Lawrence Gowan of Styx on Cyclorama and more.
Ron Roxtar : It’'s really great to finally do this interview because on a personal level I've been a fan for a long time and even attended an autograph signing for Strange Animal back in the day. Now here we are full circle after all these years. So it''s great to go from being a fan to supporting you on a professional level.
Gowan : Well that's great when stuff like that happens. Eventually the currents will lead to a connection with people you admire growing up. That''s happened to me so many times and I know how gratifying it is.
Ron : You are such an inspiring person both professionally and personally. What is it that inspires you the most?
Gowan : There’'s all kinds of inspiring things I don't expect like when you have an encounter with something new in life you've never encountered before that can make you feel so happy to be alive. The thing that inspires me the most is when I hear some music from a band like Muse that turns me on that it makes me want to write better or even listening to records that I might have missed when I was younger. I was so busy listening to records by Yes, Genesis, and Pink Floyd in the seventies that I really didn't listen to bands like Led Zeppelin too much. These days I''m really listening to that kind of stuff and I''m reinvigorated by it.
I remember hearing Peter Gabriel's third album and it was exactly where I was at in my life musically. He perfectly captured everything I felt. It was so in tune to who I was at the time. And of course every single night when I'm standing there seeing what music does to people. You just want to do it better than you've ever done it before and that's an awesome challenge.
I was at a Peter Gabriel show in Toronto and thinking to myself, 'Oh man if only Jerry Moratto and Tony Levin could play with me on my next album I know how much better my new songs would sound'. Then six months later I was in the studio recording with those guys and the Strange Animal album was the success I thought it could be.
Ron : So what is the best 'Spinal Tap' moment that you've ever had?
Gowan : (laughing) There are so many, Ron, they could make another movie of it. Off the top of my head, I remember a song we used to open with where I was playing acoustic guitar for. It had rained pretty hard that day. Our road manager told us “Look it just rained so be really careful when you walk out there because it''s still slippery. Don''t get carried away.” As soon as the intro music starts I do what comes naturally, I run out onto the stage and of course I fell on my ass and slid completely across the stage with my guitar in the air like I''m white water rafting. I''m sure the audience was thinking ''What a strange introduction.'' That''s just one of many.
With my spinning keyboard there's so many ''Spinal Tap'' moments. Let''s go back to my solo career. I always used to jump over the keyboard on the last song. Because it spins if you want to jump on it you have to put the brake on so this way it stops spinning when you jump. There was one night I forgot to put the brake on. I stood on top of the keyboard and went to jump, but because the brake wasn't on I didn't get as much air as I needed to make the jump, so my jump was too short. My tail bone hit the end of the keyboard as I came down. I ended up knocking the whole thing over and the keyboard that sits in the stand came out and crashed right into the crowd. It smashed into a hundred pieces and keys were everywhere. And what do you think the audience reaction was to that? They loved it. They cheered and went crazy thinking, ''This guy trashes thousands of dollars of keyboards every night." And then there's pictures of my tail bone that I hope will never be published. Those would be a few of my favorite Spinal Tap moments among many.
Ron : Let’'s say there was a Gowan or Styx tribute album, which artists would you like to hear perform on it and with which songs.
Gowan : I want to hear Freddie Mercury do Criminal Mind. I want to hear John Lennon do Moonlight Desires and I want to hear Jimi Hendrix do Suite Madame Blue.
Ron : How does this tour with Def Leppard differ from other acts you''ve toured with?
Gowan : I think so far they are the favorite act we've toured with. I really like their songs, their whole presentation and we've talked with them several times and get along really well. I just feel a certain sympatico with the type of band they are and the type of band Styx is. I think we really match up quite well.
Ron : So any hopes to see some collaborations on stage either during your set or theirs?
Gowan : Not yet, but those things are never out of the question. We just finished a tour with Deep Purple in Europe and Tommy got up one night and did Smoke On The Water with them. Some of the best on-stage collaborations we've had were with Reo Speedwagon whom we've toured with many times. But when the time is limited and two or even three acts are on the same bill sometimes when you force those things you might be cutting off some precious time to the fans who paid to hear their favorite songs done they want to hear them done. When those collaborations happen naturally it''s always the best, if it''s a forced situation it''s a little bit stiff.
Ron : Is there any audience or city that really sticks out in your mind with impressing you as memorable?
Gowan : It depends where we''re playing. I'll stop and think, “Yeah, the audiences in this particular city are always great.” As an example, every time we play Detroit I''m reminded how great those audiences are and I think “This is the best audience we play for.” and then a month later in Houston I say “These Texas audiences are the best we ever play for.” Some audiences surprise me. I would never have thought German audiences would be so wild but they are.
I'm not just saying this because you''re in Montreal but when I put together both Styx and my solo career I''m always impressed whenever we play in Quebec, not just Montreal or Quebec City but Rimouski, Trois-Rivieres and places like that.These audiences are as good as anywhere I've played and maybe even better. Part of the reasoning behind that is Quebec audiences have their emotions ready to go right from the first song. You don't have to work them up after two or three songs.
Ron : Speaking of Quebec audiences it's been ten years since you first opened for Styx at the Bell Center so to have you here now at the same venue as a band member is kind of special in itself.
Gowan : I believe it''s ten years to the month. It''s so funny, Ron, when Donald K. Donald first called me up and offered me the gig I kind of resisted because I had my own show in Montreal the same night. I was like “I don't want to open for someone in Canada again. I've done that.” He said “Look you'll play to more people there than you will at your own show so you should really do this.” I replied saying I didn't even have a band at the time because I was touring solo with just a piano. He said “Just do it! I just want you to do it!”
The bizarre thing is that night was like a Hollywood script. I was so wrapped up in the audience and they sang along to every song I played. That alone prompted Styx to say to me “We should do something in the future.” I remember watching Styx and thinking ''If I was ever in a band this would be a good one'' then two years later I found myself actually in the band.
I also remember reading an article in a French newspaper saying that I had received the second longest standing ovation at the Bell Center after Hockey legend, Maurice Richard. I was floored. Man, what an honor. So I guess with all that it just had to happen. Another thing is for me is that it was like closing a book on my solo career.
Ron : It seems like every show Styx does in Montreal stands out. I remember when you guys played Metropolis and it was one of the best shows I''d seen in five years and probably the best Styx show I've ever experienced.
Gowan : Thank you for saying that. I remember that night too for a few reasons. One thing, it was at the time the smallest audience the band had ever played to in their career. Another is playing in that area of Montreal you just never know what's going to happen. I remember that being a real tremendous evening because the audience was jam-packed right up to front of the stage and the way they reacted to everything was so perfect.
Ron : Everyone who saw you guys play Bourbon Street North is waiting for you to do it again.
Gowan : Oh yeah, that was a good night.
Ron : One of the opening acts from that day was a guitar player from Toronto, Clifton David. It was kind of like what Donald K. Donald did for you. Clifton David''s promoter booked him at the last minute to open for you. It was the first time he ever played Quebec. Later on he did an interview on my website where he talked about how great you guys were and I promoted him for a solo show of his own a year later.
Gowan : That’'s great to hear.
Ron : I really believe Clifton David is one of the best new artists in Canada and I would love to see him open for you or Styx again.
Gowan : It goes back to what we were saying about connections leading to things in the future. So you never know.
Ron : Last year you played two solo shows in London, Ontario. A lot of Quebec fans felt heartbroken because there were no solo dates in Quebec. Any possibilities for future solo shows in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada?
Gowan : To be honest, Ron, I''d never rule it out, but when I look at the calendar and see we''re playing right up until the end of October that's far enough into the future for me because my mind is completely on that. Tommy goes out for some more dates with Shaw/Blades, of course I''d love to go out and do some shows on my own. But on the other hand Tommy could call me up and say, “Do you have some songs ready for a new record” and we could go into the studio. We never nail ourselves down to anything to specific in the future because we''re always looking at when should we record the next record.
My first year with Styx I tried to do both. I went out and did about ten Gowan solo shows as well as playing Styx shows and then when I started writing material I was torn between what was a good song for a Gowan solo record or for Styx. I'm a bit scared of putting out my own record that it wouldn't live up to my solo records from the past. I'm more inclined to go out and play songs from my past than to quickly patch together a solo album. So I decided that while I'm in Styx I'm going to give 100% to that band. I think what I've done with Styx both studio and live really stand well on their own.
Ron : I feel Cyclorama was the best Styx record since Pieces of Eight.
Gowan : Thank you very much. I''m glad you feel that way.Ron : So when are we going to hear a new Styx album?Gowan : We did two new songs for the One With Everything Contemporary Youth Orchestra Live album, but we do have a lot of songs written it''s just a matter of getting in the studio and deciding how to do them. I know we can make a very good record that can stand up to Cyclorama.