‘Finding The Sun’: Steve Lukather Discusses His Ubiquitous New Solo Album
You’d be hard pressed to find someone with a music career more indelible than Steve Lukather. Best known to fans for his guitar work in the band Toto, Lukather has performed on thousands of albums as a session musician, including Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the best-selling album of all-time.
Luke’s new solo album, I Found The Sun Again continues his legacy as the quintessential guitarist. Co-produced by Ken Freeman, Luke brings a rawness and energy to the eight-track collection. With original compositions like the ethereal title track, the jazz-infused “Journey Through,” the rocking “Along For The Ride,” and the slitherly “Serpent Soul,” Luke showcases the guitar prowess and versatility that made him one of the most in-demand session players. Also included in the new set is Luke’s take on obscure but powerful covers by Traffic (“Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” ) Joe Walsh (“Welcome To The Club,”) and Robin Trower (“Bridge of Sighs.”) The result is an album of one or two-take performances, raw production and jam fades tastefully reminsiceint of 1970s recording.
Special guests on I Found The Sun Again include Gregg Bissonette (drums), Jeff Babko (keyboards), Jorgen Carlsson and John Pierce (bass), as well as Toto bandmates David Paich (piano and organ) and Joseph Williams (vocals). One of Luke’s idols, Ringo Starr, also appears on the album, performing on the fun and hook-laden track, “Run To Me.”
I recently spoke with Lukather about I Found The Sun Again, his writing process, session work and more in this exclusive new interview.
How would describe I Found The Sun Again in terms of its sound and how it relates to some of your previous work?
It’s the most honest and real thing I’ve ever done. It’s different in the fact that it’s under-produced and everything is played live. I purposely kept the song forms loose so that there would be room for improvisation and longer fades for the jams that happened. There are all sorts of moody things on this record: jazz elements and a lot of rock, second line Little Feat, the [Jimi] Hendrix vibe and a few pop songs on there, because I just love a good pop song. There’s also a piece where I get to do my Jeff Beck impression. We ran through the songs one time, and the second take was the record.
What was your reasoning behind only allowing a few takes per track?
There’s a realness of people being in a room and not knowing what’s going to happen next. You play differently when you know you can’t do a million takes. It’s a different mindset and inspiration. It’s very organic. I think that’s what’s missing in records today. I picked 1971/72 recording techniques and did them in 2021.
What was the writing process like?
I usually don’t write until it’s time to make a record. I had some ideas but needed someone to help me flesh them out. I needed some help with the lyrics, so I got [Stan] Lynch from The Heartbreakers. Joseph Williams also helped produce my vocals.
Let’s discuss a few tracks from the new album, beginning with “Along For The Ride.”
That’s my little dedication to The Who. It was a fun song that really set the tone for the record.
Jeff Babko wrote that one for me and I came up with some interesting ways to play the melody. The whole track is what you hear right after we played it. There’s no over dub. I’m really proud of that performance because it’s real.
That’s a tribute to Little Feat. Stan helped me with that one. It’s about all the people who fuck you over and lie. They pretend to be your friend but really have a black heart and try to suck you dry. Everyone knows people like that.
“Run To Me”
That was originally written for Ringo [Starr’s] 80th birthday. It came out so good, especially with him playing on it, that I asked if we could put it on my album. What’s funny is that it’s not conducive to the rest of the record. It’s just a little aspect of what I do. It’s written for a Beatle with a Beatle vibe all over it.
What was your criteria for choosing the cover songs on the album?
I wanted to do obscure covers. These were important songs to me growing up. I’m a huge Steve Winwood fan and wanted to pay homage to him. “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” is such a fun thing to play on because you go into so many different moods. It would be a great song to play live. “Bridge of Sighs” is a classic Robin Trower song. It’s so heavy and there’s so much room to play. I was able to just freak out on that one.
Speaking of obscure, I want to ask you about your work with Olivia Newton-John on the track Physical, which was released 40 years ago. What do you remember about that session?
I had worked with Olivia since I was a teenager. Her producer, John Farrar, was one of the first guys to hire me, and when he did that Physical record he wanted me to do the solo. I came in to do it and started cracking up when I heard the lyrics and making all kinds of sexual references. He just laughed and said. “Yeah mate, but this is going to be a big one.” I said, “Well, if I’m making fun of it I’m sure it will be big because whenever I say it’s going to be hit, it’s not.” He cracked up and then I did a few passes on the solo and that’s what you’ve got. A platinum single.
What were some of the secrets of being a good session player in those days?
I was never supervised on sessions. I can read music but I’d say 98% of the time it was “Here’s a chord chart, play what you want to play.” You had to come up with your own part every day. They hired you knowing you were supposed to show up and make their song better with a lick or a solo. You also had to do it fast and confidently. You had to have a lot of things in your trick bag.
I know it changes on any given day but right now, what would you say were your favorite sessions?
There are so many things that it’s hard to pick just once. Working with [Paul] McCartney and Michael Jackson on Thriller was a pretty memorable session. Live, being at the Tokyo Jazz Festival and playing with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter was another big thrill.
What excites you the most about the new album and next phase of your career? What are you most looking forward to about the future?
Just that fact that after all these years I’ve still got something to say, and that I can make music quickly and efficiently with friends I adore. I want to keep pushing myself, for myself. Some guys push themselves because they need a hit, but that’s a different type of pressure. For me it’s more like, “Am I a good enough musician to really pull this off for myself?” With this record I felt like I pulled it off, and everybody else made me look good [laughs].