In 1999, when founding Styx songwriter, vocalist, and keyboardist – Dennis DeYoung left the legendary classic rock band, due to health reasons, many fans and industry insiders assumed it was over for Styx. However, the remaining members Tommy Shaw and JT Young wanted nothing to do with that notion and decided to find the best rock vocalist/keyboardist to around to replace DeYoung. That’s exactly what they did when they hired the innovative Scottish born, Canadian musician Lawrence Gowan, who was a huge star in Canada with his progressive pop band Gowan. The addition of Lawrence Gowan immediately gave the band a well needed shot of adrenaline, with his high energy performances. Styx was once again a Rock band. The band was so pleased with the addition of Gowan, that when DeYoung wanted to return to the line-up, his request was politely declined.
Currently, Styx is wrapping up a major North American tour, co-headlining with Reo Speedwagon and the mighty Ted Nugent. They also recently released a live DVD, in which they performed their two classic albums “Pieces of Eight” and “Grand Illusion.”
What follows is an exclusive RockMusicStar interview with Lawrence Gowan. During this interview we discussed the current tour, the bands thoughts of recording a new CD and his upcoming sold-out, solos shows at the Fallview Casino in Niagara Falls, Ont.
RockMusicStar: Styx is at the tail end of the “Midwest Rock n’ Roll Express” tour, which in addition to Styx, also features Reo Speedwagon and Ted Nugent. For classic rock fans, this is an awesome bill. How has everything been going for Styx so far?
Lawrence Gowan: Really great, the tour has exceeded my expectations tremendously. To be quite honest, I really didn’t know how this combination would do. Especially since last year, we toured with YES. But I thought that this would be a bit of a stretch, not with Reo, because with toured with them a lot in the past, but Ted Nugent is a different factor to mix in. But people have embraced it and Ted is a great guitar player and it adds a nice twist. I think that we’ve had more sell out shows this year than last year, so it’s really tremendous.
RMS: Stereotypically, the Ted Nugent fans are a little bit different from your average Reo Speedwagon and Styx fans. Have they been all getting along during these shows?
LG: (Laughs) Yeah, they are a little different. But there have been no problems whatsoever. What’s so great about this type of tour is that people, who would have never considered going to see a Ted Nugent concert, see him and then ending up really liking him. And then your die hard Ted Nugent fans, who would never consider seeing Styx or Reo, see us and end up being pleasantly surprised. All in all, it’s just a great night of entertainment. I can tell by the grins on people’s faces at the end of the night, it’s inescapable and it’s been very successful.
RMS: Has there been a healthy dose of competition between the bands to out do each other?
LG: There is always that element to performing. But the difference now is that we all have had long and successful careers and we are not really necessarily trying to prove anything in a vindictive way. We are just trying to elevate the experience for the audience, for the entire night. So that means that we do have to be aware of what the other bands are doing and to make sure that our show is up to that standard. I guess that it’s the healthiest form of competition that you can possibly get, because we all benefit by it.
RMS: Do you find it difficult or intimidating at all going on after Ted Nugent. Not too many bands like to follow him because he such a great performer.
LG: He is a great performer, no question about it. He really takes the stage really well every night. But, I don’t want to sound immodest in anyway, ( …pauses….laughs) but Styx is of the caliber of bands that there really no act, that I can think of in the world right now, that I would feel intimated by, for us to go on after. But again, I don’t want that to be taken out of context, or taken as being boastful. It’s just that we have a proven track record; we get the audience on their feet and wanting more. Unless we were severely hobbled by one of two of the guys being sick, (laughs) or losing their voices, or something extreme like that. But we really embrace the idea of the band before us, being an extremely strong act. It puts the audience in a great mood, and we are then we are ready to meet that challenge of keeping it that way.
RMS: One of the things that I noticed on last years, Styx/Yes tour, was that it seemed unfair for a band like Yes to follow Styx. Of course Yes is a great band of extremely talented musicians; however; they could not match the energy and showmanship of Styx. You could differently see that it was very obvious to the audience as well. I’m not sure that it was a smart move for Yes to perform after Styx on that tour.
LG: Well, we split the tour, I think we closed 12 times and they closed 11. Thanks for saying that. I’m a huge Yes fan myself, but that just goes to show how strong we are, and how we can be on the same bill with just about anyone, and still make an impact.
RMS: One of the highlight of that particular show was the performance of one of your classic Gowan solo songs, “Criminal Mind.” Has that song always been in the set, since you joined the band in 1999?
LG: Yes, it has, thank you. When I first joined the band, during the first rehearsal at Tommy Shaw’s studio, I was about to play “Lady.” We were about to test how the song would sound with my vocals and their harmonies. And before I could launch into it, Tommy stopped me and said, “No, don’t play a Styx’s song first, play “Criminal Mind.” I want to hear that song again live.” And so I played it, and that at the end of it, he looked at everyone else and said, “That could be a Styx’s song!” “Why don’t we do this song. So, we’ve done it on a couple of live DVDs so far, and a live album. So, it’s been a Styx song for the last 13 years.
RMS: Yeah, it’s an awesome song to hear live. It was one of my favorite Gowan songs as well. I remember hearing that track all of the time during the 80’s on Q107 out of Toronto, Ont,.
LG: Yeah, and they still play it, twenty-seven years later. (laughs) I’m still very pleased about that. It’s really been a signature song for me in a lot of ways. It’s been a Gowan song and a Styx’s song. It’s a nice little combo.
RMS: “Criminal Minds” sort of stood the test of time, unlike many of the songs from the 80’s that sound, well like they were recorded during the 80’s.
LG: Well, you can hear that it’s an 80’s made record, it doesn’t have some of the bad goo of the production that’s on a lot of the tracks from the 80’s. It’s kind of the best of what that decade offered. So, the way it was recorded, kind of overshadows being connected to any one era. In a similar way that any great song does, it stretches beyond the time it was recorded and still speaks to people. I’m very fortunate to have that happen.
RMS: Next week, your solo band, Gowan will be playing three sold out shows at the Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls, Ont. It’s truly an amazing venue. How did those gigs come about and what can you fans expect of Gowan during those performances?
LG: Well, two years ago was the 25th anniversary of “Strange Animal.” Styx has played at the Fallsview a number of times, and the fellow who books the talent mentioned that he received a ton of calls for a Gowan show. He asked me if I wanted to do it, and I told him that I was just thinking of doing a show to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the “Strange Animal” release. So, I put as much of the band back together that I could, and I brought in Todd Sucherman (the drummer of Styx) in as well. I also brought in Todd’s wife, Taylor Mills, who has sung with Brian Wilson. So we put the band together and went out and played two sold-out nights. The reaction was tremendous, so we decided to do it again the next year. So we did it again in 2011, and played two sold out nights and that was great. So then this year, it was decided that we should do three nights, now that we are in the 25th anniversary of “Moonlight Desires.” That was the most popular song that I’ve ever had as far as radio play is concerned. So, we ended up selling out all three shows this time around. So it’s great to have my solo career back in swing again.
RMS: Please don’t take offense to this next question. But how are you able to rehearse for your Gowan shows when you’re on tour with Styx?
LG: That’s actually a real good question and I’m not offended at all by it. Actually Thomas, we had a little break from Styx in April, so we booked four Gowan shows in secondary markets in Ontario and one in Quebec. I loved playing those shows, and we needed to go out and play for a week to get ready for the Fallsview shows. I knew the Styx show wasn’t going on until two days before my shows at the Fallsview, but we were able(Gowan) to get in a week of playing, and before that, three weeks of rehearsal just two months ago. We will also get to rehearse a couple days before the shows as well. Before I got on the phone with you, (Gowan plays a short few seconds of a tape of the rehearsal) I was practicing in my hotel room to the tape of one of our April shows. We’ve also done it the last couple years as well, so that makes it a little bit easier to jump into it.
RMS: It must be very exciting to have three sold-out shows.
LG: I’m very excited about it. As much as I love being in Styx, I’m lucky to be able to be able to do both, before I fade away. (Laughs)
RMS: You don’t have to worry that for a long time. Did you find it and your band mates find it at difficult to get motivated to write new music because your fans are really just there to hear your classic hits?
LG: One of the things that I really enjoy about being in Styx, is the attitude that everyone has. We would love to be in the studio all year doing a new album, and would love being on the road all year touring. We haven’t lost any of the jam that makes us want to do this. But the reality of it, which you have already alluded to, is that Styx has such a huge catalog, as JT Young describes it as “An embarrassment of riches,” that Styx can perform in concert. So there is less and less of a demand that we go in and make a new record. There’s more demand to do what we did last year, which was to perform “Grand Illusion” and “Pieces of Eight” in its entirety and put that out on a DVD. And there is a lot of demand for us to continue to perform that show around the world, that it’s difficult for us to take six months off to make a new record. We are slowly coming to the conclusion that we will probably just start recording songs one at a time. And then just release the songs for download, that is my prediction as of today.
RMS: Yeah I agree with you on that. My last question Lawrence, when you were 19 years of age, you enrolled in the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto for classical piano. What was the motivation behind your decision to study at this particular prestigious music college, and did it really help you grow as a musician?
LG: I know that I certainly came out of it as a better musician. I was a decent enough piano player before going there, but one of the main motivators of going there was that I had two albums that I loved. One was, Yes – “Close to the Edge,” when I heard what Rick Wakeman could do on the keyboards my jaw dropped, and Elton John – “Goodbye Yellowbrick Road.” Elton’s playing was on another level. So, I did some reading on them and found out that they both went to the Royal Academy of Music in London. Well, Royal Conservatory in Toronto is the very same school. So I wanted to know what they know. So I went and got my degree in classical piano performance, which is the same program that they took. But I’m glad I did, it helped in a lot of different ways.
Special thanks to Amanda Cagan for setting this interview up.