2012 starts off with three new interviews with Steve, he talked to New York magazine, Vulture, about ‘Don’t Stop Believin” and told Billboard why he won’t stop recording but may not tour. Steve also did a radio interview with 850 KOA.
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Steve Perry Won’t Stop Recording, but Touring Is Another Story
Steve Perry knows “it’s been a long time, for sure” — since 1998, actually — since the world’s heard any new music from the former Journey frontman.
But after “navigating” Journey’s new “Greatest Hits Vol. 2″ and a vinyl reissue of his 1984 solo album “Street Talk,” Perry tells Billboard.com he’s planning to get to work in earnest in a studio he’s just finishing in his southern California home just north of San Diego, which he says will have a control room and “a tracking room about the size of Motown.”
“I’m finishing that room up and I’ve written a whole bunch of ideas and directions, all over the map, in the last two, three years,” says Perry, who was with Journey from 1977-98. “So I plan on getting in the studio at some point and start trying to track these things and see where they go.”
There’s no formal timetable, however. “I don’t want it to have pressure,” Perry explains, “because I’ll worry about it sucking, and then what am I gonna do? I’ve got all this pressure… that I just don’t want on me, so I’ve allowed myself the ability to sketch and write as I go, and I’ll do it at my own pace.”
Perry adds that he’d also “love to” play live again but adds that, at 62, “I’m no spring chicken. The same arthritis that ate up my left hip that finally got replaced hasn’t stopped there… And touring is a lot of work. I’m impressed when I see people like Eric Clapton out there. Gee whiz, Eric, give me a break! It’s amazing. I know it’s gotta hurt somewhere.”
While the new music is in idea form, Perry happily traipsed through the past with the reissues. He says working on the Journey hits set — a 17-song sequel to the 1988 “Greatest Hits” that’s sold more than 25 million copies worldwide — “was one of the most wonderful and emotional experiences I think I’ve had thus far, probably more emotional than putting together the original ‘Greatest Hits.’ At the time we threw that ‘Greatest Hits’ together because it was kind of like a given, but then to be able to see all the other great song and pick them and really listen to them a lot…and as a result of that realize what a great band we were, I just think the older I get the more I’m able to look back at the forest now, because I’ve certainly walked out of the trees.”
Perry says his relationship with Journey these days is “civil through channels. We really don’t have a lot to say to each other at this point. We have certainly for years now gone our separate ways and we’re all living different lives. They’ve got their singer and they’re working and they’re happy and everybody’s fine.”
Would he consider a one-off reunion for something like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? “I don’t know,” Perry says. “I’m not a big fan of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s just a personal thing, not an ego thing. I think that, honestly, Journey doesn’t need to be in the Hall of Fame. With everything we accomplished…we’ve had our Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you know? It’s in the hearts of the people out there and their experiences and their memories of what we did together and how we all had the time of our lives with the music that we loved to perform and they loved to hear. I really don’t want someone to qualify it any more than that.”
Also don’t expect to see Perry visit “American Idol,” despite judge and onetime Journey bassist Randy Jackson’s many invitations. “I have simply said that there’s just a side of me that could not judge anybody singing,” Perry explains. “It’s not who I am. I don’t want to be that person.”
Meanwhile, Perry remains “truly stunned and grateful and amazed” at the enduring success of 1981′s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” — and reveals that he nearly kept the song from its iconic use in the 2007 series finale of “The Sopranos.”
“Jon (Cain) and Neal (Schon), the other writers, had approved whatever they wanted to do, but I said, ‘Well, I do care, and I want to know how it’s used.’ If somebody got whacked, I didn’t want to do that with that song, ” Perry recalls. The show’s producers initially refused to tell him, but three days before it aired they relented, swearing the singer to secrecy — though they didn’t tell him about the famous cut to a silent black screen.
“They did tell me nobody was getting whacked, so I said yes,” Perry says. “The cool thing to me is that Tony Soprano digs Journey. He thumbs through Heart and Tony Bennett…and you assume it’s gotta be Tony Bennett. Then all of a sudden Journey starts, and that was very cool.”
What Is the Great Mistake Lurking in ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’?
Ever since 1998, when The Wedding Singer first resurrected Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”, the 1981 arena-rock anthem has achieved pop-culture permanence, whether soundtracking The Sopranos final scene, becoming synonymous with Glee, scoring a thousand flash mobs, or being piped into every professional sports arena in the land. With nearly 4.5 million digital units sold, it’s the most downloaded twentieth-century track in the history of counting such things. Jonathan Cain’s unmistakable opening piano riff reflexively inspires people all across this nation to pump their fists … although there is one spot where the arms always collectively falter, even if for just a moment:
Southeastern Michigan. For nearly 31 years, this flash of distracting cognitive dissonance has struck each time Steve Perry’s bright tenor lands on the iconic but geographically flawed second line: “just a city boy, born and raised in South Detroit.” Because, as anyone with a tie to the Motor City knows, South Detroit doesn’t exist, either as a term of art or a geographical locale.
East Side? Sure. It’s where Eminen spent his adolescence. West?* Home to the original Motown Records. Southwest? Best Mexican food in the state. But South Detroit is as fictional as the Shire of Middle-earth.
Yes, Detroit does have a southernmost portion, but this area is known as “downtown.” Directly south of downtown, across the Detroit River, is the Canadian hamlet of Windsor. South of that lies a vast stretch of towns known collectively as “Downriver,” which, at the time the song was written, was still somewhat rural. Technically speaking, this is the region the song refers to, making that mysterious male on the midnight train to anywhere* something less than a “city boy.”
For three decades, this has stymied the Motor City adjacent, whose confusion is now a multigenerational phenomenon, one that strikes at the very heart of a city’s identity. Why the fictional neighborhood? And, on further thought, why did a bunch of Bay Area rockers with no ties to Detroit choose it as the fulcrum point for a ballad of hope and perseverance in the first place? This is how rabbit holes are dug. So to finally free Michiganders from these nagging questions that stop them from fully embracing what is our new unofficial national anthem, Vulture decided to solve the mystery by going to Steve Perry himself.
Reached in San Diego, the former Journey front man explained that some of the enduring song’s unique imagery came to him in the witching hour one morning in May of 1980 while the band was in Detroit for a five-night stand as part of the Departure tour. Perry, unable to sleep, stood staring out of his hotel room window at 2 a.m. “I was digging the idea of how the lights were facing down, so that you couldn’t see anything,” he says, recalling the night. “All of a sudden I’d see people walking out of the dark, and into the light. And the term ‘streelight people’ came to me. So Detroit was very much in my consciousness when we started writing.”
Yes, but what about South Detroit? For the love of Tim Allen, what about South Detroit? To that, Perry pleads poetic license, and ignorance, despite the fact that a quick glance at a map would have alerted him to the issue. “I ran the phonetics of east, west, and north, but nothing sounded as good or emotionally true to me as South Detroit,” he says. “The syntax just sounded right. I fell in love with the line. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve learned that there is no South Detroit. But it doesn’t matter.”
If the frequency of pop-cultural recycling and the number of digital downloads are an accurate gauge, Perry is right, the flummoxing of an entire metropolitan notwithstanding. In fact, the song will likely continue to go on and on and on and on …