His voice is irreplicable. The former Journey singer from 1977 through 1987 and a brief reunion in the ’90s, Perry led the charge with his powerhouse vocals and having a hand in writing many of the band’s biggest hits, including “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Anyway You Want It,” and “Only the Young.”
“I don’t think that people have even looked at the songwriting aspect,” said Perry in a 2020 interview with American Songwriter. “You can have vocal abilities, you can have a great band. But if you don’t have a song, you’re lost. What is the success of all these groups without songwriting? You gotta have a song first.”
Perry also continued his own solo career with his 1984 debut, Street Talk, and hits “Oh Sherrie,” and “Foolish Heart,” on through the mid-’90s with For the Love of Strange Medicine before stepping away from music for more than 20 years. Returning in 2018 with his third solo album Traces, Perry followed it up with the release of his first holiday album, The Season, in 2021, a collection of covers born out of nostalgia and recapturing the holiday spirit again around the pandemic.
“I think everything I write comes from nostalgic moments, whether it’s traces of a song or something like ‘No Erasin’ (2018),” shared Perry in a 2021 around the release of The Season with American Songwriter. “That’s a true story of going to a class reunion years later, and parking on a ditch bank in my hometown with an old girlfriend and talking about the backseat of her car. Those are nostalgic things that are real stories, and when I can tap into those pictures in my mind, then they inspire the melody. They inspire the emotions.”
Perry recently spoke to American Songwriter about his return to music after leaving it behind for so long, the fear of never finding a song again, and how the flood of new music finally came back.
American Songwriter: How do you write songs now? Do lyrics still come to you in the same way after all these years, and after stepping away from it all for so long?
Steve Perry: I must say that when I left the music business, I was gone for about 25 years, and I had no intentions of coming back. In my heart, I truly had done everything that living the dream could have possibly been. And I really believe that’s true. We [Journey] were so successful. And we really had such a blast and we had such great songs the band, and I had some solo stuff that was great. It’s good. I’m good. So I left. Then over 20 years go by and all of a sudden the creative juices just started to come back. I was a little trepidatious to put my toes back in the waters because I left it so thoroughly. There are demons when you create music. By demons, I mean self-doubt, the questioning “is that good enough,” the creative process can be painful.
AS: How did you cope with the idea that you may not be able to write a song ever again?
Steve Perry: I really didn’t think it was going to come back, and I had to be okay with that. I couldn’t worry about it. I said, “I’ve had my time.” By the way, when I left, the music changed. It was like “here comes grunge. Here’s a boy band.” And that was fine. I had rock and roll that I thought was the best of what it was and could have been. I already had that.
AS: What has been a challenging part of writing these days?
Steve Perry: Honestly, the hardest part is shutting them down. I’ve got too many songs. I’m so fortunate. I’ve got so many to finish that I’m going to have to shut down the looking mechanism and finish the ones I have. It’s a lot easier just to keep on going with these new ideas, but you’ve got to finish some. I went down in my studio here in San Diego—it’s like a bunker—looking over hard drives in just two days ago, and I forgot all these songs I had. I’ve got so many that are almost finished and some that need to be finished. I know where to chase them, when to go after them, and bring them to fruition. I’m fortunate that being creative with new songs is not my problem right now.
AS: Songwriters can always use some words of wisdom. These days, what do you think is the best advice a writer should follow?
Steve Perry: I was watching The Beatles doc Get Back, and John [Lennon] says the best time to sort them [songs] out is when you’re doing them [says Perry in his best John Lennon accent]. I always agreed with that.
Don’t put it off, because the best time is when they first show up. That’s when they’re alive. And you can sort them out pretty well at that moment.
Photo: Myriam Santos