Jonathan Cain On New Music, Journey, Steve Perry & The Lord
Jonathan Cain is a brilliant musician and a kind person. He is one of the most prolific, influential, and skilled performers ever, and he’s back with new music, both as a solo artist and as a member of Journey. Today, Jon’s new single, “Oh Lord Lead Us,” is available to buy and stream. And, on June 24, Journey released the new single, “The Way We Used To Be,” from its forthcoming new studio album. Jon was kind enough to speak with me at length about his new music, Journey’s new album, hitting the road again, how the Lord inspires him, his wife, Paula White-Cain, Steve Perry, and so much more. I hope you enjoy our discussion, and make sure to buy and stream Jon’s new single because it’s excellent!
You have a new single, “Oh Lord Lead Us.” Tell me about the new song and how it came to be.
I was leading service for our church, City of Destiny, and I was looking for a song to celebrate the new year. I specifically wanted a Holy Spirit song for new year’s, and I noticed that there wasn’t a lot addressing the new season and the idea of something new being born. I was looking in scripture, and I saw that in Second Chronicles there’s a scripture that said, “Look to the Lord for strength, and seek his faith always.” That triggered the idea for this song. God has a plan that we’re not even aware of. He’s leading us out of the darkness before we even get there.
I also thought about the idea of resetting after COVID, and things opening up again, and starting to live life again. I was looking for a hopeful song about asking God for his leadership and vision. It’s also about us getting caught up in the world’s ways and we forget that someone much larger than us is in charge of everything. So, I thought that song really fit the bill. It was just everything I’d been through that whole season that I wanted to put into a song for the new year. Something powerful that would resonate and that would also be reverent to what God has aligned for us.
I was teaching with Paula on first fruits and music is my gift from God, and it was my time to do something. Upon writing that song, two or three others came quite quickly for me, so I went back into my studio and laid them down.
Had it been a long time since you recorded new music?
I had taken a break from it all. I wasn’t creating new music. But then, all of a sudden, with “Oh Lord Lead Us,” and these other songs, I got inspiration. It was as if God said, “Now!” Being the season of first fruit, I decided to be obedient to that. It had been a while since I felt like I could add anything to what I’ve already done. I guess I waited for that inspiration and permission. You want to hear from God first. That song was really the beginning of me checking in with God again and him telling me, “Go!” And I did, and that’s what I came up with.
Have you had a chance to perform this music live yet?
Yes, I did. I performed it at City of Destiny. The song really resonated with them. I tried it out on the congregation first. I do that with a lot of my music to make sure that it resonates in the sanctuary. People were singing it by the end, so I knew I had something. And when the Praise Team said, “I really like that song, Jon,” it’s good. Even my label liked it.
You mentioned other songs. Are you going to put out a new album?
There’s an EP that’s just about done. I have some singles that I put out last year. They were lone singles, and I’m going to add them to the collection. So, maybe five or six songs. And possibly an album by the end of the year.
Since you and I last spoke, you put out an album called Piano Worship. Tell me about that.
There’s another Piano Worship album in the works. Paula is always outlining her sermon or whatever she’s teaching, and often I’d play piano in the background, going places I wouldn’t go usually. Often, it was stream of consciousness. Nothing was preconceived. The music provides shades of emotions to outline her sermons. I put that album together because it’s something different. What you hear on there is live. It’s stream of consciousness. I never know what I’m playing or where I’m going, and I’ve got another album of that kind of music coming that’s quite good as well. I always, sort of, played piano for God, and this time I captured it in a collection that I hope people use for their prayer life. It’s soothing music.
I think it’s really impressive. You have a song on Piano Worship called “No Regrets” that runs for more than eighteen minutes!
Yeah, it really goes. It was a sermon Paula was preaching, and I just kept playing. She moves into different colors and emotions with her sermon, and the piano takes its own place and does its thing.
Tell me about your single “Freedom In Your Grace.”
Yes, “Freedom In Your Grace” was written for the Fourth of July last year, right after George Floyd’s death. After all the riots and that stuff, I felt like our nation needed a song. I’m happy with the way that came out.
Another great piece of music you put out since we last spoke is “No One But You Jesus.” How did that come together?
I worked with Ian Eskelin on that one. I wrote it with Ian; the guy I wrote “Wonder of Wonders” with. There’s another tune I wrote for Paula’s book called “Something Greater,” which I think came out really well. They’re all signature songs that have my sound. I stay true to my signature and my sound.
What are your thoughts on how Paula’s book, Something Greater, turned out?
I think it turned out great. It’s really an amazing story of victory, for sure.
You also have new music with Journey. You guys have a new album coming out, and you released the first single, “The Way We Used To Be.” What has that process been like?
Yeah, we’ve got new music coming out and we just dropped that new single. It was a lot of fun, and a good amount of that music was inspired by COVID. We had seen that a lot of relationships had been broken up because of COVID. The pandemic has really messed people up and gotten them discouraged. They’re home with each other and they want to walk away. The message of this new Journey music is to be grateful for what you’ve got. I just let the Lord lead me to wherever he takes me. I try to write what’s never been written.
I just finished a song about Pentecost called “The Upper Room,” which I think is another great tune and worship music. You’ve got the rock band Journey, and then you’ve got the worship music. With those two things I get to fulfill the conversation I have in my heart with the Holy Spirit. It strengthens me to be the best I can be with Journey.
Pretty much all of the new Journey music was created during the pandemic. Neal sent me some instrumental music and said, “I don’t think it sounds like Journey.” And I said, “I think I might have a lyric for that.” I had written this lyric about getting back to the way we used to be, and I knew that this was certainly a Journey song and that Neal’s music was the backing track. He was quite surprised when he heard what I had.
We’ve got a whole album coming. It’ll be about 10 or 12 songs. It will come out some time in the fall. We don’t know what we’re going to call it yet. We do have a working title, but it’s too soon to say.
What was the process like recording this new Journey music during COVID?
Narada Michael Walden did a lot of producing for Arnel. I wrote a lot of the lyrics. The only people that got to see each other during this recording process were Neal and Narada. They did a lot of that in the beginning. Then I did a lot of stuff in my studio. It was a long distance record that was made in multiple studios and then brought together and mixed. We’d jump on the phone a lot to go over things. I know Narada was on Zoom calls with Arnel in the Philippines that sometimes that would go until one or two o’clock in the morning because of the time zone differences. Narada put a lot of work into it and he’s a welcome addition to the band.
I hope no one in your family has been directly affected by COVID.
No, not really. I came down with it in late September last year. I’ve had colds worse than that. I had a very mild case of it. I actually finished several Journey songs while I had COVID. (laughs)
Narada Michael Walden and Randy Jackson are two new additions to the band, replacing Steve Smith and Ross Valory. What’s that been like?
They’re both great! We’ve got history together. We’ve all jammed and played live together. Narada and I played together to open up Eric Clapton’s Crossroads one year, and that was fun. And, Randy has been on Journey records and played live with us before, so bringing him back into the fold made sense.
What exactly happened with Steve Smith and Ross Valory?
It’s hard to say, honestly. They had expectations, I guess. And they left us with no other choice than to fire them. It was disappointing for sure. It’s a complicated situation that goes way back. The owners of Journey are Neal and I. And Arnel has been our lead singer for 14 years, and he’s great. With Steve and Ross, it’s been really difficult. Like a marriage, we had a lot of years together. There were a lot of misunderstandings, and things happened. People move on.
During the negotiations, I spoke with Steve and Ross. I don’t have any ill will toward anybody. We’re just happy to move forward and be Journey again. Neal and I just want to get back on the road, play our music, and see the fans again. That’s really it.
Speaking of hitting the road again, Journey is about to do just that. What has it been like getting ready to tour? I imagine you’re very excited.
We’re starting to gear up. We’ve got rehearsals and some shows coming up in August. We’re staying busy, man. Just trying to get back to work, like everyone else. There’s Las Vegas and a bunch of other dates coming up. I’m sure we’ll appreciate concerts even more, considering what the world has gone through.
In this era of COVID, how is Journey going to handle meet and greets at concerts?
I have no idea what that’s going to look like. I would think we’d probably abstain from that for a while, and I think everybody will understand.
You also did a Christmas concert, “Unsung Noel Live.” What was that like?
It was tremendous to be able to have people listen to an original Christmas album. It was just terrific! It was on Amazon Prime, and we mixed it. I had injured ribs at that time, and I still look back on it wondering how I got through it. But I was able to perform mightily. It was great to arrange and play Christmas the way I wanted to do it in my heart. Reimagining the nativity, writing a song about Joseph and the way he must’ve felt, and another song about Mary. There was a sermon by Billy Graham, and he said, “Christ is the heart of Christmas.” And that really hit me and inspired me to write that album. I don’t think that album got the shot it deserved, but it’s forever. I made a gold double-album version of it on vinyl that sounds extraordinary. When you write songs about your faith, they’re forever. They don’t get old. They still resonate. They still mean something. For the live concert, we had Neal Schon’s son playing guitar and my brother on the drums. It was hard to play live, but I’m glad with the way it turned out. We had a lot of fun with that project, for sure.
Last time we spoke, you mentioned wanting to write a cookbook. How’s that coming along?
I did start writing the book. I just need to finish it. I wrote the introduction, and I have recipes in mind and a title for it. I might start dropping recipes on Facebook and doing it that way. Maybe give a recipe every other week. COVID really pushed the envelope for me. I was cooking every night and trying to be creative with food. I was doing excotic dishes. It was a blast. Thank God for the delivery people and grocery stores that stayed open during COVID. They’re heroes in my mind.
Is your wife Paula working on anything new that you’d like to share?
She’s writing a new book called Tabernacle. She’s been teaching and studying that for over 20 years, so it’s really going to be an eye-opening book for a lot of people. The Tabernacle often gets overlooked, so Paula’s gone back and mapped it out. It’s really a labor of love.
For Paula’s most recent book, Something Greater, did she record the audiobook in your studio?
Yes, we did it in my studio. It took her about the same amount of time as me with my audiobook. She had her producer on Zoom. Also, I took the photo that’s on the cover of her book. They had a couple professional photographers take photos too, but they wound up choosing my photo in the end. That’s another thing I like to do: photography. Taking photos of nature and all kinds of stuff.
How’d you come up with the name for your studio, Addiction Sound Studios?
It’s called Addiction because where the building is located used to be a drug rehab center. It was called the Tennessee Drug Abuse Council. People would come there for meetings. We thought we’d keep that same idea, and music is the only thing worth getting hooked on. (laughs)
Have you had a chance to listen to any of the music that Steve Perry has released over the past few years, and have you guys been in touch at all?
Steve Perry and I haven’t been in touch since the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I have heard some of his music. It’s good to hear him singing again in the studio. He should be singing. That’s what he was made to do. But, no, we don’t talk. I wish him all the best.
Your wife is President Trump’s spiritual advisor. How was that affected by the election?
They’ve been friends for 20 years, and she’s been the pastor for him and his family for that long. They’re still very close.