Arnel Pineda: From Dusty Streets To Platinum Records
Journey's frontman came from extremely humble beginnings, but his dreams came true thanks to the Internet and a God given gift. Now he's everyman's hero. I talked to the softly spoken frontman during the band's European 2011 tour.
Hey there. You are Andrew from Melodicrock.com.
Yes, that 's right, Arnel. How are you?
I'm good. How are you?
I'm good, mate! It's good to finally touch base with you!
I know, (laughs) but I feel that I have known you for quite a while now.
(laughs) Ok. You are ok to talk, then?
Yeah yeah. Don't mind my voice-I'm just tired because the hotel where we checked in—it's not so good. It's so noisy outside and then the room service keeps on knocking on the door and we forgot to put the 'Do Not Disturb' card on the doorknob.
Uh-oh. So, they are disturbing you all the time.
Yes, but it's ok. It's ok.
Have you got a show tonight or are you on a day off?
We are on a day off and then…tomorrow. Tomorrow, yes.
Where are you playing tomorrow?
We are already here in Hanover, Germany so this is where the show is going to be done. It's only like a 20 minute bus ride from the hotel.
Ok. And how are you finding life on the road? This is obviously your 2nd big tour with the band.
It's tough. Yeah, it's tough.
It is, isn't it? I don't think most people realize how hard it can be.
It's always tough on the road, yeah, yeah. There'll be…there are times that we travel sleepless, you know?
It's just like what happened when we came from Dublin, just a few days ago, to Berlin. Yeah, from the time I woke up at 11 in the morning, and then did the show in Dublin and then took the flight, went to the airport at 4 o'clock in the morning, and then 7 take off and then we got bumped off. The plane decided to land in Manchester for a while because there was a sick passenger…so we finally landed in Berlin like 2 in the afternoon. It was like I was awake for 25 hours.
So, it's things like that.
Yeah, it's hard enough without adding problems like that.
Yeah. Yeah. And then, our South American tour—we did 10 shows there, right? From country to country. So we have to spend at least 8-10 hours in the airport alone.
Yeah—the travel. It's so slow there: the immigration, the security, the queues, you know, it's long and painful. (Laughs)
But you guys are international rock stars—they just whisk you through, don't they? (Laughs)
Yeah…….No-it's …you know what happened? It's Journey's first time to tour around South America; they never did it since the days of Steve Perry…
You know how it was for them during his day, right? They only stayed in America and then the farthest they got was Japan.
They've never ever been in Australia, your country.
I know! I know! We keep trying but we haven't quite made it.
And in Europe, they only started braving Europe during the day of Steve Augeri.
And then, they were doing small shows back then.
Yeah. Yeah. And then they did big shows when they fronted for Def Leppard, right?
Yeah. And then with Jeff Scott Soto.
And now they are trying to hit it big again.
I think they are doing a great job doing it but it's hard work for you guys, isn't it?
Yeah it is but you know what, it's all worth it so you know as long as the fans are happy, the hardcore ones and then the new ones then you know, we're happy.
The reports of the tour have been fantastic.
Do you like the album? What do you think of the new album?
I love the album. Did you see my review?
(pause and speaks with a smile) Yes, I read about it, yes. I think you liked it. (Laughs)
(Laughing) I LOVED the album!!
Thank you. Thank you, Andrew, it means a lot for… - for all the fans.
My pleasure! I'm mean, there are people that disagree with me and there's a lot that do.
Well…..what can you say. You cannot please everybody-I'm telling you. It's…
Well, it's Journey. It's especially complicated for you guys to please everybody.
(pause) Yeah, I know. They're still looking for Steve Perry, you know?
Yeah, well they've got a good enough singer at the moment so they should just, uh…(laughs)
It's safe to say all is well.
Yeah. Thank you.
Was there much difference from how you were personally approached the recording of this album than from Revelation?
Yeah I think we were much prepared. I mean, basically, with this album, we were much prepared than what happened to Revelation…. you know what? What happened to Revelation --they had enough materials but the thing is, I wasn't prepared to do it.
If you know what I mean?
I was like….I was ….they did not force me but I was so pressured to do it because it needs to be done in like a month and a half.
And, you know, I was like recording every other day. I was learning each song as days go by, if you know what I mean—learn a new song each day and then record it.
That's how it happened with Revelation. But, with this album Eclipse, I was prepared to do it.
I was given time- I had time, you know…So it was great. I had a great feeling for it this time.
Your vocals are just outstanding! The vocals are really superb.
Jonathan Cain prepared me very, very, very well.
How did he do that?
He was the one…of course…vocal teachers - I have the CDs, a lady - her name is Amber - so she prepared me for this one. Before I went to do the final vocals I did it in Nashville so I went to see this lady, Amber. So, she prepared me with Jonathan - we did all these things to open up my vocal chords. It went well!
It certainly worked! And something…your voice was crystal clear as far as the diction and the pronunciation of the words.
Yeah. Jonathan guided me well.
What advice did he give you?
Oh…he was just there. He was filling in every words that I was missing, every diction that I'm missing. And he was like, 'what a minute Arnel'…he was there. Like a father. You know? It was fun…it was good.
He was a real mentor for me and so was Neal. So he was there giving me all the confidence and the moral boost, you know.
Great. Well then there was no doubt that you could DO it - they were just helping you nail it.
I talked to Kevin Shirley a little bit ago and he was saying that, at one stage you said 'If I'm not doing a good enough job, I'll stand down.'
Yeah Yeah. I told him that if I… because we were talking, you know, like friends, and you know we became relaxed with each other's company.
So I told him what's in my heart, you know. If the big boys think I am not up for the job, I'm willing to step out any time, you know, because for the sole reason that I so respect the legacy they have built and that Steve Perry has left behind; I don't want to ruin it.
I don't want to mess it.
It's…it's…it's not just like some music that you hear everyday. You know? It's a special music.
I grow up listening to those music, you know? To this music - Journey music.
So I don't think if I'm not offered the job, then I would still stay? I think that's something I wouldn't do. I have so much respect for the boys, you know.
Well that's a very humble attitude approach to take.
Yeah… It's not just about money; this is about delivering the best… the best in me through their trust.
Well take it from me you're doing the Journey name very proud.
Thank you. Thank you, Andrew, really.
Absolutely. I hope to tell you that in person soon enough. (Laughs)
Well, we will MEET! I think we are doing some dates in Australia next year.
Yeah that's what I'm talking about.
I'm talking to management to try and help them so uh…
It's on the talks now I think; it's rolling now.
Great. Great. Great!
It's a matter…it's just a matter of financial, you know.
Absolutely. Yeah, it's not cheap to get here.
I know. But, to get there I think we need to cover some more area, I think.
If we go there, we need to go to Singapore , we need to go to Hong Kong, get a few things again in Japan, Guam. So…we would be able to afford to go Australia.
Absolutely. Sounds great. Everybody's heard the story of how Neal contacted you and how you came about…
... but just to take you back there a little bit from a different angle, what were your long term plans at that time…singing so often, every night as you were in Manilla?
You know, before Neal called me, me and my wife were about to head out and back to Hong Kong.
Yeah…We were planning to back there so I was just trying to help her fix her papers so we could both go together to Hong Kong.
And what were you going to do in Hong Kong?
Uh… you know...just stay there and live there because I have a permanent ID there. It's considered like…I'm a permanent resident there.
But I was singing every night.
But you didn't have any major plans for another band or whatever?
That was the major band. (Laughs)
Sure! Just moving…
Just bring my family there and live there and my wife, Cherry, could work there too, you know,9-5 thing and me doing the 8-2 in the morning gig, you know.
That's a hard slot. How did you find that?
Well, it's easy because I've been doing it anyway since 1991 there in Hong Kong so it's not hard for me to find a gig there.
Yeah, ok. And then you've got this phone call and now your life…
I gave away my number to him…because I was testing if he was to call or if he would email me or something - email me back. And he decided to call me up and after 10 minutes of sending those emails, you know. He definitely received those emails and he had already called me.
So, that was it! It was a start.
Oh absolutely. (Laughing)
And, uh, the rest is history.
Was there any method…when you were singing, performing and doing all these songs and putting all these clips up on YouTube, was there any greater reason for doing that, other than just showcasing what you were doing?
I choose the latter part of what you said. Yeah. Just for showcasing it.
You know what, Andrew, before I met these boys in Journey, I was singing by anything.
But totally, honestly I sing high songs but as well as I sing low songs because I cannot do what I am doing now with Journey before. It's so hard because I was singing, um…by instinct.
If I feel like singing high, I will sing high. If I don't feel like singing high, then I will go low.
Yeah. But now you can't really to do that! (Laughing)
You must have checked my profile; I was singing like alternative songs as well as really classic rock songs, right?
Oh yeah, absolutely. But you never expected one of those bands you were covering to give you a call, right? (Laughs)
Yeah. Yes, it was a sweet surprise but, then again, a shocking moment for me.
Never in my wildest dream that I would ever, ever get a kind of an opportunity like this-it was…..no really. Until now-it's so weird…every time I'm up there.
A dream come true.
You know, Andrew, they have broken the uh…broken the uh…how do you say that…each, any and every kind of boundaries there is to become in American rock and roll band. (Laughing)
To sing, you know. They have broken it. I'm not supposed to be there but then it's…it's…its exciting—it's happening. You know? (Laughing)
Absolutely. And I don't like… I don't want to talk money with you or anything but, for someone in your position, to get a gig like this, it's obviously—it changes your life, doesn't it.
Yes, a lot. Yes.
You can be secure in being able to take care of your family-that must mean a lot.
Yeah-in a drastic way. Yes, yes. You are true, Andrew but then there's always a price to pay, too.
Oh yeah, I can understand that now you're separated from your family being on the road, right?
Yeah, yeah. But I'm with my family now.
They're with you?
Yeah. The only time that I wasn't with my family was the first tour—in 2008.
Oh great! So, your wife travels with you?
Well that must be a huge moral sort of support.
Yeah, yeah. It made a lot of difference in at least…the pressure is not that bad--the loneliness--the longingness--you know, the emptiness.
Even though I make people happy by singing with Journey—it may sound so self-fulfilling but when you are back in your room, it's just an empty room, you know?
Yeah, I understand that completely and from the many interviews that I have done over the years, that's the point in time where you can get yourself into trouble, right?
Mmmmm…yeah. It's true. That's why I see the other singers, the other rock stars right? Drugs, women and alcohol—they do that because…because...they cannot get in touch with their fans or whoever they want to talk with because that moment will get them into trouble, they keep themselves alone in the room and doing all sorts of things.
Not good for a family man!
Off the subject of music a little bit, I saw a fairly lengthy documentary on your homeland and in particular the city of Manilla.
I'm not sure that people really understand how hard the living conditions are for a good portion of the population there.
Oh wow. You haven't been to Manilla, right?
No, not personally. I've been to Indonesia, Denpasar and stuff but not Manilla.
OH! You have to be there to see for yourself but there's a lot of depressed…uh, depressing areas there. Depressed areas—a lot.
Yeah. This documentary was quite stunning.
There are at least …at least 50 to 100,000 kids living on top of the mountains of garbage.
Oh yeah I saw that on this documentary—I couldn't believe it!
They are physically and literally living on top of all that; that's where they get their livelihood –you know, collecting plastic, papers. They dig through, you know, smelly, smelly things, you know.
Unimaginable smell, you know. That's why I want to do work.
It's horrible. You're actually trying to help some people there. You've got a foundation.
Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
What a wonderful thing to do.
Yeah, because I was there once.
I was in that same situation once. So, I feel like…to be able to give back, I have to do something about it by putting up my own foundation.
And, how does that operate? How do you get…how does the help reach these kids?
Hmmmm…continuous support of the dollars and I've been getting a lot of that lately. And, during free times, I work onto reach on these big companies to be able to get big grants so I could put up a small school center near there. So hopefully I will get one in the future-in the near future. I'm not going to stop working until I get one.
You know, just to be able to help these kids because they are…they were born poor and their parents were born poor. It's just like they are heirlooms to this poverty and I think they do not deserve it. You know? I mean they deserve an equal opportunity just like the other privileged ones.
Absolutely. They're born into it—they have no choice, do they?
So…I will help them have hope, you know…feel the hope. I will make them feel that they have hope - they have…they can make a difference through education and they can still dream! They're not…and their poverty is not permanent…that they can move on.
Yeah. Just how poor were you, Arnel? What situation were you in right back at the beginning?
I physically and literally ended up really, really hungry and homeless for quite a while. I was homeless for a year, yeah.
For almost a year, I was homeless and asking food, you know, from friends.
Yeah. And did somebody give you a break? How did you break out of that?
Through a friend. Uh…he introduced me to his friends-they were a band. They were into bands and playing gigs and so I was introduced at the age of 15. It was 1983.
It was a slow start but it sure got me out of my poverty period.
Yeah. It's fantastic. Music was your savior.
Yeah, my voice. (Laughs)
When did you start singing Arnel?
I started singing when I was only 5 years old. It was my parents who started enjoying my early singing years. (Laughs)
They would make me sing every time they are in the mood to hear me sing and they would ask me if I could spare a couple of songs for them. (Laughs)
It was fun!
And now, at this point, you are actually bringing your fans to a band that has been around 35 years.
I know. I know.
How strange is that-to consider that?
Too strange. I cannot even…I don't know where to begin to describe it…I don't even know.
It's just hard to explain. It's just…until now, I'm telling you, it's like, my God, I'm doing this, you know? How cool is that? How strange is that?
This is like…these guys… I'm only watching them from videos. Music videos, DVDs… And now I'm in! Like, you know, meeting these guys Foreigner, Def Leppard, Whitesnake, Kansas, Reo Speedwagon…it's…Sammy Hagar I've met. Joe Satriani—I met them, you know.
How have those guys been to you? What have those guys said to you?
They've been great, you know, they've been assisting me all the way; they've been taking care of me-they've been helpful! They were mentors-they're mentors. By the way, if you happen to talk to John Farnham…
(laughing) Oh yeah!
Or AC/DC? They are one of my heroes.
Oh, he's amazing! He's such an amazing guy.
John Farnham…what a voice.
Oh. Amazing. He's got one of the best voices in the business.
I know. My God. I wish I have half of his sound.
I think you have more than half, mate. (Laughs)
I really enjoyed your covers of the Survivor tunes, too.
Oh yeah. Survivor. I haven't met them but I watched them once in the Philippines when they did a show.
I would love to meet them, too. And thank you.
Yeah, Jim Peterik is a very old friend of mine.
Yes, absolutely. When you're in Chicago, I must try and get him to come along and see you.
Please tell them that I want get autograph.
I will! I will.
The singer-the one that sang Ever Since The World Began…What a voice. What –a – voice!
Arnel, what was it like getting on stage in your home town of Manilla?
(Deep breath) You know what? That was very overwhelming.
I bet. I bet. I can't imagine.
Overwhelming. Yeah, the emotions were so mixed and, my god, it's just …I don't know! I'm so proud but at the same time I'm so scared.
You know, how are my fellow man going to touch me? How are they going to grade me? But, you know, it went out well!
It did! It absolutely went off well. I heard amazing stories.
So...it was a sigh of relief, after the end of the show.
You know, it's like, God! You know…that's all I said.
And the music of Journey is so emotional, how do you hold it together on stage when you're feeling emotional yourself?
Well…you know, Andrew……I should really put all the words in my heart when I sing it. And that's what I did! That's what I did. I know every single word of…the way they wrote it…that's how I sang it.
There's no other way to sing it but that way because if you sing it the other way, I don't think it's gonna work.
I don't think the people will be able to comprehend or will be able to relate the way they should relate to the songs so I ...that's how I did it.
They way it should be sound…and then I was thinking of Steve Perry. How...how...how…was Perry gonna sing this, you know, so that's how I did it.
Like I've said, you're doing the music proud; I really believe that.
Well you know, that's why the hardcore fans should stop really saying things because I'm doing this not to overdo, or not...not…to outdo Steve Perry. I'm so proud of doing this because I know I am carrying his legacy on my shoulder.
Yeah, I have so much respect for the guy because he's just …he's just one of my heroes.
…and he will always be one of my hero. He's great.
No, really, I mean I would really, my God, it would make my world…it would make my whole life even better just to be able to shake his hand and all, you know.
Absolutely. Look, I won't keep you too long because I know you're busy and tired and need to rest, Arnel.
What are your favorite songs off the new album?
My favorite songs? Oh…
All of them? (Laughs)
Ummm… let me think…I like Resonate—I like Tantra—I like Anything is Possible—I like Chain of Love—
City of Hope has a hold on the audience. I think most of it, I like! Someone…you know.
I love your vocal in Anything is Possible.
I really enjoyed doing... singing all of those-really. Everything.
Except Venus, of course. It's just all guitars!
Very good! Very good.
Neal's gonna kill me! Yeah.
Yeah, yeah. One song that's got everybody talking is Tantra.
You know…what do you think of the song, Andrew?
I think it's one of my favorites on the album—I absolutely love it.
It's very spiritual, right?
I love the intro and then when the band comes in and, towards the end, your vocals are just unbelievable!!
(deep breath) Yeeaaahhhhh, well… I told you! They taught me well.
They really got it. They really mentored me well, so…my hat's off to the guys.
Yeah, well, you're too humble. You should take more credit because that's an amazing song and if not for an amazing vocal, it wouldn't have worked.
I follow well. (Laughing) That's all I can say, yeah.
How did it go singing it live? Because you did it in England, didn't you?
Yeah, I did! Oh!!! You know what? After…sometimes I struggle because…because of…too much…because of…it's a long set…
Yes! It is!
… an hour and a half…and, you know, and then you sing to all these…uh…30,000! A bunch of new songs…you know what? I soooo love singing it on stage: letting the new fans hear about it. It's just blessing, you know.
Fantastic. And for the future you will stay with Journey as long as they will have you?
Yeah!! As long they want me, I'm gonna be there. But then, as long as I can do it…I want to be as honest as possible to myself, you know? If I can do it…I don't want to force myself, you know?
Because, not just for the money, you know.
Like if you burned out.
Because I care about the fans, too. I don't want them coming to the show and then leaving disappointed.
No. It's not gonna happen. So, as long as I can do it, effortless, then I will do it.
But the time comes that the voice is faded then I think it's time to throw the towel in already.
Yeah. Well I think you've got a lot of years left in you; I think you're a…you're very young at heart.
Yeah. Well, I take care of myself a lot and I'm so ready, already, taking care of it. Well, we're only human, you know. Age. Age-we cannot beat it. It's always going to haunt us.
Yeah exactly. Yeah, I've had a rough couple of years with my health so (laughing) I know about it. (Laughing)
(laughing) Yeah, yeah, yeah.
It catches up with you!
Well, just stay with regiment, my friend.
Yes. I need a better regiment. I'm lazy. (Laughing)
(Laughing) Well if you're lazy, maybe you could consider at least changing your eating habit.
I need to. Absolutely.
Take some brisk walking –maybe every other day.
Yeah exactly. Look, last question, Arnel. I think the answer is yes.
I think the answer is yes - I have to say that up front but do you feel accepted by the Journey fans? Do you feel…some people were a little bit hard on you at the start, you know, without knowing what was to come. But, do you feel accepted now?
You know what, to tell you honestly, it matters but, at the same time, it doesn't matter now who are accepting me or who are not. But, then again, I'm grateful to those…to the people who are accepting me.
And then, I also thank the people who are not accepting because they give me more drive and inspiration because of what they say.
It gives me more…it gives me more courage. Like…Ok. I'm gonna try harder! I'm just gonna try harder.
That's just a wonderful attitude.
Yeah. And, then if the time comes that there's nothing there for me then that's about it. At least I tried my best. And then, to my knowledge, I made a lot of people happy.
That's all that matters, you know? And then, if the other people are not happy about it, I mean, it's not going to make me lose sleep.
Yes. You shouldn't.
Yes. I respect how they feel. I respect…uh…their music preference…I respect their singer preference. You know? What can I do?
Yeah. Well, I think you've won a lot of people over and I think you've really established yourself.
Thank you. Thank you, Andrew. Well, they helped me a lot, you know, the fans? And then, Journey—the boys—they have helped me a lot. The crew…everybody! And my family! My family…they were…it was a dramatic help; it was a humongous help so…they were!! They loved me! I can only love them back.
Fantastic. Look, it's been a pleasure talking to you, Arnel.
It's an honor, Andrew. I think I'm going to need to meet you in person now. (Laughing)
I absolutely look forward to it!
See the face behind the voice.
Absolutely. One day, for sure. Hopefully, hopefully on OUR shores here for an Australian tour.
Yeah! If it will happen; I think it might happen early January. Or late January.
Well, we'll be there - you count on it.
I'm looking forward to it, Andrew. I'll see you.
Take care, take care of yourself on the road, Arnel.
Ok. Ok. You too, huh? Thank you so much for your time.
Thank you for your time.
Yeah. Thank you, thank you.
c. 2011 MelodicRock.com / Interview by Andrew McNeice / Transcribed by Debbie - August 2011.