Lawrence Gowan of Styx
Legendary rockers Styx recently announced plans for their “The Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight” Tour. Concert-goers will get to take in the classic hits along with hearing 1977’s The Grand Illusion and 1978’s Pieces Of Eight performed live in their entirety for the first time ever. The two albums produced some of the perennial Styx hits that we’ve all rocked out to in front of our mirrors, hairbrush in hand like “Come Sail Away”, “Renegade” and “Blue Collar Man” but what’s special about this tour is that by playing both albums live the band gets a chance to play songs live that they’ve never performed before creating a true experience for Styx fans everywhere.
Together since the early seventies, Styx continues to thrive, reinvent themselves and rock generation after generation. Continually impacting pop culture and the music world alike the band has written the book that many tried to follow in their wake.
We recently caught up with vocalist/keyboardist/guitarist/ musician of all trades Lawrence Gowan to talk about the new tour, what fans can expect and his Canadian roots.
Interviewed by: Roger Scales
How much of a challenge is this current tour playing two classic Styx albums in their entirety – The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight?
This is by far the biggest musical challenge we have taken on in the 12 years I have been in the band. Bigger than even my initial inclusion in the band back in 1999. To accurately and faithfully render these two records in order, live on stage in such quick succession with all the vocal duties and the myriad of arrangements that are addressed during each song it’s a difficult task. Then timing all that with a typical over the top Styx production it’s been a great challenge so far. We played our first show last night in Evansville, IN and it came off without a hitch. We had anticipated a warm response but the crowd was more into it than even I had imagined and it was just a beautiful site.
There is also a new 7 song EP Regeneration, Volume 1 (available at the shows on this tour) that was recorded recently and what was that like getting into the studio and performing these Styx classics (along with one brand new track) giving them essentially a fresh new sound?
The band felt it was time to readdress some of these songs because there are new generations of fans that were not even born when the original records came out and there has been some disconnect and confusion when they hear the original records and attend the current shows and they say this doesn’t sound like the band I’ve been coming to see for the past 12 years. There had been some complaints from the fans saying Journey has done it, Foreigner has done it how come you guys haven’t done this? We have played more shows during this period than those two band combined so why not??
Speaking of the newer generation and more specifically video games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero do you think that these help reach a younger audience become more exposed to the Styx musical legacy?
No doubt about it. The cultural references to Styx from “South Park” to “The Simpsons” to “Scrubs” to “Sex In The City” to an Adam Sandler movie “Big Daddy” those endless references lead more credence to why this new cd project was started. In 2009 we rerecorded studio masters for Rock Band and Guitar Hero. It started with “Renegade” and “Blue Collar Man”and“Too Much Time on My Hands”. When you factor in all of that you have a greater amount of curiosity surrounding Styx..which is a good thing for all of us.
You grew up in Canada and had a very successful solo career (including many Juno awards) prior to joining Styx in 1999. Is your approach to working in a band setting any different from that of a solo artist?
Of course. It has to be. In a solo setting I will secure and elicit as many opinions as I possibly can and work with best people I possibly can and I value their opinions highly. However at the end of it it really comes done to a lone man’s decision. In a band setting it’s far more democratic in a way but I will always adhere to Tommy Shaw, James Young, and Chuck Panozzo who have been there a lot longer than I have so they ultimately hold the trump cards in any final decisions made concerning the band. Having said that they are very open minded and do consult all of us when making that decision. My vote is one sixth of what’s going on and that’s fine with me.
As a Canadian you must be a hockey fan?
It’s required by law as a Candian that you must be a thoroughly ensconced and carter member of the ice hockey allegiance..even if you cannot stand hockey!! I happen to love the game and played it growing up and still follow the game today. I grew up in Toronto so I’m a Leafs fan, suffering since 1967 with no Cup!! But watching The Olympics last year was amazing and I watched as much of the Stanley Cup playoffs as my schedule would allow and I never miss the World Junior Tournament in Canada each season. Although I have not seen much so far this season in getting ready for this tour I do know that the Leafs are 4-0 out of the box so maybe I’ll have to start to watch and put the hex on them and have them drop back down to earth
If your born and raised in Canada is there a decree to every male classic rock fan that he must have his first Rush album by the age of 10?
You know I think there is!! I had the same management team as those guys for a little over 14 years. I’ve gotten to know Alex the best. In fact he played guitar on my 4th solo album Lost Brotherhood 1990. I have played some live charity events in the past with Alex and I’m quite familiar with the Rush legacy and their legions of fans.
What was the bigger obstacle for you in joining a mega super group like Styx 12 years ago: the comparison to Dennis DeYoung from the fans and the media or just proving to yourself and the rest of the guys in the band that you had what it took to excel at the job?
I knew I’d be taking on those comparisons the moment I joined the band. I knew that was about to ensue the moment it was announced I would be in the band. For some reason I always felt like I was up to the challenge. The talents that Dennis brought to this band and all of his abilities were a tremendous contribution to the group. When it became clear that the rest of the band had moved on in another direction they wanted whatever talents I was able to contribute to the band. For me I had to live or die by those. It’s very funny when I read comments on the internet they range from you are the greatest thing that has ever happened to this band to your are the worst thing to ever happen to this band, I have to choose which ones I want to listen to. After 12 years, touring around the world four times over, playing over 1200 shows and every single night seeing thousands of people cheering for us to come back out on stage, I feel like well I’m doing ok and that’s good enough for me!
Do you have a favorite Styx song to play live?
I love “Renegade”. Even though Tommy sings the lead vocal on it I enjoy seeing the crowd erupt when we play it because usually by the time we get that song in the set they are already at a state of high ecstasy. Some nights I’m glued to the crowd sometimes I may watch the band but its always high energy and fun. Also “Grand Illusion” and “(Suite) Madame Blue” – those are just tremendous songs to perform live. Currently on this Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight Tour we are performing tunes that were never performed live on stage before such as “Castle Walls”,“Pieces Of Eight” and ‘Queen of Spades” – those are great tracks and I loved doing every one of those last night. They are so well arranged and deserve to be celebrated in a live context by this band. Currently I love doing those tracks especially.
In all the years of touring as a solo artist and in Styx playing a gig at the White House must rank high on your list of accomplishments?
Yes it does. It was so impromptu the way that came together. Not just a career highlight but one of the highlights of my life. That was just a fantastic day. It was made possible through some friends at CNN. It was a private White House tour, sort of behind the scenes of behind the scenes. We were even in the White House kitchen and sampling the family cookie dough.
Do you have any distinct Boston memories in terms of gigs or ties to the New England area at all?
I know I played a show in Boston on one of my solo tours in the mid 90’s and Styx has played all over Massachusetts since I’ve been in the band. I really love the Boston area. If I had my one choice of living in America it would probably be here. (I currently still reside in the Toronto area.) Boston is such a fantastic city. It’s a great walking city. Funny story, about 10 years ago I had developed some tingling in my left arm (a common injury that musicians often suffer from) and my own doctor in Canada told me there is a specialist who treats musicians from around the world for this is and he is located at Harvard in the Boston area and I strongly suggest you go see him which I did. By following his instruction I was able to avoid surgery and continue to play the piano and I have not had flair up of it since.
Have you seen the musical Rock of Ages?
I have not. JY (James Young) was at the debut performance in New York and was knocked out by it and he is not a big musical fan in general. Tommy has seen it and he loved it. I was going to attend the premiere in Toronto but was just so busy getting ready for the tour that I wasn’t able to make it. I do want to catch it when I’m able. This is also yet another example of Styx influence in pop culture I meant to mention earlier on.
What message do you have for your New England fans who will be coming out to see you on Nov 3 at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium and fans seeing you throughout the rest of this tour around the country?
For fans who have seen one or more of our shows in the past and thought it couldn’t get any better I can say with full confidence that it has. This is the type of show that we have been building towards over the past 12 years and if you want to see Styx at their most epic and unapologetic and pompous way then this show is for you. To see these two albums performed the way we were able to pull it off last night I think folks are going to go away from this knowing they got their money’s worth. See ya on the road!
THE GRAND ILLUSION/PIECES OF EIGHT TOUR
Oct. 19, 2010 Chattanooga, TN The Tivoli Theatre
Oct. 21, 2010 Melbourne, FL King Center for Performing Arts
Oct. 22, 2010 Fort Myers, FL Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall
Oct. 23, 2010 Clearwater, FL Ruth Eckerd Hall
Oct. 25, 2010 Salem, VA Salem Civic Center
Oct. 27, 2010 Washington, DC Warner Theatre
Oct. 28, 2010 New York, NY Beacon Theatre
Oct. 29, 2010 Baltimore, MD he Hippodrome T
Oct. 30, 2010 Albany, NY Palace Theatre
Nov. 02, 2010 Bangor, ME Bangor Auditorium
Nov. 03, 2010 Lowell, MA Lowell Memorial Auditorium
Nov. 05, 2010 Erie, PA Warner Theatre
Nov. 06, 2010 Toledo, OH The Stranahan Theater
Nov. 07, 2010 Louisville, KY The Louisville Palace Theatre
Nov. 09, 2010 Memphis, TN The Orpheum Theatre
Nov. 11, 2010 Nashville, TN The Ryman Auditorium
Nov. 12, 2010 Biloxi, MS Hard Rock Live
Nov. 13, 2010 Atlanta, GA Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center
Catch Styx on tour:
More Tour Dates:
Jan. 14, 2011 Wendover, NV Peppermill Concert Hall
Jan. 15, 2011 Reno, NV Silver Legacy Resort and Casino in Reno
Jan. 16, 2011 Las Vegas, NV House of Blues
Jan. 19, 2011 Bakersfield, CA Majestic Fox Theatre
Jan. 20, 2011 Anaheim, CA House of Blues
Jan. 22, 2011 Temecula, CA Pechanga Resort & Casino
Watch Lawrence Gowan’s tribute to John Lennon on his 70th birthday here.