How Steve Perry Finally Accepted His Aging Voice: Exclusive Interview
Steve Perry opened 2018's Traces with a moment of emotional honesty – and not just because "No Erasin'" dealt with a crushing sense of loss. The ex-Journey frontman was well aware of how his voice sounded on the released take: shaped and weathered by time.
He left it that way, taking another important step toward accepting things as they are.
“My biggest problem is the singer that I’m working with,” Perry tells UCR with a laugh. “He’s tough. He’s not easy. The voice is always a character that is inconsistent and never behaves. It’s always something that needs to be nurtured and never behaves. And then, I have to find some way of allowing a certain amount of forgiveness, for it to exist on its own terms and not shoot it in the head. It’s probably the biggest problem I’ve got, is the love/hate relationship sometimes with my own vocal abilities or shortcomings.”
Earlier this month, Perry returned to that long-awaited third solo album with Traces (Alternate Versions & Sketches), which offers fans an opportunity to hear the songs in a stripped-down format that reveals even more depth and vulnerability.
Perry had come to a revelation during his long time away following 1994's For the Love of Strange Medicine: Perfect isn't always, in fact, perfect. That attitude guided "No Erasin'" and the rest of his long-awaited follow up album.
“Well, it took," Perry says before pausing, "... a certain amount of risk on my heart’s part to allow the rawness of that vocal to be enough for the song, because a lot of it was just roughly sketched in when I started getting it going. There was something raw about it that I liked, but there were also things coming from my heart that I wished I could do – I guess the word might be “more perfect.” But perfect doesn’t mean more emotional, so this is a new area for me.”
Listen to Steve Perry Perform 'No Erasin''
Perry also recognizes the process that songs undergo once they have been released into the world. Even his most famous Journey tracks took on different contexts and meaning over time – right along with his approach at the mic. He's come to not only accept these evolutions, but to celebrate them.
“If you listen to my voice, I’ll give you a good example of how things change: ‘Open Arms,’ the original recording on Escape, it’s like that, right? [Perry sings a lyric to demonstrate] Now, you go to the Houston live version and you’ll see that the song has evolved to something it probably would have been nice to have been done like,” Perry says. “But things don’t evolve in the studio as quickly as they can evolve singin’ ‘em out in front of people every night.”
“‘Open Arms’ started to evolve with the influence of performance behind it and the voice started to evolve in a way that was getting more gruff and maybe a little more soulful than the original version,” he continues. “Although the original version is a painting in a gallery that I’m very proud of, I am proud of both of them – because it’s a good example of where it starts and where it can go. In the case of ‘No Erasin’,’ it started there, so I left it alone.”
Perry confronted similar issues with composing too, as he tried to keep Traces in an uncluttered and sincere place while grieving the death of cancer-stricken girlfriend Kellie Nash.
“In the beginning, I must tell you, some of the songwriting demons, when I sat by myself and started sketching ideas, I forgot that I had not gone into that place in a long time. And at first, it was a scary place to walk back into,” Perry says. “Like an old house you were raised in that you had not walked into since you were a kid. But the songs just kept coming and the creativity thing came back to me.”
Joy and passion began to return as he worked. Just as importantly, Perry let the songs find their way home: “Whatever music showed up, is where I said, ‘Okay, I’m finishing that.’ Whatever my heart was painfully saying, ‘Okay, then I’m finishing that.’ Because if I’m not going to be honest and truthful to what shows up, then I’m full of shit! So, I have to be honest and truthful to what shows up. And what showed up was the Traces record.”
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