Despite being labeled a “legacy band” in certain circles, there is nothing about Styx’s 17th studio album, “Crash of the Crown,” to suggest that they’re content to coast on the multi-platinum wings of decades past. It’s a timely and timeless manifestation of everything that fans have come to expect from the band, and, in a perfect world, tracks such as “A Monster” or “Hold Back the Darkness” would exist right alongside “Blue Collar Man” on commercial rock radio.
But we’re far from a perfect world in 2021 and so many of the lyrics on this album grapple with that concept to riveting effect.
Whether it’s Tommy Shaw’s hopeful call to action on “The Fight of Our Lives” or Lawrence Gowan’s delicate dream sequence of “Lost at Sea,” the band is all in on delivering one of the most memorable rock albums of the year. There will always be a section of the audience complaining that they no longer sound exactly as they did in 1978, but, if you can’t find something you like here, you’re not listening closely enough.
I spoke with singer/keyboardist Lawrence Gowan recently about the album and how Styx weathered the COVID-19 storm to continue its reign as one of the premier live acts on the scene today.
MNOD: Styx is a band that has toured relentlessly since you joined the band in 1999. How did you guys adjust to life without live music for what felt like an eternity for most artists and fans?
Gowan: It had quite an effect on us, but it also ended up being positive in a lot of ways. We had been touring non-stop for 20 years with usually no less than 200 shows a year and we had everything pulled out from under us. I remember being at the airport in Toronto when I got a call to go home, because everything was off. We were supposed to play ‘The Mission’ at The Beacon Theatre in New York City, which obviously didn’t happen. My initial thought was that we’d be off the road for six weeks and then get back at it, because we were still hopeful at that point. Then, once we got into the third month, we started realizing that, historically, pandemics can last up to two years, so we were forced to adapt. We were doing Zoom calls to stay in touch and keep the band together, and it ended up becoming second nature. All of the technology was in place for us to focus on the album without necessarily needing to be in the same room, so that one goal kind of brought us together during the worst of it.
MNOD: There was a significant gap between when you guys released “Big Bang Theory” in 2005 and “The Mission” in 2017. Was the plan always to release another album so soon or did the success of “The Mission” really move things along?
Gowan: A little of both, really. After we released ‘Cyclorama’ and then ‘Big Bang Theory,’ the recording industry was just in such disarray that we were hesitant to put another album out. The physical format was suffering due to streaming and downloading, so we didn’t believe that the industry had properly figured out a way to grapple with the changes at that point. For us, we decided to lean into the live experience, because that’s something that can’t be downloaded. We poured everything we had into perfecting our live shows until the ship eventually righted itself. Universal decided they wanted to do another album, because ‘The Mission’ did well and people really responded to it. We also did shows in Las Vegas and Boston where we played that album in its entirety.
MNOD: “Crash of the Crown” is an album whose lyrical content fits seamlessly into our present-day world yet also feels like something that you could relate to at any point in your life. How do you see the album as a whole?
Gowan: I think that’s accurate. It’s album that was relatable in 2019, but took on another profound level of meaning once everything changed a year later. There are different nuances that can be found throughout the album that were relevant decades earlier and will continue to be relevant decades from now. The world took such an abrupt turn in six months and this album ended up capturing that vibe. It’s been going over well during our live shows, also, because we decided to release the album on the same day that our tour started back up again. The audiences feel it and embrace this era of the band. It sounds familiar in a way that those five classic albums do. Early on, the crowds were just getting into it, but we played in Louisiana last night and so many people were mouthing the words to the new songs. I think people are getting into it quickly and having access to quick delivery through Amazon or other things also helps it get out there quickly.
MNOD: “Lost at Sea” is a beautiful moment on the album that feels as if it could’ve been longer. Was it always envisioned as a shorter track?
Gowan: It felt complete to me. I didn’t think it needed a chorus, because it worked so well as a transition into ‘Coming Out the Other Side.’ I was told that it’s actually one of the shortest songs every recorded right after Napalm Death’s ‘You Suffer’ and The Beatles’s ‘Her Majesty.’ It’s actually become a set-up for ‘Come Sail Away’ during our live show where Chuck and I play it together, so it makes for a really nice moment and fits nicely.
MNOD: ‘Reveries’ is another track that stands out for me. What was the process behind that one?
Gowan: I liked it from the moment I first heard it. Tommy had a great vocal on the original version, but then he said it would fit my voice better. It’s another one that we play live, as well, so it always generates a positive reaction.
MNOD: It’s always been frustrating for me to listen to classic rock radio and not hear anything new from bands that clearly fall under the “classic” umbrella. Is that something that you’ve thought about?
Gowan: By definition, they really can’t play anything younger than 25 years. Not having radio support for ‘The Mission’ or ‘Crash of the Crown’ is an odd thing, but I’ve noticed that a lot of stations champion the new music from classic bands in other ways such as posting about it on their web sites.
MNOD: You’ve been in the band for 22 years now, so I’m curious if there was a particular show or moment when you felt as if you had finally secured your place in the Styx legacy?
Gowan: I’m as comfortable in the band as I’ve ever been. There have been 11 people in this band since its inception and Styx has gotten great contributions from all of them. I just look at it from the perspective that this is a different era of the band and I’m a part of it. I’m part of that lineage and part of the Styx family. My favorite song to play during the live show right now is ‘Renegade,’ because I don’t have to sing it and I can just notice the effect of the band on the audience. It’s euphoric. My favorite to song to sing has become ‘Mr. Roboto,’ which is something that I never thought I would ever relate to, but it’s become something quite meaningful. While the band didn’t play it live for years, not once have I ever heard them disparage the music of that album. They were upset about what that era did to fracture the band’s relationships, but they’ve always been positive about the material. It used to feel like a kitschy novelty song, but it’s really about how our society has come to embrace technology and it’s perhaps more relevant today than it was then. Plus, the version we play live now is more guitar-driven and we lean into it in a tougher way, so it feels fresh. Back to my place in the band, though, I often reflect on when I saw the Rolling Stones eight years ago and thought about Ronnie Wood’s role in that band. He’s the third guitar player they’ve had, but it feels like he’s been there since Day One. He just exudes the spirit of that band. When bands go through lineup changes, it’s important for the spirit of the band to endure and that’s kind of how I feel. It’s up to the new members to carry on the spirits of the band they’re playing in and that’s what I’ve always tried to do in Styx.
MNOD: I’m an admirer of your solo work just as much as your time in Styx and 2022 will mark the 40th anniversary of your debut album. Have you thought about doing something to commemorate the occasion?
Gowan: I try to squeeze 10-15 Gowan shows in each year when I can, so I suppose next year I’ll focus more on the first album during the live shows. I think I have some vinyl copies of that one in a warehouse, so maybe there will be a reissue at some point. I’ve also been doing live streams here and there with my son, which has been fun. Not everyone knows the first album as well as ‘Strange Animal.’ I remember when we first started playing ‘A Criminal Mind’ with Styx, because Tommy always really liked that song and wanted to make a Styx version.
“Crash of the Crown” is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor and pay for a physical copy.