JONATHAN CAIN – Rock and Roll Believer

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“God’s got a sense of humor,” Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain tells me via phone from Dallas. “The boy that wanted to be a priest ended-up marrying a preacher! About three and a half years ago, I decided to turn my life over to God. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I didn’t like who I was looking at in the mirror, and I figured he had a better idea of what I should be doing.”

Jonathan Cain may have had a recent spiritual awakening (due in large part to his 2015 marriage to minister Paula White-Cain), but he’s no rookie when it comes to mega musical success. In his nearly four decades with Journey, Cain has seen his band sell over 100 million albums worldwide, score the most downloaded song of the 20th Century, (his co-write “Don’t Stop Believin’”), and get inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2017. Not bad for a guy who once considered quitting music altogether.

On a rare day-off between a seemingly endless stream sold-out Journey shows, Cain talked about his newfound faith, and his tireless commitment to his band.

What prompted such a big change in your personal life of late?

My marriage was on the rocks, and I was lying to myself about it. It was depressing, and I started drinking too much. There were truths I had to reveal. And even musically, I just really wasn’t very inspired. I tried my hand at writing Country music in Nashville, but that was a dead end. It was obvious that I was supposed to do something else. So now I’m doing my duties with Journey, and when I’m not on the road, I’m winning souls with Paula. And I’m happy singing for the Lord. I made a pretty awesome Christian Rock record called What God Wants to Hear, and I even lead praise and worship with Paula now and then.

How have the other member of Journey responded to your new spiritual outlook?

Well, they saw that I was smiling again and that I was happy, and that there was a light that went on that I didn’t have before. And they receive it.

As inspired as you are by your recent religious awakening, you still have legions of fans that find inspiration in the music you wrote and continue to make with Journey. Many of those songs seem to have an uplifting, positive message as well.

I’m writing a book that’s going to be published next year called “Don’t Stop Believin’” that I’ve been working on for 10 years. With Journey, we had many songs like “Faithfully,” or “Open Arms,” or “Don’t Stop Believin’” that have messages of hope and could actually be seen as songs of God. We were very lucky. Bands just don’t get second and third chances in this world. So, I’m probably in the most grateful place I’ve ever been. And I’m reflective, especially after [being inducted into] The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, where you stand-up there, representing not only your music, but also the fans. It hits you when you get up to receive your award that the fans put you there. That’s just a blessing, and it was just great to have my friends, my family and my brothers there. You need the people you love around you when you’re doing something like that.

I grew-up in church, and that was the first music I was exposed to. I was a choirboy, singing Latin, Gregorian chants. I wanted to be a priest. I wanted to sing up there in the altars with the choir. I wanted to lead the ceremony. That’s what I envisioned for myself when I was young growing up. So, it’s no doubt that I’d have that subconscious seed, planted everywhere I go. And Journey was the perfect vehicle. It was the band of the “boy next door.” It was innocent music that spoke of hope and love, and heartache and promise. It was perfect for me, because I totally “got” the brand. And of course, with Steve [Perry], it was a no brainer.

How was it seeing Steve Perry at Journey's Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction?

I hadn’t seen him in 12 years, since we did the Hollywood Walk of Fame together. Steve’s been very active approving sync licenses and movie deals related to Journey. He’s been open to the good things, and resisting the bad things that have come along. And I’ve pretty much been on the same page. To see him again and see him so positive and doing so well – he said to me, “Look at us. We got older!” And he smiled about it. He’s accepting of that, and also accepting of the fact that what we did together was extraordinary. His on-stage kudos to our then manager Herbie Herbert was just extraordinary, as was him thanking our crew, even the members who had passed away. To me, he stole the show. He was classy and grateful. So, we have an innate relationship as brothers who did some great stuff. Our friendship and brotherhood will live on.

And what has it been like having drummer Steve Smith back in the band?

He’s a great spirit. He has wonderful energy and style swing and dynamics. When he plays the ballads they’re just exquisite. He brings a sort of orchestral layer to our band. Where [former drummer] Deen Castronovo was probably more “rock,” Steve has a more “rock orchestra” approach. He brings the gong and all of his drums. He sounds like two guys! There’s only one Steve Smith. [Laughs.]

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The last time we spoke, you had just opened your studio in Nashville, Addiction Sound. What’s happening there these days?

It’s a great room. Keith Urban was just there writing, and we have John Oates as a client. Vince Gill was also there with the Time Jumpers. We really have the best of both worlds – “old school” and “new school.” Our Trident console is up and running and sounding better than it ever has before. One of the guys that rents a room from me, Greg McNeer, happens to be a Trident expert and tech. He actually rebuilt my MCI machine. And we have my Fazioli grand piano, as well as a Hammond C3 organ from 1958 and other gear. It’s an extraordinary sounding room. I’d like to do an internet show from there - something like Live from Daryl’s House, where we can get guests, tape some things, and show a little bit of Nashville. The lucky ones get a break, but I’m all for the young ones that don’t get the breaks. The studio is really a vehicle for the community. I give away a free session every year to the Rally Foundation that helps with Children’s Cancer, and this gal Ava Boney won it two years in a row. She came in and I produced two tracks with her and I helped her with her vocals. And she ended-up getting a scholarship, all because of her demos. So, it feels good to do that kind of thing. I’d also like to turn the studio into some sort of part-time school as well, to give kids the opportunity to get their music recorded.

Can you tell us about your touring rig with Journey?

I’m using mainly the Roland V-Piano Grand and the Jupiter-80. I’m also using the Korg Triton Studio and the Korg CX-3 with a Leslie Speaker. It’s a pretty basic setup. I don’t like computers on-stage after all the horror stories I had with laptops. I love softsynths in the studio, and I’m a big fan of the Native Instruments and Output stuff. But on the road, things can go south, so I like to keep it simple. With Journey, I do a lot of programming, and when I do a piano solo, I’ll run symphonic, Vangelis-type tracks behind me. But with my setup, I don’t have to worry about things going wrong.

I recently saw that great Instagram video of you playing the “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” synth riff on your original Roland Jupiter-8. As someone who brought the Jupiter-8 to wider acclaim when it first came out, why do you think that synth is still so in-demand?

I like the idea of the “split” on it. It’s actually two synths in one, with the “A” and the “B” panels, and you can “gang” them up to create these great sounds. The oscillators are clean. I just fired mine up the other day with my Radio Shack cassette player, and it worked! The sounds went-in as promised, and that cassette was probably one of the last “dumps” that I did. That little Radio Shack actually fires-up my Prophet-5 pretty well too, which is actually on display at the Hard Rock right now. The Jupiter had a beautiful sheen to it that the Moog didn’t have. It had a beautiful sizzle that wasn’t “buzzy,” and you could get some really nice pulse-width modulation on it. The envelopes were very quick, so very percussive, tight synth sounds were very articulate. And pretty beautiful strings too, that you can tweak.

I got one of those little JP-08 Boutique modules and that sounds amazing too. I put together a little string patch on it and I was amazed. I know they’re just modeling things on it, but it’s great. Roland actually wanted to buy my Jupiter-8 back from me, because they didn’t have one for their museum. But I said, “No. You can’t have it. Mine is not for sale.” I pulled it out of storage and it’s up and running at the studio. You know what’s funny? After listening to the Jupiter-8 and then going back to my Jupiter-80, the 80 sounds like three Jupiter-8’s! [Laughs.] It’s that big. And with the Supernatural engine, and the dynamics of it – it seems like the oscillators correspond to your velocity. You can actually put nuance into your playing, and the harder you hit it, the more oscillators fire. It’s fun, but it’s a deep box. I’m barely scratching the surface of it. I use it on the road, but I wish I could take it home with me and get more time with it. It’s a beast. It probably weighs 40 pounds! But Roland continues to move on, and they have some great new keyboards. That JD-XA is really badass too. That’s a dreamy box right there.

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Besides Journey’s seemingly relentless tour schedule, this summer the band is also part of “The Classic,” four stadium dates in Los Angeles and New York featuring the Eagles, Steely Dan, Earth, Wind & Fire, the Doobie Brothers and Fleetwood Mac. What a lineup!

We’re honored to be on it. It’s [famed manager] Irving Azoff’s dream concert. We haven’t really played with Fleetwood Mac since the “old days.” Mick Fleetwood came out to Maui to check us out. He stayed for the entire show and loved it.

Right now, I’m focused on keeping Journey on the road and relevant. It’s tough to make new music today. The problem with our band is it’s very expensive for us to go in, with the crew, etc. Plus, we have so much music now to play. But there are a couple of ideas I’m kicking around. I’ve always wanted to do a “deep cuts” series, where we go on the road and if we play five cities, we play a different show in each city, videotape it, and then do a Pay-Per-View special on the Journey songs you didn’t get to hear. Because we have a huge catalog, and some of these songs will be forgotten if we don’t rev-up with some new media and bring them up to date. So, if we can preserve some of the deeper cuts like “After the Fall,” it will keep those songs alive.

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A new display of memorabilia from the band Journey at the Hard Rock Hotel (Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau)

Whatever happened to your red Yamaha C7 grand piano affectionately dubbed “The Whale?”

The Whale is now residing in Cleveland in The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. My kids were going to kill me when I told them that I was giving it to them, but I thought the fans should see it. It’s an iconic symbol of all the music I brought to the band. It was proudly displayed on the first ever simulcastthat MTV ever did of a live rock band, from The Summit in Houston. 

I’ll always remember the story you told me about how you wrote “Don’t Stop Believin’” after your Dad said those words to you. It’s a lesson we can all take to heart.

That’s it. I went from selling stereos and dreaming about being on a rock stage, to actually having it happen to me. I’ve been blessed that much. I can tell you that there’s still hope for a lot of dreamers out there to not quit dreaming, and not quit believing. Don’t worry about what’s on the charts. Please yourself, and please God first. And mighty things will happen.

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SONG STORIES - The Making of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'"

JOURNEY - Official Site