Journey finds a new frontman in the Philippines
NOVATO, Calif. – The classic rock band Journey has a history of rags-to-riches lead singers.
Golden-voiced Steve Perry, the operatic tenor who sang the band's anthemic '80s hits, was plucked from a construction job in a Central Valley farm town.
Steve Augeri, who replaced Mr. Perry in the mid-'90s, was working in a Gap store when he got the call to join the band.
Now we have the cyberspace Cinderella story of Arnel Pineda, Journey's new frontman.
Even Mr. Pineda himself, "the Steve Perry of the Philippines," hasn't wrapped his head completely around what has happened to him.
"Who in their right mind would believe they would call someone like me, in the Philippines?" the boyish 40-year-old said from his Marin County, Calif., hotel room. "This is Journey. They are superstars in the music business."
A new lead singer is especially crucial at this point in the band's 35-year career. No longer just an '80s nostalgia act, the group has suddenly become au courant, thanks to some mobsters from New Jersey.
When The Sopranos' final episode made pop-culture history in June, ending with Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," the once-mighty stadium rockers found themselves back in the national consciousness, positioned for a comeback.
Not a good time to be without a frontman.
Since Mr. Perry and Journey parted ways a decade ago, it's been a revolving door for Journey vocalists. The previous lead singer, Jeff Scott Soto, was reportedly fired last summer after a brief stint. He'd taken over from Mr. Augeri, who dropped out in 2006 with voice problems after eight years with the band.
Enter Mr. Pineda, whose hiring was announced in early December. He talked about his unlikely rock stardom one afternoon recently, hours before he was to get on a plane for the long flight back to his home in Quezon City.
"He's got the legacy sound and then some," said Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain, speaking from his home in Novato. "He's blessed with tons of emotion and soul, stuff you can't teach. He's a find."
Journey guitarist Neal Schon gets credit for finding Mr. Pineda in an intense Internet search.
"I was frustrated about not having a singer," Mr. Schon said. "So I went on YouTube for a couple of days and just sat on it for hours. I was starting to think I was never going to find anybody."
But his tenacity paid off when he stumbled onto a video of Mr. Pineda singing Journey's hit "Faithfully" with a Filipino cover band called the Zoo.
"After watching the videos over and over again, I had to walk away from the computer and let what I'd heard sink in because it sounded too good to be true," Mr. Schon said. "I thought, 'He can't be that good.' "
After getting Mr. Pineda a work visa, the band flew the singer to California in August for an audition. It didn't take long for him to prove he really is as good as Mr. Schon had hoped. "Right off, they told me I had the gig," Mr. Pineda said.
Two months later, he returned to record 11 new songs with the band.
"I only learned them when I arrived here," he said. "They didn't give me an advance tape, so it was even harder. There was a lot of pressure. Sometimes I didn't sleep. There were days I only slept two or three hours and I still had to learn the songs and record them."
Since English is Mr. Pineda's second language – his first is Tagalog – he worked on phrasing and diction with an accent-reduction coach.
He also had to learn to deal with an undercurrent of racism among some Journey fans.
"One of the worst things I read on a fan message board said that Journey is an all-American band and it should stay like that," Mr. Pineda said. "But I don't care. I just say, 'Hey, grow up.' "
Said Mr. Cain: "We've become a world band. We're international now. We're not about one color. I kind of like the whole idea of having a singer like him. It's exotic."
Mr. Pineda will be back in Marin County by late January or early February for two weeks of rehearsals before a concert in Santiago, Chile, and a couple of shows in Las Vegas in March that will be filmed for a live DVD. This summer, the band tours the United States and then heads to Europe. The new album is due in the spring.