Steve Perry: A Legend Finds Peace
Steve Perry has been atop my "want list" for interviews since I first started this site in late 1996. I was very lucky to talk to Jonathan Cain early in the picture about the Trial By Fire album and from there I got to talk to all members of the band. But the elusive Steve Perry interview remained a dream. Until this week. On Monday October 24, 15 years of wishing came to fruition. After a month or two of planning, Steve was ready to talk to me about the pending release of Journey's Greatest Hits 2 and the vinyl remastering for GH1 and Steve's own Street Talk solo release. Nerves in check, the following interview is exactly as the interview went. Nothing cut out and no questions dodged. Of course I would have liked even more time and gone into even more depth on several questions. But that would probably result in a book, not an interview!
I'm very thankful to Steve for extending out interview time and to Sony Music and Lora @ FanAsylum for setting this interview up for me...after years of nagging!
I hope you enjoy the read and if you take one thing from this interview - Steve talked as if and sounded like he was in a very good place. It was a great pleasure and a thrill to talk to him and have him open up about some tough subjects. Not only is he a rock icon and a personal favourite of an army of fans, but he's also one of my personal favourite singers of all time. And dare I say, one of (if not the) very best melodic rock vocalist ever.
Hi Steve. It's a great pleasure to talk to you.
It's nice talking with you. This has been a long time coming.
I am extremely grateful to you for talking with me. Thank you.
My pleasure, my pleasure.
I've been running this site for 15 years; you have been at the top of my list ever since, so I can cross one off.
(laughing) So now I've been scratched off the to-do list.
Yeah, I can quit tomorrow now (laughing).
No you can't! Come on, come on (laughing). So has it been nice there? Is it winter?
It's heading into summer, but it's still a month away. Warming up.
Isn't that something? You're headed into summer and we're heading into winter. That's how it works?
Exactly, yeah. It's Tuesday morning, it's heading into summer, it's been anywhere between 80 and 40 degrees. It's typical spring.
So what have you been doing? What's been happening with your life? Talk to me. Tell me your story.
Sure, Steve. I feel like I should refer to you as “Sir” or “Your Lordship” or…
No, No! No Way! Stop! (laughing). 'Steve' is fine, 'Steve' is fine.
I feel like talking to THE Steve Perry requires something extra.
No, no, no… if my mother can call me Steve, you can call me Steve.
(laughing). Thank you! Well, Steve, MelodicRock.com is my full-time job and I've got a wife and three young boys. They're all tucked up in bed right now [it was 4.15am when the interview commenced] and I just do my best to make a living in this crazy business, which isn't an easy thing to do.
No, it's not. But you must love it. You know I had a conversation one time with Donnie Ienner who used to run Sony Music. And we were having our ups and downs on the way he was promoting, you know, projects. But then I realized at one point in time, I said to him on the phone what you had just said, “You know Donnie, you must love what you do because I couldn't do it.” I said, “I just don't know how you do it.”
He really honestly took it to heart as a compliment, which it was. Because you've got to love this business. You've got to love music to the point to where you're willing to stay in it. As Randy Goodrum told me one time, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.”
(laughing) Yeah, probably.
It's not. You know? (laughing)
No, it's not. It's not.
But the trick is everybody sees the lights and they see the show, they see the lifestyle and everything else. And in today's world, just turn on your television. All you have is a bunch of people doing reality shows doing lifestyle, not music. (laughing) You know? It's amazing.
It's like a hobby to them, not like a commitment or full-time thing. They just want their foot in the limelight for a minute.
That's right, there's no commitment. You're right.
Thankfully, you come from an era which is what I talk and write about, which is the 'golden age' I guess we could call it. You've seen so many changes.
Oh my goodness. When it started for me it was around 1978 when I joined the band. That's when I got my first break to get into the music business and I got signed to Columbia Records. And it was a dream come true back in those days to get a record deal. It was the sweetest thing you could ever have, is to be signed…next to the most horrific day of your life which would be to get dropped. So many of my friends did get dropped because they didn't sell records. I looked at it as if every time I had the opportunity to make a record – which the first was Infinity, with Journey – was this magical blessing that, I finally am in the record business and I get to make a record. But, I did not believe in my heart there would be a second one. I knew I had to love doing it, and if I could make any money I should save some money because I didn't trust there to be a second one.
Because the industry was so... shaky. It wasn't shaky compared to the way it is now, but it certainly… bad things could happen. You could be dropped if you didn't sell records. So, I was always excited about the ability to be able to make another one. “Oh my goodness, we're going to make another one? That's great!” You know, so here comes the next one. That's the way I kinda looked at it. Every one of the records for me emotionally was always like another opportunity to just do another one because the record labels would pay for us to just record music. It was… great. You know?
Yeah. And you jumped into the band and made such an impact so immediately. Did you take everybody by surprise?
Well, I've got to tell you, the thing is that I was finding my way at the same time they were trying to find their way in a new environment with me. And we all, at the same time, were struggling with what that means and what that doesn't mean. Them coming from a background of knowing what they wanted to be but they weren't successful at that. And all of a sudden they have this wicked stepson, you know? (laughing)
They have to deal with this stepson that is something that they like but they wish they could have done it their way, and why wouldn't they? Why wouldn't they have wished that they could be successful without having a lead singer? Well then the label says “We want you to have a singer” and then they went, “Well, I don't know, I don't know.” So, all of the sudden, here comes me, and I think it was a real challenge for all of us to find out what that really meant. They had to let go of doing it their way. I was bringing in ideas; they were growing. But, I will tell you this…being the singer in that environment with them as we were growing together on the Infinity record brought a certain kind of vocal strength out of me that the band required it have. Otherwise, I do not know if I would have ever found that anywhere else. And I think that at some level I did the same thing for them.
And that's what made it a really amazing band was that we all had our disagreements, which that's what bands do, who cares? The end result was that we brought the best out of each other that we could not do without each other. And that musically, I will be forever grateful because I was in a very different vocal style at the time. Then, I joined Journey and realized I had to do these long legato vocal things, and I had to sing in this range which I could do to kind of get above and be heard inside and around Neal Schon. Neal's guitar sound, which in the beginning used to be a struggle for me, actually became an asset for me to dig in, you know and go get this vocal thing. And then I'd sing something and he'd play something, and all of a sudden, as one of my girlfriends said, “That guitar and my voice went together like 'salt and pepper.'”
Oh yeah, absolutely.
They just work. They just go together forever, you know? And that's what I recently just experienced by remastering the Greatest Hits 2 and the original Greatest Hits to vinyl. I had to really focus on the tracks because they came from such a wide span of time, a wide variance of studios, with a wide variance in recording consoles, and a wide variance in recording engineers and recording techniques, and producers or no producers – Roy Thomas Baker to Kevin Elson to the band. I mean, it was just like the broadest spectrum of basic tracks and the way they sound that I could have ever been challenged with. So, to put those on vinyl again and to compile them for the Greatest Hits 2… which is coming out Nov 1 with “Stone In Love,” “Feeling That Way,”… was a real challenge. Emotionally, I had to really listen to the tracks closer than I had in years. It was truly, emotionally extremely painful for me to be perfectly honest with you because I forgot how great Neal was…and I forgot how great the band was. And I think I've gotten away from it long enough to see that. And I forgot some of the things vocally that I used to do. I'm thinking, 'I was out of my mind, what was I thinking?' (laughing), you know?
Why was I singing so high like that? What am I, crazy? (laughing)
Yeah, I do recall a quote from Neal saying something like 'at some point only dogs were going to be able to hear you.'
(laughing). Coming from Neal, um, I think he was being nice. I don't know. (laughing)
Oh no, no it was a compliment! This was an old quote now.
No, I know, I know (continuously laughing). I think that's the way Neal gives you a compliment, by the way. (laughing) That's a band. That's what a band is all about right there, see what I mean? (laughing)
Yeah, I was listening to GH1 a couple of days back just to go over it again - not that these songs are very far from my mind at any point anyway because they're just, you know, so great, they're always on rotation with me. But I noted that there really was quite a varied dynamic through the GH1.
You should hear GH2! Oh my God! GH2 is even more so because it goes from “Stone In Love” into “Walks Like A Lady,” into “Feeling That Way,” “Anything You Want It,” and “Suzanne.” I mean, it's just all over. And you'll jump from a Neve console to an SSL console. Are you kidding me? The frequency challenges when it comes to cutting vinyl is not forgiving. The lathes cutting head is not forgiving. There are certain sibilance issues that for some reason you have to…in the old days you would put a de-esser across the track to make sure some of the “S's” and some of the “T's” don't throw the cutting head into complete distortion so that when you play it back on vinyl, they're not friendly at all. So, instead of putting a de-esser on it, which was old school and limits the frequencies of cymbals and anything else like guitars, and clarity in the track can be limited – instead of doing that, I chose to put everything in ProTools and spend the time finding every “T”, finding every “S,” and listening to it on a test lacquer cutting of vinyl, on lacquer, ok? On acetate. I would cut the lacquer first, see if it splattered on the lacquer, and if it did, I would go back and cut all the “S's” and “T's” to sort of give them a little haircut at about 15 to 20,000 cycles. And they go by so fast that you can't tell. In ProTools you can stretch the file out, isolate that “T” to where you're not touching anything on either side, and then shim up on the high end and then put cross fades on it and close it back up. You could never do that in the old days. But, you can certainly do it now. The only deal is, it's extremely time consuming and that's what took so long. But I did not want to sacrifice the quality of the master fidelity with a de-esser. So, I did it the new way, which is spend hours upon hours with ProTools. Did that make sense?
Absolutely, yeah. How'd you learn to do that?
I love this stuff. I love it. I've been doing it for years. I love it.
I've read several interviews with you and you always seem really excited about the technology and the gear that you can use and you know your way around a studio.
I'm building a studio right now. They're wiring it. I live down in San Diego and I just converted a portion of my house into a small studio, enough to do drum tracking and stuff like that. And they're wiring it as we speak, and I'm kind of excited about that aspect. But I'll tell you what. One of my new passions is editing film.
The options that are available to “cheat” edits and move things around and give an emotional performance in the result of such edits is just phenomenal. I love it. That's just a side passion. But anyway, let's get back to music (laughing). So anyway, where were we? (laughing)
Well, anyway, the band was really, really a great band. We all busted our ass extremely hard to get in front of people so we could have an opportunity to hopefully let them love our music. And nothing could be more exciting than that.
Yeah, I was looking through some old notes and the tour schedule that you guys had back then was brutal.
Absolutely brutal. The Escape tour, in particular, I mean…
I was like a pitbull. I still have tons of energy. My girlfriend tells me all the time, “You're the most energetic person I've ever met.” But when I was younger, I was on fire. And, so I think that back in the day when the voice was fresh and young and I had that much energy, I kept up with that scheduled pretty good. Though it was difficult at times, I was able to keep up with it.
Well not many people can do four nights in a row, one off, another three nights. (laughing)
Not with blistering high frequency notes like that.
And almost two hour shows, you know. It can steal from the other side (laughing).
Yeah, yeah. Well, what did you do to keep fresh at that time?
Well, what was funny about that was I wouldn't know what I did. Or maybe I should rephrase that; I didn't know what I had left until the next day. And that was the hardest thing to have to explain to the rest of the band members, the neurotic fear that I would be going through because I'm in one city tonight and all I know is I've got to give it everything and I'm not going to skate it. I'm going to put it out there. And I would. And I wouldn't know how much I borrowed from tomorrow's show until the next day.
So I'd wake up in the morning in fear. Do I have laryngitis? Is it gone? Is it there? So I would just try to speak on the phone or say something. And then I would be in fear. I couldn't try to sing because it's too early. So, I would just shut up and live in fear for the rest of the day until about 4 o'clock, when it's too late to cancel the show. And now I'm doing the soundcheck, and now, during the soundcheck is when I find out what I have for the night. But I did get to a point where I would try my best to not borrow too much of what I need for tomorrow because I need to make it across the week at least for that day off. Then I wouldn't talk for 24 hours.
In the time that you joined the band you guys out out five albums in pretty quick succession. You put out five albums in a period that bands today take to put out one. And that's including writing and touring! You must not have had a life outside the band.
No, that is your life. That is what you give yourself to because this becomes your life. This is your girlfriend. And she needs all your time. If you're going to make this relationship work, you've got to give her 100% of your time. There was no time for anything else. None. None whatsoever.
Yeah, ok. Is that why listening back is so emotional? Because it's such a huge chunk of your life?
It certainly is part of it. Along with the emotional aspect of it, is that my mother's been gone forever, my dad's been gone forever, and I'm an only child. I look back and think, I'm so grateful that my mother gave me her encouragement when I was young and then once I got in the band, she gave me her blessing so to speak. I was touring and I was dying to come home and see her. But she just did not want me to stop for one minute. She would just say, “Oh God! You're doing great! I saw the “Faithfully” video and it made me cry. I just love it. Just go. Keep going. You're doing great.” She was happy because she had me on television and she would read all the magazines and she would keep all these magazines. She followed it very closely and she kind of gave me her blessing, so to speak, to go away, to be gone. So I don't feel guilty whatsoever. She eventually did get sick and I then did lose her, but that's when I went back to her and left the band and hung out with her for a while. Yeah, but that being said, yes, it's a serious commitment. And by the way, it wasn't just for me. It was for Neal, for Jonathan, for everybody, for the band. You betcha. Everybody went through the same commitment because we were all together far away from everything together, out there. But we loved it! Don't you understand that?
Yeah, oh yeah!
We loved it! We lived for it, you know?
Oh, you can tell through the music, Steve. You can absolutely tell through the music that this is a band that's just on fire.
Yeah. But, let me just tell you: I remember when I was trying to get in the music business in Los Angeles. There was a club in LA called the Star Wood. And the Star Wood was down at the corner of Santa Monica and I think Fairfax. And it was one of the bigger rock clubs at that time along with the Whiskey and the Roxie in LA. And I remember going there and watching Journey perform. I remember watching Neal Schon with his white Stratocaster with his Twin Reverb Fender kicked back at an angle. And his Strat is plugged into a wah-wah pedal and the wah-wah pedal is plugged into his Twin Reverb, and the Twin Reverb is on 10. And all I can tell you is I saw him play back then. And he killed me. He just killed me.
I wasn't that excited about the rest of the players to be perfectly honest with you. Though, I respected them and understood them. But, standing next to Neal, he dwarfed them. And I said to myself, “That's what I need to get with. I need a guitar player like that.” Because it's always been Page and Plant. There are two lead instruments: lead guitar and lead voice. It's not lead bass. It's not lead drums. You know. The rock and roll thing always has these two lead instruments, this spectacular interchange of melodies. And so, years later, a friend of mine named Larry Luciano in San Francisco happened to know Neal. And that's when I first met him. He was actually playing with Azteca in a concert as he was actually a member of Santana at that time. And then years later, we ended up together. It's very bizarre. Very bizarre.
Well obviously, it was very much meant to be.
I think that's the case. But there were certain sequences of events that I can tell you exactly where the dominoes fell that led to me becoming the singer in Journey with Neal Schon.
And looking back… what a legacy of songs. Seriously. There are few bands out there that can come close.
And the funny thing about that is when you listen to these tracks on vinyl, not only do they sound unique, they sound emotionally so friendly on vinyl. Oh my God! After listening to it on vinyl, I didn't even want to hear it on CD! Because it just sounds like so where it was destined to go. It's where it was born. It's where it was headed. When we were recording, the target was, “how do we make this sound great on vinyl?” And all these steps along the way were geared towards making it sound amazing on vinyl. Then CDs came along. And people started adding more top and more bottom, more top and more bottom, and making it louder and louder. It didn't necessarily make it feel better, it just made it louder. And more bright. And you didn't hear the needle tracking in the groove. So, everybody thought, “Gosh, isn't that amazing, I don't hear a needle tracking. It's so clean sounding.” And that's true. I must admit, that was a plus. But when you go back to the sonic emotional aspect of analog, meaning a needle driving through a groove. It's amazing. And I just want to turn it up, and it's just so, so good. You just want to chew your teeth it sounds so, so good! (laughs) So, you know, it's just kind of exciting all over again is what I'm trying to say
Oh absolutely! Have you reached perfection as far as what you can do sonically with the old masters?
No. Absolutely not. Every circumstance where you're recording anything has its own unique challenges. So, every single track, like when you jump from “Chain Reaction,” you know that track right?
I know every track there is, Steve!
Right, well think about “Chain Reaction,” the way that sounds. You should hear that on vinyl. Then go to “Walks Like A Lady.” Now, those two tracks are so different, they have such different sonic challenges, they have such different emotional performance challenges, they have such different nuances to them that it does not sound like it's the same band at all. And that's the beauty, that's the diversity that people I think are starting to catch on to that I was so very proud of being a part of – that Journey could do “Chain Reaction” or “Separate Ways” and then turn around do “Walks Like A Lady.”
You know what I mean?! And then turn around and do “Good Morning Girl/Stay Awhile?” And then turn around and do “Don't Stop Believin'”? It sounds like a different band every time.
I must say that I am partial to your latter era, you know singing and recording. I'm a huge fan of the Raised On Radio album.
Wow, I really appreciate that because I think that was an amazing accomplishment. I think that album was a very adventurous departure I dare say. And, though it did not do as well as the rest, I think on that album you'll see an exploration of grooves and changes and vocal styles and harmonies and choruses that were different from anything that came before. I was proud of it because I thought that we needed to grow. And we could have very well just grown and become the next musical change. But, I had a feeling that people kinda wanted us to stay in a certain genre and not move that far.
They always do…
But at the same time, I think the band needed to grow you know, a bit. And I had just done my solo album, Street Talk.
I love that record too.
And Jon and Neal had that record. So when I got back to start writing the next record, they kinda liked some of it to where there were more R&B grooves and more R&B changes as a base of what they had seen me do on my solo thing. And, we kind of incorporated some of that. And it just kind of met somewhere in the middle, you know?
It sounds like it. The second half of the record has so much soul in it…its just unbelievable.
Give me an example, I'm curious of one that comes to mind.
Well, “Happy To Give” for one.
“Happy To Give” is one of those songs that Jonathan Cain and I were just messing around with. And it just had that digital presence to it to where it just sits there in the nicest, simple digital landscape, almost an ambient track before there was ambient music. You know what I mean?
Well, I've got to say at the time the record came out; there was nothing else like it.
I thought so too, but nobody picked up on it but you! (laughing)
I'm sure there are others. (laughing)
And I love that track, you know? It was an emotional sentiment that I was going through at the time…'where is that one, someone's who's happy, happy to give their love,' you know?
Well I've got to jump right in and interrupt you, Steve. I want to give you a compliment: this is what I love about your music and your songs. You pour your heart and emotion and soul in to it, and the fans can hear it. I can hear it. And I think that's what gives such a resonance with people.
Wow, that's so sweet. That's the nicest thing anyone's really said about my voice.
Well I mean, many people have copied your style. They may have the power or the range. Or maybe – not even the range because you're insane, but they don't have the soul is what I'd like to say.
Oh my goodness, that's the sweetest thing I've ever been told. Thank you so much for that. Um, I don't know what to say.
Well, as a listener I get swept up in it every time.
Oh, thank you very much. I can only add that I just don't stop singing until I start to believe it. And sometimes, I'm my worst enemy. And I'll walk past stuff that emotionally moves people but it doesn't move me yet. And I'll keep pushing and I can walk right past something that was good enough because I'm extremely difficult on myself.
I've picked up on that.
Yeah. For instance, I've got a large amount of songs and I've got them demoed up vocally and I haven't really sung them in a master approach yet because I don't want to sing them on my laptop with drum machines and keys when that might not be the basic track. I don't want to accidentally capture…I have done this. I've actually captured moments on my laptop that I probably could never do again. And hopefully I'll just transfer this to HD ProTools and keep some of that. But, it's a moment in time.
I'm going to come back to that Steve, but just on the subject of Raised On Radio. I just love where your voice went starting with Street Talk and then through Raised On Radio and onward from there.
You know what's bizarre? Do you know that Columbia Records and the Journey management never told me that I had a hit record in Australia? They never told me that “Oh Sherrie” was a hit. Do you know that that's the God's honest truth? I did not know until a friend of mine from Australia told me.
Wow, wow. Oh my God.
It's as if I wasn't supposed to know. I couldn't believe it! That it was a big hit!
I was actually going start the interview with this fact, that you are far better known here for “Oh Sherrie” than you are for Journey.
That's what someone told me and I never knew it until recently. And that's the “swear to God” truth!
To this very day, “Oh Sherrie” is still all over radio and Journey barely gets a listen. It was massive down here. It was just massive. And that was my introduction to you, because I'm a little bit younger.
That's where you first picked up on it?
“Oh Sherrie” was the first Steve Perry/Journey song I ever heard.
Oh, that's amazing. Wow.
And then I was sold from that point on.
Was “Foolish Heart” a hit there too or not?
Lesser so, but yes. It doesn't get airplay now, but…
Right, but “Oh Sherrie” still? Wow.
Yeah, it was massive, and the album was massive. If you say Journey, some people know and some people don't. If you say “Oh Sherrie,” oh yeah everybody knows that! (Laughing)
Oh my God, I did not know that until recently, and I mean within the last two years. And it's frightening to admit that to you. But it's the truth.
It's just hard to get Sony to know that, you know? They have the same mentality as “Let's do Rocky 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10.”
You know, they want to do the safe move. They don't necessarily want to branch out and just believe in things. They're not big believers, you know? (laughing)
It must have been a big call for you to self-produce that album on their dime. It must have been hard to convince them?
They were scared to death. They thought that I was going to spend a lot of money and they weren't sure what I was going to do. But you know, I ended up doing it relatively inexpensively and quickly because I had great musicians. There were no computers back then. Everything you're hearing on the Street Talk record is absolutely performed in the studio and captured on a piece of tape. I mean if you threw hamburgers in the studio, you would get hamburgers on tape you know? So, there was not a computer to be found, no auto tuner existed. Nothing of today's era existed during '84-'85. So, that is real musicians like Larry Londin on drums, Bobby Glaub on bass, Craig Kramph on drums, Michael Landau on guitar…
What a legend he is!
I mean amazing players! Randy Goodrum on keyboards! I wrote “Foolish Heart” with him and he helped me with the lyrics of “Oh Sherrie.” And we wrote “She's Mine” together and that's him on the keyboards. I mean we're talking players who spent their youth reaching for the ability to perform with feel. And when these guys play, the performance is dripping with feel.
Absolutely! And that's what engages me, the listener. I don't want to hear false perfection. I want emotion and feel.
Right, right. Yeah, of course.
Don't take the life out of the record.
Well a good example of a band that reached for perfection, but didn't have a lot of R&B in them, but their perfectionist quality was so good and so amazing was Def Leppard.
Yeah, yeah I love Def Leppard!
Right! I love Def Leppard. But Mutt Lange took them to a pristine place of rock clarity and pristine performance to where it was something you could not ignore because it was so amazing. But it wasn't R&B (laughing)
No, no! (laughing)
Right? It was just amazing rock!
Yeah, yeah. Other end of the scale.
Other end of the scale, but equally amazing in its own right, you know?
Yeah, yeah, but you know what, Street Talk still sounds amazing, I can't wait to hear it on vinyl.
Oh geez, it sounds so good on vinyl!
And you know what, it sounds good on anything. Because those songs were just so alive.
Right. It was a special time in my life I think. I had just come to Los Angeles and had decided I was going to go ahead and do a solo record after Neal Schon had just done two with Jan Hammer. I told Herbie, our manager, “Well, he's done two. I told you if he does some solo stuff I'm eventually going do one too.” So I came to LA and I did a demo session with Niko Bolas, a brilliant engineer and in a small studio. It had an API console and it was a 3M tape machine and that was it. So we did this demo with Craig Kramph and some musicians and from those demos, just to see if I could have fun, came the song “Strung Out.” And that song “Strung Out” on the Street Talk record is the demo from those sessions.
Really? What a great song.
Yeah, so that was the qualification that told me that I could have fun in the studio by myself too. So, then I went back and recorded the rest of the record and wrote it with Randy Goodrum and a bunch of people.
Wow. I haven't told anybody I'm doing this interview, but I made a joke online saying “how can I fit 148 questions into 20 minutes, so…” (laughing)
No, please go ahead. I'll try to extend it best I can.
I appreciate it any time you've given me Steve.
No, no, no! Continue, we're good, we're good.
There's so much I'd love to ask you, but I just wanted to say thank you…
Well do, continue, please! I'll listen! I'll tell you anything you want to know (Laughing)
(laughing). I just want to say “Thank You” for some of your songs in particular. “Running Alone,” for example.
Right, you know John Bettis and I wrote the lyrics to that.
Oh, it's such a big song.
It was such a challenge to me. Do you know how much recently I have been using the lyrics in that song to keep me from depression? I have my own ups and downs because I'm an emotional person. I'm not on medication or anything, but I have my highs and lows like anybody else. But the lyrics in that song…
I've dealt with that myself.
Well the highs and lows of passionate people is just what comes with it. That's all there is to it. And I think once I started to understand that, I can sort of ride the waves and be a little more forgiving unto myself and not expect it to be something other than it is. But what helps me go through the lows lately has been the lyrics in “Running Alone.”
Is that right?
“The trick of the dreamer is keeping yourself from the blues.” And “I don't mind running alone.” I mean that lyric to me is something. John Bettis, who wrote a lot of songs for many people in Los Angeles is a great lyricist, just a straight up “smoke a pipe” kind of lyricist, you know? He really helped with that.
Well this is why some of your songs mean a lot to me personally, you can struggle with happiness when there's no reason.
I do, I do know that. People think, “Steve Perry should be the happiest guy in the world, what problems could he have?” Well let me tell you what problems Steve Perry has. The only problem Steve Perry has is that he's alive just like you are and he has to wake up in the morning like you do and he has to face the world exactly like you do. I'm no different than anybody else. I don't have some special coupon that excludes me from life on life's terms. There is no special coupon. Though, I'll tell you something Andrew: When I was younger I thought that if I could become famous and everybody would love me I would kind of have a special coupon. But guess what? The reality was that after I'd attained that, I realized that I am no different than anybody else. I still have to live life on life's terms.
Yeah. Yeah. Have you battled with that recently?
When Journey broke up for the second time, which was after I went back and got Jonathan Cain and Neal Schon and said “Why don't we make a record again?” And we decided to make a record, and we decided to call it Trial By Fire…when we got back together for that and we ended up breaking up again and breaking each other's hearts again. I'm just talking about one unto the other. I'm not saying anyone is right or wrong. It's just what bands sometimes goddamn do. When that happened a second time, I think it damaged all of us again. And, from that experience, they went on; I went away. From that experience, they went on with someone else. And I went away. I did. I've been gone. I just went away and tried to figure out how to live life on life's terms and just come off the ride. Just put my feet on the ground. I think that has been the challenge and also to allow myself, Andrew, to start dreaming again, because the dreaming is where the music is. But the trick of the dreamer is keeping yourself from the blues. See what I mean?
So what I'm trying to say is you can't embrace your whole life if you're shut down. I found out that I can't just run away and shut down. I'm losing the rest of my life doing that. So I started giving myself a chance to write music again. And that meant that I had to dream again. And if I get into the fantasy of dreaming again I'm going to have the blues again. And if I'm going to feel the blues, then I'm going to be depressed. And then if I'm going to be depressed, I'm going to write music. And if I write music, then I'm going to feel good again. And if I feel good again, I'm now back again on the rollercoaster. So, I thought in my mind it was better just to run away and not feel any of it. And you know Andrew, that worked for quite a few years but it certainly isn't a way to live life and I do not recommend it! (laughing) I do not recommend running from life, though I needed to. Because the break-up was so painful for all of us. And I'm not saying just for me, goddamnit. I'm saying for all of us. Please, I hope you print this. I want you to print this. The break-up was painful for all of us. But it necessarily had to happen.
Yeah. You can see from comments that have gone back and forth in past interviews. Neal pretty much says it as it is without a filter. You can take his comments as “Wow, that's hurtful” or whatever, but you can tell that he was hurt too and that's the way he expresses himself.
Sure, sure. I mean everybody has their way of expressing themselves. And everybody processes their anger in their own way. And so, you know, as I said one time in an interview a long time ago, it was a live interview on I can't remember…I think it was Bob Colburn. We were live via satellite and the band had just replaced me with their first singer, the first of three.
And they said, “The band is probably listening on our affiliate in San Franciso. What would you like to say since we've have about three, four minutes left in the program.” And I sat there and I said, “You know Bob, I really don't think there's any wrong here. I think everybody in their life does what they believe is right for them. I believe they're doing what they feel is right for them at this time in their lives and I'm doing what's right for me in my life. I don't think there's any wrong here. I think it's just people doing what they feel they need to do.” And that's okay.
Amazing. At this point I must say again that after Raised On Radio my favorite Journey album is Trial By Fire.
I just think that album has so much heart and soul in it.
Yeah. I think it was a great record, too. And I'm going to tell you something: we literally did it and we were insistent on doing it ourselves. Though there were a couple of members that wanted to bring some outsider writers in that were contemporary, I fought against it to be perfectly honest with you. I said “No” and I won't even tell you about it, who said it. I said “No.” I said, “Let's get together and be what we are. I didn't call you to get us back together for us to be somebody we're not. Let's just see what we've got right now.” So we went back and did it the way we always did. We wrote sketches, we rehearsed them, and we made cassettes and DAT tapes of rehearsal, went back and just worked on those, and just started to cultivate the ideas. And from all that came that record. And the song “Trial by Fire.” Do you know how that song came about?
I'd love to know, because it's one of my favorites.
Neal was at the rehearsal hall and, God bless Neal. He is absolutely, insanely committed to just noodling on the guitar, mindlessly all the time. And so he'd get there early and I'd be walking in, and I'm an early guy. And everybody else shows up about when they do. And I heard him noodling. And I walked in. He had just gotten a digital Echoplex. And the digital Echoplex allowed him to record about 3 or 4 loops and loop them wherever he wanted to. So he'd step on the pedal and play something. He had a drum machine linked in to that. He would step on it again and that would mean the end of that. As long as he did it in time, then it would just loop and it would allow him to play with himself while we're not there.
And he started playing this thing, this thing that was amazing, which was the solo of what later became “Trial By Fire.” And he's just playing this beautiful thing, the drums going (making drum sounds), and he's playing (humming the guitar solo melody). I go “What the fuck are you doing?!”
So I walk up and I just start playing bass with it. And I'm going (singing) “It's just another trial by fireee.”
[Yes folks, Steve Perry just sang to me….and he sounds great!]
You know and all of a sudden we're doing this thing. And Jon walked in, and believe me, it was just a matter of seconds, me and Jon wrote the lyrics and that song was done. And when my hip crashed, that song saved me.
Yeah, it did.
Wow, that's another song that I play a lot for myself, you know? (laughing) and I also play “Anyway” from For The Love Of Strange Medicine.
Do you know what that's about?
I'd like to know. It sounds like a goodbye song.
No it's not. I want you to read the lyrics again. It's about Journey. “We believed in music. Brothers til the end, a fire burned between us…” We did believe in music til the bitter end.
This is what the song's about – just about every time somebody gets close to being able to talk about something that really needs to be talked about, it would get too emotionally close. And the best I could do was “anyway, what was I saying?” You know what I mean?' Everybody does this, we go “anyway, it's not important.”
So if you notice the song does that. The character of the song goes [singing again!] “We believed in music, brothers til the end. Nothing stood between us, a fire burned within. Oh how I remember, wounded but alive. Lost in our… insanity… escaping to survive.”
It's about the band! It's about Journey and what happened to Journey within itself.
See what I mean? It really is. We were brothers til the very end. You can't become successful in such an endeavor like becoming a world-known rock band unless you really band together, which is where the term “band” comes from…unless you band together like war buddies and you're absolutely brothers til the end. Though you have your moments and you hate each other, you're joined at the hip because you have a mission. And we had that. We had that spark. We had that goalpost in our hearts, all of us. And it truly was a fire that burned inside us all. And that song was my homage to them and I don't think any of the Journey members ever heard it to be honest with you.
Okay, interesting. I can see every bit of what you're saying but I can also say it speaks to me on another level as well. Very personal. I just like the personal aspect of the song. You've opened yourself up and you're being very honest in the lyrics, the vocal is very raw, it just really speaks to me.
It was a great track. I got to write on that record, I think, correct me if I'm wrong, didn't I write that one with Tim Miner?
I think you did, yes.
Tim Miner and I wrote that one along with a song called “Missing You.”
Yes, another great ballad.
And so, Tim Miner is just an amazing gospel artist. The guy's got an amazing voice; he's just one of those sort of like successful underground Christian artists. He's genius, he's truly genius. And I wanted to write with him, so I did.
And you used another Christian artist, Lincoln Brewster on that album.
What a fantastic guy he is.
Great, great. You know, I wish the solo tour could have come to Australia. That would have been un-be-lievable because that band we put together with Moyes Lucas on the drums, and Paul Taylor on keys, and Lincoln was unbelievable, and Todd Jensen on bass.
Oh, that's right, love Todd.
And everybody sang. All four of them sang and then I sang, so we had five really strong voices. So there were no samples, there was just really great playing.
I've got to say that “You Better Wait” is one of the best opening tracks on any album of any time.
I love that song! That is just a massive song for me. I play it constantly.
Yeah, Sony didn't like it, just so you know.
Psh! What do they know?
What do they know? They've got their heads so far up their butts they don't know what they're doing. (laughing)
It's too bad because it used to be a music company. Somewhere along the lines it became something else.
Well, it became Sony Corp. didn't it?
Yes, it did unfortunately.
Let me jump straight back. 1994, you come off the road at the start of 1995 and the solo tour was finished, right?
Surely…at that time…you had no way of knowing that it would be your last tour.
If I recall – hold on, you're giving me to the “way back” machine, hold on, let me pull this up in my head. The solo tour was my last tour. Yes. I had no idea. I was going to keep going but I got very sick. I got on the East Coast and if you look up the weather of that year, the East Coast got blanketed by incredible, large doses of snow from the top to the bottom of the East Coast. And we were out there and I got pneumonia. And I ended up in a hotel taking antibiotics and anti-inflammatories to get my lungs to calm down. And I couldn't get 'em to calm down. Finally, I had to fly back to my doctor out here. I left the trucks and crew out there for a few days to see what he said. And he said, “You need to go to bed or I'll put you in the hospital.” And I went, “Well shit.”
So I had to shut the tour down. And it was such a fun tour! It was the first time I'd ever done a solo tour. So, you know, I had so much fun reconnecting. This is going to be funny and it's a little bit over the top, but I guess it's because I was having so much fun. If you go on YouTube and you type in “Steve Perry,” I think if you type in F-T-L-O-S-M…
Yeah, I think you're talking about something I've already got and seen many times.
Yeah and if you go there, you'll see a bootleg of me having fun with the audience in the middle of this thing where I start talking to them saying, “I want the girls to sing to Stevie one time” because I had not been in front of an audience in so long! Oh, I had not been in front of an audience in so long and I was having so much fun and I want the girls to sing “I miss you Stevie!” And they sing, “I miss you Stevie” (laughing)
And then, and you know I'm looking in the audience and this guy's crossing his arms thinking “What the hell are you doing?” And I said “Well if you were up here, you'd do it, too!” you know? (laughing)
Because it was just so much goddamn fun! You know? (laughing)
I've got a VHS tape of this and I think it's New York or Toronto or something, one of the shows.
Oh, it might be the Beacon. It's either the Beacon Theater in New York or Toronto, you're right, I'm not sure which it is.
Yeah, yeah. I've watched it over and over – a bootleg VHS, I love it.
Yeah, it's fun. It's really fun. I really had a blast on that tour and it was a thrill to be rolling down the highway again in a bus. There was just something magical about rolling down the highway in a bus. There's just something great about it.
Well you speak so fondly of that…and your job for so many years was being the lead singer, the front man. You can't turn that off, surely?
I have turned it off, though. I had to turn it off and go away because it was too painful. I did. When my hip crashed and I had to have a hip replacement, that was so, so crazy. I never had anything stop me like that. I was a pit bull. Nothing stopped me. I could do anything. All of a sudden, guess what? You can't do it. I was fighting and resisting and pushing harder and it was just killing me. It really got my attention, and I had to sort of, I had to grow up a bit into the fact that I had to slow down. I had to have a hip replacement, and the band was telling me when they thought I should do it. And I said you know what, “Major surgery like this is not a band decision.”
You know, I'm sorry, it's not! So I said that I would get it done, but I didn't get it done quickly enough. I must say that they just wanted to get on the road. And, so there was an ultimatum given to me and I don't respond well to ultimatums.
Well I don't either. I can understand that.
Especially, Andrew, since I had gone back and put the band back together for Trial by Fire. But I have to respect the fact that they were impatient and they wanted to go out there. They were trying to get me to either go to surgery right away or they wanted to move on. And so I had to respect that at some level, looking back. At some level, I had to respect it. At the time, I fuckin hated it! I hated them for doing it; I hated them for giving me an ultimatum. But now I can look back with clear eyes, you know. I can't blame them; they just wanted to get going. I was going to go to surgery, and I did. But not on their timetable. So I did that. I had my hip replacement and the rest is history. They've gone on and I'm where I'm at.
This is a hard one Steve. Do you like the fact that they're out there playing songs you wrote with them, helping continue the legacy of Journey music? It must be a really hard thing to emotionally process still.
I will tell you that in the beginning it was exactly what you said. It was emotionally very difficult to process it because I fought hard to get in to that band, I fought hard to be the best I could for what the band needed a singer to be, and I always wanted to be part of writing the best music that could be part of all that. And I did not want to see it become anything less than the integrity that we achieved together as a result of all that! So, I did not want to see that happen. But, it was going to happen anyway. So, it looked like that's where it was going. Life had showed up and there was a fork in the road between us. So, we went separate ways dare I say, not making a joke. And that's okay. Now, I look back at it as the most painful time of my life. But you know what? They need to love their lives. They love performing out there all the time. The fans love the songs we wrote.
They do, they really do.
I just think that it's really okay. It's really okay.
It's amazing to hear you talk this way.
It certainly is a wonderful gig for all three singers that were there after I was gone. It was a wonderful gig, you know?
One of those singers is actually one of my best buddies in the whole world, Jeff Scott Soto.
Uh huh? By the way, of all three singers – now I've not heard the other two, but I know in his own right, with his own music, with his own songwriting ability, this guy's a very talented guy! And of all three maybe they should have stuck with him and continued to write music, but that might have required that they let him in emotionally a little more? (laughing)
Maybe… But I think that might have been a challenge. And so I think that possibly, he was the one that I think would have been a growth because he brought a lot of his own self in to it.
Oh, I agree with you so much. And do you know how much he loves you!
Well he's a very talented singer-songwriter and could have been an incredible addition to the band. I don't know what happened, because then they've moved on and now they have their third singer. So I don't know the workings and I've listened to really none of them to be honest. I just know his reputation is really great, I have friends who talk about him.
He'll be proud to hear that.
Lora & Cyndy (Fan Asylum) are amazing fans of his and I keep in touch with them.
They're great gals, yeah.
Oh, ridiculously great girls.
And by the way, they've never once taken sides on any of this. Do you believe that? That's how spiritually fit these girls are. They are so spiritually fit, they love everybody and don't want to get in the middle of it. It's incredibly wonderful.
I love you as a solo artist every bit as much as I do as part of Journey. So for me, it's such an honor to talk to you now because this completes the Journey circle for me. You know, I've talked to everybody and I love that.
Well, we have to move on Andrew, I hate to say, but we've got to.
That's all right Steve, can I ask you one more? I have to go back to talk about new material. I want to know about here and now. You've come out in interviews and said you've got 50 songs, or you've written songs, you've had some guys in to record for you.
Where are you at and when are we going to see you back on the stage?
Well where I'm at is I've been sketching everything in my laptop in just a demo sketch form. And the good news is I've got some really fun moments in there, great things going. The bad news is that they're demos right now and they're just sketches. And I like 'em. And I've converted an area of my house into a studio big enough to track some drums if I need to, so that should be done I would say in the next month or so. So my plan is to get in there and start recording some of these with musicians and start trying to get some tracks actually built on some of these songs. But that being the case, the only thing that would stop you from hearing it would be me because I'm my own worst enemy. I have always been. I'll play things for friends and they just think they're really great. And they'll tell me the truth if they're not.
I'll say, “Gee, my voice is a little out of tune here. I've got to sing this again. This bugs me, that bugs me.” And they'll say, “I'm sorry, I don't' hear that.” But I do. And so, you know, that's the problem. So the only problem I have is that I'm the only problem I have, you know? (laughing)
(laughing). Well stop! Stop!
Well I'm trying. But it's always been that way whether it was recording with Journey or the solo album; I would never stop until I was happy. But I have been known to walk past some emotional moments reaching for things that I think could be better. So that all being the case, I have to be careful because some of this stuff might be good enough as it is and I don't even know it. I'm going to have to really start to have to look at it.
Well, you need to send all the songs to me to be as the impartial judge and I will do the work for you!
Yeah, okay (laughing). If you come to San Diego, I'll play 'em for you! (laughing)
I'm on the plane tomorrow! My wife might not like it, but I'm on my way!
(laughing). Well I have been playing some of these sketches and demos to people so I can get a barometer of which ones to focus on first. But the thing is, when I was signed to Columbia and I was in Journey and I was signed to Columbia as a solo album, they're sitting there. They're ready to go, they're ready to roll. And there's a certain time limit that you have to get you motivated which does not allow you to either not release it or go back and fix it. You say, “Well I guess that's it, I guess it's going out!” So that's missing. I'm not signed to anybody. I'm free. I can do whatever I want. But that's the good news and the bad news, you know? (laughter)
Yeah, well I'll send you a dollar and sign you to my really small label that I've got here.
(laughing). Well I need a label in Australia!
Well I'm here, I'm ready. Let's go. I'll give you until December! (laughing)
Okay, that's good? See. I do need a time limit. It's true. You know, there's an old adage in the music business that if you have until December for instance, to do the record, you will get the record done. If you have until June to do the same record, it will take until June! (laughing)
You know?! It's true! It's kind of the artistic mentality I think that kind of comes with it. Now you are going to transcribe and print everything I said 'cuz I really don't want you to filter. Because what I feel and what I say is what I feel and what I say. I really do love the Journey guys and I know in their hearts they love me. Maybe we don't like each other like we once did. Or maybe we never really liked each other to start with. But that's all okay! Because you know why? Because I know deep down we love each other and when we were together, we were good. And we don't have to be together to know that. We just can know that. Right?
Yeah, for sure.
We should just know and the fans should know that I think deep down underneath the calamity and each of our own stupidity is the fact that we really do love each other. Maybe we don't like each other that much, but we do love each other.
And whether we're together or not, what we did together proves what I just said.
Absolutely, oh absolutely. And you've got a legacy that few bands can touch, if any. Have you been too far removed from the band now to ever go back for anything, any occasion, even a one-off…anything?
That is the most difficult question you could possibly ask me.
Yeah, which is why I saved it until the very end.
I can only say at this point that I have an absolute commitment to do what I started which was, to come out of what I would call a removal of myself from any hope to be near music again and allowing myself the right to suck and try to write music again. If I don't give myself the right to suck, I won't write music.
Well you're being hard on yourself again! (laughing)
No, no let me finish! I have to allow myself the opportunity to dream and see what I can find because I don't sit down and decide I'm going to go to Ralph's (grocery store) and write music. That's not how I do that. I just have to be open enough to suck if I have to and while I'm doing that, I'll find something wonderful. And then I'll follow that.
Well, I don't think you could suck if you tried!
Oh no. I'll play you some shit, I can suck! (laughing) I'll play you some shit where I really suck! (laughing) Then you'll go, “Steve you're right, there's a few things where you kinda suck!” (laughing)
(laughing) No, come on!
The truth is, it was a hard come back to this point. So I cannot think of anything more than finishing my studio and recording this music that I have laying around. I can't think of anything more important right now than that in my life. And I think Journey's doing what they love doing, and they've been doing it since 1998. And I'm doing what I'm doing, and that's about it.
Yeah. And you're still writing new stuff all the time now?
Yeah, I am. I am. I just came up with one the other day.
Well, it's been a real pleasure talking with you Andrew. I'm sorry it took so long for us to finally get together. I really hope that you do post my latest effort which is an eBay auction that benefits Susan G. Komen, (http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=330628535238&category...) where people can win a 15-minute phone call from me and an autographed copies of GH 1, 2 on vinyl along with my Street Talk album. All proceeds go to breast cancer research so, that's what we're doing. I think we're over $10,000 right now. If you can't afford to participate in that auction for whatever reason, then you can go to the special donation page we have set up on the Komen for the Cure site (http://www.info-komen.org/site/TR?pg=fund&fr_id=1120&pxfid=197135) and donate a dollar. Because it would be really appreciated.
Yeah. I've already given it a plug and I'll certainly give it another good plug for sure.
Listen, you take care of yourself and thank you for such an insightful, wonderful interview. I had no clue that I was going get into all this emotional stuff with you but I think what happened is it's overdue because you and I have never spoken. And I hope you got what you were looking for and I hope I was clear.
Very much so, Steve. It's been 15 years' worth and I really appreciate your time.
All right Andrew, we'll do it again I promise.
Steve, one final thing before I say goodbye. If I do a festival for the 15th anniversary of my web site next year – can I at least look you up to ask you come and play?
Well you can certainly bring that to my attention, but I can't tell you what I'm doing the rest of this day! (laughing)
So I have no clue, I mean, you know, my life has made some left turns on me that I didn't see coming. So I can't make any promises to any one anymore!
Well of course not!
But we'll certainly talk about it again somewhere down the line.
Thank you Steve! You've got to get this record out!
Alright, take care!
I hope everyone enjoyed the interview - look forward to hearing your thoughts and thank you again to Steve Perry for taking the extra time to chat.
c. 2011 MelodicRock.com / Interview by Andrew McNeice / Transcribed with thanks, by Ehwmatt.