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Journey/Steve Miller talk touring, recording, audiences & San Fran scene

- June 18th, 2014

During a recent two hour teleconference interview, Journey’s guitarist Neal Schon and keyboardist Jonathan Cain and Steve Miller of Steve Miller band spoke about their first tour together which hits three Canadian cities this summer, beginning with Toronto’s Molson Canadian Amphitheatre on June 19. (The other two dates are Ottawa’s Lebreton Flats, July 4, and Quebec City’s The Plains of Abraham, July 6.
Both veteran groups rose out of the vibrant late ’60s, early ’70s San Francisco music scene so they feel a real kinship.
Here’s the best of the rest of what they had to say.

Q. What do you remember about the San Francisco scene?

Miller: Well, San Francisco was the most vibrant music scene of the 20th Century. So, let’s start right there. It was a complete change of how things worked in the world and when you’re in something like that, you think it’s great, you think it’s going to last forever. You wake up one morning and it’s gone. It was really magic. Compared to the rest of the musical world that I was involved in, the rest of it was a bunch of gangsters running night clubs and stealing stuff from musicians and you worked in bars or you worked for Dick Clark. It was very goofy. San Francisco was extremely real. As soon as I understood what was going on in San Francisco, which was in 1965 and ’66, I immediately left Chicago where I was working in a night club that was being shaken down by the mafia and the police for payments. I mean it was a real thug world. I immediately got in my Volkswagen Bus and drove to San Francisco. When I got there what I realized was it was much, much more than just bands and music. It was a true social phenomena. I didn’t really understand that for a while because the bands when I first got to San Francisco really weren’t very good. They were guys who were folk musicians who decided they wanted to be rock stars and they bought Beatle boots and let their hair grown long and got an electric guitar and started a band. I was kind of going, ‘What’s going on here? They’re doing a bad version of In the Midnight Hour. What is this? ‘ Then, I’d come from Chicago where Junior Wells would steal your gig if you didn’t hold your own. So, I came from a different musical discipline of jazz and blues and night clubs. I got out there and it was a psychedelic experience. There were a lot of drugs. There were people coming from all over the world. There’d be a film crew from Japan one day, a film crew from France the next day. They were just coming in to see what was going on. The light shows were being developed and it became a much bigger social phenomena than a musical phenomenon and they just kind of latched onto the fact that pop music was a way to spread this new culture. …That was really exciting and it was really art and culture and literature and music and new newspapers, new ways of doing everything. And now that I’ve lived as long as I have, I’m 70-years-old now, so when I was doing that I was 20 and I’m looking at it all and I’m going, “That was one of the most vibrant periods in history for a cultural revolution. That stuff that started in San Francisco and came out of San Francisco changed the whole world.’

Q. What has changed about your industry since you guys started?

Schon: The whole music industry has sort of faded except for live performances. There’s no more music stores and really it’s just like downloads if you want a new CD and I sort of miss being able to walk into a music store and look at albums and CDs and see who’s on it and what’s going on and everything is so digital and it’s just the way of the world right now. But I think the one thing that remains the same is live performances. So that’s why we’re still here doing this, I mean, it’s like one thing that can’t be hacked and one thing that you absolutely have to show up live to be able to do. And so I still love it. I love performing.

Q. What do you think about current rock and rollers?

Schon: You know, I really do like Jack White. I like him because he pushes the envelope, and he’s got quite a spirit about him on stage and in the studio and I definitely appreciate that. I mean he’s bold. Wherever he goes, he’s bold. And I think that’s the coolest thing about him and he’s got really cool like blues roots with a modern edge. Black Keys I think are very modern too and very cool. I love some of their records as well, and Foo Fighters too, you know.

Q. What do you think about the resurgence of vinyl? Do you guys think it’s a nostalgic fad, or something that’s here to stay?

Cain: I think it’s here to stay. I think the kids have plugged in their turntables and heard for themselves what we love so much about the sound of vinyl, and I can vouch for that because my son made me hook up him a turntable and he goes back up into his music room and digs on vinyl. It’s a niche market and it started about 10 years ago and I think it’s still a great way to listen to music. It’s smooth on the ears and it’s a wonderful departure from CDs.

Miller: I agree. I prefer to listen to music in vinyl and when digital first showed up, I thought it was really great because it was cleaner and there wasn’t tape hiss and there was the crackly sound of the vinyl records. I think for myself, I was over at a musicologist’s house, a guy who had 10,000 singles and we sat around for about two hours listening to old 45s, the worst vinyl there is. We were listening songs and then we were looking for one song and he said, ‘Well, I don’t have it on vinyl. I’ve got it on CD,’ and we put the CD on and it was like thin and transparent compared to the vinyl. So, vinyl’s like a really juicy steak compared to like a kind of tough steak.

Q. What’s recording like for you now?

Cain: I just built a brand new recording studio in Nashville. It’s world-class and I’ve got guys like John Oates in there and some of the Nashville people have been using it. I’m sort of a Gear Head. So, I have a lot of vintage gear, including an analogue tape machine and an old board from The Record Plant. That’s the heart and soul of the place. So, I’d really love to get Journey into the room and I’ve got a live chamber underneath the parking like the old days and it’s really an eclectic beautiful sanctuary to make music. So, that would be a dream for me to have Journey come and make a record here.

Miller: I’m recording all the time. … I’ve been listening to Prince and Ray Charles and we’ve been going into the studio with the guys and just goofing around and cutting rhythm tracks. I just recorded One Mint Julep for fun. It’s mainly for fun now. There is no record business. You can’t give it away. You can’t afford to spend $200,000 in the studio and then give it away. It doesn’t work. So, I have my own studio. I’m in in it all the time. I’m constantly recording and I’ve been in an argument with my record companies and law suits against them for years and giving a record company an album is like giving a gangster your baby or something. So, all of that tends to make the creative moment not as much as fun as it used to be, but I’m constantly recording.

Q. How do you come up with a set list?

Miller: Our audiences are so conservative now and so strangely addicted to (the fact that) they’ve paid their money. They want to hear the greatest hits. We’ll go out and we’ll be playing in front of 15,000 people and say, “Hey, we’re going to do three new songs from something we just recorded” and 5,000 people get up and go get a hot dog and a beer and they don’t come back until they hear the opening strings of The Joker or Fly Like an Eagle. That to me has really bothered me about audiences. … I mean this is unprecedented. I mean people are playing music that I recorded 40 years ago on the radio all over the world. I’ve played myself into a box in one way in that—I mean I see it all the time. I generally do a two hour show. I do about 23-24 songs. There’s 14 greatest hits. So, that gives me 9-10 songs to play with. I feel like I have to sneak them into my set. I feel like when the critics come to see my show, they go, ‘Well, then they went into this jazz/blues thing for a while and the energy went out of the audience until they came back and played this other song.’ So, it’s a very strange kind of world that I occupy.

Q. How do you respond to the fact that some people feel Journey without singer Steve Perry isn’t the same? (He left in 1998.)

Schon: What I suggest to them is that they just move on. I mean, if you don’t like us for whom we are right now, then just don’t bother, you know. Find your new love and take it as you will, you know, I mean we’re completely fine where we’re at.

Q. What are your thoughts on the modern concert experience where many of the 15,000 people watching you are holding up phones and videotaping or taking pictures so not maybe being present for watching you guys live?

Miller: It’s real interesting because I play all over the world and the audiences are different all over the world. In the United States is self-absorbed, is totally fascinated by shooting video and taking pictures and recording things. And so, when they’ve come to an event, they’re there to get high, to get drunk, to party, to take pictures of themselves in front of the band and put it on Facebook and to show themselves at an event. When you go to play in Europe, it’s totally different. You’re an artist. They’re there to hear the music. They’re there to enjoy the experience of being in a room where actual live music is being played. A lot of times when we play in the States, our audience—and we have an audience that ranges literally from 10 to 70-years-old. It’s amazing. A lot of times, you can see the audience is shocked when they actually understand that what they’re involved with is actually happening in front of them and that there’s something really happening on stage. hat it’s not a recording and it’s not 20 dancers in a Las Vegas Review with some lasers and prerecorded tape loops and that kind of thing. So, you can break through that. When we go to Canada, we just finished a tour in Canada and our audiences there were so much more interesting to us because they were really into the music. …For me, we’re just going through a phase. This technology has taken over everything and look, I’m like everybody else. I walk around with a digital camera and I shoot a thousand pictures a week. I love it. So, you get used to it, you accept it, but when I play, I’m really there to connect with my audience. Fortunately, because they sing all the lyrics to my songs and my songs mean something to them in different romantic parts of their life, they’re pretty happy to be there. So, it’s fun, but it’s a different kind of experience than it is if you’re going to really go sing from your heart and play from your heart and really move people. That’s kind of what it’s all about for me is connecting with an audience. So, my challenge is to kick that guy who’s standing there with his girlfriend with his back to me, leaning against the front of the stage taking a picture of himself in front of me, right smack in the middle of his ass.

What defines a good audience?
Miller: For me, what makes a good crowd is when you can hear a pin drop in the building. That’s when—I think the magic part of a set for us is when there’s this kind of silence and we’re all listening and performing and we’re sort of all in this kind of magical moment together as opposed to like when everybody’s screaming at the end of the show and they’re going crazy and nuts. My goal when I play is to bring joy to my audience. I’m trying to create a joyous event. Music is a way of communicating that’s very ethereal. It goes forwards. It goes backwards in time. You’re taking people to the future and to the past and you’re creating this event that’s very emotional and I think it’s best when—I’ve watched Journey shows when Jonathan was playing a piano piece by himself, or there’s this moment where everybody is—it’s a very emotional moment, and I think those are the high parts of a concert.

Ringo returns to Ontario to rehearse, launch 2014 N.A. tour

- January 28th, 2014

Ringo Rama!
Yes, 73-year-old Beatles drummer Ringo Starr is returning to Casino Rama – just two hours north of Toronto – to launch his latest All-Starr North American tour on June 6.
Starr, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award on Sunday night at the Grammys and also performed with fellow Beatle Paul McCartney on the broadcast and later for a Feb. 9 TV special celebrating the Fab Four’s first U.S. visit 50 years ago, will also arrive at Rama a week early for rehearsals.
The only other Canadian date on his 2014 trek is Vancouver’s Hard Rock on July. 15.
Otherwise, his All-Starr band remains the same since 2012: Steve Lukather (Toto), Richard Page (Mr. Mister), Gregg Rolie (Santana,Journey), Todd Rundgren (Utopia, The New Cars) & percussionist Gregg Bissonette.
“I love playing with this band,” Ringo said in a statement, “and I can’t wait to get back out and play with them again.”
In recent years, Starr has rehearsed and launched his North American trek at both Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls and Casino Rama.
Tickets for Starr’s Rama date, $60, $70, $85, go on sale Feb. 4 at the Casino Rama box office, TicketMaster, by calling toll free 1-877-599-RAMA (7262) and online at casinorama.com with an eight ticket limit.
Advanced ticket purchase for Players Passport Club Members begins Feb. 2, and for Facebook Fans & Club Members Feb. 3 under usual conditions.

Perry adds second Toronto show

- January 23rd, 2014

Katy Perry has added a second Toronto concert on July 19 at the Air Canada Centre with tickets, $29.50, $46.00, $90.50 & $150.50, on sale Monday at TicketMaster, livenation.com.
Her first date is July 18.
In other concerts news:
- Critically acclaimed indie-rockers The National host a three night residency at Massey Hall from April 9-11 with Daughter opening.
Tickets, $49.50 and $69.50, are on sale Friday at Masseyhall.com.
- American Idol Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips visits the Sony Centre on March 14 with tickets on sale Friday at ticketmaster.ca and the Sony Centre box office.
- Foster the People of Pumped Up Kicks fame play Massey Hall on May 13 in support of their new album, Supermodel, out March 18, with tickets, $39.50, $49.50 and $59.50 on sale Friday at Ticketmaster and ticketmaster.ca.
- Sweater Weather hitmakers The Neighborhood play Sound Academy on March 22 with tickets, $27.50-$37.50, on sale Saturday at Ticketweb.ca, Rotate This and Soundscapes.
- Swedish DJ Avicii of Wake Me Up fame plays Rogers Centre on May 17 with tickets on sale Jan. 31 at livenation.com.

Trevor Guthrie ready to capitalize on Grammy nomination

- January 22nd, 2014

Canadian singer Trevor Guthrie, formerly of marketed boy band soulDecision, finds himself in the running for a Grammy Award on Sunday night for best dance recording.
The nominated song is This is What It feels Like, which Guthrie made with Dutch deejay Armin van Buuren.
But, initially, Guthrie told QMI Agency he wasn’t open to such a collaboration when it was proposed by a friend a few years ago.
“I felt like it was just a guy behind a turntable playing music,” said Guthrie who is based in North Vancouver.
“I didn’t understand what the big deal was back then. And for me, I’m a singer, I’d rather go see a band like Coldplay or U2 or something, like live music happening in front of me. So I was completely against the idea.”
Now that This is What It Feels Like went to No. 1 in 31 countries and is up for a Grammy, Guthrie expects he and van Buuren will work together again.
“Me and Armin talked about getting in the studio in early February and doing a followup,” said Guthrie. “We’re talking with (Dutch deejay) Hardwell. He’s the new No. 1 deejay, he wants to do a song with me as well so I got some really good options.”
Guthrie, who had a hard time getting anyone to take him seriously following the 2005 breakup of soulDecision, says he has a backlong of material.
“I’ve got all these songs which I’ve been writing the last ten years which are acoustic guitar based because I was having a hard time getting phone calls back,” he said. “Part of me wants to just release these clever, simple YouTube style videos that are just pure art, creative things, interesting songs. And put those out randomly on the side and continue writing songs that I can work with other deejays, play in the clubs doing dance music. Ten years ago I couldn’t see myself doing this but now that I’m a part of it and I’m seeing the crowd react, I get what it’s all about and I’m actually falling in love with the whole EDM scene.”

BTO take care of biz at Canadian Music Hall Of Fame

- January 15th, 2014

Seventies’ rockers Bachman-Turner Overdrive are rolling on down the highway and right into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
The group, consisting of Randy Bachman, Fred Turner, Blair Thornton, and Robin Bachman during the height of their popularity from 1973-79, will be inducted at the 2014 Juno Awards broadcast live on CTV from the MTS Centre in Winnipeg on March 30.
Their hits include You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet, Takin’ Care of Business, Let It Ride, Roll On Down The Highway and Hey You.
“Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s unforgettable music impacted people worldwide and continues to resonate with music fans today,” said Melanie Berry, President & CEO, CARAS and the JUNO Awards, in a statement.
“It couldn’t be more fitting that we honour them in their hometown of Winnipeg.”
BTO Previously won seven Junos in the ‘70s.