Of Styx Interview;
July 12, 2021
Styx have recently released their 17th studio album called Crash of the Crown. It is a throwback to the 1970s era Styx that is a little more progressive rock tinged.
The band is currently out on the road supporting this great album and they will be making a stop at the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheater on July 29th.
We spoke with longtime keyboardist and vocalist of Styx, Lawrence Gowan to discuss the new album and tour.
Greg Drugan: Congratulations on the new album! I think it really has that classic Styx sound and I think your keyboards are the centerpiece to the album.
Lawrence Gowan: Wow! Well, thank you very much. That is great to hear. For the most part, that’s what I’ve been hearing from people and the great thing is, people are actually listening to the album! You could tell when people haven’t checked out the whole thing or maybe just listened to one or two songs. It might be part of the post-pandemic mentality that we take our time and absorb things before we comment on them.
GD: Was that a conscious decision to make it more of a progressive sounding album?
LG: Yes. I played my first live show with Styx twenty-two years ago today. When I joined the band, I was really attracted to the progressive side of Styx. They were the one, non-UK band that took progressive rock ideals and used them and had been successful. Styx were able to pull that off, then you had Kansas and other bands like that. When I joined the band, I wanted to lean on that as much as possible. We did a little bit on Cyclorama. I think the idea of the full album being a single statement and it’s not reduced to having a hit single. That opened up things because if it’s forty minutes long it better be more musically adventurous. Let’s use that word instead of prog because that can lead people in the wrong direction. Musically adventurous and not necessarily follow a traditional song format. We need to express what the strength is of the band and be as musically diverse as possible and still hold an audience's interest. Lyrically it is very relatable. You can see yourself and put yourself into the picture of what the song is expressing.
Because we are back with a major label, Universal Records were able to allow the band to stretch and let us do what we wanted to do. They wanted a record that resonated with the legacy of the band and have it stand beside The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight and those great records that they made in the ‘70s.
GD: One of the songs that I really enjoy “Reveries.” Was that song written during the pandemic where many people were kinda daydreaming?
LG: Here’s the really odd thing, Greg. All but two of the songs were written prior to the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, we thought why not wait until this is over which we thought it would be six weeks. After a couple of months, we began to take a look at this record and see where it is. Much to our shock and pleasant surprise, it seemed to relate to the situation that everyone was in. That spurred us on to finish this record now, instead of taking the year or two that it would normally take. I marvel at how relatable this album is, for example “Sound The Alarm.” Tommy and Will wrote that, and I was like “how could you possibly come up with that?” He wrote that about three years ago after The Mission came out. That precisely encapsulates the situation what everyone is going through.
Back to “Reveries,” that was written prior to the pandemic. It had to do more with people living in a daydream world instead of reality. The horrible thing is that I was not a part of writing that song but I saw myself in those lyrics immediately! Guilty as charged! I just started singing it and Tommy and Will said, you should just sing this song and I said I was more than happy to.
GD: The song “Crash of the Crown” is pretty unique because it features JY, Tommy and you on lead vocals in three very distinct parts of the song. Who’s idea was to have all three of you sing?
LG: It’s always hard to pinpoint whose idea it was. It was myself, Tommy Shaw and Will. They had the opening riff of that song. I kept hacking on that riff and then the melody came to mind, I thought JY should sing this because it’s lower than my register. So I sent that to Will. It wasn’t until the next session that Will played it for Tommy and he thought it was a good melody, then he said what if we segue into something else? So we began to work on that on what would be section two. We thought it would be two separate songs. However, when we finished section two. He said he had another section that concludes section two. As the record continued to unfold, it sounded more and more like one song. Why not have a song that’s under four minutes, that never repeats any section, nothing is repeated. That’s a unique thing and that kinda exemplifies what we are trying to do. Jam a lot of ideas into a short space and make them all catchy and stand on their own, and you can’t get them out of your head. We finished it and said, this is one of the most unique pieces, let’s not mess around with it anymore except have fun recording it.
GD: Your section has a very Queen-esque vibe to it, was that what you were going for?
LG: Definitely. I think that one of the things I loved about the progressive era was that there was influences being kicked around back and forth. I can’t listen to a Queen song and not hear the Beatles influence. Same thing with Yes songs and Pink Floyd songs, they just did their own take on it. I don’t sound like Freddie Mercury, I just sound like myself. When we came to that section, I did it kind of tongue in cheek and did it with the bravado that Freddie would bring to an end of a song. The way he would rally everyone together with that over the top enthusiasm. The other guys heard it and were like, “do it like that!” That just brings it home.
GD: I like the way you say that. It is the bravado that he exuded and you capture that for sure on that song.
LG: Yeah, that’s the best word to use and he nails it.
GD: You mentioned “Sound the Alarm,” do you have another favorite track on the album?
LG: Yes, they are a moving target. “Reveries” was high on the list for a while. We’ve been playing a clip from “Common Ground” at the end of the show. I love all the progressive elements in that song. That’s come way up the list. For the longest time, I really like “Coming Out The Other Side.” I love the placement of “Lost at Sea” right before it. I'm really pleased how they ultimately came together. It’s very much a moving target.
GD: Besides writing and recording the new album, how have you handled this past year?
LG: Everyone found their footing. Myself, I did a couple of things I’ve never done. Live stream concerts I have never done before. Turning my basement basically into a TV studio. In Canada, I had a solo career before I joined Styx. I would watch my social media to see who wanted to hear some songs. Then others wanted to hear songs from my second album. I would get hired to perform at conventions and I would do them virtually. I had to get ready for a gig, then I would walk downstairs and do the whole thing in my bare feet. My son, who is a professional drummer, happened to be home. I made use of his talents a lot as we wound up going to a completely empty theater that had installed eight robotic cameras, and we wound up doing two full concerts there. It was just he and I that played to some backing tracks from some of my albums. It was a full light show and full everything with just the two of us on stage.
On the days I tried to stay in shape, I rediscovered my bicycle. Which I hadn’t done it at least twenty-five years. Believe me, in Toronto going out on your bike in the winter is a commitment. It kept me in shape, so those are the things that I did.
GD: It seems that Styx are always on the road, was that the longest time that you haven’t played live?
LG: By far! Twenty-two years today, we haven’t played any less than a hundred shows over those years. So we’ve played over 2,000 shows. I don’t think we have ever had any more than six weeks without playing a show and even that felt long! We used to say three weeks should be the maximum, because we can hit the ground running after three weeks (off). Beyond that, we would have to have a full rehearsal. You can imagine a year, it was over a year, sixteen months between shows. That seemed like an eternity for the pace that this band has been moving at. I can tell you, the last three weeks, we are right back at that pace.
GD: You started the tour last month, is Chuck Panozzo still coming out and playing a few tunes with the band?
LG: Oh yes, yes, yes! He is now at more shows than he’s not at. Before we stopped, he was at fifty per cent of the shows we played. He might miss every other one. His health has continued to improve and has navigated that as best as anyone possibly could. He has survived and thrived and he is an inspiration. When he walks out on stage, the audience explodes and it’s a great moment.
GD: I’ve heard that your producer, Will Evankovich is also playing on stage with the band this tour. What does he bring to the live experience?
LG: We have two albums together, The Mission and The Crash of the Crown. He is the most knowledgeable and knows every little aspect of those albums. If you listen, there are extra vocals and extra guitar parts on those albums. He was able to fill out all of those extra parts. It adds that extra dimension for all the classic songs too. It’s been really great to have him a part of the band.
GD: The last time you guys were on the road in 2019, you decided to break out “Mr. Roboto” for the first time in years. What was the reaction like when you played it and is it still in the set?
LG: Absolutely still in the set! There were a few years where I would mention it every six months, “don’t you think we should play Mr. Roboto?” Which is funny, when the song first came out, I only heard it as a kinda kitschy song. Then I started to hear it more and more as it’s kinda earned its place in history. I think it’s time that we play it and I thought that we could do a smokin’ version of this song. Suddenly, when we were going to tour with Joan Jett, Tommy said to me “It’s Mr. Roboto time. It’s time to do something people are not expecting.” Especially since there are a lot of Joan Jett fans here who maybe are seeing Styx for the first time. The song is still around. The great thing is, there’s a public misconception that I’ve tried to dispel, but Tommy, JY and Chuck don’t have a problem with that song. But they have plenty to say about that tour and how that tour tore them apart. When we decided to do it in a rehearsal space, we thought, if we don’t love it, we don’t have to do it. By the second day, in the studio control room, we listened back to it and said this is a slammin’ version, we gotta play it. The very first night, we saw arms go up in the air, people stood there dumbfounded. Since then, the reaction is just fantastic now.
GD: What do you enjoy doing on your days off? Is there something that you bring on the road with you that helps you pass the time?
LG: I’ve always got instruments around me. Being a piano player, Roland supplied me with a hotel room piano that fits into a case and I have in my room and I have a guitar. I always have instruments around so there’s always a new song or a new piece I’m working on. If you want to know, after going back on the road again after the first couple of shows, I thought my legs aren’t there yet. Even with all the bike riding, it’s a different set of muscles that you use running back and forth on stage. So the last couple of weeks, I spend about a half hour going through TikTok dance videos! (laughs) I’m trying to put together some of those moves and I can tell you, I’m sweating buckets doing it! I got one that was good enough to post and I just posted it the other day. So that’s what I do in the hotel room!
GD: Very good! You are going down the TicTok rabbit hole!
LG: Well in my case, I’m getting my legs in shape. After doing a couple weeks of this and my legs are back in their fifties again!
GD: I believe Donnie Iris and the Cruisers are opening the show in Youngstown so that will be a great double bill of rock and roll for the fans. Have you ever played with Donnie before?
LG: I don’t believe we have. I'm looking forward to it.
GD: He’s in his mid seventies and he can still hit the high notes. It’s a great double bill.
LG: What’s the main song that he sings?
GD: “Ah Leah” and “Love Is Like A Rock” are the two main songs.
LG: Oh yeah! Great! That’s fantastic.
GD: So Styx will be performing at the Youngstown Federation Amphitheater on July 29th, what can fans expect from the show?
LG: All the legacy songs are going to be there. Your not going to come to a Styx show and not hear “Blue Collar Man,” “Come Sail Away” “Renegade,” “Grand Illusion,” “Lady.” They are all a part of the show. You’re going to see a band that is back in top form again. We are patting ourselves on the back with the new album because it went to number one on Billboard’s Rock Album Chart last week. Which shocked all of us. A band that’s going to show it’s legacy and show how active and vital we are today.
GD: I was going to mention that earlier, I have to commend you guys for continuing to make new music where a lot of classic rock bands stop making music and just tour on their back catalog.
LG: I think that’s the key. We are in a creative mode at the moment and we want to take advantage of that.
GD: I think that’s awesome and I look forward to hearing the new songs in the set. Thank you for your time today and best of luck to you on the new album and tour. We look forward to seeing you here in Youngstown at the end of the month!
LG: That’s going to be great, Greg! Thanks very much it was a pleasure speaking with you! Cheers!
Be sure to catch Styx and Donnie Iris and the Cruisers at Youngstown Foundation Amphitheater on July 29. Tickets can be purchased by clicking here.
Styx’s new album Crash of the Crown is also available wherever you purchase music. Check out "Reveries" below.