Fans who love Styx, the multimegamillion-selling rock band that has forged an idelible legacy both on record and onstage, for its greatest hits — songs like “Renegade,” “Come Sail Away” and “Fooling Yourself” — won’t be disappointed when the band takes the Pepsi Main Stage at the Washington Town & Country Fair Saturday night, Aug. 10, at 8:30 p.m.
Those classic hits and many others will be a prominent part of the show, Lawrence Gowan, who provides lead vocals and plays keyboard for the band, told The Missourian in a phone interview back in June.
But this show will be more than just a compilation of those favorites, Gowan told Ethan Busse, The Missourian’s Currents Arts and Entertainment editor. Following is an edited transcript of that conversation:
MISSOURIAN: What’s new and exciting with Styx?
GOWAN: Well, in a recent couple of weeks we had a little adventure. We played a sold-out night at the London Paladium in England. Two nights after that we played another sold-out night in Oslo, Norway. Then two days prior to that we went to Sweden, played at Sweden Rock, one of those massive festivals they have in Europe, about 40,000 people or so.
And we just came back and did five shows in a row here. We are firing on all cylinders at the moment and looking forward to seeing you guys Aug. 10.
MISSOURIAN: Very cool! You guys have been busy and playing big shows.
GOWAN: No question! We have been doing that, and it’s kind of what we’re built for and what we thrive on.
We do a lot of big amphitheaters and arenas, and we have even done football stadiums, but we really love doing right now, we’ve just done five theaters in a row, and those only hold 3,000 to 4,000 people and they are just as enjoyable to us because we get to do different things in different venues. The great thing about the summer is the big outdoor county fairs are great celebrations, so we look forward to those year after year.
MISSOURIAN: Right on! At fairs, those are the real people, the working class. And I’m sure they really get fired up when you play “Blue Collar Man.”
GOWAN: Yeah. Those county fairs, those summer fairs, they really are in a lot of ways at the very core of how rock music began to amass an audience. It was really when those summer fairs first came into use by big rock acts or acts using electricity to amplify their sound, that’s really where the net got cast a lot wider. It’s just conducive to the whole atmosphere, and by the time the ’70s came around, the classic rock acts, of which Styx stands among the highest, really perfected that way of holding a concert. So it’s very fitting and proper that we continue to do those.
MISSOURIAN: I agree, and I’m glad you guys stick to the roots of it and haven’t outgrown it.
GOWAN: Well this is it. It’s funny. I’m in my 21st year with Styx now and when I joined the band, Tommy (Shaw) and JY (James Young) and Chuck (Panozzo), they had this attitude of there’s this insatiable demand to see Styx around the world, let’s not cut that off by simply relegating or confining ourselves to one certain type of venue. And because of that, the fun that we have playing all these different types of venues throughout the year, you can’t really qualify which one is greater than the other, but if there was anything we didn’t enjoy doing, we stopped doing it.
But these summer fairs, we really look forward to them, particularly in August and right into September.
MISSOURIAN: When you guys come to the fairs, do you get there early enough to enjoy some of the fair food and other fair things?
GOWAN: I love when that happens, because I’m a corn-on-the-cob afficianado. And the corn dog! However they wish to in different parts of North America they’ll name the good old fried dough with cinnamon and sugar all over it. In some places they are known as elephant ears. Other places as beaver tail. I enjoy those.
We try to eat really healthy prior to any show, but there is no way we ever leave that fair without the bus loaded down with some pretty fantastic fair food by the time we leave.
Another enjoyable aspect to the whole thing, and there’s a spirit to it that we really embrace as much as we can.
MISSOURIAN: We are really looking forward to you guys coming here. It’s a big deal for us to have Styx.
GOWAN: That’s good to hear!
MISSOURIAN: You are going to get a good turnout here. What kind of show can the fans expect?
GOWAN: The Styx epic adventure, as I like to refer to it, is there are certain things you can absolutely rely on. The biggest songs of the band’s catalog — “Renegade” and “Come Sail Away” and “Blue Collar Man” and “Grand Illusion,” “Fooling Yourself,” probably “Crystal Ball.” . . . Those are can’t miss choices, so they are in every show. We augment that with, over the years, we’ve discovered, particularly with people under 30 who’ve discovered the band with whatever medium they’ve got, YouTube clips or an older sibling or just delving into vinyl record stores, we find that more and more of them have their own particular favorites . . . like “Man in the Wilderness,” “Suite Madam Blue” or “Miss America,” and it’s almost like we consider it in some ways second-tier songs in the band’s catalog, they are actually top-tier songs to a whole lot of people out there.
That’s how we make up a set list. So when we see you guys on the 10th of August, they’ll be a little bit of research into what the area as to what are some of the biggest Styx pieces. Those are what we’ll add to it.
In addition to that, there will be at least one or two songs from our latest album, “The Mission,” because it’s now survived well over a year on the Billboard classic rock chart and continues to gather people all the time. Sonically it fit perfectly with the Styx albums of the late ’70s and early ’80s . . . So we’ll definitely play one or two from that, and that will give people a great cross section of the nearly five decades of Styx existence on Planet Earth.
MISSOURIAN: The new album, you’re right, it holds up with the catalog completely. It’s pure Styx, and I love it . . . that’s really awesome that you guys do your research and craft the set list to the area.
GOWAN: Yeah, for example, on the East Coast, there’s a song from Paradise Theater called “Snow Blind,” and that’s a favorite of a lot of people. When we just played in New York, the biggest Styx song is “Boat on the River,” so we have to play that in every show, so we really do look into what really works in that region, and go for those songs.
MISSOURIAN: I had heard you guys are playing “Mr. Roboto” again in shows.
GOWAN: Well, there’s an example of something, basically we added it last year when we did the tour with Joan Jett. We wanted to put something in that was a little bit different, and we had played 18 years ago we used to do this medley where we played just the beginning of “Mr. Roboto,” but we never played the full song, and it just was like, that song has survived decades now, and it has gone through all kinds of permutations of being looked upon as being a kitschy or novelty type of song, something that has survived for all kinds of reasons and is constantly quoted in cultural reference and so. And we felt it was time the band embraced the song again, and we put together a pretty kick-ass version of it, and that’s what you’re going to hear in Washington.
MISSOURIAN: So you mentioned playing with Joan Jett, one of the questions from our readers was who was your favorite band or performing artist that you’ve toured or done a show with?
GOWAN: We have so many friends among the classic rock genre of people. We loved touring with Joan Jett last year. That was so different from other things that we’ve done. Great touring buddies of ours are REO Speedwagon, Foreigner for sure. Cheap Trick. We get along really well with all of the bands, but some of the tours we’ve done with Def Leppard have to be highlights for us, just for the camaraderie between the bands. I’m originally from Britain, so I love being around a British band like those guys.
But some, like REO, they’re like brothers. We were practically like the same band, we toured so much together. So it’s like that. We wind up being very much one team. But overall for me, it’d be a tossup between the Def Leppard guys and the REO guys.
MISSOURIAN: What is your favorite song to perform?
GOWAN: I love doing “Renegade” because I don’t have to sing lead on that one. It’s not because I don’t love singing, because I do, obviously. It’s because where that song usually falls in the show is right toward the end or at the very end, and I get a chance to take stock of the evening and the emotional arc the audience is going through . . . you see the audience arrive at the same emotional ecstatic state . . . It’s wonderful to be able to kind of take that in. So because my responsibility of that song is mostly just to play the keyboard part, I’m able to really observe, take that in, and kind of put it in the bank as another great little life experience brought to you courtesy of the classic rock maturation of Planet Earth.
MISSOURIAN: I never thought about it, but it’s probably pretty hard to appreciate the audience and all that is happeneing with the performance when you are also having to sing.
GOWAN: It’s a different thing. I feel a similiar thing with “Come Sail Away,” but there’s such a responsibility attached to the fun factor of it, you have to keep your eye on the ball and not let it slide off the table just because you’re getting amped up along with the audience . . . A little bit of composure will help you get through it a lot better.
MISSOURIAN: What has been your favorite place to have played? A pinnacle of locations, what would that be?
GOWAN: That’s a really difficult question. Over the course of a year, it’s funny how when I look at the schedule we have, and we play 100 shows a year, it’s amazing at the beginning of the year when I look at the list of cities, obviously if we are playing New York and L.A., big places, if we are going to Japan, those things stick out, but by the end of the year, it’s funny how cities that you hadn’t really thought about, the show can be so spectacular on that night, there can be an atmosphere, a character, and something may happen that moves it to the head of the list.
I guess in some ways playing in Britain is a big deal, and in Canada, because I grew up in Toronto, I still live there, but I was originally from Britain, and I’ve got all my relatives there. So when we played London and we played Wembley a couple of times, those are really meaningful to me because I’m back to where my life began.
However, I remember there was a year a couple of years ago when Boise, Idaho, became my favorite place of the year just because the night was astounding in how the audience reacted and the whole atmosphere of the evening. There was a magical thing that happened there. So really it’s a moving target is the best way I can answer that.
There’s always trepidation when you play your hometown. You’re sort of excited to do it, but you really want it to be great. So I still love playing Toronto.
But I know this, on Aug. 10, Washington is going to be my favorite town to play in.
MISSOURIAN: Right on! Whenever you travel to all of these places are you sure to always grab your favorite regional food? And if so, when you are coming to our area, the St. Louis area, what would that food be?
GOWAN: Because I’m the foreign guy in the band, I still find a lot of exotic pleasures in America. As much as I’ve been here for over two decades, I still feel like I’m visiting your country, in a weird way. So I enjoy it.
Althouth I do have a Social Security number and I do pay taxes here! (laughing).
I take in as much of the local flavor —and that can mean food, sites, history — as I can. Our drummer Todd is so good at allocating and having an encylopedic mind, as far as the entire country, as to the best food to eat there, the best thing to drink, the best . . . so I rely on his expertise in that area, and he’s never let me down, not one time. So although I know this. When I get to the St. Louis area, the thing I would love more than anything is something I don’t think I’ll be able to get. I’d love to have a sip of champagne out of your Stanley Cup.
MISSOURIAN: Yes, that leads into my next question. Since you grew up in Canada, hockey fan, how did you feel about our Blues winning the Stanley Cup?
GOWAN: Couldn’t have been happier. The only way I could have been happier is if it had been the Toronto Maple Leafs, but I really was hopeful that the Blues would win it, particularly in light of the fact that I’m of a vintage where I remember the series where the Blues went up against the Boston Bruins (in 1970) and I remember perfectly Bobby Orr scoring that perhaps the most beautful goal of all time, because of the finish to it, that moment of disappointment and reality sinking into the St. Louis Blues and then seeing that hockey has thrived there in that city for so long. It’s a big chunk of my life . . . and to see the outpouring of that crowd. I got swept up in it quite frankly, and that’s even in light of the fact that the Raptors in Toronto won the NBA championship. I was just as enamored with the whole St. Louis Blues run to the cup, and to win like that, in a Game 7, the drama of it was spectacular.
Then I find out that Ryan O’Reilly, who won the MVP and the Conn Smythe Trophy, he’s actually . . . the son-in-law of a buddy of mine who I grew up with on my street in Toronto.
I just love it. One of my favorite things in St. Louis is going to visit one of the homes of Scott Joplin, the legendary rag time composer, one of my favorites. So that’s another connection I’ve always had to that city, is going to that house.
Maple Leaf Rag is one of my all-time favorite pieces to continue to play. Everything about it was great. I’m really happy for the city of St. Louis.
MISSOURIAN: Good! That makes me happy! Do you have anything more you want to tell the fans here before you come out?
GOWAN: Always looking forward to a Missouri night. That’s the way it is. And this country fair is going to be an epic adventure.