Lawrence Gowan of iconic rock band STYX talks embracing each day of current tour
My conversation with Lawrence Gowan, lead singer of iconic rock band STYX, began in the most interesting way: with a compliment from him on the title of our newspaper, The Tartan which led to a brief conversation about the pattern, tartan, and its connection to his Scottish roots. Gowan is currently having the time of his life touring the U.S. with STYX, alongside other legendary rock acts Joan Jett & The Blackhearts and Tesla. On July 14, their tour will be heading to Pittsburgh at the Keybank Pavilion, and Gowan was happy to share some of his experiences and hopes for the tour.
M: How’s your experience touring with Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Tesla, and your other band members?
LG: I would recommend it to anyone. If that opportunity ever comes your way I would highly recommend it. Whatever you’re doing in life, I would consider dropping that and getting on board with something like this. That’s how much fun I have doing it.
M: What’s your favorite song and/or songs to perform?
LG: ["Renegade"] is one of the songs Tommy Shaw sings lead on and it’s always towards the end of the night. I had great experiences with that song with just observing where the audience is at emotionally; they’re so effusive in their emotive state, no matter where we play around the world. I’ve seen audiences that start out a show very differently in Japan or Sweden or England or America and yet they’re all so alike by the time we get to the end of the night and that’s usually [with] “Renegade”. So that always kind of holds its attraction to me as the most fun song for me to play because I really get to enjoy [the song] from an audience perspective as much as a band perspective at that point... It’s just one of these marvelous things that I’ve witnessed in life, where it really speaks to the universal language of what music can do to people and how alike we are in our response to it when it meets our expectations or when it goes well beyond them.
M: Wow, that’s amazing! And that also says a lot about STYX and how the band’s music can really move people across the world.
LG: It really does speak to that, and why wouldn’t it? You know, classic rock or rock music is a gigantic musical statement of the last half of the twentieth century, and that’s indisputable. It really had a profound impact on such a large part of the planet, you might even say the entire planet, to where these songs are not just the soundtracks to [people’s] lives, but they are like a vibrational call to their very existence. I mean, that sounds way overstated, but I witness it all the time so I can’t deny its existence. People really do have this deep and abiding love for this type of music. It’s gone well beyond being a fad, it’s much more a part of the fabric of their lives.
M: I heard you’ll be performing the band’s hit "Mr. Roboto" when you come to Pittsburgh. What are you most looking forward to in that performance?
LG: Well we’ve been playing it for a few weeks, so I look forward to playing it every night. I really enjoy doing the song and I love watching the audience’s reaction to it. It’s really a song that’s lasted and it’s well into its fourth decade of existence. Some people make some smiles and it pushes a button in people that I enjoy pushing.
M: Could you explain the evolution of the band’s music over the years?
LG: One of the things I love about STYX music is that it always had a bit of a classical underpinning to its structure and the way it’s approached. I’m in my twentieth year in the band right now. I studied classical music growing up, and I actually got a degree in classical piano but with the intention of bringing it back to rock. But it’s that aspect of it, and the lofty pathos that goes into a lot of classical music, that is in a lot of STYX music. That’s something that’s been an ongoing and developing thematic part of the band.
Gowan then begins to talk about the unique combination of pop, rock, and classical music genres often found in STYX music, and how it’s used in their most recent and highly acclaimed album, The Mission.
LG: It goes from pretty straight-ahead rock with, let’s say “Gone Gone Gone,” and then it runs across an arch of a wide emotional spectrum, and then concludes, well not quite concludes, but towards the end it comes to a very classical piece with “Khedive.” And, you know, those two pieces couldn’t be further apart as far as emotional intention. And yet, they’ve lived in existence alongside each other on the same album, and one is kind of necessary for the other one to really have its moment.
M: I was listening to The Mission, and I found it fascinating how it tells one story but by using very different genres of music. I don’t really see that a lot in current music. So I wanted to know, in your opinion, when the band makes new music do you do your best to maintain your old sound or do you try to incorporate newer and more popular music styles from this generation?
LG: There’s something about the classic sound of this band from the era of the late '70s that is really resonating with the younger contingency of our audience. Because on any given night, half the audience can be under 30 years of age, so they weren’t even born when some of the biggest STYX records were made. And yet, they respond to [the records] as if they’re completely concurrent with their lives. So, when we made The Mission, we decided, “Well look, obviously the audience has been with the band ever since the beginning. They’re still loyal to the band and they want that sound; that’s the sound they’re drawn to. And then you have these younger people who very much are drawn to that sound as well. So let’s make sure that we write a record that sounds like a STYX record, which has all those particular elements that they gravitate to.” And that’s how The Mission was formed the way it was, and that’s why it wound up really doing as well as it has done, because it really does connect to that era.
M: I heard the band was working with a non-profit called Rock to the Rescue while on tour. Could you talk a little bit about that?
LG: I’ll tell you how that began. After 9/11, everyone in the country and around the world felt it incumbent upon them to do something proactive and positive as a reaction to that event and tragedy. And for us, a couple of months after it happened, we decided to do a concert. We got a bunch of classic rock acts who came and did it with us in a couple of cities, and we raised money, I think about half a million, maybe even more than that. But we needed a name for the charity, and so the name Rock to the Rescue came up and that became an ongoing thing for probably two or three years.
It was revived again with the idea of every city we play in has some charity that needs some financial assistance. And we come back to these cities over and over and over and people there have been so faithful to the band for decades. But it’s a small but meaningful gesture on our part to leave some of the money in a community with some, what we see as, worthy cause of the day.
M: What’s next for the band, in regards to the tour and/or new music?
LG: Well, there’s always new music. It really comes down to whether we carve out the time from our very intense touring schedule to actually go and record. But I would say that given the success of The Mission, something will emerge at some point if things keep going the way they are. We’re very much a band that stays focused on the day. I look at the schedule ahead and I see there’s always cities that we’re going to. It can look quite daunting quite frankly, and you can begin to look at it like, “Oh my god, we gotta get all this done,” but it doesn’t work that way. We really try to live by the philosophy of embracing the day and not really relying on, or assuming that the future is just going to simply be there for us to live out our plans. So we really hope to have a record, we hope to keep doing this basically for as long as our time on earth will allow.
M: Anything you’d like to the say to your fans in Pittsburgh before they come out to see you?
LG: Looking forward to sharing another STYX epic adventure with you this summer, and having Tesla and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts along is only going to make the party that much more fun. Looking forward to seeing everyone!