Is the Journey over for Steve Perry? Maybe. The voice behind one of rock's most successful acts ever isn't really saying, but he sure drops enough hints to fuel such speculation.
Today Journey exists only in theory. No tours or recording dates have been confirmed, though Perry informs that there is some kind of "schedule" which should see them back in warp drive "soon." (It's now near two years since they were last in the studio as a unit for last spring's Frontiers LP - odd for a band which habitually delivers an LP a year).
During this break from each other, Journey's main men were busy as beavers after a spring flood. Guitarist Neil Schon - who does some of his best work outside of Journey - continued with his collaborative projects, Jon Cain did the same, including working with his wife (Tane) on her debut and follow up albums, and Perry accomplished what he'd wanted to do for quite some time, a solo effort all his own.
"Because of the heavy schedule I had with the band, I had to keep putting it off," Perry explains - from his northern California hideaway. "When the time came to write the material for Street Talk, I collaborated with a lot of old friends (including Randy Goodrum, Craig Kampf, and John Bettis) because I needed new, fresh ideas. And I wanted the record to sound different than Journey's material."
It can be a supreme exercise in futility when a vocalist who is the most distinguishable element of a band's sonic identity attempts to create a separate persona. Perry's is a case in point.
Street Talk sounds much like Journey, though it lacks the quintet's penchant for the grandiose; that's not Perry's style, he revels in the Top Forty formula, a leaning which was evidenced on his debut with Journey, Infinity.
Perry doesn't like this observation and immediately defends himself.
"It was easy for me to separate myself from Journey during the recording of Street Talk. When you're in a band everybody has a say in what's happening, but I didn't have to compromise here.
"I can understand where one could see similarities because I'm doing the vocals, but really, I believe the differences are obvious and the record speaks for itself," he insists.
Not wanting to bump heads so early in the interview - there was still more delicate ground to tread - we let this one rest. On then, to the question of Perry's cloudy future with Journey.
His debut rocketed into North America's Top Ten, spearheaded by the plaintive single, 'Oh Sherrie', which he dedicated to his lady (Sherrie) of close to five years. With that kind of solo success, who needs Journey? And, as he pointed out, there is already material for a second LP. Is he calling it quits then?
"Boy, I've been asked that question so many times that I don't know what it means anymore," he fires back. "Right now the band is on the downside, we're all into separate things and recording projects.
"No, we don't really stay in touch with each other. No, we don't hang out as much together either. No, I can't say I miss the guys much.
"Yes, I like being at home - family life is the most important thing to me right now and I owe Sherrie a lot. She's had to put up with a lot of shit over the years and she's kept me going through many ordeals.
"You're asking me if I'm going to be back with Journey, well, why don't you tell me? You've heard the record, what do you think I should do?" he queries.
Whoah! says I. Let me ask the questions - you many not like my answer to that one.
Journey has undergone major personnel changes in the past, but can they survive without Perry?
"I think so," he replies. "Maybe if they got a new singer it would give them some fresh ideas - who knows. I can't really predict anything at this point."
If it came down to a question of money, Perry, reported to have more cash than some countries have people, wouldn't he consider that a factor. Would he?
"You ask some weird questions," he laughs. "That's a real misconception about Journey. Just because we sold millions of records and all that, doesn't mean we're all rolling in dough. Gross numbers - which is all you people seem to be quoting - look great. But you gotta remember that everybody gets their cut. First there's the record company, then we have to pay 40 full-time crew members who are salaried year-round, then there's office staff, etc. And let's not forget Uncle Sam - the government sure gets a healthy slice too.
"Now, I'm not saying we're all paupers, but we don't all have mattresses stuffed with cash either."
Short on cashflow or not (only his banker knows for certain), Perry explains that his executive producer - Bruce Botnick - came up with the funds for the Street Talk project. From there though, Perry took over.
He not only produced the LP, but after a few artistic disagreements with prospective producers for the 'Oh Sherrie' video, Perry decided to write the storyline himself too.
"They all kept trying to get scantily-dressed girls in there and all these other ideas which I didn't think would work. 'Hey, this is a love song' I kept telling them. Finally, I found someone who was willing to work with me and I thought it was a great idea to start the video off with a scene where we had a bunch of producers getting nowhere and trying to decide what was going on. It works because that's exactly what I went through to get it done right.
"Yes," he adds, "that was Sherrie in the video with me."
Perry is the type that likes to exert control on his life. Now he can afford that luxury. Away from the pressures of touring with Journey, he has the time to plan his next move.
"This is a first for me, being able to stay home and spend time with my family and enjoy life. I realize now that this is the thing which matters most to me. I don't miss being on the road, though I have given some thought to touring on my own. Nothing is definite yet though, and I'm not sure of what I'll do next.
"I may start another album because all the material is here in my head, or I may produce this heavy metal band out of L.A. that I'm interested in. I love the heavy metal scene here, just love it," he enthuses.
"I had an offer to produce Air Supply recently, but hey, I turned them down. I'd rather do a metal band."
We closed the interview by going back in time (he thought that was "kind of weird" too).
Bet you didn't know that Perry once sang with a band out of Edmonton called Privilege in the early '70s.
"I was one of two vocalists in the band and we traveled about in this big funky bus," he says, obviously free of the tension which permeated some of his previous answers. "That was my first actual road tour and we had a lot of fun. We actually released a single then called 'Don't It Feel Good'.
"We traveled across Canada that summer and were doing quite well, but when October rolled around we were someplace in northern Alberta and I left to come back to California. Man, it was just too cold for me up there."
© Music Express Issue #83 (Transcribed by Kate)