Not Content To Rest On Their Rock Laurels, Journey Moves Into Uncharted Territory!
It's been nearly ten years since the birth of Journey and the groups whose roots are buried deep in the hills of San Francisco has packed an awful lot into those years. Formed initially by ex-Santana members Neal Schon and Gregg Rolie, the group has weathered hard times, obscurity, band drop-outs and newcomers plus numerous musical turnabouts. It wasn't until only a few short years ago that they began to explode - the 80's brought them superstardom.
While their's is a sojourn experienced by other bands REO and Styx tell similar tales of decade-long struggles Journey remains somewhat apart from their rock compatriots. For in spite of all the changes and upheavals they've gone through, one thing remains steadfastly the same: their attitude. And that's exactly what keeps them exciting - this band is dedicated to change, to exploring new musical ideas; to taking risks. Could be, too, those risks may backfire, but Journey's willing to take that chance. In fact, Journey must take that channel.
Journey's delivered 10 albums so far - from the original Journey, released in the spring of 1975 - through Infinity, Departure, Captured and their most successful, 1980's Escape. Each album had its own distinct flavor courtesy of all the different musicians who've passed through Journey. While other bands long for the stability of growing together, Journey feels fortunate to have had many different members, each one has brought a fresh, new contribution. And while each album found its own audience, Escape proved the most widely accepted Journey album of all. The band had admitted that Escape was a conscious effort to bring their music to a wider audience Jonathan Cain has even said that while none of them were really thrilled doing ballads, "Who's Crying Now" served a purpose for them. That, plus others like "Don't Stop Believin'" achieved Top Ten status and widespread popularity, which is exactly what Journey wanted, even if they had to compromise a musical ideal or so along the way.
Once the goal is reached, most bands in Journey's position would head right back to the studio and produce a follow-up, and very similar, LP. "Why tamper with a winning formula?" is a common theme, echoed over and over, "Now that we know what the fans like, let's give them more of it.", is the overwhelming sentiment.
But not Journey. As they came off the successful '81/'82 Escape tour they had one unified thought their next album would be entirely different. "It's not that we didn't love Escape," Steve Smith has said, "but we can't copy it. We're not a formula band."
Frontiers: "A Completely New Journey Sound"
And so the fall and early winter of '82 was spend on what would be called Frontiers. The title and album cover alone are clues that Journey's into something different. Discarding the famous Egyptian scarab logo they've used on nearly every past album, Frontiers instead pictures an extra terrestrial being. For just like E.T. who discovered a new world beyond his own, so Journey has endeavored to broaden theirs, and yours! musical horizons.
Steve Perry's altered his famous style on most cuts and dropped the high ranges. And don't be surprised by the increase in pounding keyboards, and much less heavy guitar. It was planned that way.
Frontiers is, in Steve Smith's word, "angular and angrier" than Escape "the music is harder, it has amore ragged edge." Simply put, it's less melodic and delves deeper into pure rock 'n roll. Of course, Journey hasn't discarded all the elements that made Escape so popular, they have deliberately included two ballads and they've retained Kevin Elson and Mike Stone as producers.
But the changes clearly outweigh any similarities, for the first time Steve Smith has contributed original music (he co-wrote "Frontiers") and they are truly concentrating on uptempo songs, on "getting everyone's feet moving."
With all their excitement over Frontiers, Journey is still well aware that a god many fans may not like all the changes. They know they're taking a chance, but it's not the first chance they've ever taken. It certainly won't be their last.
A Band Of Firsts
For part of what makes Journey so much fun is their enthusiasm over new an untried projects. They were the first band to use huge projection screens in outdoor arenas. Though the cost of mounting the screens was enormous upwards of $35,000 per show! Journey wanted to bring the excitement of their live performance into sharp focus for their fans. This year's concert swing, starting at the end of March, promises a "bigger and better" production with an all new stage design, bringing Journey physically closer to you, plus more bright lights.
Not everything Journey's tried has met with success, their participation on the soundtrack Tron album didn't save the movie from bombing. They went into the project impulsively, "we saw the film, liked it, and just sort of fell into it," Neal explained. He and Jon wrote some music, Steve Perry added lyrics.
While they'd hoped it would do better, Journey's surely not sorry they took a chance. Taking chances is what they live for!
The First Rock Video Game
With the video game craze threatening to put a big dent in the rock business, Journey's decision to join in all the fun instead of fighting it is history-making. Never before had a rock group tried to combine the two, by fusing music from Escape with a rock theme (helping the band past obstacles to get from the stage to the 'Escape Vehicle') with the graphics of a video game cartridge, was a brilliant first. And don't think rock groups galore aren't jumping on the bandwagon now, there are lots more rock video games cartridges in your future!
Future Journey - Solo Projects
Keeping Journey fresh is really what it's all about, and to Jonathan Cain's mind, at least, solo projects are a good way to do it. His pet project of the past year has been wife Tane's debut album, Vertigo. Jon contributed, but in a different way than he does in Journey. Displaying "another side of my musical personality" he wrote tunes and played more synthesizer than he does in the band.
Agreeing that solo efforts allow even more experimentation, Neal Schon recently struck out to collaborate with Jan Hammer. Breaking the confines of Journey is what both Steves, Perry and Smith, are planning with their yet-to-be recorded solo albums. While freeing oneself from the group effort to concentrate on soloing has been the downfall of many a group once again, Journey needs to take that risk.
It doesn't seem likely, however that Journey could lose itself to these diverse projects. The group that's been tagged "faceless" will continue to live by its motto, "making the band more important than its individual members."
New Worlds To Conquer
How all of Journey's calculated risks will work out remains to be seen. As to whether they'll hang on to newer fans who thing "Open Arms" is the finest work they've done, or lose them completely, the jury's still out.
For their part, Journey hopes to keep everyone at their musical side, and pick up a few new fans as well. "We haven't done well in Europe and Australia," they note, but not with regret, only with the excitement of those new frontiers. "We're always looking for new worlds to conquer," they say. "It keeps us hungry."