Daughtry frontman Chris Daughtry wanted to release an amped-up cover of an ’80s rock song before writing the follow-up to his band’s 2021 album, Dearly Beloved. He just wasn’t sure which track would best fit. Keyboardist Elvio Fernandes had long suggested Journey’s “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart),” but the vocalist was leaning more toward Europe’s “The Final Countdown.”
Then, when Daughtry watched the final episode of the fourth season of Stranger Things, everything changed. During a tension-filled scene, he heard the haunting Bryce Miller/Alloy Tracks remix of Journey’s 1983 single, and he was sold. “The way they used it in the show reminded me of how incredible that song is,” Daughtry says from his home office in Nashville. “And it has this darkness to it that really lends itself to being a heavier, more aggressive rock song.” (The Journey classic, a Billboard Hot 100 top 10 hit in ’83, also charted anew on Billboard’s Hot Rock & Alternative Songs and Hot Rock Songs lists after being featured in the blockbuster Netflix series.)
In July 2022, Daughtry asked his producers, Scott Stevens and Marti Frederiksen, if they thought it would be a good song for the band to cover. They agreed, but suggested Daughtry perform it as a duet with a female vocalist to give it a different vibe. “I didn’t hesitate,” he says. “I was like, ‘Yes, with Lzzy Hale, and I will text her right now.’”
Hale, frontwoman of hard rock hitmakers Halestorm, wasted no time replying: “That’s my go-to karaoke song!” she texted. “I’m in.”
Daughtry and Hale’s cover of “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart”) debuted on Jan. 5 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Journey hit single. So far, the song has garnered nearly 900,000 YouTube views and holds at No. 24 on the Mainstream Rock Airplay chart (dated Feb. 11) after four weeks.
“We never could have imagined it would take off the way it has,” Daughtry says. “Any time you touch a classic such as [this one by] Journey, there’s always a chance you’re going to get raked over the coals. I’m very grateful that hasn’t happened.”
Still, there was some minor drama. When Hale committed to collaborating, the band hadn’t yet learned the song. By the time the vocalists coordinated their schedules and planned to enter Nashville’s Sienna Studios together in October 2022, Daughtry had to fast-track the process and work on a version of “Separate Ways” that was faithful to, but more aggressive, than the original. Then they had to record the music and guide vocals. They structured the song so Hale would trade off lead vocals and harmonize on the pre-chorus and chorus.
“I was really excited to finally do it, because I’ve been singing that song in one way or another since I was 12,” Hale says before a show in Brisbane, Australia. “My mother is a huge Steve Perry fan. She had a huge crush on him when I was growing up, so there was always a Journey album playing in the house.”
For their version of “Separate Ways,” Daughtry created a greater contrast between the ethereal keyboards and the main rhythm, and planned for the vocals to match the bite of the guitars. He was going to explain his idea to Hale, then realized there was no point: “Once she opened her mouth, I’m like, ‘OK, I’m just going to shut up and let her do what she does, because she’s clearly got this. Lzzy has no shortage of bite.”
Ironically, when the collaboration began, no one involved knew that Jan. 5 marked four decades of the original song’s release. By the time Daughtry’s team realized the marketing advantage that gave them, they had just two weeks to mix, master, and submit the track to streaming services. “We didn’t plan for that at all, but it couldn’t have worked out better,” Daughtry says, before adding, “Thank God no one in Journey told us we couldn’t release it.”
Hale, who once included “Separate Ways” in an onstage piano medley with Halestorm, hopes the cover helps more young music fans develop the kind of a passion for Journey that she still cherishes. “They’re such a great band, and it’s such a cool song that lends itself to so many feelings,” she says, adding that the reverence she and Daughtry hold for the song might have contributed to the success of their cover. “Maybe people who hear it can tell how much we loved doing it and how much fun we had working together.”
Daughtry and Halestorm met in 2008 in Los Angeles at a barbecue their mutual producer, Howard Benson, threw for his birthday. They kept in touch, but became much closer when they toured together in 2013. “We still don’t see each other all that often,” admits Daughtry. “But when we do meet up, we take over right where we left off.”
Five days after “Separate Ways” hit streaming services, Daughtry and Hale connected at Nashville club The Basement East on Grunge Night. There, they joined the house band to sing an impromptu version of Alice in Chains’ “Man in the Box.”
“It’s funny, because we were both confirmed to do Grunge Night separately, and then we just decided to do the song and it looked like we had planned the whole thing,” Hale says. “It was a total coincidence, and I can’t tell you how many people came up to me afterward and said, ‘Why didn’t you do “Separate Ways?”’ I was like, ‘It’s Grunge Night!’ But I very much look forward to the day we get to perform this together live, whenever that is.”
When she hasn’t been touring with Halestorm, Hale has been busy writing songs for other artists she won’t name and contributing guest vocals for two acts she can’t yet reveal. “All I can say is one is a legendary rock group that has asked me to do amazing things on top of a track,” she says. “I’m very grateful to be a wanted lady, but people are probably going to sick of me before the year’s out. ‘Lzzy again? Seriously?’”
Daughtry will play shows in Orlando, Fla., on March 5-6 before heading to the United Kingdom for the rest of the month. When the band returns to Nashville, it will start writing the follow-up to Dearly Beloved. Not only will “Separate Ways” be on the tracklist, Daughtry says it likely will set the tone for the album.
“I feel like this cover was a catalyst for the next phase of this band,” he says. “It gives me an idea of where we want to go sonically with this next record, and I’m really excited about that.”