Please forgive the lengthy post - this is an excerpt of an interview that Steve Perry did with 'Voice' magazine in 1980 or so. I remember reading it way back then in a music store and fortunately was able to find it online. I've included the portion of the interview that seems most on point with the issues covered thus far in this thread. To my knowledge, this is the most technique-oriented or singing-oriented interview that he has ever done:
You use a type of falsetto in your singing.
I use a kind of operatic falsetto, a round tone.
Is it a hard thing to do without destroying your voice?
Yes. I try to do everything I do with the least amount of effort. I try to think the sky is the limit on range. A song we do called Wheel In The Sky, when the solo is going on, I am up there doing these angelic things. I use the least amount of effort to pull out these ideas. If I am using the least amount of effort and they don't come out, then I don't go for them. Nine times out of ten, they come. There is that point, the threshold, where the normal voice crosses to falsetto. There is a way in which you make an edge on your voice the higher you get. The trick is to get so you can bridge the upper register of your normal voice to the lower register of your falsetto. I use silent H's on the vowels sometimes to get across that bridge.
Do you follow a particular regime while on the road? Do you vocalise every day?
The vocalising every night is enough. I do at least a half hour warm-up every night before I go on. I have to.
Earlier today you went through a full four hours of vocalising and rehearsing in the studio. Is there anything special you do before or after a session like this to prepare or relax your voice?
No, not really. Rehearsal is early in the morning and it is so difficult to sing in the morning. It is like waking up in the morning to answer the phone, you sound like a frog. I take it real easy until about one o'clock or so, and by then it is loosened up. I give it minimum effort when I know the later time period will give me what I want. If it is not there, I am not going to do anything else but wait for it to come. On the road it gets into achieving consistency. So if that means not speaking for a day, because I felt the night before I was getting a little ragged, or if we have worked six or seven nights in a row, then I do have to make up for it by not speaking, and drinking more water.
I have a little preparation I make that works very well for me. It is glycerine, like you buy at the drugstore, half glycerine and half fresh lemon juice. What I do is gargle with it, and aerate to get some moisture to the chords. Then I do not talk. Between the lemon making me salivate, and the air sending it back, hopefully I will get some extra lubricant on those chords. Which is what they need. If they go dry, you start to get into nodules.
You know you talk about drying your chords out and all that. Liquor is very bad, and smoking. I do not smoke - not pot very much anymore, or cigarettes. That is direct. The smoke is as hot as the flame and it goes right across your chords. What better drying agent than hot smoke and flame.
I just had my voice and ears checked, and the doctor said they are in extremely good shape. He said I must be singing right. So I am doing good.
Before I knew what I wanted to do vocally, I used to rag my voice a lot. Trying to get that rasp in it that at the time I thought was so cool. I started gong, "Wait a minute, this is wrong," So I told myself, "I am not going to do anything that is going to make me unable to sing." I am only going to sing things I can sing. I would get into some placement of what I do know, and not try to do things I could not do. That is what I started shooting for. I said to myself, "I am not going to do anything that would hurt my voice." That thinking narrowed me down to certain sounds. That is what I am getting now.
You have to be very self-disciplined. It is easy to parallel your lifestyle to an athlete's. I think perhaps the vocalist has more of a physical cross to bear than any other musician.
Yes, a guitarist can be sick with the flu and go out and play. The singer can't go out and buy a new voice or strings. You have the voice you came with and that is all you are going to get. Of course, there are kinds of surgery these days, you will never be the same, though. You are better off keeping what you have, and making sure you have it for a while. That takes discipline and it is frustrating. I enjoy going out partying and drinking with the guys as much as anybody. There are times I just have to go out and have a good time.
You mentioned ears. Since you are in the high energy music field, do you use any type of ear protection?
I fight all the time for lower volume. I do use headphones in the studio and at rehearsal as you saw earlier.
What about performance?
I can't. I have to hear myself. I do not use the monitors well, I will use one once in a while for reference, if for some reason I just can't hear, I will have to monitor off to one side, and I will have the lead guitar coming in. I think I have good pitch, almost perfect pitch, but it is still so relative when you are dealing with other instruments. We keep the stage volume down. We can hear our voices better and the quality of the instruments is much better. The volume is always consistent, as we play more intensely, it gets louder. Then we have to go "Hey, it's getting kind of loud," and we bring it down. We work with our sound mixer, Kevin Elson, like that. We want to give the best out front. That is the bottom line.
How often do you perform while you are on the road?
At least six times a week. Sometimes we do three days on, one off, four days on, one off. It depends. My problem on the road is dealing with the hotels we stay in. We stay in really nice new hotels. The problem is, I would rather stay in an old hotel. At least in an old one you can open the window. You go back in the South, in the summertime, the air conditioners in the hotels are terrible. Talk about drying agents. It is horrible, it strips the moisture our of the room and out of you. I take a humidifier with me all the time.
The human voice is probably the most compelling and the least understood instrument in the world.
Yes, you know, I can't even be in the musicians' union. The way I understand it, to musicians I am not a musician, because I do not have an instrument. Therefore singers have to belong to AFTRA (American Federation of Radio and Television Artists). This goes into what you are talking about. They do not think the voice is an instrument. Now wait a minute, what do you mean it is not an instrument?
Right, it may not have a valve or strings.
I don't know; I think that's really something. In the business I am in, there are so many singers and a lot of them sound alike. A lot of them are offshoots of someone else. I have my influences. I really admire a lot of people from Sam Cooke to Streisand. I want to make some kind of musical statement, to the state-of-the-art of a singer. It takes time. When I get in the studio, I get pretty temperamental. I want it right, every little inflection, every syllable. If a line is delivered right, in feel and structure, but the tone quality is off, then I have to go back and catch all of it. Then there are people who have absolutely no voice, in my opinion, but have much more of a style. There are some people who do not really have much control, or much of anything except a definite identity. They open their mouths and you know it is them. That is worth more sometimes than anything else.
You mentioned there were people who influenced you?
I know this is hard to understand, but I would have to say everybody. A lot of my writing comes from the music of the late and early fifties, that musical simplicity, just more emotional. The early fifties vocalists were really good. Jackie Wilson was incredible. That was back when they were running a one or two-track tape machine. There were no vocal overdubs. Keeping this in mind, these singers were just incredible. I was extremely influenced by the use of echo techniques by Sam Cooke. His tonal qualities he had incredible tone. It would take hours to name everybody. Marion Reynolds and Diana Ross I thought were great. A lot of women singers I thought had tremendous voices. Dee Dee Sharp and Aretha Franklin; she still does. On the other side, I was never fond of Elvis' voice, though I liked Hound Dog and some of the semi-offbeat rhythms were great. I remember buying those records. I even have some old Chuck Berry 78s. Remember the song Green Door? That was a favourite of mine when I was small.
Then the sixties came along. All the surf stuff here comes that falsetto The Beach Boys and Frankie Valli, Lou Christy, Light and Stars Again. Intermingling with all those were all the Motown artists, Aretha Franklin, Sam, Marvin Gaye, Joe Tex, Diana Ross, all that. Then in the later sixties the English groups influenced me. Jack Bruce of Cream was a creative and dynamic singer, for what they were doing. Melding the falsetto into the harmony above it, in a hard-rock format, that was fantastic. Now it has become so sophisticated that I want to get back to a more basic approach.