Neal Schon ('Journey')
“The New Journeyman of Music“
Neal Schon, best known for his guitar-playing prowess as a member of musical powerhaus rockers Journey, has just released his sixth solo instrumental album, i on U, on Steve Vai's Favored Nations label.
On i on U, Schon continues to reinvent himself, taking his own musical vision to new heights. For the album, he teamed up with keyboardist and songwriter Igor Len as co-producer, and drummer Omar Hakim. Each listener will experience the album differently. From the majestic opening of “Blue Passion,” and the soaring melodies of the title track, the songs suggest wide open spaces, and is definitely a wonderful overview of what’s to come.
Neal is also a member of the band Soul SirkUS (along with singer Jeff Scott Soto and bassist Marco Mendoza), whose debut World Play album is out now exclusively on their website, www.soulsirkus.com.
And in Journey news, they received their Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Friday, January 21 in front of the Musician's Institute (6750 Hollywood Blvd.). As a special surprise not only for the hundreds of fans in attendance but the band most of all, former lead singer Steve Perry was there to join the festivities.
Taking some time out to call us on an overcast day from his home in San Rafael, California, I first asked Schon about his solo album:
'i on U':
At times this new album feels like a soundtrack to a mountain biking IMAX film … was that your intention to encapsulate some form of fast movement in the mind’s eye? “You know, I wanted that kind of movement. I definitely wanted something that would move along. I wanted it to be very landscapey, like it sounded more like a movie soundtrack. So, if that’s what you saw, the mountain biking, then that’s great.”
Where does the title, ‘i On U’ originate? ”I liked the title initially just spelling it correctly, but then Igor Len was here working on the house and the record with me and it was his fiancée at that time who came up with the small ‘i’ and then the ‘On U.’ And it was actually just one word when she did it and I thought that looked very interesting and it wasn’t as generic as what I’d liked previously. So, I flew with it because I thought it was pretty cool and because it was different.”
What does the title mean to you? ”Er, nothing much,” he laughs. ”Just that it sounded cool … and I ended up using my wife’s eye on the cover.”
How do you think your album differs from the work of Steve Vai (whose label this has been released on) or Joe Satriani? ”Well, it’s instrumental music, so in that sense it doesn’t differ, but I think that to me it encompasses everything that I did even before I knew there was a Joe Satriani or Steve Vai … when I was in the Santana band. That was my first initial exposure to playing instrumental music. So to me it goes back in time, from the Santana era to a lot of the co-solo stuff that I did with Jan Hammer. But then I also take it into the future a bit with the electronica and the production on it.”
Was this a labor of love along the way or did you take time out to create it? ”You know, I took time out to create it mainly because it was almost completed except for the last three songs that I added at the last moment when I was in Nashville. So, while I was in Nashville I did ‘Blue Passion,’ ‘Highland,’ and I did ‘Moon Dust’.”
Is there a song on the album that is a personal favorite of yours? ”The track that I started writing the music to back in 2002 in New York was ‘Father.’ My father had just passed and he was a Jazz composer who played tenor sax and wrote big band music. He was just an excellent musician and I was thinking about him and those chords just kind of flew out. I then tried to simulate the tenor sax solo on the end of the song. It’s a ghost of him, you know.”
How does the music of Soul SirkUS differ musically from the one that began life as PlanetUS? ”Musically, it really wasn’t gonna differ that much except for the fact that I’m very happy where I am right now and sort of happy that things came down the way they did. I wasn’t happy at that moment as I’d initially put in so much time and effort into writing a lot of material for Sammy [Hagar]. I had compiled about 30 song ideas that were pretty well arranged, had some melody ideas, and that’s when it all kind went up in smoke and he went back to Halen. So I was like, ‘What am I gonna do with all this stuff now?’ It didn’t really sound like Journey material to me, it could possibly be a solo rock record, and so I just decided I was gonna re-group. I was reading on the internet quite a lot about Jeff Scott Soto and his recent European tours and that he basically had the goods live and so that peaked my interest in meeting with him.”
Why choose that spelling of the last word instead of the usual? ”Because the other one was taken already,” he laughs. ”When it was spelled correctly, we looked it up and some R&B band had it in the ‘80s and they still owned the name. So I just thought about messing up the spelling. It’s very difficult to come up with a name that sounds good any more as they’re all taken … which is why there’s so many wild names out there.”
How many Sammy songs did you cut in the end … and will they ever see the light of day? ’We cut two songs. We cut ‘People,’ which is actually on our Soul SirkUS record and the other one, ‘Vertigo’ is sitting there still? Funny enough, we had that song done about two years ago and then U2 came out with their own ‘Vertigo’! So, that song is still sitting there, so who knows what will happen to that.”
With Deen Castronovo (Journey) having left, has that taken a little something personal away from Soul SirkUS for you? ”You know, I’ve played with Deen for such a long time now. I met him when he was in his twenties and he’s now in his forties and I’ve been playing with him all along that whole time – from Bad English onwards. And then from there out he played with Paul Rodgers and me, he played in Hardline and numerous other projects and he was just feeling fatigued and overwhelmed with the amount of work that he was about to take on. And actually I am to, but I want to do it and so that’s why I’m doing it. He just gracefully bowed out and I completely understood and I was just happy to find a musician of the caliber of Virgil Donati. So, we went back into the studio and re-recorded all the bass and drums that were together and now it sounds like a brand new record.”
Come on, honestly now, did you try and replicate Steve Perry down to his voice and stage persona when you forced to replace him! ”You know what, I’ll tell you what, it was not an accident to find somebody who could fit into the shoes and replicate Steve Perry’s vocals on our hit material. I mean, we talked about it and we went, ‘Well, we could just go with something brand new, but we’re not gonna be able to play any of this [old] material.’ I mean, everything was so wrapped around his voice. It wasn’t like Van Halen where everything was wrapped around Eddie’s guitar playing. So, we were definitely wanting to find someone to be able to sing all the same kick-ass stuff that Perry had done in the past … and it was just a fluke that his name was Steve Augeri! I think that everybody thinks that we changed his name to sound like Steve Perry,” he laughs. ”But, it was just a fluke, but if anyone thinks he looks like him, I say take another look,” he laughs again.
Did you know that Steve Perry was going to be joining you at your recent Hollywood Walk Of Fame celebration last month? ”No I didn’t, but I had razzed him a couple of days before that on the radio! I was doing a lot of major radio down there before the event and I did this show in LA and they just brought that question up live on the radio: Was Steve Perry going to be there? I told them that he had been invited, everybody had been invited, but why don’t you call him. So, they proceeded to try and get him on the telephone, but I found out he said that he was driving when he heard it.”
So, your words did the trick then! ”He says that it didn’t provoke him in any way to change his mind to come and that it was his own decision. But, I have feeling that we had something to do with it. I thought it was important that he was there. He definitely had a lot to do with our success and he deserved to be there as much as anyone else.”
Will Steve Perry ever sing with Journey ever again? ”Well, you know what, I asked him in front of Entertainment Tonight if he was going to join us in Hollywood that night and he said to me, ‘You never know.’ And so, shortly after the whole ceremony down there I said maybe we could get him out this Summer to sing a couple of songs with us. And this time he just didn’t say anything,” he laughs. ”It’s like he says, we’ll never know … unless he shows.”
What does this star on the infamous Hollywood Walk Of Fame mean to you after all these years? ”It was definitely an honorable day for all of us. I was glad for everyday that had ever been in Journey and that most everybody showed up. Except for Gregg Rolie, who had some other things going on that he felt were more important, I guess. But, everybody else was there and it was great to see every one. I think it was a great celebration for everyone, more so than seeing the star in the ground. I liked seeing everybody together. I don’t think about the Hall of Fame and the fact that we’re not in there yet and all the other stuff, but if it does happen it’s a pleasant surprise, you know.”
When will there be a new Journey album? ”Our CD is going to be recorded this next month here in California. We actually start rehearsals today and we’re gonna rehearse for about seven or eight days, learn all the new material that we’ve written, and then get them down to where we can walk into the studio and play live like we used to.”
Does it have a title yet? ”We’re tossing it around. There’s a title I like and some people don’t like it, so we’re still tossing it around.”
What’s the title you like? ”Well, I like the title FREEDOM. It has a lot to do with where we’re at right now. We’re not signed to a major label. We’re completely free to do whatever we want. Actually, we are going to be doing somewhat what Prince did last year. We’re now our own label and what’s happening is when the record initially comes out you’ll only be able to get it at our live shows. So when everybody goes through the gate this year, they’ll all be handed a bag with a CD in it. It’ll built into the ticket price.”
But haven’t the ruling’s changed on being able to do that now due to Prince ruining it for everybody?! ”No, they actually didn’t. They changed a few of the laws around and they changed it that if you want to appear in Billboard Magazine and you want to chart then you have to give them half your money. So management asked me if I wanted to chart and I said ‘I don’t give a f**k about charting!’ I haven’t looked at Billboard Magazine since probably I was in my twenties,” he laughs. ”So at the point we go Gold and then Platinum, because we are gonna play for that many people this year, we’ll come out with our own magazine and invite the industry to our party,” he laughs.
Neal Schon - Getting To Know You:
Education wise, do you ever regret leaving school in the middle of your High School years? ”Absolutely not,” he laughs. ’That’s the honest to God truth, man. I really despised High School. I hated it. I was not good at it and my head was into music. I knew what I wanted to do at a really young age and it didn’t help that I didn’t like my teachers either! The only classes that I ever went to ‘cause I was interested in them or good at them were Art and Music. So, I’d spend half the day down in the music room cutting my other classes … and my teachers used to cover for me! And then, shortly after that, I met the guys from Santana and started hanging out with them and before you knew it I was in Europe traveling with all those guys. I definitely would never have changed my mind about what happened. I got such a great education being on tour. I mean a worldly education of how to be around people, how to get along with people, and that whole thing.”
But now, in reflection, would you have changed that big afro that you sported back then?! ”Probably not,” he laughs. ”I loved it. People are constantly hounding me to grow it back.”
Final Fun Four:
If life truly imitated art, what work of art would you be? ”Well, I always wanted to be Jimi Hendrix. My wife just got me this cool picture of him. You know the cool picture of him in black and white where he’s kind of smiling and he’s got like the English smoking jacket on and a cigarette in his mouth. She got me one of the originals of that for my birthday just the other day. She put it in a huge frame. I’ve now got the eighth one in the world out of maybe fifteen or something like that. I just think that he was the coolest musician ever. Completely not afraid to go beyond.”
If you were put into a studio and asked to create a song for charity, name three other musicians that you would have alongside you, what they would play, and what the name of the song would be! ”Oh God,” he laughs, possibly sighing at the same time also. ”When you first said it James Taylor came to mind, but how about both Eric Clapton and John Mayer too,” he laughs. ”And the name of the song would be ‘If I Could Be You’.”
Are you a musical workaholic?! ”Absolutely! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t,” he laughs.
Is there a cure?! ”There is no cure so far. The only thing that cures me of it is a nice vacation with my wife in Hawaii.”
Finally, as it was my 39th birthday last week, what advice do you have for me to get the fullest enjoyment out of life?! ”You know, life’s getting more fun for me, so just keep going, man. It’s no time to slow down.”
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
If you would like to win your own copy of this great new CD along with a poster, just answer this easy question: In the original unit of Journey, who replaced drummer Prairie Prince?
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these wonderful new CDs and posters! Just send us an e:mail here before April 4th with your answer and the subject title 'NEAL SCHON CD' to:
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Check out Soul SirkUS at the following stops:
Tue 4/5 - Allentown, PA (Crocodile Rock)
Wed 4/6 - Alexandria, VA (The Birchmere)
Thu 4/7 - New York, NY (B.B. Kings)
Fri 4/8 - Philadelphia, PA (Trocadero)
Sun 4/10 - Boston, MA (Sommerville Theatre)
Tue 4/12 - Detroit, MI (Magic Bag)
Wed 4/13 - Chicago, IL (Park West)
Thu 4/14 - Minneapolis, MN (First Avenue)
Sun 4/17 - Denver, CO (Gothic Theatre)
Tue 4/19 - Phoenix, AZ (Alice Cooper’s Town)
Wed 4/20 - West Hollywood, CA (House of Blues)
Fri 4/22 - Las Vegas, NV (Boulder Station Casino)
Sat 4/23 - Lake Tahoe, NV (Harrah’s Tahoe)
Sun 4/24 - San Francisco, CA (The Fillmore)
Tue 4/26 - San Diego, CA (Belly Up Tavern)
Wed 4/27 - Ventura, CA (Ventura Theatre)
Thu 4/28 - Santa Ana, CA (Galaxy Theatre)
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