Styx with (from left to right) Chuck Panozzo, Ricky Phillips, Todd Sucherman, Tommy Shaw, James “J.Y.” Young, and Lawrence Gowan at Macon City Auditorium on Oct. 4, 2014, in Macon, Ga. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for STYX)
Q&A with Lawrence Gowan of Styx
Lawrence Gowan has taken on vocal duties for the inimitable progressive rock band Styx for the past 17 years after replacing Dennis DeYoung. In that time, Lawrence has made an impression on audiences worldwide and left his own indelible mark on Styx. Styx returns to the DC metropolitan area for a show on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, at the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda, Md., in a Concert to Benefit Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children. Prior to that show, Parklife DC chats with Lawrence about the music that moves him, performing with Styx, and future plans for the band.
Mickey McCarter: Hey, Lawrence, it’s great to talk to you! You’ve been busy lately. You just got off the BIG Tour with Def Leppard, and now you’re launching into your own tour.
Lawrence Gowan: Yes, we did our first show recently without Def Leppard after four months in Springfield, Mo. We had the big summer blockbuster tour where we could only play a little over an hour a night, so it’s great to get back to a two-hour set. And we’ll be playing in the DC area on Nov. 10 in Bethesda, Md.
MM: So what can people expect? You were here in Virginia on July 2 at Jiffy Lube Live with a shorter set. How are the upcoming shows different?
LG: This is an Evening with Styx. It’s not the fine blend of coffee that people got over the summer. This is the full-on espresso! Maybe a triple-shot!
We’re able to go a lot deeper. It’s more akin to the DVD we put out a couple of years ago — an Evening with Styx. We are playing the entire Grand Illusion and the entire Pieces of Eight. It’s closer to that sort of evening, where we delve a lot deeper into various album tracks, and the show has a wide-ranging emotional arc to it than the onslaught of four hours of classic rock that people saw over the summer with Tesla, Styx, and Def Leppard.
Watch Lawrence perform with Styx for “Fooling Yourself” from “The Grand Illusion + Pieces Of Eight – Live,” courtesy of Eagle Rock, on YouTube (although he’s not on lead vocals, he plays his famous rotating keyboard!):
MM: Your local DC show will be a benefit — A Concert to Benefit Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children. How did that come about? Do you have a relationship with that nonprofit?
LG: I’m not sure how that one came about! We have a charitable organization called Rock to the Rescue. In most cities that we play, we will auction off various pieces of memorabilia, and the money will go to a local charity — that can range from anything like a homeless shelter to an animal sanctuary. So raising money for autistic adults and children will be a nice side benefit to us playing there in Montgomery County. While I’m not exactly sure how it came up, I’m glad that it did!
MM: Excellent! Say, I wanted to ask you a few questions about your experiences performing with Styx. I read some previous interviews with you in prep for talking to you. And I was struck that you’re a very generous performer, and you always have praise for your audience. And because of your audience rapport, you always say that “Renegade” is your favorite song to perform. You truly enjoy the reaction of the audience to that song.
But I would like to flip that around a little bit! When you are feeling introspective, what Styx songs move you when you perform them?
LG: That’s a very well-phrased question! That’s a moving target honestly, as to what song. Depending on what has transpired in the preceding 24 hours leading up to any particular show, one song or another can certainly mean a lot more to you.
So last night, we played a piece of music called “Pieces of Eight,” and I get a chance in this show anyway to precede that with a piano piece of my own [solo work] that leads into it. And that particularly connected well with me. “Pieces of Eight” is a great number that existed with the band before I came along 17 years ago. It’s a song that crosses decades. There’s a gentle reminder in that song that over-fixation on consumerism can lead you to a bad place.
That struck me last night. There was something about being in that city and the atmosphere, and being able to precede it with a solo piano piece. That one connected with me most last night.
And I would say that another one where I never tire of connecting to the lyrics would be “Grand Illusion.” There is so much of that tying to being in the entertainment world particularly — where you see both sides of the mirror every single day. There’s something about that song that I find very poignant and meaningful to everyone.
MM: In previous interviews, you also alluded to the fact that Styx might be writing new material! Is there anything in the works?
LG: Sure! We always have been coming up with new things over the years. We have a wonderful pathway that we have to figure out to navigate. There’s this insatiable demand for the band to play live. And as you mentioned, we’ll be coming to your area twice in one year! But that’s the nature of it. So much of the music industry has shifted toward live entertainment that it’s hard for us to find the months that it’s going to take to finish a new record.
Having said that, we already have taken steps down that road. Even the intro music that we play on the tour this year is something that we recorded this year for our new record. It’s our first foray into releasing some of the new stuff that we’ve been working on for years. And it will come to fruition — when we get a chance to finish it! That’s really it.
Watch Styx perform “Can’t Find My Way Home” with lead vocals by Tommy Shaw in its official video from their last studio album, Big Bang Theory, in 2005:
MM: Understood! I love that observation that you just made, which echoes an observation I’ve made with several other musicians in interviews lately: Touring really seems to be where it’s at these days — for everyone! So many good tours are going gangbusters, including Styx.
LG: Yeah! This is it. It’s the mandate of every band — no matter if they are in their first week or their fifth decade of existence — to come up with new ideas and novel new approaches to define the band.
However, there is also the reality with Styx that there is such a canon of material — an embarrassment of riches — when it comes to choice of things to play live. For many bands, it’s a grind to get to that status. And it was a grind for Styx, I’m sure, long before I was in the band, to work to the point where they have this much material. With me, Styx has only done two studio records, and we are soon hoping to do a third, but we hardly get a chance to play the stuff from those two records because there’s just so much material.
It’s also the reality of this band that it’s so well-known worldwide that the opportunity to go and play in front of all of these audiences and have that kind of experience is very much in demand at this stage in the band’s existence. That’s not something we are willing to turn our backs on in order to pursue another project.
It’s the only form of entertainment today that cannot be downloaded. You can watch all of the YouTube clips that you like, but there’s nothing like being in the theater or the arena or wherever it happens to be and enjoying a great rock show. And that’s what Styx has spent all of these years working up to, and we try to raise the bar every year to improve the experience of going to see our show.
Watch Lawrence and Styx in highlights from “The Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight – Live” on DVD & Blu-Ray on YouTube:
MM: Hey one last question. I love cities, and I’ve never been to Toronto, where you hail from! Toronto seems to be a city with a great musical identity, even if you only consider some of the great indie rock coming out of it these days like some of my personal favorites — Metric and Dragonette and the like. If I ever get to go, what do you recommend I see?
LG: Toronto has always had a very vibrant musical landscape! When I was starting out in the ’70s, there was an endless series of clubs that all had rock bands playing in them every single night. I could make a pretty decent living just by playing from one club to the next from 1976 to 1981.
That doesn’t exist to the same degree today, but there are still fantastic concert venues all over the city. You can find whatever kind of music you’re looking for. My son plays in a great metal band, so I’ve been to some good shows in the past few years at a place called Sound Academy. There’s a large concert club called The Phoenix, which has existed since the new wave era. It offers all kinds of different artists if you’re looking for the cutting edge of the day.
You would have a great experience!
I’m there for such a limited period of time every year, so I only get to do a couple of quick little things. But every time I’m there these days, I’m knocked out by what I see!
MM: Well, before you go — your son’s band? Can you tell me about your son’s band?
LG: They are a band called Vesperia. They recently played at the Wacken Metal Battle in Germany. Out of 28 countries, they won the international metal battle! They are really fantastic. They are touring a little bit in November. [Vesperia don’t have a DC show in the near future, but they play at St. Vitus Bar in New York City on Nov. 14, and then Millcreek in Philadelphia on Nov. 15! Lawrence’s son Dylan plays drums.] They are really cool. Are you into metal?
MM: I like all sorts of things, so I would be quite curious to check them out!
LG: Me too! I’ve been listening lately to Royal Blood and to Hoagy Carmichael. So that’s a pretty wide spread right there.
MM: I got a chance to review Royal Blood for my blog! What a great live show. They make a big noise for just being two guys! You’ve got to see them if you haven’t.
LG: I know! I’m looking forward to it. I enjoy that band a lot.
Styx and Lawrence Gowan return to DC metro in a show at the Music Center at Strathmore on Nov. 10, 2015. Tickets are available online!
Music Center at Strathmore
Tuesday, Nov. 10