TweetJourney finds new lead singer on YouTube
Band hires ‘the Steve Perry of the Philippines’
By PAUL LIBERATORE
I heard through the grapevine a few weeks ago that the members of Journey were in the Plant Studio in Sausalito recording a new album with a new lead singer.
My source told me the erstwhile superstars were also re-recording their classic ’80s hits, trying to make them sound as close as they can to the originals, which had been sung in Journey’s heyday by the golden-voiced Steve Perry, the estranged frontman who exited the band in the mid-’90s, not on the best of terms.
Since Perry split, it’s been a revolving door for Journey vocalists. The previous one, Jeff Scott Soto, was reportedly fired last summer after a brief stint. He’d taken over from Steve Augeri, who dropped out in 2006 with voice problems after about eight years with the band.
Those anthemic Journey power ballads, sung by Perry in his operatic tenor, have been known to shred vocal chords, and it takes an extraordinary talent to be able to sing them. Finding a lead singer for this band is not something you look for on craigslist.
All of this would hardly matter if Journey were a mere ’80s nostalgia act.
But the once-mighty stadium rockers have suddenly become au courant, thanks to some mobsters from New Jersey.
When “the Sopranos” final episode made pop culture history in June, ending with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” the band found itself back in the national consciousness, positioned for a comeback.
Needless to say, this was not a good time to be without a lead singer.
Rumors had been rife among Journey fans that Perry would return to the fold (he’d shown an intense interest in how “Don’t Stop Believing” would be used in the Sopranos’ swan song), but he adamantly denied the reunion speculation, insisting on
Then, in early December, a short time after I’d heard that Journey was holed up in the recording studio, the band announced on its official Web site,
Journey has a history of rags-to-riches frontmen. Perry was plucked from a construction job in a Central Valley farm town, for example, and Augeri was working in a Gap store when he got the call. Now we have Pineda’s Internet-age Cinderella story.
Even he hasn’t wrapped his head completely around it.
“Who in their right mind would believe they would call someone like me, in the Philippines,’’ the boyish, 40-year-old told me when I reached him in his Mill Valley hotel room last week. “This is Journey. They are superstars in the music business.”
I caught up with Pineda hours before he was to get on a plane for the long flight back to his home in Quezon City. He had been in Marin for seven weeks, singing nearly every day, learning an album’s worth of new songs and reworking the old hits, which the band facetiously calls “he dirty dozen.”
When I spoke to him, he was hoarse from a cold he said he hadn’t been able to shake, insisting it hadn’t affected his singing voice.
And what a remarkable voice.
“He’s got the legacy sound and then some,” said Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain, speaking from his home in Novato. “He’s blessed with tons of emotion and soul, stuff you can’t teach. He’s a find.”
Journey guitarist Neal Schon, who wants the band to get back to what it used to sound like in the Steve Perry era, gets the credit for finding Pineda.
“I was frustrated about not having a singer,” he said. “So I went on YouTube for a couple of days and just sat on it for hours. I was starting to think I was never going to find anybody.”
But his tenacity paid off when he stumbled on a video of Pineda singing Journey’s hit “Faithfully” with a Filipino cover band called the Zoo.
“After watching the videos over and over again, I had to walk away from the computer and let what I’d heard sink in because it sounded too good to be true,” he said. “I thought, ‘He can’t be that good.’”
Schon fired off an e-mail to Pineda, but the singer dismissed it out of hand, thinking it was a prank.
“My friend Noel picked up the e-mail and told me it was from Neal Schon,” he recalled. “I told him it was a hoax. How could you believe such a thing.”
“But my friend persuaded me. He said, ‘What would it hurt to give it a shot?’ Send him one e-mail back. Ask him if he really is Neal Schon.’ Since he’s my friend, I said, ‘OK, OK.’ I sent a short e-mail and left my cell phone number. I challenged him to a chat. If he was really Neal Schon, I would know.”
Ten minutes later, Schon called.
“I told him, ‘I don’t think you’re Neal,’” Pineda recalled, amused. “He was laughing his ass off. It took two minutes for him to convince me.”
After getting him a work visa, the band flew Pineda to Marin in August for an audition. It didn’t take long for Pineda to prove that he really is as good as Schon had hoped.
“Right off they told me I had the gig,” he said.
Two months later, he returned to record 11 new songs he had never sung with the band before.
“I only learned them when I arrived here,” he said. “They didn’t give me an advance tape, so it was even harder. There was a lot of pressure. Sometimes I didn’t sleep. There were days I only slept two or three hours and I still had to learn the songs and record them.”
Since English is Pineda’s second language — his first is Tagalog — he worked on phrasing and diction with an accent reduction coach.
When he was hired over a singer from a Journey cover band, he also had to learn to deal with an undercurrent of racism among some Journey fans.
“When there were rumors about me joining Journey, there was a lot of that,” Pineda told me. “One of the worst things I read on a fan messageboard said that Journey is an all-American band and it should stay like that. But I don’t care. I just say, ‘Hey, grow up.’”
In this era of globalization, having a non-American fronting a classic American band like Journey is an invigorating development that gives the band a new look and the possibility of expanding its fan base among Filipinos and Asians.
“We’ve become a world band,” Cain said. “We’re international now. We’re not about one color. I kind of like the whole idea of having a singer like him. It’s exotic.”
Pineda will be back in Marin by in late January or early February for two weeks of rehearsals before a concert in Santiago, Chile, and a couple of shows in Vegas in March that will be filmed for a live DVD. This summer, the band tours the U.S. and then heads to Europe. The new album is due in the spring.
From Pineda’s perspective, he’s not trying to be Steve Perry, one of his idols, but he’s trying to sound as much like him as he can.
“We have to make sure the hard-core fans will be satisfied listening to the songs,” he said. “They’re so used to Steve Perry’s voice, so we have to be really close to how Steve Perry has done it. That’s the hardest part.
“Anytime Steve Perry wants to walk in, I would be glad to step out,” Pineda added. “It’s his right. It’s his band. I’m just here to celebrate the legacy of Journey.”