Why Steve Perry Circled Back Around to ‘Traces': Exclusive Interview
The idea to re-imagine Steve Perry's Traces as a stripped-down affair came out of the blue during the album's promotional tour.
He'd invited a camera crew into the studio where Perry broke down the multi-tracks for each song. While showcasing individual parts like vocals or guitars, he suddenly found that new meanings were revealed.
“I started realizing that my original love for the song, when it was first written, was that naked," Perry tells UCR in an exclusive interview. "It was that simple, because these things are always either acoustic guitar and a voice or a piano and a voice. That’s all you’re writing, really. I mean, what you decide to do with it and where you decide to take it, is a whole other conversation. [But] I never forgot what that felt like, soloing all of those multi-tracks for the video crew."
Perry decided to return with a hybrid approach, adding new instrumentation and, in some cases, tweaks to recorded elements from the original sessions. At the core of Traces (Alternate Versions and Sketches), released on Dec. 4, was the idea that Perry could share a snapshot of where these songs began, revealing that moment when new music is being created before the ideas have been fully realized.
"As a nod to a record that I believe in, I wanted people to hear the songs by themselves, just melody and lyrics stripped down – which is the ultimate [test] of the song, just the melody and lyrics," he adds. "The songs I’ve always loved come down to the melody and lyrics, so I wanted these songs to be heard that same way."
Listen to Steve Perry's Stripped-Down Take on 'Most of All'
While removing select elements, Perry revealed things about his creative process, too. For instance, this updated recording shows how a key portion of “Most of All” evolved.
“There were background parts, like in the bridge of 'Most of All,' for instance, there’s background parts where he says – and by the way, I talk about myself in the third person, because that’s how I see it, you know,” Perry says with a big laugh. "'Every time I try to move on / I fall back.' [The lyric] 'I fall back' became a background part. 'In the heart of the love, I go / Is there any chance / To get myself out of this game.' 'Is there any chance' and 'I fall back' were originally just simple little single vocal lines. But when I started stacking it, it felt like an answer with somebody other than myself.
The rawer, more straight-forward approach on the Traces (Alternate Versions and Sketches) version of “No More Cryin’” also provides a better showcase for his collaborators, including the unmistakable organ work of Booker T. Jones. Perry is still clearly moved by getting the chance to work with the Stax legend.
“All of my life, I’ve loved Booker T. and the MGs," Perry enthuses. "I was in a band in my hometown of Hanford, Calif., then I moved to Lemoore and got this new group together with some players locally. In our minds, we were kind of somewhere between Booker T. and the MGs, and the Swampers that cut all of the tracks for Rick Hall. We were kind of like the guys that loved R&B and just were doing the best we could to play it the best that we could with the most believability we could muster. Booker T. and the MGs, we played ‘Hip Hug-Her’; we played ‘Green Onions.’ We played all of these songs that were so important to us back in those early high school days.”
“No More Cryin’,” co-written with songwriter Dan Wilson (Adele, Semisonic, the Chicks), brought Perry full circle. He simply sat back, and watched a master at work.
“To meet Booker T. and to have him come in my studio and have him sit at my B3, I have pictures of him sitting there," Perry says. "I’ve had all kinds of organists come in and play on this record, and they played with the drawbars and they played with the switches and presets. But when he sat down, same drawbars, same switch choices, he pulled a few drawbars a different way, a couple of switches – and I don’t know what he did, but I’ve never heard those sounds come out of that organ. Same Leslie, same B3. But that’s a legacy of emotional musical knowledge that only comes with a guy like Booker T!”
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