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| 3 August 2021 | Reply


According to a recent press release: “The legendary rockers–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)– released their 17th album CRASH OF THE CROWN June 18 on the band’s label, Alpha Dog 2T/UMe, which will be sold as clear vinyl, black vinyl, CD, and on digital platforms. Additionally, for Record Store Day on Saturday, June 12, STYX also released THE SAME STARDUST EP on blue 180-gram 12-inch vinyl only, which will feature two brand-new songs on side one (“The Same Stardust” and “Age of Entropia”), as well as five live performances on side two of some of STYX’s classic hits previously heard during their “STYX Fix” livestreams that have been keeping fans company during the pandemic on their official YouTube page, including “Mr. Roboto,” “Man In The Wilderness,” “Miss America,” “Radio Silence,” and “Renegade.” We get keyboardist / vocalist Lawrence to discuss new music, the recording process, and much more…

Photo credit: Todd Jolicoeur – Toddstar Photo

Toddstar: Lawrence, thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule, man. I appreciated it. The first person on 100% Rock that’s been interviewed five times.

Lawrence: Am I not supposed to get a jacket for that or something?

Toddstar: We’ll talk about it when Styx next hits Michigan.

Lawrence: Yeah. Good.

Toddstar: Let’s talk about Styx. There’s so much going on. You guys have come out of this pandemic like wildfire with an amazing album that came out June 18th, little over a month ago, Crash of The Crown. What can you tell us about this album that fans might or might not grab the first time they listen through, Lawrence? What are some of the nuances that you guys draped across the musical landscape of this record?

Lawrence: The first thing to understand is that it was composed as an album. It’s roughly 40 minutes long, like an album traditionally is, arbitrarily, you can say a little under, a little over, but generally it’s a record that should be listened to in its entirety in order to get the full musical experience of it, because it doesn’t dwell on any particular… We’re not championing one hit single over another or something like that, because that makes absolutely no sense at this stage of our… of the music industry, anyway, for a band with this kind of a legacy, because the… But what does make sense is that we try to continue the tradition of an album’s worth of music where you listen to this thing and go on a little musical adventure over a 40 minute period. This particular record, I find, is it surprised me. First of all, when we were first working on it back in 2019, I thought these are… We were really coming up with some really strong songs here. Really strong material. When the pandemic hit, suddenly, in the first two months, let’s say, of the pandemic, we thought, well, once this is behind us, which we thought it would take about six weeks, we’ll get back to work on the record. As we listened to the songs you realized this is really eerie, because it’s like these songs are beginning to describe the situation as it sits right now in people’s lives. They’re very, very relatable, even though they were written prior to the pandemic. Subsequent to that, I received two extra songs that were post-pandemic, “Our Wonderful Lives,” and “To Those,” and we decided let’s finish this record in our remote cities, but we used an app called Audiomovers, where I could be in my studio in Toronto, Tommy Shaw and Will Evankovich, the producer, were in Nashville. Todd’s in Austin. We were able to play in real time and record our parts. When I say in real time, I mean they’re listening on their speakers simultaneous to when we’re listening on our speakers in Toronto. From my vantage point, from my angle of the record, I was able to utilize, make use of all my vintage stuff that normally I can never move out of the studio. There’s a 1926 Steinway and a Hammond B3 organ. My vintage Oberheim synthesizers, and my vintage Mellotron, which is amazing to use that, finally, on a record. We finished the record and felt that the songs cohesively seemed to point at a spirit of renewal, and particularly renewal after a cataclysmic event. The song that seemed to typify that in the most enigmatic way, if I can put it that way, was the “Crash of the Crown,” and “Crash of the Crown” ultimately then became the title track. That’s a long-winded answer to “tell me about this new album.”

Toddstar: No, it’s the things like that that the fans want to know, because sometimes listening through, or even reading liner notes, you’re not going to grab some of these nuances or just know some of the backstories.

Lawrence: No, exactly.

Toddstar: That’s the beauty of it. “Crash of the Crown” is also an interesting piece in that, I believe this is the first time where all three lead vocalists have taken their turn behind the microphone.

Lawrence: That’s the other thing that I was really pleased with, was the fact that it goes JY, Tommy, and then myself, and then with harmonies tossed in the middle section. To do that in a song that’s under four minutes long, and a song that takes very, very adventurous turns, and basically morphs into a new song every minute and a half, I’m really pleased with that piece. It’s got all the adventurousness of, and musical exploration of a prog or a piece of progressive rock, but at the same time, it’s catchy enough and hooky enough and sing-along-able enough to be a Styx song. I was really pleased with how that came out. I’m telling you, by the way that song is going over life, that is the strongest we’ve ever… I can’t remember ever playing a new song and having it equal the response, the audience… Last night, we played in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and I always pop my in-ears out for two or three songs, just to hear how the audience is, and man they loved it. I think part of that is that you’ve got dramatic shifts in tempo and in emotion, so that leads to great staging opportunities that Styx are known for. It seems to hit all those things once, and simultaneously sum up a nice little philosophy, or people that are coming out of their homes, possibly going to the first show that they have in over 16 or 17 months.

Toddstar: You hit it on the head. We’ve all been so hungry for music, and then to be handed something that is quintessential Styx, and I’ll go back to that statement, but like you said, it’s also a left turn for you guys, in that you’re a little experimental-ish while staying within the realm of what Styx always has been.

Lawrence: Yeah. That’s absolutely true, I think it’s right.

Toddstar: I was going to comment that one thing about this album that really struck me, because I’m such a huge fan of The Mission. I could listen to that album day in, day out. Especially to go to a live show where, for a couple of years, “Gone Gone Gone” kicked that thing off, and it was just an energetic kick to the show, energetic kick to the evening. Just you guys setting the bar for the evening, and not letting anyone down. This album, to me, went back to the roots with more of that prog rock feel. Not that you lost the rock groove, but you dialed it back.

Lawrence: Okay, I think that’s possibly true. From my vantage point, again, I’m always pushing as much of the prog side of Styx as I can. This is the beauty of being in the band, is you have different camera angles, from everyone’s point of view, and with Tommy Shaw and with Chuck and JY, they can always keep it within the boundaries of what Styx is in the authentic tradition of the band. It’s up to the newer people, like myself, who’s only been there for 22 years, and Todd Sucherman as well, to offer other insight. We pull on the prog side. I would say, though, that I think that “To Those” is a really rocking track. As is the opening one, “Fight of Our Lives.” It all hangs together in as… Where we started this off, where you’re not… The little musical journey that you’re going on is smooth. You know what I mean? It’s a smooth thing, as I think it is on The Mission as well. Of the time that I’ve been in the band, these last two records, these are the things I’m most proud of, is the fact that we’re… We came up with two albums that you can listen to in their entirety, and I think it’s great that you can listen to The Mission from beginning to end, and it hits on all the ingredients that you want to see included. That’s basically what we’re aiming for, and I think we got really close to everything we wanted to accomplish on these last two albums.

Photo credit: Todd Jolicoeur – Toddstar Photo

Toddstar: Well, and I think you’ve done it on Crash of The Crown. I think it’s an amazing album, top to bottom. What I like about it, and it shows my age a little bit, is that you put… In the days of streaming, you don’t put the needle down, but you push play and you listen through all the way. It’s like you said, there’s that cohesive piece that, even though the songs may not have been recorded in that order, the way you guys tracked them and put that track list together, it’s just a cohesive piece that takes you on a roller coaster ride of emotion that incorporates not only what’s in your own life, but, like you said, reflects on the last 16, 18 months for everybody.

Lawrence: That’s what I think is really great. I can’t get over how the lyrics seem to ease the transition. They didn’t even have to transition, they just seem to fit. I could see myself in the songs, you know what I mean, and that’s part of why I was so anxious for the record to come out, in a way, because I thought, “Yeah, people are going to see themselves in these lyrics. They’re going to be able to relate to the songs, and the mood of the record, right away.” Then I have to give full credence to… Full accolades to the fact that Universal really had a pragmatic plan for the album, and decided let’s simultaneously put it out right when you guys go out and play live. That way it’ll have that sort of impact, like the old way record companies used to operate. That’s what happened, and that’s when we saw it go to number one on Billboard’s rock album chart in less than two weeks. That’s never happened for the band before, that that kind of success arrived so quickly. In this case, I think people heard it and related to it really quickly.

Toddstar: How different were some of these songs, or I should say when you guys were looking back and listening back, as you were adding, like you said, the last two songs, “Our Wonderful Lives” and “To Those,” did you go back and revisit any of the older tracks? You said you’d started this before the pandemic hit. Did you think, “Nope, this doesn’t hit the groove for us,” and did you go back and rerecord anything, or leave anything on the cutting room floor that we might be missing out on?

Lawrence: I redid some lead vocals on some of the tracks. We had very strong vocals, prior to the pandemic, that were usable and some of them didn’t make it all the way through, but some of them… I will say that the intent behind them was a little more underscored by follow-up vocals that we did in our respective studios, after the pandemic had hit. I’d say there was that. Again, most of my keyboard parts, if not all, having all my vintage stuff was amazing. I didn’t think that would happen. I’ve got great keyboards in Nashville. Tommy’s got a beautiful B3, and we use the stuff at Blackbird on The Mission. I’ve got a full set of keyboards there that are excellent and in fine working order, but the stuff that I have in Toronto is unpredictable, but oh my God, when it actually works, you’re right in that era again. That’s something that had to be… Was addressed in the best possible way after the pandemic hit.

Toddstar: You mentioned earlier that… The new guys. You’ve been in there 22 years, so it’s funny to still call you a new guy…

Lawrence: Yeah.

Toddstar: … but how important is it for you to still, within the confines of the band, still be able to put the Lawrence stamp on everything you do, because you get your own sound and feel and groove from your solo material and stuff pre-Styx? Is it important to you to be able to still weave that in when you’re doing your keyboard parts, or your vocals, or when you’re helping construct the songs sonically?

Courtesy : Todd Gallopo and Styx

Lawrence: Yeah. That’s a really good question. Some of the stuff that I write is just right for my solo voice, so to speak, and not just singing, but by just my solo intent, and some of the material… Quite often, on these last two records, particularly, there are some segments that I’ve come up with that make it in. For example, the chorus in “The Greater Good.” That was taken as a whole and dropped into that piece.  There are crossover points between the two. It’s defined by whatever I throw out there and throw on the table. It either falls within the boundaries of what they think fits with the Styx idiom, or it’s something that basically they can just say, “This fits more of a solo thing,” which is probably a nice way of saying it’s not quite what we’re looking for. There are a whole little sections that I can drop into songs that just make it. Take, for example, that middle piano figure that happens in “Crash of The Crown,” that could have been on one of my solo records, but it just seems to fit really seamlessly into the Styx idiom. That’s the best way I can answer that, Todd, is just to say that sometimes the stuff falls within the boundaries of what is Styx, and sometimes it’s just something that is entirely more of something of my solo voice, so to speak. Does that make sense?

Toddstar: Oh, absolutely. What are the couple of songs from this album that you see being keystone moments that’ll hold up and stand alongside some of the Styx classics, that you guys will just keep in the set list forever and ever?

Lawrence: That’s a good one. Over the last two records, so far, I would say that… Let’s jump back to The Mission for a second. I think “Radio Silence” was the first time we’ve seamlessly integrated a new piece of music with the traditional stuff, mainly because I think the song starts off sounding like it’s something that came right out of 1976. Just instrumentation-wise and approach-wise, the start of “Radio Silence” just seems to fit the bill in so many ways. With the new record, it’s still too early to tell, Todd, but “Crash of The Crown,” as I mentioned to you, is… It’s going over as if it was a vintage Styx song. It’s just going over that well. That may be just because it’s part of the exuberance of being back out and playing live. This is the first new thing people have heard. It might be the fact that people want the warm comfort blanket of what… The very familiar, especially after coming out of this long, forced hiatus, and at the same time they want something new and fresh in their lives. They a real desire to bring something new to the… into their existence, and so it might just be riding on a little bit of that emotion as well. The songs that I think instantly fit are… I think “Sound The Alarm” stands alongside “Crystal Ball” as far as quality of song in every way. We have played that a couple of times, live, and it’s pretty amazing to do that piece. That’s a gem. “Reveries” just seems to get people just grooving in the crowd. We’ve played that one. It really is a test of time thing. The other one, I’m going to jump back to The Mission, “Red Storm” always goes over extremely well, because it’s so… It jumps into so many areas that are classic Styx in their scope, while, at the same time, really firing up the engines of what everyone is capable of doing. I particularly point at the end of the song, Todd. There’s a spectacular drum take on that whole thing over top of my little tribute to Keith Emerson, with the synth solo that goes in the end of that song. Those are some of the ones so far. I hope they all stand up to that, but it really comes down to playing them live and seeing how people respond.

Toddstar: Awesome. Well, unfortunately, as I look over the tour list, we don’t see any Michigan dates. We’re hoping we can get you back up to Pine Knob soon.

Lawrence: That’s the place. I would highly imagine that that will happen next spring or summer, because that’s one of our favorite venues on planet Earth. Oh my God, I love going to that place.

Photo credit: Todd Jolicoeur – Toddstar Photo

Toddstar: With everything said and done, you guys having to do the Styx thing, and having to fulfill commitments of rescheduled dates and new dates, and keep the album going, and everything else, any plans? I know a lot of times, once the holidays hit, and you’re in your off-season, you wind up scheduling dates around Ontario for your own set. Are you looking at doing that this year, or are you going to ease back and just do the Styx thing?

Lawrence: If possible, I mean, there’s so much… Schedules change so dramatically, as you know. There was a lineup of Gowan shows that were… Luckily we played a good slew of them, I think eight or nine or something, right before the pandemic hit. That was the last show that I did before the whole thing ground to a halt. I think what we’re looking at, at this point, is I’ll probably do some in early next year. Probably around late February or early March. They’ll squeeze some in there, and likely only in Quebec and Ontario. Then there were dates I was supposed to do a west… Gowan shows out west. It’ll probably wait, make it into the summer of 2022, and then of course Styx has to play Canada again, and I think that’s going to happen again next year. We’ll probably do a really extensive tour of Canada next year. That’s what I’m hoping for, anyway, fingers crossed.

Toddstar: After the last 16 months, busy is good.

Lawrence: Yes, exactly. We knew this was going to be the opposite, the exact opposite of the last year. This is going to be, instead of staying at home, this is going to be, you’ll never be at home.

Toddstar: Right. Well, Lawrence, again, I know you’re busy, so I want to end this on a high note and thank you again for your time. It’s always such a pleasure to speak with you.

Lawrence: Completely my pleasure entirely. Todd, great to talk to you again. Keep that happy heart. [referencing the French translation of my last name that we have discussed in previous interviews].

Toddstar: I will. Thank you my friend, and we will talk to you soon.

Lawrence: All the best. 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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