Lawrence Gowan has been singing for Styx for so long that the younger generation of Styx enthusiasts might not even realize that there was a guy before him. Styx has been going strong, performing over 1oo shows in multiple countries for years. Lawrence sat down once again with Shockwave to talk about how the year has been going, the latest DVD live release, his favorite songs to sing and the first and only time he met original Styx vocalist Dennis DeYoung.
Normally, I would ask how your tour’s going but you’ve been playing consistently for the entire year. So, how’s the year going?
Yeah, exceedingly well. We’re just very fortunate and we’re very appreciative of the fact that we’re drawing great audiences and a sea of a few thousand people with big smiles on their faces at the end of the day. That’s the way we want to go through life for as long as we can. [Laughs] So, yes, it’s gone exceedingly well. That tour we did last summer, us and Def Leppard, wound up doing extremely well as far as ticket sales go and, of course, with thanks to Def Leppard, we were actually one of the top five grossing tours of the year with that tour. So, it’s really astounding and we continue to see, which you and I spoke about the last time, we continue to see younger and younger people comprising a great percentage of the audience. Maybe it’s fifty percent by this point, I’d say on any given night, if last night was any indication and they just seem to be embracing classic rock to such a further degree and we’re still able to deliver the show at the level that we are and so, we don’t really see any point in stopping.
Since you have been the vocalist of the band for such a large amount of time now, how have you seen Styx change from the time you joined to now?
That’s a very good question. What I’ve seen, it’s incremental, if we go show by show or week by week but the culmination of all that effort has really resulted in the show that it is today. When I see, for example, I’m really glad that every few years we make a DVD of our live show and release that and the latest one we just put out was the Orleans Arena show that we did about a year and a half ago, actually, nearly two years ago. When I look at that, when I compare that one to the one we put out in 2000, I can see a vast change. It’s the same songs and the same notes but they’re just delivered in a much more, I guess, authoritative way and there’s a real confidence in the band when we play now because we, kind of, know how the story’s going to end every night. All we have to do is hope that the gear stays functioning, and we have a killer crew with us to make sure that happens, and we just navigate it right to the end, and it’s a very exuberant response we get at the end of the night.
So, how have I seen it change? The mission has remained the same. What we’re trying to accomplish has remained the same but we’re just much more deft at doing it. There’s less question about the identity of the band and the authenticity of what we’re doing and how we’re carrying forward, a band that’s been around into five decades of existence. We’re into our fifth decade of existence right now and it’s just a very joyous enterprise to be part of. Whereas, 18 years ago when I joined, we were hoping it would work. They had gone through a very dramatic member change and they’d had a member die about four years before I joined so there was a lot of hurdles that needed to be lept over at that time, and now the hurdles are different so our approach and attitude is different.
What would you attribute the band’s ability to handle the unfortunate hurdles but stay so strong?
Well, I’ll quote Tommy (Shaw.) He’s been in and out of the band a couple of times but he said, “There’s something in the fabric of this group that just is determined to carry on.” To quote a Styx song [Laughs] or to quote a Kansas song, “To carry on.” There’s just something in the DNA of the people. Now, from my perspective, I see the band today, more and more, I see it quite clearly as the culmination of the efforts of all the people who have ever been involved in this band from the beginning. So, going back to John Curulewski, who preceded Tommy Shaw and obviously I would include John Panozzo, for very obvious reasons, I would include Dennis DeYoung and Glen Burtnik for that matter because he was part of the band at a critical era twice and helped to navigate those waters. As I say, these are all very talented and very intelligent people that found a way for the band to triumph in every era of the band. So, I see what we are in Styx today, again, is the culmination of all those efforts and the cast and the personality of the band today fits the world of today. It fits what’s required for a band of this era and of this quality to continue and to somehow find ways of elevating what we can do on stage and in our musical lives.
I always wanted to ask you — just more out of curiosity and I’m sure there are plenty of Styx fans that have been curious as well — have you ever met Dennis DeYoung and if you have, how did that go?
Only on one occasion, in 1997. The reason I’m in the band and the reason my name came to mind — in 1997 in Montreal, Canada they opened the new Montreal Forum (Molson Centre now Bell Centre) which is a very celebrated institution because it’s the center of hockey [Laughs]. I had headlined the old Montreal Forum in 1985 but in 1997, 12 years later, I was playing the very same night in a theater called the Theatre Saint-Laurent and the same promoter we had, a guy named Donald K. Donald, called me about three weeks before my show because he was promoting both. He said, “Look, instead of doing the Theatre Saint-Laurent, I want you to open the show for Styx at the new Montreal Forum.” I had not opened for anyone in like 14 years at that point but I said, “Yeah know, I really want to see the new building, I want to take a shot at it.” I’d never seen Styx live. I knew all their records but never seen them, so there was a double reason I wanted to do this. Plus, the theater I was playing held about 1500 people and I knew all of those people were going to get their tickets honored at the Montreal Forum so that upped the crowd to about 16,000. So, right after I played, all the members of Styx were side stage, as I remember, except for Dennis. As I came off, Donald K. Donald, the promoter, was there and he said, “Dennis, this is Gowan,” and we shook hands, and it was a quick hello and a smile and that was it. I was entirely unaware of the band’s history and the backstage dramas that go on in the life of every band but I was unaware of it and two years later when they called me I was really surprised. I was on the phone with James Young. I thought they wanted to talk to me about opening other shows for them in the United States and I was really excited about that, and then he said, “We’ve had the ultimate decision here and we’ve decided we’re going on without Dennis DeYoung and we’d like to know if you would join the band?” and that’s how I came into the fold.
Was there any hesitance on your part about joining such an iconic band?
I had no hesitation but I did have one concern. I didn’t say “Yes” immediately. [Laughs] The first thing I said was, “Let me go dig out my Grand Illusion album and make sure I can hit the notes. Make sure I’m in the right vocal range.” About an hour later, I got a call from Tommy. I said that I had spent the last hour listening to The Grand Illusion, singing along and I can do the parts. But, he then said something really interesting. He said, “We want you to do the parts but we really want you to just do them the way you would do them. Don’t feel that you have to do any sort of impression or anything like that, just basically sing them.” J.Y. was on the phone as well and he said we should just get in a room together as soon as we can and see how our voices blend. Because, the biggest thing to check out was, all those Styx signature harmonies that happened in the choruses, how was the vocal blend going to be. So, when I went, about two days later, I was in the studio with them and basically, right from the beginning, our voices just had a strong blend and that’s what we were looking for.
We had touched on this the last time we got to talk and I think it’s cool to touch on it again for any new fans or people that didn’t get a chance to read that last one. But, you and I had a cool conversation about it being very similar to what we agreed on was when Paul Rodgers (Bad Company) was in Queen.
Yeah, yeah! I recall that conversation now. Obviously, he sounds like Paul Rodgers, long established Paul Rodgers and he sang the songs like Paul Rodgers and for myself, I had a 14 year solo career although it was really only in Canada, but I had enough multi-platinum records and chart success and had played all the big buildings so I had long, forged my own identity and I basically, merged that into the Styx identity and joined that team, at that point. Yeah, very similar in the approach Paul Rodgers would have had singing Queen songs.
Turning our attention but sticking with the whole live theme. You mentioned the new Styx release Live at the Orleans Arena: Las Vegas. What are your favorite songs to perform live?
That’s a moving target honestly, Jay. It changes almost week to week.
It’s funny, the simple answer is that every night we play “Renegade” no matter where we play it, around the world, it’s amazing. I see the trajectory of the audience every night transform from like a Japanese audience, or a German audience, or an American audience, or a British audience how the are in the beginning, it’s very distinct and very unique to their part of the world but by the end of the night, by the time we get to “Renegade” I’m shocked how beautifully — and I have a moment of realization that people are so alike and we’re so similar and it’s a testament to what a great force music is. It’s amazing to me just how similar audiences are by the end of the evening. Also, because Tommy sings “Renegade,” I’m able to really take that moment to drink in that little observation.
For myself, I don’t tire of singing, for example, “The Grand Illusion” is a great song to sing. I haven’t tired of singing any of them. I think they’re great melodies and really good lyrics and, obviously, I love when we get a chance to do “A Criminal Mind” (Gowan solo song from Strange Animal.) [Laughs] I particularly like singing that one so like I said it’s a moving target. In recent months, I particularly like singing “Pieces Of Eight” and when we get a chance to put that in the show, it’s usually on the longer nights, I really enjoy that one a lot.
Does the current Styx tour continue through the year and into next year? Do you have any time off for the holidays?
We do. We stop, I think, after the first week in December and we’re off from there for like the next three weeks until New Years Eve. Also, we have a bit of a break at the end of November of this year. Here’s the thing, these breaks are coming up and everyone’s fine with that but there’s such an insatiable demand to see Styx around the world that there really aren’t enough days in the year for us to do all the gigs we can so really try to keep it to, I think this year is 112, I think last year was 116, and to hold it around that number and knowing that if we can get through all that and all the little breaks along the way, they culminate in being able to balance our lives. We’ve become very adept at doing that.
Is it common for the band members, yourself, J.Y., Tommy and everybody to have family come along on the road considering that you guys are so active?
Yeah, it was more common about ten years ago. It’s become less common now because we’re a very streamlined and road efficient group and usually family come out to the more exotic places or places they haven’t been in a while. For example, on the 18th of October in Washington, it’s possible that some of our family members might come out to that because it’s Washington D.C. and there’s always something interesting going on there. [Laughs] So, it’s like that. They, more or less, pick and choose now where ten years ago I used to get a tour bus for two or three weeks of our own and have the family out with me at that time. We’ve managed to balance our lives and still stay very connected to our families and to our band which is really an extended family.
With all the time you spend on the road, have you thought about or do you have plans for new Styx music?
We always have plans for new Styx music and there’s always new Styx music going on in the background. People would be surprised just how developed some of that is but we just have to find the right time. The right time has to present itself so we can go, “OK, lets put this out now.” Because we have, over the course of the last number of years, put out the odd single here and there, every few years. But we really keep working away on new stuff. There’s nothing imminent coming but I think it’s going to come up on us fast. I think what’s going to happen is we have enough material that the time might just present itself sooner then later so, we shall see. That’s the most I can say about that though, Jay.
You are now close to 20 years with Styx and I think there’s value in asking what Styx means to you, being that you’re not the original guy but you’re such a huge part of the history. So what does Styx mean to you?
Well, it’s meant that I’ve been able to spend such an extended portion of my life doing what I love to do and they’ve facilitated that for me. I love classic rock. I love rock that’s got great, larger than life views and impact on people. It was always a frustration in my solo career that it never extended beyond playing in Canada and that’s just because of the way the contract was set up. It was Columbia (Records) and all the music industry nonsense that, kind of, got in the way. When Styx was presented and when I met the guys and saw just how alike we were in our passion for wanting to do this, I felt like these were people I wanted to be with because they really value what they do to the degree that I value what I do. To be with people like that for such a big part of every single year for, as you said, close to 20 years, it’s great to be around people that love what they do. It really is tremendously galvanizing in a way. It makes the whole experience that much more meaningful. So, Styx for me has meant being able to play with people who are as passionate and as driven to do this as much as possible, and that’s something I have appreciated very much. The second side of that is just to see how happy this band is able to make people just by putting together these notes and playing these shows and the good vibes that the band is able to generate. It’s wonderful to be close to that.
Thank you so much for taking some time to sit down with me again.
Oh, a pleasure.
Styx’s tour continues through the beginning of December before taking three weeks off and starting up again on New Years Eve.