Journey interview - Jonathan Cain looks forward to Birmingham

Journey is the band that didn’t stop believing. Ian Harvey talks to keyboard player Jonathan Cain about the band’s upcoming Birmingham concert, their new album and that song.

Journey are heading to the LG Arena, Birmingham
Journey are heading to the LG Arena, Birmingham

Journey is the band that didn’t stop believing. Ian Harvey talks to keyboard player Jonathan Cain about the band’s upcoming Birmingham concert, their new album and that song.

When Journey, Foreigner and Styx take to the stage at the LG Arena on Sunday, it will represent the ultimate dream ticket for many rock fans.

These are three giants of the melodic rock world (also known as AOR or adult-orientated rock), between them responsible for almost 300 million record sales.

They are also bands who each feature a new singer and for whom fortunes are on the up after the grunge era looked set to have put paid to their aspirations.

Jonathan Cain, on the phone from the States, is clearly excited to be bringing Journey’s full arena show over to the UK, promoting the band’s 15th studio album Eclipse, which was released this week.

“We always enjoy meeting our fans,” says Cain. “Basically the UK fan club - www.journeyrock.co.uk -  have been very tenacious and supportive and really have helped. They’re awesome. Their energy is appreciated over here.  They were the reason that we got there in the first place.”

While still full of Journey’s melodic style, Eclipse is more guitar-driven than some of the band’s albums, and Cain is excited to see how fans respond to that.

“We have classic Journey, which tends to be pop rock, and then the new songs will be the balance of the rock side. So you have this maybe heavier, rawer sound mixed in with the classic hits.

“And it works really well. We tried it in South America where we played a two-hour show and played four or five of the new songs in the context of the greatest hits and I think it works exceptionally.

“People have really embraced it and we feel that in the UK that it’s one of the places that we can play the new music and it will be appreciated. It’s not like going to Vegas and you look at that crowd and think ‘They’re not going to get this’.

“I think that the listening ability of the European rock fan is much deeper. He goes for the detail and wants to get the content and is hungry for that content.  They’re very good listeners in Europe.”

Despite a hiatus after their lauded frontman Steve Perry left the band, Journey have continued to tour and record with a variety of singers including Steve Augeri, Jeff Scott Soto and now Arnel Pineda, a singer from the Philippines whom the band discovered on YouTube singing Journey covers with extraordinary accuracy.

The band has seen its fortunes turn around quite astonishingly in the past few years in a large part after their perennial 1981 hit Don’t Stop Believin’ was featured in the closing moments of the last episode of The Sopranos and particularly after a new generation discovered the song via Glee.

It is now, officially, the most downloaded song in history. So what is it about Don’t Stop Believin’ that so resonates with music fans?

“Perhaps because it gives you permission to dream,” replies Cain.

“That’s the only way I can describe it. It has a hopeful tone to it and in certain times it resonates.

He explains how the song was born after he was drafted into Journey.

“I brought that chorus in, right up to the line ‘streetlight people’.

“When I was in my 20s and struggling to make it in LA my father always used to say: ‘Don’t stop believing Jon. You’ve got the goods, hang on in there, something will happen’.

“So when I got the Journey nod I thought I would bring them his idea.

“And they added to it. That’s what you do in a band. You take one piece and you connect it with another piece. So when Perry heard the chorus it was, ‘Oh why don’t you do the same tune but we’re going to break it down, so just play the piano thing like you do, with those chords, and I’ll see if I can come up with something'.

“Ross Valory created the signature bass line, Perry came up with some great vocal melodies over it and off we went. It was very much an ‘improv’ kind of creation.”

And did you have even the slightest clue what that song would become?

“We didn’t. We thought it was a lovely song and it definitely was kind of dramatic. With the piano starting, I think it has a particular colour to it. It wasn’t just one continual blast.

“When we recorded it, it was done pretty quickly. I remember Steve had to leave with just the basic track done and he came back the next week and sang the vocal in three takes. We did the background vocals and that was the end of it.”

Journey’s message of hope continues with the release of Eclipse, an album that, according to Cain,  Neal Schon, the band’s leader and guitarist has been wanting to make for a decade or more.

“It’s a raw rock album. It’s guitar driven. Neal said early on ‘I want to go with this. Will you go with me?’ I said, well lyrically it’s got to be profound, I don’t want to put out any old stuff. If we’re going to go in this direction, it’s got to be to some mystical place, like Zeppelin did with their music.

“Neal came to me with this conceptual idea, the Hindu interpretation of life as an endless circle. So I started doing research on the internet and writing ideas down. And I really liked the concept, you known for a band that sings about hopeful things.

“Without being  religious, I believe in a universal god, and I like the idea of the endless circle. I’ve always dabbled in the metaphysical belief. I was meditating and performed yoga and I always noted this wonderful high energy and I wondered how can I trigger this peace of mind and this happiness?

“I thought this is something that we should look at, maybe with this album. With the conflict and turmoil that we face every day in our society sometimes it's good to see how you relate to the universe and god.

“Neal had some ideas and it encompasses physical, spiritual and metaphysical ideas which go really deep, without being too ‘heavy' about it.

"I was able to craft some very sensual lyrics. Neal allowed me to write these lyrics. He’s a Buddhist, he’s a spiritual man, he likes the idea of eternal peace - that  conflicts can be resolved. I said this is what we should be singing about, not about chasing women around.

“When we finished these songs and we learned them and started singing them in the studio it was like ‘Oh, I was right!’ This was something different.

“But to me it’s an album that is not a one-listen record. You need to listen through it a few times. It’s very complex musically, it has many layers to it and there’s something different every time you listen to it to pick up on.

“Journey has always been a communion between the pop side and the rock side. This is the rock side. We’re really sticking our rock side out into the universe without relying on the pop end of things . . . I can write those songs all day long.”

This tour will also see Cain step away from his keyboards and play more guitar on stage than ever.

“Because there’s so much guitar on this album, live I have to be the rhythm guy.  I’ve had to learn these songs for Neal and support my brother.

“And you know what, he’s supported me all these years and stood behind me and my songs, my ballads and this is my payback to him. I like to play guitar. This is kind of a turnabout for me and he’s very proud of this album and so am I. It’s truly a testament to our brotherhood together, this album.”

And what about the fact that there’s a relatively new face fronting the band (this is Pineda’s second album with Journey, after 2008’s Revelation)?

“You know what, the music’s bigger than all of us,” says Cain. “The music speaks for itself. It’s timeless and no matter who sings it, as long as you’re bringing the genuine timbres and tones . . .  you want to give the people the best you can be.

“That’s why when we found Arnel and we heard him sing we thought ‘This guy is unique to himself as an artist.’ Now when you see him he’s just cool, you know. He’s evolved.”

A large part of that evolution Cain puts down to the massive concert that Journey played in the Philippines, introducing Pineda as their frontman there for the first time.

”I think a lot changed when he sang the big concert in Manila. Singing for his homeland and getting praised as the hometown boy, the man of the hour. It celebrated his achievement of being something, coming from the street and making something of himself.

“He’s quite a legend over there and after that show, he understood what it was about.

“Now he goes on stage and every night he’s the lead singer of Journey, no question. It takes a lot of time to fill those (Steve Perry’s) shoes. And his voice now  . . . it’s like being a stock car racer and you go into the Nascar. And Arnel has this great race car, he’s a great driver and he just needed to learn where to put the gas and where to get off the gas.”

So finally what about the dream ticket of Journey, Foreigner and Styx on the same bill?

“It’s going to be friendly. But it’ll be a real competition, as always, for bragging rights,” laughs Cain.

You’d better believe it.

See also - Foreigner interview – Kelly Hansen can’t slow down

* Journey, Foreigner and Styx play the LG Arena, Birmingham on Sunday June 5, 2011. Tickets are £40 plus booking & transaction fees.

Stage times:

Styx - 7pm-7.45pm

Foreigner - 8pm-9pm

Journey - 9.30pm-11pm

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