Friday, May 16, 2008

A “Revelation” From Journey: New Singer, New Album, New Tour

Interview: Neal Schon of Journey
By Valerie Nerres "All Access Magazine"

Photos by Valerie Nerres as appears In "All Access Magazine"

So you thought Mark Wahlberg’s “Rock Star” dream – fronting a tribute band leads to replacing the real band’s frontman – only happened in the movies? Think again. Did Journey really find their new frontman, Arnel Pineda, by watching YouTube videos? Yes they did. Could a new album and a world tour be far behind? All Access Magazine’s own Valerie Nerres got the lowdown, and a whole lot more, in her interview this month with Journey guitarist Neal Schon.

AAM: Neal, thanks for taking the time to speak with All Access Magazine. I was one of the photographers at your Las Vegas show March 8th and it seriously was probably one of the best shows I've ever seen.
Neal Schon: It was very early on in our tour; I thought it was a little early to even do the DVD, but we had to get it done for the “Revelations” package to come out when we wanted it to come out. I would have preferred to have done it after we were out on the road at least a month or 3 weeks. We had very little preparation and rehearsal. Everybody was pretty much on the fly and doing homework at home.
AAM: I thought it was funny when the show was over and they said, "Okay, everyone, good night!" Then, "Oh wait, everybody come back in again!" for more filming.
NS: Yeah, that’s what happens when you haven't been playing for a while. And we never do that…but it happens, you know? We were filming and management said to go back out there and redo them.
AAM: So was it because the video wasn't in sync with what you were playing?
NS: Well, we ended up having that problem in the end anyway. The power went out earlier in the day, before we started filming, and something screwed up in the computer. Everything was out of sync all the way through the show and so when they went to sync up, when we were doing the video edits, it was a lot of work. Actually, our producer Kevin Shirley had to come in because we weren't available to go in and make sure that everything was spot on. The last thing I wanted was anybody thinking that we went in and redid anything. That was not the case at all. There we no overdubs at all. So I wanted it to appear just as it was, live. You know, the vocals weren't syncing up, my guitars weren't syncing up, the drums weren't syncing up; it was a mess.
AAM: My camera synced up pretty well, though! I got some great photos of you guys. I sent them over to your publicist so she has a few of them. I'm not sure if you’ve seen any of them?
NS: Oh really? I'll have her send them to me.
AAM: Yeah. I was standing pretty much in front of you the whole night. It was great!
NS: I was pretty occupied with what we were doing. I was just trying to remember the set because it was way different than what we had been doing, and I was trying to remember the songs. It's wild when you go into record a new record like we did. There was no rehearsal. We wrote the songs, Jon [Cain, the keyboardist] and I demo’d them up, but it really wasn't the whole band playing. We used a rhythm machine, I played bass or whatever on it, or he did, and we demo'd up the songs like that for everyone to learn before we went into the studio. But really, there was no rehearsal before we went into the studio. We get in there and listen to the stuff, then we pick a tune that we're going to do that day and everybody goes home and listens to the demo and we come in the next day and cut it. So we're not very well rehearsed, like in the old days when we'd sit in rehearsal for two or three weeks, or a month, and keep going over and over it. We just kind of go on the fly now anymore. It’s like, "Meet you on the end!" At least we're all on the same page.
AAM: Exactly! See you on the other side! Now, with the addition of singer Arnel Pineda from the Philippines, your music is reaching a completely new demographic. Are you surprised about the reaction from these new fans? When I was shooting the show in Vegas, I remember just looking over my shoulder and going, “Wait, am I in Vegas, or the Philippines?”
NS: From what Arnel told me – which I was not aware of, because we've never played anywhere close to the Philippines – he said that Journey had been very big there for years. So I guess we have a lot of fans there. Now that he's also in the band, we have that many more. They're very supportive of their own people and very supportive of him. I think that we're going to have a lot of Filipino fans, which is great! Anybody new who comes on board is awesome!
AAM: Okay, well, I have to admit that I'm one of the "new" fans. The Las Vegas show was actually my first "Journey" experience, and I was able to be right there up front and just sort of take in the vibe, the energy that was bouncing back and forth between the band and the audience. I've always loved your music, obviously, but I guess you can say you've won over one more person here.
NS: I'm glad to hear that. That's great!
AAM: Prior to you finding Arnel, did you have any other singers in mind to front the band?
NS: Basically, we were resorting to the internet, I would say mostly YouTube. The thing I liked about YouTube is that it was all live performances. I was really not interested in doing a long, drawn-out audition for singers where you fly them in from all over the world and they send you their packages with their pictures and CDs of songs that they've done or demos that they've done singing Journey songs. You never know what's "real" when you're getting the package like that because with Pro Tools today and a computer, you can almost make anybody sound good. So, I was very into YouTube for just that reason: I knew that if I was going to hear something that it was absolutely live. I looked for a long time. I found a couple of interesting guys. Jeremy Hunsicker, who was in a tribute band for Journey called Frontiers – we were considering him. He actually came out, he flew in and we auditioned him. He was very good… but he was a bit scary because he was almost too much like Perry. He was almost like a duplicate, probably the closest of anyone out there. And what was kind of strange was he also looked like him a bit. There was another guy, Hugo, who looked EXACTLY like Steve Perry and I was like, “Okay, this is a little strange.” We all thought it was. I decided to keep looking and I'm glad I did. I was not willing to settle on just something that didn't feel completely 100%. I wanted to find “it.”
AAM: That was kind of my next question. When you found him on YouTube were you just surfing and stumbled across him, or were you specifically looking for someone via YT?
NS: Yeah, I was specifically looking for male singers in every genre and basically spent 2-3 days just doing nothing but that. And at the last moment – I mean, I was ready to throw up my arms and go, "Man, this is impossible, I'm never going to find anybody," – and then I stumbled onto this one link and I decided to pop it on and it was Arnel singing some Survivor songs. And I was like, "Wow, that guy’s got some great pipes." And so I followed through with it and found that he had about 40 different video clips, doing like from A-Z in the alphabet, everybody. Wow! That is insane that he can cover that much ground! And that he can actually morph his vocals to do all these different things. Really what I was interested about was to put him on some new songs and find out who is the REAL Arnel. Because when you hear someone do Sting or Steven Tyler perfectly, which is not easy to do, and Perry and the old Police stuff, and Heart, you name it, Don Henley, Nat King Cole, he did ALL of it, and I was just like, "This guy is insane!" I mean, what a chameleon! What a talented voice! And like I said, I was interested in finding out who was the real Arnel. So we got him in the studio on a couple new songs. I was pleasantly surprised. He was just a very strong tenor voice, which is what Perry was in the earlier days.
AAM: When you got him in the studio to do a few songs to audition him, which songs did you have him do?
NS: Well, when Arnel finally got his visa together, he came in and we rehearsed for three days and he auditioned live. He went better and better every day. The fourth day, we went into Jonathan's studio and we had a couple new songs that we were working on, "Never Walk Away" and "Where Did I Lose Your Love." The music was already there, the demo was already there, the voice was just not on it. So we had Arnel listen to it. He just listened to it – never heard it before – and went out into the studio and started singing. We had to teach him the lines and the melody, but he got it so quickly. He’s a natural in the studio. I was talking to Jon about it and was like…jeez. I mean, here he is, here's our guy! We both looked at each other and agreed and that was pretty much it. It was a done deal.
AAM: How does the lineup on stage these days compare to the old lineup?
NS: It seems like it's going to be very exciting! I've been working my butt off to get in shape again because I'm finally cordless again, so I want to be a little more mobile and move around a lot. Arnel is all over the place. It's sort of having the best of all worlds with Arnel. Once we settle in and we get into a groove and we start playing, I think it's really going to come more to life than that. But he's definitely a natural. From the 4 or 5 gigs that we've done so far, he's been different in every one of the gigs. Really truly great, but just different. It's not like he's into a set thing where it's exactly the same every night. He just moves around differently. I think that's really cool. I love it.
AAM: I went on the Journey Forum and asked the fans if there was anything that they specifically wanted to ask you. I wanted this interview to not just be my interview for All Access Magazine, but I wanted it to be everybody's interview. This was one of the questions: Are you satisfied with the direction Journey is taking? You have long discussed "rocking" more but it would appear those attempts met with less success or acceptance. Have you now accepted Journey's traditional sound or do you still feel there is room to stretch and even "rock" more?
NS: There's definitely more room to stretch. I think that more time needs to be put into it. Initially, when we went into this project, we had a deal with Wal-Mart. What they wanted was a redo of 11 greatest hits and, at tops, 4 new songs. The more I thought about it the less I was excited about that idea. I definitely wanted to come with at least as many new songs as the greatest hits we've done. I felt that we wouldn't lose face coming with a product like that where we show people, "Look, we do have new stuff." But also I think that the redo of the greatest hits is an awesome way to show our fans that Arnel can definitely cover this stuff. Without going to see him live they can listen to it. Because of that, a lot of this stuff that I brought in at the last minute was done at the last minute. We didn't have a lot of preparation because we didn't plan on doing a full CD of new songs. In actuality, this album is pretty 50-50 as far as the ballads and rock, but it definitely does rock when it rocks! So I'm happy about that. We can't play everything new that's on the record live, so we'll pick the rock tunes and we'll play "After All These Years" – which is already charted in the first week – as well as "Never Walk Away," which is the one most added in one week on radio. That is very exciting for us because it's been a while since that's happened! But I think in the future, definitely I'm going to push to have 8 rockers and maybe 2 ballads. I think that's really more what we could use in our live performances. You can have a record full of beautiful ballads but you never play them because we already have so many ballads we have to play and I don't want to put people to sleep. Everybody loves them, but you can't play them all live. Unless you’re doing a 3-hour show or something.
AAM: There seems to be a popular trend these days of artists teaming up/collaborating in order to release an album or single. What do you think about it, and are you open to any future collaboration? If so, with whom and why?
NS: Yeah, I'm always open to collaboration. I'm working on a side project right now that's called "Guitar Men" that's based out of Sausalito, at the Record Plant. Right now there's 23 tracks and it's got everyone on it from Stevie Wonder to Carlos Santana to Bonnie Raitt, I believe, and Ronnie Montrose, myself, and Sammy Hagar. I've got about 5 different tracks on this record right now, one with my girlfriend Lori Carpenter singing. It's really fun for me. I love collaborating. So, yes, in answer to your question. I think if something came our way and looked interesting, I think we'd definitely pursue it.
AAM: You had Kevin Shirley produce this new album again. Do you ever feel like maybe in the future you might work with someone else to mix it up a little? Or have you reached such a comfort level with Kevin that you'll continue to use him on future recordings?
NS: Kevin is really good with the band. He's a good peacekeeper for one! And he's very musical. He's done an amazing job on this record. I'm really happy with Kevin. On the last record we butted heads a little bit on different issues; this one was pretty smooth rolling. I pretty much came in and instead of trying to be the guitar producer and make sure that everything is like this, this, that, that, I just went in and was like the guitar player and did my stuff and was all ears. He'd say "Why don't you try this?" and I’d say, “Fine." We're not fighting him on it. Before, I didn't want to do a lot of overdubs because I just didn't believe in them. This time he had me do some stuff and I just did it, regardless of if it fit or not. It just made the project a lot easier to get through. Overall, I think that he added a lot. He had some great ideas. We really had great songs and although the band has always been very musical, he actually made it even more musical in some areas.
AAM: Going back to Santana, what did your parents think about you playing in Santana at such an early age? Were they supportive about your playing? What advice would you give kids that DO have that kind of talent nowadays?
NS: My folks were very supportive because they knew that I was into it and that was what I wanted to do. I made up my mind when I was 13-14 that that was exactly what I wanted to do and I wasn't doing much else at that time except playing a lot of guitar. So when the opportunity arose, I jumped on it – and what a great experience! I would say to anybody who's young and chasing what they want to do, if you have a great opportunity like that, do it! The best experience you can get is playing live and touring. The live playing really does wonders for someone's ability to hone in on any instrument that they're playing.
AAM: Right. I'm sort of asking as a parent. I have a 7-year-old, and his favorite guitar player right now is Stevie Ray Vaughn. I'm like, "You're 7, how do you know that?"
NS: Well, I'll tell you what, he'll trip out on this, I'm a big fan of Stevie Ray Vaughn, obviously. But I was a major fan of, and one of my favorite Blues guitar players that I played with as a kid and followed for years, is Albert King. If you go back and download some Albert King stuff for him, you're going to listen to it and go, “Wait, that sounds like Stevie Ray Vaughn,” and he will too. And that's exactly where Stevie nipped a lot of his stuff. A lot of Albert and a little bit of Jimi and there he is.
AAM: The first couple Journey albums were mostly instrumental and kind of jam-like. They really showcased all the band members’ talent and musicianship. This current lineup of Journey are all certainly at the top of their game. Have you ever thought of just throwing a jam into the set so that some of the old-school friends might enjoy hearing material from the first album, specifically like "Of a Lifetime" or "Kohoutek"?
NS: A few years back we actually did a show like that. It was "An Evening With" and we played a 3-hour show. We played an hour and a half, did an intermission, and then came back and did another hour and a half. We played through the history of the band, musically. So chronologically, in order, we'd play "Of a Lifetime," "Kohoutek," then move into the second record and play "I'm Gonna Leave You" and all this other stuff. We put all that stuff together and we played from beginning to end. It was my idea. I thought it was a cool idea. Our die-hard fans loved it…but the band was ready to kill me at the end of the tour because it was such a long show every night.
AAM: Neal, thanks so much. Is there anything that you'd like to add?
NS: I'm just really excited about the release of "Revelation" and really excited about our tour. I hear the ticket sales are really, really strong, so that's a very good sign. Just let the fans know that they won't be disappointed. We're putting something together that's hot and rockin'!
AAM: Thanks, Neal. I won't take up any more of your time. I know you just woke up and now you’ve spent a half hour yapping with me and I appreciate it. I'll see you at the Mandalay Bay in Vegas on July 18th!

Journey’s new 3-disc album and DVD package “Revelation” will be on sale exclusively at Wal-Mart June 3rd. To preorder, or for more info and tour dates, go to

Story and Interview by Valerie Nerres
"All Access Magazine" (reprinted with permission/ All Rights Reserved)

Here's a slideshow of the Planet Hollywood Vegas concert:
Photos by Valerie Nerres

All Access Magazine