While many classic rock bands have slowed down or focused on the past, that's not the case for Journey, perhaps one of the biggest melodic/AOR (album-oriented rock) acts to emerge from the '80s. Three and a half decades after originally forming the group in the latter part of 1973, founding guitarist Neal Schon breaks ground with the now iconic act.
Probably the biggest news within the Journey camp since the band last played Tulsa was the departure of Steve Augeri, who had replace Steve Perry in 1998, due to a throat infection. When replacement singer Jeff Scott Soto did not work out on a permanent basis, the group was left without a singer until Schon found Filipino singer Arnel Pineda via YouTube. After flying the young frontman to the U.S. for an audition, it took only a few songs before it was clear that they had found the right man for the job.
The group released its 14th studio album in 2008 and returned to platinum sales status with a new singer, record label and distribution deal with an innovative package that allowed the group to introduce singer Arnel Pineda to the fold without alienating its older fanbase as well.
According to Schon, "The label and management came to us and said Wal-Mart wants you to redo your hits, which struck me as a little weird. It just didn't sit well. I'm not afraid to do it, because we've been playing those songs for years, but I was skeptical and more into the new stuff, so I pushed for a full length record."
In the end, Journey emerged with Revelation, which turned into a three disc package: one CD with 11 new tracks, a second CD with re-recordings of 11 classic songs and a live DVD recorded in Las Vegas at the Theater for the Performing Arts.
It ultimately proved to be a savvy move, as the group was able to release its new material and show that Pineda is a more than competent replacement for Augeri, sounding perhaps even more like Perry than his predecessor. It's a template which will be followed by Foreigner with a similar package to be released in Wal-Mart stores before the end of the year.
When discussing the record's success and how it was released, Schon said, "Anymore, the music industry is in a slump, so when you have any kind of success everyone really takes notice. At first, when management brought us the Wal-Mart deal, I thought it was odd, but then I looked around. Those types of stores... the Wal-Marts and Targets and Best Buys... those are the stores people buy CDs and DVDs in now."
When looking back and discussing the group's 2003 independent release Red 13, Schon said, "We had just decided not to re-sign with Sony, because they brought us a ridiculous deal. It was terrible. So we made that record up on the spot and it was really an experiment to see how you can market yourself. I found you can't just buy TV time on certain networks and shows. All the major companies buy it all up, and then if they decide they'll sell any of it to you, they mark it up even more. Now I see the bigger, real picture of what you're trying to do with a management or marketing team.
"The whole Wal-Mart thing was something that management pulled off, not us. Irving Azoff was the one who struck that deal for us," he said.
"We were able to survive because we built our audience from way back and continued to play live," Schon said on the band's ongoing popularity and success. "People always want to come out and see live music.
Even in these rough economic times, especially then, people want some relief, they want to be entertained. They like to see good music or go to a good movie. A lot of other things go down, but people still want to be entertained."
A year after the release of Revelation, Journey continues to tour and work on the record. Radio continues to tap the album for new singles and the band just recently returned from a month of dates in Europe which included an appearance at the Donnington Festival, amongst others, where Journey shared the stage with bands as diverse as Marilyn Manson, Evanescence and Slipknot.
"We did really well in Europe," Schon said. "We finally cracked that market. It was our third time over there and we got our best response yet."
The band is back on the road in the U.S., touring through October before returning to the studio in November to record a new disc planned for an early 2010 release. When discussing the writing process and what to expect from the next album, Schon said, "That's not planned out and that's the beauty of it. I haven't gotten into the bulk of the writing, but I've got a Line 6 box with a drum loop on it, so I've been putting together grooves - mostly stuff that's up tempo and rocking. I want to write more upbeat, party stuff this time and I'll do my best to make sure it's rockin'.
"I want to go in a new area and when we get in creative mode and not in radio mode, that's when it gets fun. I just feel like why should we keep writing the same thing? We'll always have a couple ballads, because there are people who want it all, but that's why we move stuff from night to night in the live show."
Besides plans for a new CD, Schon also revealed that the band has a live DVD in the plan, which may be released before Christmas. "It was shot in Manila, which was Arnel's homecoming show. It's a three hour show and it's a tremendous piece. It was blistering hot, but it looks amazing and was shot in 4x HD."
The band is also the subject of a movie focusing on Pineda and his transition with the group. According to Schon, the director took an interest in Arnel's story and was shooting for nearly two years. The project is currently being edited and shopped to HBO.
Even with all the outside projects, Journey still excels in the live arena and continues to build its audience, drawing fans from multiple generations. "I'm trying to get the guys to learn more of the obscure stuff. Arnel has a knack for the heavier stuff and sings it really well. Honestly, though, when we get to play two hours or more, we get to play more and pull some of that stuff out. When we only have an hour and a half, it's harder because people want to hear the hits. I understand that," said Schon.
You can expect to hear most of Journey's biggest and a few new ones when Journey's Revelation Tour stops at BOK Center Wednesday night, Aug. 5. Tickets are still available, ranging from $29.50 to $79.50, with Night Ranger opening the show at 7:30pm.
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