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The Melodic Rock Reveries of Hugo’s Voyage

The Melodic Rock Reveries of Hugo’s Voyage

Photo Credit: Blake Nelson

The Melodic Rock Reveries of Hugo’s Voyage

Starting off as a Tribute Band to the much-revered Journey, Hugo’s Voyage spent time during the pandemic writing original songs – and wound up being signed by Frontiers Music Srl in the process. Featuring former Valentine and Open Skyz singer Hugo Valenti, Robby Hoffman (guitar), Greg Smith (bass), Dana Spellman (drums) and Lance Millard (keyboards)— Hugo’s Voyage have now set out on a musical journey of their own, crafting a signature sound of original music on their debut album Inception that pays homage to their influences while carving out a unique and vibrant identity.  Highwire Daze recently interviewed Hugo Valenti to find out more about the Voyage back into original music, his days spent with Valentine, working with Josh Ramos and Eric Ragno on the Ramos-Hugo project, and a whole lot more!  Read on as we set sail upon the melodic rock reveries of Hugo’s Voyage!

First of all, how did the project Hugo’s Voyage come about?
We were the band Voyage; we do this Journey Tribute, so we’ve been playing around and playing around, and we got a lot of questions. Do you do your own music? Anything like that, Originals? So I think it was like kind of the next step. It just basically followed. After the pandemic, honestly, everybody had nothing but time. So, I wrote a whole bunch of songs, and probably in like two months’ time, I must have had like 24 songs. I would send them over to Robby Hoffman, our guitar player. He would just say, “Wow, what else have you got?” I’m like, check this out, check this out. Before you know, we had two albums worth of stuff. So, it was kind of a natural thing to do. So, we searched out doing it ourselves. But you know, Frontiers has been around for so long, and I’ve done work with them in the past. So, I figured, why not? Let’s do it, so that we did.

Regarding the Journey Cover Band, has anyone from Journey heard or commented on Voyage?
Yeah, absolutely. A lot of positive stuff. Honestly, it could go either way. Yeah, definitely we hear some good things, and there’s some correspondence going back and forth occasionally via text and stuff, and it’s cool. It’s all good. It’s done with respect; you know what I’m saying.

Is there any overall story or concept behind the album title, Inception?
It’s something I just thought up as being kind of the beginning of something new. Like I said, we never really touched on originals, and I had kind of been done with originals. Back in the old days, I was signed to Columbia, RCA, Warner Brothers, and you put albums out and you get signed, you get dropped, signed, dropped, and it’s a horrible vicious cycle.  So, it just felt like the time was right to do it, and Inception, the beginning of something new. We’ll see what happens with this one, God willing we get some support and make a little noise and then we’ll do it again.

I Don’t Want to Live Without Your Love. Tell me a little about that song and the inspiration behind it.
It’s funny because the title might persuade people to believe that I don’t want to live without your love. It’s actually me who wrote the song about spiritualism and the idea of a higher power— your belief in positivity. For me, it was about just spiritualism. Having said that, I can’t believe the way I’m feeling; you got me believing things I’ve never felt before. It’s about meeting the love of your life or meeting a higher power. For me, it’s just really about the spiritualism. There’s so much negativity, man. It felt so good to feel something like that. As the keyboards open up, it just takes you to a higher place, and that was that song, I Don’t Want to Live Without Your Love.

Let’s talk about A Friend Like You.
Honestly, I had the idea of having that best friend that we all have had at some point in our lives. For my wife, it’s her friend Polly; they go back 40 years. I’ve had so many friends, and the idea is that even though I haven’t seen you in ages, haven’t seen you in so long, the feeling never changes. If you needed me, I’d be there to find your way back to anywhere. Whatever you needed, I would be there, and I know you’d be there for me. I just thought it was a great message—not your typical love song, but cool.

What is the story behind Crazy What Love Can Do?
That is basically about choosing love over hate. The first verse has to do with Martin Luther King, JFK, RFK, just these guys being taken away when all they really want to do is just say, “Hey, let’s try this,” and that was it. The idea of you should be able to speak your mind without being prosecuted. That was the love behind that one.

Recently, you had Nuno from Extreme join you on stage. What was that experience like?
We have known the guys for, God, 40 years. The quick story is that our guitar player, Robby Hoffman, manages Extreme. If you can imagine his brother, Steven, who’s no longer with us, managed Extreme way, way back. Steven had passed away, and Robby kind of went into management after being on Wall Street working finances, started his own business management company. It was a natural evolution for Extreme to kind of go there, and we’ve all been friends for so long. When I was in my old band, Valentine, with the Extreme guys, we’d go up and down the coast and do dates and stuff like that. So we’ve known the guys for so long. Nuno was going to be in town, where we played in the Hampton Beach Casino ballroom. Nuno was going to be in Boston. It was one of those things. “Dude, come on down. It’s great; it’s a sold-out show; it’s great!Nuno came down. We did Any Way You Want It; it was fun! Really fun. He’s so great, Nuno!

Photo Credit: Blake Nelson

Then, at the M3 rock festivals, what was that experience like?
It was pretty crazy. I got to tell you Robby called the day before. He said, “What are you doing tomorrow?” This is what happened: Nuno blew his knee out. It was like, Oh my God. Oh my God, we’re this Journey Tribute Band. We’re going to get bottles thrown at us. This is crazy. We wound up going there. Having a really nice slot. I think it was somewhere between Slaughter and Winger, right in the middle. Those guys are great. It’s been ages since we’ve seen those guys. It was so good to see the guys, and we just went out there and did our thing. It’s funny, man, because if you can imagine, here’s this band that’s filling in for Extreme. “Yeah, let’s go. Let me go grab a beer or something.” By the third song, it was crazy because we just watched people kind of funnel back. Halfway through the set, the place is packed. Everybody was just, holy cow. I thought for sure I was going to get some big-ass biker dude come and kick my ass singing a ballad.  But it worked out really well. Thank God! Now we have the original stuff. So, listen, maybe, with a little bit of luck, we’ll get out there again in the next year or two and maybe do some originals because it was really well received. The album has the same genre as Journey, with a big sound, so it should go over well.

When you look back on the album’s you did with Valentine, In the Open Skies, what would you think of the now in retrospect?
They were really the beginning. It’s funny, man. Because I always had a producer, and by that, it was either Neal Kernon or Richie Zito saying, “Hey, add more rasp, add this, or do this!” for me, I grew up on the whole Journey vibe, and Steve Perry was my end all. I really, really wanted to know how the guy sang it the way he did. So I really tried to portray that whole clear, good vibrato, good sound, and not be a screamer. But it was always about the rasp and add this, and I appreciate where those guys were going, trying to make me my own singer, and especially Journey was alive and well and doing so much. So, it was time to take a turn and try to create your own sound. There was positive stuff, and there was negative stuff about it because I wasn’t really happy with the end product. I finally had a chance to do some solo stuff. The Hugo album, the first one, Time On Earth, and especially this one now too. It allows me to open up as a singer and really find my roots. I always say, influence makes the world go around. It really does. If you listen to Steve Perry, it’s Sam Cooke and that whole vibe. So for me to do something like that and take influence, I think it’s a beautiful thing. So I’m happy to gear towards that more clear voice. It makes me a better singer just by singing without having somebody tell me how to sing.

Do you have any desire to do another Valentine album?
Never say never, and I know the guys. We speak so often; they’re really some of my best friends since the beginning of time and still are. But I can’t imagine it just because it’s so time-consuming and they’re so busy too. They are my guys, Adam, Gerard, and Craig; they are the band for Steve Augeri.  When they go out, they’re the band for Steve. So, they’re busy in their own right. I would never say never, but I can’t. It’s so difficult to even put that in motion, but I wouldn’t say no.

Photo Credit: Lisa Boehm

What was it like working with Josh Ramos on the Ramos-Hugo album, The Dream?
That was really, really cool. It was a good opportunity. They were looking for a singer for Josh’s solo stuff. They sent it over, and it was all music, and it was really interesting to me because I play the piano, and the piano is my instrument of choice. So when I write, its piano, and then kind of melodies fall into that, and I had this album thrown at me with just music. Again, Josh is killer, and he’s just crazy at guitar playing. Thank God for Eric Ragno! Eric is a dear friend forever. Literally, he took what could have been like two and a half hours’ worth of music, and condensed it, and made it into approachable songs to write lyrics to. So, I’m grateful for him because I can imagine. Again, Josh just rocks, and each song would have had like even if it’s like a guitar solo. So, thank God Eric came in and made it more concise. Sent it to me. I wrote the lyrics, and then we sang it. It was great. I’m happy. It came out pretty cool.

What’s up next for you?
Well, we’re kind of waiting to see where the album does; it’s making a lot of noise, if you can imagine. A lot of positive reviews and a lot of stuff like that. Again, being that whole, if it’s reminiscent of Journey, it’s a good thing because that’s such a huge influence for me, for the guys in the band. We’re all from that same school: Journey, Foreigner, Boston, and it’s very evident on the album. So, a lot of people are saying it. To be honest with you, man, I know a lot of people miss Steve Perry, and that’s a beautiful thing because he was the best in the world at what he did, and that’s front a great band with great songs, and he sang great melodies. People miss that, so if I can deliver that whole vibe and have fun with the Tribute stuff, that’s great. But if I can deliver some of that feeling and that inspiration, it’s my inspiration, and people get off on that. That’s the best thing ever. So, we’ll wait and see what happens.

Do you have any messages for fans who’ve been following your career since Valentine and Open Skies?
I’m just so appreciative that people still dig that stuff. I put Originals away for a long time just because the industry is what it is. Back then, they signed you, and they signed 20 of the bands who looked and sound like you. They throw it all against the wall, and they see who sticks. Everybody else just kind of falls, and it’s so unfortunate that the industry is that way. But yeah, you shake it off, and you keep on going. For me, I said, God, I don’t know if I can do this again. Because two decades go by, you realize you don’t suck; you’re just a victim. So, thank you everyone, because I’m so glad the pandemic happened. It’s a horrible thing to say, but I got a new keyboard, and I started playing, and I couldn’t stop. Because of that time, I managed to pump out some songs that I never really cared to look at again in terms of inspiration. I’m like, you know I’m having fun doing the tribute thing. It’s a blast. But to get into originals and record an album whenever, and the pandemic gave us nothing but time. So, I was happy, and I’m fortunate for that and the fact that people are loving it too; it’s just a win-win for everybody, and I just thank everybody so much for hanging in there and loving the new stuff. It’s just awesome!

Hugo’s Voyage is:
Hugo Valenti – Vocals
Robby Hoffman – Guitars
Lance Millard – Keyboards
Greg Smith – Bass
Dana Spellman – Drums

(Interview by Ken Morton)

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