play so much better. And especially when there's a beautiful girl out there they play so much better. The other thing is that you can't stop so you play through any problems or whatever. And shit happens. Tonight I totally blew it. What did I do? "One of a kind", I totally went to the wrong section. I was actually playing the end of the song. That was great. You know, these little mistakes happen.
So the day in the studio was basically like a live recording...
Simon: Totally.
Did you you have to fix/mix after the recording, or is this essentially how it went down?
Simon: The approach I took was a very old fashioned approach. We recorded maybe one or two takes and maybe the odd section. When I mixed the song if I needed a better section I could take it from another take, mix and record the parts into Pro Tools where I edited the the final song together. Just like the way those old records were made. Miles David records were always made like that. Everything was like "Let's play the song from here to here." Or "Let's get some better solos". So, for example, we would play from the end of the chorus into the solo sections. So there was a bit of production in terms of that but all it is is capturing the best performance and that's my job as a producer.
What are your next plans after this tour? Will you do another electric album? Or would you like to do a completely different?
Simon: Don't know. Haven't thought that far ahead yet.
Do you have plans for more tour dates with this project?
Simon: Absolutely. Actually we want to do some shows in the States, there's possibly some opportunities opening up for that. We would love to come back in the summer and do the Jazz festivals. That's what I'd love to do. North Sea Jazz Festival, Montreux and Pori. All of those, that would be great. We'll see... There's a lot of bands out there, a lot of competition, there's always too much for the audience really. So it's very tough.
But it's also difficult to get the guys together?
Simon: It's always a problem. You get a few offers in, my agent calls me, "OK, we got 5 good offers here, if we could fill those up...", "Great, what's the period?", "So and so", "OK, fine", and I call everybody up. And then it keeps changing, because we lost this gig, that gig, this festival went under, they lost a lot of money... so I have to call everybody back saying "Guys, it's gonna be a week later". It's really difficult.
So that is the reason why this tour is so short, just nine gigs?
Simon: Yes, pretty much. There were a few gigs that fell through, a couple of things that didn't make sense financially. It's a jazz tour. People don't pay very much money for seeing live music these days. That's the big problem. In fact, it's less now than it was three years ago. And that's the state of this business. People don't pay for live music. They're too busy buying cellular phones or whatever.

Dave: A lot of competition in the entertainment world.

Simon: If you think of the seventies, how many records were released back then, and you think of now, it's ridiculous.
But this tour is doing very well...
Simon: We've only played two shows but so far we've had two packed rooms. Which is great, we're very happy.

Dave: I think it's a sign.

Simon: I think it's also because we're doing something different, something new. I think you always have to do that. That's why I keep changing.
But you want to go on with this project for the next couple of months?
Simon: Absolutely. It would be wonderful, it would be lovely to play through the summer. You know the thing about a band, it always takes a tour for that band to get to the next level. I'm really happy with the way the last two gigs have gone. The way everybody is reacting, playing. Especially the way it feels right now. It doesn't matter what kind of music it is, rock'n'roll, jazz, it's really good to get those gigs under your belt because it builds something that's very solid. And every night we approach everything a little bit different. When we come off this tour we will have played nine shows, maybe a night in there that you choose to forget, you know how it is. And then we'll have a little break and come back and when we hit that stage again we'll have that intensity. That's something that's really precious, which you can't do when you're at home - too many distractions. Here we're all trapped.

Dave: It makes a big difference because here we have a packed house. Better for good.

Simon: Yes, it really does.

Dave: It's not that it's not a good time in L.A. but it's just a difference.

Simon: Europe really digs it. There's nothing else for us to do. Our mobile phones don't work for a start! So we make the best of it. Once you do that and you get home and take two weeks off, as soon as we get back together on that stage, it's gonna click. And that's an energy you can't recreate, you have to work hard for that.
So do you know yet if you want to continue working with this band you're touring with?
Simon: Oh yeah, very much so. I mean we'll probably do quite a few shows this year and I definitely want to carry on with this band, absolutely. But obviously the thing is we have a Toto commitment coming up so there's going to be a couple of years where, you know...
All the TOTO fans wanna know if there's anything in the pipeline regarding TOTO?
Simon: No, we're taking a break. We all needed a break from each other. We still need to think about what we want to do. Our record deal with Sony is over. We're just thinking about what the next step should be.

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