Legendary rockers Styx will be releasing their 17th studio album, “Crash of the Crown,” on June 18th via Alpha Dog 2T/UMe.
“Crash of the Crown” is the follow-up to their successful record “The Mission,” which was released in 2017! Throughout their career, Styx has sold over 80 million albums worldwide, had twelve Top 10 smash hit singles, and performed thousands of concerts since their inception in 1972. The band consists of James “JY” Young (lead vocals, guitars), Tommy Shaw (lead vocals, guitars), Chuck Panozzo (bass, vocals), Todd Sucherman (drums, percussion), Lawrence Gowan (lead vocals, keyboards), and Ricky Phillips (bass, guitar, vocals).
With “Crash of the Crown,” the band has created an emotionally powerful album that flourishes with beautiful layered vocal melodies, harmonies, and intricate instrumentation. The songs usher in a new era of hope, survival, and prosperity. Even though the album was written pre-pandemic, the lyrical content has the forbearing sentiment of the global seismic event. “Crash of the Crown” is music that is both concurrently of its time and timeless all at once. It takes a hard look at some inherently dark subjects but, the prevalent light at the end of the tunnel eventually becomes the focal point for each song, with a persistent fervor to keep moving forward to achieve the greater good. Pre-orders for “Crash of the Crown” can be ordered here.
Correspondent Robert Cavuoto spoke with lead vocalist Lawrence Gowan about the writing and recording of “Crash of the Crown”, how Styx stays consistent with their signature sound, and their touring plans are full steam ahead for 2021!check out their conversation transcript below, and remember that for more interviews and other daily content, make sure to follow Sonic Perspectives on Facebook, Flipboard and Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel to be notified about new content we publish on a daily basis.
Most of the album was written pre-pandemic, and then you had to put on hold off on recording. That had to be frustrating for the band? Do you feel as if the band lost any momentum once the pandemic hit?
With the success of our last album “The Mission,” Universal Music wanted another record from us. We started writing or wood-shedding ideas as far back as 2018. Through 2019 we started recording very serious demos, and then it bloomed in getting many of the finished tracked completed. Keep in mind, we had maybe a little less than two-thirds of the album completed by the time the pandemic hit. Everything was written, but we hadn’t finished recording the drums, bass, some of my keyboards, and JY‘s parts. I had a digital piano on the demos, and had to get on a real piano to do the final recordings. During the first month of the pandemic, everyone was scrambling, trying to figure out what to do. During that time, Tommy wrote a couple of extra songs that ended up on the record, which fit into the overall concept, which also were affected by what the world was going through. When he came in with them, and they were in tune with the world’s situation. I went to a studio here in Toronto, which was equipped with a Steinway, Mellotron, and Mini Moogs to finish off all my parts. Todd did the same from his home studio, which is very extensive for drums; it’s one of the most sophisticated around! Ricky and JY went to Nashville to record their parts once they had all the guidelines worked out with masking and social distancing, which were new to people at the time. The Zoom calls were enhanced with Audio Movers; it’s an app that can hook two studios together. From one studio to the other, we can listen simultaneously to each other with very little delay, only 100th of a second. After a couple of weeks of that, we got so accustomed to it like we were all in the same room. It was bizarre at first and then became magical. That’s how we navigated our way through the recording process. These tools that we have become adept at working with during the pandemic are here to stay.
That’s a testament to the strength of the band of how good the album sounds where it has the vibe and energy that you were all in the same room recording together.
Thank you. A lot of that has to do with the fact that we had so much of it laid down prior to the pandemic, and we did not veer off of that direction. That is really what we spent most of the time doing, making sure we didn’t veer off.
Having the unexpected delay, was there ever the urge to go back and reassess songs, parts, and noodle with them?
There were some little things that we played around with. There is always that margin that you are describing. A few nuts and bolts were tightened, and fresh ideas were introduced back into the songs. Those won’t have happened if it happened if it hadn’t been for the situation. Many of the songs were written and recorded pre-pandemic; suddenly, the lyrical intent shifted so you could personalize to the pandemic, but in reality, it was all just coincidental. It was almost like we were preparing ourselves for something a seismic shift in the setup of the universe.
I think the pandemic has been at the forefront of people’s minds that their normal instinct is to relate everything they hear back to it. What makes this record so special is you can relate to it now, and it will be relatable to other moments in your life down the road.
Exactly! You can get as poetic as the song requires, but ultimately there are nuggets that resonate beyond any temporary conditions. I watched a series on Netflix, and towards the end, they played “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Stones but sung by another artist. I remember hearing that song in 1969-ish and thought what an incredibly relatable song even 40 years after it was originally written.
With most songwriters by the time they get out of their twenties, the good songs have all been written, but you’re actually getting better. What is your secret?
I have been with Styx for 22 years now, and it probably took the first decade to find our footing as a team. I attribute a lot of that to Tommy and his partnering with Will Evankovich as he brought him into the circle as a producer and writer. It was a way of filtering ideas without disrupting the band and not having us evolve into squabbles [laughing]. Will seems to have that “once removed gentleman’s call.” There was a spark there and an urge to pull the band forward while upholding its legacy. If you only think about that, you can have “analysis paralysis.” With Tim, all of a sudden, these good ideas started bubbling up in the dressing room. For example, Tommy would come in with something he and Will were working on that would spark Ricky to play an alternate bass line, and that would spark another song idea for me to go off and work on. Then you have JY blasting brand new riffs in the dressing, and you find yourself absorbing this flurry of ideas and using them to opening the door to expressing Styx in this new millennium.
There are not many bands that you can say have their own identifiable sound. AC/DC, Def Leppard, and Styx immediately come to mind as bands with a unique sound that they carried through their careers. Tell me about the importance of the band sticking with their identifiable sound yet growing it and evolving it to be even better.
From my vantage point, from their very beginnings, they were able to absorb different types of musical influences and run them through the machine of what that band is. To let those influences come out with their own character. It sounds weird, but if you bring strong enough songs its works well. When I listen to “Renegade,” I hear I hear elements of raw southern rock mixed with elements of Alan Parsons. Then you put Tommy‘s voice, JY, and Dennis, and you have created something very unique. Today one of the things we haven’t shied away from is using all the influences from the classic rock era and running them through this machine with JY and Tommy. It’s almost like a blender to see what comes out on the other side. On this album, the title track “Crash of the Crown,” I hear JY‘s strong vocal deliver over a guitar riff, then when it transitions to Tommy singing, I think of Pink Floyd and Elton John then “Styx-ized” [laughing]. I also hear influences from their “Pieces of Eight” album, which that song could have worked in that era of the band. On the third part where I sing, which Tommy wrote, I try to conjure up the spirit of Freddie Mercury. The great rally cry that he puts at the end of so many great Queen songs. Ultimately that riff is what Styx is and sounds like today. I think that whole aspect of what classic rock is’ we have plundered it and done well without it sounding overly redundant.
Todd told me last April that Crash of the Crown was the greatest Styx record of all time, in which his quote made quite a few headlines. How do you feel about this album?
I like to think that as well and leave it in the public’s hands to a certain degree. I think it can stand with “The Mission” and what Styx has accomplished in the past. I think it can stand alongside those albums and be seen as at least equal quality. I would say that “Abbey Road” is the greatest Beatles album ever in so much as that it can stand alongside “Revolver” [laughing]and be of the same that essence. We sharpened a lot of our tools on “The Mission,” which is evident with “Crash of the Crown.”
Earlier, you mentioned that Tommy wrote two songs during the pandemic; which two were they?
I believe one of them was “To Those,” which he may have had parts already written. I didn’t hear it until the lockdown. The other was “Our Wonderful Lives.” I didn’t hear until after the pandemic started, so that is my assumption he completed during the lockdown.
I thought you were going to say that “Sound the Alarm” was written during the pandemic.
Believe it or not, I think Tommy had that song for several years and just hadn’t brought it up! We worked on that song in the summer of 2019. I got all my keyboard parts done for it using Tommy‘s B3 and everything but the piano. I completed the piano here on a Steinway in September of 2020. That, to me it a beautiful lyrically song summing it up of the last year of what has been happening, yet it was written a year prior.
You wrote “Lost at Sea,” which is a great song; why is it so short?
Thank you, the musical segment of “Lost at Sea” was designed to work into two other songs, “A Monster” and “Common Ground.” When Tommy and Ricky came up with “Coming Out The Other Side,” I loved the song and thought “Lost at Sea” can work in tandem with it. It was such a nice section that stood on its own once I came up with the lyrics that I liked the notion to let it be however long it is to lead you into the next piece of music. I hear it as the intro to “Coming Out The Other Side.”
What songs from the record would you like to see on the setlist?
That’s the most difficult thing to answer. I want to go out and play the whole album, but you can’t do that. Just like “The Mission,” we have to wait to see how the public acceptance of it goes. With “The Mission,” we immediately played “Gone, Gone, Gone” and “Radio Silence” for almost a year. Once the album took hold and enough people knew it, we started to see requests coming through on social media from the seven million people on the Facebook page. They said they wanted to hear “Locomotive,” so we played that at a few shows. Then they wanted to hear “Greater Good,” and we added that to a few shows. I get a new setlist every few days now [laughing]. I think you still start to hear the most upbeat ones like “Reverie” and “Crash of the Crown” due to people’s reactions so far. “The Fight of our Lives” may be the opening statement of the show. It’s fresh and seems like what people have been through. I want to play “Common Ground,” “Coming Out The Other Side,” and “A Monster.” “Sound The Alarm” has to be in there as well. That is Tommy’s song for this millennium!
What are Styx’s touring plans?
It’s full steam ahead. We start rehearsal on June 13th, with our first show on June 16th. If America continues to vaccinate, I think things will unfold seamlessly. If not, we may have another setback and have to postpone shows. As the non-American in the band, it really impressed me how efficiently the American people have pushed themselves forward to defeating this thing as quickly a possible. Way to go, USA! If it keeps this way, we will go on to play a show.