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Faithfully Welcome that Wheel in the Sky with Open Arms, Or Any Way You Want It Really

By Staff | Jun 3, 2008

Suddenly there’s a roaring cheer, and I look around to my friends to ask what’s going on. My eyes dart across the pub table but now they’re standing. One friend has her hands cupped around her mouth and is shouting something, another has both fists in the air in triumph, eyes closed and smiling. It’s pandemonium. And that’s when I hear it. Single piano notes coming together to form a wall of sound — the greatest rock piano riff of all time. “Don’t Stop Believing” was rippling through the pub, and that’s when I realized that Journey was eternal.

In recent years, this band from 1973 has received a makeover and a jumpstart. “Don’t Stop Believin’” appeared on “The Sopranos,” “Family Guy” and college campuses around the U.S., which initially featured it during popular ’80s parties but eventually became a weekend delight no matter what the setting.

Jump to 2008 and I’m on the phone with Ross Valory, one of the original founders of Journey. Valory is the band’s long-time bassist and has been on every record except one. We  began the interview as smooth as could be.

Graffiti: Hello, is this Ross?

Ross Valory: Yo! Woa! Call me back in 5, k?

Graffiti: Wait, er, yea, no problem.

Sidenote: Like I said, smooth. Five minutes later …

Graffiti: Hey Ross, this is Ben from Graffiti.

Valory: Yes, yes yes. How’s it going over there?

Graffiti: Great. I hear Journey is ready to take their show across the ocean for an international tour. How are the preparations coming?

Valory: Well, we just began going abroad in the last couple years. We’ve been to Europe twice in the last three years. Let me put it this way though  — the band is different. Since 1998 when we reformed with the original members, we’ve released a DVD, two and half albums and the band has been building back its popularity and fanbase.

Graffiti: That should really help you when you travel.

Valory: Without a doubt. You know, it’s nothing but the hits when you go abroad. We’ll be over there when the new album gets released. We’ll have Arnel with us and it’s a new image and new industry for us.

Graffiti: How is your new lead vocalist, Arnel Pineda, working out for you guys? I’ve heard some pretty remarkable stories about how you found him; care to elaborate?

Valory: First of all, he lives in Manilla, so it’s a workout for him. He’s used to living in a tropical environment. You know, like Kenny in South Park, so we have to keep him warm.

Sidenote No. 2: Valory then begins to do his Kenny impression over the phone to me. A little startled at first, I decided to join in. It was a barrel of laughs.

Valory: But we have to be careful with the traveling and changing his hours. We have to calculate the timing of our shows and it’s demanding for him. He misses his family and he is yet to move and a lot of his family is there. But you know, the find of Arnel really brought us a whole different viewpoint from the world. It’s now an international band from an all American excitement. Internationally we are getting a whole different potential and also in Latin America. The time and the serendipity of it all has changed a lot of things.

Graffiti: Is it true that Neal Schon found him on Youtube?

Valory: Actually it is. When we decided to send Jeff away, we had an album deal in the works. Neal was in the eleventh hour on Youtube and searched Journey singers and 40 videos with Arnel showed up with his cover band. He sounded amazing. It’s a real Cinderella story for him and a great story for Youtube and a great story for the band.

Graffiti: It must have been tough. Steve Perry was so iconic for the band. Was there ever a point where you thought you wouldn’t reform because of it?

Valory: That’s true and you know it’s part of what makes the band what it was, and it was a big challenge for us to continue without him and we had an album deal back in 1996 to record with Steve. Of course we didn’t continue with him and we only did the album and we waited for a possible recovery. But for now, it appears that Arnel’s voice is significantly as strong as Steve Perry’s and good with the new material. Arnel also has a variety of styles and lives within it. He sounds like us, which may not have been the case with other people. When he sings people are enchanted and think about Journey when we play our new songs.

Graffiti: When I was in college, “Don’t Stop Believin’” had a huge resurgence alongside its appearances on “The Sopranos” and “Family Guy,” etc. What do you attribute that to?

Valory: First of all, the theme lends itself in a positive way to almost everything. From recovering from cancer to leasing Toyotas, it’s a simple message and a lot of people take to it.

Graffiti: You’re getting ready to hit the road, is there a particular venue, foreign or domestic, that stands out for you?

Valory: There have been some special places, the older ones have been a treat and an honor to play. Some places just sound great acoustically, like the Apollo in Hammersmith. Everybody and their mother can sound good there. When we did our first brief summer tour in Europe, the reception was incredible. They knew everything, even the lesser-known songs. We were on some of the biggest lineups at these festivals and it didn’t matter. We were in Amsterdam and Spain and the reception was insane. They knew everything and were even singing the guitar parts.

Graffiti: You’ve been a star for so long, do you still get awed on stage when everyone knows your music?

Valory: Yes and you definitely get a sense of accomplishment there. We finally made it out to South American and Asia and some of them have been waiting for a long time. It’s tough booking for a show like that because you don’t know how many people are going to show, but it all went really well.

Graffiti: I’ve read that you use a four-string bass, but you use the bottom four strings of a five strings bass. Why is that?

Sidenote No. 3: I’d like to note that at this point in the interview, Mr. Ross Valory begins to bellow, “Woa, Woa, WOA” and subsequently scare the beejezus out of me. You see, we’ve been talking for some time and he’s been going in and out of grocery stores, and I was worried that he’d gotten in some sort of a wreck or what not. It turns out he was just amazed that it’s been so long since he got this guitar.

Valory: You guys must have done your research. I had a magazine from Utah just ask me the same question. It’s called Nashville tuning.  I was in a band called The Storm and it’s a band we put together when Journey was off the map — I met a guitar maker and he said you could hit some lower tones if you string lower tuning.

Graffiti: You’ve had a celebrated career and I always want to ask bands that have stayed out in the open for so many years if there is something more to do, something more to accomplish.

Valory: Everything I’d like to see the band do we’re doing … more venues and new places and it’s all what we’ve wanted, a chance to present new material without the greatest hits and still sound like us without [Arnel] being a Steve Perry clone. This new album presents a new sound but it sounds like the band and at the moment we’re really, really happy with it.

Graffiti: Thanks for taking this time to speak with us Ross

Valory: No problem, good luck out there.

… she’s just a small town girl / LIVIN IN A LONELY WOOOORRRLLD / she took  the midnight train going ANY.WHERE!

Contact Ben at bspanner@graffitiwv.com