From 1995 until very recently, Styx was a revival act in the best sense of the term. The group was respected for its powerful live shows and worked steadily, performing its beloved working class prog-rock songs and power ballads to rabid fans. However, that changed with the surprise success of “The Mission” (2017), Styx’s first studio album since “Cyclorama” (2003). Today, James “JY” Young (lead vocals, guitar), Tommy Shaw (lead vocals, guitar), Chuck Panozzo (bass vocals), Lawrence Gowan (lead vocals, keyboards), Ricky Phillips (bass, guitar, vocals) and Todd Sucherman (drums, percussion) are a functioning creative unit.
Gowan, who replaced founding member Dennis DeYoung in 1999, was on a tour stop in Minnesota when he called to discuss the new album and Styx’s return to the stage in mid-June.
Q: Had work begun on “Crash of the Crown” when the pandemic hit?
A: We were about two-thirds of the way through recording. I’m in Toronto so I couldn’t just go to the studio and finish the album because they had closed the border. We decided to wait and see and maybe pick up the tour again in about six weeks. At that point, the whole world was thinking if we do the drastic things we have to do and keep apart, it will be all over when spring hit. We decided to actually relax and try not to think about it too much.
Q: How long did that last?
A: When we hit the two-month mark, we began to look at the historical reality that pandemics usually take about two years to run their course. We figured it was going to be at least a year so that’s when we began to listen to the album again. It’s bizarre but we realized a lot of these songs seemed to be written about this situation we’re in. They seemed very relatable, so we wanted to keep hacking at the album. With Zoom calls and all these new technologies that have suddenly gone decades ahead in their advancement, we decided to give remote recording a shot.
Q: What was that like?
A: I have a studio in Toronto where I’ve got all of my vintage keyboards so they were able to make an appearance on the album. Todd has one of the most sophisticated drum rooms on the planet Earth in Austin, Texas, so he got to do his drums there. We were on Zoom calls together throughout the entire experience. We thought that would be a distraction but it wound up really adding something extra making that album. Then last week, when it went to number one on Billboard’s rock album chart, we were elated. We went, ‘God, we did the right thing finishing that record up.’ The time was used wisely by Styx, I can tell you.
Q: How does it feel to have back-to-back successes after all this time?
A: You hit different grooves in different eras of a band. After the success of ‘The Mission,’ it suddenly felt like new ideas kept spilling forth. We realized we had a really strong creative streak and didn’t want to just sit back so we really pushed on more. We’re at that moment again now that we’ve had the success of this one. We can’t play new ideas fast enough. Tommy and I were at the airport yesterday and he’s immediately holding his phone up to my ear playing some new guitar thing he’d done that morning. Prior to us making ‘The Mission,’ that hadn’t happened.
Q: Why is that?
A: There was a good five-year stretch from around 2007 until about 2012 where the music industry was in such disarray. It seemed so fragmented in trying to figure out what it was going to do and then that began to right itself. Universal Records got interested in the band again and signed us. We made ‘The Mission’ and they wanted a follow-up after they saw how well that record did. Luckily, things aligned in a nice enough way, and we didn’t allow the pandemic to dampen our spirits in that light.
Q: Are you performing any new songs on this tour?
A: Yeah but people have to know the legacy of Styx is the focal point of any show. They’re going to hear ‘Blue Collar Man,’ ‘Renegade,’ ‘Come Sail Away’ and ‘The Grand Illusion’ on every Styx show. We also want to show the band is thriving and still has new ideas that have some connection to them. We take sections of the new album to segue seamlessly into the present and the past. The title track, ‘Crash of the Crown,’ definitely gets its moment and the response from the audience is just phenomenal. It’s not like we’re playing something new. The reaction is identical to the songs before and after it. I can tell the audience is with us in our desire to be as relevant as we possibly can be.
Q: How are the audiences since Styx returned to touring? Are people ready for live music?
A: Of, definitely. I’ve played over 2,000 Styx shows now, and there has always been an emotional response, but there’s definitely an extra layer of exuberance and joy in the audience. For over a year, we kept hearing just how much people were missing going to concerts and how much that means to them and how much it enriches their lives. Now, I actually get to see that on their faces at the end of these shows and it’s so gratifying to have that connection again.
Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
HOW TO GO
What: Mix 107.7 SummerFest 22 with Styx and special guests Night Ranger
Where: Fraze Pavilion, 695 Lincoln Park Blvd., Kettering.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 23
Cost: SOLD OUT
More info: 937-296-3300 or www.fraze.com
Artist info: www.styxworld.com