Jonathan Cain and The Unsung Noel – A Christmas Journey
Jonathan Cain of Journey has experienced an extraordinary time within a brilliant career as of late. Not only was Cain admitted within the ranks of The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, the year has found the solo artist at his most inspired and creative – with the results being a brand new Christmas album entitled the Unsung Noel. Infinitely spiritual exploring an even deeper meaning of the holiday season, Jonathan Cain has unveiled a gem of a recording that will be revered this year and for the many Christmas times ahead. Highwire Daze Online recently chatted with Jonathan Cain to find out more about the background of the Unsung Noel, his upcoming biography, a continued passion for Journey, and other topics of interest. Read on…
At what point did you decide that now was the time to do a Christmas record?
Actually, it was last year. I had written a song the previous Christmas, I was reading praise and worship and then two more songs came to me, so I had three of my own tunes and I brought them to worship this last Christmas and they were pretty well received. People had made comments about the depth of them. Of course, I had the lyrics up there and they were commenting and giving me confidence and so with that, I sort of mentioned it to my distributor. Doing Christmas music now. And he said “Boy, if you could do an album and get it to me by July, we could release it.” I said “But I only have three songs.” I thought well, you know, I’ll cover Light of the World, Matt Redman’s song so I had four songs, and like that’s still not enough for the album. So, January came along and the Lord gave me all these other ideas and I started working. I did two more, then I had six, then I went on the road and I wrote four songs on the road during the Journey tour.
I sort of being an expert of the secular version of Christmas, I led a Christmas pageant for my kids every year and I ended up doing this “Celebrations Around the World.” There wasn’t a lot of Jesus in that because it was a public school and yet I learned a lot about Christmas because I was writing songs for these kids. Like, they were elementary school kids and I realized so many Pagan things were observed. So many Pagan sort of superstition. Almost like Halloween carries over into Christmas somehow. But I was reading about witches and whitewashing houses and this whole, these berries that they put on the door to chase away evil spirits. All this stuff, all this Pagan stuff and I thought “What have we gotten to? Christmas is so much more.”
And then I put my, looking for stuff online and I found a sermon by Billy Graham called “The Heart of Christmas” and the takeaway was that salvation, our salvation and the redemption, the forgiveness of our sins, Christ is the heart of Christmas. And I went “Aha! Thank you, Billy Graham.” And this fueled the rest of the album to take shape and then I just met his sister a couple weeks ago at the E-Woman’s conference who just dropped a beautiful word on us about grace and the holy spirit and she told us, and assured us that Billy was still alive, 99 years old And so sometimes it’s a spark and reading that, the little takeaway from that sermon, just, I said “Well, you know, there must be so much more to Christmas.” I started studying the albums and I’m like, what is the average Christian album, artist’s Christmas album, look like? And I realized that they weren’t writing anything. They were covering other people’s music, except for a few of them that they really tried, and there was a couple gorgeous ones out there, but not many.
And, being the writer that I am and sort of a seeker, I’m a seeker of something prophetic, something new. Reading like David and Esau, were the Elton John and the sort of Bruce Springsteen of the day, well they were making new music for the Lord, so it’s my turn. Let me sing unto the Lord the unsung Noel and it hit me. The unspoken Christmas. Can I sing that? Can I sing that for God? And he blessed me with the last album. And, again, it’s like I have nothing to lose. I’m not in a box. I have my own label. I don’t have anybody telling me what to do. And then, as I got further and further into the nativity, I realized what a dark and dangerous time it was that Christ was born and how much Joseph and Mary were pillars for the nativity to actually take place.
Just lift them up as well. This supernova that they call The Star of Bethlehem still has the astronomers scratching their heads going, “that’s not supposed to be there. That’s not on any schedule.” There were these layers of miracles that started showing themselves to me and I wanted to explore these visitations that Mary and Joseph had from angles that proclaimed these things to be so and – so it is kind of a journey into it. Almost like a movie, you can almost make a movie with this album.
How easy or difficult is it to write and record Christmas songs at another time of year that’s not Christmas?
God took me right there. If you get into Matthew’s word and you study it the way I studied it, I put myself in Bethlehem. I was there in my mind, and I was in the word, and I stayed there. I realized this had been brewing for over 700 years when Isaiah prophesied that he would come. That we would have a Jesus Christ. This was 700 years before he was born, so this was a movement. This represented a movement of salvation, that’s huge. Has anybody said it? No. I haven’t found it in a song. I wanted to put those facts and sing that into music, make that music new again. Lyrically it was a discovery process for me and I come away with wow, Christmas is so much more than I thought it was. To me, it’s just huge as a Christian. And not just ritualize it. Make it the miracle it is, praise it for the miracle – the many miracles that it represents.
How excited or maybe nervous are you about releasing your autobiography next year?
Ah, yeah it’s been brewing. This is probably the eighth time I’ve rewritten it. I’ve finally found the right editor to get me on track and tell it in the right way. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had happened. I’m so grateful that I have that in my belt as an accomplishment. It really gave me confidence -it’s what I needed in the story. It really was the pinnacle of achievement in the story. It’s gonna be something, it’s certainly not a tell all book and there’s no disparagement in it. It’s a story of hope, perseverance, determination.
What do you think keeps you so passionate about Journey and about music, after all this time?
It’s the identity that the holy spirit gave me. The identity. It’s got to do with identity. This is who you are and this is who I made you. Therefore, give praise, give thanks and carry on. I don’t want to let Him down, I know that I’m less than 1% of the people doing it. I meet songwriters all the time that are quitting, have walked away from their gift. This is a gift from God, it’s God given. Why would you walk away from something? Part of my walk in Christian music is to give praise and blessings back to where the source that gifted me to the holy spirit. To everything, the divine intervention that he put in my life. He took a kid making $250 a week to playing stadiums and grossing a million dollars. Come on, that doesn’t happen overnight but yet there it is. Is that supernatural exceleration? Pretty much. In a hurry. That’s kind of my drive right now. I know where it comes from and I know he gave it to me and that’s why I continue.
Looking back on your first solo album, Windy City Breakdown, which I recently heard for the first time, what do you think of it now?
It was a kid trying to find himself. Certainly one of the best songs on the record was “Go Now” [laughs] – I think it was, it’s evidence that wasn’t there. It was evidence that I needed so much more and I feel like Back To The Innocence really defines me more as an artist. If you listen to the one I made in the 90s, Back to the Innocence, that to me is who I am. I think I had to face my greatest fear, am I just an accessory for Journey or am I really an artist and where’s that guy wrote “Faithfully“? Where is he? I found him. How I found him was through The Holy Spirit. It was just me and You writing that song. There wasn’t Steve Perry there, there wasn’t Neil Schon. It was just me and the Holy Spirit. I wrote that song very quickly and very accurately. He showed me every step of the way. There it is. I just thought it was a fluke for the longest time, I felt, well that was weird. I started really looking at what happened and when I started making music on my solo album, “Back To The Innocence,” it happened again. It was just me and Him and then I began writing songs about my childhood. I wrote a song for my daughter’s baptism, I sang it to her in church and I was never the same. It was called “Little River” – I performed it in Church, we locked eyes on each other. I had to do everything to not cry, it was an emotional God moment. God showed me that her life is a river and that I had to let it run its course. It was just like, only God gives you that stuff.
What is your Christmas wish for your fans this year?
Looking at Christmas in a reverent way, to really understand it – Jesus Christ to receive the magnitude of what that means this year. Just look at it a little deeper, go a little deeper, look at those miracles and receive the salvation.
(Interview by Ken Morton)
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