In early 2020, Journey frontman Arnel Pineda flew back to his native Manila after playing a corporate gig in Texas. He was gearing up for a big year in which Journey would cut their first new record since 2011’s Eclipse and play amphitheaters all over North America with the Pretenders.
The pandemic changed all that and he’s been in Manila ever since, but Journey still found a way to work remotely on the record. It’s their first full-length since parting ways with drummer Steve Smith and bassist Ross Valory. They were replaced by bassist Randy Jackson (who briefly toured and recorded with Journey in 1986–87) and drummer Narada Michael Walden, who’s doubling as the album’s producer.
We checked in with Pineda via Zoom to talk about his lockdown life in Manila, the in-progress Journey record, the upcoming biopic about his life, and why he still dreams about a Journey reunion with Steve Perry.
How are things going?
Good. I arrived here in Manila last year just a week and a half before the lockdown began. I was lucky. Otherwise, I would have been stuck in America for six months before they let me back.
This must be the longest stretch of time you’ve been home since you joined Journey in 2007.
Yeah. This is the longest. I like it because I got to spend a lot of time with family and the kids and more time with myself and my wife. There are other things I would rather do than tour, so I got the chance to be here. In a negative way, it’s quite bad. The survival here is a day-to-day deal. I’m the one that goes out a lot. I’m the one that goes to the market and the grocery to refill our food stocks.
You wonder if you have the virus every day. There’s a lot of paranoia going around. It’s like what is happening in America.
Do you miss playing live?
Yeah. I especially miss the energy and the adrenaline of doing it. I’m delivering on the legacy that the Voice [Steve Perry] has left behind. Especially now that he formally passed the torch to me in 2017 [at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction], he made that known and he was very gracious. It was very kind of him. It was so generous of him to say that in public. It was really an honor.
What was it like to finally meet Steve after all these years?
I posted on Instagram that I had waited 35 years for that. It was dreamy. I couldn’t believe I met him since he’s very reclusive and he avoids people. He didn’t want to get interviewed, at least until he released his new record [Traces] and then suddenly he was out there, going to radio stations and accepting interviews.
I was really surprised that he agreed to meet me. It’s one of the most special things that happened in my life. He’s one of my heroes when it comes to singing. I remember back in the Eighties, I would sleep on the bus with my Walkman on in my ears as his voice sang all these favorite songs from Journey.
I really dug his new record.
It was amazing. I’ve been teasing Jonathan [Cain] and Neal [Schon]. “Why don’t you invite Steve Perry over for a tour?” Oh, my God. I never saw them back in the Eighties. I was just a young kid in Manila, just playing around, with no chance of going to the States and seeing their show, but they were one of my favorite bands.
Judging by our talks, I’m extremely confident that he’s happy to leave the Journey baton with you.
That’s even more pressure I’m getting, hearing this from you. At the same time, I’m truly honored. But I’m not losing [the hope] that one day he’ll join the band for two or three songs. It would be one of the highlights of my life if that happens.
It would almost be on the scale of Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd re-forming at this point.
My God. It would be the same thing for me with Led Zeppelin because I haven’t seen them either, or Pink Floyd. I wish they would be complete again. It’s like completing a circle, being back up onstage again.
Do you think this long break has been good for your singing voice? Has it given you time to rest the muscle?
I think so. At the same time, I can’t help but sing four or five songs here every day. The problem with the voice is that it changes as you grow older. It’s like athletes. They reach their peak on their 30th birthday. As they approach 31 or 32, it starts to change. It’s the same with my voice. I just want to make sure I can be of use to the band until they decide to throw the towel in.
Those are hard songs to sing for any singer. You guys go out and do 60 straight concerts in the summer and you need to hit the high notes on “Faithfully” every single time. That would be hard for anyone at any age.
We’ll do five or six shows a week. I’m just quite amazed with myself a little. Somehow I was able to take it for 13 years. Let’s see what’s going to happen in the coming days. We’re on to finishing the album. We finished six songs so far. There’s talk of going out somewhere first, maybe Las Vegas for a residency. We don’t know yet. We haven’t decided. Just to break the ice between the new members and us.
You have six songs totally done?
Yeah. And maybe seven songs to go.
Are these ballads? Rockers?
For now, we’re doing the rocker songs first, not the ballads. I think the seven songs they’re working on, they’re working on something huge, like how you’ve known Journey doing ballads. It’s between [1981’s ] “Mother, Father” and [1978’s] “Winds of March.” We’re working on that song. We’ll see what happens. I’m waiting for them to send me the demos so that we can record it next week.
Working remotely like this must have been an adjustment. Normally, you’d be in the room together.
I know. It’s quite hard right now. I have a few melody ideas that I’m into and want to share with them, but you can’t right now because of what is happening. I just have to listen to it and learn it. We use Zoom to record and I turn on my laptop and go into Logic Pro. They get ahold of it. If there’s something I want to change, I tell them. But it’s all pretty much done and I just record with them.
Are you doing the vocals on your laptop?
Yeah. I’ll show you [turns camera around and shows a microphone plugged into a computer in front of soundproofing foam]. I share my computer, like mirroring. They can see what’s happening in my laptop. It allows them to hack it for a moment and then they can hear it. It happens in real time.
There’s no lag. I can hear that right now while we talk. It’s like you’re in the next room and you’re actually more than 8,000 miles away.
Yeah. Thank God for the technology.
Do you think the album will come out this year?
I think so. Neal thinks so. He can’t wait to release it before we do a full-on tour.
How do things sound different now that Randy Jackson and Narada Michael Walden are in the band?
It’s somewhat like the sound back in the Eighties when Randy Jackson joined the band for the Raised on Radio album. It’s kind of like that, but it’s also more updated. Narada is producing my vocals and mentoring me on how to do it. He’s telling me to sing it this way and that way. It’s amazing. I’m learning a lot from Narada. It’s truly an honor and I appreciate him for doing so. It’s amazing.
Has the band even been in the same room yet? Have you met Randy and Narada in person?
Right now, it’s just been virtual. It’s tough. I wanted to do it. I keep telling Neal, “If only I had been there, we would have done this in two months. Sorry it’s taking so long.” But with all these health protocols where you need to quarantine for two weeks, and then I come back and I’d be quarantined for another two weeks before I can join my family. It’s too much of a hassle, so we decided to do it this way even though Neal isn’t too happy about it. He wants it the old, classic way of making an album.
Moving on here, what’s the status of the movie about your life?
It’s going to happen. I think they’re gonna start. Some people from Warner will start coming here. I think maybe with [Crazy Rich Asians director] Jon Chu and [Joker and The Fighter screenwriter] Scott Silver. They might come here to audition actors and actresses that will take part in my biopic.
Are you going to take them around town and show them the places you grew up?
Yes. That’s the deal, of course. I want to show them where I grew up, where I was born, where everything happened before this whole magical thing.
Do you think the story will start in your childhood and show all your early bands and struggles and focus on the pre-Journey period?
I think so, yeah. That’s the plan. I’ve spoken many times with Scott Silver. What’s interesting about my story is that I’ve survived two coup attempts here in the Philippines before I went to Hong Kong for 10 years. I don’t know he if plans to tell what happened to me in Hong Kong, but I had 10 years there. He might focus on my love story with my wife now.
I can see the grand finale in my head. It’ll be you walking onstage in Chile at your first Journey show. You’re nervous and they push you out and you burst into “Separate Ways.”
Yeah. I was trying to back out five minutes before. I was like, “Neal, I cannot do this. This is not built for me.” They were like, “No. It’s too late. Get out there and do it.”
It was the turning point of your life. Everything is either before that moment or after that moment.
You should tell Scott Silver about this idea. I’ve been implying it to him that we should end everything in Chile. And I remember when my wife decided to join me on tour in 2011. We were playing to a 30,000 crowd that night. I was telling my wife, “Remember Hard Rock Cafe when there were only three tables? Now it’s 30,000 people.” It was just unbelievable. It doesn’t get old to me. It’s still so surreal and bizarre.
I saw you at Citi Field with Fleetwood Mac and Madison Square Garden with Def Leppard. I could tell you were still having a blast.
It’s still unbelievable. I’m just so blessed. I can’t thank them enough, especially Neal Schon. He was the one that was really sold that I am the one since 2007. But then again, I still think, “If only they could bring back Steve Perry.” You know what I mean?
I do, but if he came back, that would mean …
I know, but I miss them so much together. Every now and then, I watch their videos together. It’s always them with Steve Perry that I watch. I mean, no offense to Adam Lambert. He’s an amazing performer and he has an amazing voice, but I still watch the old [Queen] ones with Freddie Mercury. That’s why when people say things like “No Perry, No Journey,” I understand it. Where I come from, we’re so influenced by Western music. We loved the originals, if you know what I mean.
His return would put you out of a job.
That would be OK to me! I’m telling you. That’s how much I adore him and I adore Journey and how much I adore Steve Perry. Back in 2005, I resigned from my job in Hong Kong because I lost my voice due to acid reflux. I was telling my friends back then that my only regret was I lost my voice before I had the chance to sing side-by-side with Steve Perry. I was joking with them, but then a different situation happened. I just wish that one show with him … it would change my life forever. It’s been 30 years now and the band keeps changing my life in ways nobody would ever guess would happen.
Do you miss Ross Valory and Steve Smith now that they’re out of the band?
I do, of course. We had a real bond that nobody can deny. [Sighs] When the first day came that Steve Smith went back, I could feel that he was trying to feel everything out and observe. When he got the good vibe again, we clicked. Four years with him was very special. And 11 years with Ross was amazing. I cannot ask for anything more. Those friendships I’ll take with me until the end of time.
The group has dealt with a lot of tensions and feuds during your time with them, but you always remain neutral and out of the fray. How do you do that?
I try to stay away. It’s like, “Oh, the big boys are fighting.” I’d rather stick to my guns, which is just singing and delivering the legacy with them onstage. When we’re up onstage, I think everyone forgets their differences behind the scenes. That’s my happy place. When they’re having some petty quarrels, I try to stay away. I talk to everybody without having to talk about their differences.
Your White House visit caused a bit of controversy. Do you have any regrets about going there and meeting Trump?
I do not. As a Filipino, I am such a big fan of the White House. It’s not about Trump. It’s not about who the president is. It’s the whole history of the White House. I was just amazed. When I went there, I looked at all the pictures of past presidents and how old everything was. And then the table where President Trump was seated was about 100 years old. Who wouldn’t want to see that? Who wouldn’t want to touch that?
His presidential guard was laughing at me because President Trump was talking to the other members [of the band] and I was just mesmerized by the table. I was like, “Wow! This is truly 100 years old?” I’m just a kid from Manila and I was in the White House for the first time, so no regrets. I guess I didn’t even have a chance to apologize to Neal. He must understand. I’m just a kid from Manila that wants to see the White House, in general.
What’s the status of your next solo record?
I’m doing it right now. I’m just waiting on a couple of friends that are helping me finish it from the States. Because of the recent banning of some countries from coming in here, we got delayed. I’m expecting them to arrive here at the end of March instead of the end of January. Even my online streaming concert was moved to April 18th. It was supposed to happen in February. To those who want to get a ticket, it’ll be at sanrestreaming.com.
Back to the movie, do you think being on set and watching someone play a younger version of you will be a surreal experience?
It will be weird, but it’ll be weirder if I am there portraying myself! [Laughs] I will not be able to stand there and look at myself. I don’t really listen to myself singing either. When the documentary Everyman’s Journey came out, I could barely watch it. The premier was in Tribeca. I was like, “Do I really have to watch this and see myself on the big screen?” I was cringing.
Do you think the actor in the movie will actually sing, or will you provide the vocals?
I think I’m going to use my voice. Do you remember the Queen movie [Bohemian Rhapsody]? Marc Martel did the voice. I think I’m going to do that too.
I can’t wait. Crazy Rich Asians is a great movie. Jon Chu really knows what he’s doing.
It’s unbelievable that he took notice of my life and my story and wants to make a movie out of it. It really humbled me.
They should film it in Manila and not somewhere else. It should look authentic.
They definitely will. There’s so much to remember, I’m telling you. At one point in my life, I was really on drugs. It quite affected my memory. I need to recover all those things that happened to me when I was young. But I’ve recovered a lot of my childhood memories. Scott Silver is quite happy with what I was able to tell him.
I’m very hopeful that before 2021 ends, you’ll be back onstage with Journey.
Me too. I can’t wait to see those smiling faces and that rolling-thunder sound of the audience. It’s quite an adrenaline [rush] when you experience that every night. That’s what keeps you going.