See the evolution of Styx at MontBleu
It’s been 13 years since Styx has released an album of new material.
But singer-keyboardist Lawrence Gowan says having songs to record has not been the issue.
“What’s funny is that during any given year, there are all kinds of new pieces that get brought up at sound check to jam on,” Gowan said in a mid-February phone interview. “We constantly have new stuff. It’s just the time to finish it and to produce it and focus some sort of promotion on it, it’s more and more difficult for us because there’s this insatiable demand for the band to play live.
“And we’re happy to meet that demand. And the demand (between) us to make new music, sometimes over the last few years, we get enough of that experience (of enjoying new songs) by just playing amongst ourselves, believe it or not, without having to go through the entire process,” he said.
But Gowan said this looks like the year when Styx may at least get a good start on its first studio album since 2003’s “Cyclorama.”
“I think it is time that we do that,” he said. “It’s going to be good for our life and our continued musical development, to do it just because it’s a worthy exercise. So we’re getting much closer to that this year and there’s time carved out for us to actually be in the studio. So I would say we’ll stop talking about it and actually do it pretty soon.”
For much of the past decade, there has been little incentive for Styx to make new albums.
Downloading and music streaming has meant that albums sell only a fraction of the copies they did back in the heyday of veteran groups like Styx. Radio also hasn’t been receptive to playing new songs from classic rock bands.
Then add in the expense of recording an album, plus the touring income Styx would have to forego in favor of taking time to make a new album, and it’s easy to see why the band hasn't rushed into the studio to make a new album.
But Gowan said he senses there may be increased demand for a new album coming from younger fans that have discovered Styx in recent years and would welcome new music.
“We have such a large audience of people who weren’t around when the biggest records were made,” Gowan said. “That’s a little bit of an incentive right there. They obviously, they want to hear more classic rock. There are only a dozen bands or so from that era that are still standing. So who better to make that than those bands? So that’s really part of the incentive, I think, that is coming into play with us to want to do a new record right there…Whether or not it sells any gigantic numbers, it doesn’t have to. It just has to be done.”
The changing audience for Styx, Gowan said, also helps explain why bands like Styx, Journey and the Moody Blues continue to draw big numbers to concerts, even though most of the songs they perform are staples that have been in their live sets for two or three decades.
Styx’s tour with Def Leppard last summer was one the top-performing tours of 2015.
Gowan noted when joined Styx in 1999 to replace Dennis DeYoung (singer-keyboardist and composer of many of the band’s biggest hits), the band’s audience was mostly made up of fans that had been following Styx since the 1970s.
That’s when the Chicago-based band made its commercial breakthrough with its seventh studio album, 1977’s “The Grand Illusion.” Like that signature album, Styx’s next three studio albums “Pieces of Eight” (1978), “Cornerstone” (1979) and “Paradise Theatre” (1981), also topped 2 million copies sold. The band filled radio with hits like “Come Sail Away,” “The Best of Times,” “Blue Collar Man,” “Babe” and “Too Much Time on My Hands,” making Styx one of the most popular bands of the era.
Today, about half of the typical Styx concert audience is younger than 30 – in other words, not even born when the band was enjoying its peak success. Gowan thinks Styx’s ability to deliver an exciting live show that doesn’t rely on samples, triggers and other pre-recorded tracks may have something to do with its drawing power as a live act.
“That, dare I say, art form of a live rock concert is still to this day the greatest form of entertainment that I have come upon,” Gowan said.
The experience that the members of Styx — Gowan, guitarist/singer and founding member James Young, guitarist/singer Tommy Shaw, drummer Todd Sucherman and bassist Ricky Phillips — bring to the stage is part of the attraction, too. (Original bassist Chuck Panozzo also occasionally performs with the band.)
“As much as I’m a part of it, I look across the stage and I see four other guys, and I go no wonder people are digging it. This is really well done,” Gowan said. “These are not newbies on stage. These are guys who know how to deliver it and know how to embrace the audience during the whole experience.”
Still, one might expect at some point ticket sales for concerts by Styx and other classic rock bands would decline. After all, the bands are playing mostly the same songs year after year as they return time and again to the same cities. At some point, a been-there, seen-that effect might seem inevitable.
But Gowan said he thinks he understands why audience fatigue has not set in for Styx.
“The songs are still relevant,” he said. “They still, they take on a nuance and meaning this year that they may not have had last year.
There are ways that the show elevates from year to year. And it’s not like we sit down with a drafting board and figure out how do we make ‘Come Sail Away’ be more 2016 than it was in 2011. It’s not like that happens. What really takes place is that continuing to tour on this level, when you’re playing 100 shows (or more) a year, there are tiny degrees of, I’d say improvement, but also recalibration that will continually go on.”
The evolution of the live show is one reason why Styx continues to release live DVD/CDs. The most recent such release, “Live at the Orleans Arena Las Vegas,” came out in 2015 and is being re-released this year with interview and behind-the-scenes footage of Styx and its crew that gives viewers a look at what life is like on tour and what it takes to bring the Styx show to the concert stage.
“Live at the Orleans Arena” was the group’s seventh live release in the past 15 years alone, and Gowan sees value in each of the concert albums/DVDs.
“We can see the growth in the show,” Gowan said. “So although many of the same songs are in there and it’s essentially the same players, you can see the span of time. It’s almost like keeping a photo journal, a really in-depth (document) of what we’ve done over the past couple of years and how things have changed.
“If we don’t make some sort of little memento, so to speak, of those years, they’ll just fade into memory and not be documented,” he said.
“That’s why there are so many (live releases). And I imagine there will be more if we’re able to continue to do this.”
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