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Interview:
Steve Perry traces journey to latest album on new release
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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Steve Perry spent 22 years away from the music business and largely out of the public eye before the release of his 2018 album "Traces."



Now, it seems, we can't get rid of him — not that anybody's complaining.



Since "Traces," the former Journey frontman has released a deluxe edition of the album, a 2019 holiday EP, "Silver Bells," and this month he put out "Traces (Alternate Versions & Sketches)," featuring stripped-down renditions of seven of the album's songs.



"This is a tip of my hat to the 'Traces' project," Perry, 71, explains by phone from his home in southern California. "I just wanted to strip it down and show everybody the raw emotion that exists in those songs for one last time, before I move on to what's next."



And that mention of "next" indicates Perry doesn’t plan to drop out of sight, or sound, as he did during the ’90s.



"I think I'm too old to stop now," he declares with a raspy laugh. "I've got so much music I've got started down in my studio now, I really know if I'll have time to finish it all. But I'm working on it, man. I'm working on it."



Randy Goodrum, a frequent co-writer — including "Oh Sherrie" and "Most of All" on "Traces" — adds that, "Steve and I ... don't understand how a person in the creative arts can actually retire. Look back at historic composers, novelists, and poets. Some of them did their craft until the day they left the planet. I would imagine Steve will always be in creative gear. Always.”







Perry's return in 2018 was, and remains, significant. He was one of rock's most successful and iconic singers during his time with Journey, 1978-96, co-writing nearly every one of the band's hits — and put the nonexistent "south Detroit" on the map with 1981's "Don't Stop Believin'" — as well as his solo smash "Oh Sherrie" in 1984. His nearly total disappearance after the band's 1996 album "Trial By Fire" was mystifying, as Journey continued without Perry when health problems prevented him from touring. "I had lost my passion for it," Perry says now. "I went through this incredible dry spell of being burnt out. So I stopped, and a short break turned into a long sabbatical.



"And I think the sabbatical was totally needed because I didn't plan on ever writing again or being in music again."



Perry did pop up randomly — at San Francisco Giants games, onstage with the Eels during 2014, at Journey's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction during 2017 (though he declined to perform with the band). He continued writing songs, too, but "Traces" came as part of a promise to girlfriend Kellie Nash, who died from cancer in December 2012 but left behind a kick in the pants for Perry to start releasing music again.



"I had promised her that if something were ever to happen to her, I would not go back into isolation because she felt it would have made us coming together for naught," Perry recalls. "That was a huge request from her. So that meant, 'Build a studio, Steve. Make a record, Steve. Get off your ass and sing again.'"



Starting the process with "Most of All" — "a serious song about loss" that he started before meeting Nash, which is so important to Perry that it's on "Alternate Versions and Sketches" twice — "Traces" came together over the course of nearly two and a half years, with co-producer Thom Flowers and a cadre of players and co-writers. Even as the album was released, debuting at No. 6 on the Billboard 200, Perry spoke about the alternate version, saying the songs had the goods to stand up in these stripped-down arrangements.



"The songs stood alone, with just my voice and a piano or voice and acoustic (guitar)," Perry explains. "When the original ideas show up, they show up in that form, very simple, and at some point the big challenge is 'Where do we take it from there?' But I figured at the end of the run of 'Traces' I would love to release what we call 'campfire versions,' stripping everything down and using some of the original demo elements that showed up when the songs were originally written.



"So we're kind of showing 'Traces' to you from the front end to the back end. The point is they're honest with their emotion and their interpretation of what the lyrics are trying to say. That takes a new level of abandonment on my part."



Many of Perry's vocals on "Alternate Versions" also came from demo recordings, offering fans a less-varnished insight into his singing.



"As a singer, the biggest demand is to let that be enough, have the guts to let it stand alone like that," he says. "It's very revealing — and I like that."



One thing Perry hasn't done as part of his return is perform live, his run of guest appearances with the Eels notwithstanding. Those were inspiring, Perry says.



"It's a ’90s crowd, alternative rock, so I had no anticipation of them knowing me," he recalls. "So when I walked out and they knew me, it took my heart to the floor. I didn't expect them to react the way they did." But he adds that "physical limitations" — including two hip replacements and neck surgeries — present complications for getting back on stage.



"I'm like a classic car," Perry says with a laugh, "just trying to keep myself running."



Reuniting with Journey isn't a matter worth discussing, as that ship sailed nearly 25 years ago. "It was a great time, and I’m so proud of everything we did with that band," he says now. "But everything's changed. Nothing that happened when we were together is the same, y'know? It is what was, and it's better to let it be."



His decision not to perform at the 2017 Rock Hall induction ceremony, he adds, came out of respect to the then-current lineup and especially frontman Arnel Pineda.



"They've gone forward and Arnel's been with the band for a long time now," Perry says. "He sings his heart out every night for those guys, and for the fans, and I really didn't feel comfortable singing because I'm not in the band and haven't been since May of ’98. We have gone our separate ways, and that's OK."



And now that Perry's separate way has taken him back to music, he's as excited as fans for what comes next.



"The new music I'm making now is a lot different (from 'Traces),' and I'm feeling really good about that, too," he says. "You have to have the courage to go forward. It's almost easier to think you can go back than go forward. If there's anything that's changed, it's been that for me. I keep trying to reach forward — fresh landscapes, fresh things I want to do.



"It's like golf. Where's the ball now? ... You have to play it where it lands, where it is now. It's very exciting when you embrace it like that."

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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