Neal Schon är den legendariske gitarristen från Journey och Santana. han är snart aktuell med ett instrumentalt soloalbum, “Vortex”, och självfallet högg vi snabbt som en kobra när intervjutillfälle gavs. Neal befann sig i Sin City, där han bl a spelat in nytt med just Carlos Santana. Vi pratade givetvis om det kommande soloalbumet, men även om Journey, lyxiga bilar och Hear N´Aid, som firar 30 år i år.
When I came down there, there were all these guitar players and pretty much everybody in that line looked at me like; “What the hell are you doing here? You´re a pop guitar player.” and I got that from everybody, except from Yngwie and maybe George Lynch.
What are you up to Neal?
Neal: I´m actually in Las Vegas and I´ve been here for the past month and a half. We took up a residency here for nine shows at the Hardrock Café and before that I was in the studio with Carlos Santana finishing up his new record. It´s been very busy.
How´s Sin City these days?
Neal: Sin City is crazy as fuck, man. (laughs) I´m gonna be glad to get the fuck out of here for real. (laughs)
This new album of yours, are these songs you´ve collected over the years?
Neal: Not really. I mean, some ideas, like guitar riffs, I can have them since the 70´s, but I don´t really write anything down and I don´t have everything recorded. I hear a groove, like a drum groove, and I go; “Oh, I have this riff.” and I pull out the riff and all of a sudden I have a song before you know it. I kinda creat the songs on the spot. The only thing I do do, is that when I´m at home and I´m not recording, if I get an idea in my head, I either hum it into my iPhone if I don´t have a guitar around or hum the melody into an iPhone, or I have these little looping machines. Just a little pedal and it ´s got these guitar sounds in it and a drum machine and I find a drum beat that is close to what I´m hearing in my head and I´ll lay down a simple bass line. That´s all. I don´t really work on anything and I don´t make demos. My record is the demo. I stopped making demos a long time ago, because if you make a demo and you´re thinking too much, by the time you go to record it, you go; “Man, I love the demo and I can never get back to that demo.” When I play it the first time, it´ll be the real deal. My first couple of takes when I´m soloing, usually is what ends up on the record.
Do you work like that with Journey as well?
Neal: Yeah, I do. If Jonathan (Cain) brings in a song, it´s more organized and it has your chorus, verses and Then I can do whatever I wanna do, but it´s a little bit mor arranged because it´s based more around a vocal. On this album there are no vocals and my guitar is the voice of the record and it´s wide open. I don´t really worry about the arrangement until I´m listening back.
Is an instrumental album in a way freer, than putting together a new Journey album?
Neal: Absolutely. Instrumental music in itself is way more freer. Any type of song, where you have a vocal and everything´s built around a vocal, everything I play on guitar is gonna cater off to that vocal melody. I´m not gonna lie, instrumental music is more expressive.
What can you sat about the song that opens the album, “Miles beyond”? Did you ever get to play with Miles Davis?
Neal: I didn´t get to play with him, but I wish I did. I did get to meet him though and I went to see one of his last shows that he played at Berkley Community Theater. Carlos Santana was there and Michael Carabello from the Santana band. I had followed his music for years. My dad was a jazz musician, so he loved all the standards that Miles played, all the records with John McLaughlin and Jack Johnson. “Bitches brew” (1970) is a classic example of where the inspiration came for the front of “Miles beyond”. I listen to a lot of jazz. When I´m driving in my car, I never listen to the rock stations. I always listen to jazz.
Where did the album title “Vortex” come from?
Neal: It´s funny. When we were first getting together here in Las Vegas, with Carlos Santana and the original band, they were compiling material to go in and record the new record with Greg Rollie and everybody else, and I had my 60th birthday. They threw a surprise party for me up here and when I got there, Carlos gave me this beautiful watch and he said; “Neal, I´m gonna give you the name Vortex, because your playing is like a vortex.” and I went; “That´s awesome! I love it.” Now that´s become my new middle name. I´m Neal “Vortex” Schon. (laughs)
Through life, have you ever felt like you´ve been in a vortex of some sort?
Neal: Definitely, musically. I´m always in a vortex when I´m playing. The energy zone is very high leveled, as it is on this record. There´s some great melody on this record and there´s some great playing. Improvising and reaching for the sky and beyond. When you get that energy level and its coming from a very real organic place, that´s what I call a vortex. It´s me going back to the beginning when I started and the early Journey stuff. Anybody that loves the early stuff, are gonna love this album. There´s a lot of different flavors on this record that don´t necessarily sound like other instrumental guitar records that are out there.
The car on cover, is that your car?
Neal: It is. It´s a Lamborghini Aventador Roadster.
Do you collect cars?
Neal: Well, I have a few cars. A Lamborghini is just something else. I have a Lomborghini Huracan, which I think is just miles beyond any other car that I´ve ever driven. It learns how you drive and it pretty much drives for you after that. You just have to point it in the right direction. It´s amazing fun. Since the Germans have taken over it, you have the Italian design, but like with Volkswagen and Audi, there´s nothing that ever goes wrong with them. I used to be a total Ferrari freak and I love Ferraris, but it was always in the shop and I got tired of that. With these cars, the warranty is like four years or up to 100.000 miles. I usually keep them for a year and then trade it in for another one.
Do you ever take it out and just floor it?
Neal: Oh yeah! Yes I do. (laughs) I don´t talk about it a lot in interviews because I don´t want all the cops to follow me. There are sections of freeways I find and sometimes when it´s early, early in the morning and they´re switching shifts, and I have friends who told me to go out at 4 or 5 in the morning, because then there won´t be anybody on the freeway, so I´ve done that, yeah. My wife is so great and she set me up for a birthday present and part of my present was… well, she´s got a friend that does the Indianapolis 500 race and Mario Andretti turned out to be a fan of mine and I´m a fan of his, so I´m gonna go in his car with him and race around the raceway. It´s sort of like being caught in that vortex.
Are you guys working on a new album with Journey? Any plans?
Neal: You know, I have some ideas brewing and I´m sure everybody else does. We just gotta get down to it and Arnel just came to me yesterday and said; “Man, we need to do a new record.” That´sall I need to hear. Deen (Castronovo) wants to do a new record. I´m not quite sure where Jonathan (Cain) is, but I´m sure if Deen and Arnel and I start, he´ll jump onboard.
The story about you finding Arnel is pretty amazing and the weird thing is that if hadn´t been for the internet, you never would´ve found him.
Neal: You´re absolutely correct. I decided for once to use the internet for something great and that turned out to be YouTube and with that I could look at hundreds and thousands of singers, like I did, all over the world and without flying everybody in. We´d done auditions like that before, for drummers and bass players and it ended up being very, very expensive and a tedious process. Within the first couple of minutes you knew if the guy was gonna be right or not. This turned out to be a great way to find Arnel and I turned a lot of people on to doing the same thing, at the same time. In this day and age when the internet is used by so many people, like these cowards who sit behind their computer and do nothing but trash and torment people all day long. And all this hacking! Hacking is so crazy and it´s not just facebook and stuff, but all the way to Washington DC. It´s all crazy.
Another thing I thought about is that it´s 30 years since the Hear N´Aid project. What are your memories from that?
Neal: It was a great memory. I was so messed up at the time on drugs and drinking and I´d done an all nighter and hadn´t slept it off. I called Ronnie (Dio) in the morning and said; “Hey Ronnie, I´m not gonna be able to make it down there. I´m just like toast.” And he said; “Oh no, you have to come. You´re one of my main players and honest to God I really have to have you.”, so I just went; “Ok, I´ll come.” His really wanting me there and wanting to meet me and I really respected him as a singer, so I made it down there. When I came down there, there were all these guitar players and pretty much everybody in that line looked at me like; “What the hell are you doing here? You´re a pop guitar player.” and I got that from everybody, except from Yngwie and maybe George Lynch. I sat next to Yngwie while I was waiting my turn. We were listening to somebody and I think it was Brad Gillis (Night Ranger) and he was punching in and punching in. He did like about 50 punch ins on the solo and I got really annoyed with it, because I was tired, so I went; “When I go in there, I swear to God I´m gonna do two takes. One from the top to the bottom and another one from the top to the bottom and that´s gonna be it.” Yngwie went in and did his thing, the shredding demon, and I went in and the cameras were on and I hadn´t slept all night, but I was very comfortable playing in that format. I never really got the opportunity to play the heavier guitar stuff. Everybody just assumed that I was just this melody guy, came from Journey and played nice melodies. But I love playing that stuff, it´s just that I´ve never been in a heavier band, so I took the opportunity to show my skills and luckily enough, Ronnie loved my stuff and used a big chunk of it. It was a pleasure doing it and hanging with him.
And “Raised on radio” turns 30 next year. A personal favorite of mine. Were there more songs recorded that didn´t end up on the album?
Neal: Steve Perry repackaged our box set and we looked in the rafters to find old stuff that we never released, but to my memory, everything we´ve done, I think pretty much all of it is out there. Unless some day we do get together and do something, some other music. I listened to a recent interview he (Steve Perry) did and he talked very fondly about my guitar playing and said some very genuine,sweet things. I miss the guy´s voice too and I´d love to work with him again, even if it´s not for Journey and just for the fun of it. Get together and write a song or me have a blow on one of his songs or whatever? We have such a history and I think it would be great. At this point we´re all grown men.
Another thing. The song “Dixie Highway” (Captured live album), was it ever recorded in the studio?
Neal: No, it wasn´t. It was recorded live at Cobo Hall in Detroit and that was it. We just felt that it was more of a live song, like an energy song to play live and it wasn´t so much of a song that you put on a record. It was more of a jam song, but I felt that it could´ve been recorded really well and it still could be recorded again. Chop it down a bit for a record. When you make records with a band, you can´t have these extended solos that goes on forever. That´s for solo records. (laughs) With this record (Vortex), I did it without looking at the stop watch. I let it go for as long as it wanted to go. I let it breathe. There´s very little radio left these days, for playing anything like this. I´m not gonna construct songs any longer for radio. There´s always a way to chop something down if there is radio that wants to play something.
You´ve recorded som Amazing songs over the years.
Neal: What I´m doing now with my “Vortex” record and the new Santana record has been a full circle for me. To go back to sort of where I left off before we went the more commercial way of Journey´s career, that was all based around Steve Perry´s vocals. I learned a lot from doing it, but now I´m taking that knowledge and it seems like it´s been in the cards for me. I´m full circle right now and I feel like I´ve come full circle in my musical career. Starting out with Carlos (Santana) and joining that band when I was 15 and now I´m 61. To come back and to go into that same type of music and take everything that I´ve learned now throughout the years and fall back into that same musical element, is very exciting for me.
Will you play any solo shows?
Neal: I will and I´m assembling a band right now. My first show will be in New York City on June 9th for the 100th Les Paul celebration. I´ve got Omar Hakim on drums. We´ve made records together in the past, but I haven´t played with him for a long time and since Steve Smith is very busy with Mike Stern on tour right now, I told Omar to assemble me a band of all New York people. There are so many great musicians there and he´s put together that is just gonna rock. We´re picking 6 songs off the “Vortex” record and we´re gonna rehearse for a couple of days and just go in and make this Vortex live. And I wanna play more after that.
Any chances of playing Sweden with Journey any time soon?
Neal: Yeah, it looks like we might coming next year. I´m working on a package right now, because I´m also playing with Santana. I´m trying to put it together with management. Carlos wants to do it, I wanna do it and he wants to tour world wide with us. He loves the band and we love him and now that I play in both bands, I´m just gonna have a field day. I´m trying to make it possible.
Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen
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