Discovered on YouTube, Filipino frontman finds Journey tour “a curse”
Two minutes before Journey kicked off their world tour in February, with new singer Arnel Pineda, the whole thing nearly fell apart. “I told them I wanted to back out,” says the 41-year-old Filipino vocalist, whom the band discovered on YouTube. “[Journey guitarist] Neal Schon told me, ‘It’s too late now.’ He pushed me a little and said, ‘Go. Go sing for us.’ ” Pineda overcame his butterflies and took the stage in front of 20,000 fans in Chile, singing an hour of hits in a soaring voice incredibly similar to former Journey frontman Steve Perry. Since then, Pineda has played more than 63 concerts with Journey, including a current three-month trip through American amphitheatres, which has been averaging 13,000 people a night. The tour is the sixth-highest-grossing of the summer, and the band’s performances are as high-energy as they were during Journey’s heyday.
Unfortunately, Pineda isn’t finding the tour nearly as fulfilling as his bandmates are. He misses his girlfriend and son, and the gruelling pace is grinding him down. “It’s very, very sad,” he says. “There are days I just break down and cry. This is a job I’m doing for my family. That’s all the consolation I’m getting.” Travelling around America isn’t what he expected. “It’s all buses, stage, microphone,” he says. “I never really get to go around and walk. They wake me up for soundcheck, then I wait until the show at nine. It’s a fantastic job, but at the same time it’s a curse… I told Neal that the only thing that will make me quit this is if I get sick. I guess that’s the same reason Steve Perry bailed out.”
Just last summer, Pineda was fronting the Zoo, a band specialising in Eighties rock covers. YouTube clips of Pineda singing ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ and ‘Faithfully’ came to the attention of Schon, who had recently parted ways with Journey’s fourth lead singer, Jeff Scott Soto. “I told him, ‘You have to show your face so I can believe you,’ ” Pineda recalls of his first conversation with Schon. “I challenged him to talk to me on a Webcam.”
Within weeks, Pineda took his first trip to the US and auditioned for the band in San Francisco. A few days later, he was hired. “Mr Neal Schon picked me up and told me, ‘You got the job,’ ” Pineda says. “For a guy like me, it’s surreal – like some sort of miracle.” Quickly, the band cut two discs worth of material: one of new songs and another of rerecorded hits. “It was spooky, sitting behind the desk watching Arnel record these songs,” says keyboardist Jonathan Cain. “It was like going back in a time machine.” Since coming out in June, the album has sold 441,000 copies; it’s the band’s biggest hit since Perry left the group.
This all comes at a time when Journey’s work has re-entered the pop-culture landscape in surprising ways: Their 1981 smash ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ has made memorable appearances on The Sopranos and Laguna Beach, and Kanye West performed it nightly on his 2008 tour. “When you work at something long enough, things just sort of turn around,” Schon says. “I’m ear-to-ear smile every night.” But is he worried about his frontman? “He’s missing his family, missing his homeland, you know?” says Schon. “But he’s having a lot of fun, too.”