Legendary rock band Styx is releasing a new album called Crash of the Crown on June 18. Also on that day, band members James “JY” Young (lead vocals, guitars), Tommy Shaw (lead vocals, guitars), Chuck Panozzo (bass, vocals), Todd Sucherman (drums, percussion), Lawrence Gowan (lead vocals, keyboards), and Ricky Phillips (bass, guitar, vocals) will also be launching a new tour.
I spoke on the phone with Lawrence Gowan to learn more about Styx’s upcoming tour and the new album. After you enjoy the interview, take a listen to the new single below and visit their website to see the full list of tour dates.
What normal or close-to-normal activity are you looking forward to the most in the near future?
I think sleeping on a tour bus is actually one of the main moments. There’s something very unique about that experience, especially when it’s repeated night after night. You go from hearing thousands of people yelling on their feet and screaming to suddenly you’re in a quiet bus with the whine of the motor underneath, as you barrel down a highway at some speed you don’t know as you’re isolated in your bunk. It’s very unique and I’d recommend it to anyone. I’ve actually missed that in the past year, although there’s nothing wrong with the comfort of my own bed.
How would you describe Styx’s tour format in general today?
As a band, we’ve forged a way of performing the legacy of Styx and portraying that to people and at the same time, giving them a taste of today. Even when there hasn’t been a new record coming out, we’ve always done that since I’ve been in the band. That has proven to be effective, because we continue to tighten all the nuts and bolts along the way to improve the show night after night. It always astounds me how much the show varies and elevates in any given year.
Everyone goes on stage every night looking for that tiny bit of whatever it takes to make it better than the night before. With the number of guys we have in the band, that little percentage amasses to something quite remarkable by the end of the year. We continue to climb and become more adept at putting on a great rock show.
Styx band members live in different parts of the U.S. and Canada. What would you say was different about working on this album?
Two-thirds of the album was completed just prior to the pandemic hitting. That last third of the record, I managed to finish everything from here in Toronto at a studio I have here with an engineer buddy of mine, who has worked on other Styx stuff in the past. Todd wound up doing all of his drums from his incredibly, well-outfitted studio in Austin, Texas. Ricky and JY were able to travel to Nashville about three months into the pandemic. They went through all of the protocol, etc., to do their parts at the studio.
The rest of it was done using a combination of two technologies: Zoom calls, which are phenomenal, and an app called Audiomovers, where I would be playing in the studio in Toronto. They would hear it in the studio in Nashville coming right through their speakers. They were working on the soundboard, etc., and do everything as if I was in the room.
It worked out seamlessly. It became very second nature after a couple of days. The beauty of that was that I was able to play my own Steinway piano, the B3 [organ], my Oberheim synthesizers, and my Mellotron – all the things I keep here in Toronto. I was able to use these vintage instruments on the record and that was really great. That was one unexpected benefit of having to pivot to a completely different way of doing things.
That leads into another one of my questions! What’s really special about the vintage Mellotron and Minimoog?
Yes, the Mellotron, the Minimoog, and the OB8. What’s special is that they were built in that era of classic rock, when Styx first began. They were used by Genesis, Yes, Elton John, and artists with the ’70s and early ’80s sounds. Those vintage instruments have become vital to recreating that sound because although we live in this wonderful, digital world and there are great samples, it’s nothing like the real thing! Both sonically and for your own head space, they put your mind into that period. You utilize those sounds and that mindset takes over the room.
What do you like most about the new album?
I like how adventurous it is. I like that we delve fairly deeply into the part of Styx that I happen to be attracted to – the progressive aspect of the band is something I love. Counterbalancing that with the more pop rock elements and some of the heavier rock elements, I find that a great catalyst. It makes for a great art where the band sounds like they’re being very musically adventurous and at the same time pinging everything on songs that are very singable and lyrics that are relatable. The instrumentation harkens back to the classic rock era when the band first emerged. With all of that together, it’s more or less the same kind of approach that we took on The Mission in a lot of ways, but with songs that are very confident and experimental. To our mind, the experimental is a success.
You have three lead voices on the title track, which is different. What’s challenging about getting three leads in?
The song itself, Pat. It’s as if it’s three different songs all crammed together into a cohesive piece. It’s like a little four-minute progressive rock trip. We wanted to have JY lead off the song just because he’s got that lower register and authoritative delivery. But relate to his place at the moment as the protector of the band and protector of all the good things in the world that are being threatened, let’s put it that way. Then it transitions to this cataclysmic event, you can choose however you want to interpret that – of a great fall and that’s the theme, but with the determination of a sense of renewal coming out. That’s Tommy’s main section there. Then that emerges with a new resolve where the truth is finally revealed, and all is well in the end because you battled through it.
That theme probably sounds quite familiar to a lot of people on planet Earth at the moment. Maybe that’s why it’s getting a good response.
I really liked the track “Reveries” on the album. Were you the lead on that one?
Yeah, I wasn’t part of the writing on that one, but I get to sing. That was great. I love the feeling of that whole song. Tommy and Will thought it would suit my singing voice. I’m working on a new lyric video for that song today. I think it has a very singable chorus to begin with. I love the idea of this character that’s constantly living in his own take of the world, so to speak. He’s got this view of the world that’s very much self-centered. [Laughs] The French phrase would be like a bon vivant, everything is good in life – at least to his mind, even though it may not actually be.
I thought it fit your voice really well, too.
Thank you. That’s what the other guys thought. I love the idea of singing a song about a character like that. It adds a dreamy kind of musing state to the whole piece, for someone who is lost in their own thoughts and travels. Again, I think a lot of people have been lost in that mindset for this past year. We’ve really had to turn inwards to find that kind of happiness that this guy is obviously plugged into.
What else have you worked on in the past year, as far as your solo work?
This was a year where more opportunities were arising weekly. That’s why I did so much stuff online. I did a bunch of concerts, [including] one with my son that was a really fantastic experience for me. We went into an empty theater and did an entire show together. Eight robot cameras were our only friends other than the two of us. It was great.
My publishing company called in late October and said, “We’re doing a 50th anniversary of ‘Feliz Navidad’ by José Feliciano and we’d like you to sing on it.”
I did and I also got Tommy Shaw to sing on there. Then the CEO of the publishing company was there and he said, “Do you have any Christmas pieces yourself? I would love to see you work with this young band, Stuck on Planet Earth.”
That inspired me to jump on the piano and come up with this song [before the] Zoom call I had with the band. I said to them, “If you want to do this Christmas song, why don’t we do it together? We can record it here together. I’ve got my own studio. If you like it and you want to do it, call me back in an hour. If you don’t like it, don’t call me back and no harm lost. It was lovely meeting you guys.”
They called back about half an hour later and said let’s do this. That’s how it came about and it was a ton of fun to do. It was good timing as well, because that whole Christmas season was so different for everyone, regardless of your religious affiliation or what your feelings are about Christmas. It is the end of the year with a certain feeling and spirit that comes into everyone. This one was challenging because it was completely different from anything that we’d ever experienced.
Was there anything else you’d like to share with our readers today?
Just how happy I am with all the messages we got over the course of the year of how much people are clinging to music as a great beacon of hope. They’re energized to come back out and to see concerts, re-embracing all of the things live music affords them. That’s been great to see over the course of the year: the value of music went even deeper in people’s psyche and their lives. That’s not only well appreciated but also felt just as strongly on our end.