Q&A with... Steve Perry
Daily News, 1994
By Bruce Britt
In 1983 a national Gallup poll indicated that the Bay Area group Journey was America's "most popular rock band." Charismatic vocalist Steve Perry was instrumental in transforming Journey from a relatively obscure jazz-rock quartet to a bona fide pop-music phenomenon. During his decade-long tenure with Journey, Perry was popularly considered rock music's pre-eminent singer. His soaring vocals sweetened such multi-million-selling hits as "Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'," "Who's Crying Now" and "Open Arms," as well as solo endeavors such as "Oh Sherrie" and "Foolish Heart." After his departure from Journey in 1987, the singer went into a sudden seclusion and rumors surfaced that he was ill. Though fans and former band members pleaded for his return, Perry refused. All that makes Perry's new Columbia Records album, For The Love Of Strange Medicine, an event (the album hit the stores July 19). "You Better Wait," an urgent turn that takes up where Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" left off, is the first single. In a recent interview at Columbia's Los Angeles offices, Perry discussed the album, Journey and his long hiatus.
Q: How would you describe "You Better Wait," the first single from the new album?
A: The city is a magnet, and kids gravitate toward it because they can finally leave the nest. The only problem is, sometimes you can get lost on the streets, and when young people get lost on the streets they sometimes don't get back. That's what the song is about.
Q: "Anyway" could be construed as an open letter to Journey. How do you address leaving the group in the song?
A: You know how people reveal themselves a little more than they mean to, and they change the subject to prevent themselves from becoming even more vulnerable? Well, the guy in the song gets vulnerable: "I'd like to say I'm sorry, I'd like to make amends / I'd close my eyes and tell the truth but where would I begin? / My story's far from simple, I'm so afraid to show / I never want to run again, I gotta let you know."
Q: How did you end your involvement in Journey?
A: We were on the Raised on Radio tour, and I was suffering job burnout. After the tour ended I had a conversation with (keyboardist) Jon Cain and (guitarist) Neal Schon and I told them I just couldn't do it. They wanted to keep going, and I just couldn't. I didn't feel good about it, but what could I do? ...It had been 10 years at that point.
Q: What was the underlying reason for your departure?
A: There were just so many things happening to me at the time. During the last years of Journey my mother had gotten progressively worse, and she passed away while I was doing vocals for Raised on Radio. On top of that, I lost a relationship that didn't work out. So we went back out on tour to promote Raised on Radio, and it was only then that I realized what happened. I had never dealt with any of the personal stuff. It's so easy to keep busy and not feel what's going on, especially if you're in the music business.
Q: How did the personal stuff hit you?
A: Basically, I had no direction, and I had lost my passion for something I'd loved. Relatives, who I had believed would never die, were gone. Then immediately after I told the guys I was leaving, my grandfather, who helped raise me, developed a terminal illness and died...There's this fallacy that you're a little more immortal if you reach a certain status in life. when I was young I believed all that immortality stuff. But I learned a few things about immortality upon re-entering the atmosphere. I lost some of my heat tiles on the way in. So now I'm a little singed, but a lot better.
Q: In your absence, there were lots of rumors that you had contracted AIDS and other illnesses. Did you ever hear any of these?
A: They said I had throat cancer. People on the street would walk up and say they were sorry. What happened was that my mother was ill, and I was taking her to all sorts of clinics to get CAT scans done. People would see me sitting in the radiology waiting room, and the rumor got started.
Q: How did you handle the rumors?
A: Rumors get going sometimes, and there's nothing you can do about it.
Q: Why do you think the critics never really got Journey?
A: Because they were too into the flavor of the month.
Q: But didn't they say Journey was just that -a formulaic band?
A: I don't know why they would say that. Never in my experience did Journey do anything that was camp or calculated. That band truly followed its heart. Nobody ever thought of doing power ballads before we came up with it. But for us it was just something that felt good. The concept was, "Why not make this monster-sounding song, but soaring?" With Neal Schon on guitar we had the ability to do that. The critics could never see that. With all due respect to (journalists), I have to stay focused. I can't go around listening to what critics say.
Q: How do you think this new album will be received?
A: All I can do is record the music and put as much heart and emotion into the music and vocals as I feel. What happens after that is out of my hands. This album is the deepest thing I've done in my musical career thus far, and what's most exciting is that this is just the beginning for me as far as being vulnerable in my music.
© Los Angeles Daily News, 1994