Lawrence Gowan of Styx | Interview
Cris Cohen interviews Lawrence Gowan of Styx. They discuss:
"The beauty of a band is that it is the essence of a combined spirit."
Styx's influence on Lawrence and his influence on Styx
His onstage, theatrical sense of fun
The special moment during a concert in Toronto performing one of his solo tunes with Styx
The challenges and unexpected benefits of finishing the album "Crash Of The Crown" remotely
His performance of Rush's "Limelight" in concert as a tribute to Neil Peart
Styx website: styxworld.com
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The Influence of Styx
Cris Cohen: You're ''the new guy” in the band at 22, 23 years. In that time, how have you been influenced by being immersed in the Styx world? And how have maybe you influenced them coming from your vast experience with your solo career?
Lawrence Gowan: Yes, that's really something that I take stock of every year, Cris. It’s like, how far has the ball moved in each direction? Because being a solo artist, you get used to having to answer every single question. Every aspect of doing your career has to kind of pass through you. And being in a band, it's a shared experience.
And that, I think, was the biggest transition that I had to accomplish, and still do to some degree. Because the beauty of a band is that it really is the essence of a combined spirit. And yet, it is an entity that lives outside the sum of its parts in a way. And you have to kind of fit yourself into that.
The great thing with Styx, of all the bands that I could have joined, I’m so happy it was this one that came along, because they've never really put any shackles on me as far as how to be within the band. There was never any suggestion of trying to mimic or fit into any sort of pre-existing mold. It really was up to me to kind of make my own mold. And it's getting pretty moldy. It's starting to turn out to be a nice cheese.
I think my own influence, if it could be called that, my own personality began to kind of reshape the band with that inclusion right from the very first day. Mainly because, as I say, I wasn't inhibited in any way or expected to fit into any particular pattern, so to speak.
I really just had to kind of play the songs, deliver them as honestly and forthrightly as I could. The lucky thing is that the songs that I sing, I was quickly able to kind of see myself in the picture of the narrative, so to speak, and relate to the lyrics. And I still do. When I get to do these classic songs, that I didn't have any part in writing, they have a great kind of universal appeal, so I can give them my own interpretation.
The stage show, I would say, is where I think I see more evidence of my own direction in the band, I suppose, if we could call it that. There were so many things about their show that I really enjoyed when I first finally got to see them in 1997, when we did a couple of shows together. And I was really impressed with it. I think my own sense of fun on stage, or my own sense of how to approach an audience on stage, has had some ripple effect, as has their approach to the stage had an effect upon me, very much so. So as I say, that give and take is part of what comprises the entity of what the band is.
A Theatrical Sense of Fun
Cris Cohen: Having seen you guys -- and specifically you with the band a couple of times -- I remember first seeing you and thinking back on the movie “The Greatest Showman,” with Hugh Jackman. And I’m like, “Now I’m thinking this is based on Lawrence Gowan's life.”
Lawrence Gowan: It's a little bit on my outfit actually.
Cris Cohen: Yes, exactly. But it's such a theatrical sense of fun. How much of that did you cultivate and how much of that is just your DNA when you step on the stage?
Lawrence Gowan: That's a good way of phrasing that question. I think it might just be a bit more on the DNA side, because naturally, as we all do, there's a chemical reaction or imbalance, if you want to call it that, that happens when you get in front of an audience. There's a phenomenal exchange that happens if you're open to it.
If you're too nervous or self-aware or self-conscious, that might never penetrate through to your persona on stage. With me, it's almost instantaneous. I think we are a band of extroverts to begin with. So that helps a great deal. And we're ready to kind of embrace that moment on stage. So, I think it may be more genetic than anything that's kind of… what was the other way you described it?
Cris Cohen: Cultivated.
Lawrence Gowan: Cultivated, yes. I don't think it is. Cultivated means more like how the show ends. We cultivate the show in that we reshape it over time within a couple of years, even though we may be playing for the most part 75% or 80% of the same songs.
There's a new atmosphere and a new presentation that is naturally kind of cultivated as the show progresses, as time progresses, and as our relationship with the audience continues on.
Cris Cohen: Yes. And obviously, if you look back at your solo performances, that element was always there to your performing.
Lawrence Gowan: Yes. I mean, people in the United States weren't really aware of… well, very few were aware of my solo career in Canada. It's just the way the music industry was then. I was very relegated to that part of the planet.
And I got to kind of experience playing all the biggest arenas, and the biggest venues that Styx play now. But that sense of becoming that aspect… it's funny. You want to say “become this character on stage,” but really, it's just another aspect of your own character that you're really getting a chance to kind let out at that point.
I had an album in 1985, my biggest record, called “Strange Animal”. I felt like, “Well, I’ve got to personify that in some way.” On stage, it kind of gives you a very wide playground to interpret what that could mean.
And I’m intrigued this week actually, Cris, because we played Toronto just a few nights ago, about three, four nights ago. It was amazing because it's the same venue that I headlined 12 times (as a solo artist) prior to playing with Styx a few times.
But it was amazing. We played a song from my solo career, a Styx version of “A Criminal Mind”. And to hear the audience respond to that, and the way that Styx presented it, that to me is an amazing way where, if you use that word “cultivating,” it's amazing how we have kind of melded those two aspects of my life together into one moment.
The moment that lasts for about five minutes on stage, but man is it ever… you feel a wave of gratitude, and an acceptance within the band in that moment that is really almost indescribable, as you can hear. I can't describe it.
Solo Material Versus Styx Material
Cris Cohen: And going through your solo material… and I encourage people to delve into it, because there are some fantastic songs in your catalog. But it's interesting doing a kind of compare and contrast. With your solo work -- and using the example of “A Criminal Mind” -- even darker tunes have a lighter feel to them.
It's very expansive and airy. Whereas Styx, they are a little bit on the darker side with some of these things, even with more uplifting material. And I’m wondering, as you've bounced back and forth now between Styx and your solo work, has that influenced how you perform say your solo material?
Lawrence Gowan: I don't think so. I think they really are two separate aspects of my musical life. It's taken me 23 years to really feel like… every night I feel like I further integrate into the Styx experience and what it can be. Whereas I’m fully greased into the solo world. So, what's more important is I have to kind of… this is weird… when I go to do the solo shows, I have to kind of unwind or undo some of the preset notions that I have about going on stage with the band, and how to perform the songs. I actually have to re-learn how to approach them. And knowing that there is a distinction between the two.
Great thing is that I love that a lot of Styx fans, particularly from the United States, will come to these solo shows I do in Canada. I've done nine of them this year, and there's always a group of Styx's fans. (Usually they get the best tickets. I don't know how they do that.) And they now kind of see the overall picture. And often they'll comment that it's like it's a completely different thing, and yet they can see how it fit into the Styx world. So that's a good review.
Cris Cohen: And you touched on this a little… because your solo label at the time kind of sequestered you to Canada. And I’ve heard many a story of the world of big label rock and the weird political machinations that go on with that. So, in a way, it didn't surprise me in a way.
But what I’m wondering is, how did you deal with that? And what is your advice for other musicians that might find themselves in a similar situation? How do you persevere?
Lawrence Gowan: Great word. That was the word that my dad gave me, after my first album bombed, commercially speaking. He gave me the word “persevere.”
So this is a difficult question, Cris, because the music industry, as it existed, the paradigm on which it set the bedrock of it has completely been… an incredible seismic shift has happened. It's completely different now.
So for that reason, I’m usually very reluctant to give any sort of advice. Let me start with that. Young musicians advise me as to how to utilize the tools now that are at hand. Because, for example, this interview that we're doing right now… you and I speaking together. This is a worldwide broadcast. Everyone on planet Earth can see this. The music businesses, my basic business understanding was, if you control the market, you control every aspect of it.
And the four major labels back then… Columbia, Capital or EMI, Warner Brothers / WEA, and the biggest independent, A&M… they really were the gatekeepers of who got to hear what music, in what country and by what artists. And because of that, they built empires, absolute empires. And today, they're more lean and pared down because of the realities of what the internet did to them, to all of us.
Okay, so for that reason, they would very much carve up the world. And it wasn't a specific vendetta against me. There are a lot of artists that have very big careers in one part of the world and, because their records were not released in another part of the world, nobody ever heard them or they were on import.
So for example, I had a lot of import records that were out in Germany, in England, and I finally got to see some of those people when we'd go over there with Styx. And they'd be holding their “Gowan” and “Great Dirty World” albums and going, “How come you never came and played here?”
But you were asking another part of that question, and that is that psychologically, as I reflect on it now, I really like the way the whole story played out, I have to say.
That's the main thing: My career -- like most people in most businesses or whatever aspect of life they pursue -- it usually doesn't turn out to follow the script that you had provided. Instead, you're given a script and you have to kind of make of it what you can. And that's how I feel with being in Styx. I never would have imagined, as we just described, when I would play “A Criminal Mind” let's say in Ontario Place in 1985, and the stands are full… “In about 7 years from now, I’ll be playing this song again here except as a member of Styx.” There's no way I could have possibly penned that in some dream scenario.
So I guess what bothered me back then was having hit songs, and having achieved a high level of acceptance from a large audience... My manager at the time, Ray Danniels, who managed Rush, tried to follow the same kind of paradigm with me, and getting me to open for acts in the United States, and eventually, the dominoes would tumble and the record company would succumb. I guess as they did to some degree with the Rush’s career.
And so I did a full national tour opening for Tears For Fears. And shows went great. I got great reviews in Billboard, etc. But without the record company behind it, records weren't ever going to get to people so they could really discover them. So yes, that was a frustration.
The beautiful aspect of it though is that, because so much of my life has always been as a touring musician, it's hard to get really hung up on these kinds of decisions that are outside your own realm of influence anyway. Because every night there would be hundreds or thousands of people on their feet with big smiles on their faces, holding their arms up in the air wanting more. It's really hard to complain about your life and what's going on when that's the way that you end your day about a hundred plus times a year.
So as I say, the next morning I’d wake up and go, “I wish I could go and do this in Boston. I won't do this or have this kind of response if I was playing in Manchester in England.” That would begin to get to you the more and more successful record would become.
I’m giving you an awfully long-winded answer here, but to say that ultimately, it's really what music does to you and how it enriches your life that you have to really so vehemently stay connected to. Because that's going to lead you to a better life.
And trying to steer it into the professional realm, so much of that happens by luck and circumstance and you really have to kind of go on that ride. It's like getting on a ride at an amusement park almost. You don't control it. It's going to go to a certain speed and you're either going to love it or you're not going to like it. But the main part of it was that you got a pretty good buzz overall. I got a pretty good buzz.
“Crash of the Crown”
Cris Cohen: This might seem a little bit of a stretch, but I would even draw a through line thematically from that experience to the recording of “Crash of the Crown”. In the sense of… you guys were moving along with it, the pandemic hits, suddenly everyone is in their own homes, in different countries. And yet, you guys found a way to record together virtually, and get around this obstacle. Like, “Okay, we can't push through this thing, but how can we get this done in other ways?”
Lawrence Gowan: So that was the challenge for everyone, everyone on planet Earth. How do we navigate our way through this, with a virus that doesn't care what our intentions are? And the disappointing thing for us, I have to say, was that we had made “The Mission” entirely with all of us in the studio together and had that experience like a band would in the 1970s, a band like Styx, where we're in each other's faces, and our phones are all shut off for five seconds, and we can actually embrace that method of the analog world of how to make music as a band and have it sound like it came from that era.
So we figured all that out, and we had to replicate that on the making of “Crash of the Crown”. We had the songs written, all but two of them, and had started the recording process that way, or at least myself and Tommy Shaw and Will Evankovich, who was our co-writer and producer on both of those records.
And suddenly this interruption happens. And like everyone else, we thought, “Well, it's a drag. We'll have to stop for maybe as much as six weeks, maybe even two months, before we can get back to it.” And at the two-month mark, we thought, oh, once again, not following our script. This could be indefinite.
We went back and we listened to the songs. And we felt, “These songs relate so well to what we -- and probably a lot of people on the planet -- are going through psychologically and the challenges that we're facing. The lyrics really fit with this situation. We have to find a way to do this.”
For myself living in Toronto, I couldn't cross the border anyway. So that was a moot point. So we realized, just like you and I are doing this Zoom thing… I didn't know what this was in February of 2020. At the end of March 2020, I was very familiar with it, and this became a new phenomenal tool for communication. You and I are speaking, we could have this conversation over the phone, but there's something about being able to look you in the eye and see you and get some kind of idea of obviously this guy’s into the Stones, and stuff like that. Like knowing these things, it alters the conversation.
Well, I have a great studio in Toronto, with all this analog gear I bought years ago. And I have a great partner there, Russ Mackey, who's a phenomenal engineer and producer. And Tommy and Will were in Nashville, Todd was in Austin, Texas, JY in Chicago, Ricky was also in Austin. We all figured out how we're going to do this. We used this Zoom medium and a thing called Audiomovers. We pushed through and made the record starting from around late August of 2020 right into about November.
In October, I was done with all of my parts. It got so second nature that it really felt exactly as if we were in the studio together.
And that I think speaks volumes to the adaptability and flexibility of human beings when faced with a challenge like that. We still were able to do the record, to tape and to get all the analog juice in there that needed to be there in order to make it qualify or in some way resonate as a classic rock album. And again, the resilience of Styx. This speaks probably to why this band has endured for half a century. It's 50 years old. And that's just another aspect of how they've navigated it.
Cris Cohen: And then I read in another interview you talked about one actual advantage to this is that you have an array of instruments to choose from in your Toronto studio, equipment that never leaves your Toronto studio, so you don't normally have access to that.
Lawrence Gowan: Thanks for bringing that up. For example, I have a Mellotron from 1971. If you move a Mellotron from here to here, it's broken. So I didn’t dare move it, but I got to use that on “Crash of the Crown”. I got my old Oberheim. There's a 1926 Steinway piano used on that, a 1950s b3 we used on that. These were great things that never would have happened, had it not been for that.
Cris Cohen: And in addition to this offering you different sounds, different tones, different musical colors, did having access to those instruments maybe change or influence how you composed pieces for “Crash of the Crown”?
Lawrence Gowan: Undoubtedly. I mean, how I composed the parts went into it, yes, very much so. The songs themselves, most of which were written in Nashville with Will, Tommy, and myself. We would sequester ourselves for a week or so and bash through another song or two or get it down the road.
And we had done a lot of that preparation before March of 2020. So that was all in place. In fact, so much so, that's what made it such a drag at first to think, “Oh, we don't want to leave this now. It's well on its way.” And we found a way to complete it.
Performing New Songs In Concert
Cris Cohen: I think one of the best unwritten compliments I’ve seen about the quality of this album, and the songs on the album… So I saw you guys when you performed here in Raleigh just a few weeks back.
Lawrence Gowan: Oh great, good. That was a great night.
Cris Cohen: Yes, even despite the lightning.
Lawrence Gowan: Yes, the crowd had to leave, come back, leave, come back. Every time we play that venue in Raleigh, something like that happens. But it makes it even more memorable.
Cris Cohen: I was so impressed. You launched into “The Fight of Our Lives” from “Crash of the Crown” and -- I would call this kind of rare -- the show, the set, lost no momentum with the audience. It's typical with newer material for there to be a little bit of a slowing of energy within the crowd.
Lawrence Gowan: I love the way you're dancing around that, the verbal acrobatics. It's really impressive. Trying not to say the fact that what we are trying to avoid, more than anything, is seeing half the audience get up and go to the can when you make that (transition to new material). It doesn't matter who you are. I mean, doesn't matter. You could be in the Beatles, and then you could say, “I’m going to do something new right now” (and people think) “Perfect opportunity for me to go.”
Cris Cohen: Right. Like 40 years ago I’m sure Led Zeppelin goes into “Stairway To Heaven” and people were like, “Oh, I haven't heard this before. I’m going to the bathroom.” And it's like, I know it's new, but listen, there's great material. So defying all of those odds, “The Fight of Our Lives” kicks in, and it's just as powerful and connects just as well. And I was really impressed with that.
Lawrence Gowan: Then you are the perfect audience member. That's exactly our intention. We discovered it really on “The Mission” more than anything, is that we knew the record sounded authentic when held up next to the great classics of the 70s. And whether it was the Styx albums that we're trying to be in line with, or even other records of that era, sonically we knew we were there.
But we realized, okay, this audience is paying to come in here. You're never going to go to a Styx show and not hear “Blue Collar Man,” “Come Sail Away,” “Renegade,” “Grand Illusion,” and “Fooling Yourself”. Those songs are in every show. The trick is, how do you introduce the new material, and not have that bump in the show, not have that lull that we're addressing? And the way to do it really is we've found a way to almost -- without playing it as a medley -- we found a way to kind of weave the new pieces in with the classics, so that there's a seamless transition from one to the other.
Before you even realize that “Fight of Our Lives” is from the latest record, we were already into “Blue Collar Man”. It came straight into it, within less than two minutes. Before you realize that “Lost At Sea”, this duet that I’m doing with Chuck…
(His phone pings.) Sorry about that. I wish I knew how to turn it down. But it's kind of cool that Neiman Marcus is having a sale.
Cris Cohen: (Laughs) Right, which is which is why I wanted to talk to you. These are the kind of insights you can only get from Lawrence Gowan.
Lawrence Gowan: The new fall colors are in.
Cris Cohen: Yes. So “Lost At Sea”…
Lawrence Gowan: Chuck and I do that as a little duet. Before you know it, we've already launched into “Come Sail Away”. “Lost At Sea” is a very short little piece. And we don't necessarily announce it as a new piece, because often, it's the flow of the show, it's incorporated into the thematic changes that are happening.
I mean, obviously, you can see even lyrically. If we come on stage after what everyone's been through, and sing “The Fight of Our Lives,” which goes into “Blue Collar Man,” one is an easy hand off into the other. I don't know if other bands have ever really considered that. This goes more to the cultivating side of what you were saying about the show.
We learned it through “The Mission” quite honestly. Because when we finished it, we thought, we're really proud of this record. And if we go out and try to shove it down people's throats, they're going to gag a little bit, because they want what they want. So with the support of Universal Records, we said we're going to tour this for at least a couple of years and see where it lands. And by that, I mean, we introduced little, tiny bits of it incrementally as we did the next 200 shows. Once we had done all that, there was suddenly enough demand for us to play that record in its entirety.
So we took two nights in Las Vegas, a night in Boston, a night in New York, a night in Washington DC. And we played the album in its entirety. And you looked out, there were people who had the record for at least two years, in their “Mission” t-shirts, digging it. And then we played all the classic stuff in a second set. Very amazing way to have the new material embraced by an audience. Because over time, they've had a chance to really drink it in with what they know of the band already.
And I have to say, funnily enough, I do notice that younger people seem to gravitate to it quicker. Take for example the fact that I’ve been with the band for 23 years. When I say younger people, I mean like 30- to 40-year-olds let's say. They may have come to see Styx for the first time in, say, 2000 with their parents.
They're now 32 years old or they're 33. They've had a whole lifetime of seeing this era of the band, want something that's concurrent with their lives and that they can feel connects in the same way to what their parents or their older siblings have introduced them to.
So with that on our side, we have more confidence to put new material in there.
Cris Cohen: Yes. I never thought of it that way. But I was kind of the same way with artists you know and have worked with: Jon Anderson and Yes. I didn't discover them until I was in high school. And although I loved the earlier stuff, I was digging the new stuff that they were doing with Trevor Rabin as well.
Lawrence Gowan: Yes, that's fantastiCohen You see, that's great for me, as a fan, because I’m just as big a fan as anyone. I remember when Trevor Rabin came into the band. Typical of any fan, I’m thinking, “Well, if they don't have Steve Howe, is it Yes?” You know what I mean? Already, I’m setting up a prerequisite prejudice that I feel is the right thing to do. And then when I hear “Owner of a Lonely Heart” I think, “Oh I love Trevor Horn. I love his production. I really love the Buggles. I love the Yes album he did with “Drama,” and that didn't even have Jon Anderson, which is like… that's impossible.”
So the impossible had already been done by the band to my mind. And when I heard it, and I heard Jon singing, I’m like, “Oh my God. They've made the transition from that 70s thing into the 80s.” And much of that, I would say, has to come down to the inclusion of Trevor Rabin.
And eventually, you hear it all as one big cannon of work now. It's seamless to me. There are integral members all along, all of which can pivot to any era of that band, because they're all just as authentic.
Neil Peart Tribute
Cris Cohen: Yes. And then staying with the idea of other artists you have worked with, one of the cool surprises for me in doing research for this was… I consider Rush to be one of the more difficult bands to cover. Because it's, well, like Styx, they have such a unique, iconic sound. But I have got to say, your cover of “Limelight” was really fantastic.
You did it when Neil Peart passed away and you performed it in concert. I would love you to release that at some point, because you really took it and… well, that's what I’m wondering. How did you pull that off, in the sense that you're honoring this classic song, but you also made it your own?
Lawrence Gowan: Well, thank you for saying that, first of all. I thought for sure you were going to bring up that Alex Lifeson played on my “Lost Brotherhood” album in 1990.
Cris Cohen: Well, yes that was the connection.
Lawrence Gowan: I would meet the Rush guys at least two or three times a year, because I was 14 years under the same management. And I eventually asked Alex to be on one of the records. He was great. He did a video (with me) as well. But the little bit that I know of them as human beings is they're pretty exemplary, they're pretty remarkable people. I only met Neil Peart about three times, only had one really great extended conversation with him about lyrics.
And Neil, I did mention (to him) that the first time I really paid attention to the Rush lyrics was the song “Limelight”. So, in some ways, it was that conversation I’d had with Neil that I was reflecting on right away when I got a call from a lady that we both have worked with for 40 years, Sheila Posner, who told me that Neil was gone. And before it had really been announced.
And when I got to the show that night in Phoenix, I was just kind of playing around with it on the piano, just not thinking about an arrangement or anything like that, just realizing I’ve only got my piano and I’m kind of reflecting on the lyrics of “Limelight”. And in my little warm-up, I got a little more adventurous with it. I actually had my headphones and I started singing it. And Todd Sucherman, our drummer, came tapping on the shoulder and he just went, “Do that tonight.”
I went, “No, he just left. He passed away today.”
“No, do that what you're doing.”
So it really was more or less just me kind of reflecting on the little bit of association that I had with them over the years. And just what wonderful lyrics those are. And I really relate to that aspect of them even more than the fact that he was such a phenomenal drummer. I think part of what you're seeing in that clip that it was just a fan that videoed… I think it's pretty close to a million views now.
That night, it was just a really good moment. I’m glad that person captured it and then put it up there.
Todd commented on the poignancy of the of the fact that… everyone left the stage. Usually I get a moment on stage, a couple minutes to kind of just do a little repartee with the audience, with just myself on piano.
And in this instance, he said it was really… this stage at the theater in Phoenix revolves. He said it was such a moment to look at the empty drum kit, there was a real poetic thing. And yet hear Neil’s lyrics being interpreted in a completely different way, but really connecting the whole picture together. And he was thinking of himself as a young boy and seeing Neil Peart on drums, and going, “This is what I want to do.” And the fact that I was associated in a way with them through their management, it was a big life moment is basically what he said.
And I was really surprised by the reaction the next day from people that were suddenly viewing it. The next morning I got a call from our manager who said, “That thing you did last night… over a quarter million people have watched it.”
Two nights later -- this is the funny part -- we were playing in Los Angeles, and Libby Gray, our lighting director, came up to me and said, “As I’m entering the building this morning, there was a person out there who had all the Styx stuff on. And right next to them was a person with a Rush shirt on. They said, ‘Are they going to do “Limelight” tonight?’”
Cris Cohen: (laughs) Wow.
Lawrence Gowan: First question of the day.
His Spinning Keyboard Pedestal
Cris Cohen: Again, going to your showmanship on stage, I’m curious about what gave you the idea and when did you start using a keyboard pedestal that can revolve and spin… quite fast actually?
Lawrence Gowan: We're going to go right back to the last answer funnily enough. I had a song called “Lost Brother” that has a very kind of a cool little piano intro to it. Alex Lifeson plays guitar on that song, the title track from “Lost Brotherhood,” 1990. I called him and said, “They're giving us a budget to do a video for this song, and I’d like you to be in it.” And I’d written up the storyboard. I said, basically it'll be a bit like “Animal Farm”. It takes place in a barn, and the song is about gang mentality. We're in the barn and we're using the metaphor of gangs and very much like the animals in “Animal Farm”.
And Alex, when he plays his solo, breaks out of the barn. So the barn's kind of on fire and smoking. He breaks out of the barn, blows the solo as a soloist. Alone. Great moment, because he's apart from any gang affiliation, let's call it that.
I then realized, I’m going to look really boring in this video, because I’m going to be stuck behind the piano, playing this bit, and I’m going to be basically there with the piano player's dilemma, being behind “the desk,” trying to make it look like I’m physically involved.
And with the lighting company, we were having a meeting with them about it. And I said, I wish we could come up with a way of the keyboard moving. So we had a quick talk about putting it on a track, like a dolly track. And I thought, what if I could turn it? Like a guitar player can always turn and face different parts of the audience, and that's part of the great way that they can engage people. And as a singer, when I get off the piano, I can do that.
But I wish you it could move, and what if we had it spin? And that was like a great moment because the lighting guy suddenly goes, “We could do that.” And he started pulling together lighting pieces from their lighting rigs. He said, “If this part here could pivot on there, it would have to be heavy. Let's make it out of stainless steel.” We had the proverbial napkin-type drawing of what it would what it would do.
When we did the video, the thing turned out to be great, and I got really into using it in the video. Alex and everyone on the crew and my band were kind of like, “You're getting pretty good on that. Are you going to take that on stage?”
And I said that was never the intention. It was just to be in this video, a prop for the video. But I did realize this could be a really good stage piece. We started using it. I maimed myself several times on it in the first year. Pretty badly at first, but then I got more adept at using it.
And when I joined Styx, the very first rehearsal, we had the big multi keyboard set up and I went on stage to play that. And they went, “Hey, where's the spinning thing that you were playing?”
I said, “I’m so glad you asked. I brought it with me.”
And so it's been with us on stage now 23 years.
Cris Cohen: And it's fun, because again, most the time, keyboard players, piano players, they're stuck. There's not much they can do as far as movement.
Lawrence Gowan: Yes. It is a dilemma that Little Richard, Elton John, and Billy Joel, they've all fought it and found great ways to turn a little, an acrobatic moment in there.
But being able to pivot like that is a great way to keep the audience where I can face them. (If I) turn away, they can see if I play a piano solo or something, they can see the keys and the hands moving. So it really is part of my whole stage costume.
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