Interview with:
James Young of Styx
In the twenty-eight years that they have been crafting progressive power pop STYX has always kept one simple principle at the fore, always make it rock. When it became apparent that one member of the STYX family was unwilling and/or unable to continue taking this principle to the people a change was deemed necessary. Dennis DeYoung took his leave and Lawrence Gowan was recruited in. Though I would be the first to point out that DeYoung is deserving of profound respect for his contribution to the rock world, in 2000, STYX is a far better band for the change. Stepping in to fill the shoes of a rock icon is not necessarily enviable but for the eminently talented Lawrence Gowan the task was less a challenge than it was an opportunity. Despite the fact that Gowan is a platinum selling artist in his adopted home of Canada, (he is actually a Scotsman), he was virtually unknown Stateside. Now, that too is changing.
In the time that Gowan has stood center stage for STYX he has mastered all of the group's standards as well as renewed the hope for future hits. Gowan is an incredibly dynamic performer who adds a physical presence to his singing that his predecessor never had. The man can move from one end of the stage to the other and never miss a lyric or the chance to give each classic song a bit of a Gowan-ian inflection.
Vocalist/Guitarist James (JY) Young has assumed the role of band patriarch and has, with Tommy Shaw, returned STYX to its rocking roots. To experience STYX live in 2000 is to be reminded of the full power and pomp of one of the greatest rock and roll bands to have been birthed in America. The spark is back and STYX will be setting fires across the globe as they tour with fellow Illinoi rockers REO SPEEDWAGON. In anticipation of this traveling rock and roll festival James (JY) Young phoned in to express how, once again, it is exciting to be in STYX.
DAVID LEE: Strangely enough STYX will be making another summer run this year.
JAMES (JY) YOUNG: Yeah. We are having fun working.
DL: I don't doubt that at all. I caught the show last year and though I was a bit apprehensive at first I can't say that I saw a better show the entire summer, Gowan has really stepped up.
JY: No s***?
DL: Absolutely, the band just feels alive again and a large part of that would seem to be the addition of Lawrence Gowan.
JY: Well, you know, Tommy and I had a choice to make and Dennis is not interested in doing what we want to do and he is not well enough to do what we want to do. Though he has written some great music over the years and we wish him well with his musical theater thing we have one hell of a rock and roll band here and we want the world to know it. We just went to Japan for the first time in eighteen years and we are on our way back to Europe for the first time in nineteen years this fall. We have never been to South America, we are going there, we have never played Australia, we are going there, we have never played South Africa, we are going there, we have never played the Eastern Block and we are going there too. I can't give you exact dates but we are definitely going to be in Germany in October and we have definitely got plans to see the planet firsthand.
DL: October is a good time to be in Germany eh? (laughs)
JY: Well, their Octoberfest is actually in late September so hopefully they will have gotten most of the mess all cleaned up! (laughs) It is like Mardi Gras over there, it is great. They get silly, in a German sort of way.
DL: Right, that very reserved and serious sort of silliness?
JY: Let's just say if you have got about twelve liters of that Haughfsbrau stuff in you. . .
DL: That kind of knocks down the walls of reservation?
JY: Yeah! (laughs)
DL: The band is the same as it was last summer, right?
JY: Yeah, oh yeah.
DL: Will you be taking this band into the studio any time soon?
JY: We have a plan to reestablish this new lineup, we have to go into a lot of places that we haven't been and let people see this band. The reservations that you talked about yourself, well, they will still be there in the minds of some people so once we have done that we will do some recording. We are writing now and we haven't formally demo-ed things but the skill level of the band is incredibly high and the recording ability is there. One of the studio engineers is our live sound mixer so we have the ability, even on the road, to go out and lay something down if we really get a hankering to do that but we want to make sure that everything is where it is supposed to be so that we can have our Santana moment. (laughs)
DL: Is this whole Santana thing a big surprise for you?
JY: Yeah, I guess you would have to say that on some levels it is. Somebody had a plan and was thinking and somebody figured out how to put Carlos in front of millions of people, I mean, that record has sold an astounding amount right now. God bless Carlos Santana because the man has worked hard and he had a rough life even before he had his career and he is a beautiful and spiritual soul. There is obviously something to the concept of Karma.
DL: Lawrence had a career before he met up with you guys. . .
JY: Yes he did.
DL: And he came into this STYX thing thinking that it was going to be a temporary gig?
JY: None of us were sure of what Dennis was going to do. The fact that he didn't feel well enough to do this, I don't think that Dennis thought that we could go out and succeed without him but you were not the first person to say that this was the best show that you saw last summer. It is much more of a rock and roll thing and this is truly the kind of a band that I have always wanted to be in. It is the kind of band that STYX was up until 1979 when Dennis decided, kind of in a unilateral fashion, to write a song like "Babe" and a few others that were so different than anything that we had done before. This band is back to where my heart and soul was and I am loving it and loving it big.
DL: So, we shouldn't expect a return to the overtly theatric "Kilroy Was Here" kind of STYX?
JY: That is not to say that we all don't have some appreciation for theatricality in a live presentation but I think, for Dennis, it really became his thing. He has been writing for the musical theater with this whole "Hunchback of Notre Dame" thing and he did his "Ten on Broadway" record. You know, it is just that musical theater seems to be where Dennis wants to be and the power ballad, in his words, has been taken away from him because pop radio is more alternative these days. Though alternative is the mainstream these days, I guess. (laughs) But things change if you just wait around long enough. In answer to your original question, we have a few more theatrical elements than we had last year but not many. It is still a very clean yet powerful look for the stage and it is really focused on the energy of these five, and on some days six guys because our original bass player, Chuck Pannozo, shows up form time to time. He is on an extended leave of absence but he does show up occasionally and sits in on a couple of songs.
DL: That would free Glenn Burtnick up to play guitar again?
JY: Yeah, exactly. We put Glenn back on guitar since that is what he did when he stood in for Tommy back in '91 and then, let me tell you, that is really a guitar army up there! And then even Lawrence plays guitar so maybe we should just get everybody on stage a guitar! (laughs)
DL: That would be outrageous! (laughs) Something that was easily noticed from the last few times I have seen the band is that the audience sings along to every song, word for word. Is it surprising to you that the music has endured as it has?
JY: You know, it is really a wonderful and pleasantly reaffirming thing to know that the songs that we wrote really do have a timeless quality about them and have an appeal that is ongoing. (Long pause) It is a heck of a thing.
DL: Is it a little bit humbling?
JY: It is, it truly is because you look at that, it is weird. I have got these friends and they are doctors and they have an eleven year old daughter and she doesn't like popular music, she is into Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers and all of that kind of stuff so you never know what direction things are going in next and what is going to have appeal. To me, the core of rock and roll, the essence of it is teenage rebellion and it doesn't have to be a complex thing it can be a really simple message and in the '70s we added a lot of layers onto that and expanded it a little. This is what happened in the early nineties, everyone went back to sounding like a garage band and that was a reaction to the MILLIE VANILLI and the MTV-ism of the music business. At the core it is a couple of guys with a guitar, a bass and some drums and that is where it all starts. Lyrically, some of our songs spoke to people in their teens and in their twenties and it is amazing that it still speaks to even younger people and at this late date. It is humbling and I am a very lucky man to be doing what I love to do for a living and I am doing it with people that I am very fond of.
DL: If you were to begin a rock and roll universe with STYX at the center there would be at least a dozen other bands circling it, has everyone forgone all of those satellites to concentrate on STYX?
JY: Right now I think that this is the highest and best use of each of our individual talents. Tommy certainly had some success with the DAMN YANKEES but in the year 2000 it is more about the legacy of that band. Ted Nugent certainly has a legacy of his own but Tommy's real legacy is with STYX. Dennis is a guy who didn't like touring very much so he would do the shows as a necessary evil but the idea that we could go to all of these different places on the planet and do all of these different things would have never have flown with him and we don't have all of those restrictions anymore. Tommy and I both love the concept of touring the planet and I think that STYX is the highest and best use for Tommy Shaw, that is me speaking but I think that he feels the same way. For Todd and for Glenn and for Gowan, . . .Todd was telling a story yesterday where he went from riding around in a van having to set up his drums and play a set for forty minutes and then take down his own drums and load them back into the van and go to the next gig, he went from there to being on the road and playing in front of twenty thousand people with STYX! He said, "What a wonderful transition that was!"
DL: No doubt. Since Todd is still the kid in the band do you haze him a little, make him get beers for everybody after the show?
JY: (Laughing) We don't have to force him, he happily does it! He is the new party chairman. He is a drummer and all drummers are nuts! They hit things for a living so what would you expect?
DL: Nobody could possibly have forecasted that this version of the band would work as well as it has with Gowan, where you a little concerned at first?
JY: I was supremely confident that this was going to be big and I remain, I am even more confident now. I have got ideas and I have got plans and I think that we are going to surprise a lot of people so COME ON DOWN AND HAVE SOME FUN! (laughs)
Written by David Lee Wilson
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