STYX KEYBOARDIST LAWRENCE GOWAN TALKS TO EU

Event: Styx
Date: June 26
Time: 8:00
Tickets: $69.50/$49.50/$39.50
Venue: Florida Theatre

It’s a testament to the staying power of a band when the 17-year member is considered “the new guy.” In the current lineup of the legendary multi-platinum group Styx Tommy Shaw (vocals, guitars), James “JY” Young (vocals, guitars), Todd Sucherman (drums) and Ricky Phillips (bass), along with the occasional surprise appearance by original bassist Chuck Panozzo. Lead vocalist and keyboardist Lawrence Gowan joined the band in 1999, replacing Dennis DeYoung.

Styx is headlining a select number of summer dates including Jacksonville on June 26 at the Florida Theatre in the midst of a tour with Def Leppard and Tesla. “Fans are going to get a longer Styx experience,” says Gowan. The show will include the band’s catalog of  hit songs, classic tracks, and fan favorites, including “Lady,” “Too Much Time On My Hands,” “Rockin’ The Paradise,” “Come Sail Away,” “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man),” “Renegade,” and “Suite Madame Blue.”

In a recent interview from a stop in Ontario, Canada, Gowan expressed gratitude to the band’s longtime fans for sticking around and to the new generation that is younger than the band’s biggest hits. Comfort is part of the beauty of longevity but space still exists for Styx to stretch out creatively. Gowan says the band is always working on new music even if it’s not immediately released, changing up set lists and dusting off some of the more obscure tracks, which aren’t really obscure at all because the album’s have long since been absorbed in their entirety.

“That is a kind of balancing act that we have to strike for our own personal musical journey that’s been going on for decades now with such a devoted following around the world. We have to address both issues,” he says. “We’re also in a different era where it’s really the touring that keeps the band’s lifeblood going because that’s the one thing people can’t download. They have to be in the arena to experience it in that way. Everything else you can kind of digitally pull into your life.”

Finding novel ways to keep it interesting in part of the fabric of what Styx has always been, Gowan says. It’s not that difficult to keep themselves or the audience entertained. The music is challenging to play and the five distinct personalities on stage are always manipulating those subtle changes within a song that may not be obvious to the fans but offer subtle changes to its flavor. For Gowan, his favorite moments are centered around the universal arc of a live performance.

“I love singing “Grand Illusion” because of the lyrical concept of that. It’s usually always early in the night and the great bravado opening kind of embraces the audience and invites them to be part of the whole experience,” Gowan says. “But I think my favorite song is actually “Renegade” which happens at the end of the night. It’s a Tommy Shaw song but from my vantage point as the keyboard player, I’ve seen around the world how audiences in Japan can be different from an audience in Sweden at the beginning of a concert but by the end of the show, they are all pretty much identical. They tend to have  the same emotional response. It’s very endearing to see.”

Gowan considers it a privilege to be part of the soundtrack that ushered the early crop of Styx fans into adulthood. But on any given night, he scans the crowd and sees faces looking back that are under 30. Their vision of Styx contradicts that of the more “mature” fans but they all share a collective experience and a connection through the music.

“It’s funny. The band has been around since the mid-70’s but I’m only in my 17th year which would be an extremely long time for any other band but for this group, I’m the new guy,” he says. “You’ve got this long-established legacy that you’re mandated to uphold. But there are people out there who weren’t even born when some of the biggest Styx albums were made. This lineup of the band and the records that we have made over the last 17 years are what they have related to.”

Styx has experienced its own evolutions throughout their storied career with the contentious departure of former lead singer Dennis DeYoung. Gowan says the band’s decision to press on with a new lineup was a fragile one. The band’s heritage was called into question and the response to his membership was a mixed bag. In his native Canada, there was a blend of confusion and open arms. American audiences were more vocal in their outrage and questioned  how the band could continue in light of such a drastic change.

Prior to joining Styx, Gowan enjoyed modest success with the band Rhinegold and a wildly bouyant solo career performing under the name “Gowan”. He released his first album in 1982 before achieving critical acclaim for his 1985 break through album “Strange Animal”. His first US release was 1990’s “Lost Brotherhood” featuring such players as Red Rider member Ken Greer, guitarist Steve Shelski and Rush’s Alex Lifeson.

During Styx’s 1997 tour, Gowan performed as a supporting act, catching the attention of Tommy Shaw who invited him to join the band for 53 dates. DeYoung’s absence opened the door for Gowan to step in as permanent vocalist. The 2003 Styx album Cyclorama was his first studio recording with the band and his formal presence met with mixed emotions.

“For most people in the US, I was the new entity that entered into this established band and they had to judge me on what they saw and what they heard. But for people in Canada where I had several multi-platinum records and number one songs, it was an odd transition for them to witness. Going from being a solo artist to being a member of this legandary band was unusual. It was a transition that I think people had to witness before they could decide if they could accept it or reject it. But I would say since we’ve been among the highest grossing acts in America for well into our second decade. We’ve kind of established something that’s a combination of our personalities and our past kind of melded into one entity.”

Gowan looked to Genesis minus Peter Gabriel, Van Halen without David Lee Roth and Pink Floyd sans Roger Waters for signs of hope. They all seemed like impossibilities but the sum of the parts always seemed to supercede the loss – or addition – any one individual.

If Styx needed tangible proof of renewed acceptance, the band’s station in pop culture has never been more apparent than in recent years. A particularly memorable episode of “South Park” features Cartman’s obsession with “Come Sail Away” and his inability to hear a partial version of the song without finishing it at break-neck speed.  “We all agree that is the best version of the song,” says Gowan, who readily admits to blasting the CD in his car.

The band also figured prominently in the Adam Sandler film “Big Daddy” when the child he has masqueraded as his son says on the witness stand that the most important thing he’s learned from his father is “Styx is the greatest band in the world and critics are just a bunch of cynical assholes.”

“That’s right around the time I joined the band. Suddenly we were on Scrubs and Sex & the City and South Park and The Simpsons. All these cultural references to Styx began bubbling up and it just so happened that we were out there playing 100 shows a year around the world. And with the rebirth of classic rock, we were definitely getting people’s attention – again,” he says.

“Witnessing that has been the most phenomenal thing since I’ve been in the band; seeing a whole new generation coming to embrace classic rock and we’re definitely one of the bands at the vanguard of that renaissance.”

About Liza Mitchell

One comment

  1. Lawrence isn’t the new guy. Ricky Phillips is. Ricky joined the band in 2003.