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| 4 February 2021 | Reply


According to a recent press release: “At age fifteen, Williams began his career as a radio and television commercial singer.  Joseph also achieved success as a television and film composer in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.  He fronted Toto as a lead vocalist from 1986 to 1988, and was featured on the albums Fahrenheit (1986) and The Seventh One (1988).  He also appeared on the 2006 release Falling in Between, sharing lead vocals with Luke on “Bottom of Your Soul.”  In 2010 he returned to the band, becoming front man and lead vocalist, a tenure that continues through today.  He has released ten solo albums, and is an Emmy Award nominated film composer. His career as a session vocalist has placed his voice indelibly in pop culture through the dozens of performances in the medium of film, amongst which is his role as the adult Simba on The Lion King. Williams voice is featured on “Hakuna Matata” alongside “Can You Feel The Love Tonight.” We were able to grab some phone time with Joseph to discuss new music and more…

Photo credit: Todd Jolicoeur – Toddstar Photo

Toddstar: Joseph, thank you so much for taking the time out. I really appreciate it.

Joseph: Oh, it’s my pleasure. I appreciate your time.

Toddstar: You have a lot going on, but I want to address the obvious, man. A great album coming out here in about 23 days, Denizen Tenant. What can you tell us about this album, Joseph, that Toto fans and fans of your material might not grab the first or second time they listen through the album?

Joseph: That’s interesting. Well, there’s certainly some different things on there for me. So I think that people might be a little bit surprised. For instance, the title track “Denizen Tenant,” and one of the other tracks, the track called “Mistress Winter’s Jump” are pieces that I worked on with this artist who’s incredibly talented, this guy, Steven Overton. And the second of those tunes is just his song. I just covered it, because I thought it was so cool. And the other one we sort of backed into by mistake sort of collaborating on, which became the title track of the album. And it just, I don’t know something about it, just the style and everything really just inspired me almost like when I was a kid again, listening to Yes records and stuff. And so, from that standpoint, I think that fans will be a little bit surprised thinking, that they may not have expected something like that.

Toddstar: I have to say the thing that took me back and it was a cover you did, and I absolutely love it. I love it more than the original now, your cover of “Don’t Give Up” is amazing.

Joseph: Thank you very much. I appreciate that. That was a fluke. I started messing around with it just while I was taking a break after watching the original video on YouTube, and I had my whole system up and running, and I was working on something else. And I just started messing around with what my version of an intro would be. And a day later I had the whole song, and figured, well, I’ve gone this far, I might as well keep going.

Toddstar: Well, it’s one of two covers that will jump out at most people. You also covered The Beatles “If I Fell.” I’ve seen quotes where you mentioned that song taught you a lot about the power of harmonies and vocal arrangements. How important was that early structure to you in your songwriting process from the time you first heard and appreciated a song like If I Fell until even now, when you’re still cultivating new material?

Joseph: Oh, it’s integral to my process; completely. I mean, just growing up with the Beatles among some other groups, but especially them, just because more than anything, when I was a kid, my mother was a singer. I loved singing, and for some reason, certain singing and singers just really, I don’t know, hit home for me in a weird way. And The Beatles certainly covered that. I mean, those guys’ voices together were magic and had a wonderful chemistry. And also just some of the most incredible vocal arrangements and harmonies on their songs, which the two main guys, sort of did that stuff naturally. It was just unbelievable. Anyway, I guess as a young person, it just inspired me. I just loved the sound of harmonies done well. And it’s always been with me just in terms of being a songwriter and arranging vocals in the studio and studio singing, all that kind of stuff. So it’s a very long history I have with the Beatles and how much influence they have on me.

Toddstar: There are other things that come across in this album, and some of it is the production side. It sounds sonically a little different from what some of us are used to hearing from you in that, this was mostly self-produced. You had a little more hands on the control to really bring across what you thought was important in each song. What was it like for you to do the self-production on most of this material, when a lot of stuff that you’re featured on, you might not have that same control?

Joseph: Well, it was intensely important. I mean, the whole idea of the album to begin with for me, once we had finished touring, was to produce something myself. Exactly just that, and to acquire enough, the right pieces and infrastructure in my studio to make that happen. That was sort of, I had that mission going all along. And so, it’s incredibly gratifying to be able to not have to answer to anybody when it comes to your music. And certainly, I guess there’s a difference in the sound, because as you said, I didn’t really… I only had myself to answer to, so everything is pretty much exactly the way I would want it.

Toddstar: On the flip side of that coin, how scary is it as a performer to launch this upon your fans and the public knowing that good or bad, it’s your name on it? Is there any trepidation there for you?

Joseph: Not for me. My attitude has always been just this, and especially for this… I shouldn’t say always been this, but especially for this particular record. I made it to satisfy something in me. And I wanted to have a long playing record that I could put on in my car, like I used to in the old days, and listen to, from top to bottom, on a long drive. Where there’s enough songs that are so different that it can really occupy your mind while you’re driving and scoot along. I just wanted to have one of those of my own that I made. And whether or not it got out there and people ended up hearing it and… I didn’t even have a record deal. I just did the record myself. And so, to me, it’s just icing on the cake if people dig it and if they don’t, then I’m still okay.

Toddstar: There are a couple of things that you mentioned. First of all, thank you for being one of those guys like me who appreciates an album top to bottom. Singles are fine, but I like the story, the different patches of material that are pulled together to create just a snapshot in time. So thanks for that. But what I really appreciate is the first two singles you launched, or songs, we don’t want to necessarily call them singles, “Never Saw You Coming” and “Liberty Man” are not totally opposite ends of the spectrum, but they’re not similar either. Is that methodical on your part to put these two songs out so that people can see that you’re going to get just that swirl of flavor of Joseph Williams?

Joseph: Well, it ended up being that way. There was certainly no plan to put those two songs up because they’re so different just to make a point or anything. That wasn’t the case at all. The album just ended up and it just happens to be sort of very eclectic in terms of styles, which is kind of a very Toto thing to do. There’s lots of styles. And that’s just the sort of the nature of the record and how I would write a record. So, one song is going to possibly sound different from another. Choosing those particular songs one after the other just seemed to make sense in terms of, “Never Saw You Coming” for me, it’s just kind of the best representation of where I’m at musically and what I like to hear when I’m producing that kind of stuff. And “Liberty Man” was a showcase of just my friends, these wonderful virtuoso musicians, and also a collaboration with David Paich, and it was a standout song. So between those reasons, right there, that’s really why those two songs came first. To me, it’s a plus that they’re as different as they are from each other. Some people have a problem with that, but I like the idea that it means that you’re going to get an album that’s got a bunch of different things on it. Not just one tone.

Toddstar: I would agree with that, because it made me want to listen to more of the material. Hearing the two different textures made me want to dig into this, knowing that I was going to get a bunch of surprises in the middle. I talked to Luke a week or so ago, and talked about his album, and the Dogz of Oz and the plans for you guys moving forward. He mentioned during the live show, we’ll get some solo stuff from both of you. What are the couple tracks that you’d really like to see featured in this album in a live scenario?

Joseph: Well, I most definitely would want to do, or at least try to do, “Never Saw You Coming.” To me, I think live would just really kill, that groove. So that would be one choice for sure. There’s a ballad on the album called “No Lessons,” which is also something that I would love to perform live just in a sort of a smaller setting. Let the rest of the guys take a break and just sort of do it as a piece in the middle of the show kind of thing. So, there’s a couple of songs right there that would interest me off of my album to do, but listen, I’d love to do all of them.

Photo credit: Todd Jolicoeur – Toddstar Photo

Toddstar: It’s funny you mentioned that because that’s actually what’s going on in the background and I could hear the horns and everything else. And you’re absolutely right, it’s a beautiful ballad that would get great treatment in the middle of a set with a breakdown and everything else, especially the way you guys perform. But like I told Luke, I was able to catch the last show in Michigan. You guys played in 2019 up at Soaring Eagle in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. And to watch you guys control the stage and control the flow of the show, when you’re out there, Joseph, what takes over in you to where it seems so seamless for you to just control the stage and control the flow of the show when you’re in front? What takes over in you and gives you that control?

Joseph: It’s just having done it for so long, really is what it is. And just, I started performing, same as Luke, same as all these guys, when we were kids. When we were just… I was 14, 15 years old. 15, I got my first couple of studio gigs. And believe me, it hasn’t always been like what you’re describing, sort of the control over the show, so to speak. That came with time really, for me. Somewhere in my 50s, whatever, I just sort of started to calm down and just in general. I’m comfortable on stage anyway, just from having done it my whole life. And in the last 10 years, I’ve just kind of mellowed as a person. And those two things combined have just made it a little easier somehow to just navigate our show and really pay attention to detail and get it to a point where it flows right and it looks like a professional show. So I guess attitudes have changed over the years, but I’ve just been doing stage work for so long, I guess, that it’s just, it’s taken a long time, but it’s gotten me here.

Toddstar: I can’t wait for the Dogz of Oz shows to kickoff, especially here in the States, once the world opens up a little bit. I know you guys are going to dig out some of those deep cuts and things like that. What are the couple tunes you guys have talked about digging up that you’re really excited to kind of relaunch into the atmosphere?

Joseph: Well, my favorite tune that we are going to do, we actually did it in our live stream, which is a song I picked set, because when we’re making a set list, we got to do the hits. And then we look at a whole bunch of deep cuts from all the albums and kind of pick what which person would want to do. My choice was one of my favorite Toto songs, hands down, just from the very beginning, which is a song by Bobby Kimball, off of the first record called “You Are The Flower.” And it’s just such a great song and really a great memory for me when the band first came out, when I was a fan. And I’ve gotten to know him and worked with him over the years, and it’s just such a great song, and I’ve always wanted to try it, because I never would try it in the past because I didn’t think I could do justice to it in any way at all and it wouldn’t sound good. But I don’t know, I got comfortable and we rehearsed it, and it sounds great. At least I think it does, and it’s also a way of just telling Bobby that we love him and telling the fans that we do. I don’t know, it’s just one of my favorite songs. I’m excited about that one. That’s I guess a deep cut that is my choice.

Toddstar: You hit on it and you’ve been involved with the band for so long, you just are part of the band. You mentioned you were a fan of the band. Was there ever hesitation when you got that call to say, “Hey, let’s do this,” because you were such a fan of the band?

Joseph: Well, no, not at that point. I mean, by the time I was 26, which is when I went in and sang with them for the first time, by that point I had been working and had a career going for myself and I had worked with the guys on actually one of my first solo record. And by that point I was a little, I guess more chill about it, but I’m talking about when the first album came out, which was ’77, which means I would have been about 17, 16 or 17 years old. And first of all, they were friends and kids of colleagues of my dad. So that was neat because I knew these guys. I also knew Lukather actually from childhood. So it was cool to see him in this successful thing. And I don’t know, my brother and sister and I were always just huge fans of all kinds of music. And that album just really, really hit home. So that’s what I mean, I started out as a master fan, but then very quickly over the period of five years or so, I got to kind of meet them and know them a little bit, so by the time I auditioned to be in the band, I was definitely starstruck, but it was not quite as fan boyish as when I was a teenager.

Toddstar: Fair enough. Going through the album, Joseph, I have cewrtain songs I am drawn to… I love the Peter Gabriel cover. I love “No Lessons,” but I’m trying to figure out one of the tracks, “Wilma Fingadoux.” Where’d the title come from?

Joseph: On every album of mine, solo album, I put some little musical poem of some kind or something for my mother, who died when I was a kid, when I was 13 years old. So in each album, there’s some dedication, so to speak. And on this album, it’s that song. It’s the most fleshed out song that I’ve done, that’s deliberately sort of talking to her in the lyrics. So the song is for her. And the title is basically the, not a punchline, but it’s a joke that my mother used to tell that my father reminded me was very funny. And I used that as the title. Sometimes we’d play these games where you make up names, that if you say the whole thing together, it means something else? Like for instance, Lou Stool. You know what I mean? So anyway, my parents, before I was born, they were friends as kids, used to play that game back and forth and back and forth. And one of the ones my mother came up with was Wilma Fingado. I don’t know, it was an homage to her sense of humor, just by calling it that. And then once I decided to call it that, I thought maybe if I spell it like a French spinster, it might look good.

Toddstar: It caught me off guard and made me ask, and hearing the story behind it makes me appreciate the track even more. I know you’re busy, Joseph, so I got one more for you. With everything going on, launching an album in an era where you can’t get out there right away to support it. You can’t even get out there and do the interviews and stuff in person like you’d probably prefer to. You mentioned doing the live stream, which you guys did when you were announced the Dogz of Oz tour and the upcoming road venture with that. And then even just touring in general, but with everything going on right now, what are the one or two things you miss about the real world that were kind of stripped of you when the pandemic hit and everybody kind of went into lockdown mode?

Joseph: Well, I’ll give you the selfish answer. Just movies. Going to movies is one of my favorite passions, is I sit in the theater with a giant screen and watch new films, new and old films. And so, that being gone was difficult for me. I mean it’s a selfish answer, but that’s definitely one of the things that was hard.

Toddstar: That’s what I was aiming for, because everybody has got their own little thing that they just miss. I miss being able to see live music. As just a fan of music, I miss seeing it. Like I said, one of the last shows I saw before everything hit the fan was a Toto show in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. So I had something to tide me over.

Joseph: Cool. I appreciate it.

Toddstar: Yeah. Well, listen, again, I appreciate the time you took for this, because this is truly a great moment to be able to speak to you about the new album Denizen Tenant and all of the things related to Joseph Williams. And we hope that when this album drops on the 26th, that all the fans get out there and buy their copy of it and dig through these 12 tunes just as I’ve been doing since I got the download.

Joseph: Well, listen, thank you so much for your time. That’s really the way it should go. I truly appreciate it. And thank you very much. I’m glad you’re digging the album.

Toddstar: We’ll see you out on the road as soon as we can, Joseph, and we’ll say hello then.

Joseph: Great. Thanks so much.








Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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