Steve Perry on How a Year in Lockdown Inspired His 'Emotionally Powerful' New Christmas Album
While millions spent their formative years listening to Steve Perry, Steve Perry spent his formative years listening to Christmas classics.
The former Journey frontman, 72, would sit in his grandmother's kitchen in Hanford, California, and tune her brown Philco radio to Nat King Cole singing "The Christmas Song," or Bing Crosby doing "I'll Be Home for Christmas."
"Singing these songs was something I always wanted to do, but because of my reverence and love for them and their original versions, I didn't want to touch them unless I really thought I could do an emotional version of my own," he tells PEOPLE.
For Perry, it appears that emotional well has finally been tapped, as the "Don't Stop Believin'" singer will release his first Christmas album, The Season, on Nov. 5.
Though Perry has dabbled in holiday hits before — he released a version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in 2018, and "Silver Bells" a year later — the singer felt as though now was finally the right time for a full album, following a year-plus of pandemic-inducted isolation.
"I know last Christmas was absolutely invisible; it was just full of anxiety," he says. "Not having anything that reminded me of Christmas made me want to have contact with the Christmas of my youth. Those songs were how I got in touch with that for me this year. I thought maybe I would just share this and see if someone else feels it too."
With that, he recorded The Season entirely on his own at his home studio in California, sprucing up the place with Christmas lights to get into the spirit in spite of the warm June weather. Other musicians contributed their parts remotely, further enhancing Perry's walks down memory lane as he recorded the songs of his youth.
"It was really interesting and also emotionally powerful because I was by myself singing these melodies and I would sort of drift into memories of my childhood very easily, with no distractions," he says. "That was part of what made this record special to me."
As he thought about his late grandparents and parents, whom he says he misses "terribly," he "got emotional… A little tear came to my eye and I had to stop singing," he says.
If you'd asked Perry 20 years ago if he ever thought he'd be making music again, let alone a Christmas album, the answer would've been no.
After leaving Journey for good in 1998 (the band has continued to tour extensively in his absence), Perry says he was "totally burned out" from music, and made a decision that he would leave it all behind.
"When I left the group, I had to just stop. I was singed around the edges, and so I completely let it go. I felt that I had been part of something I always dreamt of being part of. And so when I walked away from that, I was pretty emotionally complete to walk away with no hopes or aspirations of returning at all," he says.
"I had no future musical aspirations," he adds. "Touring was tough, because the group had to tour a lot. That aspect of it was something I was worn out about, but writing was something I was just kind of done with."
It was love that eventually helped change his tune; as girlfriend Kellie Nash lay dying of breast cancer in 2012, she made Perry promise he wouldn't isolate himself after her death — and he ultimately made good on that promise, releasing Traces, his first album in more than 20 years, in 2018.
"The creative process was something that I had been free from for a long time. When I first went in there, I felt like I was walking in a dark cave," he says. "I know that sounds a little dramatic, but it was emotionally scary for me. I had let it go so severely that I didn't know if I wanted to open that up again."
Perry sees Traces as the fulfillment of his promise to Nash — and The Season a continuation of that promise.
"The Season record is something I really hope that the fans will embrace and make a part of their family musically," he says. "I hope this album brings people into their hearts, whether it's painful memories or loving memories or sad memories or joyful memories. They're all valid and all great and worth having."
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