How Journey’s Arnel Pineda Fixed His Vocal Woes
Journey are in the homestretch of their current tour, which wraps up this week. The trek, which includes Toto, has been “nonstop,” drummer Deen Castronovo tells UCR. But with the July 8 release of their 15th album, Freedom, the roadwork will pick up again and continue through 2022 and beyond.
The drummer says they’re ready for the challenge, especially and notably, singer Arnel Pineda, who's been showing increasing signs over the past year that the band’s classic catalog was starting to take its toll. But fans who've seen the band on their new Freedom tour have witnessed a revitalized Pineda at the mic.
A soundman change and help from a vocal coach has made a huge difference, says Castronovo. “He’s soaring every night,” the drummer notes, adding that Pineda went to a "totally different place" with his voice on the band's upcoming album.
It's been a real revelation watching Arnel Pineda on this tour. It seems like things have turned around.
He’s been struggling, and we brought a vocal coach out who is fantastic. He came out and was coaching Arnel with how to deliver a little bit differently. A lot of it was mental as well as physical, but once we got [a new] soundman and once things got turned down and he was able to hear, [everything was different]. To think that he’s been struggling with this for 14 years, he said. I had no idea. I think it was something that he didn’t know if he had the liberty to say, “Hey, I need to fix this” or “You guys need to try something different here,” either get a new soundman or whatever. But once we got this guy, Tom, everything changed. He’s a different guy. [Pineda’s] a different guy. Oh, my God, it blew us away. I think it’s been 15 shows since that [change], and every night, he sounds amazing.
Before, he was always trying his best and he would get there, but it was just him not being able to hear. Once they got that fixed, you can see the weight lifted off the kid. He’s just happy again. He and I are goofing around onstage, probably more than we should. [Laughs] We were goofing off all night because it’s just like a weight has been lifted. To have that kind of pressure stuck on you and not knowing what to do, it’s like, “How come I can’t do this?” That’s what it took.
The difference between last year's performance and some of the gigs from this year is striking.
I’ve got to give credit to Dave Stroud, the vocal coach. He helped him a lot. It wasn’t just trying to get him to sing better or any of that, it was a lot of mental [thoughts]. Because I’m sure if you’re struggling, you’re going, “Why is this happening?” He had to get out of his head. Dave has worked with everybody. He was recommended by Randy Jackson. That helped a ton. Getting him out of his head and going, “Try this.” But once the soundman came, you put both of those elements together - David’s teaching and being able to hear - he’s soaring. He’s soaring every night.
It's something hearing Narada Michael Walden and Neal Schon play together on this new album.
His drum parts on the record are perfect and they’re amazing. He brings that swing. There was this one song, “After Glow.” Neal was like, “Dude, I want you to sing on it.” He wanted me to do backgrounds. So I did the backgrounds. Then, he goes, “Why don’t you try and put a lead vocal on this?” It’s like, “Oh, boy, OK.” I’d never heard the song and didn’t know anything about it. But I went in there and we did a Zoom. He walked me through the entire song, him and Narada. I did it, and I was like, “Oh, my gosh.” It actually came out really good. Do you have the record? Have you heard it?
It’s pretty cool stuff! But I hadn’t heard it! I only heard that one song. I finally got the record about a month ago. So I’m still listening to it. We’re doing “You Got the Best of Me” now live. I had to learn that, and I’m listening to Narada’s parts and I’m like, “Oh, my gosh.” It’s not just straight ahead. He’s doing some different tom parts in the verses, so I had to try and cop his stuff. But I’m going to have to do the same thing that I did with [Steve] Smith when I first joined Journey. I’m going to have to go to his house and go, “Show me what you’re doing here!” There’s some stuff [on the album] that I’m like, “What’s he doing?” I know it’s amazing, but I’m not catching it with my puny little mind. It’s one of those things that I’ll just go back and woodshed with him, which will be really cool.
Listen to Journey's 'You Got the Best of Me'
Jonathan Cain told us earlier this year that the band steps "out a little bit" on the new album. You can hear that.
I agree. I love this stuff. It’s definitely not your typical Journey [music] or Escape, Frontiers or even Revelation. Arnel’s vocals on this ... . There are songs on there, I was listening and going, “Who is that singing?” I really did. I forget what the song was, but [I thought] that doesn’t even sound like Arnel, because he took it to a totally different place. I never knew that he could sing like that. He had that really bluesy, thick and syrupy blues thing. He’s really come into his own. It sounds amazing. He’s definitely not the Steve Perry clone. He’s made this stuff his own.
How did Narada Michael Walden help when it came to working on the song you sang on the album?
He’s so meticulous. But he’s got a sweet spirit about him. Another great big old soul and a teddy bear. For me, I’ve never sang [that kind of vocal]. It was kind of gospel-sounding with the backgrounds. I had to layer all of those backgrounds. I would do part by part. We did a couple of lows, a couple of mids and then a couple of the highs to thicken it up. But I’d never done it [like that] before. The lead vocal, I was like, “OK, what am I going to do here?” Obviously, I can’t get away from Steve Perry. He’s my biggest influence vocally. My inflections, obviously, it’s going to be him. I just robbed him blind. [Laughs] I don’t have my own style per se. Narada helped me with that and guided me through that. That was a huge thing. Because you know, he’s [worked with] Aretha Franklin. I mean, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston - those are real singers. It was daunting, but he was so good to me and they worked through it with me, and it was great. It just came out great.