Used by Permission.
At one time, Steve Perry was THE voice of melodic rock. Both fans and radio-programmers alike couldn't wait to hear his latest (be it with Journey or solo) multi-million selling song of a generation, but for almost a decade his voice has been silenced due mainly to a seemingly self-imposed exile from the music business. By the fall of 2005, he was back (sort of) doing a limited amount of print only press to help promote the Journey: Live in Houston 1981 Escape Tour DVD that he produced. In this rare and candid interview, he looks back at what was and what may be.
Steve Perry: "Talk to me...where are you?"
Mitch Lafon: In Montreal...
SP: "It's so beautiful up in Montreal. I was on tour one time up in Canada with a band called The Privilege when I was a teenager. They hired me as a singer and I was one of their frontmen and we ended up in Quebec and Montreal. In Quebec we stayed at the Chateau Frontenac and my big thrill was having onion soup at the Chateau Frontenac."
ML: Maybe, you'll come back up here on vacation or for a show?
SP: "Yeah, but how about in the spring? Is that ok?"
ML: Let's talk about the DVD - Live in Houston '81. Why did you accept to get involved with the project? Wouldn't it be too much of a heartache?
SP: "The answer is yes - it was too much of a heartache to look back. When I first heard the tapes and I remember that show, it was too painful to think what it once was, but the only thing I could not do was... I'm a fighter for the music. I'm a fighter for the songs and a fighter for the performances and I refuse to let them be evaporated into time. If I do anything, I'm going to fight for those performances to be heard and the band is out doing what they're doing and I was approached by SONY to do it, so I said absolutely. Since, I produced the first compilation DVD. So, I got Allen Sides and we did the 5.1 and stereo mixes together then I did the editing. The interviews and all that was painful too. It was tough."
ML: Will you be doing more DVDs like this?
SP: "I don't know if my heart can handle it."
ML: You've been away from the band for quite awhile...
SP: "Since May '98"
ML: And you've also been away from the public for quite awhile...
SP: "Except for the World Series with the White Sox."
ML: How was that?
SP: "That was excellent. It was so exciting. I just couldn't believe it and they adopted the 'Don't Stop Believin'' song back in July as their mascot and when they won and were going to the World Series; their communications director wanted to try and get me to game one. I got a phone call and went out there and was there for game one and two and was getting ready to leave and they said you can't go. You got to go to Houston and I had to think about that because they had booked me for all these interviews to promote this DVD. It felt good to be wanted, so next thing I knew I'm flying to Houston for game 3 (which lasted 5 hours and 45 minutes) and I was on another planet when we won that one and game four they won and swept'em. It was unbelievable. They swept the Astros."
ML: Good city to be in to be promoting a Houston 1981 DVD...
SP: "I didn't start the promotion there. I actually came back to LA and started doing phone calls. It was actually very funny."
ML: You've been out of the limelight since '98. You did the (VH1) "Journey: Behind The Music", but you really haven't put out any music. What's going on? Are the interviews and new DVD... are you coming back? Is Steve Perry going to be singing for us soon?
SP: "You know I love singing again. I've been pulling out of it and I've been missing in action for sure... I put a lot of effort in trying to put Journey back together for the Trial By Fire era and I worked hard with those guys so that we would keep our original integrity and write some good music and we did. Then I had that hip problem and it crashed on me. I had to go have surgery. There were some mistakes made and they checked out a few singers and they got tired of sitting around and one thing lead to another and we split again..."
ML: For the final time?
SP: "Well, I think so. Only because I said to them in January of '98 when I got this phone message that said 'go out and do whatever you want to do, but do not call it Journey.' That fractures the stone to me; that breaks it. I was given an ultimatum and I don't respond well to ultimatums."
ML: Not that anybody should. Now, the hip thing was a degenerative problem. Is it getting better?
SP: "It's completely replaced. It's very good. It's beyond better."
ML: So, you're 100% physically?
SP: "Well, I have some other physical issues. I'm not a teenager anymore."
ML: Do you see yourself going back into the studio?
SP: "I've been thinking about the good side about this whole split up with the band that happened in May of '98; which is that I could not be kept under contract while they replaced me with a sound-alike or whatever he was... fish or cut bait. The bottom line is that the label had to let me go. So, I haven't had a record deal since May '98 and you've got to know that I signed my record deal with Columbia in '78. That was 20 years of being signed to a label. It's been a real pleasure not having contracts lurking over me... obligations and extensions until you deliver. Oh, please! It's been nice to fall back into your own life and so that's what's happened. I'm no longer in the band since May '98 and I had the surgery seven or eight months after 'that' January phone call... so, you know, I'm just living my life and I have been entertaining the idea of just getting into the studio, but it's a tough thing."
ML: Have you been writing at all?
SP: "I've got all kinds of stuff written. Writing isn't a problem, it's..."
ML: It's not stage fright at this point in your career?
SP: "No, it's just what do I want to do? I love R&B. I love rock. I love techno. I love remixes. I love acoustic. I love everything. When I come up to LA, I'll spend two days watching someone record 172 pieces of score. I sat back a year or so ago and watched Alan Silvestri conduct a 175 piece orchestra for Van Helsing (movie). So, when I watch that kind of arranging... I love the power of that. So, I just don't know what to do, but I'll probably jump in the studio with a four-piece section and just start having some fun and maybe do some covers just to get my feet wet. I sat in the studio for six weeks with this DVD mixing it in stereo then tore in down and mixed in 5.1... that was one of the best pleasures I've had other than the emotional aspect of being dragged through the plethora of emotions from 'what happened' to 'we were great' to 'look how young we were' and remembering all the stupid things we were doing to each other when we didn't know what we had."
ML: You've got that built-in Journey fan base that wants to hear you do that melodic rock again...
SP: "Yeah, exactly, but I don't know if I want to become a parody of myself."
ML: If you do a comeback album and deliver something the fans aren't expecting...
SP: "I may do a comeback album or I may do one track; load it onto ITunes and go home. I don't know."
ML: So it is something you're thinking of?
SP: "I don't have management... I have completely shut down the store. The store has been shut down forever. I own steveperry.com, but I haven't flown it. I've really had to let go because emotionally... to be perfectly honest with you, if I do decide to sing again and record again, I'm going to do it for the right reasons. It's not going to be because people want a comeback record that's calculated... people come up to me all the time and say 'you should do a big band album like Rod Stewart. It would sell.' That's probably true..."
ML: It is true it would sell gangbusters...
ML: But if you don't like it, what does that matter?
SP: "I have a spin on that. I would do that differently than anybody else's, but I can't talk about it and I don't necessarily want to do a big band album."
ML: And I imagine you don't want to do an album of ten 'Open Arms' or ten 'Oh, Sherrie'...
SP: "That's right. I don't want to sit there and (sings) 'start spreading the news...' I don't really."
ML: It would be interesting to get you singing again and with all due respect you are one of the greatest voices of the last thirty years...
SP: "That's so kind of you to say because they've only been saying that in the last five years. They certainly weren't saying that years ago. We were considered the band that wasn't cool. It was the bands with the skinny ties, the checkered shirts and the Flock Of Seagulls' haircut that were considered cool. We were not considered timeless at all, but as time has proven and we're fortunate that the music has made the voyage with us so far."
ML: What do you attribute that too? Here we are in 2005 and you're hawking a show from 1981 and it's still timeless, it still sounds great, the musicianship is tight and the vocals are perfect... What is it about Journey that got you this far? Why didn't you just fade away like the Flock Of Seagulls?
SP: "Well, it's because it was a real band. When I joined them they were a band and when we replaced Ansley Dunbar with Steve Smith it became a bigger band. When Jonathan Cain came along and I started writing with him... I had written all songs with Neal from 'Anyway You Want It' to whatever and that was one kind of band, but when Jonathan came along we turned another corner in the evolution of the band. This particular tour (Escape) was the first time Jonathan was onstage and it turned the corner. The work we had done previous had built a fan base and now that they were really showing up we were turning a corner musically and they just liked it. We didn't have any calculated things. There was nothing pre-calculated about the music ever. Never did we second guess, it was just 'let's do this. Ok.' If you listen to the albums, I don't know how many groups you'll find that have 'Separate Ways' and 'Still They Ride'. That's left and right. You go onto Escape and you'll get 'Who's Crying Now', 'Open Arms' or from other albums 'Dead Or Alive', 'Where Were You'... these are all on the DVD by the way, but we were all over the map. 'Good Morning Girl' was a little acoustic piece. 'Patiently' was the first song I wrote with Neal when I was waiting to get into the band and I had dreams of being a singer in a rock 'n roll band. I sat in a hotel with him while he was out opening for Emerson Lake and Palmer and I wrote 'Patiently' and that's what those lyrics are about 'for your lights to shine on me. For your song inside of me this we bring to you.' That's what it's about. I was dying to get into this thing, but from the heart stand point - not from a calculated stand point and today everything is so calculated. Don't you think? The music business has become like the movie business..."
ML: Also, the music business doesn't develop an artist anymore. It's give me a hit single and get the heck out of here...
SP: "Isn't that sick? The guys who helped build the Journey fan base were record label executives like Al Teller and all the guys that worked at the label at the time that are escaping my mind. They helped believe in the band and they would go three, four singles deep into every album..."
ML: They would also go three albums... You had three albums to make it. First one was the trial, second was the hit or miss and the third one was the do or die...
ML: They would give you three albums minimum to develop. Now, you get single one maybe two...
SP: "That's right. It's like television. They release a TV show and if the numbers aren't good it's cancelled next Tuesday. It's unbelievable there's no faith anymore and nobody believes anymore. That's why it is the way it is. There are corporate executives that should say to their superiors 'this is the single we have to go on it' would they ever say that? No. Would they ever say 'the band is crazy about this song and believes in this song? No, they won't say that either. Will they ever say 'I went and saw the show and this song is getting a lot of audience response. I don't know why, but we should go on it and ask radio to play this... NO! They'll do what's calculated and safe."
ML: They want to appeal to the lowest common denominator and get as much money out of it as possible...
SP: "They are not making decisions based on belief. They are making decisions based on fear. They assess it and say 'well, let's not do this and we shouldn't do that... so, what's left? Let's do that.' They're decision making process is based on calculated fear assessment. Instead of 'wow I don't know what it is about this one song, but I sure do like it.' Those guys are gone; they just don't do that anymore. I'll tell you a quick story 'Who's Crying Now' that song was intentionally recorded and arranged so that the solo (back then songs had solos) was at the end. The song goes out on a solo and that song is long. The record label came to us and said 'as soon as the solo starts you'll have to fade it or radio won't play it.' I said ' well, radio can fade out and go onto the news. I don't care, but we're not going to cut the solo.' They insisted that if it said it was four minutes fifty seconds or whatever radio won't even add it to their playlist. So, I told them to put whatever on it... three minutes whatever, but I'm not fading the solo and they were adamant about it and said we were killing the song. It's not going to be a hit because you won't fade it, so just fade it. It's no big deal. I said 'look Neal played the most beautiful solo on this thing. It's simple, heartfelt and feels timeless; the melodics are timeless and I do not want to kill that solo. So, fought for it, the song becomes a hit and the stations never pulled out of the solo. When it goes to that melody (sings melody) it's timeless and it's not the melody that's in the song. It's another melody; so is that so wrong? No! So, I'm glad we fought for it against all odds. Plus, Neal would have been really crushed... he would have been destroyed."
ML: I'm surprised the record company didn't go ahead and just cut if off...
SP: "They would do that today which is why I'm glad I'm not signed right now. I would probably take a bat to somebody's desk."
ML: That's the one new advantage, if you were to release new music, you don't have to go through a label. You can go through ITunes...
SP: "Isn't that amazing? I think the Internet is so freeing to music as we've come to know it. I think it's the best thing that has ever happened. It's phenomenal because as an artist you've never had so many choices. You just never have. I could get somebody right now to build my own site and put downloads on my own site. I've yet to do it though."
ML: Is there a reason?
SP: "I'm just a little bit... you're going to ask me 'what is it, right?' But I don't know."
ML: It's the question everybody has been asking, right?
SP: "No, we've been talking mainly about the DVD and the performances."
ML: I apologize...
SP: "We can talk about this. It's ok. I don't know - it's a tough one... (pauses)... Twenty-four years ago when I did that DVD when we recorded it for MTV... (pauses) It was a different landscape at that time, of course. MTV had aired for the first time in August of '81 and three months later we were recording this for MTV. It was a brave new world with this video music thing... (pauses) It was a different time we had a mission as a group... (pauses) I emotionally was unstoppable... (pauses) My mother was alive and pulling for me. My father (though they weren't together) was pulling for me. My grandfather was alive... The whole landscape of that has changed... (pauses) You lose some of the incentive that you didn't realize was driving you to do good... to do it... to do IT. Now, that it's been done I'm trying my best to digest it. When I was doing this DVD, it was an emotional rollercoaster that I didn't expect. A friend of mine warned me because he knows me well. He's a TV director and he said 'I know you. You're going to get in there and be mixing and editing and it's going to be rough on you.' I said ' Ah, no biggie man c'mon I did the other DVD.' And he said 'but that was assembling videos and synching up new masterings. This is going to be different. It's like making a mini-film.' And oh, God he was right. It drove me... It dragged me through a plethora of emotions that I didn't expect. When I heard 'Open Arms' I got choked up. There are certain vocal things I did in 'Open Arms' that I'm not sure I'll be able to pull off exactly like that again because it was such a moment and I had reached beyond the master recordings to what I knew it could be. For example the lyric in the second verse 'wanting you near' that lyric is sung exactly the way I wanted it to be sung and I didn't know I hit it. I didn't know I got it. So, I'm sitting there mixing and watching the QuickTime video because I have to pay attention to audio and visual... so I'm watching it and just being dragged through... (pauses) through the whole thing again. The Whole Thing AGAIN! I'm dragged through our time together. I'm dragged through, 'what happened?' We were great together and then I'm dragged through the people who thought we weren't great and who used to belittle us in the press and I thought 'fuck them too'. How can that be fucked up? We were great! See you assholes... you know what I mean? We weren't fucked up - you used to tell us we were faceless and corporate and all these horrible things and all we were trying to do was keep our focus and play what we loved. Now, I'm looking back at it for the first time as a person in the audience... I'm not in the band and it's been years since I've been in the band. It's been years since I've been on that stage. I'm an older guy and this young kid up there on that stage believed in what he believed in and damned if it wasn't pretty good and I got emotional about it. I just felt vindicated. I really felt vindicated for my beliefs and my faith and my tenacity that I got such a bad rep for... it's just that I was NOT going to lay down. Betty Davis said "if you have a bad reputation you must be doing something right.'
ML: She's absolutely right. It must really feel good after all these years. I was around back then and remember people complaining about your voice, that you were corporate and everything you just said...
SP: "They said it about a lot of groups."
ML: I'm a Kiss, Cheap Trick and Aerosmith fan - all of those groups got dragged through the mud back then...
SP: "Foreigner got hit... everybody got it. They all were faceless."
ML: Except Kiss - that only had a face, but no music talent, right? Not only did those groups survive, but are still setting trends to some extent. Anybody who looks into melodic rock has to start at Journey you just have to.
SP: "And that's a big legacy to live up to. At the time, it was just living up to your own expectations. Now, it's become something else. Something you always hoped it would become. How do you deal with that?'
ML: I have no idea...
SP: "By the way if you're going to ask these questions we kind of have to answer these questions as to what was going on with me back then versus now. It's a perspective that's interesting. A lot of it too... the music at that time... you were forced to perform everything. There was only one way to sell what you believed in and that was perform it and that was going to be live. MTV was three months old when we recorded this DVD. It was baby in diapers it had no idea what it was. It had no power and I tried to go back to MTV and see if they had other elements or extra footage lying around and they had nothing because they burned over the tapes of that night. All I had was the final cut because they had no idea what they were going to become. They were too new and nobody had a clue. They were directionless. They were writing the pages as they were turned... everybody was and that reckless abandon is what created what we are calling timeless now."
ML: Musically, there has been a loss of that 'fire' in bands and in MTV... there is no soul to anything anymore. It's all calculated...
SP: "They always said MTV would change the face of music forever and in some ways it did."
ML: It did - for the worst.
SP: "It took the performing aspect out of it, but now they are getting back to it. Now, they realize that it's a great medium to promote performance. For a long time, it became a video lip-synch issue and it gave everybody credibility even if they're not performers. There's a lot of careers built on artists that have never performed, but they can make a great video and make a great record... and they were 'artists'. Then they'd decide to go on tour and work that up. A lot of them would run tapes, a lot of them were fake and would have mouth and ear pieces with little microphones in front of their faces and dance around. It was a totally different thing."
ML: In terms of this performance - the band.. the five guys on stage (Steve, Ross, John, Neal and you) was that the ultimate line-up? Does this represent Journey well?
SP: "That's the quintessential line-up. Although, I don't want to take any credibility away from the line-up that existed with Gregg Rolie and Ansley Dunbar. That was the earlier line-up that I joined and had it's own musical direction that was valid. It was a different kind of a band, then it changed when we got Steve Smith in there and Gregg Rolie stayed. Then we got Jonathan Cain and I think the band turned a bigger corner. That became the Escape line-up that launched itself to another series of albums, songwriting and performing that was bigger. By bigger I mean it had a bigger pronounced sound to it... a mightier unity of the players than the previous one."
ML: Jonathan brought a lot to the band... vocals, backing vocals and overall musicianship.
SP: "Yeah right! And Steve Smith was a fusion drummer who was with Montrose... that's where we saw him play every night and I turned to Neal and said 'this is the guy we should have in our band. This is what we need.' I admit I was making trouble, but I had a gut level... that we had to look at making a change."
ML: It was a good change...
SP: "Well, time has shown that to be the case, but at the time it had a mixed response."
ML: By the way - with the producing of the DVD... is that something you see yourself doing more of?
SP: "I love it. I really love it. It's very very emotional and stressful though."
ML: In general or doing the Journey stuff?
ML: Do you want to do other bands?
SP: "I have shown up many times with little groups... friends of mine and I'll be a fly on the wall and help them. I do it all the time for fun and for free. I've be doing that for years."
ML: Do you want to sell your services as a record producer? Hey record companies call me up...
SP: "No. I don't want to necessarily do that. There's a couple of groups I would like to do a track with here or there."
ML: But not a whole album from conception to the final mixes?
SP: "It would depend on the group. If I believed in the group I would do it. If I believed in the song, the singer and the band. It would be easier doing my own thing, but that comes with a whole other set of demons."
ML: If you did your own thing would you want to produce it?
SP: "Just yesterday, I was thinking for the first time ever 'should I just let it go' because I'm always so involved and that's the problem. I know what I want to hear and it can go against someone else's vision, but at the same time my own vision has built my own direction and sound. So, what am I doing? Do I want to become Cher and 'Do You Believe In Love' and let someone make a left turn for me? I don't know - I'm not that kind of guy. I do hear things completed in my head and try to follow that lead, but I don't know. I do know that I worked hard on this DVD and tried to make it sound contemporary sonically. That's why I chose Bob Ludwig and Allen Sides."
ML: Satisfied with the final product?
SP: "I'm completely satisfied with the project, but there will always be issues. The sound quality I hear in the studio, you lose when... you know someone will make an MP3 of it. That changes everything. You do one thing to it; it changes it. Echoes respond differently. Digital converters eat echo and it loses some of the lush echoes you worked so hard on. That's just something I have to live with. There are certain things that are easier to do logistically with ProTools on a live project like this than with tape. There were certain pops and clicks in my special wireless mic. It had a lot of vocal qualities that I loved, but it also had a lot of problems because it was transmitter microphone. It would over modulate and there was a couple 'pffs'... it's everywhere and with ProTools you can get rid of it. It's fantastic. So, I was able to clean up problems that back in the day could not have been fixed. It enhanced the performance by not letting something like that distract it. You're in a restorative mode like when you take an old painting and just try to clean it up."
ML: Any other touch-ups?
SP: "There really wasn't a lot of touch-ups on this. There really wasn't. Not one re-record was done. I will tell you... we did two shows and on the day-off between those shows... we knew we were on tour and we knew it would be aired on MTV with a quick mix. So, we got around one mic and sang the backing vocals against ourselves. So, that we could blend that studio thing we do with the live vocals; so that they would have a little shimmer to them. That's the only thing we did. We called that 'vocal help.'"
ML: That was just for MTV?
SP: "It's on the DVD too."
ML: But the original ones from way back then?
SP: "Yeah, the band was on tour three months ago and we aren't speaking. So, believe me - we weren't in a room together."
ML: It speaks volumes about the band that you didn't have to...
SP: "Well, it was great performance. It really was a moment where... I didn't like walking up to the back of the venues and see a recording truck because I would get a little moody and cause a stink about it. I didn't like the idea of having tape running. I like the shows to be free and have nothing hovering over them like 'the tape is running' because it changes the band's ability to be reckless and free. I like reckless and free."
ML: It also make you over aware...
SP: "It instinctually makes you over aware that tape is running. You get more concerned that things be a little more performed, I'm so glad that there's no fall back to the masters to this performance in Houston. I think once the show started nobody cared... we just played. Though, I did not like to video or tape shows I'm so glad that this one was because I would have been wrong to not have this one. I would have been really wrong."
ML: It captures the essence of the band...
SP: "It really does and there's another laying around that we don't know what's going to happen to from 1983 JFK Stadium in Philly. We had 14 cameras running film."
ML: You want to produce that?
SP: "I don't know if my heart could take it. By the way I do want to say when you watch the DVD turn the Dolby to off. There is no need for it. It's been digitally recaptured. It will severely change the fidelity."
ML: Anything else to promote or plug?
SP: "There's a band I like. I think they're fun and reckless called The Rock 'N Roll Soldiers. The lead singer is a talented kid called Marty... they're working on a record right now which I think is coming out on Atlantic. I like it I believe in them."
ML: Thank you for your time...
SP: "Thank you very much for your candid questions and your sincere feelings about this. All this is good stuff and I don't mind talking about the fears and where I'm going and where I'm not going and where I've been. I'm trying to put my arms around all of it and when I'm done with that... who knows? I'll either sing some more or maybe just be glad that we had what we had."
ML: Well, I think I speak for many when I say we got to hear you sing some more...
SP: "I'll do my best thank you. I would like to sing with the Rolling Stones one night and if by chance, I record something let's talk again."