STYX has just released a great new 70’s classic rock sounding concept album, The Mission. Amongst all the space rocking music is a story about five astronauts (members of STYX) going on a mission to Mars, Pluto and beyond. As a result they are playing a series of shows in Quebec. In particular is the Strangers in the Night gourmet gala which is in support of Cure SMA, The Mariam Foundation and the West Island Women’s Shelter. Here’s what keyboardist/vocalist and the nicest guy in rock n roll has to say.
Ron : Hi, Lawrence. it’s pretty much been a year since our last interview. I want to congratulate you on The Mission, it’s a really great album.
Gowan : Thank you very much. That’s music to our ears. That’s the reaction we’ve been getting and it’s so gratifying to the band.
Ron: It’s even charting very well.
Gowan : It charted right off the bat and now it’s even going into it’s third pressing of vinyl. it doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all. Even on the tour it’s been amazing to see how well the audiences have been reacting to the new songs. We’re so grateful that they are equating the new songs right there alongside all the classic STYX songs we’re usually playing.
Ron : The whole sound of the new album, The Mission sounds like classic 70’s rock and even more like a classic STYX record. As an example the way the harmony vocals and production are done.There is such a huge focus on the keyboard sounds, which is a good thing for you. Was this intentional?
Gowan : The great thing about any concept record is you’ll need keyboards and synthesizers along with the crunching guitars, slamming drums and adventurous bass playing. Our producer, Will Evankovich and the band had a lot of fun crafting and piecing that together with the Hammond B-3 organ and keyboard parts. There’s a lot of interesting synth parts that we had fun exploring in the studio.
Ron : Not only is the keyboard sound more prominent but you are doing more writing.
Gowan : Yes. For an example Tommy (Shaw) and Will had started writing Radio Silence. They wanted some more lyrics and keyboard parts so they brought me into it. We spent about two weeks working on that song alone. After that was done we felt very strongly about it and so we just kept working on more. So sometimes I wrote lyrics and sometimes it was just music. At the end of the album Tommy said to me “You know that keyboard part you play called Khedive, well why don’t we make that the name of the space ship.” and so we did.
Ron : The Mission is a concept album about traveling in space. Where did this idea come from?
Gowan : Since I joined STYX it’s given me the opportunity to go on some great visits of NASA. We made friends there. One time after Tommy was going there he came to me with this song called Mission to Mars. He really liked it and wanted to record it. Then a few weeks later Will had a song called Locomotive. When I heard the two side by side I thought these songs sounded connected. Tommy said “What about if we did an album about an actual mission to Mars?” I jumped all over it because I love concept records and anything with space.
We started working on it bit by bit, and then we got a call from NASA. They said they had discovered a fifth moon orbiting Pluto and they decided to name it, STYX. They invited us to go to NASA to see the first pictures. So we went there and were told they had sent a space craft out there known as The New Horizons nine years earlier. We were going to see the first pictures coming back. We were looking around the room wondering how lucky we were to be there. The science guys were all high fiving each other as if hey had just won the Stanley Cup because these pictures were coming back. It had worked. Eventually the pictures were published in National Geographic and Time magazine. We saw the images as they came across the screen for the first time. We even got caught up in it. We said we were working on an album about a mission to Mars. It’s a thrilling ride and makes for a great rock record.
Ron : What a connection it is that as you guys are recording this album NASA is getting these images back. It’s almost as if it was written in the stars.
Gowan : It’s exactly like that, Ron. There were all these sign posts that kept posting us in the right direction.
Ron : You know at the end of the record when the ship goes off into the outer reaches of space? I think this leaves an open door for you guys to maybe do a sequel.
Gowan : You know what Ron, that’s a great notion. I like that. It’s possible. The real story is not so much the mission, it’s more about the crew and the difficulties that arise. I see that as a life in a band. Being a part of STYX is very much how we navigate ourselves through this life together. We ride on the same bus. We share the same stage and dressing room. We have this goal which is to make STYX a greater band than it’s ever been and continue on into the future.
Ron : If you had the chance to go to Mars yourself knowing it’s a one way mission, would you do it?
Gowan : That’s hard question to answer. If I knew there was a gig there (laughing) I would seriously consider it. I think I’d like a few other people to go there first and test the new ground. After all I’m a musician first and a space cadet second.
Ron : I’ll tell you, Lawrence, The Mission is such a great album I would love to see it performed in it’s entirety song for song one day or maybe a one time concert special or DVD.
Gowan : Thank you for saying that because that’s what we’re getting from a lot of reviewers. Quite a few people are asking us “Will you guys perform this album in it’s entirety?” So now we’ve begun discussions of maybe performing a classic STYX album like Grand Illusion, Pieces of Eight or even Paradise Theatre in it’s entirety along with a set doing The Mission in it’s entirety.
Ron : According to the liner notes on The Mission in this crew you are the first officer. This is an album with a sci-fi theme. Are you a fan of sci-fi yourself?
Gowan : Huge. I’m a huge fan of sci-fi. Another thing I love about this album is it brings together two things I really love. I have always been a huge fan of concept albums and I’m a huge fan of sci-fi.
The first sci-fi thing I fell in love with was Lost In Space. But my favourite show was Fireball XL5. When I was little kid my two favourite shows were Fireball XL5 and Hockey Night in Canada.
Ron : Last year when we spoke you spoke about being in band was like super heroes.
Gowan : I do remember we touched on that.
Ron : So I was curious if you could be any super hero who would you choose and since you are A Criminal Mind which super villain would you like to be?
Gowan : Okay… (thinking), well it’s kind of hard to not want to be Dr. Evil from Austin Powers. He’s got his own mini-me (laughing).
But on a more serious note, I really related to the Batman T.V. series growing up as a kid. My favourite on there was The Joker. I love the Joker. A close second would be the Riddler because I love Frank Gorshin. I don’t think I’d make a good Cat Woman, but I’m willing to try on the outfit (laughing).
As far as a super hero, I’d have to say Batman has stayed with me my whole life. I was lucky enough through some people I know including my son to meet Adam West at Fan Expo in Toronto a few years ago. I may not be Captain Canuck but I am the Canuck in STYX.
Ron : Another thing from last year was you wanted to speak to me this year about he release of Wolf Cop 2.
Gowan : Yes, you’re right. I do remember saying that. Well Wolf Cop 2 just had it’s premiere in Austin, Texas and then about four weeks ago in Montreal.
In the first Wolf Cop they used my song Moonlight Desires. I ended up getting a call from the producers after that asking if they could use Strange Animal in Wolf Cop 2 and would I consider being in the movie. So I said “Yeah I’d do it”. They have a really good cast of people in it including, Kevin Smith and we shot it up in Saskatchewan.
I play an organist at a hockey game. However I’m an evil organist because I’m in cahoots with this evil guy who’s trying to take over the city. The character I play I got to name myself and it’s, Organo. He’s the evil organist who has this mind control device. He turns on the organ and he causes all kinds of mayhem to ensue but I won’t go into it any further.
Ron : I’ve always been curious what has been your most memorable Spinal Tap moment?
Gowan : There have been a lot. I can tell you that. One of my favourite stories is from Japan. In the hotel there was a constant flow of people in the lobby with their STYX albums. After we’d been in this hotel for about two weeks the security removed everyone. Then one day we went downstairs and one of the STYX members saw no one was there. He went up to the security and said “Hey, where’s my Japanese fans?!” (laughing) I loved that. The whole experience of being in Japan was fantastic. I really hope we go back and play there again.
Another great Spinal Tap moment was on the Brave New World tour. I believe it was somewhere in Arizona. A place where it doesn’t rain much, but when it does rain everything becomes very slick. There was a torrential rainstorm just before our show. On our opening song I ran out on stage playing a 12 string guitar and I did a slip and slide so far on my back across the stage that it looked like it was a part of the show. It was horrible just getting up soaked.
Ron : STYX are playing a series of these shows in Quebec this month and this province is very special to you guys. The show you are doing in Pointe Claire is for a charities such as Cure SMA, The Mariam Foundation and the West Island Women’s Shelter.
Gowan : Yes and always happy to help charities. It’s great for us to do something that reverberates beyond just being in that city for that day. We’re happy to be a part of that event and it’s going to be a great show because in Quebec it always is and I’m happy to be doing it. I love it that they are turning a parking lot into a concert venue.
Ron : Speaking of Quebec your first live album was Live au Quebec.
Gowan : Yeah, it was. Live au Quebec is responsible for me being in STYX. My version of Pour Un Instant was in the top ten. I was doing a morning show where I played Pour un Instant and another french song I had called, Stephanie. Donald K Donald saw the show that morning so he called me and said he wanted me to cancel my own show and open for STYX, which was on the same night. So I did the show opening for STYX and by the end of it all the guys were on the side of the stage watching me. As I came off stage Tommy Shaw stopped me and said “No one has ever opened for STYX and gotten an encore and you just got two.”
I’ll tell you another funny story. Todd Sucherman our drummer went and bought a copy of Live au Quebec from the merch table. He came up to me and said “Oh excusez-moi, I don’t speak french but I really liked your record.” I stopped him and told him I didn’t speak french either.
Ron : That’s a great Spinal Tap moment when you think about it.
Gowan : It might be the ultimate when you think about it. One year later I met Todd again at the Princess Diana memorial in England. I was playing with the BBC National Orchestra. He was on the bill there as well as Duran Duran and Sir Cliff Richard. Todd came up to me and said “Hey do you remember me?” and I was like “Of course.” The next time I see Todd was in Tommy Shaw’s house and I’m joining STYX. That’s our little history together.
Ron : This year you are involved in the Ronnie Montrose tribute. How did that come to be?
Gowan : Yes well that’s due to our bass player Ricky Phillips who played with Ronnie Montrose for a long time and they were close friends. When Ronnie passed away he left behind some great demoes of songs he was working on. So Ricky took up the task of turning those demos into a full album. I was really honoured that he asked me to be a part of it because there’s some really great talent on there like Sammy Hagar, Steve Lukather, and even the guys from KISS.
Ron : I really look forward to your shows here in Quebec and the Strangers in the Night event in Pointe-Claire and see what songs you play.
Gowan : So are we. I’m pretty sure we’ll be playing Suite Madame Blue. It’s one of those songs we always have to play when we’re in Quebec and we’re so happy to play there.
Ron : Thank you so much for another great interview. As always I must say you are the nicest guy in rock n roll.
Gowan : Thank you, Ron. It’s always great to talk with you.
Make sure to check out the STYX performance in support of the Cure SMA, The Mariam Foundation and the West Island Women’s Shelter. in Pointe Claire this coming Friday, August 25th 2017. Follow the home link below for tickets and details.