Steve Perry has kept a low public profile ever since he shared a lockdown rendition of the 1963 Beach Boys classic “In My Room” in April, but he tells Rolling Stone that since that time, he’s been busy creating new music. “I have a studio and I’m always writing and always recording stuff,” he says. “I have lots of music, so much stuff.”
First up is an acoustic version of his 2018 comeback LP Traces that he plans to release on December 4th. “It’s eight songs from the Traces record done acoustically and I’m really proud of it,” he says. “It’s called Traces Alternate Versions and Sketches. I cut the vinyl in Abbey Road. I’m really pleased with the sonics and I’m really pleased with the simplicity of the song and the lyric and the chords, which is basically what it’s stripped down to.”
Perry dropped out of the public eye in 1998 when he was sidelined by a hip injury and Journey opted to hire a new vocalist to take his place. “I had my time,” he says, “and I was very pleased with all the history I was fortunate to be around and I was proud of my musical contributions to any of it.”
He was drawn back to music after losing girlfriend Kelly Nash to breast cancer in 2012. “I made a promise to her that I would not go back into hibernation,” he says. “If something was going to happen to her, she asked that I wouldn’t do that because she felt it would make everything for naught. Those were her words. I kept that promise.”
He released Traces in 2018 and went on an extensive media tour to support it, but he didn’t play any live shows. Perry last toured in 1995 and the only time he’s played to a live audience since then took place in 2014 when he joined the band Eels at three shows.
“E [Eels frontman Mark Oliver Everett] and I became friends and he kept busting my balls saying, ‘When are you going to come out and just sing a couple of songs on our little tour?'” Perry recalls. “We’d always laugh, but I’d always go to his rehearsals because I love the band. He said, ‘Is this the year you’re going to do it?’ I said, ‘OK, what do you want to do?’ We worked up a bunch of songs and lowered the keys so I’d feel comfortable.”
The first appearance took place May 25th, 2014, at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota. Perry joined Eels for their original tune “It’s a Motherfucker” before closing the show with the Journey tunes “Open Arms” and “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.”
“Oh, my God,” Perry says as he thinks back to that night. “I forgot what it was like to be in front of people. I had forgotten that this voice [I have onstage] doesn’t belong to me. In a studio, I can probably get 80 or 90 percent of it. But that extra 10 or 20 percent only happens in front of a crowd.”
The three Eels appearances raised fan expectations that Perry might finally return to the road. It hasn’t happened so far, but the singer says that a tour remains a real possibility. “It’s always been on my mind,” he says. “My heart bleeds daily to be in front of people and to sing for them.”
One thing holding him back is the physical toll any tour would take on his body. “I’ve got some physical injuries from touring,” he says. “It’s a tough thing, touring. People don’t realize. It’s like sports. I’m watching baseball these days and there’s injuries. People’s backs and necks start to go out. It’s a young man’s game, but I do miss it.”
During Perry’s long absence from the road, Journey reinvented themselves as a touring powerhouse, especially after Arnel Pineda took over on vocals in 2008. But it’s been a contentious journey marked by persistent band infighting. Earlier this year, the band parted ways with drummer Steve Smith and bassist Ross Valory after a business dispute over the band’s copyright.
“I have no clue what that’s all about,” Perry says when the matter comes up. “I’ve been out of that band since May of 1998.”
When told that fans continue to fixate on his tenure in the band and pray for some sort of reconciliation, he laughs. “I don’t know what people think rock & roll is about,” he says. “Are we supposed to be like Bo Peep, sheep herders that are kind and loving? No. We bump heads like motherfuckers. But from that comes beautiful music like ‘Open Arms’ and other songs.”
Still, fans will likely never let go of the fantasy that everything can go back to the way it was in 1981 when it seemed like the band was in harmony and singing “Kumbaya” together offstage. “I don’t understand what these people base their thinking on,” he says. “There never was any ‘Kumbaya’ with us. But were the Chicago Bulls singing ‘Kumbaya’? How about the [San Francisco] 49ers with Bill Walsh? What are we talking about here?”
For now, Perry is focusing strictly on his own career, far away from the battles of Journey. “The acoustic Traces is going to close the Traces chapter,” he says. “Then I’m opening up another chapter next year at some point.”