Words by Mr. Kevin McLaughlin
If Arnel Pineda had been tapped to be the new lead singer for Bon Jovi the story would have been called “Living on a Prayer”. If the band that chose him to replace their front man were Aerosmith the headlines would have blared, “Dream On”. But, since it was Neil Schon who reached out to the once homeless Pineda to replace Steve Perry in the band Journey, the documentary that chronicled his unlikely rise to front one of the most successful bands of the 1980’s was aptly titled Don’t Stop Believin’.
It was very easy for Pineda to stop thinking he would ever make it big in music. Though he had some success in the Philippines and Hong Kong during the 1980’s, it wasn’t until 2007 when Pineda outlasted many others in a nerve-wracking tryout to become Journey’s new lead singer. While many remember Journey for their early 1980’s hits Open Arms, Faithfully, Any Way You Want It and of course, Don’t Stop Believin’ the band would hit a number of snags following the release of their album Frontiers in 1983. The band would go through numerous lineup changes until fully reuniting for the album Trial by Fire in 1996 but for all intents and purposes, the band that had catapulted worldwide fame in 1982 was only a memory.
After several unsuccessful attempts to find a dedicated frontman, Schon would come across clips of Pineda on YouTube and placed a call to the stunned singer who almost hung up thinking it was a prank. It’s a good thing Pineda stayed on the line because the call was real and would lead to Pineda flying out to Northern California to audition and on December 5, 2007, he was officially announced as Journey’s new lead singer.
It was a long climb for Pineda who had to endure the death of his mother at age 13, his father moving out being unable to pay the rent and leaving his children with relatives and Pineda’s decision to leave ‘home’, quit school and try to make it on his own. Homeless and scrounging for what meager pay he could, Pineda would find solace in music and the fact that he had an incredible singing voice.
I normally check those male models from major fashion magazines and the front men of the most popular rock bands in the world and get their style, and I apply it to myself and mix a little of my own in.
This skill did not go unnoticed as Pineda joined several different groups over the years, winning singing and group contests in the Philippines including the Yamaha World Band Explosion, being in a band that opened for Robert Palmer in Manila in 1989 and releasing a self-titled solo album in 1999.
But it was the call from Schon that would change everything and since landing the gig with Journey, Pineda has been on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the top.
Reaching the singer and his stylist, Ulysses ‘Yul’ Session, while on tour, we got the chance to find out what this opportunity has meant to him and how his style on stage has played an important role in his career.
American Hall of Fame Football player Jerry Rice was quoted as saying if he “didn’t look good, he didn’t play well”. Do you agree with that from a singer’s perspective, that how you look can affect the way you perform?
Mr. Pineda: Most of the time, yes, it’s definitely mental and being conscious of how you look and how it affects your performance. It can be a bit of a distraction somehow, vanity, I guess. Most of the time I don’t have that type of character but on stage, it’s a different experience.
Mr. Session: The whole look is important. It gives Arnel more confidence when he looks great. I feel like I’m doing my job when he looks his best onstage.
Is there a difference between Arnel Pineda’s stage style and the off-stage man’s look?
Mr. Pineda: It’s a very big difference on stage, I try to be as well dressed as possible and offstage I’m just an ordinary dressed guy.
Mr. Session: Arnel’s off-stage style is more casual with more colors. He wants to be comfortable when lounging in his off time. His onstage look is a more polished rock star look. Arnel has great body proportions even though he is small framed. He looks best in fitted clothing and well-tailored pieces.
Who, if anyone, has influenced your style?
Mr. Pineda: I normally check those male models from major fashion magazines and of course the front men of the most popular rock bands in the world and get their style and I apply it to myself and mix a little of my own in.
Mr. Session: My personal style icons are Brad Pitt in his movie star look, George Clooney, Tom Ford, old days Paul Newman. I like classic old-school menswear.
Can you tell us your thoughts on a few designers we see you wearing: Yves St. Laurent, Burberry, and Alexander McQueen?
Mr. Pineda: All I can say is, these brands, YSL, Burberry and Alexander McQueen, their style is eternal. You will never go wrong as long as you wear them. Timeless. I love to wear the high-end designers mixed with streetwear. The fabrics and quality of tailoring are top notch.
Mr. Session: The high-end designers have impeccable taste and the cut with the amazing fabric makes for a great look. Burberry has amazing leathers along with St. Laurent with the rock edge to their designs. John Varvatos has the rock star edgy look down pat. McQueen’s are masterpiece designs. We love to include as many as possible. I love to use local designers for one of a kind statement pieces as well.
Somehow I’m quite settled to be remembered as the singer who can cook, farm, raise a family and, well, rock n’ roll like there’s no tomorrow.
Do the venue and location have any effect on the style you choose for a particular show, say playing in Japan vs a show in Europe?
Mr. Pineda: Yes, of course. Japan and Europe, they are both challenging because people there are so into fashion and I’m learning a lot as I go on.
Mr. Session: Japan allows for a more creative look on stage vs the USA where we try to stay more classic mainstream. Different weather in the areas needs to be factored in too. Arnel is from the Philippines and doesn’t respond well to cold weather. We allow for layers so as he performs and has warmed up we can peel off the layers.
Yul seems to play an important role when it comes to your style. Can you tell us about how you guys came to work together?
Mr. Pineda: A common friend introduced Yul to me as an assistant. And to my surprise, he’s into fashion and he is quite hardcore, so since he’s my PA, he became one of my voices when it comes to how I would look up on that big stage. We are still a work in progress, which is a healthy thing.
Photo credits: The Click Studio Photography, Christophe Ochal – CC, Sean Molin – CC.
Describe your reaction when Neil Schon first called and asked if you would be interested in auditioning for the job?
Mr. Pineda: I thought he was crazy, until now. But I still think it’s crazy in every way.
Many front men for bands have had lasting legacies, and a lot has had to do with their personal style (Mick Jagger, David Lee Roth, Steve Tyler, etc). What would say is Arnel Pineda’s style and how do you want to be remembered?
Mr. Pineda: I’m just a messenger. I’m very glad and I’m very grateful that I was chosen to be the one to get the chance to do it. Look, no matter what I do up there with the rest of the boys, it will always be the legacy of Mr. Perry (Steve Perry) and Journey. They will always hear him and I’m perfectly fine with that. And somehow I’m quite settled to be more remembered as the singer who can cook, farm, raise a family and, well, rock n’ roll like there’s no tomorrow.
If it all ended tomorrow (being the lead singer for Journey), would you have any regrets and what would you do next?
Mr. Pineda: No regrets at all. The memories I’ve made with the big boys I will definitely cherish and will be framed and have a special place on my family’s house walls. And then I’ve got hundreds of ways to reinvent myself plus the permanent things I need to manage after Journey, most importantly my family.
If you could duet with any singer, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Mr. Pineda: There’s so many… Jim Morrisson, John Farnham, Bono, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ann Wilson, Brian Johnson, Steve Perry, Steven Tyler, Robert Plant, Stevie Wonder, Barbara Streisand, Don Henley, Karen Carpenter… gosh, there’s just too many great singers out there. It will be completely and totally magical event if it was to ever happen.