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INTERVIEW: LAWRENCE GOWAN of Styx – November 2015

| 20 November 2015 | Reply

Styx is one of the prolific classic rock bands still touring and delivering killer performances.  They are in their fifth decade and there seems to be no stopping them anytime soon, as new tour dates for early 2016 were just announced.  Leading up to the final performance of the year in Windsor, Ontario, we were able to grab some time with keyboardist and vocalist Lawrence Gowan to discuss touring, albums, and much more…


Toddstar: Lawrence, thank you so much for taking time out for us. We really appreciate a legend such as you taking time.

Lawrence: It’s wonderful to take time. Thank you very much for having me. Is Jolicoeur your last name?

Toddstar: It is.

Lawrence: Jolicoeur, that’s good. Where am I calling right now 810?

Toddstar: I’m just north of Detroit, actually.

Lawrence: Gotcha. Jolicoeur, you know what that means in French right?

Toddstar: Happy heart.

Lawrence: Yeah, happy heart. I like that.

Toddstar: It’s actually French Canadian, so it’s got a little bit of a tie to you as well.

Lawrence: It does.

Toddstar: Well, there’s so much going on in Styx world, but let’s talk about some of the things that have been going on most recently for you guys. You guys, you wrapped up a cool tour, well not wrapped up, cause there’s more coming, but…

Lawrence: There’s more coming, yeah. [laughs]

Toddstar: You guys have been out on a kind of cool bill with Def Leppard, and you had Tesla out there

Lawrence: It was an astounding bill, Todd. It was, much to our happy surprise, it wound up being one of the most successful tours of the 2015 and throughout the summer. It drew tremendous numbers of people, and probably the biggest crowds we ever played before for such an extended period of time, I guess for about 50 shows. It was a great bill, and it was obvious early on, it’s like we should have booked more of these shows. [laughs] So, that’s why they extended it into, I think we’re going out with them, January, February, or late January and February, and doing, I think about, another thirteen or fourteen shows. It was a tremendous grouping of bands, and just I guess the right tones for this year. It was a wonderful year for classic rock represented from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. You know, about four hours that was obviously highly entertaining for people and what they were looking for.

Toddstar: You hit it on the head when you talk about classic rock. I mean, you know, like you said, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. When you get Styx, which is a little more diverse crowd, because you guys have been around forever, how did you find the younger crowds, or the quote unquote, metal heads who were into the Def Leppard and Tesla received Styx live?

Lawrence: Tremendously well. I mean that’s one of the beauties of going out with what may, on paper, look like an odd pairing. It’s never that odd, once it gets in front of an audience because what’s one of the things I’ve observed in the last ten years, that there’s a much wider range of taste among fans. Even if it’s someone that identifies themselves as a straight forward metal head. They might still like Def Leppard, who doesn’t qualify as being metal at all, you know. And if they like Def Leppard, they might actually like Styx. I mean we played a couple of times at Sweden Rock, which is one of the biggest known big metal festival in Sweden, and last time we were there, we were with Ozzy Osbourne. It was amazing that we can fit into a bill like that and still go over with all these people who may not identify themselves as your “typical” Styx fan. Which is really an almost impossible thing to profile now because it’s any, just about any age, comes out and sees the band. Half the people that come to our shows are under thirty years of age, and weren’t even born when the biggest records were made. So, it’s a way for us to even get in front of people that would never have seen Styx live, were it not for us being on such a bill such a wide range of other bands, and likewise, there are die hard Styx fans that are seeing Def Leppard for their first time. So, it was a great way to cast the net even wider for all the bands.


Toddstar: To build on that even more, Styx is one of those bands, it doesn’t matter, you guys will play anywhere. I have seen you in arenas; I’ve seen you do the amphitheater shed tour. I’ve seen you in a casino. What is it about Styx that makes you guys that diverse that you can play even the different types of venues across the board?

Lawrence: Well, it’s funny. Styx is primarily an arena rock band, back when that was the end of large theater band. Back when bands really had a much more, what can I say, you’re much more categorical in the venues that you choose to play, and much like the audience has broadened. It’s a manner, so to speak. So is the band, and it’s amazing, as I say, you know, we did love playing to these giant audiences throughout the summer this year, but the last couple of nights we played, I’m actually in Canada right now, this is Canada week for Styx. So it’s great for me. We played for an audience of fifty five hindered for two nights there in Casino Rama, and that fantastic. That felt like a great size audience, and then sometimes will play in a theater that only holds a couple thousand people, and often we’ll come off stage and go, “That was the best show of the year.” You get that kind of tight personal, up close, conducive size venue to really connect with just about every person in the house in some way. So the band doesn’t really have any kind of inflated sense of proprietary, if you want to put it that way, when it comes to the type of venues that we play, because in addition to that we love playing fairs as well. So I mean as you say, you seen us in all different types of venues. We just happen to enjoy having an audience there that end up with big smiles on their faces at the end of the night and want to come and see more.

Toddstar: With Styx, you mentioned this week, is Canada week, and it certainly is, you guys are playing Thunder Bay tonight.

Lawrence: That’s right.

Toddstar: The fun thing for those of us over here, in the Detroit area, is you guys are actually wrapping up your 2015 touring season just across the river in Windsor The Colosseum at Caesar’s Windsor.

Lawrence: That’s right. The last show of 2015 will be technically on Canadian soil, but with the knowledge that about half the audience will have crossed the river. [laughs] Except, they will be coming my way for once. I’m coming your way about a hundred times a year.

Toddstar: Right. What’s it about The Colosseum at Caesar’s Windsor? You guys could almost be the house band there, you’re there so often.

Lawrence: Yeah.

Toddstar: What is it about that crowd and about that venue that kind of gels with Styx and with what you guys do?

Lawrence: I think the boarder placement of it actually helps us because we have such a great following from the Detroit area, and from the whole state of Michigan. That and we can pull largely from southern Ontario. Which is the most populous part of Canada, and that even goes as wide as Toronto. I’ve even had friends come down to Windsor from Toronto just to see us play. So, it’s geographically kind of very conducive melting the fan bases on either side of the boarder. That and it’s a great, it’s a great venue itself. It sounds great in there. It’s got a fantastic stage; it’s got fantastic production facilities that are right in line with what we need. So, it’s kind of perfect in a lot of ways, and also the month of December is kind of nice to get indoors. [laughs]

Toddstar: You don’t want to play Pine Knob [DTE Energy Music Theatre] in December?

Lawrence: I’d give it a shot, but I have a feeling, it’d be a bit more difficult than doing it in July or August.


Toddstar: That’s true. Regarding Styx music, we use the word classic rock and it certainly is, but one of my favorite productions was Regeneration Volumes I and II.

Lawrence: Thanks.

Toddstar: I just loved hearing revamped versions of those songs. You can’t call them new, because they’re just updated, but you guys all put your spin on it. Looking back at that project Lawrence, what song or two would you like have seen on that project that maybe didn’t hit it?

Lawrence: Ah – that’s a very good question. It’s a challenge when you’re taking classic songs that have certain nuances on the original recordings that you obviously can’t duplicate because they were idiosyncratic to that period and that exact, all of the millions of a little, um, you know, degrees that amounted to the sound of those records, but the essence of the songs and how they evolved over the years have um, of this incarnation of the band is, was something worthy to put on record. I mean, there were some of the songs that we wound up doing about a year later on the Grand Illusion / Pieces of Eight tour where we did a DVD of those entire albums. There were some of those songs that I wish had been on the re-generations. For example, I love doing “Pieces of Eight.” That’s one, you know, that I really thought was really, really strong. Also, I loved the last piece on Pieces of Eight, “Aku-Aku.” I know it’s just an instrumental number, but it was not a single obviously but that was something I wish we had a studio version of as well. I think “Man in the Wilderness” is the other one I wish had made it on there. I love way he, Tommy sings that, and that’s become such a staple in the set ever since we did the, that double live, Grand Illusion / Pieces of Eight tour. We discovered kind of deeper tracks, and to our pleasant surprise, we discovered that those were favorites, particularly among the younger people who were not exposed to the singles, to such an all-encompassing way as the die-hard fans were who grew up with the band and were familiar with hearing “Come Sailing Away” on the radio a thousand times a day. You know? [laughs] Or some of the younger people, it’s amazing to hear that, their favorite song, may in fact be, “Man in the Wilderness,” or it may in fact be “Pieces of Eight,” or one of those other album tracks.

Toddstar: Sure.

Lawrence: What we use to call album tracks anyway. Now they’re all just songs.

Toddstar: Exactly. [laughs] Speaking of songs, and this is by no means just a song, but it’s nice to see “A Criminal Mind” is getting some due service lately.

Lawrence: Yeah. Lately we’ve played it the last couple of nights anyway and I guess we’ll be playing it again tonight and for the next week. We played it one full year 2004, I think it was, could have been 2003, one extended year when we had it in the set everywhere. And then, much like “Snow Blind” or like, you know, “Pieces of Eight.” You know, those songs, it gets relegated to occasionally, we take it out and play it, and when we do, we go, “We should keep this in the set all the time.”, and then it gets the kind of beautiful position the band is in is that there’s lots of songs that are in the cannon that qualify under that heading to be, to be included. In order to do that, somethings got to get bumped. Particularly, when we have a night where we’re constrained by time if we’re on the bill with other bands. So that’s understandable, but in these shows, we’re able to stretch out longer and play a couple of hours, and I think even tonight, we’re taking an intermission, so that’ll be a really extended show.  Then we get to play all that stuff. We pull it all out of the bag.

Toddstar: With so much history with the band, you’re one of the new guys Lawrence.

Lawrence: Yeah, I know.

Toddstar: It’s funny, but you’re one of the two newest guys, but you have been here sixteen years.


Photo Credit: Rick Diamond

Lawrence: Actually, I’m going, I’m going into year eighteen. You see, that’s funny. You think that because people always forget that got to count 1999 and 2000. I know I started counting from 2001. It’s actually going into eighteen. I am finishing up year seventeen now. You can still be referred to as the new guy, when I’ve been with Styx now the same amount of time as my solo career. So, we’re actually at the middle point now.  I started my first record in 1982 and that began my gallant career of going back and forth across Canada a thousand times, and now I’ve been with Styx the same length of time. So, I feel as strong an affinity toward one as the other because I’ve had such tremendous experiences with so many audiences and it’s been fantastic to be part of this legendary band.

Toddstar: With that being said, has the “newness” ever worn off?

Lawrence: It’s funny. I feel now that I that I belong at the party, that I qualify as one of the ten people who ever stood on stage as a member of Styx over a course of time. I see myself as part of the evolution of the band, part of the extension of the band. You know particularly in the live sense. I also see it now as the band, as strong, as excellent as it is because of the combined efforts of everyone who’s ever been involved in the band, and that includes the guys that I’ve never played along with. That would be John Curulewski and John Panozzo and Dennis DeYoung, and the crossover member for me was Glen Burtnik. So, I feel that everyone, those four guys, as well as the six who are still on stage with the band, that’s the combination of the talent that it has taken to get us to this point. I feel more at ease with being a part of that, but always cognizant to the fact that it’s because of that band’s history that we’re able to do the first place.

Toddstar: That’s a beautiful sentiment, because to watch you on stage, you wouldn’t know that you weren’t one of those original guys from back in ‘72. You’re truly up there enjoying yourself, and having one hell of a good time.

Lawrence: Well that’s the best compliment of all. I particularly like when people say I saw the band on the Grand Illusion Tour in ‘76 and I’m seeing you again now and I love it as much as I ever did. That to me is the ultimate compliment. It means there is a continuum and an unbroken thread, so to speak, that speaks well for the band.

Toddstar: That speaks well for you. Let’s not negate you’re contribution Lawrence. Styx is great. I love it and grew up on it, but I mean your contribution has been one of those spark plugs that kept the machine rolling so to speak.

Lawrence: Well, thanks. I’m aware of the fact that in order to extend the life of the band, back when I joined, they needed, they’re smart people. They needed, they knew they needed someone that was able to, not only be musically simpatico with the band, but also get the entertainment aspect of what Styx is able to put on stage. So, I did feel a sense, I had a sense of confidence when I joined the band that they had made the right decision, but I felt, particularly, the first couple of years I felt like, I’ve got to make sure that these guys believe they made the right decision. [laughs] You know, there’s always that kind of period of, you always have something to prove, as long as you’re still above ground in life, you know? So there was a little bit of that in the first couple of years, and now honestly, I go on stage, knowing that I’m going to be as entertained as the audience is because as I look across the stage, I see four or five other front men up there that are able to handle things on their own.

Toddstar: Sure. What’s next Lawrence? Not only for Styx, but for you? It’s been quite a few years since you last put something together from a solo aspect. The band has done a lot with new material. You’re a creative guy, there’s got to be music there.


Lawrence: Every day, something new is created. It’s an odd period in music and the paradigm that we came up with, which was six months of touring and six months of recording, roughly, let’s call that, was broken by the internet. The one thing that can no longer be downloaded is the great live show. So, people have the sensational demand to see the band live and there’s a ton of material there already, a lot of which we don’t even get to on every single night, and so, that’s where the focus went. That’s kind of where the music business kind of drove the band to address that. At the same time when it comes to new material, I actually do kind of feel, I feel the audience is missing a little bit, and we have some  new stuff that we’ll sometimes be sound checking, and probably will be today again, that I feel like, we should play this tonight. You know? We have a whole new record that we’re just constantly chipping away at whenever we get a chance to devote a little bit of time to it, but time is the, that’s the oppressor, when it comes to doing this, because to play over a hundred shows a year, and to spend every waking hour of the remaining days in the studio, it’s just beyond the tolerance level of every remember of the band. That’s really it. You do need time away to kind of, even a little bit of time away to recharge, and to think about what you’re going to do next creatively.  Having said all of that, I have a completely done a new solo record and it’s at the mixing stages that needs to be finished up as soon as possible, and we have a whole new Styx adventure that we’re about to embark on more seriously in 2016, and hopefully that will emerge at some point, you know? I always feel like I’m hedging when I have to answer that question, but reality is we look at the schedule and go, well, we’re not just going to say no to all these shows that we’re offered. Let’s go play them and somewhere along the way, we’ll record these new songs as well. But there’s no hard schedule on that side of things as there once was. Whereas with the mandate of playing the shows, that is a hard schedule to which you have to show up.

Toddstar: You really hit the nail on the head as it’s just not out there anymore for guys like me or you who grew up with it. You held a piece plastic, you flipped it over, and you listened to four or five songs on each side. It’s just not there anymore.

Lawrence: Well, funny enough, I don’t’ know about that. I don’t know because the last, particularly over the course of the last year, I walk into a vinyl record store in pretty much every city we go into to, if it’s within walking distance of the hotel.  It blows my mind how I’m the eldest guy in there. Most of the people in there are under thirty years of age, and there’s been a reissuing of all kinds of vinyl product, and even at Urban Outfitters now, they got vinyl records right up front. So, there’s something beyond the hipster crowd that connecting with people, and I think it is on the horizon of being rediscovered as a form of entertainment that really for no legitimate reason, kind of went away. I think it’s going to be embraced by larger numbers. Now, it will never be like when you and I grew up, I agree with that, but it will have some significance in the future is my, and I’m always really hesitant to predict the future, but I’m really just reporting on what I’ve witnessed so far, which is there is a great interest in, a mounting interest in the album as an art form.

Toddstar: That’s good to know. Listen Lawrence, I know you are a busy man. I know you got to start thinking about a sound check, so got one more for you before we cut you loose.

Lawrence: Sure.

Toddstar: With everything you’ve done, I mean, and again you’ve been at this a long time, I think you started up somewhere around ‘74…

Lawrence: June of ‘76 was my first professional show, yeah.  June 28th, 1976 at the Holiday Inn in Oshawa, Ontario. I always mark that date, but I never made an album until 1982, which was the beginning of my recording career.

Toddstar: So, you’re embarking on just about forty years in the business.


Lawrence: Yeah.

Toddstar: Looking back at those forty years Lawrence, if you could pick one or two things that you either want to be remembered for or that you’re most proud of, what would be those couple things be?

Lawrence: I would say the song and the video for “A Criminal Mind” because in 1985, that really broke through on a number of levels. It was an unusual song, and unusual video at the time, you know it looks very 80’s now. Everything about that record Strange Animal was like the title says; it was a bit of an odd thing that found its way to the center the commercial market, at least in Canada where it was released.  It was great, just the other night, just last night, or two nights ago when we played, there’s somebody, a young person, holding up a of Strange Animal, that album, and I’m thinking, “God, you were not even born ten years after this thing came out.” You know? So, I would say, that was probably still, at the top of that list. The next thing would be just being able to connect with audiences through a number of decades has been, for me, a really rewarding thing. Emotionally rewarding to have connected through music over that length of period of time. It’s something I haven’t lost the slightest percentage of enthusiasm for doing. So, that probably the highest thing, but those are the two main things. Yeah, those are the two main things. The fact that this has been a beautiful marathon and that continues, and will continue tonight and hopefully tomorrow morning when the sun comes up, it will continue again.

Toddstar: Well, I’d like to mention for anybody that doesn’t know, they need to go check out that video for “A Criminal Mind,” because it did wind a Juno.

Lawrence: That’s right, I won an award for that.

Toddstar: Well, again Lawrence, thank you so much for the time. We really appreciate it. We can’t wait to enjoy Styx one more time, when you guys venture this way and play a show at The Colosseum at Caesars Windsor.

Lawrence: Cool. Great talking to you Todd.

Toddstar: Great talking to you Lawrence, and hopefully again soon.

Lawrence: All the best. Yes, for sure. Cheers.






Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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