- Interviews
Neal Schon

Neal, how are you man?
I'm fine how are you

Fantastic thanks. Its great to talk to you finally!

How's the tour going?
The tours going great, we had our first show in Marin County - a little dress rehearsal. It went really great, and people were really raving about it.
And tonight we start our first show here in Tokyo.

First show tonight is it?

You must be really buzzed then?!!
We are really excited about it, and we got so much great feedback from the first show, that now I am not so much worried about it.

I got some great responses myself.
So it has been 10 years off the road. Suddenly you have a new singer out front. What is it like?

It's a little like we are reborn again. The guy that we got, we couldn't have got a better replacement. Actually because we have so much old material that we need to play, that the fans want to hear, otherwise I don't see the purpose of going out and doing Journey.
Our 'Greatest Hits' is probably the biggest record we ever had. And it continues to sell and be played on the radio. That's what fans want to hear, so it was very important to find someone that could cover the older stuff and do it very well, and Steve Augeri definitely is that.
Then besides that he is very much of a chameleon in that a lot of the new material that we are writing, he is able to take us some new places that we weren't able to go before, which is a fresh new outlook on where the band can go.
He is more of a rocker I think.

I have had amazing feedback on the whole Journey thing, and I think people want to hear the band rock again.

Well that's where we are going. That's what I have been writing, sort of where I have wanted to go. Even on our last record, the Trial By Fire record, a lot of the rock stuff just got shelved and ended up being like 20 ballads, I don't know how many ballads.

Too many!
It was sort of a snooze for me.

I said to Jonathan though, on the tracks where you did get to shine, there was a lot of guitar on those.

Just not enough of them?
Yeah, on the tracks that I got to do something on, I tried to stretch it out a little bit, but still, I don't know, for a record I would prefer that if you have 10 songs on a record, I would prefer to have 8 rockers and 2 ballads.
Because we have so many ballads from our other repertoire, the other records, we have to play those songs anyway in the set.
I can't see writing a bunch of brand new ballads, so that your whole set is going to be full of ballads. Right now we have a pretty cool set that w come out rocking, and rock for 4 or 5 songs, and then we do a ballad thing in the center, then we rock out all the way through the end.
So it is pretty cool. And when we can mix in more of this new stuff we have right here it is going to be exactly what we need.

Can't wait to hear it. I have heard the new track - it's a great song.
Yeah, we like the new song. All the rest of them that we worked on at the same time are as good as that or even better, so I am excited about it.

If I can I take you back a little bit…You have had a 10 year break almost and you get it together for Trial By Fire, was the excitement there at the start, did you think this could be great?
Well, we all thought the whole purpose of doing a new record was so that we could go out and play again. And when it didn't happen, pretty much all of us were dumbfounded.
You know, why did we do a record, if we weren't going to go out and play live?
You know what I am saying?
Steve Perry decided…If he had of decided up front…well it was kind of hard to know that he was going to get these problems with his hips and everything.

That was only half the problem though, wasn't it?
Yeah. But it didn't happen and we waited around to see if he was going to get hip surgery and all that and that didn't happen, so we just decided, you know what - we want to go out.
It was time just to move on.
We are very happy that now we have come to an agreement with him that we are able to do this now.

Now this was long and complicated and difficult wasn't it?
Well, I think anything in big business is. You look at the business aspect of it, and there is a lot of things that remain that will never change - the whole catalogue.
There is a lot of loose ends that have to be tightened up so that you can create a new ground to walk on.
And yeah, I wish it had of gone faster, because we were all chomping at the bit to go, and it seemed to be moving like a snail. But now it is done and we're here and you know, we start playing tonight!

There has been a lot of stories and hearsay, so maybe I can throw a few of these at you to clear up for us.
Did Steve Perry just want to be a studio band?

I don't know what he had in mind, but it wasn't what I had in mind. You know!
I really don't know. I was confused at the end of it - at the end of Trial by Fire.

Were there problems during the creation of TBF?
Not really, it was relatively painless. The band went in and cut seventeen songs in two weeks! We were done with all the tracking and then Steve started singing, and the rest of the time spent in there was for string parts and vocals.

At what point did you loose some of your guitar tracks?
All the songs had to run by our A&R guy at Sony, John Kalodner, and the rest of the company and you know, I think Steve Perry is more prone to sing ballads than rock n roll, more the R&B influence in there.
So a lot of the rock stuff that I had written was a lot harder and he's never been able to rock into that as well as some of the other people I have worked with.
So it wasn't a natural thing, and the stuff is still sitting there on the shelf and I have been throwing them at Steve Augeri, and he just jumps right on it!
I have an abundance of material that is just sitting there and a lot of it is very very strong. So I am very happy, I am not searching for ideas.
It's like a brand new start and everyone is really happy about it, and the coolest thing is that everybody gets along really easily now.
Back to a democratic type situation. We are a team. The whole band is a team and there is not one person trying to run the whole thing.

How about the story that Steve Perry would record the new album, and Augeri tour with it?
No, that was something that was talked about and I couldn't really see the purpose in that.
You know, in the end.

So that was debated though?

So now Steve has made a clean break with the band? He has signed away the name?

I guess that's the way it has to be?

Yeah, the way it has to be. We all put a lot of time and effort into this band and I spent half my life building this band.
I started this band way back in '76, and we were together 5 years before Steve Perry even joined.
So I really felt like the name was mine, even though he helped build the name to what it became. I felt that since I started it, it was my name.

I guess he has been an interesting guy to work with?
Yeah, well people change. Things happen.
I have been divorced three times now, nothing ever stays the same. Nothing is a shock to me. You have to move on and pick up the pieces and put it back together and I'm happy with it.

Can you explain why the lack of information available on the band over the last 6 months or so? Was that a management thing?
Well you know, all this stuff has been going on while we have been trying to settle stuff with Perry. It is very difficult if you start talking to people and you say something that someone doesn't like, then it is going to take an extra 2 months to get them to agree on something else.
It's just a touchy situation.

So you had to do blackout then?
You know where I am at with it, is that I am happy where I am at right now, I hope he is happy where he is at now. Everybody in this band is just really happy right now. I don't want to fling mud, I don't want to do anything like that. I saw this whole situation develop with Van Halen. It just becomes stupid and ugly.
In the end fans don't even care about it. They like going 'shut up already', just get on with it.
I sort of feel like, if I haven't got anything good to say I'm just not going to say anything at all.

Didn't Steve Perry bring Irving Azoff to you?
Right, Herbie Herbert had retired as a manager and has his own record label on the internet. He has his hands full so Irving was brought in, and he is still managing us now.

Are you happy with that, because it was a hell of a job getting info out of them!
I am, I like Irving a lot.
He definitely knows what he is doing. He's got the track record and he has been really good for us.

That's fair enough.
Tell me how many people and who you auditioned for the new singer position?

There were only really 2 that we had checked out.
We had played with Kevin Chalfant a long long time ago, and we kind of felt that since Kevin had done The Storm thing, that it wasn't the right thing to do.
We felt that The Storm was a mini Journey band.

Well it was close, with Gregg Rolie and Ross Valory there…
Yeah, and it had Smith at one point and then he quit. I just felt like I wanted to start on fresh grounds. When we met Steve Augeri, he was from Brooklyn New York, I am from the East Coast, and he is Italian. So now we have three of us in the band which is real great!
He just had the right personality, he looks really good on stage, he has his own little vibe. He is not pretentious, he is not a poser type of singer. He just gets up there and does his thing and he really pulls it off.
He is a super guy. The guy definitely has his feet firmly planted in the ground.
He is a well-rounded person. A very classy individual.

John West was also another you looked at….
John West we tried out. He sounded amazingly like Perry too. We just decided he was not the right guy. Personality wise and I didn't think he fitted as well as Steve did.

How many other suggestions did you get?
We tried out the guy from Queensryche.

So you did do that!
We tried Geoff Tate, yeah. He came out and we actually wrote a pretty cool song with him but he was not the right guy to cover the old material.
When we tried playing the older material it obviously was not the right guy.
But a super nice guy as well.

And another rumor…Glenn Hughes...
Glenn I thought about for a second. And we felt instead of getting a guy that has been around and around forever, we wanted to find somebody that had a fresh face.
The main thing was, when I was in Hardline I was living in LA and we were driving around and the Tall Stories record comes on the radio when they were getting a lot of airplay.
And I felt like this guy really kicks my ass!
It sounds like a rocked out version of Journey. Which is where I wanted to go and I always just remembered that and I said that if it ever gets to putting this band back together and Perry is not involved, I want to call this guy.
This is like 6 years later, and it has come down to that.
I talked to Jonathan and it just so happens that one of my close friends also from Brooklyn NY Joe Cefalu, he had a tape of Steve Augeri with his number because we didn't know where to get hold of him.
So we called him up and he didn't believe that it was me on the phone. He though it was one of his buddies pulling his leg.
I said we really want you to come out here and audition and sing on some of these new songs we have and sing on some old material.
And he said I gotta tell you, I have pretty much retired. I stopped singing 2 years ago because of the state of the music industry.
It is very tough for people. If you don't have a tracks record like Journey, it is hard to make a living by it, very difficult to get going again.
So he was doing other work on the side and he said he hadn't been sung for 2 years, so I just said 'well you better get singing'.
So he sang for three weeks and got his pipes back in order and came out here and floored us all.
And that was that. Very simple, which was even more beautiful about the whole situation. If we had to have looked and looked and looked for a singer I would have said I think I am juts going to start something else.
Because it happened so fast and so naturally, it is meant to be.

Did you try a guy by the name of Hugo?
No. We listened to a tape of his and even remember him being in a band a while back when I was doing the Hardline thing called Valentine.
And I remember seeing him in a video and he looked exactly the like Perry which I thought was really weird.
I said if we are going to get somebody with him looking exactly like Perry, I though that was a little too weird!
And also I just think that Steve Augeri as a singer was a lot more happening.

Now you wrote Remember Me with Jack Blades.
Yeah Jack was great. It was the first time that I had hooked up with him and Jonathan and he came over. Actually we wrote a few songs together within two days. Jack was excellent to write with. He was very fast and energetic and moved as fast as I do in a studio, which I love. And what comes out of that is when you are just jumping on it with someone that is right on the same page as you are, it just comes out because it is not over thought.

I am a huge fan of Jack and his writing and the bands he has been involved with.
Yeah, Jack is a really great guy.

Any chance of you doing something more collaborative with him later on?
Absolutely. We worked together so well that he had called me the next day and wanted me to go up to his house and work on some stuff for him, for Aerosmith or whoever because we just collaborated so well together.

You two guys should make a record together or something?
Maybe so! Down the line I would love to do that.
Right now though, I have my hands full. I have a full palate here and really just want to concentrate on Journey. I am not going to think about any solo projects for quite some time, until we are up and running and we are back where we left off.

In your frustration and down time with Journey, you have had a lot of side projects that have tried to emulate being in Journey - Bad English, Hardline, the album with Jimmy Barnes.
Yeah, and I have done the Abraxas album with the original Santana guys, I have done some solo records that were more jazzier, you know I have been staying busy.
I have been really wanting to get Journey back happening because that's where I really belong I feel.
There is a connection there between Jonathan and I. You know we wrote a lot of the material anyway. We started writing while we were trying to settle all the stuff with Steve Perry and get on with it.
And Jonathan and I were actually writing all the songs and he and I were singing on the demo's, because we didn't know who was going to be singing, and it still sounded like Journey!!
You know, neither one of us can sing like Perry, but we had the melodies!

But I like both you guys voices anyway! Late Nite is one of my favourite all time records.
Oh thanks. I listened to some of the stuff a while ago. It is pretty funny to go back and listen to that again.
It is kind of like all over the map, musically.
In retrospect when I go back and listen to it many years later, it is kind of where I was at in my head too! Hahaha.
It is a reflection of what you are doing at the time and what kind of lifestyle your having and that was a little crazy and I was whacking it a little hard and you know that is why the music was all over the place.
But there were some decent things on there.

There were some musically very intense things on there also.
Yeah well that's the other thing that we are doing now. Journey now is going in a much more adventurous musical place. The instrumental sections n the songs themselves are much more stretched out as I have a lot more room to play and I don't have people breathing down my neck saying there is too much guitar.
I've got more an open range to really express myself and we are sort of writing the material like that, to set me up.
There are so many guitar players out there now, like Satriani or who ever it is, that the music is completely set up for the guitar player.
I feel like I am a decent enough player to be in that position to have the band set me up in certain songs. So it is more of a guitar song.

Great, great! I want to hear that.
Yeah, that's what I want too, and now I am finally getting that. That's why I am really jazzed about this.

So how many tunes have you got written for the new record?
We have written like 12 or 13 songs right now and we are not done. I think we have like another 5 to write. And then we will pick the cream of the crop.
But we are sitting in a good place.

Any song titles yet?
You know what - I could say yeah, but who knows if they will stay and end up like that. You know what I mean?
With lyrics, we will sit there and tweak them throughout the whole project.
I would rather hold off on the titles because who knows what they are going to end up to be.
But there are great lyrics written already.

And is Steve Augeri getting in on the writing also?
Yes, he has started contributing. A lot of the stuff, like I said, Jonathan and I had been working together for about six months working just a couple of days and week and not really pressing it hard like we had to come up with stuff, we just did it for fun. And the stuff was just flying out just effortlessly. When it starts happening like that, you get in this prolific vein where you are not thinking too much, you just go in and play the first thing that is on your mind each day. Music is not rocket science. Rock n roll certainly isn't. if you think about it too much while you are writing, and you have to think about the song you are writing, you know, let's put this but here, do that there, it just becomes too scientific. It is just supposed to make you feel good.
The best songs just some out immediately.
You don't have to think about them that much, it's just natural.
You can hear the energy in it, the freshness in it, there is more of a rock vibe and a party vibe to it.
Since we starting playing again, I want to create a concert where it is a giant party.
It should be a party, a celebration. Something that somebody wants to come to and have fun and cut loose a bit.

Not like a wake then?!
Exactly! You can water it down and have these ballads with deep deep lyrics, but there is places for that stuff. Otherwise it should be more of a fun thing.

And what happened to Steve Smith?
Smith just decided that he wanted to pursue his jazz career.
That was fine because I had my old friend Deen Castronovo sitting in the wings ready to go and he is just kicking some ass. He is more of a rock drummer.
And he sings his ass off.
So now every member of the band sings. Deen has a strong high voice, he actually sounds like Perry.

He sings like all the high stuff in the choruses.

So you guys are going to have some cool melodies?
We have great vocals right now. Better than we have ever had. Definitely background vocals.

One of my favourite records you have played on is the 'Hardline' record with Deen there too.

Yeah, killer hard rock.
We had fun making that! Haha. It started out as me producing these guys. I ended up playing on it. Bad English had busted up in the middle of working on that, so I decided to hang out there for a second.
In the end what happened was that the band were way too young for me. You know what I mean? In every sense.

All the guys were much younger than myself - they had not gone through some of the things that I had gone through and I didn't care to go through those things again.
I felt like playing with people that had been though as much as I have which is a lot!
The only place I could probably really find that is in my old mates that I played with in Journey.

Go back to your roots then?

I saw Hardline with you at the Marin Center in 1992.

Yeah, with Mr. Big and Electric Boys. I have one of Dean's drum sticks.
He's funny, a great guy.

Tell me time line for the next six months for Journey.
Well what we are starting to do is wait to see what happens with this single that comes out of the soundtrack to Armageddon.
If the song is a hit, we have the chance of going out and doing some sheds you know. Otherwise if the song is not a hit, or doesn't get played on the radio enough, or Sony doesn't let us do a video for some reason - with the situation of having a new singer and a new drummer - I feel that we will need another fresh record to mix with our old stuff. But we are going to play some shows in between. We have these state fairs that are lined up.
Now that we have got together and rehearsed and we have a set together, and everybody knows their stuff, all that work is done now.
So if we get a call and someone wants to add us to a big outside show this summer, then we are going to do it.
But as far as going out and headlining, without this new songs, if it doesn't get out there far enough, I think we will hang and work on the record in between playing a few gigs here and there.

How behind the band is Sony?
We are about to find that out tonight. We are in the land of Sony right now! Haha.
To be honest, they were real skeptical of us even continuing without Steve Perry.
And then we played this show that had a lot of international people at it and they got on the horn the next day, and all of a sudden they are excited again.
So they will be coming to these two Tokyo shows and taking us out for dinner tomorrow night, so we should be able to feel what is going on after that. Because I feel that if we kick ass here and do the right job, I think that they are going to give a call to New York and going to say we have to do this, let's jump on it right now.

Any chance of an Australian leg of the tour?
Now that we have a band that wants to work….we never really pursued playing.
It was always just in the United states or Japan.
Now we want to become a worldwide band. Definitely we have the catalogue to do it and Trial By Fire sold a million records in Europe without doing anything.
So the window of opportunity is definitely there and we are going to put in the time and do it.

And when will the new record be out?
We are going to go in and slam this thing out. We don't anticipate taking any longer than six weeks.
We are really well prepared. Having the material is everything. We only have to go an rehearse for a week or two and we will just go in the studio and play it live like we used to. That was it just comes out what you are really are. Painless and fast and we will just be in and out.

Well you guys are experienced enough to know what you have to do….
Yeah, I hate spending a lot of time in the studio, I really do.
I am very fast in the studio for solos and that. Especially if I am playing live, it's usually the first or the second take.
If I try and do any more than that, it goes down hill.
I know myself like that and I am better like that.
My motto is - if you are thinking - you're stinking! Hahaha

So we could have a record in September then?
Yeah we would love to do that.

And a producer? Kevin Shirley again?
Yeah Kevin Shirley. He is amazing, we love him. We call him the spank master!
Cause he just spanks it hard! Hahaha
This last single we did Remember Me, we went in with him, you know when Jonathan and I sent the demo to John Kalodner we thought it would be great to get one of these new songs on a movie before we do the new album.
So we sent the demo and he called back and said I love the song - you are flying to New York tomorrow.
So we jumped on a plane, everyone gets to New York and we cut the song in a day and a half.
And it was painless and so much fun, just because we have such a good working atmosphere again.

Where will you cut the album?
In San Francisco some place.
We are going to check out the Record Plant. Metallica's new room is down there; we haven't checked that out yet. But I want to get an old console.
I also want to get my bigger cabinets in the room this time so they can breathe a bit.

One last quick question…was John Waite ever considered?
Not for Journey. But I went back and listened to some of the old Bad English stuff, and it sounded very cool.

They still sound great.
Yeah, I like the first one better than the second.
Waite, Jonathan and I had talked about musical direction. I wanted to go more towards this rock and funky sort of Small Faces direction and he wanted to go with the Dianne Warren thing, the smash hit single thing.
It is not really where I wanted to be and not what we talked about so I lost interest in it.

He always talked about getting a live record out.
Yeah, the band played great live.

Any chance of that still happening?
You know what? I'm busy! Hahaha.
I feel fortunate that I have a full palate right now. To start this machine up and get going again.

Okay Neal, I think that's it!
Okay, you know we can talk more down the line.
Get you some updates on what has been happening with our live shows.

That would be great. I appreciate your time.
Okay, great. Bye bye.