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Journey’s Jonathan Cain Explains Message Of New ‘Eclipse’ Album

Frontiers Records
Frontiers Records

As Journey soars towards their 40th anniversary, mounting some of their biggest tours ever, we spoke with longtime Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain. In the afterglow of the band’s sold-out performance at London’s Wembley Arena, he gave us the inside word on their new album ‘Eclipse,’ as well as what fans can expect during their upcoming summer tour with Foreigner and Night Ranger.

Journey just played a sold out gig at Wembley with Foreigner and Styx. Is that the largest show the band has played in the UK since reuniting?

You know, it’s pretty close. I mean, the O2 Arena in Dublin [was another one]. It was a larger headliner show, I’d say, because we did play Donington, the festival. I think it was with Whitesnake and there was probably 35,000 there. But it’s the largest headlining arena show we’ve done, yeah.

Understanding that there’s a limited amount of new material that you can feature in the set, what was the determining factor behind the songs from ‘Eclipse’ picked for this year’s shows?

Maybe the feels and the grooves that are missing from the other stuff, you know? It’s just leaning a little more towards the rock side of things — our greatest hits tend to be more of the pop side. So we try to balance it with the rock from the new album, which people are embracing right now, just to balance it out a bit for an arena show.

So the grooves are big and fat, and (current single) ‘City of Hope’ is doing really well at rock radio and here [in the U.K.]. I mean, it’s huge – I think it’s Top 20 here, which is huge on the charts. Frontiers [Journey's record label] is doing a good job – those guys in Italy have really stepped up their game. They came up with a great marketing strategy for us, and we’re trying to cover some of the places in Germany, trying to get into Milan. Italy is hard – some of these places are really hard when it comes to American rock, you can’t give it away. So we’re hoping for the best in Milan, being realistic.

The previous album, ‘Revelation,’ could be viewed as a debut album of sorts for the band, as it was your first with Arnel Pineda. What were you hoping to accomplish with the follow-up?

Well, after playing these heavy rock festivals, it was obvious that we could use some rock in our repertoire – a little bit more of that European-flavored stuff. Europe is one place you can play new material. The States tend to be more of a “greatest hits” crowd, but here, not as much. I mean, our fans are great, but the majority of the people that come to those shows, I don’t know how much they’re interested in the new stuff. [Laughs] we play it whether they like it or not.

Europe certainly gives you an opportunity to step up your game. We felt that playing with the heavy rock bands, we certainly could go there, and I think Arnel is the reason. He can pull it off – he’s really a fine all-around chameleon rock singer. He can sing the phone book, he’s got the power to pull it off, and sing on the big power chords and the walls of guitars that Neal [Schon] comes up with. We needed that part of it, too. We noticed that his voice is really up for the challenge. He’s done really well, he’s really been an inspiration for all of us.

You’ve mentioned the “rock” thing a couple of times. Journey fans have been asking for rock albums from the band for a while, and you’ve really given them that now.

Yeah, we sort of teased them with (2008′s) ‘Revelation,’ and this is more of a concept album, if you will. We went a little deeper with a message on this one. I think the ‘Tantra’ thing is something we tripped on. We were like ‘wow, this is what the world needs to think about.’

Anytime you can get the chance to take a look your soul and how you relate to God’s universe, that’s heavy stuff. But it’s done in such a way that this is what we discovered about life in general. I just really feel that an ancient belief like that works in today’s world. In the age of streaming media, when everything’s flying at the speed of sound, you gotta slow down and smell the roses, really. And that’s kind of what we’re saying here. The beauty in that blue sky is in your heart, so you can find it if you look for it. It’s right in front of you.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the whole day-to-day grind that we forget the perfection that we live in, and we live around, and I just think that’s a good message right now. For Journey to be bringing it, and with Arnel being a Buddhist, it all just lines up perfectly.

In a world where so many people have moved past the importance of album art, it really had to be fun for you guys to work on the art for this new album, which really is a classic Journey album cover.

Oh, it’s great. Here in Europe, we actually have vinyl. There’s a vinyl release out [of 'Eclipse'] and it’s just gorgeous to see it again. And you’re like “you know what? We gotta do this in the States.” So we’re planning on trying to bring that vinyl somewhere and distribute it, maybe 5000 copies and just put ‘em out there. Because we feel it goes back to that and that’s where we came from, that’s our heritage. So now we become the alternative. [Laughs]

Have you gotten sucked back into vinyl?

I have been playing vinyl, a lot of my old albums and for my kids, because I want them [to hear the right stuff]. My son’s got all the Zeppelin stuff, and he’s amazed at how different it sounds. I actually do have a turntable in my studio, I’ve always had my turntable. [Laughs] I still play those Steely Dan records and marvel at ‘wow, what is it about the sound that’s so cool?’ It’s just something else to trip on.

Who are some of your other favorite artists from the era?

Oh, from that era? I was a huge Springsteen fan, Elton John, and I was into bands like Procol Harum. Back in those days, I listened to a lot of Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart. And then I had the Eagles records, the Crosby, Stills and Nash records, Humble Pie, that kind of thing. You know, Traffic, that was big.

I just saw Winwood and Clapton at the Royal Albert Hall, and it was just a treat to see that. They opened up with a Blind Faith song and I just went wow, why don’t these guys put the Blind Faith back together? [Laughs] They should just do a new album, forget about it – they’re so good together. I’d really like to see those two guys do a Blind Faith record, for real.

Quit screwing around, make a real rock record for your fans, c’mon. Ginger Baker’s still around, you know? And they’re playing, they’re at the top of their game. I’m like, quit singing these cover songs, baby, let’s make some rock here! I think Eric’s ready. I didn’t get to see him after the show, because I had to take off, but it hit me like a brick, I’m like, “s—, I’ll help produce it, let’s go!” Get writing, man!

They’re probably like “well, there’s no market for it.” My son, who’s only 15 and an avid musician and drummer, great drummer, he’s way into the old-school stuff. He says to me “you know, Dad, they probably don’t even think it would be cool to do a record, but they should do a record.” So here him and I were tripping on these three guys putting this band back together and trying something, what the hell? They make each other better.

And that’s kind of what we’re about, we’re like “hey, when we play together, we’re all better.” That’s why Neal wanted the band back, because he believed that Journey made him complete. He started this thing – he left Santana to start this thing, long before Steve Perry was even around. I’m really excited that we’re back in form and we’re playing like we’re playing.

Hearing you mention Springsteen, I wasn’t previously aware that you were a fan, but now that you mention it, I really can see that E. Street Band swagger in the way you play on stage.

[Laughs] Cool! Well yeah, Roy Bittan was one of my true inspirations, really coming from the piano side of things. The way he played was just so heartfelt. I never got to meet him, but I still enjoy listening to his work. He was truly genius and brought a lot to rock, for sure.

Kevin Shirley has been working with the band for over 15 years now. What was it that he brought to the table, starting with ‘Trial by Fire,’ that has made him such a key component of the recording process for Journey?

He’s been a fan, ultimately. He understands the sort of chemistry that it takes to make a record. I think he understands the fans. He reached out to the fans through his website, so he’s pretty with it. He’s done some interesting projects to stay current – he’s not just some old geezer living on his laurels. He’s doing [work with Joe] Bonamassa, the Black Crowes, Jimmy Page and all of that stuff.

It’s cool, he’s fairly musical. He’s a good ringmaster. We just bring in songs and throw ‘em at him. He gives us his two cents and we either listen to it, or we don’t! For the most part, he’s a man of his word. And this one, he kind of ran out of time and we got a little trigger-happy, I guess. It was supposed to be just half the album and then this thing took on a life of its own.

Neal and I started writing these songs during the weekends, so we just finished it. He ran out of time, so we took the album to Nashville and finished it on our own, so that’s why we’re listed as producers. We wanted to get this album out for the tour, we didn’t want to wait around. As you get on a flow, you get on a flow. I gotta tell you, he had more trepidation. He said that “oh, there was tension in the studio,” and I really feel that it was him that had the tension, him and Neal had this thing.

I think that his conscience was telling him that we weren’t giving the fans what they’re normally used to, so he wanted to go to the ballad side of things. But, we’d had this concept in mind from the get go. We’ve got the ballads we can play all day long. If people want to hear ballads, they can certainly find them on other records.

Well, you took care of my next question, because I wanted to talk about some of that tension.

Yeah, really it was him. He and I were fine, I think. I think Kevin was wrestling with the departure issue, you know, where’s the ‘Open Arms,’ where’s the ‘Faithfully,’ we don’t have one of those. And we said, “we don’t want one of those, we gotta play this stuff.” It’s already there, we have plenty of stuff like that to draw from. On ‘Revelation,’ we did ‘After All These Years,’ ‘Turn Down The World,’ we’ve got ‘When You Love A Woman’ [from 'Trial by Fire'] and the list goes on and on.

As far as the tour this summer with Foreigner and Night Ranger, what can we expect from a production standpoint?

It’s a really musical show. I think you’ve got two hall of fame bands there that really know how to bring it, an entertaining show. They’re awesome to watch, and the hits are relentless all night. So musically, if you love rock and roll, you’re going to get a treat, because you’ve got the amazing guitar abilities of Night Ranger and the way they do the dual guitar thing and then you’ve got the hits like ‘Sister Christian.’

Then you’ve got Foreigner, with the serious radio masterpieces and Kelly [Foreigner lead singer Kelly Hansen] can really bring it as well. The band is very competent and really strong. So it’s a night of hummers really, a night of melodic, powerful bands that know how to put on a good show. And the production looks great. Foreigner’s got their own video screen, they do a completely different trip than we do. Ours is this unique video look that we’ve created along with the lights, and I think it’s pretty fantastic looking. If you get a look at it on Youtube, there’s a ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ ‘clip that’s fairly decent from the Wembley show, you get an idea of what we’re doing.

With the popularity of full album performances, are there any albums that you’ve thought about revisiting and playing the whole thing?

Um, not really, I don’t think. We certainly could play ‘Escape.’ If we did an “evening with Journey,” probably it’s an idea. But when you’re playing 90 minutes, Neal is kind of restless when it comes to playing old stuff. I mean, we did our 30-year reunion tour, where we did part one and part two, [with] the early Journey stuff from when the band was just instrumental with Gregg Rolie, and then we went through ‘Departure,’ ‘Infinity’ and so forth.

And then we came back with another show after a half hour break of the new stuff, [and continued] from ‘Escape’ on. Certainly, it’s a way to go, but he’s definitely into playing the new material, he just doesn’t want to sit back and be a catalog band.

Like I said, he’s a restless soul. I don’t think he’d be able to deal with it maybe more than one or two nights. Then he’s going to want to play something new, because he gets bored of the old stuff. He feels like when you do that, you just look like a catalog band, that you don’t have anything else to say. He wants to move forward with the Journey thing and continue to architect some new thing.

Do you agree with that?

I’m fine with it. Whatever we want to do collectively together, whichever direction, whatever the fans want, we try to give [them]. Like you said earlier, they wanted a rock record, so here it is. Maybe we continue on this path another time if we get a chance to make another one, I don’t know. The only reason we got to make ‘Eclipse’ is because of the success of ‘Revelation.’ And when you sell 800,000 records, you certainly should make another one. [Laughs]

In answer to your question, maybe that would fly a couple of nights, but I can’t see Neal [going beyond that]. He’d go out of his mind if he had to do that. But there may be a tour where he wants to do that, and we play a different album in every city, that’s another idea. Play the ‘Escape’ album, the ‘Frontiers’ album could easily be done.

Arnel has this idea for ‘Arrival,’ he really wants to sing those songs. He feels that ‘Arrival’ just didn’t get the love that it should have gotten, maybe because it was CBS dropping the ball for us or something, I don’t know. That was an ill-fated album, but when Arnel listens to it, he’s like “I’d love to sing this stuff.”

So we’re looking at that – do we go back there and do that? I certainly have all of the tracks, I could simply just go “bang” and put out a new CD and see how that goes too, so that’s another idea that we’re looking at. But this year’s touring and next year’s touring – we have to get over to Australia, try to hook that up, back to Asia again, Japan and look at some other territories that we haven’t played yet. Eastern Bloc, possibly, I don’t know.

A lot of the other cities that we didn’t cover, we’re not going to cover this year. There’s many places that we didn’t get to. Really, it’s just two years of touring coming up, so that’s kind of what’s on the boards right now.

Anything else fans can look forward to?

I’m actually going to try to get a hold of Jimmy Barnes, my old friend, because I produced two albums in Australia for him. Plus, Neal, of course, was a part of the ‘Freight Train Heart’ album, he played all of the guitar on that album, actually. And interestingly enough, Mike Stone, the guy who produced Journey’s two biggest albums, finished that album for us.

We were thinking of trying to get him to tour with us next year. That’d be good, because I’m sure we’d get up on stage together and I’d just play ‘Working Class Man’ with him, which wouldn’t be bad.

 

Watch Journey perform ‘Don’t Stop Believin” at Wembley Arena

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