Interview by Paul Salfen
Legendary and multi-Platinum rockers STYX–Tommy Shaw (vocals, guitars), James “JY” Young (vocals, guitars), Lawrence Gowan (vocals, keyboards), Todd Sucherman (drums) and Ricky Phillips (bass), along with the occasional surprise appearance by original bassist Chuck Panozzo–are rested, healthy, and ready to hit the road again, but they’ve finally got a new album to promote along the way. Their highly anticipated 17th “masterpiece” new album, CRASH OF THE CROWN, was released June 18, 2021 on the band’s label, Alpha Dog 2T/UMe, which is available as clear vinyl, black vinyl, CD, and on digital platforms. Fans can order it here and at Styxworld.com.
Shortly before CRASH OF THE CROWN came out, they released new music on THE SAME STARDUST EP as part of Record Store Day (Saturday, June 12, 2021). Available on blue 180-gram 12-inch vinyl only, featuring two brand-new songs on side one (“The Same Stardust” and “Age of Entropia”), as well as five live performances on side two of some of STYX’s classic hits previously heard during their “STYX Fix” livestreams that have been keeping fans company during the pandemic on their official YouTube page, including “Mr. Roboto,” “Man In The Wilderness,” “Miss America,” “Radio Silence,” and “Renegade.” Starting September 17, 2021, it was made available worldwide on all digital platforms.
Their “Live & UnZoomed Tour” co-headlining summer trek with REO Speedwagon and special guest Loverboy lands in Dallas, TX on Saturday, July 23 at the Dos Equis Pavilion.
Styx’s Tommy Shaw said, “I can’t think of a better way of touring the USA next year than with good friends we’ve known for years and performed with on many a stage. What a great night of music this will be!”
REO Speedwagon’s Kevin Cronin agrees, “Tommy (Shaw) and I have done a number of Zoom performances together during the pandemic, and REO and Styx are ready to go get UnZoomed, and out on the road for our fifth U.S. tour together. Add our great friends Mike Reno and the Loverboy guys, and I am totally psyched. If I wasn’t performing in it, I would totally come out to see this show. See you all, LIVE and UNZOOMED!”
Loverboy’s Mike Reno proclaimed, “We can’t wait to take the stage and rock this summer, it’s gonna be awesome. These are all the groups I grew up with, and I’m there too. Best tour of the summer…guaranteed.”
The album’s first song to be released, “Crash of the Crown,” breaks some brave new world ground for STYX. Actually, it’s the first cut in the band’s storied canon to feature three lead vocalists, seeing how it has James “JY” Young unleashed at the starting gate, Tommy Shaw heading up the heroic stacked-vocal middle section, and Lawrence Gowan leading the vocal charge for the final verse. “I’m always looking for the one different thing we can do and still have it be STYX,” the ever-ebullient Gowan notes, “and that’s the song I’m most proud of. The beauty of it is that it’s the culmination of all our talents crammed together into one song, ABBEY ROAD-style. I also got to use some gear I never thought I’d have the chance to play on a STYX record like Tommy’s Hammond B3 organ, my Minimoog, and my Mellotron.”
Efforts to record CRASH OF THE CROWN began in earnest at Shaw’s home studio in Nashville during the fall of 2019, with Gowan — STYX’s criminally minded showman extraordinaire and keyboardist/vocalist since 1999 — in the room together with Shaw and the album’s producer, Will Evankovich, as he conjured up the album’s first song to be recorded, with cosmetic flourishes that reign over the insistent, yearning call for togetherness, “Common Ground.” But the global pandemic that inevitably transformed the way we all wound up living in 2020 changed the course for how many of the band’s home-and-away recording sessions ultimately had to set socially distanced sail. Safety precautions took precedent for all involved STYX bandmembers and production compatriots with much diligent quarantining and testing required before any one of them could travel to Shaw’s tranquility homebase to spread the uniquely ingrained STYX stardust that’s been duly sprinkled across the album’s cosmically chosen 15 tracks.
Of all those who made the trek to Nashville, original STYX bassist Chuck Panozzo — who, along with his late twin brother, drummer John Panozzo, formed the initial nucleus of STYX when they began jamming together in their basement on the south side of Chicago in 1961 — is hands down the most effusive about the experience. “I’m constantly amazed at how Tommy’s songwriting continues to connect with the social consciousness that spans across generations,” marvels Chuck, who plays on “Our Wonderful Lives” and “Lost at Sea,” Lawrence’s all-too-brief aquatic fever dream. “Both he and Will have been able to tap into the core elements of the human condition, which is something that’s not going to change that much in 50 years — or even 500 years. That’s why STYX remains relevant after all this time, because we’re part of the human condition.”
Whether it’s the heady rush of the groundwork-laying opening track “The Fight of Our Lives,” the wistfully observational treatise of “Reveries,” the cautionary extended hand of comfort and redemption that frames “Hold Back the Darkness,” the undeniable uplift of “Our Wonderful Lives” (a beautiful sentiment further embellished by a most welcome, first-ever appearance by a banjo on a STYX album!), or the elegiac clarion call for shared grace in “To Those,” CRASH OF THE CROWN is music that is both concurrently of its time and truly timeless all at once. Although the official release date for this landmark album may be time-stamped as 2021, the omnisciently observational content of CRASH OF THE CROWN readily brings to mind an amalgamation of historical events that occurred in 1066, 1455, 1775, 1861, 1941, and even 2001 without citing any of them by name — Winston Churchill’s prescient wartime observations that permeate the pervasive pleas of “Save Us From Ourselves” notwithstanding. In essence, CRASH OF THE CROWN (or COTC, for short) is a modern-day sonic chronograph of the endless regenerative cycle of the rise and fall — and rise again — of our shared human experience.
“We’ve never been a protest band. We’re more like a gospel caravan trying to send out positive messages wherever we go,” observes CRASH OF THE CROWN co-creator and overall visionary Tommy Shaw, who joined STYX in December 1975 as a guitarist/vocalist and instantly became one of the band’s most important songwriters. “In order to share those positive messages, you have to look at what the problems are first to figure out all the ways you can help make sure everything’s going to be alright. That’s a very important part of how we do what we do.”
CRASH OF THE CROWN is the follow-up to STYX’s 16th studio album, THE MISSION (their first in 14 years at the time, which critics called “a masterpiece”) which was released June 16, 2017 on the band’s label, Alpha Dog 2T/UMe. The highly anticipated two-disc reissue of THE MISSION was released on July 27, 2018 via Alpha Dog 2T/UMe, which includes a CD of the original album, as well as a Blu-ray of the album mixed in 5.1 surround sound accompanied by stunning visualizations for each of the album’s 14 songs based on the album artwork. It originally debuted on various Billboard charts, including: #6 Top Rock Albums, #11 Physical Albums, #11 Vinyl Albums, #13 Current Albums, #14 Billboard Top Albums, #16 Retail, #17 Mass Merch/Non-Traditional, #29 Digital Albums, and #45 Billboard 200 (includes catalog and streaming).
Most recently, STYX has teamed up with Voodoo Brewing Co. to bring fans their latest creation, Oh Mama, a Traditional Golden American Lager. Sold as a four-pack of 16 oz. cans or as 50 liter kegs, Oh Mama is currently available at Voodoo’s corporate pubs and franchised locations, online for Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C home delivery, Tavour via their app (using the code “renegade”) for other states throughout the U.S., and in the greater Erie, PA (Allegheny Beverage) and Pittsburgh, PA (Vecenie’s) areas. Folks can be on the lookout for it at their favorite watering hole or grocery store (including Giant Eagle where it’s already available) and they can request it at a bar near them.
At each tour stop, as they have been in the past years, Rock to the Rescue—spearheaded by Tommy Shaw’s daughter, Hannah and is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded by the band, whose mission is to build strong, healthy communities through the support of grassroots organizations across the country—will continue to research local nonprofit organizations and pick one to see if they are interested in volunteering to help the band sell $10 tickets for a drawing to win a signed STYX guitar at the shows. They give these organizations a percentage of the sales as their way of supporting their cause and thanking them for supporting the band’s cause.
Rock To The Rescue was founded on the principle that our communities are stronger when we work together in mutual aid. Having played thousands of shows in the last 15 years, STYX has been strongly connected with communities across the country. With local fans and community members making an effort to join in support of STYX, it is important to the band to actively participate in these communities as well. What makes Rock to the Rescue unique is that they work on a grassroots level with small groups, giving real support to real individuals who are creating positive changes in their communities. Rock to the Rescue is building initiatives in the areas of music education, health and well-being, disaster relief and aid, and animal welfare and rescue.
Rock to the Rescue originally started in 2001 as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and is the brainchild of STYX singer/guitarist Tommy Shaw and REO Speedwagon singer/keyboardist/guitarist Kevin Cronin. The two musicians brought together bands and artists such as Bad Company, Journey, Survivor, Kansas, Lynyrd Skynyrd and many others to be part of “Volunteers For America” concert events in Dallas and Atlanta that ultimately raised over $775,000 for victims of 9/11, as well as the Port Authority police department in New York City.
In 2014, Rock To The Rescue raised $10,000 for the Philadelphia Fire Department Local #22 Widows Fund at the “Soundtrack of Summer” show (with Foreigner and former Eagles guitarist Don Felder) in Camden, NJ on July 3, as a thank you to the local fire department for cooling down STYX’s burning crew bus the day before. And in 2013, Rock To The Rescue hosted a sold-out concert with STYX, REO Speedwagon, Ted Nugent, Survivor, Richard Marx and Larry The Cable Guy, in Bloomington, IL at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum that raised $450,000 for victims of the horrible storms in Illinois. Also in 2013, Rock To The Rescue presented the Boston One Fund with a check for $108,000 for victims of the Boston marathon bombings as a result of funds raised during the “The Midwest Rock ‘N Roll Express” tour with STYX, REO Speedwagon and Ted Nugent.
On November 19, 2015, Rock To The Rescue donated $25,000 to The Sweet Stuff Foundation to help victims of the Paris terrorist attacks. In honor of the musicians and crew who lost their lives in the attack at The Bataclan music venue in Paris where Eagles of Death Metal were performing, from that date through December 31, 2015, Sweet Stuff dedicated all money received directly to the surviving families of those who passed away, including that of the band’s merchandise manager, Nick Alexander. The Sweet Stuff Foundation was founded by Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, who is also a key recording member of Eagles of Death Metal.