Credit: Jane Richey
NEAL SCHON - JONATHAN CAIN - ROSS VALORY - STEVE AUGERI - DEEN CASTRONOVO
Journey have shaped the way that generations view rock music. Now, with the release of Generations, Journey have refocused the way they view rock music.
“We did a show right after 9/11, and we were scared to death to go out there,” says keyboardist Jonathan Cain, who along with guitarist Neal Schon, forms Journey’s creative core. “The manager of the fair in York, PA said that there were 5,000 Journey fans out there that wanted to see a show. We told him that it didn’t seem right, and he said, ‘The firemen are out there doing their jobs, you do your’s—go out there and play, heal their souls.’”
Cain pauses, but what he says next defines Journey’s past, present and future. “We played, and in our quiet little way, we did heal their souls, if only just for the moment. There were American flags flying in the crowd, and we took one onstage and took our bow with it, and I thought, ‘Yeah, this is alright…’ What else can we do? That moment changed me.”
While that moment may not have translated into the same crystallized vision for every member of the band—Cain and Schon, bassist Ross Valory, frontman Steve Augeri and drummer Deen Castronovo now form the longest-lasting version of Journey, having been touring and recording for the past eight years—it has made its mark in the form of Generations, an album that capsulizes more than 30 years of history and sales in excess of 75 million albums, into 70-minutes of unadulterated faith in the rejuvenating powers of rock ‘n’ roll. Hope lingers amidst Cain’s keyboards, passion fuels the fire of Schon’s guitars, and an optimistic faith resonates in the voice of Augeri. Valory and Castronovo provide the backbone, two pillars of strength and power that lay the foundation for the band’s 13-song, epic slice of America. There’s a familiarity that even the most casual Journey fan will embrace, and a musical and spiritual awakening that longtime fans will abandon themselves to.
“Jon and I got together and looked at our past on this record,” says Schon. “The strongest records we’ve done are Escape and Frontiers, and we took a look at the music on those records and said, ‘Let’s just go back to what we had going on there, the mix of rock and Motown—less pop, more rock and soul.’”
Coupled with that heightened musical focus is a lyrical tone that swirls Journey’s optimistic swagger with what are, at times, profound snapshots of life in America in 2005. “Not to say that there’s less fluff, but as the band matured, there are more songs that mature men feel more comfortable writing about and relating to,” says Augeri. “You can sing about negativity all you want, because that’s what we go through every day, but we’re all optimists, and if there’s a ray of hope, it’s nice to bring attention to it. You can’t have the light, without the dark—When you expose some light on the dark, and put a positive spin on it, you’ve got a Journey song.”
Generations is Journey firing with all five cylinders—quite literally, as each member of the band sings lead vocals on the album.
“We’re holding true to our roots, but we still get to experiment, and I really don’t know that we’ve had this chance before,” says Castronovo. The drummer made his lead-singing debut for Journey on the live circuit, where he’s handled vocals on “Mother Father” and “Keep On Runnin’” for years, but he makes his recording debut at the vocal helm with two tracks on Generations, “A Better Life” and “Never Too Late.” “Neal, Jon and Jack Blades [Night Ranger] wrote ‘Never Too Late,’ and when I got out of rehab—just before the release of the DVD in 2001—they were all standing there and played the song for me. It was heavy, I got really teary, and it was real emotional—So when Steve said, ‘You know what, buddy? You can have that song, too,’ it was just incredible. I did background vocals on Arrival, but this is the first time I’ve ever really sang on a record, and it’s just amazing. I love that we’ve got the freedom to explore these new directions.”
Valory shares Castronovo’s excitement.
“It’s a tradition that carried over from the last year of performing, when everyone was singing at least one song on tour,” says the bassist. “We didn’t plan on it, but it ended up carrying into the creation of this album, which is unique for Journey.”
Just as unique, is Valory’s contribution. “Generations has quite a variety of music, some of which someone might not even recognize as Journey—Especially when I sing, which is more like Billy Gibbons [ZZ Top] and Dr. John. In the past, Jon and Neal have tended to hone their influences to things that are more Journey-like, but in the case of this album, they didn’t do that. With that, and the flavors that Augeri’s writing brought, we decided to open things up a bit. There are new voices, new tones, new ideas, and whole new flavors.”
Case in point, “Gone Crazy,” which sounds just as suited to Bourbon Street, as it does alongside some of Journey’s more adventurous excursions, boasting a musical fusion topped by Valory’s blues-hued, gravel-throated vocals. “The song was written for Neal to sing, but he told me to try it with my low end, and put some grit on it…I don’t know how it happened, but all of a sudden I’m the band’s suburban soul man!”
Not as surprising, are the contributions of frontman Steve Augeri, whose airtight vocals are joined by his songwriting savvy on Generations. From the soft, supple metamorphous that carries the piano-driven “Butterfly (She Flies Alone),” to the empowering, melodic rush of “Believe,” and through the closing heights of “Beyond The Clouds,” a song inspired by the therapeutic sanctity of a post-9/11, cross-country flight from his New York home, to Journey’s San Francisco headquarters, Augeri’s vocals are as effervescent and spirited as any in Journey’s catalog. “These guys push me,” the frontman says of his bandmates. “I was always content to sit back, but they pick me up and bring me to a level that I never dreamed of reaching.”
As has long been the case with Journey, the bands creative core revolves around Schon and Cain, the guitar-slinging virtuoso, and the band’s primary lyricist and spiritual springboard.
“‘A Place In Your Heart’ and ‘Faith In The Heartland’ were written around the same period that I wrote the stuff for Sammy Hagar that would become [side project] Soul Sirkus,” says Schon. “I started working on ‘A Place In Your Heart’ a couple of years ago, but I never forced it to come out. There were a lot of changes, and it took a while to flourish and come out in a natural way. Even at the last moment, before we went into the studio, I changed the guitar solo and simplified it even more so, so the guitar could just fly a little more.”
And fly Generations does, from the frenetic pacing and pro-troops stance of the Iraq-inspired “Out Of Harms Way,” to the racing guitars that Schon sings over as “In Self-Defense” erupts from a volcanic musical epicenter, to the comforting warmth that casts an energizing glow over “A Better Life,” and through the acoustic strains of Cain’s “The Private Family.”
While the tracks are as musically diverse as night and day, they all share one thing in common—the bond of being written and performed by Journey, a band that has become synonymous with the landscape of popular music in America.
“A lot of the lyrics from Generations came from being on the road and getting different points of view from around the country, taking the temperature of those different towns and places,” says Cain, pointing out album opener “Faith In The Heartland,” in particular. “We see stores closing, and cities that are just hanging on by a thread, but there’s still a sense of optimism that hangs on. There’s an interesting division in this country, a yin and a yang, but I’m definitely more interested in the faith, and the almost naïve optimism that many Americans have. Now, in the midst of all the insanity, there still seems to be sanity, and I’m most interested in that, the fabric that has kept holding everything together since 9/11.
“Songs have to be at a crossroads, watching and witnessing the times that are important in our lives,” he continues. “As songwriters, we have to be the watchers of delicate moments, that’s our job. When I sing ‘Faith In The Heartland,’ the crowds stand up and are with us—even though they might not know the song yet, they know the message. Just like, ‘Only the young can say…’ I’m picking up where I left off, because that, to me, is the promise of what Journey could do as an American band, and what fresh statement we can make… I feel like we have a mission now—we need to take people’s temperature, and we need to observe, watch, listen and feel. We need to be the soul-keepers, and if we can earn the right to do that, that’s where I see us going in the future with this band.”
—Paul Gargano, 08.05
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