By Brent Thompson
Photo Credit: Rick Diamond
“Right down the barrel! The double barrel – the double-decade barrel,” Lawrence Gowan says with a laugh when I mention that he is approaching his 20th anniversary as a member of the legendary band Styx. Already a bonafide solo artist in his own right when he joined the group, the keyboardist/vocalist replaced Dennis DeYoung in 1999. Known for radio staple hits including “Babe,” “Come Sail Away,” “Lady,” “Renegade” and “Too Much Time On My Hands,” Styx continues to fill the Classic Rock airwaves. In 2017, the band released The Mission, a concept album a futuristic mission to Mars and the group’s 16th studio recording. On Sunday, April 8, Styx will perform at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater with REO Speedwagon and special guest Don Felder. Recently, I spoke with Gowan by phone from a Styx tour stop in South Dakota.
Birmingham Stages: Lawrence, thanks for your time. How’s the tour going so far?
Lawrence Gowan: Amazing. The first two nights have been arenas jammed to the ceilings. We roll out all of the big stuff on this run – all the Styx stuff, the REO stuff and the cherry on top is the opener, Don Felder. It’s rare that you have an opener that gets a standing ovation every night, but that’s well-deserved because he’s in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and he was involved in the writing of “Hotel California,” a song quite a few people are familiar with.
Birmingham Stages: Is there a way to sum up your 20-year tenure in Styx?
LG: I cannot escape that fact that there’s a lot of gratitude on my side and I think for the band as well. We were the right fit for the right eras of our careers. The weird thing is I feel like I’ve been in the band all along. I know that I came in very late in the game so to speak for a band that’s approaching five decades of existence, but we were instantly simpatico about our musical drives and that’s really remained true until this day. I think putting together The Mission, the new album, and releasing it last year – that really solidified my sense of belonging in the band. That’s something that you have to earn over time for a band that’s been around as long as Styx has. There’s only been 10 members of this band and that’s an incredibly low number for a band that’s existed this many decades.
Birmingham Stages: I think, like the Stones’ Ron Wood, it’s funny you are still thought of as the “new guy” after all these years.
LG: I think I’ll always be the “new guy” and I don’t mind anything that refers to “new” at this point in my life [laughs].
Birmingham Stages: Were the songs on The Mission created during a quick, inspired period or did it take time for the material to evolve?
LG: I would say, relatively speaking to the time I’ve been in the band, the material came together quite quickly. It began with the last song on the album, “Mission To Mars.” Tommy wrote it two and a half years ago. It started to kind of outline the basis of the story about a NASA mission. I came in and began to become part of the writing team of the record and we were invited to to NASA to see the arrival of the spacecraft New Horizons. They told us they’d named this new moon they’d discovered “Styx.” The story does revolve around man’s endeavor to make it to Mars, but I think it would be remiss to let the Styx story slip by – it really focused the end of the album. So, there was about a year of writing and about nine months of recording in order to pull it all together.
Birmingham Stages: Are you still pursuing your solo career or is your focus exclusively Styx these days?
LG: It’s a Styx focus but I play about 10 shows a year. I’m still in the process of completing a solo record that I go at in bits and pieces whenever I have a slight break from the road. I have a studio in Toronto and a good team of people that I work with there and I go down to Woodstock [N.Y.] and work with [bassist] Tony Levin and [drummer] Jerry Marotta. Each one of us has a solo endeavor and when we come back to the band it really enhances the overall chemistry of the band. But 85 to 90 percent of our focus is what we are as a band and we end the year with big smiles on our faces and that’s a good way to live.
Birmingham Stages: Given the enormous catalog of songs at your band’s disposal, how does Styx determine its set lists for tours?
LG: That is a process that I used to get deeply involved in because I thought there were Styx songs that had not been given enough attention. In the last 15 years, the process of trying to choose the set list can be so endlessly debated that I have decided to leave the debate up to the guys that want to get involved.
Styx will perform with REO Speedwagon and Don Felder at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater on Sunday, April 8. Tickets to the 7 p.m. show are $20 – $139 and can be purchased at www.ticketmaster.com.