Power-bal­lad kings Jour­ney at Rogers

Cal­i­for­nia rock­ers won’t stop be­lievin’ in their time­less, crowd-pleas­ing hits

The Province - - ENTERTAINMENT - SHAWN CON­NER

Af­ter play­ing with var­i­ous mu­si­cians, Bay Area gui­tarist Neal Schon formed Jour­ney in 1973. The band soon be­came a sta­ple on FM rock ra­dio, a sta­tus that cul­mi­nated with the nine-times-plat­inum suc­cess of the 1981 al­bum Es­cape (Don’t Stop Be­lievin’, Open Arms, Who’s Cry­ing Now). Forty-three years af­ter re­leas­ing its first al­bum, Jour­ney is on a 60-city arena tour with British hard-rock­ers Def Lep­pard. We talked to Schon about the ori­gins of the power bal­lad, weath­er­ing grunge, and li­cens­ing his mu­sic.

Q

Jour­ney is known pri­mar­ily as a power-bal­lad band. What are the ori­gins of the genre?

A

There were a few things, but not a whole lot. I think we kind of in­vented what we did — it was a soar­ing bal­lad, re­ally gutsy, not wimpy — songs like Still They Ride and Mother, Fa­ther. I al­ways loved this one song by (’70s Long Is­land band) Moun­tain, Theme for an Imag­i­nary Western. I heard it on Wood­stock (it ap­peared on the Wood­stock 2 al­bum) and I was just cap­ti­vated by the power in Les­lie West’s singing gui­tar, the vi­brato. They were throw­ing it down. I al­ways loved that song and the con­cept of heavy, pow­er­ful, slow gui­tar.

Q

The ad­vent of grunge side­lined a lot of mu­sic that had been pop­u­lar in the ’80s. How did that af­fect you?

A

Uhm … It was a strange pe­riod for mu­sic. It took me awhile to warm up to it. I un­der­stood what it was about af­ter I lis­tened more. It was about a lot of pain and anger. When the first Pearl Jam record came out, I was in the stu­dio fin­ish­ing the first Hard­line record. (Hard­line was a hard-rock band formed in 1991, their de­but Dou­ble Eclipse was re­leased in 1992.) A (tal­ent scout) friend brought it in and played me a track and it sounded phe­nom­e­nal. I thought our record sounded very good, too, at that point. The record com­pany was re­ally ex­cited about our record. And then, that era of mu­sic came in and took over, and any­thing that sounded re­motely like pop-rock or even heav­ier rock was just side­lined. I think, if any­thing, that record (Hard­line’s Dou­ble Eclipse) suf­fered.

Jour­ney never re­ally suf­fered, even when we weren’t to­gether. We put some­thing so uniquely spe­cial to­gether. Even though we didn’t play the world like we should’ve, I felt, it was em­bed­ded in rock and never went away. Every­body knows that Don’t Stop Be­lievin’ is way up there, if not the most down­loaded song, but I didn’t know un­til I looked at the sta­tis­tics that Any Way You Want (from 1980’s De­par­ture al­bum) is right be­hind it. And the song Lights (off 1978’s In­fin­ity) that I wrote with (for­mer Jour­ney vo­cal­ist) Steve Perry has be­come the an­them. When we play that song, wher­ever we play is lit up. Every­body in the place sings it. You can barely hear the band. That is the bona fide hit in this day and age, even though it just made it into the Top 40 when it first came out.

Q

The use of Don’t Stop Be­lievin’ at the end of the fi­nal episode of The So­pra­nos is one of the best-known in­stances of mu­sic place­ment. What is your phi­los­o­phy on li­cens­ing your songs?

A

We’ve al­ways been par­tic­u­lar about stuff. We’ve agreed all the way across-the-board about not do­ing things like fast-food com­mer­cials, tacky stuff — stuff that we’d hear later and go, “Man, I wish we didn’t do that.” And there was a lot of money that was of­fered.

Q

What can you say about your tour-mates, Def Lep­pard?

A

They’re re­ally great guys, they’re nice guys to tour with. They’re top-notch as far as putting on a great show and giv­ing peo­ple their money’s worth. They sound very good — a lit­tle too loud for me. I walked (into the arena) one night dur­ing their set, and I took a dB me­ter, and stood some­where around the mid­dle, and it started at a 111 and went to 122. Our mu­sic doesn’t sound good that loud. We sound bet­ter in a sym­phonic type of way.

— BRYAN SCHLOSSER FILES

Gui­tarist Neal Schon formed the rock band Jour­ney in 1973 and helped put the power bal­lad on the mu­si­cal map.

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