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. Lawrence Gowan (lead and backing vocalist/keyboardist), Tommy Shaw, James “JY” Young, Todd Sucherman and Ricky Phillips (along with the occasional surprise appearance by original bassist Chuck Panozzo), have performed more live since 1999 than in all of the previous years combined. With two Super-Bowl appearances and Pollstar Box Office chart-topping tours with Def Leppard, Journey, Boston, REO Speedwagon and Bad Company, to name only a few, Styx continues to conquer the planet, one venue at a time. Now, they’re back with their first album in 14 years “The Mission“, have a listen to “Gone Gone Gone” embedded below.
Lawrence Gowan: We moved from Glasgow, Scotland [when I was around one] to the suburb of Toronto, Scarborough. I love it there, because I really grew up there. That’s where I went to school and where I have all my memories. I love the area. There’s one particular feature in Scarborough that I stay very close to, known as the Scarborough Bluffs. It’s one of the most beautiful natural phenomena that exists. They are these cliffs on Lake Ontario. I always encourage people to see it. I live close to there.
If people are in Toronto, there’s plenty of stuff to see. There’s probably more now than I’m even aware of, because I’m on the road so much. One of my favorite neighborhoods is called The Beaches, and I also have a place there. Really anything that’s on the lakefront is what I’m particularly drawn to. I should also mention there’s an island in Toronto called Centre Island, a short ferry ride off the coast of downtown. You get a wonderful vantage point of the city. In Southern Ontario, I would say Niagara Falls is a pretty popular destination. Those are some of my favorite spots, all by the water though.
SR: That all sounds beautiful. To bring it back a bit, I wanted to touch on how you first got exposed to music. What was your first, real introduction? How did you get inspired to pursue it as a career?
LG: My first introduction, like a lot of people my age, I was born in 1956, was when I was seven years old. I saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Like so many musicians of my era, that was the moment that I thought there was maybe a possibility to one day be a Beatle. Then I got older and I realized I couldn’t be that. I was going to have to find my own way. Obviously, in tandem with the fact that I’m Canadian, I also had the notion that I was going to be a professional hockey player. That was until I got to the age when I was playing against guys that really wanted to be professional hockey players!
SR: That’s funny! Now, you just released your first album in 14 years “The Mission” in June. Talk about that release and the thought process behind it.
LG: First of all, we’re thrilled with the release, because it puts us back in the top 10 on Billboard again after a number of years. That’s what we entered onto the charts, so we were thrilled with that. We’re thrilled with the reaction to the new songs we’re getting on our current tour. We’re seeing so many people with their “The Mission” shirts. It’s all very gratifying, but since you’re a travel website, the great thing about the album is it’s about the ultimate travel, which is of course leaving planet earth.
The reason that we got so enamored with that theme, is because over the course if the last few years we’ve been invited by NASA a few times to witness the arrival of a space crafts. One is known as New Horizons, which arrived at Pluto after a nine-year mission. We were in NASA with all the scientists when everyone first saw the greatest photos of Pluto that earth has ever seen come from that craft. They’ve been in National Geographic since, but we saw them streaming live on the computer screens. They also discovered a fifth moon on this mission and they decided to name it Styx, so we feel very connected with the ultimate travel plan. We’re now a destination, not just a rock band!
SR: Wow! That is absolutely incredible. How crazy was it to see those images coming in real-time? I saw those images and they are just stunning.
LG: Insane! What’s really wonderful about it is that when we saw it everyone was jumping up-and-down like they had just won the Super Bowl. Can you imagine? It was after nine years, and we were there July 5th, 2015, the day it all happened. The spacecraft, as they described it, was about the size of a baby grand piano, so I was happy to hear that. It’s so much more impressive than if it was the size of a guitar!
What really came home to us in that moment was as wonderful of an accomplishment that it was, the humanity behind it propelling this thing, seeing their elation, was something that we really loved to see. As a band, we feel that emotion quite regularly. Being in that close of a proximity to that was really inspiring. It was a key element to coming up with this record.
SR: It always blows my mind how much work, knowledge and time is spent to achieve those NASA missions. It’s really crazy to hear all that. On a broader level, how does music and travel really fit together and coincide in your life?
LG: It was an astounding experience, and it translated into music and this album. Music and travel are just inseparable; they really are. Music really is the highest form of language. It’s a language that we all respond to on a higher plain, so to speak. To see people enjoying music live, to witness how enthralled they are and what happens to their body’s spirit, is something you have to just experience. You can’t get that from the computer. You have to experience that as a real human interaction.
No matter where we are in the world, it’s always interesting to me to see how different an audiences demeanor is at the start of a show, and how alike they are by the end of it. I get to witness this almost on a daily basis. To me, it brings out the best in the human spirit. You have to travel to these places to witness that.
SR: Absolutely! Kind of piggybacking on that, one of our objectives at SCP is to bring people together while traveling. I think that the two of them have an immense amount of parallels between them. It really is an international language where you don’t understand the person next to you to enjoy a show with them. I think that is really special and empowering.
LG: You’ve got it! The first time I ever got to witness it was with Styx in 2000 when I saw that some American fans had traveled to Japan to see us. There was maybe 10-12 of them in an audience of thousands. Obviously, there was a language barrier, but to see them suddenly devoted to what was happening in that concert, embracing everyone around them, was a phenomenal thing.
SR: It’s crazy and wonderful you have that perspective on a nightly bases. Switching to your personal travels. I know you said that you like to be by the water, but when you do have some downtime and are looking to get away are you more of a beach guy, do you like to be in the mountains or are you in a city somewhere?
LG: It is crazy. It’s something we’re addicted to in the best, possible way. As much as I love a nice walk in the woods, I’m really beyond the adventure-vacation phase of my life. I do that most of the year anyway with the band — complete adventure, believe me. My favorite destination is still going back to the [United Kingdom]. I feel a sense of connection being born there, but I also love all the music, comedy and people that have come from there. I love how they approach life. I feel really connected to that piece of the planet and I love going there.
SR: I always love to ask well-traveled people if they a list of places they haven’t been to and still want to see. What are three destinations on your list?
LG: Yeah! I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been to so many places. I have yet to go to China, so I’m interested in that. Australia is another one. I actually have relatives there. I have a big curiosity about that country. The third one is really tough, because I haven’t been to India, but I hear so many great things about South America and Buenos Aires, Argentina. I’m very curious about that, as well.
SR: Lastly, to wrap this up, I know you’re a little less than halfway through your “United We Rock” tour. What are you looking forward to in the next couple weeks through the rest of the tour?
LG: We’re playing in Nashville [tonight], and that’s where we made the new album, so I’m looking forward to going there and playing for that audience. That’s really the epicenter of where this record germinated and came together. I’m always knocked out with playing anywhere around the New York area. We’re doing Jones Beach and the PNC Back Arts Center in August, so looking forward to that. I’m always enamored with that area.
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