On leaving Toto
I left Toto in 2014 because it wasn’t the same band that I joined in 1992. I needed to move on creatively. I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. Towards the end, Luke [guitarist Steve Lukather] and I were the only players left from our original lineup. I didn’t feel like I was a part of it anymore. The moment I left Toto, great musical opportunities opened up, and I was playing with all the people I wanted to play with.
On touring with the Hiromi Trio
Since leaving Toto I’ve kept an active touring and recording schedule, including traveling the globe with Japanese-born pianist Hiromi and the phenomenal bassist Anthony Jackson. The Hiromi Trio gig was absolutely fantastic. It was such a musically creative project for me. It was a shame how it ended, with Anthony and I both getting sick and having to leave the band.
On other recent projects
I thoroughly enjoyed my collaboration with master percussionist Trilok Gurtu, 21 Spices. And, more recently, I’ve been working with fusion guitarist Mike Stern and jazz saxophonist Bill Evans.
On the devastating wildfire that took his home
Last December, the Thomas wildfires completely destroyed our Ojai home, near the Los Padres National Forest, burning it to the ground, along with many of my personal possessions and my home studio. The outpouring of love and support from the international drumming community has been overwhelming for me and my fiancée, Billie Rainbird, who barely escaped the fire. I was in New York performing at Iridium when I received several frantic calls from Billie that the fire was rapidly pushing our way, and that she was quickly packing some things and leaving. A few hours later, the fires had completely consumed our home. All that remains where our house once stood is a charred piece of land, filled with debris.
The heat was so intense, the alloy wheels on my car melted. All of my studio mics were destroyed. One of my classic Ludwig Octaplus bass drums totally melted. I couldn’t find a single lug from that bass drum. I also lost one of my favorite Ludwig Acrolite snare drums. My set of studio cymbals were completely destroyed by the heat. Cymbals are forged at 1,400 degrees to capture a rich sound. Anything above that temperature destroys the metal.
After having to cancel our U.S. tour supporting the recent Protocol 4 release, we’re getting back on the road. We just finished a very successful tour of Japan and China and are preparing to hit the U.S. again to make up the shows canceled because of the fire. We have a busy touring schedule ahead. I’d like to get a couple more years of touring from this new release.
On selling his Phantom Recordings studio
I sold my recording studio to pursue my musical ambitions. I still do occasional engineering work, but my first love and passion is playing music. I’m much better at making music than selling it. Trying to run the studio and play music was becoming too stressful, so I decided to let go of the studio. Protocol 4 is the last project I recorded there before I sold the studio to a young producer.
On his new Protocol band
Guitarist Andy Timmons and keyboardist Steve Weingart had been part of Protocol for a while and wanted to pursue other projects. The Protocol material is very demanding instrumental fusion music. It can become exhausting for some musicians playing this type of complex music night after night. Ernest Tibbs is still on bass, and I love his approach to this music. Guitarist Greg Howe has been a great addition. Besides being an incredible soloist, his time and groove are impeccable, which I picked up on instantly when we started playing. I couldn’t be happier with the new band and the new recording. And the tour has been very well received.
I’m really pleased with the Protocol 4 release for many reasons. It’s a big step forward for me compositionally. It’s the first time I’ve written all the music, which was mostly composed on the road, straight into my computer. Once I heard how great the band sounded together, the ideas came quickly. The tune “Pentangle” came together in a day. “All Things Considered” came quickly as well. I tried some new things sonically and technically, and I’m very pleased with the outcome. I feel musically rejuvenated after making this record.
On using 15×24 bass drums
I’ve been using 15″-deep bass drums since Tama created my Monarch Signature kit. If I had my way, I’d use 14″-deep bass drums. But with the design of the tom holders, the rack toms would end up in my lap. The shallower bass drums have more bottom end than the deeper shells because the front head reacts much quicker. When you get the resonant [front] and batter [back] heads to react in sync with one another, then you’ll get all the true bottom end out of the bass drum. Deeper double-headed bass drums cannot push the air efficiently enough to get both front and back heads to resonate in sync.
On tom-tom shell depth
I get a better tone out of my toms by having them one inch deeper than most standard-sized toms. I used the power toms for a while. But again, because of having to push too much air through them, they ended up sounding too thin. And the shallower shells don’t produce the proper tone for my playing style. Standard-size toms work well, but adding an inch to the depth gives me the perfect tone for my style of tuning.
On art versus commerce
My entire career, I’ve always chosen the risky, more musical route. It was probably not the wisest financial decision at times. But, frankly, I’d rather play great music than make lots of money.
Phillips plays Tama drums and Zildjian cymbals, and he uses Tama hardware, Promark sticks, and Remo heads.A fund has been established to aid in Simon’s post-fire recovery. Go to gofundme.com and search for Simon Phillips.