Journey’s Arnel Pineda Not Initially a ‘Don’t Stop Believin” Fan Until It Soundtracked His Life
Big things are happening for Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Journey in 2021. As fans may recall, the group underwent a lineup change last year with Narada Michael Walden, Randy Jackson and Jason Derlatka joining the band. That led to work on the band's first studio album since 2011.
We had a chance to speak with singer Arnel Pineda, who also has several other things of note happening this year. He's working on a solo album and there's a new biopic in the works on his life. Pineda also has a big solo concert on the way (April 18) from a 360-degree video geosphere. Check out the chat in full below.
First off, I wanted to ask about “Don’t Stop Believin’” because it’s being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame this year, and it’s not every song of consequence that gets inducted. You have the unique perspective of hearing it as a music fan first and then eventually joining the band that recorded it. Can you talk about what that song has meant to you?
Honestly, I was not a big fan of the song at first. I got introduced to the band from that song on the album Escape, “Open Arms,” and that was the very first song I heard from them. But when I became a professional singer, a cover singer at the age of 16 years old, “Open Arms” was the first song that I sang.
But “Don’t Stop Believin’” was there subconsciously. I was struggling with my life after my mother died and I went on to become this cover band singer in 1985, and I always told myself that I’m never gonna give up. This is the only craft that I’m good at. And I had my mentors in that band that were honing me to be a better singer.
But from the beginning I believed that there was something great that was going to happen to me. I just had no idea what. But in my head and in my heart I was not gonna stop because this is the only thing in the world that I can do really good and it takes me to a place that makes me really happy.
And then finally I met the band in 2007 through Mr. Neal Schon. We had a good talk first and he invited me over to San Francisco and I met them. And that’s when I finally realized, this song has been waiting for me to realize that it was the soundtrack of my life. It really means so much to me now, and now every time that I go for something, it suddenly rings in my head. It’s those three words – don’t stop believin’.
While that might not have been your favorite initially, did you have a favorite Journey song and has that changed at all after you joined the group and started playing this material?
I think my three most favorite songs are “Faithfully,” “Winds of March” and “Why Can’t This Night Go On Forever.” Mr. Steve Perry’s voice there is absolutely perfect. It just gets me going. When I’m sad or I’m happy, they just make me think about the good things in life. That’s how I see it and these are the songs that I play with the band every time I go on stage and I love them. I try to deliver to the hardcore fans and the new fans the best I can cause I have so much respect for their legacy.
These guys, just when you thought all the best songs had been made, here they come. Neal Schon, Mr. Steve Perry, Jonathan Cain, their partnership was just unbelievable.
To be in this band, because some people still consider me a karaoke singer, blah, blah, blah, whatever, I’m just proud and so grateful. I feel so blessed cause I was given a chance to be part of such an iconic American band known around the world. What more could you ask for?
I think it was around 2005 and I had to resign from my band because I lost my voice, so we were out drinking and I was joking, but I said, “My god, I’ve lost my voice, but my only regret is that I never had a chance to sing side-by-side with one of my heroes.” They were laughing. But who would’ve thought that after two years I would be meeting them and 10 years later at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction of Journey I would meet and get to hug Mr. Steve Perry. He was just so gracious and kind and so welcoming. What more could you ask for?
I’ve seen on Twitter fans thanking you for the gift of keeping the spirit of Journey alive but I’ve also seen you turn it around on Twitter and say that really it was your gift when Neal Schon came to you with the possibility of joining the band. Can you talk about what that relationship with Neal has been like since you’ve joined?
Since the beginning I think it was really evident that he was really rooting for me. He really wanted me to be in the band even though I had a feeling that some of the members were still like, “Uh, we’ll see.” For Mr. Schon, his conviction about me was absolute. That was the very first thing that I saw in his eyes when we met. But he’s not the only one in the band, so he needs to consider the other members.
He’s a mentor, he’s a friend and he changed my life. His tale and my tale will be told through generations of our family. Everything changed because of him.
One of the things that has changed over the past year is new band members. I wanted to give you a chance to talk about Narada Michael Walden, Randy Jackson and Jason Derlatka and what they’ve brought to the group. I know you’ve worked on new music and wanted to get your feel on working with all them.
I can’t believe they said yes to join the band. On their own, they’re like big names already. My god, they’re like additional magic for the band. I can’t wait to be with them and to tour. It’s a little bit of trial and error recording at a distance. But with Narada, we’ve already finished six songs and it’s been amazing. He’s starting to be one of my biggest mentors. He’s been so patient with me and he’s so good. It’s no wonder he’s a Grammy winner. I’ve been getting his vibe and he’s a good teacher. I really can't wait to get out on the road with Narada, Randy and Jason to see how that vibe works live.
Journey's New Lineup Performs "Don't Stop Believin'" at 2020 Unicef Benefit
You mentioned six songs into the new record. Is there anything in terms of themes popping up or a direction the music is taking you can share?
You had better ask them, as they’re the ones producing this (laughs). They’re just like, “Hey we’re sending you the demo now,” and I just sing it from my heart. I am trying to write a couple to contribute but I don’t know if it’ll pass their taste. You know how good they are as songwriters. But even if I don’t have any contributions, I’m just happy singing it for them.
Is this kind of a virtual session the way you’re recording? Is it different and can you talk about the challenges of recording this way?
Of course. The thing with Zoom and ProLogic and the computer is making that connection. Sometimes I’m having a hard time when they send the demo, cause I’m also working on my solo album and it’s a different genre, different style, so I go from my songs to listening to their demo and sometimes it doesn’t come quickly to me. I need to sit with it a few days to finally get it. It’s just a different environment and trying to get adjusted again. But I have a history there so it’s both hard and easy at the same time.
You mentioned a solo album in there and it being different from what Journey does. Can you share a bit on your progress with that?
I’ve been working with a couple of musicians from the States, and they’re Filipinos. I wasn’t able to find some people here that I could work with because they didn’t get me. I tried several musicians but they didn’t get what I was trying to interpret. But with these two guys, they get me. We really click well and it’s ongoing. I’ve managed to make at least 15 to 20 demos, and we’ll choose from the best of them. I’m just trying to release four or five songs.
It’ll just be an EP because these days if you’ve got 12 songs, people will have two favorites and then the rest is like forgotten. That’s just how it is now.
Is there a timeline for Journey’s record and for your solo EP?
With the Journey album, and especially Neal, he wants it out before we head out [on tour]. So that remains to be discussed as we need to be certain about when we can go out there for a full-on tour. But it will definitely be before the full-on tour will happen.
And with my solo album, I’m waiting because there’s a ban on Americans coming to the Philippines right now. I don’t know when it will be lifted, but when it is maybe they can come and I’m hoping at the end of March.
You've got a special concert coming up in a Geodesic Dome?
I will be entering a futuristic structure, a combination of a LED cube and a Geodesic dome form which will look like from the outside a space machine to be placed somewhere in Manila. Inside when I enter, it will be a different realm, with interactive panels, 360 degrees of visual effects, and virtual interaction with fans from all over the world projected on some of the panels. It’s going to be a unique 90 minute streaming concert. Both digital and traditional architects are working on building this venue concept.
Arnel Pineda in the Sanre Geosphere
I also see where there’s a biopic coming about your story. Most people know about your joining Journey, but what from your life are you most excited to share with audiences?
Well this will be really about me – the struggles that I had in my younger years. There were those bullies that used to bully me when I was a kid and there’s my love story with my wife now. It’ll be more of me, and I can’t really say everything because otherwise you’d already imagine it, but it’s definitely my biopic until I met Neal Schon. They might start looking for actors and actresses this year.
The pandemic has been hard on people, but as a touring musician, you’re getting a chance to do something you don’t get to do a lot and that’s spend more time at home. Have you used the time to pick up new hobbies? What has home life been like?
It’s still the same, but it’s just that I get to do it more. Before the pandemic, we toured every year so it’s about seven months away. And then when I’m home, the local touring industry wants to celebrate my career with Journey so they want to see me. So right now I’m not doing a lot of that extra work.
So I get to spend more time with my kids and talk to them and get to know how they feel about me and I get to tell them how I feel about them and we get to play together. They get to see me writing songs I do some planting and most of all I get to cook for them a lot. I go to the market. I just get to be the normal guy I am from the very beginning. I’m not the guy that since I got Journey I had to upgrade my lifestyle. I’m still the regular guy I am and that’s something I love about me. I just want to be under the radar and spending time with my family. It makes me smile every day.
Any of the kids following in your footsteps musically?
Oh my god, all of them. My first son from my first relationship, Matthew, he’s a guitar player and a singer. He’s 31 now and lives in Hong Kong. My second son, he lives in the south of the Philippines, the island of Mindanao, and he’s a singer and a guitar player, too.
My son with my wife now, Cherry, he plays piano and guitar, which are my frustrations. But he learned it really fast and really quick and he’s so good at it. But he has other interests, too, and wants to get good at online games and computers. And then my youngest daughter, she loves singing and dancing. So it’s in their blood and just passing it on.
But I’m not like these stage parents who pushes them to get good at it. I let them be who they want to be. I don’t want them to experience the hard life of being a musician here in the Philippines. It’s tough. There was a lot of frustration, a lot of discrimination and desperation. The money’s not too good. I went through a lot of hardship and I don’t want them to experience that, so that’s why I tell them, please, please, finish your school. It can be your fall back. You can get serious with your music, but education is still the most important thing. You can maybe start a business of your own and you don’t have to go down the same path that I went through. It was a tough and cruel path until I met Journey.
Our thanks to Journey's Arnel Pineda for the chat. Keep an eye out for more info regarding Journey's next studio album and Arnel's solo EP as the year continues. And be sure to catch Arnel Pineda in concert in a live virtual LED CUBE Geodesic Dome that your eyes simply won't believe. Taking place on April 18, 2021 at 12.01am (Philippine Standard Time), you can get more ticketing details here.