For over thirty years now, Journey have been the torchbearers for melodic rock and roll. From their earlier, more progressive work in the 70's to their mainstream heyday in the mid-80's, Journey have continually managed to stick to their guns, regardless of the ever fickle mind-set of the music-buying public.
I had the opportunity to speak with Journey bassist Ross Valory this past November, while the band was on tour to promote their latest release, "Generations".
How does it feel to be recording/ touring 3 decades into the game?
It feels absolutely wonderful. It many cases it doesn't feel like 30 years. I feel quite fortunate.
How much of a role does nostalgia play in Journey's continued success?
I think it plays an important part, given that the mainstay of our activity is in performing, and there are so many people as Journey fans who grew up with the music, or at least many of the songs that play a significant part in their past. The mainstay of our performance includes at least what we call "The Dirty Dozen" (laughs). At least 12 or more of the most popular hits of the bands past, so that certainly is a mainstay.
What about Journey's music has allowed it to persevere, since so many of your contemporaries from the 70's and 80's have faded into obscurity?
I think it has to do with how people remember their past and what is it about their past that is marked by the music that they experienced at the time. And in this case, there are so many people that graduated from high-school, loved or got married to our music.
What are your expectations for "Generations", your new release?
Well, the expectations I think for the most part involved not necessarily tying to the past styles that we are known for. We had an album that preceded "Generations" which came out in 2001 called 'Arrival", which was a very conscious effort to not lose the audience, not lose the flavor of the kind of music we're known for. In this case, I think it is more of a departure from what we were doing before. The album "Escape" was sort of different from what preceded it. The "Arrival" album just didn't really arrive, it didn't make any difference to our audience to that date. No matter how good, or how similar a song can be to a song that a person is attached to from the past, it won't replace it, it won't stand up to that. In this case we just decided to throw caution to the wind so to speak, and venture into other styles of music that the band is not known for, throw it out there and see what happens. I think it's succeeding in that way.
Lyrically there seems to be some continuing themes between "Generations" and your previous records, there is always a sense of the working-class sensibility there.
Yes, this is true. There is a similarity. Lyrically it also relates to the "Escape" album, which related to the lives of everyday people.
Is it ever hard to write the uplifting songs Journey is known for?
Well I attribute that approach as you describe it to [keyboardist] Jonathan Cane as a lyricist. He plays a major part in terms of messages that are related, and he has over the years as well, in the "Dirty Dozen" that I referred to before. Well put!
How do you feel Journey fits into the overall rock world today?
Honestly, I don't know what the trend of the current rock world is, I really don't know what that is (laughs). Why? Well, I generally don't listen to it. If I'm in a place to purchase CD's or whatever, I'm busy filling out my collection of things, anything from Mozart to Miles Davies. I don't know how our music relates to the current trends, I wouldn't have any concept. This current band has been in existence for 8 years now, and even still, in spite of the amount of success we've been seeing performing every year, one of us or several of us at a time will run into people somewhere who go "hey, aren't you in Journey? Oh, gee, are you guys still together?" And we kind of look at each other in amazement and go "yeah!" I don't pay attention to who's coming to town, I don't subscribe to the newspaper that has the entertainment section and I'm not necessarily listening to rock n' roll radio either, so I would be typical of a person who might be a Journey fan, that wouldn't know that we existed or were coming through town. We are still in our own way amazed when we run into people who are potentially or definitely fans of the music from their attachment to those songs from the past that are significant in their life, who don't know that the band has been back, so to speak, for 8 years now, after having been gone from what, 85-86 to 98, with the exception of the brief reunion that we did with Steve Perry and the "Trial By Fire" album. People grew up to the music, which I guess relates to the title of the album and the tour, and they've instilled the affection for their music in their kids and even into their grandchildren! (Laughs). So what we have at our concert is oftentimes 2 generations, or 3. Now, there's this other demographic, there's this other slice of the music-buying public who are discovering Journey for the first time. These are younger people, who are arriving at the concert and I would assume they are diving into the vast catalog that we have built up over the years that have nothing to do with their parent's musical tastes. I guess maybe they're discovering Journey like they're discovering Jimi Hendrix. That's quite a leap, but there's a similar phenomenon there where people are going retro and discovering music from before they were born. The majority of the music that we're known for is what, 20 years old? It's either a continual generational appreciation of the music, or it's a rediscovery. It's interesting to see these young kids right in the front row going "dude, you guys rock!" It's very flattering.
Do you have any qualms with the "Classic Rock" or "Prog Rock" tags that are often used to describe Journey?
(Imitating a jaded fan) "Oh, here's another dinosaur band…" Well, dinosaurs have very large teeth. Anybody who comes to one of our concerts will not be put to sleep, I'll tell you that much. There's a lot going on, especially with what we're doing this year. A lot of the music from way back, before the "hits", was very energetic and very progressive. And a lot of the material from "Generations" is highly energetic. There's quite a [range] of vocalization on this album which is different from what Journey has been known for in the past. Usually, there's 1, maybe 2 lead singers of the band, currently there are 5 of us singing. So to answer your question, "how do we deal with the label of classic rock", well gee, classic rock kept our music on the radio while we were gone, and it's still continuing. Now, there is a catch though. Classic radio doesn't necessarily play the newer music of a classic rock band (laughs). That's the irony there, you know? We are who we are, and if there's an ability to bring new material and a new image and a newer outlook musically to the table that's fine, but in the meantime there is always that to rely on, which is a very extensive legacy of music from the past.