Jonathan Cain On Being More Like Jesus

Photo by Micah Kandros.

Jonathan Cain is a brilliant musician and an even-more-wonderful person. What follows is my third interview with him to date, and I find myself liking and respecting the man more each time we speak. During this interview we covered his brand-new album More Like Jesus, which is fantastic, his thoughts on Steve Perry’s comeback album, a new Journey release, and much more. Also included among the images and videos below, is a quote from a discussion I had with Jon backstage in Philadelphia last year, where he gave my writing the highest praise it has ever received. Jon’s music, writing, and friendship have enriched my life in a way that is immeasurable and, if you take a chance, he might have the same impact on you.

Your new album More Like Jesus is your fourth in as many years. What inspired this level of productivity on your part?

I used to always have to slow down with the creative stuff with Journey. We’d take a break. Two years would go by and we’re not writing. I feel that once you’re on a roll and feeling it, you should just keep going. I was obedient to the muse that I had at the time and that was during the last two tours, while being on the road with Journey. I made it my business to get everything recorded in a good way. Sometimes, when you go back and try to retrace it you lose something. Coming off that Christmas album, which was such a joy to create – Unsung Noel. And I had extra songs from What God Wants To Hear. More Like Jesus was written during the same time, believe it or not. There are four songs on the new album that are from that era. I had so much music that I had to pull back. I decided to save it for this album. This music didn’t fit that album, which is interesting. I went for a bolder sound on this album and really step it up. Rock for Jesus a little more (laugh). I’ve tested these songs on the congregation and gotten positive feedback, and I already have four or five new songs that I haven’t really developed yet. I’m constantly writing. There’s a lot of writing going on. You need to get it when your mind is fertile and you’re in a Holy Spirit moment. You just roll with it. God gave me a lot, put a lot on my plate. Rather than toss it aside, I received it. I think the end result is a pretty strong record.

I like this album even more than What God Wants To Hear.

It’s bold. It has a little bit of everything on it. There’s pray, testimony, and worship. I looked at a lot of scripture. During this time, I had some injuries I was healing from. I broke ribs and my finger. I had some horrendous horseback accidents. I was in a lot of pain. The only place to turn when you have pain, is to Jesus. I felt like I had a real intimate encounter during that time period and it helped me take that pain away. I knew I had to deal with it and it was good. Songs like “Take These Ashes” and “Only In The Arms Of Jesus” were really endearing moments. For “Now Unto Him,” God provided me with a melody to set to scripture, which is a pretty bold thing to do. I thought, all right (laughs), I’ll sing it.

“Now Unto Him” is a great song. I love that one!

That’s straight out of The Bible, man. That’s scripture. We say that scripture at the end of every service. It’s right there on the screen so I chose some music for it and fleshed it out. It’s a great worship song and it really works well in church. This Easter I’m singing “For He Has Risen,” which is cinematic. I thought about the three days, from Good Friday to Easter Sunday – the emotions that must have run through the minds of the apostles. That seems to play really well on the internet. We did a video for that. I think this album is pretty packed. It’s got a little something for everybody. There are some great players on it as well. My daughter played with me on “Only In The Arms,” which was special. She was around for that. It’s really been fun. When I’m not doing Journey, I’m able to lift up God and do it in my own musical way. For my next album, I think I’ll concentrate more on it being more of a worship-type CD. I consider this to be contemporary, Christian pop. I feel like I really made a statement with this album. It’s not the end. It’s the era of mine, where I walked with the Holy Spirit. These lyrics were all completely given to me as a gift and I consider that to be a treasure. I tried to outline that with melody and put as much of me into them. And I’m looking forward to writing with some other people as well. I got to sing “More Like Jesus” in some real big churches last month and at a men’s conference and it was pretty cool. They received it well. Everybody is all smiles.

What kind of power do you think faith and music has on society, especially now when people seem to be so divided?

I think, right now, more than ever, the world could use a little more Jesus. We all could take what he tried to teach us and practice it a little more in life and be more tolerant and kind. We live in such a hate-filled time right now. I don’t know if the internet has turned us all into monsters but I refrain from judging anybody. You can’t. If you’re trying to walk in Jesus’ light, you can’t. It should be about love and tolerance, and we’re certainly lacking that in our society. This music is a prayer that people might see life more along those lines than this righteousness I see, rearing its ugly head every day. Once again, this music is driven by the Holy Spirit. I tell people I have the most faithful co-writer on the planet: the Holy Spirit. When it comes, man, I receive these lyrics in a hurry. Bam, they just come in and there’s an urgency to get it into a musical form. I really don’t sit on a lot on unfinished ideas. I learned that from Stevie Wonder. I once asked him for a songwriting tip and he said, “Don’t leave things unfinished, Jon. If you know what it is, then go get it.” And it’s been my pleasure to go into the studio and work with A-list players to get this stuff down. I did this album on the road, in between on breaks. I’d go into my studio and cut three or six songs at a time – whatever songs I had ready. Little did I know that my studio was going to be a blessing like that. It’s just what writers do. We observe, and I like to get it while it’s fresh. There’s a certain urgency to it. I’m also lucky to have the financial capabilities to record it all. Not all guys are as lucky as me and have a studio and have the money to do so. I certainly won’t see any profit from it but I’m sowing seeds. I have a following on the internet and they seem to be blessed by it and I’ll continue.

You mentioned co-writing songs and lyrics, which reminds me of one of my favorite musicians, Melissa Manchester, who is a phenomenal vocalist and lyricist. What are your thoughts on Melissa and her work?

She’s awesome! A class act all the way around. A great writer who has had a lot of success.

What kind of feedback did you receive on your autobiography after it came out?

It was good. About 97% of it was positive. People seemed to be moved, inspired and encouraged by it. I thought the feedback was very good. I was happy to be able to be the first survivor of the Our Lady of the Angels school fire to be published, sharing that story.

Speaking of that, I love the audiobook. During it, when you tell that story, you’re clearly overcome with emotion and I love that you left that raw emotion in the audiobook. Some others might have been compelled to do another take but you didn’t. I think that made for a more impactful story. How did you approach that process of recording the audiobook?

The publisher had a producer there in my studio. I knew I could pull off narrating the book because of all of the radio interviews I’ve done over the years as a member of Journey. All those voice-overs of the years, give you a feel for who you are. I wrote the book in a very transparent and emotional way, so it was very natural for me to read it. My producer and publisher believed that it was going to be great and never doubted that I was the guy to do it. From the get-go, the publisher was key in making it happen. I recorded it in my studio over the course of five days. We were getting about 75 pages a day, which is a lot. Some people take much longer. I had written this book for the last 10 years so it was pretty fresh and I knew it well. Reading it, you want to engage the listener with different inflections that you felt when you wrote it – the emotions that come to mind when you set the pen to paper. It was pretty easy actually, for me to do that. It came very naturally for me. Then I laced it with a bunch of songs of mine that I crafted over the years. I even wrote a song about writing the book. (laughs)

That song was included on a companion album, The Songs You Leave Behind, which you produced and released to coincide with the book. What was it like choosing songs to include on that album?

I had a couple of solo albums so I focused on picking songs dealing with crossroads in my life. When Steve Perry took a hiatus from Journey, I had a studio built and learned how to engineer and recorded that album. A lot of that stuff is out of print and you can’t get it anymore, so I included many of those tracks on this album. When Steve left, the big thing that came up is who is Jonathan Cain as a singer and a writer? Where’s the guy that wrote “Faithfully”? Can you bring forth your own voice? Like Springsteen does, I tried to retrace my muse and find my identity on the streets of Chicago growing up. I think that’s important as a writer – to know who you are. And now I know who I am in Christ, which is even more important and satisfying. They say that God rides on the waves of sound, and I hope I please him with my music. I had to find my own identity and those songs fit very well on this album. They represent key places in my life. My father passing away, the fire in Chicago. I got to sing that song in the church that has been boarded up for years but has now reopened because of more than two million dollars in renovations. That was really special for me. It showed me that God is faithful. To be able to go back and retrace the muse and find that my church has been restored. The place where I had my first communion. It was really mind-blowing. If there was any question whether God was there that day, it was answered when I saw what had happened to that church.

Have you heard Steve Perry’s new album Traces? If so, what are your thoughts on it?

I think it’s a great album for being gone for so long. It’s been 30 years since he’s done an album and I think it’s a good first step. As a writer, you try to open up and I think it’s a sign of more music to come.

I think he sounds great and I love the album. I know some people complain about it not having enough rock songs or him not hitting the high notes he did in the 1980s. However, what those people need to realize is this album is him at this age and a reflection of who he is at this point in his life.

I think it’s a great first album in a really long time, and he’ll just go from here. You have to have some place to start again. I think this is a good place to start. I’m happy he’s out there doing it. He’s meant to sing, and I know that people adored it. Bravo, Steve.

Have you tried reaching out to Steve since the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony?

No. He already said, in so many words, that he’s not interested in a relationship with me or Neal. It came up when he was on the book tour. He was saying standoffish things. Interviewers even asked him about my book and he shut it down.

I noticed that too. I thought it was very bizarre and disappointing.

Yeah, especially when I had only had great things to say about him, which, that’s his loss – whatever. I don’t live like that. Your decisions and your relationships are what you make them. If he chooses not to have one with myself or Neal, that’s not my wish. But I’m understanding of his space, and I’ll leave it at that. To me, Journey just sold a million tickets on this last tour – our most successful one ever with Arnel – and I choose to be grateful for that. We have Arnel and that voice.

That’s a great attitude to have. I wonder if Steve doesn’t want to reconnect because he’s afraid of something happening.

I can’t even go there. You’d have to ask him. I remember when we decided to move on without him. Steve pretty much said, in so many words, “Lose my number.” I don’t have Steve’s number and I don’t talk to him. If he needs something, the publisher reaches out to us. And he’s been very cooperative when it comes to publishing, licenses, approving and disapproving the way our music is used. And I’m usually in complete agreement with anything he says. We’re still working together in a publishing way and I’m grateful for that. But, again, he has his life and we have our band and we move on. I can’t really control that situation. It’s what we make of it and that’s where we’re at.Journey has a new live Blu-ray and CD set, Escape & Frontiers Live in Japan. What can you tell fans about this new release?

It’s pretty great stuff. It’s us looking back at this music and making a musical statement with two of the biggest albums of our career. It was fun to go back and redo that. It was fun to put together a set that included those songs. Neal, Ross, Steve, and I worked hard at getting a good set to flow. It was fun. When we looked at the order of things, we decided to open with “Don’t Stop Believin'” because otherwise everybody would probably leave in the middle of the show (laughs). We reorganized the order and tried to make a rock and roll set of the two albums that flowed nicely. Every song is represented except for one. We only had one night with “Troubled Child” in the set and Arnel got lost on it. We had practiced it and rehearsed it. But that night we did it, he couldn’t hear something right so we couldn’t use it. We tried to salvage the tune but Arnel got lost on it (laughs) so that’s the only track that didn’t make it in from those albums. The crowd was terrific. My daughter and Neal’s son opened for us. They performed together and did a terrific job. The two of them did an acoustic set and it was a great time. It was one of those things where we saw some video of it and our manager said, “This is really good. Do you have all the audio?” I said, “Yeah” and we went to town on it. I’m glad we did because it was a great show.

Journey also recently announced a residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in October 2019. What do you have planned for those shows?

I don’t know. We’ll probably do a lot of hits, but we might have an Escape night, a Frontiers night, or a ballad night. We’ll get there when we get there. It’s the first time Journey has ever played Caesars show it should be great.

Neal has his Journey Through Time concerts that have been wildly successful, featuring Gregg Rolie and Deen Castronovo, among other stellar musicians. What are your thoughts on these shows?

I think it’s great. That’s music that we don’t get to play due to time. I think it’s really awesome that that music is getting represented and is being put forth again. It worked in the 1970s and it’s still relevant now. It’s part of who we are.

It must be nice having a few months off, since Journey was touring for a long time.

It is. We needed a break. I’ve been doing a lot of ministry with Paula. It’s been really fun working together. We’re taping a Christian lifestyle show. I just did a Better Man Ministries event for 7,500 men, which was great.

I assume it’s safe to say that Journey won’t have a full-blown tour until 2020 at the earliest, correct?

Yes, that’s probably right.

Any other exciting projects on the horizon?

Right now, I’m trying to work on the ministry side of things and recharge for next year. Riding my horses a lot. I’ll be writing more music at my studio in Nashville. I’m also working with my daughter, Madison, on helping her to get her career further down the road. That’s it. I’m thinking about writing a cook book. We’ll see if that comes together or not.

What kind of food would the cook book be focused on?

It would be about food with bold flavors from around the world. I like everything from Asian to Tex-Mex to Peruvian to Moroccan. I do Italian, but it’s bold. It’s usually in-your-face. Bada bing! I don’t do protein bowls. (laughs) That’s not my thing, when it comes to dinner. I focus on the classics and add my own twist. I’m also a big salad guy and I like to make different dressings. I do barbecue on a Himalayan salt block. One thing I’d focus on is cooking with love and with God in mind. If you’re not in a good frame of mind, don’t do it. If you aren’t cooking with love, then order out. It’s so important to have that love in your heart when you set out to create something. I just have to sit down and write the forward. Maybe I’ll call it Ministry of Cooking (laughs). I don’t know. It’s fun, and it’s something I love to do. It’s a hobby but I take it seriously. Your wife, Paula, has a new book coming out in October. Tell me about it.

It’s called Something Greater, and it’s terrific. She really has quite a story. A messed-up Mississippi girl finds God. She was called trailer trash but God’s in the recycling business. (laughs) It is a terrific story. Heartbreaking. Heartwarming. I was laughing and crying. It’s super-transparent. Really, really great. The rise and fall of her ministry. It’s a very inspiring book. How to triumph over tragedy. We had similar lives. We both had these crazy tragedies in our lives when we were little and they moved us toward a higher place with the Holy Spirit. She went all the way to becoming a holy preacher. Back in the day, that would have been unheard of, considering where she started. That was, pretty much, a no-no but she prevailed. Then she ended up being a spiritual advisor to the president. It’s a really interesting book. I’m proud of her and I think it’s going to do terrific.

Is she going to do the audiobook for hers like you did with yours?

Yeah! She actually is. I think we’re going to use my studio and hopefully she’ll let me play some piano on it.

I think it’s great how despite having very different professions, you have so many similarities with one another in your current and past lives. It’s wonderful to see how you’re intertwined that way.

You’re absolutely right. We stay in our respective lanes and when it’s time to move together and flow together, we do. She comes on the road with me and prays for me in Journey and keeps me company. Then she goes to Washington, D.C. and I be there when I can. She was a big part of that prison reform bill with 3,000 pastors and helped organize to get that passed, which is an enormous achievement for a lame-duck Congress. It took the Christian pastors and bishops to get it done. I think it’s a real game-changers for our country and prison reform. It helps let the church do what it does best. Right now, they’re at the border praying for families and those who are detainees, making sure they have supplies and prayer. They’re doing a terrific job. It’s all needed. It’s behind-the-scenes stuff that’s not in the news – the amazing Christian outreach that’s going on quietly. It doesn’t make the news but the White House is supporting it. There’s a lot of good that’s going on that doesn’t get reported.

It’s a shame because only negative news is what seems to get coverage nowadays.

I pray for tolerance right now so we can tolerate one another and move on. There’s too much at stake. Lives are at stake. We have a humanitarian crisis going on that needs to be solved one way or another. It gets tiresome.

As we’re talking, Easter is just a few days away. Hopefully this holiday will remind people to focus on what matters and to not be consumed by pettiness.

I hope so. What Jesus left behind is such a strong set of messages – a way of living and a way of praying. He left us a roadmap and it’s called The Bible. I’m still in love with the word and I’m in it every day. It never ceases to amaze me. I choose to live in God’s word and try not to be affected by all this negativity.

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