I guess the majority of you reading this magazine have heard of Steve Perry. And as you know, last year he returned with a brand-new album after a long absence. Given the musical climate it went on to achieve reasonable success in the States and was also granted a UK release. God knows why as it was given absolutely no promotion whatsoever over here apart from the odd interview. Noted Kerang journalist Dave Reynolds also spoke to Steve at the time of the album's release but unfortunately the resulting interview was never published, until now that is. Dave has kindly given us the transcript of their chat so we can all read the interview that should have been but never was. Here then, somewhat belatedly, is what Steve had to say back in the Summer of '94.
1981 was a rather interesting year for Metal heads. It boasted a wonderful array of great albums. Who can forget such gems as Accept's 'Breaker', Van Halen's 'Fair Warning', Motley Crue's 'Too Fast For Love', Def Leppard's 'High N' Dry' of Saga's 'World's Apart'?
Yet one album simply re-wrote the textbooks. As far as the often mysterious genre known as AOR was concerned, 'Escape', by San Francisco's Journey, presented a new blueprint for others to attempt to follow. Recently bolstered by the arrival of former Baby's keyboard player Jonathan Cain, replacing the departed Gregg Rolie. Previous success proved to be almost insignificant compared to the fruits 'Escape' delivered; the first two singles released destroyed the Top 10 in America, whilst the album itself kissed the coveted Number One spot in no uncertain terms. The next five years went by in a blur, though. Two more albums down the line ('Frontiers' in '83 and 'Raised on Radio' in '86) and it was all over. Since 'Raised on Radio' the band has not recorded another album. Neither, for that matter, has the group's vocalist Steve Perry. Whilst guitarist Neal Schon and the aforementioned Cain - the nucleus that stuck it out to the end with Perry have involved themselves with all manner of side projects, not least Bad English in which they recorded two albums together. Perry has kept himself well out of the limelight, making only the briefest of appearances three years ago, at a show in memory of the late Bay Area promoter Bill Graham.
But Steve Perry returned last year with his long-awaited second solo album,
'For The Love Of Strange Medicine' (his first, 'Street Talk', was released in 1984 whilst Perry was still very much a part of the Journey dream), a truly magnificent record - despite the reviews and one on which seemingly a whole lifetime had been spent working on. Or has it?
"The record didn't actually take all this time, " remarks Steve, when tracked down to his new base in Los Angeles. "It only took eight months to do, but the rest of the time was spent on finding the honest passion to make one in my heart."
Steve Perry talks a great deal about passion, as we're about to find out. After the split with Journey it actually took the man a couple of years before he could be motivated enough to even look at a recording studio. With such a lengthy break from the action however, rumours suggested that Perry has actually amassed some three albums worth of material, in addition to those songs found on his new record.
"I have a lot of stuff layin' around, I sure do!" laughs Steve. "Some of it's in demo form, but the performances are great, if not the quality. See, the first time the brush touches the canvas is the way it's supposed to be."
Rather than using established session players with huge reputations (as was the case with 'Street Talk') for ' Medicine', Steve chose to work with relative unknowns; like guitarist Lincoln Brewster for example
"Lincoln was a guitarist I'd heard of thanks to a cassette of Randy Jackson at Sony music sent to me. I was looking for a guitar player as Paul Taylor (erstwhile Winger keyboard player) and I had already gotten together and written some sketches of ideas. All the guitar players I was running across were pyrotechnic trash. It was like the forth of July - flash everywhere. Who cares? Chops belong in a butcher's shop, y'know?!"
"All of a sudden I hear Lincoln. Now, he has the ability to be flash, but he had feeling in his playing. He's more of a conceptual player, which I like. He was 21 when we were together, he's now 23; a young guy, but a great player."
To some extent, his solo work on the album is reminiscent of Neal Schon at his best.
"I think that Lincoln is a fan of Neal, but not a copy. I had found some people who felt that they had to sound like Neal to get the gig, but I steered away from that as much as I could. I mean, if I wanted somebody who copied Neal then I might as well go back to the band. If I wanted a guitar player like Neal Schon then Neal's the best one!"
Bassist Larry Kimple and drummer Moyes Lucas also have strong roles to play on ' Medicine'. In the case of Moyes, he just stuck his head round the studio door one day and asked if Steve needed any help.
"He played for an hour, laid down this pocket that grew to be 'Listen To Your Heart' and it all just went from there! 'Street Talk' was done during a period where I was rockin' pretty hard with Journey. I'd finished the 'Frontiers' record, then moved straight to LA to begin writing 'Street Talk' and cut the stuff with studio musicians."
"This one was written in a big warehouse rehearsal room. We played at blistering levels all the time, so I think it pronounced itself with a different character of size. I think that's where you're hearing the difference. We test drove every song like it was a fast car!"
And those songs are perhaps even more autobiographical this time. "Oh, they are! Yeah buddy! A lot of 'em are very personal, that's for sure. It's always been the case." "Before I met the guys who made the record with me," Steve elaborates, "I'd been getting together with these other writers, who would ask me what it was that I was looking for. I just didn't understand what they were talking about. They wanted to know what they felt I was missing, what I needed, but I've never written songs like that before in my life. I've just never done it. See, to me, song writing is all a question of feel. The moment is much more important to me. Some writers I just couldn't work with because they were so calculated."
"I was always the kind of guy, with Jonathan Cain or anybody, who wrote what we felt, rather than what we thought we might need. But it took seven years plus of staying away before I could find some new, honest passion to do music again. I was not going to do an album because it was time to do one."
"My compatriots in Journey have all done things, but my record speaks for itself. I would've not had a better time in my life than to jump off that last Journey tour and leapt into a solo career. There was not a more opportune moment, but I stopped because I had to. I was burnt, singed around the edges. I didn't do projects like the others because, as I say, I need to find the passion and the love that I had in the early stages of my run with Journey."
So, what got the passion back? How did you re-discover yourself? "It took a long time. I think part of it was recording stuff with Nuno Bettencourt from Extreme and seeing the passion in other people and realizing I had it in me again. I had just lost track of myself, cos I felt wrung out like a sponge. People like Nuno helped me to believe in it all again. Slowly but surely I started to write music that I could enjoy. See, if I don't like what I'm doing then I'm not gonna let you hear it. I have to believe in what I'm doing or I won't put it out."
What happened to the song you co-wrote with Nuno then? "He personally told me that he was more than a little disappointed that it didn't make the album!"
He was? "We recorded this really beautiful song, 'Always'. It was him and I singing with acoustic guitars, but I felt that I already had plenty of material like it on the album. I really enjoyed working with Nuno and I'm sure that at some point in time we'll write together again. He's just a brilliant kid, with so much feeling."
Was there any pressure put on you by the label (Columbia) to come up with the record sooner?
"Oh, they were trying to get me to do something from the day I left Journey", laughs Steve, "so much so in fact that when I went into a studio after a couple of years, to mess around, rumours went out that I'd begun work. They were looking to see that if they could put the cart before the horse something might result from it."
"The business side of it all obviously wanted something, but from my point of view, why do something if you're not commited to it? I'm not a hack writer, I don't just turn a crank. I have to love the music before anyone hears it. I've got stuff that I've done that I really dislike and you certainly ain't gonna hear that, y'know?!" "See," he affords himself another chuckle, "I'm like a painter that puts on an exhibition of his work, there's always certain things that stay locked in the basement!"
Thankfully, Steve himself is no longer content to stay confined to the basement. He's honest enough to admit that he was mostly to blame for Journey not playing here at the peak of their career.
"We'd just become so popular at home that it's hard not to concentrate on the place that loves you the most. When we last played in the UK (in the late seventies, with Rolie still very much part of the band) we felt out of character, as that was the time the likes of the Sex Pistols and the Clash were the bands of the day."
Rest assured that when Steve does return to the live circuit, Journey material will take pride of place in the live set.
"I would never shy away from doing Journey songs", says Steve. "I'd do them in a heartbeat. After all, they have my lyrics and my melodies. I would personally be disappointed if I went to see one of my favourite bands and they tried to denounce their past by not playing any of their old songs, y'know?"
With the encouraging start made by 'Medicine' alongside the release of new albums from the likes of Boston, is there an AOR revival on the way?
"I think it has a lot to do with the songs and a different kind of emotion, more than anything. We all have these genres, but it's simply about different emotions. I think the emotion in the kind of music you're talking about that we love is passionately aggressive as opposed to being just plain angry. Angry for the sake of being angry is just.. angry!"
"But I'm glad that the whole concept of a band is happening again. When Journey got me involved we were respected as a band until the onslaught of hair-do robotic hip music arrived. Because we weren't part of that, even the biggest magazines began to belittle us. But we stayed a band through it. You look out there now and bands are back. Clubs are back too. It's great. I don't really care what comes out of 'em. I just think it's great that people are playing music again and that you can judge music again and that you can judge somebody upon their ability to do that."
Steve Perry Talks About The Break-Up Of Journey
"I had been in Journey for ten years when it all stopped in Anchorage, Alaska and I just had to get off", reflects Steve Perry on his departure from arguably the greatest AOR band of all time. "It had been such a long haul that I just needed to leave".
On Steve's new album, 'For The Love Of Strange Medicine', the lyrics to the closing track, 'Anyway', refers to the years Steve spent as a very important cog in the Journey machine. "In a very honest way, without sounding disrespectful or camp, it was to give a heartfelt admission of my part of the insanity. Sometimes we just have to admit these things just to get them off our backs, y'know? Look it's not secret. We were a band. Bands agree and bands disagree. Bands have good times, bands argue. It's a relationship. You spend all that time together and you're not allowed to fight? Any relationship is a creative relationship, a deep relationship. That's what makes it all work."
Does Steve think that certain members of the band now need Journey more than he does? "I don't know. I've heard certain rumours that they're getting back together with a similar sounding vocalist. It would be hard for me to jump back in. I never ever had the desperation in me to be successful at all costs or be on stage, but I enjoyed it when it was there."
Is Perry flattered by Jonathan Cain's admission that he feels Journey is just 'this great big, beautiful Harley Davidson we had customized sitting in the garage' that he and Neal Schon thought they could ride but they know only Perry has the keys? "Isn't that a strange comment? I think that statement sells Jonathan short. He knows that he's a bigger part of the writing team. I'll speak higher of him than he does of himself. He's a brilliant writer. I remember when he brought in 'Open Arms' (released as the third single from the 'Escape' album, this spine tingling ballad reached the number two spot in the US), it was the first song we wrote together. He showed up at my house with a Wurlitzer piano and played it to me. I thought it was beautiful. Jonathan told me it had been rejected by John Waite (with whom Cain had played in the Babys) as 'too syrupy'. I decided there and then to finish the song and decide on its fate later. We worked on that initial melody, wrote the chorus and the lyrics, pumped it up hard in a band situation and it became what it became. I enjoyed working with Jonathan. If there's anything I miss about Journey then it'd probably be that".
Weren't you tempted to involve him on your album? "It just says too many things. It seems like he'd want to do it if I was in Journey. And it seems that the powers surrounding him wanted that too. I'm not in that management loop anymore, I have separate management now, so it became almost like an old relationship, like, can you go on vacation with your old girlfriend if you're now married to someone else?"
"It's too bad that it was that defined, but perhaps I was wrong, but it seems like that was the pressure upon him."
Frontiers, Issue 7, August 1995