"Success isn't enough to keep you satisfied," Journey's Neal Schon mused as he sat in a Los Angeles restaurant, slowly sipping a scotch on the rocks. "That's the stage we've reached in this band. Shit, the money's not much of a motivation anymore even though I want to make as much of it as I can. It comes down to being satisfied with the music you're producing. Let's face it, you're the one who's got to spend months getting it right in the studio, and you're the one who has to play the numbers a couple of hundred times on stage. You'd better be satisfied with your artistic output or you'll drive yourself crazy."
Despite rumours that Schon has begun to grow tired of Journey's "formula" rock sound, this San Francisco-based quintet remains just one big multi-platinum family. With the chart-topping success of their recent album, Frontiers, and the sold-out status of their current world tour, no one can deny that Journey is now the most successful American rock band in the world.
"That's kind of a heavy trip to lay on us," Schon said with a smile. "We never set out to become 'the biggest'; we only wanted to be 'the best'. A lot of people fail to recognise the artistry of our work. They look at the successful singles and the platinum albums and they dismiss us as being a pop band. That attitude sucks. Why do you have to be struggling to be considered successful? I can't understand that. Believe me, I don't lose any sleep when a newspaper guy says that we stink. That's his opinion if he thinks he can do better, let him try."
"We're very appreciative of the support we've gotten from our fans," bassist Ross Valory added. "But Neal's right you can't please everybody. How many bands are commercially successful and critical favourites? There aren't many, that's for sure. We've become very self-contained. We have the 'Journey family' which constitutes the band, our manager Herbie Herbert, staff and, most importantly, our fans. That's enough for us at least for now."
Journey has never been a band satisfied to rest on its laurels. From the group's earliest days in the Bay Area, Schon, Valory, vocalist Steve Perry, keyboardist Jonathan Cain and drummer Steve Smith have strived to incorporate a commercially-oriented style with an eclectic, hard-rock sound. Such albums as Infinity, Evolution and their multi-million-selling smash Escape, have cemented the group's reputation as a veritable rock and roll hit factory, while making the band's members millionaires.
"We've never gone out of our way to write hit singles," Steve Perry said. "We all have a natural feeling for writing songs with strong melodies, so our music naturally goes in that direction. But we're not trapped by any particular sound. No one can say that songs like "Back Talk" or "Edge of the Blade" are reminiscent of things that appeared on Escape. We've got to keep challenging ourselves to keep things interesting. That's what this album represented - a project that would be entertaining for us, yet enjoyed by our fans."
While Journey's popularity continues to grow (especially in Europe), rumblings from within have begun to cast doubt on the band's continued viability.
According to sources within the band, Valory showed a marked disinterest in the album's post-production, and rarely showed up for rehearsals for the group's tour. In addition, Steve Perry has begun travelling from show to show in a private bus, while the remainder of the band still traverses by plane.
"Most of these stories are a load of shit," Schon explained with a street-tough shrug. "Yeah, we may have a few problems every now and then, but we're human beings. When you're with people for as long as we are during recording and touring, you get to know every disgusting habit and annoying tendency everyone has. It's inevitable that they begin to get on your nerves after a while. I remember times when I've had a falling out with someone else in the band, but we're professionals and we're not about to let a personality quirk ruin what we've worked so hard to create.
"Sure, having Steve travel away from the band, and having him stay in different hotels sometimes has made it a little tough on us," Schon added. "We're not sure why he's doing it. It's not a star trip - but it is a little strange. That's okay though, we all have our little things that keep us going. If doing that makes Steve happy, that's great; if laying low for a while keeps Ross from jumping off his roof, that's great too. We all have our outlets - at least now we can afford them."
One of Schon's outlets has been the new band he's formed with fellow Bay-area resident, Sammy Hagar. The as-yet-unnamed outfit, which has already signed a multi-million-dollar deal with Geffen Records, hopes to go into the recording studio at the end of Journey's tour and produce an LP in time for Christmas.
"It's a real exciting band," Neal said, "We have Denny Carmassi on drums, and this band rocks! We're a real heavy metal band. We really let loose when we play. I want everyone to understand that this group in no way will affect my work in Journey. We'll record and possibly tour only when my Journey schedule allows it. Sammy's having a lot of success with his new album, too, so who knows if he'll have the time to give to the project now. That's the beauty of the arrangement. All the musicians have other gigs, so we get together when we can; if we can't, then we'll just put it on the shelf for a while."
In addition to their outside musical projects (which aside from Schon's album include a solo LP from drummer Steve Smith and a record from keyboardist Jonathan Cain with his wife Tane), Journey has ventured into new terrain video games. Their new game, Escape, is currently the rage of the arcade set, raking in an estimated $5million in quarters during its first few months of operation. The game, which features the band trying to move from their dressing room to a waiting limo while avoiding groupies, photographers and shady promoters, is described by Cain as "pre fun".
"We were involved in the project from the very beginning," Cain said. "It wasn't a situation where some company came up to us and offered us a bundle of cash in order to use our name. We had virtually complete control over the project from start to finish. The concept was ours, and the finished result had to meet with our approval. We're not about to take advantage of our fans by letting ours names be put on any inferior products. The Escape game is a great deal of fun, and we hope that our fans enjoy it."
"Having fun is what this band's all about," Ross Valory added as he stretched out on the floor of his hotel suite and stuck a cigarette up his nose. "We'll do anything for a laugh. People hear our music and they think we're a bunch of old farts who only want to play sad songs about 'separate ways.' Bullshit! We're a bunch of wild and crazy guys."
Just then, Schon stood up and started wrestling with Smith. !I want to talk about my solo album," Steve blurted out between bursts of laughter. "Why don't you let me talk about it? Neal talked about his." As Valory jumped on top of the pile, he simultaneously removed one of Smith's checkerboard-patterned shoes and attempted to cram it into the drummer's mouth. "That ought to shut him up," he yelped as all three collapsed in laughter. "That's the philosophy that truly represents the Journey way," Ross added. "The strong survive and the drummer gets a shoe in the mouth."
© Hit Parader, September 1983, Charlton Publications Inc.