SANDY – Journey guitarist Neal Schon is the first to admit the band’s latest album, Eclipse, isn’t the most commercial record the renowned classic rockers have ever made. But after 25 gold and platinum records since debuting in 1973 and 19 Top 40 hits, Schon said the band has earned the right to experiment a bit.
“It would be easy to stick to a formula at this point. It would be easy to dive into older hits and write another one like these,” Schon told the Deseret News on the eve of Journey’s U.S. tour. “There’s no harm in experimenting at this point in our career. We already have our hits. How much radio is really there? I’d rather make a musical statement. Musically it’s a bit heavier for us. It’s not your sunshine Journey song with the sunshine chorus. We already have so many of those.”
The end result, Schon said, was a work of art.
Eclipse has received strong reviews from critics and fans alike since it was released in May. Schon said he grew up listening to albums, not singles you could download off the computer. It was that idea of making something that was meant to be listened to from start to finish that lead to this concept album.
“It’s a piece of art from beginning to end. It’s meant to be listened to as a full album. Nobody does that anymore. I’m an album-oriented guy,” he said.
Schon said the band’s new material was received extremely well by fans during their European and South American tours earlier this year. U.S. fans will get their first chance to hear the new material live Thursday at Rio TInto Stadium where Journey will launch their U.S. tour along with Foreigner and Night Ranger. The production for the U.S. leg will be the biggest the band has ever done, Schon said.
“Great lights, great sound and good playing,” he said. “It’s a great package and a great rock show.”
The San Franciso-based quintet have been called one the most popular U.S. rock bands of all time during their storied history. During the late 1970s through the 1980s, the band, at the time fronted by Steve Perry, became radio and video darlings with songs like, “Anyway You Want It,” “Lights,” “Wheel in the Sky,” “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) and “Lovin’, Touchin’ Squeezin’.”
Today, Journey is fronted by Arnel Pineda, from Sampaloc, Manila. Longtime keyboardist Jonathan Cain, founding bassist Ross Valory and drummer Deen Castronovo round out the band.
This year also marks the 30th anniversary of arguably the band’s most successful album, Escape. The Escape album is about to be certified Diamond, meaning it has sold 10 million copies, Schon said. The only Journey album that has sold more is the Greatest Hits package (15 million).
Escape contained such Journey classics as “Who’s Crying Now,” “Stone in Love” and “Open Arms.” The album’s opening track, “Don’t Stop Believin’,” is the most downloaded song in iTunes history. Even today, Journey’s Greatest Hits album appears on the iTunes Top 200 list.
Much of the credit for the resurgence in Journey’s popularity can be attributed to the music being featured in the movies and on TV, namely The Sopranos and Fox’s wildly popular show, Glee. And specifically with those shows using the song,”Don’t Stop Believin’.”
Schon said he really didn’t pay attention to Glee at first and let the band’s managers handle the decisions on using “Don’t Stop Believin'” for the pilot episode.
“They thought it was a good idea. I didn’t know anything about the show. I suppose it could have backfired. Fortunately it didn’t.”
Another track off the Escape album, “Who’s Crying Now,” has one of Schon’s most popular guitar solos. The solo is simple, but is the perfect compliment to the song’s mood and tone. However, it’s one that Schon wasn’t happy with when he left the studio.
“That was definitely a fluke, that solo. I got frustrated with what I was trying to play,” said Schon who noted that if he can’t lay down a solo on the first couple of takes, it usually gets progressively worse the more he thinks about it. “I kept working and working and it just wasn’t coming out. Everyone got frustrated with me in the studio and said, ‘Just play something simple.’ I thought I was being kind of a (wise guy when I recorded it). I was just playing something simple. I was playing the simplest thing I could find.”
Schon said when he lays down a guitar solo for a song. he doesn’t need to be “shredding its head off.” Rather, he comes up with a theme and melody between the ripping guitars.
Journey kick off their 2011 U.S. Tour in Sandy Thursday night.