Todd Sucherman, drummer for the legendary rock band Styx, has just released his first-ever solo album, “Last Flight Home”, on May 2nd via Aqua Pulse Records.
Recording of “Last Flight Home” took place between July 2019 and January 2020 with Todd handling all lead vocals and principal drumming in addition to co-writing nine of the album’s ten songs. The music soars with universal longing from the title track to the grandiose, twisted orchestral circus vibe of “Ad Lib Everything” to the heartfelt surrender of “It’s Perfection” to the edgier, self-inflicted carnage of “The Damage.” Songs that provide emotional stories rich in tonal texture designed to keep the listener hanging on by a thread.
Our correspondent, Robert Cavuoto, spoke to Todd about the making of his “Last Flight Home”, the heartfelt nature of the songs, how his respect for singers has grown exponential, and why the next Styx record will be one of their greatest of all time.
Why was now the right time for you to release this solo work?
My old friend and co-producer of this album, J.K. Harrison, coaxed me into doing a record. He was very supportive and believed in me when I didn’t believe myself! It came about very organically. I think most people would expect some drum-centric jazz fusion project, but it’s not. I have always been drawn to songs with great melodies and strong lyrics. When the record was mixed, mastered, and manufactured, it was sent to my home. Then COVID-19 hit, and my initial reaction was that I can’t release a record during the pandemic and economic crisis. It was my final decision and my wife agreed. A couple of weeks later, some musician friends of mine suggest since it’s completed, maybe now was the right time to release it. Maybe people need entertainment the same way they needed entertainment during the Great Depression. Maybe people have time to sit and really listen to music like never before or at least since the 60s and 70s when they would put their headphones on and held the record in their hands. That was their evening at home. My wife Taylor Mills, who is a brilliant singer, changed her mind and also thought I should put it out now, but I was still conflicted. I went to my social media pages and posed the question, “I need your advice, would you be interested in hearing new music from me during this difficult time in history? Should I wait for brighter days or go full steam ahead?” The response was wonderful and overwhelming, with 99.99% to move full steam ahead and release it now. So I moved up the release date from May 30th to May 2nd with no real plan or infrastructure [laughing]. I have been very busy the last couple of weeks, getting the technical side of the website updated to make this happen. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was made easy when I posed the question to those who would be interested in it.
I agree; the world needs music to make them feel better. The songs on the album seem very personal. Were they about real people and life situations?
Yes and No, “Last Flight Home” was a song that was reflective of me being a traveling musician of 24 years and how hard it is to get home. I know people don’t want to hear about rock star’s problems [laughing], and it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans to what is going on right now. As a human being on this planet, my job takes me away from home. I don’t have an issue with leaving for a run of shows, but if I have a three-day break where I can get home, I don’t want to be stuck in airports missing connections due to a situation that doesn’t have anything to do with me. If I’m delayed in an airport for five hours, then I have five less hours to be with my wife and child. If I’m only home for three days, that’s a big deal to me. That song comes from a very personal place. Some of the songs are fiction. The song “An Invitation” is about forbidden love in the Renaissance times, where the guy is about to be executed because of it. That certainly does not come from personal experience [laughing]. The song, “The Damage” it’s about a character who is a womanizer, bastard, and friendship betrayer. That song comes from the experience of having known people like that living in Los Angeles and seeing talented people who are unable to get ahead socially because they are an absolute horrific mess. If it wasn’t a personal experience, then maybe it was an observed experience.
Kudos to you, as you sang all the songs with such conviction, heart, and passion that they felt to me as if they were all very personal songs.
Thank you, that’s a tremendous compliment. It’s what I tried to do as a singer who has never really sung like this before.
Do you have a new appreciation for singers, and did you get any advice from Lawrence or your wife?
No, working with J.K., who is a brilliant singer and producer, he was able to guide and mold me in the direction from “This absolutely sucks!” to “It’s good, now let do it again better.” [Laughing] It was an incredible learning experience. I have been a professional musician since I was six years old, but I never did this before. My respect for singers has grown exponentially through the roof. I respected singers before whether they are Bob Dylan, Pavarotti, or anywhere in-between but to be able to sing in tune, in time, connect with each lyric, and then string all the lyrics together while telling the story is insanely difficult. My respect for singers has gone through the roof.
How many songs did you write for this record outside the ten that appear on it?
We had 12 songs and started to trim the fat. I thought ten was enough as I didn’t want to overstate my welcome on a debut release. There is one cover tune on the CD, called “Kindling” which is from an English band called Elbow who I really loved. It was one of the seeds of an idea to get this album started. I was playing the song, and my wife randomly said it would be a good song for me to cover if I was to ever do something. That was the same time J.K. was cajoling me into doing the project. It was a convergence of those things all in the same week where I started entertaining the notion. I never believed it would become something until very late in the game.
Being a rock star on the road seems like organized chaos trying always trying to get from point A to Point B. I thought “Last Flight Home” is quite a heartfelt and touching story, yet it doesn’t paint an enjoyable life of a rock star on the road.
I have to say it’s great to be in a band with the human beings that make up Styx. In the 70s, they were throwing TVs out the window into swimming pools like every other band. When I came into the band at 26 years old, I could have easily been pulled into that crazy life which looked liked fun [laughing], but they were all solid human beings. By way of example, they showed me how you conduct myself, keep a marriage together, and other life lessons; lessons that still carry me through to this day. It may be a weird life to the layperson, but it’s pretty structured as we have a great crew and the same tour manager since 1996. He is the person who gets us from the gig to the hotel, hotel to airport, and so on. Thank goodness for technology with cell phones and Face Time. I can see how marriages could be ruined in the 70s. You are gone for months on end, and there is only one telephone in the production person’s office which you have wait your turn to use. When you do call; your wife is out shopping. The next time you get to call home is the following day, so I imagine that it had to be difficult. Sometimes I still can’t get myself home because of broken planes, inclement weather, or a missing crew.
Tell me about how Ringo Starr influenced some of the songs; I hear a Beatles vibe on “Scared Book of Favorite Days.”
Certainly, for the drum part, I call it the English Droopy Dog style of playing. I envision the Droopy Dog cartoon sitting behind the drums playing. It’s a Ringo or ELO or Davie Mattacks playing on the XTC‘s “Nonsuch” record vibe. The title of the song came I came up with it in 1992 and always knew it would someday find its way into a song.
For the cover of the “Last Flight Home”, did you photograph your suitcases in front of the hotel doors knowing that you would use them for it?
That’s exactly it. As soon as the song “Last Flight Home” came into existence, the process started. I have about 80 pictures of my suitcase up against hotel doors. I asked one of my oldest friends in the world who is an Emmy Winning Director and graphic designer to create the cover. I had the concept and sent him a file with the 80 suitcases. I wanted them to look bleak and he sent me a few designs. We used the one that really stuck out to me with its bizarre cracked black & white Nosferatu vibe and a color photo in the middle. The black & white suitcases represent all the days on the road and the color suitcase signifies I’m going home now.
You were one of Spinal Tap’s illustrious drummers for a brief period, how much fun was that?
I got to perform “Stonehenge” with them on the Tonight Show in 2000, complete with little people and the Stonehenge monument. We also did Jimmy Fallon and John Stewart‘s Daily Show in 2009. It was the last time Spinal Tap has ever played as a complete band. Those guys are geniuses and brilliantly funny. They are also wonderful human beings who care about playing well and the sound of their instruments. It would be very easy to dismiss them as comedians and entertainers who are just having fun with it, but that’s not the case. They want to sound good. I watched Christopher Guest try out different Marshall amp heads to find the one he thought sounded better. It would have been very easy to take any amp, but he cares how he sounds. Just being with those guys was like witnessing a firing squad of comedy; they would say things back and forth to each other, and they won’t laugh, maybe just smile, because it was their normal banter. I, on the other hand, was trying not to laugh like an idiot behind them. I hold those experiences very dear to my heart. Just to sit with them for a few meals between working was priceless.
Can you give us an update on the status of the next Styx album?
Had life gone on in normal fashion, my drum tracks would have been recorded in Nashville two weeks ago. They aren’t recorded, and most of the guys haven’t recorded their parts either, so it’s still largely demos at this point. They need to be done, and that will happen when we are safely able to get to it. Part of my daily routine, in my studio, is to stay sharp by continuing to work on this new music. I don’t want to forget what it is that I want to say with my playing when it comes time to record. I can say the music on this upcoming record is absolutely killer! There are a couple of songs which are lyrically prophetic. There is a song called “Sound the Alarm,” and when I first heard, I stopped playing and damn near burst into tears because the lyrics were so in tune with what is happening now. It sounds like they were written today. I haven’t even asked Tommy Shaw about them yet. I’m really looking forward to when we can record it. To fans of the band, I think this will stand as one of the greatest Styx records of all time!