An Interview With Styx: Crossing Over

MACON, GA - OCTOBER 04: Rock Group STYX L/R: Chuck Panozzo, Ricky Phillips, Todd Sucherman, Tommy Shaw, James "J.Y." Young and Lawrence Gowan. Portrait shoot at Macon City Auditorium on October 4, 2014 in Macon, Georgia. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for STYX)
MACON, GA – OCTOBER 04: Rock Group STYX L/R: Chuck Panozzo, Ricky Phillips, Todd Sucherman, Tommy Shaw, James “J.Y.” Young and Lawrence Gowan. Portrait shoot at Macon City Auditorium on October 4, 2014 in Macon, Georgia. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for STYX)

2016 is shedding light on classic rock bands—just look at Styx. After a wicked touring season in 2015, these rockers have sail for yet another round of performances. So, instead of being called across Greek mythology’s River Styx by the “rock gods,” they’ve been summoned to continue gracing the States with their solid harmonies.

Before diving into their first show back in February, I was lucky to speak with Lawrence Gowan (vocals/piano) about the winter tour. However, due to certain circumstances, Styx, Tesla, and Def Leppard had to rearrange the scheduled dates for the Tri-State Area. So, after months of waiting, Styx are heading our way to make up for lost time.

You guys are just getting started on the tour; how’s it been going?

This tour—well, it went so well in 2015 that it was decided by the rock gods and management and booking people that we would extend this tour into 2016. It was such a success last year and it was in the top five by our promoters. But yeah, we love touring with Def Leppard and we found out what touring with Tesla is like, so it was a great triple bill, really. And the audiences get their fill of classic rock and over four hours, the concert unfolds…

As the vocalist, what do you usually do to prep for a show?

One of the hazards of being in a different city every day is that you’re meeting new people who can give you wonderful little medical challenges. So I generally try to… Before the show, we do a good, thorough warm up because the signature Styx sound is our three part harmony. So we’ll run a good number of those choruses in three or four part harmony just to see how much gas everyone’s got in our tank. Or electricity if we’re a hybrid that day. So what we do, Samantha, every day, we have more or less of a voice kicking in. And because it’s rock music, it’s more about how emotionally connected to the notes you are than the physical nature of your voice that day. And it helps because our three- or four-part harmony in this band, so it’s not like how Joe [Elliot] in Def Leppard is the central sound of that band.

True. So, if a member of Styx is sick and can’t sing, can another member jump in and take on that particular part?

 We try to do that. That’s very good. We try to do that. There have been a couple of complications over the years and one of us will have nothing—like two notes—and we would never cancel a show. So the others can step up and cover the parts. And it’s just as amazing how appreciative the audience are that they weren’t sent home. And we have something either equal to, or we’ll actually surpass our usual sound because that’s part of a great rock show anyway. You’re kind of making it up on the spot in a lot of ways and you’re doing songs that everyone’s familiar with anyway. So we keep that in mind.

And that shows that you guys are truly giving live shows, instead of something that was prerecorded.

100%. Yeah. We’re 100%. I remember five years ago I went to see The Who and Roger Daltrey had a really rough voice that night and after the first song, he said, “Listen. You guys can hear my voice is shot, but we’re doing the concert anyway.” I loved it! I mean, I love Daltrey’s voice anyway, but he threw himself into it completely and it made the show excellent! And I think it’s a big challenge to get up on stage when you’re not feeling 100% and I hope we don’t have to do that too often. But I’m amazed how well things can go either way.

What’s a typical day on tour like for you guys?

There’s no day that’s the same. But you can expect to leave the hotel at around 4:00 and set out for the venue. But every city provides opportunities and different things that are available throughout the day. And when we convene in the bus, that’s usually when the stories of the day get shared. See who went to an event, who walked around, what happened when they were accosted (laughs).

So, there are no two days that are really all that similar except for what goes on from 4:00 and on when we get to soundcheck and call our focus on what’s gonna happen that night. That also deals with what we’re gonna play that night, like what’ll be on the setlist, what we’re expecting… Those are some of the variables. But as long as it ends with 1,000 people, it’s been a good day.

So you guys do have time to walk around? I know many bands don’t usually.

I’m the guy who does that a lot. I like experiencing different cities and the last time we were in New York, I tried to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I tried to do that because it’s such an experience. It’s a little different every time and you learn and feel something different about the city each time. It’s just an interesting thing to do. It’s a great thing for people to do if you’re in New York. So, I plan to do that. You never know who you’re gonna run into and kind of mayhem will ensue.

Right? Are you able to write while touring?

Yes! That’s something we’ve learned over the years and often, we’ll kick those ideas over to the soundcheck and then it’s like, “Okay, here’s another one!” And things have changed a lot with technology. I always have a little keyboard in my room and the laptop has changed our world because we have access to all of these different instruments while on the road. But that’s the only place we bring the computer out to make music. Otherwise, it’s back to the old machines we know and love.

Okay, when you’re not on the road, what’s the writing process like?

Well, being the piano player, I usually sit down at my big piano and play for a couple of hours. Coming up with new ideas and trying out various things… Lately, I’ve been putting together a little David Bowie tribute. I guess a lot of musicians have been doing that, too. But that’s where I spend my day off.

Can we expect a new album soon?

Well, we’ve been working on some stuff for one over the past few months and I guess in March [2016—interview was conducted this past February], we’ll get back into really focusing on that. We just have to focus on what that record will be. So, in the future, you can expect a new album. When, I cannot ever say. We play over 100 shows a year, so it’s hard to coordinate with the shows and recording time. But, having said that, there will be. I just can’t say when.


Catch Styx at the NJPAC in Newark, NJ on Sept. 22, the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg, PA on Sept. 24, and the NYCB Theatre at Westbury in Westbury, NY on Oct. 23. For more information on these rockers, visit their site: