NEW YORK (AP) — In the years after Steve Perry left Journey, he didn’t sing for anyone — not even for himself.
No songs in the shower, humming tunes on the radio, or private concerts for family or friends. He was that burnt out, despite owning one of the most powerful voices in rock ‘n’ roll.
But a misstep in a relationship forced him to give an impromptu performance, albeit for one, while hiking in the mountains.
Perry recalled in a recent interview with The Associated Press that he was in the doghouse with his girlfriend and was begging for forgiveness when she gave him an ultimatum — sing for her.
“I said, ‘Come on, you know I don’t do that, I haven’t done it in years. You know that,'” he said.
But wanting to salvage the relationship, he asked her for her request: It was “Open Arms.”
“I started singing it to her. And after I was done, she said ‘Okay,'” he said. “So I was taken off the hook for it.”
That same girlfriend, Kellie Nash, is the reason why he released his first album almost 25 years, “Traces,” which debuted in the top 10 of the Billboard Top 200 albums this week. It’s a surprising return from the man whose disappearance from the music scene seemed to be one of the few lasting things in pop music. For decades, Perry refused to make music; even when Journey was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Perry declined to sing with the band as they performed “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
But Nash, who had breast cancer, made him promise that if anything ever happened to her, he would not go further into his shell. When she died, he honored her wish. And to his surprise, Perry found his passion for music again.
“A heart is not complete until it’s completely broken. And I’m telling you, my heart is completely broken and it’s open again. But it’s open to emotion, whether it’s a rock song or a song about loss or just a break up song,” the 69-year-old said. “The album has all that in it. But it’s about having an open heart, I think.”
AP: When you left the music scene, was it a matter of a loss of love for music or performing and the “work” of it?
Perry: Both. It really was. I loved performing but it was wearing me out. I loved writing music and recording music and arranging music and coming up with these melody ideas that I thought were memorable, but they weren’t coming anymore. And the ones that were coming, I didn’t feel good about. So my mind told me it’s just time to stop, and that was the only solution I had was just to walk away.
AP: And you didn’t miss it?
Perry: I did not (laughs). I didn’t miss it because it was more uncomfortable to realize when I was doing it or trying to do it or even singing in the car by myself, I wasn’t feeling it. So if I’m not feeling it, I don’t miss it.
AP: Who is Kellie Nash to you and how did she inspire this return?
Perry: Kellie was a girl I met that was fighting for her life with stage 4 cancer. But I really met her on a screen when I was hanging out with (director) Patty Jenkins because Patty Jenkins was doing a TV show called “Five” for Lifetime Network. And she was in one of the scenes, and I asked Patty, “Who is this?” and she said “That’s Kellie Nash, she’s a Ph.D. psychologist. . you need to know one thing . she’s fighting for her life.” So in that moment, I decided well maybe this is a bad idea. Then my heart said . you need to go ahead and send that email. So I did. . We went to dinner for the first time, six hours we were together and we were inseparable. . We just wanted to be together, I think.
AP: Now that you’ve fulfilled your promise to Kellie, has this reignited something, is more music in the works? A tour?
Perry: I think that the next phase would be to confront live shows and if I’m gonna do those, and we’re talking about that now. . Uncle Steve is no spring chicken you know, so we have to figure that out.
AP: For Journey fans, would there ever be any possibility that you would ever perform with them again?
Perry: I can only tell you is, what I’m doing now is a life-sustaining passion for me at my age. And it took me so long to find it again. I didn’t think it was ever going to come back again. And so I kinda, with certain protective reverence, I have right now to (do) that. And I don’t want to upset that applecart. Because creative juices are so fragile. And I would say what I’m doing right now is moving forward and going in a direction that I’m really excited about, and I want to continue to do that.
AP: When you hear old Journey music, what memories come to mind?
Perry: Well, I have a bit of a total recall memory bank that can haunt the living (expletive) out of me, (laughs) unfortunately. And it does spark a lot of memories — some not so good, some great. … It’s been really nice to be able to hear that music from the outside looking in ’cause forever, I was only on the inside looking at what it was to make it, how we did it, how we put it together, and the struggles to get it to where it was and where it’s been all these years. They’re like paintings on the wall, ya know, but now it’s able for me to finally, to look at the painting on the wall from the outside.