Friday, August 7, 2009
McKinneyNews.net interviews Jonathan Cain of Journey
Cain and the rest of Journey will be playing a sold-out show at WinStar World Casino Friday, August 7.
He’s probably one of the most successful songwriters you’ve never heard of. Or to put it another way, in a world where money talks, he’s the guy you’ve never heard of who quietly strolls into his bank each week to deposit the mega royalty checks surely still pouring in from the days when his talent for melody-making and lyric writing knew no bounds.
Some 25 years after its heyday, Cain’s band has managed to move its collective product into the visceral regions of the American psychic landscape, burrowing deeply into the collective consciousness of four decades worth of fans with a beguiling combination of irresistible keyboard-driven melodic lines accented by an oftentimes ferocious, rock-blues guitar attack.
Speak of the songs Cain either outright authored or helped author – "Don’t Stop Believin'," "Faithfully," "Open Arms," to name just a few -- and once dim eyes widen with recognition. Then the smiles come.
Indeed, Jonathan Cain is a member of Journey, a band whose roots can be traced to the San Francisco Bay Area of the early 1970s.
McKinneyNews.net caught up with Cain for a telephone interview Thursday afternoon. The effusive and plainspoken Cain, resting in Dallas before Friday’s (sold out) show at WinStar World Casino, was more than willing to share his memories of a very talented and evolving band -- Cain didn’t join the outfit until 1980 -- on the brink of superstardom.
From the inception of his ascension to rhythm guitar, keyboard, and songwriting duties for Journey, Cain says he knew he had found that one-in-a-million opportunity, an opportunity that blossomed into one of the most prodigiously fruitful three-way musical partnerships of the modern rock era. To date, the band has moved more than 80 million units worldwide.
McKinneyNews.net: The first album you appeared on was Escape (1981). That album went on to sell more than nine million copies. Before Escape, Journey had been selling anywhere between one to three million units per album. Is it a coincidence that you showed up and album sales skyrocketed?
Cain: I was in The Babys before Journey. We opened up for Journey just before I was hired and I used to watch them from the sidelines. I watched them play. I saw the talent that was there. When I came aboard, I was able to help put the pieces more solidly together. The elements and the personalities -- I think I sort of greased it and everything flowed better. There was this sort of swagger that they had and I loved it. When I joined, I immediately tailored my lyrics to Steve [Perry], so Steve could be comfortable with a soulful delivery of the music. He needed the lyrics to be authentic, to feel authentic and so I catered to that need. The two of us in that band [Cain and Perry], we had similar record heroes, similar influences – stuff like Three Dog Night, or The Hollies, or the Eagles. We liked the same music and were going for that same melodic presentation.
McKinneyNews.net: You and Steve Perry penned many of the famous songs. What was that relationship like?
Cain: We liked writing hit records. He said to me that he got a genuine high hearing his voice on the radio. Our goal was getting our music on the radio and to the people. We wanted it played over and over again. There’s nothing more intoxicating. Radio really was king back then. When we wrote singles, we tried to construct songs that would last. Steve’s voice was in its prime. I was sort of the middle man, the guy who would take Neal’s [Neal Schon – guitarist] rock-n-roll ideas – I would sift through Neal’s ideas and present them to Steve in a more nuanced way. Neal had a lot of melody in his head – unstructured melody ideas. [Neal and Steve] were on the same page a lot of the time, but I think there was some stuff that wasn’t totally getting translated. Neal had more progressive stuff that he wanted to do that Steve probably didn’t know what to do with. I made suggestions that helped things click. It’s funny. I was hired to bring an edge to the band, but ironically I brought the love songs. But one of Steve’s main things was to sing more ballads. He loves singing ballads. Bringing me into the band sort of turbo-charged things. It added another element, another musical mind. I think I enhanced the band, made it deeper.
McKinneyNews.net: I remember hearing "Open Arms" on the radio. That song really seemed to propel Journey into the radio stratosphere. Every thirty minutes somebody was playing it.
Cain: I had the melody and chorus to "Open Arms" finished before I joined the band. It needed lyrics for the verses. I took it to Steve’s house and Steve listened to it and we finished it that day. I had to transpose the song about four steps up. Steve brought "Who’s Crying Now" – that was his idea – over to my house. We wrote that in an afternoon. There was sort of this chemistry that clicked. I had no idea that I would be clicking with Steve and Neal like I was. This wasn’t an accident. You wait a whole lifetime for something like that. Playing in Journey for me was like flying with the Blue Angels. There was a lot of trust. Neal trusted me with his stuff. Steve trusted me with his stuff. And I trusted them. They gave me confidence. I learned to find that swagger which I still walk with because of the caliber of talent that was already in place when I joined the band.
McKinneyNews.net: Many, if not most, of the songwriting credits are attributed to either you and Steve Perry or you and Perry and Schon. Was it pretty much an equal songwriting partnership or did any one of you provide the lion’s share of ideas?
Cain: I don’t think you can quantify songwriting contributions. "Don’t Stop Believin'" – I brought in the title and the end piece and certainly the lyrics. I did a lot but it wasn’t without sitting there with Steve. We wrote together. There was a lot of arranging we did together. Neal brought the fire and the rock-n-roll attitude you want to have in a rock-n-roll band. Without the three of us, it just wasn’t Journey. "Stone In Love" was Neal’s idea. He had a different chorus pinned on it and Steve and I couldn’t find anything – a melody – to sing over it. So we changed it. Neal was miffed. But then after he heard it he decided it was cool. The writing was like that. You’ve got to be able to listen to others’ input and give some things up. But then again, there are times when you’ve got to stick up for your own ideas.
McKinneyNews.net: What about "Faithfully?" That was your song, right?
Cain: Yeah. It was a road song I wrote in Saratoga Springs, New York. That one began on the tour bus on a napkin. I took it to the hotel room and finished it up the next morning. I had this cheap Casio keyboard in the room and plunked around on it. I took it to sound check and thought it was a pretty good song. We – the crew and everybody, there was something like 70 of us on tour – we were all missing our families and I wrote it for everybody. I recorded a demo and played it for Steve and he wanted it for his solo record. I told him the song was about me and Journey, not about his solo record. Later, when we were recording Frontiers, the producer asked me if I had a ballad and I pulled out this song. And Steve was like, “Oh, that song.” Steve put his brand of special magic on it. We did three takes. We never even rehearsed the darn thing. It took about 40 minutes to write, honest to God. Not many of them came that easily. It’s funny. You got to live your life and feel the feelings and identify them. If you can do that, it just flows.
McKinneyNews.net: So you guys have a new singer, Arnel Pineda. He sounds an awful lot like Perry.
Cain: I don’t think he sounds like Steve. I think he’s got a different, more husky tenor than Steve Perry. And we dig it. He’s got a little bit more of rock edge to his sound, a little bit more brassy. When you have a catalogue like ours, you’re gonna be looking for someone who can pull off the material. I don’t think he sounds that much like Steve Perry. He does his own take on Steve Perry. Tenors singing in that register are going to give you that sound. We wanted somebody who is his own self. There are plenty singers out there that are true Steve Perry clones. They look like Steve, they move like Steve; they’re in Journey tribute bands. What we do is very tricky. Our vocalist has got to rock and croon and Arnel can do both. Things on the new album Steve Perry wouldn’t touch. Arnel’s not a clone. He’s Filipino. He comes from the street. He was homeless. He’s a 100 percent authentic dude. That’s what we were looking for.
McKinneyNews.net: I thought Journey was done after Raised on Radio was released in 1986. The band went on hiatus, Steve Perry dropped out, etc. Then all of the sudden there’s a new singer and a relatively new album (Revelation, 2008) that has sold more than two million copies -- all this without the benefit of radio saturation. What do you make of that?
Cain: We’re like The Little Engine That Could. "Don’t Stop Believin'" kept surfacing in various movies – the White Sox started using it as their anthem. Then there was "Faithfully," with several artists recording that – Faith Hill was one. Then there was the final episode of The Sopranos. The director or writer wrote the final episode around "Don’t Stop Believin'." The songs have lasted somehow. We left sort of an imprint. The songs are bigger than we are. When Neal thought to resurrect the band in 1995, it was a big gamble, but it’s paid off. Now that we’ve plugged Arnel into the band, I think we have all the pieces to make great music and play great concerts for the next decade.
McKinneyNews.net: I have to ask. What about Steve Perry? Will Steve ever be part of the band again?
Cain: I think Steve kind of closed the door. We have an open door policy. If he wants to come around and sing I’m sure Arnel will be the first to tell you he will share the stage with Steve Perry. But Steve’s kind of moved on. He’s got his own life.
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