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Neil Schon of Journey says band's secret to success is 'We're not a downer; we're an upper'
by John Sinkevics - The Grand Rapids Press
August 26, 2009

In a strange sort of way, Journey has never been hotter than it is today.

The '70s/'80s rock band has sold out some concerts on its latest world tour, recently was hailed as having the best-selling digital single in history ("Don't Stop Believin'") and has started writing songs for yet another studio album with its newest member, highly touted lead singer Arnel Pineda.

"We've just been having an amazing run," marveled guitarist and founding member Neal Schon. "We had amazing success with our last record ('Revelation'). It went platinum a while ago, and it's still selling like crazy. And we're excited about going back in the studio when we get done (touring) in October.

"We definitely have got a second wind here and coming on stronger than ever."

Go figure.

Maybe it's the addition of the dynamic, 41-year-old Pineda, a native of the Philippines who Schon discovered two years ago through a series of YouTube videos and who can match former lead singer Steve Perry's ethereal vocals note for note.

"I heard his voice and the hairs immediately went up on my arm," Schon recalled.

Or maybe the resurgent success can be traced to a bevy of teenage and 20-something fans who have newly discovered and embraced Journey's classic power ballads, including "Lights," "Who's Crying Now" and "Lovin', Touchin' Squeezin'."

"We've got such young kids in our audience right now that it would blow your mind," Schon said in a phone interview from a Texas tour stop. "I love playing to the little kids. The other night, some little kid stood on a chair all night, and he had his KISS shirt on and he was air-guitaring in front of me. That's just rock 'n' roll."

Or maybe it's just that Journey has as much enthusiasm for its music and performances today as it did during its early heyday. Even critics -- some of whom once dissed the chart-topping group as "dead on its feet" and "perfectly calculated to be inserted into FM radio playlists" -- have described recent concerts as "all-professional, solid and tight" and a "potent brew of crowd-pleasing hits" with "dynamic showmanship."

Those hits include, of course, the 1981 Top 10 single "Don't Stop Believin'," which recently became the top-selling catalog track in iTunes history and the only one to exceed 2 million units in sales.

"It's pretty amazing. I was pretty blown away to have the most downloaded song of all time. That's crazy," said Schon, 55. "I would have never imagined that, but it's a great song and an uplifting song. That's why so many people come to our live shows. We're not a downer; we're an upper."

Schon said the band -- Pineda, Schon, Jonathan Cain (keyboards), Ross Valory (bass) and Deen Castronovo (drums) -- has changed the stage set-up for its most recent tour to enhance sound quality. The band performs Tuesday in Grand Rapids' Van Andel Arena, with Heart, fronted by Ann and Nancy Wilson, opening the show.

"I decided to do something different and do away with the big giant screen and go more nuts and bolts like we used to," he said. "I'd rather spend more money on sound and lights. In the past we've had a screen in the middle and I think it's really distracting. The show's right here on the stage."

More important, Pineda, who left his native Phillipines to join Journey in 2008, has grown comfortable touring with the band, earning rave reviews from fans.

"He's like one of us. He fits in amazingly well. He brings it night after night. He's a total pro," Schon said. "The first tour may have caught him off-guard, but now he's getting it. ... He's amazing. Without over-hyping anything, you've just got to see it to believe it."

Due to Pineda's versatility, Schon said Journey's next album will be "completely wide open" in terms of style and musical approach.

"We're not just writing inside the box. He can sing some heavier stuff," Schon said. "It's easy for us to keep on redoing the same song over and over, but that's not necessary."

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