Interview with Lawrence Gowan from Styx

Originally from Chicago, Styx has grown to become one of the most recognized names in classic rock. In 1972, the band released their first record, the eponymous Styx. After releasing several chart-topping and certified platinum albums, the band went on hiatus while the members explored their individual musical ideas. In 1996, Styx regrouped for a reunion tour and in 1997, recorded a new album: Return to Paradise. The current lineup has been in place for the past ten years and consists of Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young on guitars and vocals, Lawrence Gowan on keyboards, Todd Sucherman on percussion and Ricky Phillips (with the occasional special appearance by original band member Chuck Panozzo) on bass guitar.

With the state of the music industry in constant flux, Styx has become one of the world’s premiere touring bands. They spend about 2/3 of the year performing live to audiences all around the world. According to their website, Styx has performed more live shows since 1999 than all of the previous years of the band’s career combined.

During this past summer, Styx played a series of festival shows with with Foreigner and Don Felder from The Eagles. Now that autumn has arrived, Styx is back out on the road with their “Evening with Styx” fall and winter tour. Lawrence Gowan talked with Target Audience Magazine about the band, their heavy touring schedule and what fans can expect to see and hear during the “Evening With Styx” shows.

 

Lawrence Gowan

Lawrence Gowan, singer and keyboardist for Styx

 

Being on the road so much, what is it that keeps the band going strong every night, performance after performance?

Well you know, during the summer tour, we witnessed just how much classic rock has crossed generations. In the audience we were playing to, half the fans were under 30 years of age on any given night and sometimes it was even a higher percentage than that. It is amazing to see just how much of an impact classic rock has made on not only the people who grew up with it, but is now affecting people who weren’t even around when some of these songs came out.

With one tour still so close in your rear view, what can fans expect if they decide to attend one of the upcoming concerts?

So with the fall tour, the contrast is this: the chance to play the longer shows. That’s what comes in once we finish the blockbuster summer tour where we play for an hour and twenty minutes. Now we’re back to doing our usual “Evening with Styx” two-hour show. So when we come to Macon, Georgia, that’s going to be a longer show where we can stretch out a little more. That’s something that we love to do.

 

A few years ago, the band went on a theater tour where you performed two fan-favorite albums, Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight in their entirety and in running order, complete with Tommy reminding everyone about the process of flipping the record over. When you these do “Evening with Styx” tours, do you ever bring back the “Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight show?

The logistics of that are what dictates if we can do it or not. We have a whole new stage setup this year and the “Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight” tour had a certain presentation. So, to do it one night and then not do it the next is a little difficult. What we can do is take various songs from those albums and rotate them into the lineup. But to do that entire show the way it is, it requires specific staging.

On this run we’re doing a greatest hits show, plus. “Plus” means a lot of these album tracks that have become favorites over the years and perhaps bigger favorites than some of the most obvious singles over the decades. People will really get their big Styx epic adventure either way.

What percentage of the year would you say that Styx is on the road?

I’d say roughly about 2/3 of the year. This year we’re out for 110 shows, so that means we’re on the road for at least 200 days a year. A little bit more than that, actually. It certainly helps occupy our time. It’s great, because there is an insatiable demand for Styx around the world, so we do all that we can to meet that demand, very happily.

From the performance standpoint, how does the band keep so energized on stage every night? Everyone on the stage is very active and full of presence and joy.

I’ll tell you, it’s not like we don’t pay the price for it the next day *laughs*. You know, everyone in this band started as very active, animated and enamored with the whole “rock theater” that offers itself every single night that you get on stage in front of a few thousand people. We’re still like that. Once we hit that first note we can’t help it, quite honestly. We feel better when we’re more physically engaged in the whole thing and we don’t look upon it as an esoteric experience.

To play the music live, in front of people is a great form of communication and part of that is the freedom to get up to all the antics that you’re referring to. It’s one of the joys of being in a band. The feeling of rock music, especially classic rock, is epic in nature and it’s larger than life, to reach for that cliché. It inspires you to want to come up with physical acts that reflect it. So, we’re proud of that fact and it is yet another aspect of the Styx concert experience.

What is the biggest challenge when you’re on the road so much?

To find nuanced ways to elevate the show every night. That really is the challenge. Somehow and not in predictable ways either, we have managed to achieve that every year that I’ve been a part of the band. Going back to that “Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight tour,” that really was quite a monumental undertaking for us to do at that time. But, for us it was an impressive thing to do because we’d been performing together for 12 years at that point and we were able to pull that tour off. From there, great things happened as a result. We’ve elevated the show in different ways because of that tour and that really is the challenge, but it’s also the most rewarding aspect of it.

Is there a particular song that you look forward to performing every night?

Well, obviously the safe answer to that is “yes, all of them.” But, “Renegade” is a great tune that I’ve been able to witness the different audiences reaction to around the world. Every single night when we play it, whether we’re in America, Japan, Sweden, Mexico or England, it’s amazing how much the audiences are alike. That’s the song that I really get to take a moment to take stock of what the band has achieved and the impact that it has on the audience. It’s one of the most unique openings to a song. That calm kind of vocal heartbeat that precedes the song and then it just blasts off like a rocket. It’s kind of a rock ecstasy moment. So for that reason, it’s that song.

Other than touring, is there any other project that Styx is working on?

We just finished shooting a live show of the “Soundtrack of Summer” Styx & Foreigner tour in Vegas. We’re just doing the post-production on that and figuring out camera angles and how the 5.1 sound is going to be, so that is in the immediate future.

Our big plan that keeps being put off is getting into the studio and making another album. But, that plan keeps being revised as more and more dates are offered for the band to play. We can’t bring ourselves to turn them down. In the past three years, we’ve sculpted out studio time to go and record all these new songs that we have, but each time the plan has been thwarted because there are another 50 shows that have been offered. The band doesn’t want to turn down those opportunities for a number of reasons, chiefly of which is because we’re having so much fun. So, we’re just going to keep doing that and hopefully the studio thing will take care of itself at the right time.

When you are on the road, what kind of influence does modern technology have on your ability to write and record new material?

Well, that’s a good question. About 10 years ago, when suddenly we all realized that we could do such wonderful things with our laptop computers, we all jumped aboard that ship really happily. Yet, here we are 10 years after making Cyclorama and now we’re not as enthralled with it. We like just jamming the songs and maybe recording them on an iPhone or something so that we’re half way there. Really, we want to record in the manner which we originally did, which is back to the analog standard which people have suddenly taken note of again. That’s not to say anything negative about the digital world, because we love [Avid] Pro Tools and what’s achievable with modern technology, but I think that the more it’s married to the long standing way of doing things, the better the result.

In fact, I’m doing a solo album right now on 2-inch tape and going through that, much like in the great documentary that Dave Grohl did, “Sound City.” That movie really pointed out the great aspects of recording and why those albums sound so warm when you hear them. Not just the song writing and performance, but the very manner in which they were recorded and what those techniques brought to the sound on those records. So, we try to incorporate as much of that thinking and hopefully we’ll continue down that road.

What is the best advice that you can pass on to bands that are trying to make a business out of what they are doing?

That’s a tough question and it’s one that I am confronted with fairly often. I’ve come to the conclusion that I think the best advice is not to give out any advice. You may end up steering someone really wrong.

Music is an artistic endeavor and the paradigm of what works today is not necessarily relevant to what is going to work tomorrow. You have to grapple with the world at hand as you see it. As a younger person, you’re going to make something different of it than previous generations. With the seismic changes that have occurred in the music business, it’s a completely different model now than what I grew up with. In many ways, that’s a great thing. You can access the entire world just by clicking ‘send.’

If I am pressed for another answer, the best advice I can give is to fall in love with the instrument you’re playing and if it leads you to connecting with a larger audience, then that’s a great thing. If it leads you to creating a better life for yourself because you’ve got this fantastic thing in your life, then that’s just as good. That really is the most sincere answer I can give. Music is its own reward. If you can somehow turn it into making a living, that’s a fantastic trick, but everybody has to find a different way of achieving it. I would say, play a good tune and keep on playing it.

On Oct. 5, 2014, you can catch STYX at the Macon Centreplex. Buy tickets from Ticketmaster.

For more information on Styx and their tour, visit their website.

To buy tickets for Styx in concert, visit the links below:

2-Oct Ardmore, OK Heritage Hall Buy Tickets
3-Oct Charenton, LA Cypress Bayou Casino Buy Tickets
4-Oct Montgomery, AL Garrett Coliseum Buy Tickets
5-Oct Macon, GA Macon Centreplex Buy Tickets
18-Oct Lake Tahoe, NV MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa Buy Tickets
13-Nov Morristown, NJ Mayo Center for the Performing Arts Buy Tickets
14-Nov Westbury, NY Theatre at Westbury Buy Tickets
15-Nov Westbury, NY Theatre at Westbury Buy Tickets
16-Nov Montclair, NJ Wellmont Theater Buy Tickets
5-Dec Hammond, IN Horseshoe Hammond Casino Buy Tickets
6-Dec Windsor, ON CA The Colosseum at Caesars Windsor Buy Tickets
21-Jan Anaheim, CA Grove of Anaheim Buy Tickets
23-Jan Beverly Hills, CA Saban Theatre Buy Tickets