The Keys To Success with singer/keyboardist Lawrence Gowan of STYX

The Keys To Success with singer/keyboardist Lawrence Gowan of STYX

 

Spawned  from a suburban Chicago basement in the early ‘70s, STYX would eventually transform into the virtual arena rock prototype by the late ’70s and early ’80s, due to a fondness for big rockers and soaring power ballads. Stretching across 4 decades, STYX continues to conquer the planet,  one venue at a time, somehow still remaining not only relevant but prominent in today’s music scene. As we head into a new year it is the same old same old for one of the hardest working bands in the business. It came as no surprise that when asked what kept him going STYX singer/keyboardist Lawrence Gowan simply said.. “The fans.”

Let me put it into perspective. How can I call Styx one of the hardest working bands in the business? Well, since Styx formed in 1971, they performed over 1,500 shows in their first 14 years, had 2 superbowl appearances and have had a ton of chart topping tours. Then, let us not forget the fact that from 1972 to 1979 STYX produced 9 albums… 9 albums in 7 years to include 2 of which went triple platinum.

I had an amazing opportunity to chat it up today with Lawrence Gowan who has spent the last 15 years with the band on the keys. I started our talk with a few minutes of light hearted conversation covering the bands hit single “Mr. Roboto” and my epic meltdown as a child before we got down and dirty into the legendary rock bands rise to fame and what the future hold for the band.

Here is our conversation.

Lets go back to the early years, Styx formed in 1971, they performed over 1,500 shows in their first 14 years, had 2 superbowl appearances and have had a ton of chart topping tours. What has been the driving factor behind the band wanting to keep on performing and making great music after all these years and all the success you have had?

There are different motivating factors behind why we want to continue to do this. There is not one answer to kind of sum that up. But if I were pushing to that, it does something to our overall zest for life. It is enhanced by being close to music everyday and playing music in front of audiences. There is something very life affirming, and not to sound too lofty, magical. To me, the greatest form of entertainment I have ever come across in my lifetime was a rock concert.

Recalling past concert experiences such as seeing Genesis, Pink Floyd and Elton John, Gowan went on to say how lucky he was to be a part of “it”.

I can go back through my life and comb through these phenomenal experiences and I can see on the faces of an awful lot of people that they area having a similar experience and I am challenged in the moment to make sure that’s happening. There is something very special about being connected to that. I am connected to that in my own life and I am connected to it on that moment on stage when I look around and see that I am lucky enough to be up there with four exemplary musicians who all get it and that’s really what drives it on.

STYX recently put together a “Making of STYX DVD” featuring “The Grand Illusion/Pieces of 8”.. What was it like for you looking back at the legacy of STYX?

I really began to understand why people respond to that classic rock era, those were extremely well made records. They just sound fantastic and sound extremely well. I really began to get it, the new found love of analog recording and what was happening then. There was something in the process, something in the machine that was very, very right. You get the essence of the emotion behind each song and then be able to place them all in order.

Well, since we are talking about the analog days… The music industry has changed dramatically over the years. What do you see as the one change that affects musicians the most?

The one positive is that, because music has become so easily accessible, people can get it at anytime of day. Perhaps the majority do not download as often as the once did because you have to go through and entire ritual to get it and by the time you get all that you want to actually listen to it.  I think that people have somehow, instinctively found out that the one thing you cant get from the downloading age that we are in is you cant get the live experience unless you physically go there and be in the arena with everyone else and feel what happens. You cant download that. As great as “YouTube” is, I think its the way our younger fans discovered the band, its just a tiny little sip out of this big gulp.

Gowan continued on to praise the digital download, “YouTube” age of music for making classic rock and roll legends such as STYX even more popular with a younger generation.

I’m seeing that half our audience is under 30 years of age. There is so many young people in the crowd singing the words to all the songs. They discovered it but perhaps they wouldn’t have discovered it  if it weren’t for the, what can be preserved as the negative changes to music. Its just that they can access it now and learn the names of these great classic rock bands. You can go on and look up a Led Zeppelin song with the click of your finger but if you wanted to feel the Led Zeppelin experience, well you had to go to the arena… and I think people are willing to make that jump and once it has bitten them, people are coming back again and again.

To me, its astonishing… from 1972 to 1979 STYX produced 9 albums… 9 albums in 7 years. Is there a need for todays musicians to carry such a heavy workload?

From 1972 to 1979 we were in a totally different music world entirely where you only went on tour for the reason of making another record. You would spend more of that year making the next record than you did touring. The reverse is true now, they (The bands) have to spend so much of their time touring because that’s the world we are in now. That’s how you gain your audience now and quite frankly, that’s where the money is.  The recording is just pretty much like a commercial for your live show… Unless you’re like a pop sensation, then you like in a different world entirely.

So, working bands, bands that are looking to gain a following as a career… They have to be out there playing wherever and whenever they possibly can. Its different than it was when the big four labels ran the world.

Looking back at over 40 years of music what or who has been your… Lawrence Gowan’s biggest influence?

I’m going to go back to what we were talking about before… my biggest influence is the effect witnessed that music has on people. There was probably a moment in high school when I thought ‘Am I the only one completely overwhelmed by this new.. whatever.. album that has just come out’. I think, staying connected to that and experiencing it every single day that Im out there or approach the piano… That’s my one biggest influence, what an overwhelming sensation it is to want to make music and have music be the center of your life.

We moved our conversation out of the past and began to focus on the future. Gowan spoke about the possibility of a new record, with new material heading in to 2014. Though he wouldn’t make any definite statements in that regards, he seemed to think that they, STYX, may just have another album in them before all is said and done.

Just last night in Dallas, before our set, we sat backstage and worked on another new piece. We have so much material, we would love to do a new album but we are looking at our touring schedule and there is another 70 shows we have to do. So we keep saying ‘There is another one to put on the assembly line that needs to be addressed’. I know it might seem that the band has this long range plan but honestly we only live our lives in 6 month increments and right know there are just so many shows offered around the world and the band has such a giant canon of material that its really hard to so say.. no, lets not go play all those sessions, instead lets take this 6 months and go make an album. Its difficult for the band to make that decision. It might sound like a lame excuse but there is just so much material and so many shows to play, the band just doesn’t want to pass up those opportunities.

When looking through some of the bands achievements I couldn’t help but to notice a non profit called Rock to the Rescue. I myself, being so heavily involved with charity, had to know more about that and what effects the organization has had on the band members.

We, the band, started that years ago as kind of a knee jerk reaction I suppose after 9/11. I remember being in a van or something and one of the guys saying, lets do a concert for the Harbor Patrol from New Jersey. They lost 37 men in the World Trade Center so lets do a concert for their families. We had a bunch of great acts on the card and raised a bunch of money over a couple years and thought… that’s a good thing. Then we laid it down for a while, the charity but about 3 or 4 years ago we revived it because we play so much, we began to realize we come back to, take Dallas for example, every year for 16 years. Its that giving back philosophy that will eventually permeate your life. You say.. you know, you’ve taken a lot out of this place, why not take advantage of the opportunity since we are here anyways that there is some local charity that’s very deserving and probably should keep some of the money and everyone kind of benefits from it.

He went on to talk about some of the deserving organizations that receive the benefits provided from Rock to the Rescue. To me, we are all to often looking at the big names out there that need help and overlook the smaller, more grass roots organizations that could really use some help. I say, kudos to Lawrence and the rest of STYX.. The modest donations are the ones that really matter.

They may seem very modest things on the surface, you know, there will be a guitar auction that will raise around $5,000 or $6,000 and it will go to either a homeless shelter or animal rescue or whatever it happens to be on that day. Those are the little quiet ones that don’t gather a lot of attention but they are very worthy organizations.

So STYX is coming Aberdeen, WA on Thursday, January 30 at the D+R Theatre and in Airway Heights, WA on Saturday, February 1 at the Northern Quest Casino Theater.. What can we expect from the band? Any new material?

STYX will play a full 2 hour show and well, basically we will play as many of the standard STYX songs that people absolutely have to hear. In addition to that there might be several songs from the Grand Illusions/Pieces of 8 albums because those songs are still so fresh for us to play still. We change the set by 2 or 3 songs every week… People can rest assured they will here “Blue Collar Band”, “Come Sail Away”, “Renegade”

As we began to wind down our chat, I had to ask Lawrence to give a small piece of advice to our incredibly talented pool of local musicians. Who better, I thought, to get advice from other than a man who has been so successful in music, that has spent 15 years with an iconic rock band like STYX. There is so much knowledge and knowhow to be tapped into.. This is what he offered up.. so pay attention..

I am always reluctant to give out advise, I can only give observations. You can say something that puts them right down the wrong path you know. I would say, given the era we are in right now to just do it because your guided by the passion of doing it and not necessarily because you think it is going to lead to some wonderful other life that might exist in the world of music stardom. That will either happen or it wont happen because so much of that comes down to luck. There are people that every bit as talented or more so than we happen to be who don’t receive the accolades because life goes in a different direction for them.

I guess if I had to make one blanket statement it would be to hone your craft with whatever instrument and your great laptop recording but it is more important to get out there in front of people and feel what music does when human beings are in a room together. There may only be 10 people in the room but that is still meaningful.

One final question had to be asked. After 40 years, 4 decades of music.. STYX is superman… what is your Kryptonite?

I would say the time. Time is our kryptonite and on the one hand its been the greatest thing that we’ve been able to stand through a number of era’s and honestly I think… not to sound to boastful it is only time that can stop us. Time relates to reality.. so health issues and things like that.  J.Y. has a great expression that whenever something unfortunate happens some tragedy or something … we’ve had some people with some health issues, some that have even left the planet and those are very sobering moments and as J.Y. says “That’s the real life truth of Rock and Roll” .. That’s our kryptonite.

 

 

Be sure to check out Legendary and multi-Platinum rockers STYX–Tommy Shaw (vocals, guitars), James “JY” Young (vocals, guitars), Lawrence Gowan (vocals, keyboards), Todd Sucherman (drums) and Ricky Phillips (bass), along with the occasional surprise appearance by original bassist Chuck Panozzo— They’re performing in Aberdeen, WA on Thursday, January 30 at the D+R Theatre and in Airway Heights, WA on Saturday, February 1 at the Northern Quest Casino Theater. 

 

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Christian Hamilton

Christian Hamilton

Christian is the founder and Editor of Rock Paper Rock as well as a freelance concert and event photographer serving the Pacific Northwest and Beyond. He is a certified member of the PPA and Gold Level member of the CPS. He has recently began working with Mental Itch Records and has launched his own Photography website.



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