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Steve Perry announces new music and forthcoming album, 'Traces'

The Current's Jill Riley with recording artist Steve Perry at The Current.
The Current's Jill Riley with recording artist Steve Perry at The Current.Jill Weindorf/Concord Records
  Play Now [15:48]

by Jill Riley

August 15, 2018

You're probably just as surprised as we were when recording artist and former Journey frontman stopped in to our studio to talk about his new music. But it was a delight to welcome him, where he was interviewed by Jill Riley about his forthcoming album and his deeply personal motivation to return from isolation. Perry also shares a story about Prince that is pretty mind blowing.

Here is a transcript of the interview, which you can listen to using the audio player above.

JILL RILEY: You are listening to The Current. I'm Jill Riley, Oake and Riley in the Morning. Yesterday we teased that we were going to have a guest in the studio, and a guest that I have been preparing my entire life to talk to, so it is such a pleasure to have him here. I can't stop smiling. Steve Perry is here.

STEVE PERRY: Jill, hi, how are you?

Hi. How are you?

I'm good. I've never had the pleasure of being here before. This is fantastic.

Welcome to the station. Had we known that you were going to be in town to play at the Fitzgerald Theater as a special guest a few years ago —

Which, four years ago I did do, yes.

In case people don't remember this, Eels had a show at the Fitzgerald Theater, and I was getting text messages like crazy, like "There's a very familiar face and voice up on the stage, and that would be Steve Perry." So you are a friend of E.

How that came down is that [film director] Patty Jenkins is a really good friend of mine, and she introduced me to the Eels and all his music, and I discovered songs like "It's A M-F" and "Novocain" and other songs. I said, "Gee, I just love this guy," and the way he was constructing his music and writing it was so honest and so revealing. Then she said he lives in the L.A. area, so we went to one of this shows at the El Rey Theatre, I think it was, and she finally introduced me to him [i.e. Mark Oliver Everett]. We became friends, and they would go on tours all the time and he would say, "Steve, you need to come on and sing with the band sometime." I said, "I'd love to, but I'm not ready." So I wouldn't do it that tour. So that went on for quite a few years.

One year, four years ago, he says the same thing to me. I said, "Okay, what do you want to do?" He said we should do some Journey songs. I said, "If we do 'It's A M-F,' I would love to," because I had a version in my mind, in my heart, because that song is so powerful. The lyric of it was talking to me because I'd just lost Kellie with breast cancer — my girlfriend — and I just thought that the lyric, "Being here without you / thinking about the good times / thinking about the bad / and I will never be the same," he just nails it. So I wanted to sing that song and we sort of compromised. It was going to be on the second encore if it was going to happen. So come the second encore he comes out there, he says, "We got this guy backstage. He's not been around for a while, maybe 20 or 25 years at least. Maybe you know him." He keeps doing this over and over again.

You're waiting in the wings.

I'm waiting in the wings, and he says, "I'll just say it. Here he is, Steve Perry." And now I'm messing with him, so I don't come out. I just waited just a second. He looks at me like Don't you dare. And so I walk out there, and because it's a whole different generation and I have been gone for so long, I let go. I was so amazed at how loving the St. Paul audience was. They were so wonderful that I just immediately was at ease. And I'm telling you, I was nervous because I had not been onstage in 25 years, and not sang in front of an audience in that long. I know this sounds silly, but I was just surprised. I was, and pleasantly so, and so that was a real great experience that night.

The Eels are extremely soulful, just like The Swampers, who cut all the tracks at Muscle Shoals for Aretha. I have a theory about why that worked so well. In the early years, if you watch the documentaries, they took Aretha to New York with some of the best musicians in the world, and she was always an amazing vocalist, an unbelievable vocalist, but there was something that happened when she got together with The Swampers. In the South — they're in Muscle Shoals — in Rick Hall's studio there was some magic that happened with their pocket, the way they interpreted their love for R&B, and her voice was like this whipped cream and cherry on top. It was just showcasing, from a feel standpoint.

I've talked to a couple bands who've recorded at Fame, and I'm like do you just feel that voice still bouncing off the walls when you walk in there?

Her phrasing , the way she just digs in there, she just digs in, and you can't deny it. It reaches out to me. She's a big part of my life too.

In my mind, outside of coming onstage and doing some songs as a special guest, it was my understanding that maybe you were done touring or performing.

I really was done. I've been done for a long time, to be honest. When I left the group I specifically left to be done because I was kind of toasty, and it came with the times I think, and touring. And I had lost — really my love for music was being replaced by some bad behaviors by me, and I couldn't figure out what was going on. I guess maybe PTSD damage — "road burn" — we used to call it "road burn" when you just toured like that. So I just told the guys I need to stop, and that's all I could do was just stop. And so I did, and I had to make being myself enough without it all. That was, in the beginning, very difficult because I missed the people, I missed the adoration, I missed the applause, I missed performing. But at the same time, I knew that I was kind of running on empty, to be honest. And when you do that you can get into bad places, and I was headed for some bad places too.

I thought we were so great, and that was then, and now this is now. It was just another lifetime, and I now was comfortable with the new lifetime, which was me in my hometown with friends.

I had really walked away from it, Jill, I really had. But I think I just needed to do it with an honest conviction. And I must say that E was inspirational after hearing his music, because if you listen to some of the loops he uses and the simplicity of his music, I used that as an opportunity to feel safe because no one was going to hear it but me. I wasn't signed to a label. Nobody was telling me what to do, and if I didn't like it, I'm going to erase it. So that gave me a creative freedom to start playing around, and that's when I started to write music again. I gave myself a chance to suck if I did.

I just want to see what happens, and some good stuff started happening, and I played it for Patty Jenkins too, and she loved it. So there was a lot of people that inspired me to keep writing. Then I met a girl named Kellie Nash; we were kind of inseparable. When I met her she already had stage 4 cancer and was fighting it for about three years — breast cancer. I met her through Patty Jenkins, too, and we were absolutely inseparable. Once I finally had dinner with her, we were inseparable, like I said, and we were together, deeply together for a year and a half, and then she lost the battle with it.

During that time, I wrote music, too, and she asked me, I remember one time, to make a promise to her. She said, "If something was to ever happen to me, honey, make me one promise." I said, "What's that?" She said that I would not go back into isolation, for she feels it would make this "all for naught." And I'm thinking what does she mean by "all for naught"? And I sat quiet before I answered. And I thought she means the arc of her being who she was before she met me; we meet each other; she's still fighting her struggle. If she was to lose her life, it's got to have some meaning, some purpose. I mean, the album isn't all sadness. Don't misunderstand me. But just committing and not going back into isolation is what she asked me, and so I made that promise.

And I bet that you just felt that she was with you that entire process.

It was a little rough. It took me at least two-and-a-half years to grieve, and I mean deeply grieve. I couldn't stop crying sometimes. Then I remembered that I maybe got to write some of this music or finish it. So I built my studio. I got an engineer by the name of Tom Flowers and we sat down and started to look at the room, buying mics, buying equipment, and got an amazing room fired up, and we started just overdubbing on some of my work.

Some of the vocals on this record are demos that I felt had the original spark of writing a song. When an idea comes to you, as a writer, sometimes that is the moment, like the first stroke of a brush on a canvas. You can't do that again. You can go back and try to make it better, but you'll never do that first stroke of brush on a canvas. And sometimes those moments are just worth keeping, and thank God for digital recording, because I kept a lot of those.

I'm with Steve Perry here on The Current. That's really fun to say, by the way.

I'm with Jill here on The Current. That's also fun to say.

Well here we are - big announcement today. A new record. And the new record is called Traces. Congratulations.

Thank you.

So tell me about the new record.

A new record was cathartic, I think. Walking through it was a plethora of emotions.

As we just talked, just the time that it took you to get to this spot and have this be the right time.

That's right, and then making a commitment to not fading on finishing it.

So the lead track we're really excited to share with the audience, and it's called "No Erasin'," so just tell me about this song in particular.

"No Erasin'" is a song about two people who go to a class reunion and they see each other for the first time after years, and they both have separate lives with people at home, but they remember what they used to have when they were in high school, and high school is always an amazing place in your heart. And they kind of go outside to get away from the environment and talk a little bit, and they go sit in her car, and they go for a ride, and they get in the back seat of her car and they talk about old times, maybe a little smooch here and there. Nothing bad. But it's just a reflection of what they used to have and how important that is.

I imagine you're performing this song for an audience, there have to thoughts of some old times with the fans.

That's funny you say that, because it really is exactly a double meaning, because at some level the relationship I'm talking about is the relationship with the audience too. I know "it's been a long time coming since I saw your face", because it has been. And "no running anymore / my soul's burning just like it did before" — there's a lot of metaphors of that nature about performing and being in front of people again, which will lock up to the lyrics when that happens.

Steve Perry on the air on The Current. We were talking about regular life, like just going out and being yourself and getting to do regular things, but certainly being recognized at times. So I imagine there were some times, and I remember seeing some YouTube footage of you at a baseball game. What was it like the first time — "Don't Stop Believin'" became such a huge stadium anthem. So you're sitting in your seat and it comes on. What are you thinking?

The Giants came up to me and they said, "Listen, we need to win this game," and I'm a big Giants fan — don't hate me, don't hate me! I'm a big Giants fan. So I'm sitting there and they come up to me and they really let me sit and hang in the game. They don't bother me — never put me on the JumboTron. And so it's always like that, and they very seldom even play my music in the house, and they come up and tap me on the shoulder and say, "Listen, if there's ever a time we could possibly use "Don't Stop Believin'" and you to kind of lead everybody on the JumboTron because it's like a morgue out here. Nobody's — they're losing faith real quick." They got the rally hats all upside down and everything. I said, "Okay, only if you play it really loud."

So here comes the wireless video guy with the camera. He puts me on and all of a sudden it starts. I jumped up and I ran down the aisle and I got to the edge of the rail and I acted like I was going to climb over the rail and fly out over these people. I wanted to wake them up and get them going. So that was a thrill for me to mesh my love for the sports and that song. It was a moment that ended up on YouTube.

How did the game turn out?

We didn't win that game.

But you made an effort.

I tried. We had fun.

I just wonder if they have a code — Steve Perry — like if they ever need to call on you again in the future!

We've been talking a lot about your connection to Eels with E and the friendship you have struck up. What's interesting is when Eels come into the studio, we've had a Prince cover recorded. And so I'm wondering, and we generally like to ask folks when they come into the studio: do you have a Prince story?

You really want to hear it?

Yes, I do.

Journey had recorded a song called "Faithfully," and the song was a pretty decent success. So I think a couple years go by, and this manager by the name of Bob Cavallo who managed him at the time, sends a cassette to our manager and wants to know if we have a problem with this. And we're going, "Excuse me?" He said, "This is going to be the lead track of his movie, his first film, called Purple Rain, and the song is called 'Purple Rain.' Would you listen to the end of it, because he said perhaps you might have inadvertently been inspired by the outro of 'Faithfully.'"


Are you with me?


I'm not complaining. I'm just saying what happened. So Jonathan Cain, myself, and Neal [Schon] listened to the outro of "Purple Rain." He's singing "Purple rain, purple rain" — he's doing the same pocket. "Purple rain" — then he goes [sings a passage]. If you listen to the outro, it's the same chords, the same tempo as the outro of "Faithfully." The only difference is I'm screaming "Faithfully," and he's singing "Purple Rain."


It's the same. Back in those days, they weren't like today where people go, "You can't do that." Jon and I and Neal looked at each other and went, "So what? It's incredible. He's singing his own thing on top of those changes. They're just the same changes. It's not a big deal." And we loved him, by the way. We were crazy about him. So I was a fan right from the get-go.

That's one heck of a Prince story.

It's a true story, and I've never told that story before.

Wow. I can't wait to listen to those endings back-to-back.

It's a similar tempo, same changes. Just the vocal arrangement on top is different.

Steve Perry's forthcoming album, Traces, is expected to release in Oct. 5, 2018, on Fantasy Records.

Related Story

Former Journey frontman Steve Perry joins Eels on stage at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul Local Current blog, May 2014

Steve Perry - official site