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HarktheHerald special: Sitting down with Styx
INTERVIEW DOUG FOX The Daily Herald on Friday, March 29

Interview by DOUG FOX

The Daily Herald

OREM — When Styx first came to Utah, in 1973, it was under vastly different circumstances than the band’s latest visit.

Considering that “Lady” was a hit in only three places, and Provo was one of them, the band decided it better pay the city a visit.

The band made the 1,300-mile drive in a rented motor home, carrying illegal caches of gasoline onboard during the oil embargo.

Needless to say, touring is a much different animal for Styx these days. The band utilizes custom tour buses, several equipment trucks and 28 crew members to bring its show to a different city nearly every night.

After the band’s concert Saturday at Utah Valley State College, Styx guitarists James “JY” Young and Tommy Shaw were gracious enough to sit down and talk about “karmic capital,” their highly successful Volunteers For America benefit concerts last October, and life on the road in 2002.

Q: What’s it like on the road? Take me through a typical day on the road, if there is such a thing.

SHAW: Well, this particular band, we work a lot more because we just enjoy it. Our work, they call it play and that’s what it is, so we like to play more shows. So you kind of learn to manage your time a little better so you can do it. We go by bus, which we never did before and so a lot of times, like last night, we drove 500 miles and got here at about 8:30 this morning. So you go back in and you try to get a little bit of sleep, which is usually pretty hard to do and you just kind of take it easy. And for me, I have to rest my voice, so I try not to talk too much and do other things. A lot of times we try to get out and walk around the city to see what’s going on. And you know just the last couple days, you know how women when they travel and hang around each other, they all kind of get their cycles and everything becomes the same? The last couple days, I’ll take off in a direction and the next thing I know, there’s Glen Burtnik. You know, we’ve all been together so much, we’re all starting to think alike. But we’ll go around and meet people in the city. Like we met a couple people in shops and they came to the show tonight. The next thing you know, it’s time to get in the shower. I do the content for our Web site, so I’ll try and get on the computer and do some of that, take some pictures, do that kind of thing. Before you know it, it’s time to get in the shower, pack your stuff up again and get on the bus and come over here.

Q: The members of your crew that I talked to were all highly complimentary on how the band treats them and looks out for them:

SHAW: Well, we’re all in this together, you know. At the end of the day we all get on the bus, we’ve done what we do and we’re on to the next city. The only time where we kind of split apart is we go out there under the lights — well, they’re up there, too.

Q: They say that they do indeed feel a part of the show, even though they are out of the spotlights:

YOUNG: Well, they absolutely are. It’s a very complex show and the genesis of a lot of the ideas was Tommy and myself, but John Rossi our lighting designer and Jeff Ravitz our Emmy-Award winning lighting designer as well, who is not with us because he designed the show for the Academy. Our opening is a combination of everything between the music and the stage and everything a — combination of all the ideas, but it’s just the symbiosis of it all. We just wanted to change the show and make it different from the last time and all of a sudden, we made a quantum leap in terms of the impact of it, which I think, I was surprised by the reaction we got from people. And they were saying, “This is the best thing we’ve ever seen you guys do.” And we did some good things in the past.

Q: This is a question mainly for JY, cause I don’t think you were in the band yet, Tommy.

SHAW: I wasn’t born yet!

Q: You’ve told me previously that the band drove out in a motor home to play the Ice House the first time you came to Provo.

YOUNG: I think we wound our way out here through Rapid City and whatever and got out here, and some of the guys flew back. But it was actually during the oil embargo and we were funneling gasoline, and probably carrying it illegally in this vehicle. And John Panozzo and I drove back 27 hours from here to there, but we stopped at the side of the road, because we didn’t know where we could buy gas, and used a map as a funnel and poured gas in there.

Q: How would you compare that to the way you travel now?

YOUNG: Well, we’re older and wiser. Well, at least we’re older.

Q: I interviewed Jack Blades (of Night Ranger) once, he mentioned that for a good portion of the day, he had the persona of being Jack Blades the rock star. But that there was a certain point in the day, when all the musical duties were done, that he simply became Jack the regular citizen. And that he really felt a distinction between the way he felt. Do you feel anything that tangible?

SHAW: I don’t know. There probably is kind of a transition like that, but it’s so smooth we don’t have time to meditate or like (chants) “hmmmmmmmm,” you know, do that sort of thing. It really is a very smooth transition. I think the only thing we do is we kind of all do this yoga stretching before we go out there, just to make sure you’re as limber as you need to be. This is just who we are. You know we’ve done this so much that it’s all kind of the same thing, you know, you walk from here (in the dressing room) to out there and back here, and honestly you don’t feel that much of a transition.

YOUNG: Jack and his band, I don’t think tour nearly as much as we do. The fact is that we haven’t gone really two months at all without playing in the last three years. The last time you played was never more than six weeks ago, so it’s not like you have to gear up and remember what you played here or back then. We remember it all and sometimes there’s some rust definitely on the machine if we haven’t played in six weeks, but that goes away really the first night. As soon as I put my stage clothes on, sometimes I do that early, kind of to get myself thinking about it, but it’s pretty smooth. We’re having fun back here and we’re having fun out there. We know we’ve got a great group of guys around us and that you can rely on all of them, so it’s not like there’s an opposing team out there. Those people love us and we love them, so it’s a love thing!

SHAW: I’ll tell you what, it’s kind of a self-motivating band. You never want to be the guy who’s kind of the runt, you know, the hind-titty guy, because everybody else will take care of business and you will be standing there not doing much. So all of us do love doing it right and getting the attention. There’s no shortage of guys ready to step up to the plate out there.

Q: Like we talked about last summer, no matter where you look up there on stage, there’s somebody doing something interesting.

SHAW: Everybody is really good at what they do. But still, you do have to rise to the occasion, you have to go out there and do it. So I really enjoy when I hear a member of the band having a particularly good night, but it takes a lot of getting all these elements right — you know, from getting enough sleep, to having all your ducks in a row during the day — to get up on stage and have your monitors working right and everything working right for you to have a great night. So it is a great thing to get to see on a nightly basis.

Q: Out in the audience, you can start to feel an almost palpable current of energy run through the crowd as show times nears and then as the lights go out. Can you ever pick up on that energy level backstage before the show?

SHAW: No, probably it’s just such a normal part of our day that I’m not sure we’re even conscious of it that much any more.

YOUNG: We know we’re gonna get ’em.

SHAW: We do. We’ve kind of worked this thing, and worked it and worked it. And they’re fans of ours already coming to see us and we’ve put such a great show together for them, I guess we’re supremely confident.

Q: Could you explain for me what your tour buses are like inside?

SHAW: Well, it’s kind of like a heavy duty motor home, but it’s built, just like our gear on stage, it’s built to take a lot of constant abuse and, you know, do all sorts of weather and that sort of thing. It’s basically our home. That’s where we sleep a lot of the time. We watch television there. We have refrigerators and two satellites in there, so you can watch that and DVDs, and CDs, and stereos. Most of the creature comforts of home are kind of reduced down to their essence. So it’s something to kind of distract us before we go to sleep.

YOUNG: Come out and take a look at it on your way out.

At this point, keyboardist Lawrence Gowan enters the conversation. Gowan, a Canadian and a hockey fanatic, although some would claim that description is redundant, is asked about Canada’s gold medal victory over Team USA in the Olympics.

SHAW: I couldn’t shut him up on it!

Q: That’s where you guys played the last time when you came to Utah, the “E” Center, where the gold medal game was played.

GOWAN: That’s right. Yes, I know, I put a loonie under the ice.

SHAW: He got me into the hockey during the Olympics. That was a lot of fun.

GOWAN: The night when Sweden was mopping Canada on the ice, Tommy was very into it.

SHAW: I was explaining to him just how they were kicking Canada’s ass.

GOWAN: Well, you know, it all came out right in the end.

SHAW: Yes, it did. I felt bad cause it looked like that was the end, but Canada turned around and, well, you know what happened. Canada needed that, though, because there were a lot of people saying that the dynasty was kind of dying up there and they needed that.

YOUNG: They were waiting for the odds in Vegas to get up there before doing anything.

GOWAN: Brett Hull came to our show last night.

Q: Oh, in Denver?

GOWAN: Yeah. It was great. He’s a silver medalist.

Q: When you guys have been out on the road so much and you finally get back home, does it take some extra time to adapt again to your surroundings?

SHAW: Any more, I’m like, “I’m there” before my suitcase hits the ground. Mainly because we don’t have the luxury of taking days, we better just be there while we are there. All these things used to be true, up until about 1999 and since then every year our whole philosophy has kind of changed just because we’ve decided to really go back to being a touring band.

YOUNG: We’re on a mission.

SHAW: This is all kind of one thing. We play, we go home, we go back and play, we go back home again, and so there’s no time for dawdling in lengthy transition.

At this point, my wife, Jenn, chimed in with her own line of questioning.

JENN: What kind of role do your wives play in all this?

SHAW: They just cook and knit sweaters. (laughing) NO!

JENN: (laughing) Turn that tape recorder off right now!

SHAW: (laughing) I’m going to get my ass whipped. No, we’ve got great wives.

JENN: Do they come with you on the road a lot?

SHAW: They normally do, yeah.

YOUNG: Out of 300 and some shows we’ve played, they’ve both been to at least 200 of them, if not more.

JENN: Really?

SHAW: Oh yeah, if not more than that.

JENN: Well, what do they do? Do they go out and watch the show?

GOWAN: (laughing) They tell us what we’re doing wrong.

YOUNG: (laughing) They give career advice.

SHAW: They’re good. They know us better than anybody could.

JENN: So they give you advice, are they involved in other things that you do as well?

YOUNG: They’re actually running the whole thing. We just get a chance to talk to you guys, now that you’ve finally asked about it, we have to admit it.

GOWAN: The other good thing is that they have great opinions about things. It’s weird, but I can’t even think of an example where they weren’t right on the mark when they’ve had certain comments about the show. So we’re lucky.

SHAW: We have great girls and they get along great with each other. We’re very lucky. They know when we’re good and they know when something’s not working. It’s hard to have somebody give you an honest opinion like that. Very few people want to tell you, “You know that thing you guys are doing? DON’T do that any more!"

YOUNG: Don’t wear that!

SHAW: Don’t wear that, that’s awful! What were you doing when you said that? Who else is going to tell you that?

JENN: What about kids?

YOUNG: (Singing melody to “Born Free”) Child free, as free as the wind blows.

SHAW: I’ve got a 14-year-old daughter.

JENN: Does she come along?

SHAW: She comes out every once in a while. But she’s pretty much in school.

YOUNG: (Nodding to Gowan) One wife and two kids for him.

SHAW: Glen’s got kids.

YOUNG: Glen’s got three kids.

SHAW: Every once in a while we’ll have kid week during a break and we’ll get an extra bus and it will be a kid bus, so it’s a lot of fun for everybody.

Q: You mentioned last summer that you would like to see the younger bands try to keep up with the touring schedule that you guys keep, but I don’t see many of them really trying.

SHAW: It’s difficult. Aside from the physical aspect of it, familiarity can breed contempt, you know, it normally does with bands. It’s such a rare occasion for people to be able to be around each other as much as we are and still like each other and be supportive of each other and not have driven each other crazy to the point where you have to pull it to the curb.

YOUNG: We obviously didn’t work together for a long time after 1983, so we suffer from the same thing, but the fact that something about this body of work that we created together has survived the test of time and the quality of shows we do, people still respond to it. We’ve had a chance to grow up in a sense and understand what this is, and what it isn’t, and what it can mean to your life, and what it can never mean to your life. And basically just have a mature outlook on what we do, which allows us, I hate to say to be more businesslike, but at least you don’t have unrealistic expectations. You know what you can generally accomplish and it takes a monumental effort to really have a hit record and to do great things, and Tommy and I, and everybody else for that matter, love to work. So we’re really having a chance for a second bite at the apple and we’re not going to screw it up.

Q: Do you ever feel like you have performed a perfect show or is it always just kind of out there, barely out of reach?

SHAW: I think we get into the high 90s on a regular basis, but there’s so many little elements that I don’t think it would be possible. Because we’re bringing this in, and the crew gets this show up and running, and a lot of times we don’t know what’s being held together with baling wire and gaffer tape. But generally there’s something that’s not quite working right, but they get it to work, you know what I mean? Showtime, the lights go down and the band goes up there.

Q: The Volunteers For America benefit concerts that you did in October, how hard was it to pull all those bands and details together?

YOUNG: Jeff Ravitz our lighting director was going to do the McCartney thing, but they wanted somebody who was New York-based and he was in L.A. these days, even though he grew up in New Jersey. But he just came out and did his thing and he just did some spectacular things. And this wonderful karma and rapport we’ve built with people around us, and with bands like REO — when Tommy called up Kevin Cronin and said, “Do you want to do this.” Boom, “I’m in.” We called up Paul Rodgers of Bad Company and, boom, they’re in. It’s a critical mass already. And then Journey, who is managed by REO’s same management, a couple days later they started talking to each other about it and, boom, they were in. So it was a monumental effort on dozens of people’s parts, but ultimately it came together. It was an astounding thing. I’ll never forget being out there the first day when we had the Marine color guard come up and do that and this girl sang kind of a bluesed-up version of the national anthem, but she sang the living (crap) out of it and the whole crowd was just like … and I’m shivering, getting chills just thinking about the feeling I had. I was behind the curtain, I really couldn’t see what was going on unless I stuck my face out there, it was just like, “Wow.”

SHAW: And the day went like that, just one thing after another, after another, after another. And then the two Port Authority police officers came out there and told everybody. And people didn’t know about the story of the Port Authority Police Department. In a department of only 800 people, they lost 37 of their brothers and one female officer. Cause the NYPD, most people just associated with them and they’re a much larger police organization, and as awful as it was for them, Port Authority wasn’t getting, no one was raising any money for them. So they kind of went out there and told their story and it was so moving. It still ... I’ll never forget it, to hear these guys talk about it.

YOUNG: And then presenting a check for half a million dollars, along with Steve Augeri from Journey, when we went to Ground Zero with the check, giving it directly to the police of the benevolent association, seeing these grown men, 6-foot-5, 6-foot-6, everybody’s getting tears in their eyes, it was ...

SHAW: We were there the day after George Bush had been there and we were on the same platform, you could see where it said, President, Kofi Annan ... YOUNG: Colin Powell …

SHAW: And so we got to look over and see all the damage and to give the check to the president of the benevolent association.

YOUNG: The single-largest check that they have ever received from an outside source.

SHAW: Well, we didn’t tell them how much it was. They thought, “Oh, these guys are going to give us, oh, 20, 25 grand.” And we gave them a check for a half million dollars. It was a wonderful thing.

Q: And you would have never been able to do all this if you hadn’t been out doing what you’ve been doing on the road these past three years.

YOUNG: Well, if we hadn’t been out touring and hadn’t built a relationship with REO and with Bad Company, and with all our employees and everything, we wouldn’t have been in a position to really ask people to do this and if we hadn’t built up a sort of karmic capital with everyone, to where someone would say, “Of course,” no, we wouldn’t have had the machinery to put it together. And we did and it happened and it was a wonderful thing.

Q: Could you just kind of sum up your thoughts on everything we’ve talked about?

SHAW: It’s the best job in the world. It’s a job where you go to work and you play. It’s been a dream come true. And I think it keeps you young. The challenges that we face every night are the same ones we were facing 25 years ago.

YOUNG: How many people get to go to work and get a standing ovation at work every day? That’s what we get. What’s not to like about this job? The traveling can be difficult, being away from home for some people is difficult, but there’s no other ... this is just … I keep saying I would do it for free — and I would.

Doug Fox is weekend editor of The Daily Herald. He can be reached at 344-2546 or dfox@heraldextra.com.

This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page C1.


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