"Roadies will help you, managers will help you, but you lose points, time and money being obstructed by groupies, photographers and promoters," says Journey bassist Ross Valory. Keyboardist Jonathan Cain sits up in his chair and adds, "The groupies are funny because they wear little hearts, and tennis shoes - they pucker up their lips and blow kisses. They come in waves, and there are fat ones and small ones. And when a fat one gets you and its on you, it's like 'Aaaaaaeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaa!'" Valory laughs and nods his head in agreement. Cain concludes, "You have to stop, and they'll take like three grand." Some of you readers are probably thinking, "Wow, life is really hard on the road for Journey." No, life is really quite easy on the road for Journey these days. What is hard, though, according to the descriptions of Valory and Cain, is the new Journey video game, aptly named after their double-platinum eighth album, Escape.
Journey - vocalist Steve Perry, drummer Steve Smith, guitarist Neal Schon, Cain and Valory - is apparently the first rock band to be immortalised on its own video game, another feather in the cap of manager Herbie Herbert. Herbert's Nightmare Productions is an estimable Bay Area success story, having masterminded Journey's rise from little-known, struggling, instrumentally-oriented thrashers to pop-rock superstars. The Escape video game was developed by Nightmare Productions' artistic arm, Jim Welch's Artists and Friends, Inc. It is released through Data Age Inc., a video software firm based in Campbell, California. Data Age has produced several other games for use with the Atari video system, including Airlock, Sssnake, and Bugs.
Several members of Journey are publicised "vidiots", making it all the more fitting that they be the subject of their own game. Insiders say that Journey's contract rider demands video games in the dressing room before a concert (along with a carrot juicer for Smith, Perrier for Perry, and inversion boots for Schon). Valory is an avid Intellivision fan, and Smith bought an arcade-size Defender game that accompanied the band on their last tour and into the studio. Under a fluorescent glare in one of the conference rooms at Nightmare Productions' Columbus Street office building, Valory recalls the band's early experience with video games. "It all started in Japan," he says, fidgeting with a can of Hansen's fruit soda. "I had been into a few video games. I got Steve Smith, and we went wandering around the streets of Tokyo. They had arcades that would stay open until 3 in the morning. Ever since then he's been really hooked, and I'm still hooked." There is an exception to every band fad or fashion, and in this case it is the very talented guitarist who explains, "I get very uptight playing those games. When I miss I start kicking the machine, cursing, throwing it over "
"Basically, I think what's unique about Escape, the concept, is that it's non-violent," says Valory. "There's no warfare involved, or monsters. It's not Berserk."
The object of Escape is to get the band members, one by one, from the backstage area to the waiting escape vehicle. Each band member starts his journey with $50,000, but along the way is delayed by all sorts of people who want to touch him, talk business with him, take pictures of him, take money from him, and make him miss his limo. If he misses his limo he presumably is doomed to spend the rest of his life backstage. A computerised version of the intro to the Journey hit "Don't Stop Believin" accompanies your entire video game adventure. Your player is constantly running up the screen, working against the clock to find the escape vehicle, and unless he connects with a roadie or manager for help, he's going to lose a lot of cash. After the heat that Journey has taken from the press over the years, I'm surprised they didn't include a rock critic to harass them in Escape.
"We should have had one," Cain laughs. "We should have, doggone it," Valory adds, reaching across the hardwood table to pick up a telephone. "Hello, Jim ."
Critics have their next crack at Journey with the release of the band's ninth album, Frontiers. Stuffed into a set of headphones at the Nightmare offices, I got a preview of the LP, and heard a lot of familiar Journey characteristics. Kevin Elson and Mike Stone, the pair responsible for producing the huge sound on the Escape album, do their trick again on Frontiers. (Elson is also the band's live sound engineer and is considered the band's seventh member. Herbie Herbert, of course, is considered the sixth.)
The first single off the album, "Separate Ways", has three huge hooks spread over nearly five-and-a-half minutes. There is some usual Journey raunch - "Chain Reaction" is a wailing analysis of screwedup relationships, with Schon's guitar punching out a hefty low end. "Edge of the Blade" could have been written angrily towards a former member of the band, with references to contracts, lawyers, and such. "Rubicon" continues along the lines of Escape's optimistic "Don't' Stop Believin", but has a more sophisticated, modern sound. (By crossing the Rubicon River in northern Italy to march against Pompey in 49BC, Julius Caesar committed himself to conquer or die. Journey's call to "Make a move across the Rubicon" suggests a decisive, irrevocable step.)
Frontiers contains a couple ballads, too, the likes of which Journey has pulled off quite effectively since the acquisition of Steve Perry. "Faithfully" is a torch song that treads the line between Bruce Springsteen and Lionel Ritchie, with Ted Nugent lurking somewhere in the background. "Send Her My Love" and "After The Fall" click along with a later-Doobies kind of slickness, while bemoaning more lost love. (Can't these guys hang on to a girlfriend, or what?)
The drums on Frontiers sound like they were recorded in an empty Oakland Coliseum they sound giant. Steve Smith continues to prove that, although a proven jazz fusion player - shining in ex-Santana keyboardist Tom Coster's fusion band - he ranks with the best of the rock drummer crop. He lays down a strong syncopated groove on "Separate Ways", and flails at the toms with a vengeance on "Back Talk". Actually, the whole band raves on "Back Talk", Steve Perry has never sounded so pissed off.
"There's a lot of trouble that seems to be brewing in the grooves," says Cain. "It was just something that everybody was going through at the time, in their own lives and relationships, that we needed to get out as a band. We all feel stuff. When it happens to one member of the band, it happens to everybody. Everybody's affected by it. We really got a chance to use the music as a vehicle to escape those feelings. Musically, Frontiers is a little more linear, a bit more angry. There's a little more rhythm involved, more drums. And the themes lyrically are a lot more ." "Outspoken," chimes Valory. "Outspoken, yeah. There is definitely some conflict on this album," concludes Cain.
During an interview last year, Neal Schon expressed hope that the band could record their next album in their rehearsal warehouse, because of the live, raw sound they get there. Schon recently explained that they couldn't record their because of electricity problems, but because they didn't rehearse as much, they got the same sort of natural sound that he was after. "I think it's a little more ballsy, a more arrogant album. And the combinations of different kinds of music on it are really going to throw people for a loop," he says. "That's what I want to do, you know? I want them to say, 'Who's that?'"
Neal is gaining momentum. "I think I captured some real emotion on this album, on the guitar side. And I think Steven did on his vocals as well. He didn't grind it into the ground and try and make everything really perfect. None of us did this time. Perry wants to get down. He's tired of everybody copping on his I mean dealing with everybody that says he sounds like a seal or whatever. I think the guy sounds f*cking great on this new album." After a pause, Neal lights back up. "He just wants to shove it in everybody's face, like I do."
Several tunes on Frontiers find Perry singing in a lower register, and singing with more of a raw edge than he's been known for. "He just dropped his voice," Schon explains. "He decided that he didn't want to be screeching up there any more. I thought it was a good idea too."
"New textures, more of a grit," says Valory. "He has wanted to express himself in lower registers for quite a while. As a result there are certain compensations in the instrumental approach to allow him that room and that frequency. And with the new influences and flavours in the songs, it makes way for that very well."
Certainly one of the biggest changes in Journey's sound over the last couple years has come with the addition of keyboardist Jonathan Cain. Journey always had a fine keyboard player in Gregg Rolie, but with Cain they get some expanded capabilities much more of a synthesiser-oriented sound. Cain is also a singer and songwriter, and plays "solid chunk-style guitar", in the words of Valory.
"I saw Journey play so many nights when I was with The Babys," Cain recalls. "I just sat and watched the band, and hung out. I guess that was good because I absorbed it. But still I was scared to death when I came up here, to a certain degree, because of expectations that I knew needed to be met - my own expectations of myself, and Journey's expectations too. Trying to fill Gregg Rolie's shoes - he had this big legacy of hits and success behind him, and I was from this misunderstood new wave rock band. But it was great coming into Journey. Everybody was really flexible to the change. Everybody really did want to change the music and move ahead, and that's what made it work - the willingness of everybody to adjust."
Ross Valory, one of the two remaining original members of Journey, has seen all of the band's musical adjustments over the years. In the beginning, the band was much more experimental, quite willing to fly off on five-minute instrumental forays. "There wasn't as much thought of concept or continuity between ideas or songs or albums then," Valory admits. "I guess you could call the music more progressive. But I think the group is more progressive now in a general sense, because it's taking steps from album to album without losing continuity, without forgetting or going too far beyond where we just came from." The group's first major musical shift came with the advent of Steve Perry, towards more vocally oriented material. "At that point, the instrumental became not more cautious, but more simplified," says Valory. "That is, play the space as much as the notes, and leave room for the vocals to breathe. That developed through four albums. Escape was the first step towards being more experimental, more aggressive, and still maintaining the flavour and room that's needed for the vocals to sit on top." Escape was also, not coincidentally, the first album that featured Jon Cain.
On Frontiers, Cain is once again heavily involved in the songwriting, and the synthesisers set the tone for the album. As Cain tells it, he had no idea he would be involved in the creative process of the band from the time he joined. But he's glad it happened that way. "Musically, I learn so much from all the guys in the band," he says. "They're great critics, and we're all each other's fans, really. I get a lot of confidence from everybody in the band to go ahead and strive for something else, or to try to write something with a different flavour or feeling. "Frontiers", for example, was a song that started with a drum beat from Steve Smith. Then Neal came out with a backward guitar thing, and Perry started scatting some stuff on the top. After the rehearsal Steve conveyed what was in his mind for the song, and from that little conversation with him I pecked away at some lyrics. It was so much fun, because I was just monitoring what the song needed, We monitor ourselves. We edit ourselves, and edit each other. That's what is so much fun about being part of a band, that solo artists don't get a chance to appreciate. We've got really good ears in Journey, and good musicianship, and we all do outside projects. We're not just sheltered, cloistered, kind of inflexible people."
Indeed, "cloistered" does not accurately describe any of Journey's members. Drummer Steve Smith's first solo album is scheduled for release in July, presumably showcasing more of the chops he's displayed with Jean Luc Ponty (as a one-time member of Ponty's band) and Tom Coster. Jon Cain works with his wife, singer Tane Cain, writing material and sometimes even running the soundboard at her live shows. And Neal Schon is about as close to an antonym as there is for the word "cloistered".
Last summer, Schon recorded his second album with keyboardist-drummer Jan Hammer, titled Here To Stay. The album's first single, "No More Lies", has bolted onto FM playlists, propelled by Schon's increasingly confident vocals. Here To Stay boasts a rash of vocal tunes that would suit Pat Benatar or Foreigner perfectly. There are also some very bald, emotional Yardbirds-ish moments ("So Hot") and some interesting Beatles-esque inversions ("Long Time") that add to the record's character, along with Schon's brashly musical axe grinding, and Hammer's coy but biting synth technique. Schon must have enjoyed singing "Sticks And Stones", an all-out dig at one of his favourite targets, music critics. (He once stated that whenever he runs out of toilet paper, he uses Rolling Stone.)
Forthcoming from the guitarist is a collaboration album with Sammy Hagar (featuring Denny Carmassi on drums and Kenny Aronson on bass). It sounds like it's going to be Schon's cup of tea. "We're going to do a really ballsy, belligerent, arrogant guitar record, with Sammy trying to find a place for his voice in the middle of it all," Schon contends, bursting into laughter at the though of a drowned-out Hagar.
Schon freely shares his ideas about almost everything, including what he thinks of other bands and guitarists. He admits to liking "Terry Bozzio's new band" (Missing Persons) and Hughes-Thrall. "Besides that, I'm waiting for Eddie Van Halen to do something interesting," Schon laughs, always eager to take a poke at his rival. "Not that he's not interesting, really. Did you hear the thing he played on Michael Jackson's record? It's really great. Really outside guitar." On the subject of current musical trends, the guitar whiz barks, "I'm getting sort of fed up and bored with all this f*ckin' computer shit."
The music on Frontiers is, for Journey, a peek at the new, while retaining the character of the band from the past. The lyrics of the album's title song address man's ability (or inability) to deal with the progress - and the games - that he has made. One verse begins:
Ooh, it's a 3D rise All tech-no-ca-jive Take a video dive War is for fools Crisis is cool Barbarians play .
"It's like diving into a pool, isn't it?" asks Cain. "Where do you go when you play those games? Where does your mind take off to? You dive right in that screen. I've seen Steve Smith when he's playing his Defender machine - he's somewhere else.
"In the other sense, 'Take a video dive' represents consolidating and channelling every aspect of life into it was well. Within a couple of years, most people in the US will be able to-do their business, banking, order their groceries, and balance their books in front of a television," contends Valory. "That one cable that comes into your house will probably be the most important survival-oriented tool."
"Progress takes time to swallow, as a society. We have to take time out to learn how to retool our brains for the new wave of technology that's approaching us," asserts Cain. "Obviously, it shows in the unemployment lines. It shows with young kids that don't know how to relate to their parents or other kids because they're so tied up with their TV sets. It shows in the offices that are revamping to computers, and all the secretaries that are taking night school to learn how to deal with those revelations. I guess we needed to write about it because it's happening now."
© BAM, March 11 1983, Issue #151, BAM Publications Inc.