By Thomas S. Orwat Jr.
One of the most dynamic and entertaining bands on tour right now is rock music legends- Styx. The band, which currently consists of classic line-up members Tommy Shaw – guitar/vocals, and James Young – guitar/vocals, along with Canadian progressive rock superstar, Lawrence Gowan – keyboards/vocals, Todd Sucherman – drums, and Ricky Phillips – bass, has been rocking fans all summer long with a hit-filled set list and a high-energy show.
Although the summer might be winding down, one of the most anticipated shows of the season is still to come. On Tuesday, August 19th, Styx will be rocking the music fans of WNY with a concert at the award winning Artpark in Lewiston, NY. Tickets for this event can be purchased here.
What follows is an exclusive Rock Music Star interview with Lawrence Gowan of Styx. During this interview, we discuss the upcoming show at Artpark, and much more. Here’s what Lawrence had to say:
Rock Music Star: Hey Lawrence, thank you for calling us here at Rock Music Star. I want to start off by talking about your upcoming show at Artpark in Lewiston, NY. Many music fans around are really excited about seeing Styx perform at Artpark.
Lawrence Gowan: Yeah, I remember playing there maybe five years ago. It was awesome. It was a huge crowd; I felt like Caesar in Rome. The crowd was so spectacular on that evening. I’m really looking forward to playing there again.
RMS: Artpark hosts many of the best concerts of the summer in WNY, and many of them are classic rock bands, like Styx. It’s great that you are finally coming back.
LG: Yeah, it’s going to be fun. I’m glad we’re coming back, too!
RMS: Artpark is, in a way, kind of like a hometown show for you, because you still live not that far away, in Toronto, right?
LG: I live in Toronto. Yes, my dad is still there; he’s 90 years old now. I was just talking to him five minutes ago. Yeah, I grew up there, and I’m still entirely connected there. I’ve got my house there, I’ve got a studio there, I’ve got lots of memories there.
RMS: What are your memories of the Western New York/Buffalo area? I know you played here a lot when you toured in your solo band, Gowan.
LG: That’s right! It really connects more to those years. It connects to two eras of my life- one is playing with Gowan in Buffalo, when ‘Strange Animal’ came out, and just how we were on the cusp of that record in the United States, and it was already doing so well in Buffalo on the radio there; and also, in Cleveland. But then, a year later, for reasons of boring music industry machinery back then, it never got released in the United States. I, for one, believe it should have, but anyway. I remember playing the Tralf a couple of times; that was excellent. And then, we came back again and played on the last Gowan album. And then, to come back and play at the Aud in Buffalo with Styx a few years later- I have this very kind of unique and uncharted career, where I was a solo artist first, and then a member of this legendary band. I have many fond memories of playing the Buffalo area. We’ve done well there. And, of course, the greatest gig of all, which will be Artpark on August 19th.
RMS: Damn right. It’s going to be awesome. Do you have anything special for the Artpark crowd? Anything different that you’re doing on this tour, as opposed to last year, when you played at the Fallsview Casino?
LG: Yes. We’ve added- along with the absolute standard well-engrained, set-in-stone Styx songs that we have to perform; otherwise there would be riots- we’ve added to that, quite a bit of material from ‘The Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight’ album, because that’s the most recent DVD we’ve put out. We discovered that a lot of the younger people, under 30 years of age, can now comprise usually about 50 percent of the audience we play to on any given night- a lot of them, their favorite songs may be “Man In the Wilderness,” it could be “Pieces of Eight,” it could be “I’m OK,” or songs that were not necessarily the big singles, because they weren’t exposed to the classic radio when it was just rock radio. They weren’t around. But now, they seemed to have embraced the album experience, which is a wonderful, great bonus surprise to us. So, for a lot of them, those are their favorite tracks. We’ve also been adding things from ‘Equinox,’ like “Light Up,” and, like I said, some of the album tracks, so to speak, from ‘Grand Illusion.’ Depending on the time, we’ll probably do at least one track from ‘Cyclorama;’ we did one the other night.
RMS: You brought up a good point: There does seem to be a lot of younger people attending classic rock shows. Do you think it’s because of the fact that the quality of music, today, really doesn’t stand up to what it was back in the 70’s and 80’s? Do you think a lot of people, instead of discovering new bands, actually go back and rediscover old bands for the first time?
LG: I think it goes a little bit deeper than that. This is just something that we’ve theorized about; who knows if we’re right or not, right? I happen to think bands today are every bit as good. I hear new stuff and I think it’s just killer, and I love it. But, the difference is this; this is my perception: since rock was the big musical statement of the last half of the 20th century, if you want to hear the most authentic expression of it that came from while it was still being invented along the way, you have to go to the 60’s and 70’s in order to really delve into that, and the classic rock bands from that era also, more or less, invented how to play an arena. Arena rock, the big spectacle, the big epic adventure that a rock show can be; you can arbitrarily say it started with Hendrix, but it really took in the early 70s, when bands like Genesis and Yes, and these florescent bands, began to make a rock show- and Pink Floyd, especially- this epic spectacle.
They’re still the bands, to this day; they’re still the bands that do that the best. I think the closest I’ve seen, and I could be wrong, is, I’ve seen Muse, for example, the past few years. They’re a new band- relatively new- that are able to do that. There are few newer bands that are able to come up with that, mainly because they make a great record, but they haven’t played live to the extent that the bands from the classic era were fortunate enough to have done by the time they had completed their second or third album. They would have played hundreds of shows, you know? I think, when the younger audience come and see a classic rock show that is on the level of what Styx is able to put on, they’re enthralled with it because, I don’t know about you, Thomas, but in my lifetime, a great rock show is the greatest form of entertainment I’ve ever been in front of, next to Cirque Du Soleil, which is a second- but a distant second-compared to what I’ve seen from Genesis, Pink Floyd as I mentioned earlier, the early Elton John shows, which were amazing, and Yes, and Styx, for that matter.
So, I think Cirque Du Soleil comes the closest, being able to evoke that emotional sense that a rock show can do. That’s really it. And, I think when younger people see that live, because it can’t be downloaded- you can watch all the clips on YouTube that you like, but it’s not the same as being there- something happens. They get caught up in it, and they become just as authentically diehard fans of it as we were growing up. That’s my little theory, and I’m going to stick with it for the next 24 hours.
RMS: That’s very profound. I think you hit the nail right on the head. I never thought of that, but yeah, I think that’s a really, really valid point.
LG: Like last night, we were playing in Seattle- actually, Redmont, Washington. Half the audience, I think, was under 30. But, one girl up front was like, holding up a sign that said, “I’m celebrating my 15th birthday, and I’m at my third Styx show.” So, that means she’s been coming since, let’s just say, maybe 12. You couldn’t miss it, she was right in the front row. She knew the words to every single song, and she is as enthusiastic singing it as a 15-year-old would be at seeing, I don’t know, something brand new. It really is odd because, here we are, triple her age… so, she’s loving it in a completely authentic way. And it’s not like she was there with her parents- she was there with her friends. It’s pretty amazing.
RMS: Yeah. One of the things about seeing these rock shows- I know, for myself- it’s almost like an addiction. I mean, once you see a good rock show, you just want to keep going back and back and back.
LG: I couldn’t agree more. I could not agree more. I remember, the first concert I went to in Toronto was the Guess Who. To this day, I still relay back to it, because they sounded exactly like their record. They were so on top of their game in that era, in 1972. And then, after that, the next show I saw was Yes. I was completely addicted to it like, “I gotta save my money for the next big show that comes to town.” It was Elton John with ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,’ and then, I saw Chicago when they were at the peak, you know, before Terry Kath left the planet.
I remember seeing- it’s funny, I was talking to Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, a few weeks ago- I bought tickets to see Genesis in Toronto the same time Grand Funk Railroad were coming to town; I didn’t have money for both. And, I sat outside Bar City Stadium listening to the entire Grand Funk concert, because it was an open-air concert. I heard the whole thing, but I wasn’t able to get in. And it’s funny- we’ve done shows with Grand Funk since then, but I always make the point of telling Don Brewer and Mel Schacher, “It’s great to see you guys now, because when I was 15, I sat outside for two hours.” (Laughs) So, it’s exactly how you described it- it’s an addiction, and it’s maybe the greatest addiction that I’ve had in my life, so I’m sticking to it. I have no desire to break from it.
RMS: Yeah. Well, what about performing? Is that also an addiction? Because, I’ve seen a lot of performers perform in their 70’s, when they have all the money in the world, and there’s no reason for them to be out on the road touring, but it almost seems like it must be an addiction for them, because they’re picking playing out, as opposed to anything else.
LG: Here’s the beautiful thing that we’ve discovered in the last 10 years.
Tommy Shaw and I, and James Young, one day, about 10 years ago, were having this discussion like, “You know, we get far more than financial return for doing this.” That became the least motivating- well, not the least- but, one of the lower motivating factors in doing this. The great benefit of it is that we finally discovered that playing music live benefits the performer as much as the people who are taking it in, particularly when you’re into the age that we are now. And it made us think, “Well, no wonder great jazz musicians played well into their 70’s, until they were like, in their 80s- until they dropped.” And then, I remember that year, we looked at the touring schedule of B.B. King, who, at that time, was only about 75 years old. You know, he was playing 200 shows that year. That’s double what we were doing. We were doing 100, he was doing 200! We were all like, “Holy shit, the guy is 75, he’s a diabetic, he’s long past the age of having to do it, but we get why he’s doing it.” And, by the way, he’s still doing it! He’s in his late 80s now. It’s because there are phenomenal life-enriching benefits to playing music live.
We’ve always kind of known this, but for some goofy reason, our generation growing up, arbitrarily had chosen that, beyond the age of 30, this would be stupid. I remember distinctly reading an article when Mick Jagger was 32 years old, an article, where he said, “I can’t see myself doing this at 40,” which was only, you know, eight years later. He said, “It would look ridiculous. I would just look ridiculous on stage.” Well, I couldn’t help but think of that article last year, when I went and saw the Stones in Toronto, and saw this 70-year-old man, who looked like he was about 40 years old, right in front of my eyes- as far as movements and everything goes. Yeah, his face is wrinkled, so what? His body is in incredible shape- incredible. And, here’s this guy. He’s up there, and exactly what you’re pointing out, I’m thinking, “The money is not a motivator at all. I mean, it’s gotta be there, because that’s the society we live in, but the fact that he is so alive right now. How many 70-year-olds get to feel this type of a feeling, unless they’re climbing Mount Everest? This feeling doesn’t exist anywhere else.” You could see that he was getting off on it as much as we were….
RMS: Yeah. What do you think is going to happen to a lot of these classic rock bands in ten, twenty years from now, when the members can no longer play? Do you think that the bands will go on with replacement members, or do you think they’re just going to fade away?
LG: That’s a very tough one to answer, because it’s an ongoing question. Obviously, every band is different, and they have to find a way to continue, and sometimes, that means a complete blood transfusion. I don’t like using the world “replacement,” because I’ve never been brought up, myself, as being a “replacement” for anyone. But basically, the band lost a key member, and they got a new guy to come in. That’s really all that happened in that little instance.
But- I’m going to refer back to another article- we talked about the Mick Jagger one. I remember, around 1990, I saw an article with Rick Wakeman who said, “Since YES had been through so many member changes-” and that was from a band going on 20 years old, never mind 40- he said, “The music is so connected to such a large generation that, as much as there is a London Symphony today as there was a London Symphony 200 years ago,” he said, “I can see 100 years from now, there being a YES that is comprised of completely new people who continue this line of music, but always have this as the core of what they play.” And, I remember at the time, Thomas, thinking, “Oh my God, he’s gone senile at such a young age. That’s ridiculous.” And now, look back on that and think, “He’s probably dead on.” I mean, that might be the most astute observation ever. After all, if rock was the big music statement of the last half of the 20th century, of course the music would continue on, and would have to continue on under that manner. It may be the London Symphony playing the music of Beethoven, but that’s the most alive Beethoven can be today.
RMS: Right, that’s a really good point.
LG: So, yes. I can see it. I can see it. In addition to that- let’s go back to the beginning of our conversation- it’s so connected to the live experience. It’s so connected to being able to stir that in a great rock concert, and emotionally connect with what the core of the sound of that band is, and then, to continue it on in any way possible. I could be completely wrong. It could all be gone in five years. But, I just don’t see that happening. I see it continuing.
RMS: Absolutely. I think you’re right. I think that does make a lot of sense. I want to end the interview by asking you about a solo record that I’ve heard you’ve been working on for a while.
LG: Oh, man. It’s great.
RMS: How would you describe the style on it?
LG: Well, when I was making the- I don’t want to say too much about it, because that’s the kiss of death on it, but what I will say is: when I was working on the Styx three generation albums- we started those in 2009- I was working with Terry Brown, the producer of the great Rush records and I discovered that, I suddenly went back to some material that I had in the late 70’s, which is right from the classic rock era, when I was in a band in Toronto that was really trying to be the next Genesis or Pink Floyd or Queen. That material was never recorded. I went on to have my solo career, and that was all 80’s material; 90’s material. But, from that material, I found that there was a great thematic thing that was that great classic rock era, and I began from there.
We started recording exactly as if it was 1970 again. We used some pro tools, but we were going to tape and using vintage instruments, nothing virtual. So, we were using a real piano, B-3, mellotron, and we mic’d up the guitars the old way. I went down to Woodstock, and then back to Toronto. So, it’s been an ongoing thing, and we’re in the final stages of it, now. It’s been about three years that we’ve been working on it. It’s actually probably only six months we’ve been working on it, when you take in the fact that I’ve played about 300 Styx shows. And there’s new material in there we threw in, to try to pull the whole thing together, and I’m really excited about it. Hopefully, it’ll emerge sometime within the next 12 months, you should see it.
RMS: Wow, I like the concept of it. I really do; progressive 70s-style record. Awesome. Well, Lawrence, I want to thank you for your time. I love interviewing you, because you always give me some new insight into rock music, and I really appreciate that. I’m really looking forward to the show on the 19th.
LG: Yes, Thomas. It’s gonna be fun.
Tickets for Styx at Artpark, Lewiston, NY can be purchased here.
Special thanks to Amanda Cagan, Maria Hays and Dana Kaiser.