Journey is back in Las Vegas. While the Bay Area-born rock band, which is known for songs like “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Faithfully,” has been playing Sin City since the Millenium, the group is back again after a pandemic-induced hiatus. (Now three shows in with two more to go in December.) And, says keyboardist Jon Cain, they’re already seeing people tear up. “I saw a couple of ladies in tears in the front row,” Cain says of the band’s recent shows in the desert.
For Cain, to be back is a real achievement. He and the band missed the stage, their time away was “devastating.” But in the meantime, the group wrote and recorded a new album, long-distance, which Journey is set to release in spring 2022 and will feature bassist Randy Jackson.
“We got lemons and we made lemonade,” Cain tells American Songwriter of the album that could feature upwards of 16 songs. “This record has a lot of fire.”
In June, Journey debuted their new album’s first single, “The Way We Used To Be,” which was born via file-sharing. It’s also true to the core of the band, immediately part of the best of their epic cannon. Journey guitarist Neal Schon was sending Cain keyboard licks he’d been working on. Unsure whether they were “Journey” songs or not, he let Cain check them out. Cain was inspired and got his pen moving. Along with playing keys, Cain has written song lyrics for much of his life, including the chorus for “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which was born from a conversation he had with his father. Now, in lockdown, Cain wrote about what he observed: he didn’t want to accept this “new normal” everyone was talking about. So, he said so.
“I reject the ‘new norm’,” he says. “No, we’re going back to the way we used to be. Our fans don’t want a new normal.”
Cain recalls the pandemic. He remembers acquiring COVID-19 and the separation he had from his wife in quarantine. In his soul was this idea of getting back together. When he heard Schon’s loop, which Cain says “sounded like the pandemic” and offered blues sensibilities and feelings of real pain, he wanted to put this idea for a hook down and sing about distance and his hope of shrinking it.
“We’re ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ that’s who we are,” Cain says. “We never quit!”
During the Vegas shows, the fans have taken to the new tune. It engenders a sense of hope and community.
Cain says he’s “old school.” On the new record, he also wrote a love song about “still believing” in love. It’s one of many tracks on the forthcoming LP, which Cain says will include signature Journey sounds, heartfelt ballads, and big rockers. In fact, the band is still in the process of sequencing the tracks, getting the exact right order. For the record, Cain wrote all the lyrics long-distance. He gives praise to a higher power for that.
“It’s my relationship with the Lord,” he says. “When it comes to Journey, He says, ‘I got ya,” and He sure did.”
Journey, which was originally comprised of past members from groups like Santana and Steve Miller Band, released its self-titled debut record in 1975. The band released a new album every year into 1980 when it released two albums in 12 months. Escape came in 1981 and with it, Journey’s biggest hit, the one that will last for likely thousands of years—“Don’t Stop Believin’.” The song was born during a conversation when a dejected Cain was talking with his father about quitting music. But his father encouraged that his big break was just around the corner and “don’t stop believing.” Boom. Ever since, the band has lasted through lineup changes, lead singer changes, and decades of time.
“It’s great to feel relevant at this point,” Cain says. “I’m certainly grateful for our fans for sticking with us.”
Cain recalls early reviews from outlets like Rolling Stone, which, he says, dismissed the band as some pop fad. Yet, Cain laughs, the big groups in the ‘70s and ‘80s now have to sing lines like, Girls, girls, girls, which may not feel as natural today as in the prime of their youths. To wit, over the summer, Journey played to 120,000 people at Lollapalooza, many of which Cain says were families. Despite these more wholesome roots, the band’s new record has much vim and vigor, stoked by Schon’s ambitious playing, Cain’s prolific lyrics, and lead singer Arnel Pineda’s sky-piercing vocals.
“Arnel delivered,” Cain says of the frontman, who joined Journey in 2007, filling the big shoes of Steve Perry. “We’re really blessed to have a man with a humble heart and mighty voice being our leader. He’s a showman. Last night the crowd was kind of dead but in the end, he had them standing up and they were loving it. It’s Vegas!”
For Cain, that’s the magic of music. Especially in a live setting (and Journey will be going on tour starting February 22 in Pittsburgh with Billy Idol.) It’s this invisible thing that has so much power to change. It brings joy to a room, energy. It can bring someone to tears and to laughter. As such, there’s a responsibility to being a musician, a purveyor of this sound. But if you do it right—if you keep the faith—it will pay off. And people will remember.
“I go to sleep at night,” Cain says, “and I know when I pass, I’ve left something behind. I think every artist wants to leave something behind they will be remembered for. It’s the songs that you leave behind—that’s all that matters.”
All photos courtesy Giant Noise