As the Styx tour with Joan Jett and Tesla comes to an end it was time to spend some quality time with the nicest guy in rock n roll, Lawrence Gowan vocalist / keyboardist of Styx. This is a part of our yearly interviews and in it Lawrence tells the details of the return of Mr. Roboto, what he does in his free time and comedy.
Ron : Hello, Larry. Here we are again for our annual interview. Where are you today?
Gowan : Hello, Ron. We’re in Washington and it’s so hot here.
Ron : Well you were just in Montreal for our heat wave.
Gowan : I know it seems wherever we go it’s a heatwave. It’s a double entendre.
Ron : Styx are heating things up wherever they go.
Gowan : There you go.
Ron : For our annual interview some people might think there is nothing left for us to talk about but with you and Styx it seems there’s always something to talk about. It’s a never-ending machine.
Gowan : Yeah exactly. It is a never-ending machine. With this tour we did with Tesla and Joan Jett we were one of the top grossing box office draws on Pollstar. It’s really amazing to see we’re selling more tickets than the Katy Perry’s and other big names sometimes. It’s great.
Ron : One thing I’ve noticed on this tour is that it seems Chuck Panozzo is pretty much on the tour regularly.
Gowan : Oh yeah. He’s feeling so much better with his health right now. He’s feeling good and he’s up for it. To see how his health has rebounded since I’ve known him is pretty miraculous honestly.
Ron : It’s really great to have Chuck there as an original member. So it would be good to have him on the road with you as much as possible I guess.
Gowan : Absolutely. The point is to have Chuck there as an original member. Even though we have Ricky Phillips as our bass player who is amazing, Chuck is such an important member of the spirit and heart of the band. That comes from the person he is.
Ron : Looking across the expanse of the Styx catalogue from the Wooden Nickel era all the way through to the Mission is there a song or two that you would like to perform?
Gowan : Oh that’s a tough one. You know I think I’ve done every song I’ve ever wanted to do in the Styx catalogue. There were some songs on The Grand Illusion /Pieces of Eight tour we were doing that I had always wanted to sink my teeth into like Superstars, I’m O.K. even Aku-Aku. You know what? I’ve always wanted to give a crack at Put Me On. That would be a good one.
Ron : We have to get the elephant out of the room. For the first time in 35 years and actually the first time in the band’s history you are finally performing a full band version of Mr. Roboto. We’ve heard Tommy was the one who suggested it but what was the actual moment you knew it was going to happen? Did Tommy call a band meeting? Was it on the bus? More so what was the reaction from everyone in the band?
Gowan : Okay so here’s the story. You ready? It was about five years ago Tommy and I were on the bus in the morning. Usually everyone heads off while Tommy and I would hang out and I have a coffee. We’re talking and Tommy asked me how I felt about playing Mr. Roboto. I told him I have no problem with performing that song. I like the song. I told him I thought it was an important song in the history of the band and we should play it. The next year we have the same discussion. Then it was like every year we would have that discussion. Finally a few months ago Tommy says let’s go into a rehearsal hall, hack it out and see how it feels. So we did that and it felt great. Tommy and JY had to sort of learn how to play their parts along with us because as you pointed out the song was never played live it was done to tracks. We said this is going to be a ton of fun. The great thing about playing it is it made them (Tommy, JY, Chuck) feel better about the whole experience. Basically it was so long in the past they overcame it. Here we are now playing the song and enjoying it. Most of all it’s what the fans want.
What surprised me initially was people were saying “Oh I thought they hated that song.” Never once did Tommy, JY or Chuck put down the music on that album (Kilroy Was Here). They didn’t like the tour because it lead to the breakup of the band. The faithful out there were dying to hear the song so we’re doing it and we’re enjoying it.
The thing with this band Ron is that we’ve always played to please ourselves with the intention of pleasing the faithful out there.
The same thing goes with The Mission. Unless we enjoyed it we were not going to put it out which I think I mentioned to you last year. We felt really good and proud of it so we put it out.
Ron : Good thing because it was very successful with fans, critics and even on the charts. We did talk about that last year. One thing I spoke to Tommy about and wanted to ask you; is there any chance Styx will perform the Mission in its entirety?
Gowan : Yes. There’s been a lot of discussion about that. We are very determined to do that maybe in the fall or early next year, but we shall see. The demand from the audience is there. We’ve had so many requests from the audience to do that album in its entirety and it’s only going to increase. It would wrong for us to not do that.
Ron : Totally. What a pleasure it must be for let’s say a classic rock band to put out a new album and have it received so well.
Gowan : I know. It just re-entered the charts with this tour. The thing with this band is that in the last 12 or 13 years we’ve been noticing a much younger crowd coming out to the shows. On any given night we look out and see half an audience under the age of 30. They weren’t even born when the biggest selling Styx record came out. They are the ones who’ve clearly embraced the Mission.
Ron : I heard Tommy Shaw’s Sing for the Day with the orchestra. Would you ever like to do an orchestra show for your solo material?
Gowan : Okay well the thing is I have done several orchestral shows for my solo material mostly in Ontario, London, Kitchener and Thunder Bay to be specific. Oddly enough I’ve never done orchestral shows in Montreal or Quebec. I did bring a string quartet one time to Montreal.
Right now I just love going out with my band and recreating the records from the 80’s like Strange Animal or Great Dirty World. That’s what I’m loving the most.
Those orchestral shows I did in the 90’s led me to playing at Princess Diana’s memorial in England. I was on the bill with Duran Duran and Sir Cliff Richard. Another band that was there believe it or not was David Hasslehoff with his band. He was a big contributor to Diana’s charities. The drummer for David Hasselhoff that day was Todd Sucherman. He came up to me asking if I remembered him because I opened for Styx in Montreal and Quebec City. Of course I did. So a few months later when Tommy, JY, Chuck and Todd were talking about a new guy joining the band my name came up. Todd was like “I just saw that guy in England he played with the London Symphony.” I kept coming into their circle it was just inevitable.
Ron : It was written in the stars you were meant to join Styx.
Gowan : I guess so. The thing is in joining this band they wanted me to bring a fresh interpretation of the songs. That’s how it’s worked out so well.
Ron : Since you mentioned interpretations I read an interview with JY in Billboard magazine and he said you sing Mr. Roboto in an angry way.
Gowan : Yeah exactly. I like the lyrics and theatricality of the song but overall the guy in this song is frustrated. He’s holding in this secret identity. I love that idea. In a lot of ways the guy in Criminal Mind is like that. He’s got something he’s hiding until he finally reveals it.
Ron : Since you are talking about theatrics. There’s something I have never asked you. Do you have a favourite rock n roll or music film of all time?
Gowan : Well I’ll always say A Hard Day’s Night will be my number one. Beyond that I’d say Phantom of the Paradise is one of my favourites. It’s with Paul Williams. It’s sort of a phantom of the opera told in a rock way. It came out in the 70’s. The songs in it are very good and strong.
Another one I like is Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I like that one a lot.
Ron : What does Lawrence Gowan do when he’s not writing, playing music.
Gowan : I used to play hockey all the time. Whenever I had a chance I’d play a game.
Now the main thing I like to do is walk. For an example I had the day off yesterday and I just walked… about nine miles. I walked around Washington DC. I went to the Smithsonian Institute. I love museums. In particular I love museums in the U.S. I’m a walker. I love going for extended walks where I don’t even know where I’m going. It’s amazing how I just enjoy the day that way if I’m not playing music. When I get back to the hotel or venue I’m ready to play and what I’ve encountered on my walks conforms me.
Ron : In the past, you’ve played with so many great names like Jon Anderson, Alex Lifeson, Ken Greer, and Kim Mitchell to name a few. Outside of Styx are there any other musicians that you would like to do something with?
Gowan : There are so many. I don’t even know where to begin. Of newer artists I’d love to work with any of the guys in Muse. I think Keene was an excellent band. Anyone from Radiohead.
Ron : Funny you mention that. I’m going to see Radiohead this week. It’s a super busy week with interviews and reviews.
Gowan : Oh really? That’s great for you.
Ron : I’m covering the Just For Laughs festival with loads of interviews and reviews.
Gowan : I love comedy. I worship comedians and the reach they have to make people forget their daily lives. Aside from music it’s probably the most uniting thing I can imagine aside from the space program. When you find something mutual you can laugh about it makes the entire experience of being alive that much better. I have deep respect for great comedians.
Ron : Do you have any favourite comedians?
Gowan : (laughing) If I name one I’ll be leaving out a hundred others. I could easily say John Cleese is one of the funniest people of all time. That means I’ll have to mention Eric Idle immediately afterwards. Martin Short who I actually had the chance to play piano for one night. He absolutely cracks me up like crazy. All the Second City people I love them. Tina Fey I think is spectacular I read her book. Amy Poehler is another one. Julia-Louis-Dreyfus on Veep is another one. Her comic timing and the way she presents that character I think is astounding. Ricky Gervais I’d have to mention immediately. David Cross. I could keep on going all day here, Ron.
Ron : Okay this is really hilarious because we’ve sort of veered off of music and into comedy. One thing I’m doing at the comedy Festival this year is my 2018 question of the fest which I ask to all my interviewees. Now that we’ve gone down this path I have to ask it to you. So Lawrence Gowan the 2018 Just For Laughs question of the fest is : What is your favourite comedy film of all time?
Gowan : My favourite comedy film of all time (thinking) okay if I had to pick one I guess it would have to be Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I remember how hard I laughed at that. Life of Brian would be a close second. Okay can I give you one that’s close? Broadway Danny Rose by Woody Allen. The hapless manager that’s helping these acts that just don’t have it but he believes in them anyway.
Ron : Everyone’s got a choice. Hey it’s always a pleasure to talk with you. I’m enjoying our yearly interviews and look forward to the next one.
Gowan : Sure. me too. Send me the link and you and I will hook up again for sure. Hopefully even before the end of the year.
Ron : Thank you so much, Larry.
Larry : Thank you, Ron. Bye.