CLEVELAND, Ohio — It’s been a bumpy journey for Journey during the past couple of years.
But the path has smoothed considerably for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame troupe (class of 2017).
“It’s a new era, and we’re excited about having control of our destiny, finally, and doing what we want to do at this time,” says keyboardist-guitarist Jonathan Cain, who’s co-written many of Journey’s hits since joining the band in 1980 after a tenure with the Babys. “Everybody’s on the same page and the band sounds great. It’s an exciting time for us right now.”
Journey’s fans likely feel the same way. The group has announced a July 8 release for “Freedom,” its first album of new material in 11 years. The first single, “The Way We Used to Be,” came out last August, while another, “You Got the Best of Me,” came out last week. But Cain says that as anxious as the band is for people to hear the other 13 tracks, Journey plans to keep them under wraps, and out of its concert setlists, until “Freedom” is out.
Journey performs on a bill with Toto at 7:30 pm Saturday, May 7 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, 1 Center St., Cleveland.
“I think that’s fine,” Cain says. “You kind of want to let the album simmer a little bit and get into the ears and minds of people before you start (playing it). You want to let it come out and breathe in the marketplace — and get reactions, too. I think it’s always cool to get that.
“I remember when we did ‘Arrival’ (in 2000), Napster kind of dumped it out on the fans and the fans reacted and, boom, we had all these reactions to our music and we learned a lot from it. I think we’re gonna learn a lot when (‘Freedom’) is released and watch how people respond. I think it’s gonna be interesting.”
“Freedom” will add on to a formidable legacy Journey has established since it was founded during 1973 in San Francisco. (Guitarist Neal Schon is the sole remaining original member on the current roster. During its 49 years Journey has amassed a 15-album catalog that’s sold more than 80 million albums worldwide. The group has notched 18 Top 40 singles — including “Don’ t Stop Believin’,” which has become a bona fide global sports stadium anthem — while two of its albums, 1981′s “Escape” and 1988′s “Greatest Hits,” have been certified platinum for sales of more than 10 million copies.
“The bar’s kind of high whenever we want to do something new,” Cain notes.
“Freedom,” meanwhile, comes on the heels of a couple of turbulent years for Schon and Cain, during which they were sued by, and countersued, former members Ross Valory and Steve Smith and changed management. An “amicable settlement” out of court was announced last April, though the Journey lineup has been shifting since then; “Freedom” co-producer Narada Michael Walden and bassist Randy Jackson, announced as members in 2020, are no longer part of the roster, while longtime behind-the-scenes second keyboardist Jason Derlatka is now a full-fledged member and drummer Deen Castronovo , fired in 2015, is back on board.
“There was a period there where some things weren’t really right,” Schon, 68, says, “and it took time to figure out what was going on and what to do about it. I’m just all about moving forward right now. I’m making so much music, and there are so many positive things happening. It’s just full speed ahead.”
“Freedom” — Journey’s third studio set with vocalist Arnel Pineda — was recorded remotely between San Francisco and Nashville, and features artwork and design by Jim Welch, who was part of the vintage Journey braintrust during the ’70s and ’80s. “It sounds like a Journey record,” reports Cain, who also released a new faith-based solo EP, “Oh Lord Lead Us,” with a full solo album also due later this year. He worked on some of the new Journey songs while fighting off a Covid infection as well.
“Once again the songs come from all kinds of places, creatively. I think some of it’s really raw and really rock ‘n’ roll, and we have the classic ballads. We really tried to stay true to what we do best, and that’s just write good songs.
“And yet, there are some surprises. We step out a little bit, which is cool.”
Journey wraps up its current tour in mid-May, then settles in Las Vegas during mid-July for its next four-show residency at the Resorts World Theatre. Cain says the group is eyeballing more touring once the album is out and hints at “a really cool show in August that I’m super excited about, but I really can’t spill the beans yet. But we’ll be out there.”
The only harsh on Journey’s current buzz came on New Year’s Eve, when the group played as part of ABC’s “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve…” program. Following the performance, an admittedly inebriated Andy Cohen declared on CNN that “It’s not Journey without Steve Perry!” referencing the iconic frontman from 1977-98. It’s not the first time Cain and his current bandmates have heard that, and after nearly 25 years without Perry and 15 with Pineda — the Filipino singer Schon discovered via YouTube — they’ve learned to take it in stride.
“Y’know, Steve Perry certainly was a huge part of the architecture and the sound and all that,” Cain says, “but Neal and I believed in 1998 it wasn’t ’bout one guy, it was about the music and the fans. We bet on that, and we’ve been proven right. It was a triumphant night for Journey, no matter what anyone says. We know it works, and we know it’s good, so we’re just going to keep going, strong.”
Journey and Toto perform at 7:30 pm Saturday, May 7 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, 1 Center St., Cleveland. 216-420-2000 or rocketmortgagefieldhouse.com.