The yearly Gowan interview 2020
Updated: 6 days ago
Time to end the year with our yearly Gowan interview. After a career that has included successful single and album sales in Canada, numerous awards as well as being a full-time member in the classic rock band Styx, Gowan has put out his first Christmas song called Can You Make It Feel Like Christmas. To make things extra special this is the first Christmas-themed interview we’ve ever done. (Lawrence) Gowan or maybe we can just call him Larry was gracious enough to give me a call from his home, so we can all find out about the new Gowan single, a typical Gowan family Christmas along with his best and worst presents. This interview was also conducted on Dec 8th marking the 40th anniversary of John Lennon’s assassination which Gowan recollects where he was and its impact on him.
Roxtar: Here we are doing another of our annual interviews. In a year where so many artists are not working you’ve been consistently working.
Gowan: Ron, I can’t wait to get back to work so I can stop working so much (laughing). For me, it’s been non-stop all year. I’ve been working on so many projects I have at least four or five deadlines I have to finish for people including myself, two with Styx and I just finished up
a project for Carla Collins. Then I have a replay of the show I did at the Empire Theatre where I’m going to play a couple of Christmas songs and come out in the encore and do a Q & A.
We want to focus on my new single with the band Stuck on Planet Earth called Can You Make It Feel Like Christmas. On the Styx site, it got over 30,000 views. On my stuff, it got over 15,000 and I just heard yesterday it got over 10,000 streams on Apple imusic and now the Spotify numbers are coming in so it’s doing remarkably well for a song that came out four days ago.
As a side note, the song is now the third-highest streamed song of the week and was voted one of the 12 best Christmas songs released in 2020. Click to watch the video here:
Roxtar: For so long fans have been asking for new Gowan material and now they have it in your new Christmas song.
Gowan: I know isn’t it funny how that worked out? In October our publishing company came to me and said they had this new band called Stuck on Planet Earth that charted on
Billboard. They were wondering if I would do something with them around Christmas time. I went and looked at their videos and thought they were a real good three-piece rock band, that plays well with some smoking material.
The song just fell into place. I came up with the notion of putting out a Christmas song that relates to this very year with what everyone's been facing and going into the whole end of the year. Usually, Christmas is the biggest party of the year and now it will probably be the smallest party of the year because we are all trying to stay safe. Like so many people I wanted to celebrate the end of 2020 in a positive way since it's been a tough and tragic year for so many people. For those of us who have survived, we are trying to bring that feeling, that happens at this time of the year. We try to put our finger on what it really is, but it's indescribable. That's why there's such great music around Christmas. It's a time that pulls people together. We start to think about humanity in a broader sense and how connected we all are. This is a year when we aren't able to all be together like we usually are. So that was the instigator of the song.
I tried to write a song that wasn't just a Christmas song but a song that happens to be about Christmas. I didn’t try to make this a standard type of Christmas song with any of the trappings of jingle bells or stuff like that. I was thinking a lot of the Traveling Wilburys and the kind of band camaraderie their songs had. It’s a more straight-ahead rock song.
Roxtar: You also have the new version of Too Much Time on my Hands with Styx. I love how they did the animation for you on the line I'm not a Criminal that was an hommage to your A Criminal Mind video.
Gowan: Yeah, that was fun and we all did it remotely. It was put together by our sound guy who's got some great video chops. What's been fantastic is that between that video and my new Christmas song, the reaction has been overwhelming. It’s so nice to see how much our music has affected people in these times and how much they want to keep it as a part of their lives in this situation.
Roxtar: Do you have a favourite Christmas song or two?
Gowan: Well first of all I grew up Catholic so those kinds of Christmas hymns always hit me. They are such spectacular pieces of well-written music that are so heartfelt and emotional.
I love Hark the Herald Angels Sing. I also really love Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride which is one of my favourite to play on the piano. There’s also Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Let It Snow.
My favourite soundtrack of Christmas is A Christmas Carol from 1951. It’s an orchestral score but I love the drama that’s built into that. I love how it touches on the idea of redemption and changing yourself. The end of the year is a time when people consider that.
Roxtar: Let me ask how typical is a Gowan family Christmas?
Gowan: Our family Christmas is as typical as everyone else’s can be. I've got a sister and two brothers. When our parents were here it was based around that. As we all grew up and got our own families it all extended. We have friends come over as well. We even go to visit our neighbours and say Hello.
I have to watch the Grinch, Rudolph, It’s a Wonderful Life and a Christmas Carol. All those typical things.
I love our traditional Canadian winter connected to sports and all of that. I’m always waiting for the World Junior Tournament to start.
I have to say one of my most memorable Christmases was the one I wasn’t even home for. I was with a whole group of Quebecois singers and dancers where we were on a U.N. tour in war-torn places like Israel and Bosnia. I was the only English guy there. That’s where I got some great French immersion for six weeks. We all were away from home so we bonded and much like the new song says We all had to make it feel like it was Christmas.
Roxtar: What’s been the best and worst Christmas present you’ve ever received?
Gowan: What a great question! I’ve never been asked that. I’m going to have to give that
some thought. Hmmm… (thinking). Okay, it’s not so much something I got but it’s more something that I watched. I have two kids and I remember watching them when they were about two and five years of age opening their presents and seeing the joy on their faces. I had this overwhelming feeling of How is life ever going to get any better than this?
I think the best Christmas present I got when I was a kid was one of those blow-up punching bags of QuickDraw McGraw. You know you hit it and it came right back up again? You’re making me laugh because I loved that thing.
As far as the worst present is concerned I got this carving of a duck. It had such a sharp bill that it was cut to a knife-edge. It was like a dagger. My brother was trying to open a present beside me and couldn’t get the tape off. So I reached over and used the duck’s bill to rip off the tape (laughing). That was a funny Christmas morning with the wooden duck which is now nowhere to be seen.
Roxtar: In the past year we’ve seen so many artists doing what they can to get through this year with album releases or live stream shows. I think you’ve been doing more live stream shows than any other artist.
Gowan: I don’t know about that but very early on I got a lot of requests from people to do live streaming shows. One thing I did that was different was I played some songs that people were not familiar with.
Roxtar: Yeah, well one thing you did different that had a lot of people talking about was when you played that Rhinegold song, Dark Forest Riders at the Empire Theatre show.
Gowan: Thank you very much for saying that and you’re right. That’s because my son, Dylan was at home here with us and he’s a professional drummer. One day he found an old tape of Rhinegold and he started playing that song. I heard it and thought it sounded familiar. He said I should play it so I started working arrangements out. It felt good and sounded like progressive rock.
I plan on doing a good studio recording of it, but I felt the live version we did was usable. I might want to dig into some more of those progressive rock pieces I have from the past that might do well if they have a retooling. I think bringing some of that stuff to the forefront now is more relevant than at the time we played them.
Roxtar: Speaking of relevance on this day that we are talking it’s the 40th year of the night John Lennon was assassinated. Do you mind if I ask where you were and how did it impact your life?
Gowan: I remember it well. It was 1980. I was in my band Rhinegold and we were getting down to playing our last set at this club in Toronto on a cold, cold night. Our sound man came up to me and said “I got something really horrible to tell you.” I thought maybe we blew an amp or something. He then tells me that John Lennon had just been shot. I told him he was wrong, there’s no way that happened. I didn’t believe it. I went out to the van, turned
on the radio, and Imagine was playing. As soon as the song ended the DJ said “John Lennon dead at 40”. The way he said those words just hit me and I burst into tears right there. I went back into the club, straight on stage, and played Imagine. I could see that people in the crowd were also getting wind of the news. For days after I was incredibly upset over the loss of a guy I never met but had such a profound affect on my life.
Here we are 40 years later still talking about it. There’s not a single day that goes by that I don’t think about him or hear one of his songs. I think about him every day, in the same way, I do my mom and dad.
Think about this, Ron, four years after that I walk into Ringo Starr’s house that had been John Lennon’s house and had the recording studio he had built. There I am recording Strange Animal in the same studio where John Lennon recorded Imagine. It was so bizarre to be pulled into this whole world he had built. That was an astounding thing to happen.
Roxtar: This year you also took part in a virtual tribute show to John Lennon.
Gowan: Yes, I did. It was done remotely via the Hard Rock in London. This guy Sepp Osley from Blurred Vision put it together with some really great talent. We had some guys from Dire Straits, 10CC, Cutting Crew, and others. My son Dylan and I did Tomorrow Never Knows. It was all a benefit for War Child UK.
Roxtar: It’s always so great to speak with you but I wanted to mention since the last time we spoke was the connection to the Stringkatz.
Gowan: That’s right you brought them to my attention. If I remember you sent me the video of them playing A Criminal Mind on television.
Roxtar: Yeah, and then I spoke with Helga a few times and we all went to see you at the infamous show in St. Eustache where you split your head open.
Gowan: (laughing) I remember that. How bizarre it is that connections go. After the show, my road manager tells me we better go to the hospital but there was an ice storm that night. He called around and found out it would be an 11-hour wait time for me to be seen. Then Helga came backstage with Marie-Claude after the show. She tells me her boyfriend is a surgeon and if I wanted to we could all go over to his place and he’d stitch me up. So we all drive over there and Dr. Eric had everything all laid out. Right there in
his kitchen, he sewed me up with 13 stitches in my head.
So in the following year, I spoke with Dr. Eric a few times to see how my wound was coming along. I also spoke with Helga to see if we could do something together. Then COVID came along. Some theatres in Quebec were wondering if I would do something as a charity. I was very reluctant to go to the theatre and do a show. I said I would do something from home remotely. I spoke with the StringKatz and they were willing to go and so we put the whole thing together. It all started because of Ron Roxtar, so thank you.
Roxtar: You are very welcome. I’m just happy and honoured to be able to put things together like that for all of you. Any chance you’ll do something more with the StringKatz in the future or maybe have them appear on a Styx album?
Gowan: I would never rule anything out. You never know. I would very much like to do something with them in the future. The show we did online I liked very much and would like to maybe bring that to some theatres in Quebec as a show. Just me and the StringKatz I think that would be a cool show.
Roxtar: Speaking of the future, according to Tommy Shaw and JY the new Styx album is complete but waiting to be released when you can all properly tour behind it.
Gowan: Yes, that’s true. I can’t wait for people to hear it. They’re going to love it.
Roxtar: You know Larry we've spoken several times and you've told me that there's a fully completed Gowan solo album that's ready to be released. Is there any chance we'll get to hear it one day?
Gowan: It's a conceptual record and it is done. There's a reason I don't put it out. It needs a dramatic presentation. There's a whole theatrical dimension to it and it needs to be done that way. Otherwise, I don't want to put it out without that in place. So we have to figure that out. That's another thing I'll turn my attention to next year if things carry on longer than we expect. I'm really looking forward to bringing it out, but it just has to be done in the right way.
Roxtar: Thanks again for yet another fun and informative interview. We’re keeping the tradition of the yearly Gowan interview alive!
Gowan: Absolutely. Thanks for keeping track of that. Great talking with you as always and guess we'll do it again next year. Have a Merry Christmas and take care of yourself.