Lawrence Gowan is a Scottish-born Canadian musician. Gowan has been both a solo artist and the current lead vocalist and keyboardist of the band Styx, since May 1999. His musical style is usually classified in the category of progressive rock.
I recently spoke to Lawrence about joining Styx, and the journey it has led him on.
Q: How did you come to join Styx?
Gowan: Well, I had a long solo career in Canada, prior to joining the band. I had 4 platinum records, 3 gold records, and 6 number one songs, 7 number one videos. People in Canada were very familiar with my music, and when the new Montreal Forum opened in 1997, it just so happened that Styx and I were playing in Montreal the same night. I was playing one theatre, and they were playing the new Montreal Forum. We have the same promoter, and the promoter decided, “I need someone to open the show for Styx. Would you do that, at the new Montreal Forum?” and I said, “Would you honor the tickets from my show”, and I said sure, that’d be great! It just so happens that after that night, the band saw me play, and just as I finished the show and came off, Tommy said to me, “Man, we gotta work together again in the future.” And I thought that maybe it could mean going to the US, where I’ve never had any of my records released. Instead, two years later, he called, I assumed why he was calling, but he said, “We need someone to play keyboards and sing. Would you do it?” I said yeah, and that was 14 years ago. That’s how that happened.
Q: What kind of legacy do you think Styx’s music has left with the world?
Gowan: Well, it’s funny, you know? The great musical statement of the 20th century was rock music, you know? The classic rock era seems to be particularly voiced by younger and younger generations. At least half our audience, if not more now, are people who are in their 30s. That was not the case when I joined the band. It was just basically the people that followed the band all along, and a few of them who brought younger brothers and sisters. Something like that. But now, clearly, well over half the audience is coming to view us through the internet or through popular culture that are fans of Styx. Then, when all these people come to the show, they just become enamored with the live experience of that.
Q: Who are your influences?
Gowan: Well, mostly British bands were the big influence to me. As a piano player, I mean, Elton John and Rick Wakeman were two of my favorite keyboard players. I’d quickly add Keith Emerson, particularly Tony Banks from Genesis. Those are great influences for rock. I love what they did with keyboards. But I also love The Rolling Stones, and obviously I’m connected to The Beatle thing as much as every musician that’s on stage today.
Q: How did you get into music?
Gowan: I knew early on. I got into it by basically going to the Conservatory in Toronto, The Royal Conservatory, and going to take classical piano, and I used that to become a songwriter, and that’s how I started my solo records, and it continued from that time until today.
Q: Do you come from a musical family?
Gowan: Yeah, I mean, I was born in Scotland, and my mom was a very good singer, and my dad was an excellent natural musician, as most Irish guys are. So, I have that background, and I guess it was just in my family, let’s put it that way. Then, when I got my first record deal with CBS Records in Canada, it was a great career. They just never released my stuff in the United States, only in Canada. That’s just the way the music business was then. But, you know, I persevered, and eventually I got into this legendary American band.
Q: You’ve collaborated with many artists over the span of your solo career. Who has been your favorite and why?
Gowan: I guess, on record, it would have to be Jon Anderson from Yes, because I always admired him as a vocalist, as a lyricist, and he sang on one of my biggest songs, actually they just re-released it last week called “Moonlight Desires.” It’s a number one song in Canada. He had a solo in the middle of that song, that I think is just tremendous, and we did a video for it in the Myan pyramids. That was a fantastic collaboration. There’ve been many I can say. Alex Lifeson from Rush played on a full album of mine in 1990, and that was a tremendous thing, and I have to say, the band with Tony Levin and Jerry Marotta from Peter Gabriel. They played on my solo records, and they were a stellar contribution, and I’ve been working with them recently again. But, in my solo days, they were the best collaborators, and since I’ve got into this phenominal band, I’ve got the best collaborators I could ever hope for on stage with me every night.
Q: What is your favorite song you’ve written?
Gowan: For myself, I think there’s “A Criminal Mind,” which I’ve recorded and put out on a couple live DVDs, and “A Criminal Mind” was a number one song for me in Canada in 1985, and it happens to be the song, when I first joined Styx, it was played at our very first rehearsal. Tommy said, “You know what? Before you play any Styx songs, play “A Criminal Mind” because I think we should make that into a Styx song.” So that’s a special song to me on a number of levels.
Q: What’s your favorite Styx song?
Gowan: I love playing “Renegade.” It’s one that I don’t get to sing on, except the little harmony at the beginning and the middle, but by the time we play that every night, the audience is in such a state of exzuberance at that point in the show, it just makes it a pure joy for me at that point to play the song, and to just witness what’s going on around me. There’s a tremendous relation that’s in me every night by the time we get to “Renegade.”
Q: What’s your favorite Styx album?
Gowan: I think it’s Pieces of Eight, you know? We did a new DVD where we played the full Grand Illusion and the full Pieces of Eight album back-to-back, and I think that’s a very good representation of what we are today. I think the Pieces of Eight album is great. It’s got my favorite JY song on it, which is “Great White Hope.” Then you got Tommy with the classics like “Blue Collar Man” and “Renegade” But I love the song “Pieces of Eight.” I think it’s a very well-written song, and I love getting a chance to sing it with the band. I also enjoy doing “I’m Ok,” and for years I wanted to play “Aku-Aku” which is a fine little instrumental piece. Then, we finally got a chance to do that. That’s why it’s my favorite record.
Q: What was it like recording with Styx for the first time on the album Cyclorama?
Gowan: It’s a different experience obviously then I ever had before, because it’s a completely collaborative effort. Everybody’s writing on everyone else’s songs, which is how they always did it. You bring a song in, and it’s gonna get pulled apart completely, and kind of rebuilt by everyone in the band. So, being part of that exercise was challenging, but really worthwhile, and I wish we have more time to do albums that way, but the problem is now that the band is touring around the world, we just haven’t had the time to do a full album again.
Q: In 2005, Styx recorded Big Bang Theory. How come you guys wanted to do a cover album?
Gowan: Well, it actually happened out of sheer coincidental kind of accident. We were playing at Eric Clapton’s Blues Fest in Dallas, Texas that year, and JY, the night before said they related to Eric Clapton’s Beatle connection, and he’s heard me do “I Am the Walrus” at a few sound checks. He said, “Let’s just learn that, and see if we can get it ready for the show tomorrow.” We started playing “I Am the Walrus,” it went out live on radio. Eric Clapton was sitting side stage while we played it. It was that cool. I turned around, and there was the keyboard player from The Beatles sitting there, and clapping along. We talked to him after the show, then by time we were leaving the stadium that day, the radio station guy said, “Yeah, our phones have been flooded for your version of “I Am the Walrus” again.” So we ended up putting it out on disc, and basically built the rest of the album around it. We said, “Why don’t we do a full record, where we play all the songs what we think has influenced Styx’s sound as we can,” and that became Big Bang Theory. Then, a few years later, it became a TV show (laughs).
Q: What’s next for you and Styx?
Gowan: Well, we finish up this great tour we’re on right now, that comes to Chicago on the 24th of June, with Styx, REO Speedwagon and Ted Nugent. It’s a great cross-blending of Midwest music, and let me tell you, the reaction to all three bands has been over the top every single night, and we’re looking forward to Chicago!
Be sure to check out Styx, REO Speedwagon & Ted Nugent at the Charter One Pavilion on June 24th at 7pm. Get tickets here: http://www.livenation.com/event/0400485B782131A0?crosssite=TM_US:736216:33036
Also, be sure to check out Styx’s newest DVD release “The Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight Live” here: http://www.amazon.com/Styx-Grand-Illusion-Pieces-Eight/dp/B006ESH230/ref=sr_1_3?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1338413239&sr=1-3