On A Mission To Rock with Lawrence Gowan Of Styx
The Mission is the 16th studio album by the legendary Styx, released last year showcasing a band at the very height of their creative energies. Songs such as Gone Gone Gone, Radio Silence and The Greater Good are among the standouts from The Mission Styx has been launching while out on the road. And now in 2019, Styx plan to play The Mission in its entirety during a very special concert on Sunday, January 20 at The Pearl at Palms Casino Resort as part of a two-act concert event. Prior to the New Year, Highwire Daze caught up with Styx keyboardist and vocalist Lawrence Gowan to discuss performing The Mission magnum opus live, a possible solo recording on the horizon, what Come Sail Away means to him after performing it for 20 years, and more! Read on…
How exciting, or perhaps daunting is it, to play The Mission in its entirety?
Yeah! I’ve been working on in for about a year. It’s one thing to know all the parts yourself and to feel that kind of confidence. But earlier this month we began digging into the two/thirds of the record we haven’t played live. We got pretty far down the path. It’s going to be a great night for us to do this finally. It’s very exciting – and for me it’s particularly rewarding, because I am in my 20th year with the band now, and I feel that this is really the definitive statement that band has put out – and it has been able to connect with the longtime faithful Styx followers – and the new generations that we’ve encountered since then. This is where we can kind of bridge the two eras.
Will you only be playing The Mission in its entirety in Las Vegas?
At this point, yes. I have a feeling, just from the reaction to it so far, that we will likely revisit this at some point – probably next year. But at this time, it seems like a good test to do one show and to do it in Vegas – a place where people are accustomed to from all parts of the planet. We’re also going to do an all-classics set that night too – so it will be a two-parter. It’s my hope that we’ll do a series of these shows. But I love the idea that we’re pulling everybody into this city to do it this one time, and do this as a litmus test to see if more is going to be required.
For those who have not heard it, is there any overall story or concept behind The Mission?
The overall concept is a very simple one – that we, as a species involved in right now – the idea that a small group of astronauts are going to Mars. Because of that undertaking – all of us as a band – we look at the trajectory of our lives, and we know that the greatest endeavor man has ever been involved with in our time is space travel. That coupled with rock music equals a great big epic adventure – and that’s what we were stitching together with The Mission – was the notion that this was going to happen in 2033 – as almost a linear description of what the crew will encounter – the emotional ride as much as the physical ride is really what The Mission is navigating its way through. If you look at the lyrics on the record, you’ll see that much if it is about interaction between crew members and the human aspect element and relationships that will be put to the test on such a journey. I can’t speak for everyone in the band, but to me, I see a great parallel between the longtime life of the band and the commitment that we have. And that’s really what The Mission focuses on.
One the cool things about The Mission, was during the making of the record, we were invited by NASA in 2015 to witness the arrival of a spacecraft known as the New Horizons as it arrived to the planet Pluto. As it got closer to Pluto, they discovered a fifth moon orbiting Pluto – and they decided to name it Styx. It was Tommy, myself and Todd that were able to make it on that day and have this be part of the great story of Styx as the band. It was then suggested, why don’t we make that part of the story as well? Instead of the Mission To Mars which is a cross between fantasy and reality, make it a thing where they continue on in that direction, and go past the moon Styx and Pluto – and they continue on into the Kuiper Belt – and it’s a one-way mission at the conclusion of the record. And that’s Styx: The Mission.
How close are you to releasing a brand new solo album?
I have an entire album done that I’m quite anxious to release, however – and especially now – you have such an avalanche of material that is released all of time. And if you’re not ready to spend at least half a year promoting something that you’ve put out – going out and playing it live, doing all of the interviews, and doing all the legwork it takes to draw the attention to a new record – it’s just going to fall through the cracks. And the cracks are so wide now because I guess people’s attention spans are so narrow. I’ve been reluctant to put it out. I almost put it out – six months before The Mission came out, it looked like Styx might take a break – and then the work on The Mission got so deep that I was like “Forget this. We’re going to be doing 100 date playing new songs from the The Mission.” My solo record would be just a blip – it would just be a footnote that it came out around the same time as The Mission. So I just decided let’s hold it until the timing is right and I can properly get behind it. And that’s the full story for that.
For you personally, is it still exciting for perform an inspiring song such as Come Sail Away after all of this time?
It really is! Because Come Sail Away has a trajectory to it – it’s intimate but also big and bombastic. It runs through the emotional spectrum. I’ve come to be really not just admire, but also navigate and associate the song through different changes in my life. The lyrics to that tune are very easy to relate to with the day you’re in. As things have changed for me in life, I find that singing that a song has a nuance and meaning that shifts in my mind over time. To me it’s like a painting – you go back and revisit it – and it means something different to you every time you look at it. And every time you try to repaint it so to speak, there’s some nuance that arises. And of course a big part of that is how the audience is reacting to it night after night – and knowing that they are probably projecting a similar experience to it as I am while I’m singing it. So yeah, I look forward to playing it tonight. I look forward to another day of encountering that song with this band and seeing where it moves people – including myself.
(Interview by Ken Morton – Photo by Jack Lue)