BWW Interview: STYX at NJPAC
Styx has been performing for the better part of four decades and yet, with an average of 100 shows per year, still manages to pack every venue in which they appear. Their Sept. 22 show at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center is already almost sold out - and they do not even have a new album out to drive ticket sales.
So what is to the secret to their continued popularity? It is an easy question to answer for Lawrence Gowan, the legendary hard rock band's keyboardist and vocalist since 1999. Gowan told BroadwayWorld.com that it partly has to do with the relatability of Styx's many hits, with fans still being able to connect with the hopeful optimism of "Come Sail Away" or the heartfelt love expressed in "Lady" years after those songs and others climbed the charts.
But above all, Gowan said the reason why people flock to see Styx live simply is because concertgoers know they will experience something they will never forget.
"We're a band that just is endlessly trying to improve the experience of what a live Styx show can be," Gowan said. "We incrementally find a way of elevating it just a little bit more every single night. Something will happen or some moment will be captured that was never there before just because of the circumstances of the audience and the vibe on that night. And that becomes part of the overall canon of material that goes out to people."
As Styx continues to evolve as a band, so too does its audience. On any given night, Gowan said a Styx crowd will consist of longtime fans mixed with youngsters who were not even alive during the group's late '70s/early '80s heyday. Having such a diverse range of ages in attendance at their shows might be unusual for most bands, but the band member understands why Styx is so appealing to younger generations. For them, he explained, the band is their connection to the classic rock era. And once they experience that brand of music live, they become as devoted to it as those who first experienced it years ago.
The younger crowd does have a different perspective on Styx's music catalog, though. As a result, while the group always plays classic hits such as "Too Much Time on My Hands" and "Blue Collar Man," Gowan said it also makes sure to cover songs that have proven more popular today than when they were originally released.
"'Man in the Wilderness' is like a huge favorite among people who are under 30," Gowan said. "Younger people don't seem to be as held to the singles that came out at the time and were all over the radio. Instead, they've kind of discovered various songs from the albums over the years that have become their favorites. 'Pieces of Eight' would be another good example of that."
Gowan said that his own favorite Styx song would have to be "Renegade" based on the reaction it gets when it is played. Since it is usually performed near the end of the show, he said it is always awesome to see the euphoria that has overcome those in attendance by that point following an evening of music. Not many musicians get the chance to experience a sea of thousands radiating pure bliss, singing along to every word with smiles on their faces. That is why he is so grateful to be part of the band.
"The vibe of that is incredibly infectious, and it's something that I look forward to every single day," Gowan said. "It's an amazing moment of agreement among a large number of people. And to be in the center of that, to be part of generating that, is just a joy. It's too much fun."
But Gowan was no stranger to success prior to joining Styx. For many years he was a popular solo artist in Canada, where he has lived for most of his life. "A Criminal Mind," one of his biggest hits, is now even a regular part of Styx's set list on tour.
Being in a band is quite different from performing on his own, Gowan said, since he is only one act in the "rock circus" that is Styx. But he said the rest of the group - including Styx mainstays James "JY" Young, Tommy Shaw and Chuck Panozzo - have always made him feel that his ideas and past career were appreciated. And though he replaced band co-founder Dennis DeYoung following DeYoung's departure, Gowan said they always encouraged him to make Styx's music his own.
Overall, Gowan credited Young, Shaw and Panozzo for making the group what it is today. Describing them as "pretty outstanding human beings," he said they are the ones who have kept Styx together through the years by making sure everyone was happy and focused on the same goal. On top of that, he said they are beyond talented.
"To play with these guys onstage is a treat every night," Gowan said. "I'm as entertained as the audience is when I see these guys. They're primo, top-shelf performers who know how to work an audience and play they're instruments to the highest degree of proficiency and know how to make a great rock show happen. To be onstage with people like that is a joy."
Yet Gowan's solo career is far from over. He still plays shows on his own occasionally and said he is also working on material for another album. Likewise, he said Styx is putting together another record, which will be its first since 2005's "Big Bang Theory." The only problem, according to Gowan, is that the band's extensive touring schedule makes it hard to determine when either album will be released.
In the meantime, Gowan is happy to continue playing in Styx. In fact, he said one of his favorite moments of his career came only a few weeks ago when the band performed with the Colorado Symphony at the beautiful Red Rocks Amphitheatre. And he is looking forward to creating even more memories with the group for years to come.
"You never know how long this is going to last or how long we can perform at this level," Gowan said. "We'll have to give it everything we've got every single day, and it's great being around people who think that way."
To purchase tickets for Styx on Sept. 22 at NJPAC and to learn more about their upcoming performance, please visit http://www.njpac.org/.
Photo courtesy of NJPAC.