An Interview with Styx’s Lawrence Gowan by Mike Spain

Styx is in town Friday night to perform with REO Speedwagon at Baltimore’s Pier Six Pavilion in Baltimore. I talked to Lawrence Gowan the lead singer and keyboard player from the band. We talked about him joining the band nearly 15 years ago, challenging and favorite songs to perform, his solo career, the current tour, and the band’s charity Rock to the Rescue.’ The show promises to be a lot of fun with two classic rock bands, a brand new stage set, a few deep tracks, and filled with lots of hits.

Mike: When you joined Styx it was a turbulent time for the band, but it had to be almost a dream come true for you. What was it really like when you joined the band?

Lawrence Gowan.
Lawrence Gowan.

Lawrence: Well, it was an unusual time for both of us quite honestly. The band had reached the ultimate backstage crossroads, where they saw the only choice they really had to continue on was to make a change. They’ve done that in the past when Tommy Shaw came in after the fifth album, as he was once the new guy. They had to go on in 1990 without Tommy when they had Glen Burtnik join the band. They’d face this before but they really new this was a critical turn in the road for them to attempt. For myself, it was an unusual time as well because I had such a long solo career in Canada with six platinum albums, three gold records, and six number one songs never released in the United States. It was a curious thing for myself because I could have just kept on sticking with that and being that. There was something about this band when I met them; we just felt a musical kind of simpatico about us. It just suddenly felt right, it felt like the right thing for me to do, and it was the right thing for them to do at the time because they had to do something bold – and that was nearly 15 years ago.

Which Styx song is the most challenging for you to sing?

They all have little nuances to them for sure. “Come Sail Away” is actually a deceptively difficult song to sing. It sounds a lot easier than it is to sing that song. It is a trickier melody than people are probably aware of. It’s funny, too, because it comes towards the end of the night, and after we have spent a lot of high, intense energy you got to kind of reel that in quickly for the beginning of the song. Because it’s a very soloistic, very personal song at the beginning it then explodes into this mega-rock extravaganza that some Styx songs are great at doing. Then you got to wrap it up really quick. It really has a number of vocal variations within the one piece of music so it’s always got a challenge in it.

Which Styx song is your favorite to perform?

I have to say – wherever we play around the world the song that kind of levels everyone and levels the playing field and makes you feel you are in one great giant concert whether you are in Tokyo, or you’re in London, or your’e in New York, or you’re in Tampa, or Baltimore on the 23rd of August, it’s “Renegade.” There is something about that song that just unites the audience in a really unique fashion. Although it is not a song I sing lead on, it is one I really get to observe the audience, and really observe the impact the band has had on people. It’s a very joyous piece to play even though it is a song filled with great rock angst.

You had some hits prior to your time with Styx like the JUNO Award-winning “Criminal Minds.”Do you get a chance to sing any of your past hits on tour with Styx?

Yeah! Actually “Criminal Minds” is a song. When I first joined the band, even before we did a Styx song, Tommy said, “Let’s play “Criminal Mind” first”. That became a Styx song and we have done that on a couple of live albums, and we did it on the live CD as well. It’s a possibility. We just played it actually a couple of weeks ago at a festival in London, Ontario. It fits nicely into the Styx lexicon of great hits and perhaps we will do some more of that in the future. I don’t know.

The bands recorded a couple of studio albums with you as their lead vocalist. Do you have a favorite newer song?

Yeah! On Cyclorama we did a song called “More Love for the Money.” I enjoyed the way the band brought that song together and sing lead on that. One of my favorites on that album, as well, is “One with Everything,” and we perform that one quite often. I think our best group, ensemble writing piece is “One with Everything.” Those are a couple of my faves.

Styx has toured with REO Speedwagon in the past. How fun is it to tour with them again?

It is always fun. We see each other at least two or three times a year if we are not doing a full on tour together. We have known each other so long now, and we are really like each other’s best cheering sections, because we’ve seen our shows elevate greatly over the years of doing this. We always looking forward to seeing those guys and sharing the stage with them.

Your last release was The Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight Live. Are you performing whole albums or performing songs throughout the band’s career on this tour?

Actually that DVD has changed our set list quite a bit this year because we delve into a lot of the deeper, what was just once known just as album tracks. With the younger audience that keeps coming out and makes up half of our audience – a lot of them their favorite songs are not necessarily the singles that were played so extensively back in the time they were released. But for many of them their favorite songs might be “Man in The Wilderness,” “Pieces of Eight,” or “Great White Hope,” or one of those songs, so we have been adding more of those to the set list.

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Can you tell us a little bit about ‘Rock to the Rescue’ that you band supports at their shows?

Sure. ‘Rock to the Rescue’ initiated back in October of 2001, so it was directly after the World Trade Center disaster. We started it to raise money for the Port Authority in New Jersey who lost 37 members in the World Trade Center. It was money for their families that we did it for initially. Then it went into hiatus for a few years. Then we brought it back a couple of years ago because we realized when the economy was going through a rough patch there are so many of these communities we go to over and over, cities, and towns that could use a hand. We brought back ‘Rock to the Rescue’ and we give the money to some local charity we felt was worthy, and it has turned out to be a great thing to be involved in.

What are you looking forward to most about this tour?

We have a new stage set to begin with. That’s one thing I’m excited about. The band continues to thrive on the credo that we need to make the show better every single year, and every single time you go out there. It sounds difficult, but the band is up to the challenge with all of the decades of success that they’ve had. That’s what I look forward to ,and the lovely surprises that come along with touring. There is always some place that you didn’t expect to stand out, and it turned out to be. New things and new adventures come our way every time we go on tour, and embrace the world in the manner that we do.

What can fans expect when Styx performs in Baltimore?

First of all, they can expect us to deliver the Styx epic adventure that every Styx show is. We will probably mix in some of the deeper cuts from Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight [watch it below] since that is the latest thing we have put out the DVD. In addition, they will have a great time and hear all the standard Styx hits they are hoping to hear as well.

Lawrence and Styx. Photo courtesy of Lawrence's facebook page.
Lawrence and Styx. Photo courtesy of Lawrence’s facebook page.

Styx and REO Speedwagon with special guest Tim Atkinson perform one night only Tomorrow, Friday, August 23, 2013 at 7:30 PM at Baltimore’s Pier Six Pavilion.

LINKS:
Styx website.
Lawrence Gowan website.
‘Rock to the Rescue’ website.

http://youtu.be/l8tFmGxHKEE