UCR INTERVIEW: Lawrence Gowan of Styx

Legendary and multi-Platinum rockers Styx have hit the road with their friends REO Speedwagon on their Live and UnZoomed Tour. They’ll be joined by special guests, Loverboy. The tour stops off at USANA Amphitheatre on Saturday, July 9. We had the opportunity to catch up with Vocalist and Keyboardist, Lawrence Gowan a few weeks back. To purchase tickets to the Live and UnZoomed show click here. Hope you enjoy our conversation!

Interviewed by Kevin Rolfe

STYX L/R: Chuck Panozzo, Ricky Phillips, Todd Sucherman, Tommy Shaw, James “J.Y.” Young and Lawrence Gowan. Portrait shoot at Macon City Auditorium on October 4, 2014 in Macon, Georgia. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for STYX)

UCR: As you know, Utah loves having you guys out here. You’re back out on the road with REO Speedwagon. Do you determine by tour who closes the show?  Or is it a show by show decision?

Lawrence Gowan: Honestly, we flip it. We flip it all the time. So like in Chicago we closed. In Milwaukee, they closed. I enjoy the middle spot because Loverboy really sets the bar really high on this tour. I’m telling you, Kevin. So the middle spot is just as, is just as sweet for me as closing the show. Honestly, it makes no difference to me. It really is a double bill with the added feature of Loverboy being with us.

UCR: Sure. And it’s something that I really enjoy because I know I’m gonna get a great show from you guys. I know I’m gonna get a great show from REO. When I saw Loverboy was on the bill, I thought, oh that’s gonna be a perfect way to get things going. And it sounds like that’s what’s happening. 

Lawrence Gowan: That’s exactly what’s happening, Kevin. They’re such a great band and like I say, they set the bar high because they play so well. People know the songs and they set the stage beautifully for the night and put the audience in a great mood. I go out and listen to them every night. They’re so good. 

UCR: This is kind of a random question, but I but have you ever watched a movie or a TV show or even read a book where after you read the big reveal or a big moment where you think, “of course, like, why didn’t I think of that”? It seems so simple because after you see it. It’s like, how did I not see that coming?

Lawrence Gowan: Yes. After the fact, yeah.  

UCR:  Well the reason I’m bringing that up is that the last time I saw you a year ago at the Utah state fair, you started playing “Lost at Sea”  off your latest album Crash Of The Crown. Then that transitioned right into “Come Sail Away”. And to me, it was just the coolest transition. And as that happens, I’m like, of course, like this is so perfect. I don’t know why I didn’t see it coming.  I guess I wasn’t trying to predict the setlist. But it just felt so perfect. Have you felt that?, As you’re finishing “Lost at Sea”, and start that piano intro to “Come Sail Away” just the crowd being like, “Oh my gosh!”?

Lawrence Gowan: Kevin, you put a big smile on my face. That’s all I can say because yes, exactly. You sound like Chuck right now because Chuck has said the same thing. “Lost at.Sea” kind of tees up the “Come Sail Away” moment for the show, it really nicely. Although on the album, it kind of tees up “Coming Out the Other Side”. But yes, in a live sense It just made sense to slip that in there because it’s such a short little piece of music.  But it really has something to say. Because you’re waking from a dream to the sound of your own voice. And that voice is calling you on a voyage. To partake in an adventure. So, yeah. I want you to quote yourself in this whole article, as far as that goes. I thought it was great what you said. 

UCR: I just love those kinds of elements of the concert experience. Where it’s a little bit theatrical, or rather a bit of showmanship.  I still kind of kick myself for not predicting it, but at the same time, I’m glad I didn’t because it was a really cool moment.  I loved it. 

Lawrence Gowan: That’s a great observation. And like I said, put that in your article. I love it. 

UCR: You guys tour a lot. I don’t need to tell you this. You come to Utah about every year. You always pack it in. People love that you come here with the frequency that you do. But the thing we never think about on our end, because even if it’s once a year, even if it’s once every other year. We’re just seeing you the one time. But you’ve done this show already five times. And you have maybe 30 more to go. Is there something that you do or you guys do that we might not see that keeps you in it? Because from our view, this is this awesome experience. But I think sometimes of a Broadway play when they do eight shows a week.I know the actors will do different things, to make it interesting. Do you have things that you do to keep it interesting for you? 

Photo Credit: Todd Gallopo

Lawrence Gowan: Yes. It’s actually not like a Broadway show funny enough. A rock concert is where something new happens every night. If you’re aware of it. If you’re sensitive to the fact that something is going to come along and it’s going to infuse that song with another layer or another piece of meaning is going to be added onto that song. Because it’s a different day. I compare it to looking at your favorite painting. Every time you look at it, you see something new. Something else is happening. It’s not that the painting has changed it’s that you have lived another day and you have another day’s experience to bring to your observation of that piece of art.

So when we go on stage, although we may be playing the same notes as we played the night before and maybe a hundred nights before that, they actually have a nuance to them that’s fresh. Because the song has evolved as we have as people. Everything about the audience is new.

These are new people.  This is a new circumstance. The guys in the band have all lived another day and we’re embracing this song again in a way that, that is extending our life experience with it. Now, if a musician is not doing that, and a lot of them don’t, if they’re just going, “Oh no, not this again”. And I have met guys who are like that. Then those are songs they shouldn’t play quite frankly because they’re no longer bringing something new to the table of their life. And therefore they can’t really communicate them with an audience in an effective way, in a meaningful way.

But I can tell you that whether I’m singing my solo material or whether I’m singing Styx, they resonate fresh with me every day. Grand Illusion will mean something different to me tonight when I sing it than it did last night when I sang it. It’s going to have a nuance of meaning. Because I’ll be thinking, ‘yeah, it’s great.

Okay. So here you go. Last night when I sang that song. Choose out when randomly, you know, there was a lot of mist and fog rolling in from Lake Michigan. Well, that was completely different from the night before in Chicago when I played it.  When we’re just a couple of hours down the road and yet it was a completely different setting and different atmosphere.

Photo Credit: Rick Diamond

You know sometimes when you’re in fog, it puts you in kind of a, suspended reality kind of setting? It’s almost like you’re looking at a movie set or something like that. And the lights are streaming through the fog. It’s got a dramatic effect that you can’t quite illiterate. But you still feel like, wow, I’m in this unusual setting. All of a sudden there’s an air of mystery about it. So that was on my mind while we were singing that song last night and it made it very enjoyable for me.

And I’m sure the audience connected to that as well. So that’s, that’s kind of how it’s the same but different every time. 

UCR: That’s awesome. I love that. I loved hearing that explanation. Because like you, I’ve seen bands and I think there’s no way they’re loving playing this song for the millionth time. But with you guys, it always feels like you’re into it and excited and having a blast. 

Lawrence Gowan: Yeah! And that’s genuine. Believe me.  I’m in the dressing room with these guys before the show. Every one of them, when we were on tour, we truly do live for the show. Where everything is about getting to that stage and making it happen. I mean, it’s a unique situation to be in a band like that, where everyone is focused on the same thing from the moment we wake up in the morning, we’re all, it’s all on our mind. What’s going to happen this evening. Every decision we make throughout the day is something that will affect the outcome that’s gonna happen when thousands of people are suddenly on their feet, looking at us and going, come on, do it again! Make it better than it ever.  

UCR: I’m sure that’s why the show seems perfect to me and the fans.  Because you do take it seriously, while also having a great time yourselves.  I’m sure there are nights when you don’t feel at your best but your professionalism gets you through to give the best performance possible.   

Lawrence Gowan: There are little mistakes that people don’t even notice. I mean, God. I remember a few years ago, and it happened with Tommy Shaw as well. I had such ridiculous laryngitis. I had maybe two notes in my throat.  I thought, well, I can’t cancel the show. But I gotta go on and basically let the audience know. They’re gonna know in three notes that I can’t sing.  We came off after that show. And I was very limited in what I could do.  

The next day I’m seeing all kinds of people go “That was the best show I ever saw!”, you know? Well, that doesn’t say much about my vocal power. But I realized, yeah, there was a lot going on in that show that really created a spirit and a mood that has far more to do with what the band was generating than any one individual.  So, those things can happen in a rock show.  

UCR: Again, there’s so much we don’t see. And, and I think because you guys do take it seriously.  The word seriously sounds wrong.  I’ll say, you understand what we’re hoping to see. And so you’re able to train or condition yourself, or like you said, work yourself up to the point where you take the stage because you’ve been as fired up all day for it as we are. 

Lawrence Gowan: You know Kevin actually you’re using the right term. We do take it seriously. Seriously is a good word. It’s hooked in with the word responsibility. There’s a responsibility when we go on stage to make sure that people and the band ourselves, that we get out of it everything that we want to in that moment.  The great thing with Styx is we take the show and we take the band very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously.

And I think that balancing it off with that kind of humor is what keeps us really functioning.   We know exactly where to put our more serious or more responsible focus. And where to kind of let off on that. And as individuals, you know, everyone is fine at poking fun of themselves and not taking themselves seriously. But with the show. We are deadly serious about doing that and taking it to the highest level we can. 

UCR: We’re about to end here but before we go I wanted to leave you with this compliment.  So often fans will focus on the original or “classic” lineup of a band.  And while it’s a fun topic for fans to debate sometimes there’s a reality to a band, whether it’s business, personalities, or relationships.  I honestly believe that, to coin a phrase from a Styx song, the band would have been able to “Carry On” without what you’ve contributed to the band these last two decades.  

Lawrence Gowan: That’s so nice of you to say that. I’m very grateful for you saying that. A similar comment I had from Chuck last night.  It’s unfortunate that life dictates that serious things like a member change have to happen for a variety of reasons. But Chuck even said to me, you know, the band wouldn’t exist today, if we, they hadn’t done what they did to keep it going. And that includes way back when they got Tommy Shaw to join the band after their fifth album. It wouldn’t exist if they hadn’t done that. And then later on, when Tommy was out of the band, they had to get Glen Burtnick. And the band wouldn’t have existed had they not done that. It just wouldn’t have been it.

And in 1999, they were really faced with probably the toughest challenge. When a front person is suddenly at odds with the other members it’s a tough way to go. You either decide let’s continue on. Let’s make this about the songs that people have embraced or we just completely let it go. And then the band believes, well, wait a minute, you know, this might even be at least as good. And perhaps even better. We don’t know. We don’t know until we get out in front of audiences to see what the reaction is.

Photo Credit: Jason Powell

So let’s be brave and try it and see what happens. The last time I saw the Rolling Stones. I remember I had good seats and I’m up close and I remember Mick Jagger walks by and then Keith Richards comes strolling by and this is rock royalty, you know?

And then suddenly Ron Wood strolls by, and I’m thinking to myself, Ron Wood is every bit as much a Rolling Stone as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Every bit, every bit as much. And yet he’s the third guitarist, not the second. He’s the third in that band. And I’m thinking, I’m thinking no he’s always been part of the spirit of this band. His scene didn’t happen until it happened. But this band without Ron Wood up there, it would be a completely different thing that wouldn’t quite embody the whole spirit of what Rolling Stones are. 

So I really see that as what is being presented on stage. And if the spirit of the band is broken, then the band is broken. But I can say with a little more confidence now that that can’t be the case since we’ve had 23 years of touring together with myself included. And we have broken box office records and all kinds of areas and being amongst the highest-grossing bands if you wanna just use that kinda statistic. But the most important statistic is that we end every night with thousands of people on their feet with their arms in the air, yelling for more. Big smiles on their faces. And that to me is the acclimation that says that the band is very relevant and connecting with people.

UCR: Absolutely. And all my times coming to Styx shows, I’ve never left and seen anyone in the crowd be like “It was alright”. People are fired up. They loved it.  And that’s what you want. Hey, thank you so much for taking the time with me. I always enjoy getting to speak with you and I’m looking forward once again for you guys to come here. It’s gonna be an awesome show.

Lawrence Gowan: Well, I always enjoy speaking with you too, Mr. Rolfe. I look forward to the next time and we’ll see you in Salt Lake.  

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