"Man, I've had it," Journey's bassist Ross Valory moaned as he collapsed into an armchair in the group's Los Angeles hotel suite. It had been a long day for the boys in the band. They had received 8am wake-up calls in order to attend a press conference introducing their album, Frontiers, to over two hundred reporters and photographers. Then, their afternoon had been comprised of a 'never ending' series of radio and television interviews which had left the San Francisco-based quintet exhausted. "Shit, if I knew we had to work this hard we never would have done another record," drummer Steve Smith joked as he stretched out on the floor. "I feel like I've just finished a three-hour show." Considering what Journey has accomplished over the last two years, Valory, Smith, guitarist Neal Schon, vocalist Steve Perry and keyboardist Jonathan Cain had good reason to feel tired. Since the release of their chart-topping album Escape, in 1981, the group has sold over eight millions records around the world, emerging as the most successful American band of the 80s. In addition, their current world tour, which carries them to Japan and Canada as well as the U.S., hopes to gross over $10 million from the sale of concert tickets and tour-related items. Not bad for a band that Schon "never imagined would be this successful."
"This has all been great," the New Jersey-born axe slinger said in a raspy voice. "I love money. I want to make as much as I can. I have expensive tastes and the only way to keep them happy is by making as much money as I can and then spending it. I just bought my third sports car - a Lamborghini that can do 210 miles per hour. That's one of the benefits of our success. People in the press and in other bands sometimes put Journey down, but I think that a lot of them are jealous. We're where most other rock bands want to be - and most importantly we haven't had to sell out one bit to get there. We're still making the music we want to make."
Schon's assessment of Journey's ambitious musical attitude is reflected on Frontiers, an album full of surprises and breaks from the traditional Journey hard pop sound. On tracks such as the power-packed "Chain Reaction" to the touching "Send Her My Love" Journey has expanded on the musical structures presented on their earlier efforts, while still making music that Steve Perry called, "classic Journey."
"I guess you could say that the first side of this album is for the fans and the second side is for us," Steve Smith explained. "We wanted to test ourselves and see what we could do to build upon the music we'd done before. We didn't want to make another Escape. That wouldn't have been fair. The fans would have probably gotten sick of it and said, 'Hey I didn't need to buy this, I already own the last one.' We didn't want that. That's why on Frontiers we really tried to pull out all the stops."
"It took us about eight weeks to write and record," Schon added. "But some of it was really difficult for me to do. I had just finished going through a very difficult time with the lady I was living with, and when I was doing songs like Send Her My Love, I was really hurting inside. I had to wear sunglasses in the studio when we were listening to the playbacks because I was sitting there crying. It was a very emotional time for me, and I think that emotion is something that everyone who hears the album can relate to. Pain is a very universal thing."
The pain that Schon experienced was more than heartbreak, however. Shortly before going into the studio with the band to record Frontiers he had an accident on his Yamaha motorcycle that left him with damaged hands and a ripped-up knee. Thankfully, the injuries proved to be minor, but Schon still bears the scars from that encounter of man and machine.
"The bike was just too small," he said. "I was riding near my home in San Francisco, and I tried to shift gears and the things just went out of control. Luckily, I was wearing leather gloves, because I slid on my front for fifty feet, and I could have really ripped my hands apart. I did fuck up my knee a bit. I scraped it right down to the bone. But I'm pretty tough. I just dragged the bike home and cleaned the cuts out in my pool. I didn't even see a doctor. Hell," he added with a grin," I didn't even tell the band. It wasn't gonna affect my playing so I figured, 'What the hell, it's my business, not theirs.'"
For all their unity on album and stage, Journey is a band comprised of five distinct personalities. While Valory coyly admitted that "occasionally we have our disagreements," he also stressed that when it comes to making music, "we all end up seeing eye to eye." As it happens, each of the band's members is currently involved in a solo project, with Smith, Perry and Valory working on albums, Cain preparing material for his wife Tane's second LP, and Schon beginning a new heavy metal band with fellow Bay Area rocker Sammy Hagar.
"Sammy and I just get along so well," Neal said. "We're already working on an album together, and it's a killer! Right now we have Denny Carmassi, who used to work with Sammy (and is now in Heart), on drums, and we're looking for a bassist. We worked a bit with (former Cheap Trick bassist) Tom Petersson, but I guess he had other commitments. I'm very excited about this project, but it really has nothing to do with Journey. This band is still very much my first priority, and it will be for as long as we all keep making challenging music. But I really live for music, and I can't keep myself busy enough. That's why I do the albums with Jan Hammer and the things with Sammy on my vacations from Journey. Some of the other guys might like to take time off and rest - I like to keep playing."
Another project that Schon mentioned as a long-term goal was working with Eddie Van Halen. "If we could get together we could do something like the Yardbirds used to," Neal said with a gleam of excitement in his eyes. "That would be great. But that's somewhere in the future. Right now my time and energy is focused on Journey, and I'm happy with it that way. We've worked a long time to get this band to where it is today, and none of us are about to throw that away. In fact, I like to think that Frontiers is really the beginning of a whole new era for the band."
One of the most apparent signs of this "new era" for Journey is the appearance of a new cover design. Gone is the scarab beetle that has graced every band album since Infinity, and in its place is a strange metallic looking head that Ross Valory has jokingly nicknamed "the space spook."
"We really had nothing to do with the cover," Ross admitted. "We were working on the music and one day Herbie (Herbert, the band's manager) walked in with the design and said, 'Here's the cover to the next album.' It was as simple as that. We're happy about it because the scarab thing was getting a little stale, and we feel this is a very different kind of album for Journey, so it's time for a different kind of cover."
A striking difference on Frontiers is the increased vocal range of Steve Perry, whose wailing, high pitched sound has become the band's most instantly recognisable element. On "Edge Of The Blade" and "Faithfully" Perry has explored a new spectrum of vocal sounds, making greater use of his lower range while still utilising his trademark soprano to perfection.
"It was a very conscious decision on my part," Perry explained. "I think that the first thing that someone can get tired of in a band is the vocals. If you don't try to change them a bit, that sound can get very tiring. I was anxious to try and use my lower range more and on Frontiers I've done just that. It's made my voice stronger than it was before. I can still reach the high notes for when we perform the material from Escape, but I have greater strength in my overall presentation.
"I'm anxious to see if I can keep that lower register when we go on tour," he continued. "I find that usually the longer we tour the higher my voice gets. I know by the end of the last tour we were attracting small animals backstage because I was hitting notes that only they could hear. I think that I'll have no problem this time because I plan to travel by bus a lot and really take care of myself."
Among Perry's most outstanding vocal displays on Frontiers is the album's first single "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)", a song Steve wrote with Jonathan Cain after a show six months ago. "Usually we don't write songs that far in advance of an album," Cain explained. "But on that occasion, Steve and I were just working on an idea backstage and it all came together. He was working on a bass and I had a guitar, and we just worked out the melody that night and the lyrics the next afternoon. Sometimes you can get lucky and have a song fall together like that."
One of the primary reasons for Journey's increasing popularity has been the addition of Cain, a multi-instrumentalist whose songwriting skill has added an extra ingredient to Journey's already overloaded stable of talent. "Jonathan's a great guy," Neal Schon said. "He's so easy to work with, and he's a good friend as well. I was very happy with the band before he joined, but there's no question that with him we have the strongest lineup we've ever had."
Cain is a bit more modest in assessing his contributions to Journey's continued growth. "I stepped into an incredibly good situation," he explained. "The band had already achieved a major degree of stardom before I joined. Sure, I like to believe that my contributions have helped, but Journey would be huge today either with me or without me. One thing I must say though," he added with a grin, "is that everyone asks me 'Were you nervous about joining Journey?' Hell no! I felt comfortable in the group from the very beginning or I never would have joined. If I didn't feel that I could have added something to the group I would never have become a member."
With Frontiers nearing the top of the sales charts, and Journey's current world tour breaking attendance records wherever it plays, it seems that all is right with the boys from 'Frisco. They've even started a few side ventures that have yielded big rewards. One of these is designing huge video screens that the band rents out to other groups who are on tour.
"We've been using the screens throughout this American tour," Neal Schon said. "They're great because now even people in the back can feel really intimate with us. If I start to blow on my guitar strings, they can all see that - not just the people in the first row. We're really into the video screens - in fact The Who rented ours during their last tour. We helped them set them up, and we think we can do that for other major bands as well. It's another little side project that we're getting more involved with. You know the old saying," he laughed. "Busy hands are happy hands."
© Hit Parader, June 1983, Charlton Publications, Inc.