Trev Lukather (@trevlukather) is our creative of the month. One of the most talented, down to earth humans out there. He opens up about the highs and the lows of his career journey. Interview by Meesh.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Studio City hills. Born at Cedas-Sinai hospital. Full blown native of LA.
What were your hobbies as a kid?
I loved basketball growing up. My Pop put in a hoop at the house so I was always running around, having friends over shooting hoops pretending to be John Stockton. I picked up the drum sticks at 4 years old. Played drums til I was 12 then guitar took over.
What was it like having parents with such success in the music world?
You know people might find it crazy to believe but when you’re so young and you don’t know any different, it seems normal. My Pop and his friends stood out no doubt. I didn’t know they were famous. They were entertaining to be around and fun as hell but I’m sure you and everyone reading had family friends that were fun to be around. I went to Catholic School and my Pop’s look was not like normal dads. It just didn’t seem weird to me. It’s just a little more surreal for the outside looking in.
To me, it would be like for any other family. Your family has their close friends come over and they hang out. No big deal. That’s what it was like. My mom’s side too. Most of my family on both sides are in the entertainment industry in some way. It might be fascinating for some to think what it must have been like but it’s not like it’s Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory at the crib. Like every family, family has drama, have dinner together, get yelled at for having a bad report card, what you do for a living doesn’t matter. If you take care of your own, you’re a rockstar in your own right.
My parents were hands on and always there for my sister and I. The older I got, I realized, my family and the people I grew up with, were not the norm and they were “idolized.” When my Pop took me out on the Toto reunion tour when I was 13 and brought me out to play in front of 20,000 a night, I couldn’t believe it. It was beyond crazy to take in. There is my dad, with thousands of fans screaming for him. The guy I would be embarrassed by if he made some joke in front of my friends from school, was a full blown rockstar. It was a proud and life changing moment for me and he was proud that I could get up so young and play with no hesitation. That tour solidified my future.
I’m grateful to my Pop for that among so many other things. There was no other choice. I had full family support and belief the whole way to this day. Hey, who could tell you your dreams can’t come true when members of your family can prove otherwise. To add to my earlier point, we’re all human. The obsession with celebrity I do not understand. Some jobs are cooler than others but we are all people. Don’t put anyone on a pedestal, that will hold you back and dim the light that you are. Fame is a nuisance. End of story.
Can you explain your career journey that got you to where you are today?
It hasn’t been an easy road. I’m more friends with rejection than the taste of success but you grow to find out how important rejection is. It molds you into the person you need to be to sustain success. I’ve had so many ups and downs.
I got my first professional gig at the age of 17. I was Lindsay Lohan’s musical director/guitarist for her “Speak” album and promo tours. That was my first job ever, thrown into the Disney kid circus! I saw up close how brutal that level of fame was. I felt bad for Lindsay. I saw her decline before the world did and it worsened to the point of having to quit the gig. That experience turned me off from wanting to play guitar for any other artist. I passed on playing for The Veronica’s, Katy Perry, and Avril Lavigne.
I was young and wanted to be my own artist. I always wrote songs and I was a performer. I then had the opportunity to record a demo with Producer Tommy Henriksen who had an imprint on Geffen Records for my own potential album. I was 20 at this time and thought I was pretty cool. I got into the partying and drugs. When it came down to showcasing the demo that the record company loved, I decided to do an all nighter a day before the showcase and blew out my voice. Long story short, I sucked and lost the deal. It was heartbreaking but that didn’t stop my partying. I was at that age.
I got a call to write for a band called Halestorm who were recording their debut on Atlantic Records. The session was a success and I got the first single release which lead to my first and only Gold Album plaque so far. I was offered a nice publishing deal which I turned down because I wanted to be my own artist and not live in a studio. I was young and stupid. Then a lot of years of up and downs. I went through so many changes musically. Following trends and not being myself.
I did start a project called Biotin Babies which was just me working with friends in the music scene that I never and always wanted to write with. It charted 27 on US Spotify charts but it wasn’t me and who I truly was as an artist. There was barely any guitar on the tracks, I was singing lead. I picked up touring gigs in between to explore, pay bills, and build experience. Just to be clear, just because you are born in the music industry doesn’t mean everything is handed to you. It makes it harder because you are immediately labeled, boxed in and compared to your parent’s talent and success. You have to work 10 times harder to prove your own identity.
Fast forward to 29 years old, I had a spiritual awakening (non religious) that changed my life for the better. That’s a book of its own but it opened my mind to realize how small we all are. It’s liberating! There’s an endless universe and we are on a spec of a spec in it and we are the specs on it. All this time trying to impress people and wanting the approval of the nay sayers. Who are these nay sayers? They are people just like you and I trying to figure it all out. People who got lucky. People who have the right job for now. “Fake it til you make it” on the daily. We all like to pretend that we know what we are doing but we don’t.
Everyday is an experiment and a blessing. We don’t know the future. All I knew is that it changed me. I started to believe in my own talent, my own skill, my own power. One day at a time. With that mentality, you are able to manifest. That’s when the universe aligns. Taking yourself and ego out of the equation. When you let the fear and ego leave the room, you will be your best self. That’s when I got the call from What So Not who a year prior, I played on his album he was working on not thinking it would lead to anything other than the session. He asked me to build a live show for a world tour and to headline Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Sasquatch, etc. We played Red Rocks in Denver, had a sold out show at the Palladium and venues all around the world. All of these bucket list checks that at times in my life, thought were impossible or that I lost my chance.
With my new mind set, instead of being like “dig me” you realize that nothing is promised and you don’t know how long it will last. You appreciate every experience and with every opportunity, you focus on what you can do with that opportunity to build the connection you have with the people you play for and convert as a fan. Then, I started my band ZFG which the meaning of the name was how I felt about the nay sayers. Making music we wanted to make and not follow any trends. That lead to a full circle moment and dream come true opening for Toto on their last run which was something I always wanted to do but never had the right band or music to make it possible. We were road dogs last year and grew so much as a band and as brothers. We got offered a record deal and our debut album release is set to come in 2021 due to the Coronavirus. My journey has been a crazy one but I couldn’t be more grateful it’s happening now and in my 30s. I would have fucked it all up if I got my chance at 20 years old. I’d become my own Lindsay Lohan.
What's one of the most wild experiences you have had?
There have been a lot wild experiences and some I shouldn’t share haha but I did take mushrooms before headlining Spring Awakening festival last year. We were playing for 30,000 people and it was an EDM festival. If you’ve been to an EDM festival, the production is insane! The shrooms kicked in mid set and I found myself staring at the beautifully lit ferris wheel and other stages in the distance completely enamored. I then realized I stopped playing for God knows how long. I found myself pointing at some people in the audience for way too long but I don’t think they cared. They were on the same level as me. I pretended that there was something wrong with my guitar and set up so I ran off stage to my tech who asked me what was wrong and all I could tell him is that I couldn’t remember the song. We all laughed about it and still do. I will never do that again! I got the postcard never to return haha.
Do you have a specific process when you're creating music? How do you stay focused?
I pick up the guitar to practice and mess around for therapeutic purposes. It either comes or it doesn’t. I feel that I am a vessel. We all are. We sometimes channel whatever it is that guides us through life. Sometimes we get those golden nuggets and sometimes we get those brown nuggets.
I don’t force it. Sometimes I take some time off to see if anything has been waiting to come alive. When it comes easily and naturally, you trust that those are the special ones. It still trips me out that I can create something out of thin air, like having children. Music is the closest link to “God” as we can get. It’s what brings people together and it‘s something that even the most fucked up, sadistic people love and need. The feeling it gives us. Love, escape, hope, happiness! I’m so grateful this was what I was born to do.
What's your daily routine?
It varies but now in quarantine, I’m beginning to feel like I’m Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.
I get up, drink coffee, check my phone, my girlfriend Madi trains me with her floor Pilates routine or we hike. I build sounds for live shows and watch movies. That’s new living for the moment.
When and how did ZFG come to life?
It was random. We all had our separate projects and bands. I did feel that separately we weren’t showcasing who we were in the projects we were in at that time. I was living with Josh Devine (drummer) who I met through some mutual friends. Josh played drums for One Direction and was/is the best up and coming drummer I’ve heard. He has chops and pocket for days. I knew we didn’t meet each other just to be roommates. He knew of me before we met and he wanted to work with me on something too. I brought in Sam Porcaro who I grew up with my whole life. His dad Mike Porcaro was the bassist of Toto. We all went to school together but never played together.
I brought Sam out on tour when I was musical directing a new artist named Diamante. The musical chemistry with Sam was undeniable. It just took 29 years to realize it. Jules was a guy I kept bumping into and seeing at the Hollywood jam circuit. He is a beast of a singer and performer. He was more R&B Soul. I did come across a video clip where he belted and sounded like a Robert Plant, Steven Tyler, Adam Levine mix but his own thing! I immediately reached out to see if he’d get in the studio and record a tune. No commitment. Just 4 guys having fun. The overall connection, writing, and chemistry was once again undeniable. The universe aligning. That special once in a lifetime moment you live for. The rest is history but we are in the beginning chapters of our book as a band. We are changing the band name which we will announce soon. Debut album yet to be released but I’ll say that it’s the best thing I’ve ever been a part of and if the universe and stars align again, it will be life changing.
What are some struggles you have faced being a musician and how did you overcome them?
Self doubt. Being your own worst enemy and worst critic. We are energy and if we manifest the bad energy, nothing good will happen. Don’t read what the trolls write. Tune them out. Don’t listen to what people say. Even the ones closest to you. This is your life, your journey. We all have opinions but not everyone is going to love or understand what you do. Self love is key! If you believe in what you are doing, that’s all that matters and people will feel that. People will connect to that.
Where is your favorite place to travel and why?
Playing with What So Not who is from Sydney, I’ve had the pleasure of doing 5 different Australian runs in the 2 years I’ve had the gig. Australia is hands down one of the most beautiful places on Earth. The people are great, the food, the animals, the coffee, the hangs! I can go on and on. For vacation, Turks and Caicos Parrot Cay island is a piece of heaven. I dream of that place from time to time. Been there twice and if I could build a dream vacation pad, it would be there. Manifest in motion.
Any tips for aspiring musicians?
Find yourself through your inspirations and your own writing. Find your voice. There is no plan B, just believe it will happen and don’t put a time limit on it. I’m 32 almost 33 and it’s all really just starting to happen for me. Believe and manifest the dream. Be the best you and own it!
What are the pros and cons of touring?
Down time. There’s a lot of that. The travel can be grueling. It can be very lonely even if there are people around. You miss your friends and family. You miss birthdays, you miss memories and stories you would have been a part of. Losing friends, finding out who your real friends are. Some only want you to be at a certain level. Some don’t want to see you succeed. The selfless and supportive friends truly stick out and stick around.
The Pros are playing amazing shows and connecting to strangers around the world. Sharing a moment with thousands of people that will be remembered forever. Sharing an escape! You don’t know what people are going through but for that moment, it doesn’t exist. The only thing that exists is that moment. Happiness. Feeling that on a nightly basis and seeing the world at the same time. You have to pinch yourself sometimes and make sure there’s not a glitch in the Matrix.
Any funny stories you can share from tour?
There are so many! Go back up to my shroom story.
Who are your favorite artists you have worked with?
My band mates. Steve Perry the original singer of Journey. He called me to write with him for his solo album and fast forward to recording our debut album, we got him to sing background vocals on 5 tunes. His iconic voice coming through the speakers on our songs was a pinch me moment. The honor is deep! My Pop and Toto of course. I played a solo on a Chrome Sparks track that I fuckin loved! He’s a genius cat! What So Not and the endless experiences with him. He is a true legend of his genre but he also has a cross over ability as a producer, songwriter and arranger that makes him stick out and will stick around for years to come.
Tommy Henriksen (Alice Cooper/Hollywood Vampires) for the opportunity to be my own artist and giving me that first wow moment of hearing my songs fully produced. That gave me so much confidence. Daniel Johns of Silverchair because he bleeds the rockstar vibes and is a gem of a dude to rip it up with. My childhood pal Ryan Rabin of Grouplove and Captain Cuts because he’s just another level of genius when it comes to songwriting and production, we had a blast!
My brotha Ryan Cabrera, he pulled me out of a serious funk of a breakup years back and took me out on the road with him which healed my wounds. There are a lot of amazing artists that I’ve loved working with. Don’t want to sound like a name dropper so I’ll stop now.
Who are your role models and why?
My Pop is my number one because he’s the reason I started music. My Mom for being an incredible artist and deciding to leave her job and do what she loves to do for a living and becoming very successful at it. She just sold 1,000 pieces, insane! Both of my parents are artists and that’s how they make their living. My true role models in life.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I am a ginger, yet I have a soul. I love yoga and pilates. I like to play golf. I love to cook. I’m a high school drop out. I’m a self taught musician, I’ve never had a lesson. My Pop did not teach me.
What are some lessons you had to learn the hard way?
Cocaine is bad haha. I lost so many opportunities because of the partying all night and not being able to function for days. Turning down a huge publishing deal because I wanted to be my own artist, I was 20 years old, too young to understand the writing game. I wanted to be on stage, not living in a studio. It was a bad move on my end. I could have done both. I wouldn’t change a thing but there were years of feeling the regret. I’m grateful for that pain and learning. It made me who I am today and I’m proud of who I am.
If you had to choose one food to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Japanese food, you can get a little taste of it all! I love sushi too much!
What is your spirit animal and why?
Never thought about it but off the bat I’ll say the Honey Badger for the obvious reason haha. But for real, they protect their own no matter what and even to the biggest, scariest and most successful predators, Honey Badgers scare the fuck out of them.
Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?
Married with kids still making killer albums and touring around the world. My company that I’m starting to be thriving. Can’t talk about that now, but if it’s done right, will change the game for all artists and fans.
What is your favorite quote?
“Life is a groove, stay in pocket”
Best advice you have ever received?
My Pop told me when I first picked up the guitar, not to focus on soloing. He told me to focus on my rhythm and to write songs. He said it’s all about songwriting. It’s all about the mailbox money. Which is when you walk out to your mailbox and you receive royalty checks from songs you’ve written. I didn’t start soloing until I was 19 years old. I was 7 years into playing because all I did was write songs and play rhythm. I’m beyond grateful for that advice.
Another one is when I first started working on my lead guitar solo chops. I wanted to shred. Steve Perry heard my attempts of shredding one day at the studio years back and asked me who I wanted in the front row. Do you want girls in the front row or guys in the front row? I was 21 and said, obviously girls Steve. He said drop the shredding and played “Front Row Licks.“ Sing with your guitar and the girls will be in the front row. Shred and enjoy the room full of men. It stuck with me. I also didn’t have the patience to do scales for hour on end. I loved writing too much.
That started my “journey” of finding my voice with my instrument. So now I always write solos for the songs I record and I always want them to be a song within a song. A solo people can hum to. Front row licks.
If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Believe in yourself, don’t listen to the people telling you what you should do or play or write. Be you and only you because there is only you. I would have built on my self love a lot earlier and I wouldn’t have partied as much. I would have chosen my party spots and times more wisely.
Are you working on any new projects?
I’m gonna write with Dorothy this week through Skype for her 3rd album. See what comes of that. I really dig her voice and I think we could write something really fresh. I’m gonna write with Steve Perry for his follow up album when he decides to make another which will be an honor. We worked so well together, he really brought a lot to the table helping us out with our record. He’s a dear friend that I very much respect and love. I have a song coming out from a new duo producer group on Universal Records. I plan to write and play with as many artists outside of my band. I love being out of comfort zone and blending with someone else.
Favorite movie and book?
That’s a tough one because I have favorite movies in each category. Big Lebowski is a strong favorite. Goodfellas. I’m a horror movie nerd. Zombie lover. I never had the time or want to read a ton of books. I was glued to my guitar. I loved my Pops autobiography. It was a trip to read his life story from the beginning. The crazy power of one decision you make in life, can change your life forever. I’ve made some bad decisions but I’ve made some random decisions that changed my life. Doing a favor for a friend or working on something for someone that you believe in and support always leads to something greater. Everything that stands out in my career so far was a session I did for free. Don’t be too focused on money. Focus on the belief and doing right for others in need. The universe provides.