STYX Interview

FL: Hi this is Frank Lucas of The Chicago Music Guide. I’ve got to tell you that I am both honored and in awe that I’m sitting here talking with the frontman/keyboardist and lead vocalist of one of the best selling, legendary multi-platinum rock bands in the world. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mr. Lawrence Gowan of the band STYX.

LG: Wow! Thank you for that amazing welcome and introduction Mr. Frank Lucas!!!

FL: Haha. I know it’s been over 15 years now but do you still get referred to as the new singer?

LG: It’s actually been 18 years and funny, after almost two decades with the band, to hear that from time to time.

FL: Clearly, just by hearing you play, anyone can tell you have a strong technique as a keyboardist which one could assume is from a classical piano background. Tell us a little bit about your musical upbringing. Did you come from a musical family?

LG: Well, my parents were both musicians, with my mom being a singer and my dad was a very talented piano player. They loved music but just didn’t play professionally. I took piano lessons when I was very young. I was 10 years old. After high school, that’s when I started studying at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. It was there that I really got into Beethoven, George Gershwin and Debussy.

FL: Even though the band had a lot of commercial success and has been identified, more by the masses, as an AOR/Pop/Rock band, STYX always represented much more than that. To me, STYX was one of the greatest progressive rock bands ever. Your music was much more adventurous exploring odd time signatures and complex harmonic arrangements vocally and instrumentally. I guess we could tie in your formal studies at the conservatory level to pretty much make you the perfect candidate to succeed Dennis DeYoung.

LG: Well, to add on to what I said earlier, I was really into progressive bands like Yes and Genesis and though he wasn’t necessarily progressive, Elton John too. You know Elton and Rick Wakeman both went to Royal Conservatory, right? Another guy I liked was Tony Banks of Genesis. He could write some really amazing complex music but also come up with the greatest melodies. I loved it when Keith Emerson of ELP would play jazz and ragtime solos. He was one of those guys during that progressive rock period that took playing to a whole other level. He took rock music and mixed blues with incredible classical technique. All these players inspired me to get my playing to a level I needed to get to in order to play the challenging stuff with confidence.

FL: Lots of bands eagerly await playing new material but the fans by nature as fans want to hear the classic material. How do you decide on a set list?

LG: Over the years you get to know your audience and see how they generally react together emotionally. So it’s really important to play the songs that they relate to and connect with them. We like to perform the hits but I can really see it all come together especially with “Renegade”. That’s usually at the end of the show. It’s so powerful to see everyone united in spirit during that song in particular.

FL: I know you’re a classic rock kind of guy. You even do covers live in concert. Are there any bands you enjoy covering in particular?

LG: Well, there’s a pretty wide variety of bands. It could range from The Who, Billy Joel, The Stones to Elton to even The Eurythmics. One of our favorites to play is Queen.

FL: Your live sound is very true to the classic STYX records. You must be an analog synth guy.

LG: I love analog synths in the studio. I’ve got a wide array of them from Oberheims to Mellotrons to Hammond Organs. But live, with the band, I’m all digital. My main keyboard is the Roland RD-800. It’s got an awesome piano sound. Digital is great. I know everything’s going to be stable and won’t go out of tune. I do want to try out the new Dave Smith Tetra. It sounds pretty reminiscent of the Oberheims of old.

FL: As a band you’re very exciting to watch. Excellent stage presence. I love your rotating stand. Where did you get the idea for that?

LG: In 1990, in preparation for a video shoot for one of my tunes from my solo album, I had the lighting crew for my tour build me this big, heavy stainless steel monster because I was tired of the guitarists stealing the spotlight, always being out in front and the keyboardist being in the background. (The guitarist for my video shoot just happened to be Alex Lifeson of Rush) I’ve had it now for 25 years and I still get to spin it around and jump over and on top of it. The audiences seem to love it!

FL: You guys have been broadcast live, whether via satellite or via commercial live DVD performance release. Are you planning anything of that nature in the near future? Perhaps even a solo album?

LG: You know what? You should check out our DVD we released from last year (STYX Live from the Orleans Arena/Las Vegas). As far a solo album, there will be one once I get what little time there is in between these busy touring dates with the band. It will feature some really incredible musicians including our very own Todd Sucherman on drums.

FL: Lawrence. Thank you so much for spending some time to chat with us today. Remember folks to catch our friend Lawrence Gowan and the rest of STYX at the Coronado Performing Arts Center in Rockford on June 21st (tickets) and then in Joliet at the Joliet Memorial Stadium on June 24th. (tickets)

STYX – Tommy Shaw, James “JY” Young, Lawrence Gowan, Todd Sucherman and Ricky Phillips (along with the occasional surprise appearance by original bassist Chuck Panozzo), have performed more live since ’99 than all of the previous years of its career combined. Two Super-Bowl appearances, Pollstar Box Office chart-topping tours with Def Leppard, Journey, Boston, REO Speedwagon, Bad Company (to name only a few), two more studio albums and no end in sight, STYX continues to conquer the planet, one venue at a time.

Spawned from a suburban Chicago basement in the early ‘70s, Styx would eventually transform into the virtual arena rock prototype by the late ’70s and early ’80s, due to a fondness for big rockers and soaring power ballads.

Early on, Styx’s music reflected such then-current prog rockers as Emerson, Lake & Palmer and the Moody Blues, as evidenced by such releases as 1972’s self-titled debut, 1973’s Styx II, 1974’s The Serpent Is Rising, and 1975’s Man of Miracles. While the albums (as well as non-stop touring) helped the group build a substantial following locally, Styx failed to break through to the mainstream, until a track originally from their second album, “Lady” started to get substantial airplay in late ’74 on the Chicago radio station WLS-FM. The song was soon issued as a single nationwide, and quickly shot to number six on the singles chart, as Styx II was certified gold. By this time, however, the group had grown disenchanted with their record label, and opted to sign on with A&M for their fifth release overall, 1975’s Equinox (their former label would issue countless compilations over the years, culled from tracks off their early releases). On the eve of the tour in support of the album, original guitarist John Curulewski abruptly left the band, and was replaced by Tommy Shaw. Shaw proved to be the missing piece of the puzzle for Styx, as most of their subsequent releases throughout the late ’70s earned at least platinum certification (1976’s Crystal Ball, 1977’s The Grand Illusion, 1978’s Pieces of Eight, and 1979’s Cornerstone), and spawned such hit singles and classic rock radio standards as “Come Sail Away,” “Renegade,” “Blue Collar Man” and “Fooling Yourself.”

The band decided that their first release of the ’80s would be a concept album, 1981’s Paradise Theater, which was loosely based on the rise and fall of a once-beautiful theater (which was supposedly used as a metaphor for the state of the U.S. at the time — the Iranian hostage situation, the Cold War, Reagan, etc.). Paradise Theater became Styx’s biggest hit of their career (selling over three million copies in a three-year period), as they became one of the U.S. top rock acts due to such big hit singles as “Too Much Time on My Hands”. It also marked the first time in history that a band released four consecutive triple-platinum albums.

A career-encompassing live album, Caught in the Act, was issued in 1984, before Styx went on hiatus, and the majority of its members pursued solo projects throughout the remainder of the decade. A re-recording of their early hit, “Lady” (titled “Lady” ’95”), for a Greatest Hits compilation, finally united Shaw with his former Styx bandmates, which led to a full-on reunion tour in 1996. But drummer John Panozzo fell seriously ill at the time (due to a long struggle with alcoholism), which prevented him from joining the proceedings — as he passed away in July of the same year. Although grief-stricken, Styx persevered with new drummer Todd Sucherman taking the place of Panozzo, as the Styx reunion tour became a surprise sold-out success, resulting in the release of a live album/video, 1997’s “Return to Paradise,” while a whole new generation of rock fans were introduced to the grandiose sounds of Styx via a humorous car ad which used the track “Mr. Roboto,” as well as songs used in such TV shows as South Park and Freaks & Geeks.

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Tour Dates:

Jun 21 Coronado Performing Arts Center Rockford, IL (tickets)
Jun 23 Centennial Terrace Toledo, OH
Jun 24 Joliet Memorial Stadium Joliet, IL (tickets)
Jun 26 Mystic Lake Casino Hotel Prior Lake, MN
Jun 28 Orpheum Theatre Wichita, KS
Jun 30 BMO Harris Pavilion Milwaukee, WI
Jul 01 Freedom Hill Amphitheatre Sterling Heights, MI
Jul 02 Silver Creek Event Center New Buffalo, MI
Jul 15 The Pacific Amphitheatre Costa Mesa, CA
Jul 16 Edgewater E Center Laughlin, NV
Jul 17 Pechanga Entertainment Center Temecula, CA
Jul 18 California Exposition & State Fair Sacramento, CA
Jul 20 Kenley Amphitheater Layton, UT
Jul 21 Clearwater River Casino Lewiston, ID
Jul 23 Chinook Winds Casino Lincoln City, OR
Jul 24 The Tulalip Amphitheatre Tulalip, WA
Aug 15 American Music Theatre Lancaster, PA
Aug 16 Artpark Mainstage Lewiston, NY
Aug 25 United Wireless Arena Dodge City, KS
Aug 27 Baxter Arena Omaha, NE
Aug 29 Red Rocks Amphitheatre** Morrison, CO
Sep 02 Horseshoe Casino’s Bluesville Robinsonville, MS
Sep 15 OC Bikefest Ocean City, MD
Sep 20 Sprint Pavilion Charlottesville, VA
Sep 22 New Jersey Performing Arts Center Newark, NJ
Sep 23 Mid Hudson Civic Center Poughkeepsie, NY
Sep 24 Sherman Theater Stroudsburg, PA
Oct 13 SKyPAC Bowling Green, KY
Oct 18 Warner Theatre Washington, DC
Oct 20 Calvin Theatre Northampton, MA
Oct 21 Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom Hampton Beach, NH
Oct 22 Twin River Event Center Lincoln, RI
Nov 10 Genesee Theatre Waukegan, IL
Jan 30 Verizon Arena North Little Rock, AR