Q&A: Journey's Arnel Pineda

"I'm trying to fill up very, very big shoes"

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In Issue 1062 Rolling Stone spoke to Arnel Pineda about what seems like the dream gig of a lifetime: going on tour with Journey after being plucked from obscurity when the band caught him singing "Faithfully" on YouTube. Here's more of our conversation with the 41-year-old Filipino vocalist, as he opens up about the hardships of the road and how he learned about landing the job.

How's the tour going? It's gotta be a blast playing to such gigantic crowds.
Yeah, it is, it is. For an Asian guy like me, to be in a band, you know it's so surreal. It's some sort of a miracle it happened to me. It changed my life, overnight. Everything hasn't sunk in yet.

Do you remember the first time you heard Journey's music?
Oh, I think I was 10 or 11 years old. I think the first song I learned about then was "Open Arms." Then when I got tired of listening to "Open Arms" I borrowed my friend's Journey album, Escape, and tried to listen to every song. Basically I learned "Stone in Love," "Don't Stop Believin'," "Who's Crying Now" — that album. Journey are very big in the Philippines.

Your old band the Zoo used to cover Journey, right?
Just once every six months. When me and my guitar player went back to the Philippines from Hong Kong to form the Zoo there was this guy who remembered me singing Journey songs in the Eighties. So he yelled out the song "Faithfully," so we [played it], and then they recorded it, and those were one of the videos that were uploaded on YouTube.

So how were you first contacted by Journey?
When Neal Schon discovered the videos on YouTube, he tried to find my friend's e-mail address, so he found it and he sent him an e-mail claiming that he's Mr. Neal Schon and he's from Journey and he's serious about getting me to San Francisco to try out as their frontman. When my friend forwarded the e-mail to me, I was just laughing. I just told him that this is one of the biggest jokes I have ever received from someone. "It's a hoax," I tell him. "You shouldn't believe it."

But my friend insisted that, "Why don't you just try replying? Maybe he's really Neal Schon." But I told him that Neal Schon is one of the biggest guitar players in the world. I don't think he will ever waste his time for me. But my friend is a very persistent guy. So I e-mailed Neal Schon back and after 10 minutes he called me. But then he had to convince me that he was really Neal Schon, because I was asking him about his identity.

What kind of questions?
Like, "Are you really Neal Schon?" I was trying to challenge him to go Webcam to Webcam conversation through Yahoo! Messenger, because I told him, "I know very well the face of Neal Schon. You have to show your face so I can believe you." And then he was laughing hard and he was telling me, "Believe me, my friend. This is Neal Schon and I'm serious about me offering you to audition for my band."

After a while I felt his sincerity, so I gave in and then we exchanged numbers and I told him that we just released an album in the Philippines and we have a manager so it may be a bit of a problem. So [he spoke to my manager] and then we had an agreement that they're gonna help me find a way to process my application for a visa to get to San Francisco, and the rest was history.

Tell me about first meeting the band and your first audition.
Well I was in awe. I was star-struck, because, you know, my God, in the flesh. Real life, real time, I get to see them, I get to shake their hands ... And I was very nervous. It was nerve-wracking because, for the first time, I'm gonna sing with one of the most popular, the best bands in the world. It was lots of tremendous mixed emotion.

How did they tell you that you had the job?
Mr. Neal Schon broke it to me, the good news. I was in a hotel, he picked me up, and then he told me. I was on my way downstairs and he told me, "You got the job, boy."

Can you explain to me the sensation of walking onstage in front of all those people for the first time?
It's very scary. I was so terrified. I was just very, very afraid. Two minutes before we hit the stage, I told them that I just want to back out. But Neal Schon told me, "No. It's too late now. You can't back out anymore." So there I go. He pushed me a little, like, kiddingly, "Go. Go. Sing for us."

And how's the tour been so far? Are you more comfortable onstage now?
I am quite comfortable with the stage now, but, for me, it's still a very grueling tour. I haven't done this before. I may have done an every-night gig in Hong Kong because I was there for almost 16 years, and in Manila, Philippines, I did gigs there. After the gig, you get to go home to the same place and same house, but here, it's like ... you know? You get to experience disrupted sleep ... You get to sleep a couple of hours in the bus and then they wake you up and then you need to try to sleep back in the hotel, and then they wake you up ... two o'clock in the afternoon to do sound check, and then you have to wait there until nine o'clock.

So it's very hectic. It's very stressful. It's a very, very challenging job. It's a fantastic job, but at the same time it's a curse. Trying to fill up very, very big shoes.

It has got to be fun, on tour, to be seeing the whole country, right?
Oh, I never get to enjoy them because, it's all buses, stage, microphone, hotel rooms. I never really get to go around and walk out and just see the place. I have off days, but I would prefer resting.

It has got to be lonely at times without your family.
It is. It is very, very sad. There are days I would break down and cry. But, you know. I just have to be man enough to face that this is a job I'm doing for my family. That's all the consolation that I'm getting. That's the only thought.

It's got to be fun to be onstage, though, and see all these huge crowds.
Yeah, it is. Of course. Until now ... I still feel I'm wondering, "Why am I here with these very famous guys onstage every night?" I'm still like, "Wow, this is not really happening." But it is, you know. It's a wonderful feeling, but at the same time, it's scary. I'm just trying to enjoy it while it lasts.

Do you think it's going to be done some day? Do you think maybe you'll quit if it's too much touring?
Well, I personally told Mr. Neal Schon that the only thing that will make me quit is if I get sick. If I can't do it anymore, then I just need to go. I guess that's the same reason Steve Perry bailed out.

The guys are good to me, so with that part I have no problem. But it's just with the tour. The schedule is so grueling for me. It's so new to me. Until now, my body hasn't really adjusted to all of these amazing things that have been happening.

But the tour is done in a few weeks, right?
It will be over around October 5th.

Then you go home, right?
Yeah, but only for a short time and then I think they're planning to go out again second week of November for another three-week tour and then, yeah, Christmas-time.

So is this not all the fun that you thought it would be?
When Neal Schon told me I had the gig I already thought how hard it was gonna be, the touring and everything. I knew then. That's why I told my manager back then, "I think I can't do this."

Right, but you're doing it.
Yeah. One day at a time.