Styx will be performing a series of concerts at the Shermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville, Tenn., on Feb. 19, 20 and 21, with the Nashville Symphony. In 2006 Styx took the stage with the Cleveland Contemporary Youth Orchestra backing them up. That original performance was recorded and released on CD and DVD as a project called “One With Everything.”
Styx has been a non-stop, working, touring rock and roll band for years now, playing a steady schedule of concerts all around the United States and the rest of the world. They’ve played in every venue size imaginable, from the smallest club in Aspen, Colo. to two separate Super Bowls. This special Nashville series of performances is going to be unique in its structure, stage and musical arrangement.
With the Nashville dates coming up, the bassist for Styx, Ricky Phillips, took a few minutes to talk with TAM about the show, what goes into it, and life on the road.
The Nashville shows with the Nashville Symphony is going to be a cool event for Styx fans. What kind of show can they expect?
Well, it’s really hard to describe, but it will be something that they won’t forget. Styx music with a symphony orchestra really works nicely in tandem with one another. We’ve done it once before with the Cleveland Youth Symphony and we actually made a DVD of that which is out. We’ve had really nice arrangements made, which are sometimes preludes to the actual song. Styx music just lends itself so nicely to all aspects of a symphony, not just string, but woodwinds and brass. For us, it’s just a blast to hear it. It adds this dimension that makes the song so huge. It’s something you really have to hear.
The thing about Styx music is that it’s not just straight 4/4 rock beats. There’s things in 3/4, 7/8 5/6 time… whatever. The band as a writing force is clever enough to write material that seems like nice little pop songs for radio, but underneath, musicians kinda know what’s really going on there. That translates so well with a symphony orchestra.
Did the experience with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra teach you any kind of lessons that you brought with you into these Nashville shows?
Yeah! Certainly as far as pre-production goes. We did discover that when someone tries to chart and write out all the music for all of these separate instruments, they’re going to mess up and something is going to be wrong. That did happen, and there were several trips made so that all of the charts that were written for each instrument were correct. That’s something that we headed off at the pass already.
For the most part, there are things that generally might surprise you. A rock and roll band is really loud and symphony orchestras are louder than people think, but the players themselves are not used to how loud just a kit of drums is. As far as a rock band goes, the volume level of playing is sort of set where the drums are and everything is laid in around it. So, there is going to be plexiglass separating the orchestra so the players aren’t getting slammed with something they’re not used to. But, we’re certainly not going to turn down the music. It’s going to be loud and proud like a good rock band should be. We’ve done it enough now that we know how to approach it.
Who came up with the idea for the show?
You know, I’m not exactly sure where it came from. I think our management has always liked the idea and has been looking for opportunities for us to do this. They were looking for a good symphony orchestra. Obviously, Nashville is a music town and has a great symphony orchestra so it will be fun. It’s multiple shows in a row, which will really give us an idea of what that would be like to do a lot of shows like this.
When it comes to rehearsals, how do those work?
You know, to be honest, we’re going to maybe have one and a half days of rehearsal with the orchestra. That said, the orchestra members are professional and top notch. They can just look at a page and play it pretty much straight away. There may be a few changes made in the charts right there on the spot in order to finesse the sound during the rehearsals. They’re pros like we are. They sit down, read the page like they’re reading the book, and it’s up to us to have it written properly for them. They’ll play it perfectly first time.
There is a lot to it though. When we did the Cleveland Youth Symphony event, we also had a 42 person youth choir that was involved so we had like 160 kids on stage with us. It was a very full stage with a very full sound.
An adult symphony orchestra brings the element of perfection on their instruments and the maturity behind it. As good as the youth symphony was, this is going to be a big deal.
Being on the road as a working, touring band, what is your biggest challenge for you to overcome while you’re on the road so much?
You have to pace yourself. I don’t think there is any stopping and thinking about it consciously, but it is something that each guy knows at different times. It hits guys at different places in the tour… all of the sudden they’re just not getting enough sleep, or thinking about things or getting sick. You have to realize, we don’t sleep in the same bed for months at a time. So, sometimes it’s catching 3 or 4 hours on the bus, or if we’re lucky, catching 8 or 9 if we can sleep all the way to the next city. Sometimes the longer runs are the ones we look forward to because it isn’t two beds in one night. You just have to figure out how to have your meals and your sleep and the real normalcy of life. You need to figure out how to live so that you’re not exhausted going on stage every night. We’ve all got that figured out in our own ways.
This is such a vocal band, it’s really important to sleep. Sleep is crucial to good vocals. Not talking a lot, not hanging out and going to clubs or having huge meet and greets where you’re talking for 45 minutes before you go do a set. We do everything to protect ourselves as singers and players. We really have good people that take care of us while we’re on the road and try to make it as easy for us as possible. But, it’s a lifestyle that not everyone can do.
When they asked me to join the band, they said “hey, you’ve done it before, but are you up for doing it again? Think about it before you say ‘yes’ to our offer. Because we want you to be the last guy asked to join Styx. This is a lifestyle. We’re going to rock til we drop, and if you’re in for the long haul, then we’d love to have you.” That’s what I needed to hear. It’s very difficult to find five guys in our situation, and with Chuck Pannazo (the original bass player) who also comes out with us a lot, six of us to get along in small spaces and for long periods of time. To have that chemistry and actually enjoy the lifestyle and each other’s company.
What is one of the coolest things about being in a touring band like Styx?
The beauty of staying out all year is that we get to play all sizes of venues. In the summer months we get to play in the amphitheaters and big arenas with a big, full power rock and roll show. Then, in the winter months we can turn it down and play anything from a small club to a theater. People always ask me what I like doing more, and if you ask me tomorrow, I’ll give you a different answer than today. It depends on how last night’s show was and how good the venue was, because this winter we’ve had some insanely great shows, including one in Aspen, Colorado in a very small club. Then we go on to a big stage a week later and now that’s my favorite.
It’s very different to play in a small venue. We don’t have the same staging. We can’t even get our sets into a small club. It’s fun to have that big, powerful show with the ramps and the stairs and the big flashing lights though. That’s a blast to do, but somehow sweat and nitty gritty people grabbing your shoelaces at the front of a stage, there’s something great about that too.
For tickets to the Styx Nashville concerts, visit the Nashville Symphony Website