I had a chance yesterday to talk with Lawrence Gowan the lead vocalist and keyboard player for Styx. It’s hard to believe he has been fronting Styx now for almost twenty years. Styx had just taken a two-week break from touring and was back on the road starting last night. You cans see upcoming tour dates and purchase tickets HERE!
Styx also released an album last year called, “The Mission”. We discuss the album in the interview, but let me say if you are a fan of Styx and 70s era progressive rock, you have to check this album out! The album sounds like Styx found an album from the 70’s they forgot to release and it is fantastic. It was recorded in the old style with analog equipment and the whole band performing at the same time. Check out a couple of videos from the album below.
You can purchase the album HERE. This is truly a trip back in time. It has been a long time since I have heard an album recorded in this style done so well. The fact that they kept true to the Styx sound is what makes this album special. Let us move on to the interview I did with Gowan.
Gowan starts by talking about what it is like being in Styx for almost twenty years, “There is something to be said for joining a band with such a storied and legendary history like Styx. It was great to be able to walk on to the scene after so much of the heavy lifting had been done. As a band they look at every chapter as wanting to build it back from the ground up. They are very pragmatic, but there is nothing about the band that is stagnate. From the time I came into it, the goal is always to elevate Styx. Play more shows than they have ever played, to elevate the level of the show itself and to bring the band into the new millennium and see how far the classic rock could go. That was twenty years ago and it was very questionable if we could stretch it out a year or maybe even three or four years. Now we are twenty years into it and the attitude of the band has not changed (laughs). We are still looking at ways every day to make the show better and make better records that are relevant to today, but linked strongly to the past.”
Next Gowan talks a bit about the live shows themselves, “What actually happened was we stumbled into an actual truism of the universe, music is a timeless entity. If you are engaged in it to the degree that we are, your energy can be the same at eighteen as it is at eighty. I am a guy that studied classical music and I used to marvel at someone like Vladimir Horowitz who was playing the piano at eighty years old with the same fire in his demeanor he had when he was thirty years old. I think that is what rock bands have discovered. What they thought was, it is so insurmountable to play rock music at this time of their lives like they did in their youth, I think it was a complete misjudgment and how far we can stretch the music and perform at a high level.”
The progressive American rock sound that Styx has is what Gowan touched on next, “Before being in Styx I always looked at them as being the first American progressive music band to make it. There had been some British progressive rock bands, but not American. Styx was heavily influenced by the British prog movement, but the American side of it was the blues element in Styx music as well. It may be subtle, but it is there. I would say that Kansas also did that to a degree as well.”
A very interesting topic that Gowan addressed next was the age of the crowds, “About twelve years ago I began to notice small clusters in the audience of younger people. They were not with their parents or someone from the local jail monitoring them (laughs). They were there on their own volition. After the show we would talk about them and how the hell did the hear about us. Each year we began to notice that part of the audience increase steadily. About five years ago the shows were now an equal part under thirty as their was over thirty in the audience. Merch people are telling us they are selling lots of shirts to people who were not even born when we started doing this. The younger part of the audience was the most vocal. Classic rock has now crossed all age barriers. You see a teenager screaming along to Too Much Time On Your Hands right next to someone in their late sixties and they are singing the same song. It is a phenomenal thing to see from the stage and see all the fans of different ages. What a fortunate thing for us to have.”
This lead to Gowan talking a little bit about music history in American, “I got a degree in classical piano before I started playing rock music. Part of that was doing in-depth studies of music history. Rock music was the great musical statement of the last half of the twentieth century. American jazz was that statement for the first half of the century. American really owned that hundred years as far as global influence. It was the same for Europe when for hundreds of years, the had the influence with classical music. Jazz musicians lasted into their eighties and nineties. If there is a classic rock band playing, people are drawn to it. Rock was such a youth driven form of expression, we did not see it lasting this long. We thought is was temporary like youth, I think that is forgivable. I think the melodic part of rock is what got stuck in people’s heads and they can’t let it go. We also used to be galvanized by the radio and music always had to be moving forward. I remember watching an interview with Elton John in 1978 and they asked if he was going to be playing some of his old stuff on tour (laughs).”
Since we were talking about music history, Gowan also talked about what it was like to sing such massive hit songs for Styx every show, “It is a joy to do. Part of that is the band enjoys being on stage with each other. You can fake that for a while, but not long. Last year was the first time we played under a hundred shows to take a breath. To play that number of shows is not lost on us. That could cause all sorts of stress on the band, but is does not. We are all absorbed in it and want to do a great show every night.”
Styx released a new album last year called, “The Mission”. Gowan spoke about that, “We had so many great ideas over a five-year period, like at sound checks and back stage warming up for shows. It would be a mistake for someone to think we had these dry years with no new ideas, we just did not have time to commit to a new album. When we started on “The Mission”, Tommy had just move to Nashville. He had a piece called Mission to Mars he played a demo for me and I loved it. It had a quirky charm to it. We played it back stage a bit. About two weeks later this fellow he works with Willy had a half of a song Locomotive. There was a connection between that song and Mission to Mars. They both sounded true to the classic rock era. We could easily turn it into a Styx thing. Tommy, Will and I started writing sessions in Nashville. Concurrently with that NASA invited us to witness the arrival of a space ship The New Horizons, which had left earth in 2006, and nine years later was arriving at Pluto. The reason they invited us was one of the guys there from NASA was a huge fan of the band. They discovered Pluto had five moons and not four. He decided to name the fifth moon Styx! He told the board it was about the Greek mythology of the river Styx, but he told us it was because of the band. Tommy, myself and Todd were there for this. After that fantastic experience we decided to end the story of the album with Mission to Mars. Instead of the crew coming back they take a one way trip out into space and go by the Styx moon. Kind of like the life of a band (laughs). There was no turning back now, we had to do the album. It is about the people who have dedicated themselves to this trip into space. It is more about the crew then the trip. There are a bit of subtle similarities to the crew of the ship and the band itself and some of the decisions they make. There were a lot of ties to real life.”
The last item Gowan touched on was how they wanted the album to sound like vintage Styx, “The songs sound like they came from the classic era of Styx. We did not want to change that. Young people wanted to hear new music with that classic sound. We had to record this like a band in 1979. The whole band has to be in the room. We went to Blackbird studios in Nashville and use analog gear to do the recordings. It has a character and stamp on the music that is impossible to do with digital recording. Classic rock albums were made on clunky analog machines so we decided to do that. We wanted this to sound like it came from “Grand Illusion”. Our manager told us, the only album from a classic rock band in the last year that is still on the classic rock charts today, is “The Mission”. New people keep discovering it and keeping it on the charts.”
I have to thank Lawrence so much for his time. He was so easy to talk with and shared some incredible insight in to the world of Styx. It is one of my favorite interview I have ever done.