The Mission is classic rock giant Styx’s 16th studio album and their first disc of new material in more than 14 years.
The concept album—which will be released June 16—is an adventurous, 43-minute thrill ride chronicling the trials, tribulations and ultimate triumphs of the first manned mission to Mars in 2033.
From the hopeful drive and classic Styx sound on tracks like “Gone Gone Gone” and “Hundred Million Miles” to the stargazing machinations of “Locomotive” and the elegiac optimism of the closing track, “Mission to Mars,” The Mission succeeds in delivering the good from a band that continues to fire on all cylinders more than 45 years after signing their first recording contract.
Styx features Tommy Shaw (guitars/vocals), Lawrence Gowan (keyboards/vocals), James “JY” Young (guitar/vocals), Todd Sucherman (drums), Ricky Phillips (bass) and Chuck Panozzo (bass).
I recently spoke with Shaw and Young about The Mission, music and the band’s upcoming United We Rock Tour with REO Speedwagon and Don Felder.
It’s been more than 14 years since Styx’s last studio album, Cyclorama. How did The Mission begin?
SHAW: Things have changed so much in just the past decade. It used to be you’d spend a lot of time in the studio and then go out and tour for three months. Now, it’s in a way that’s favorable to having band like us recording again. Even though radio has disappeared, so many different ways to get to your fans have opened up. It made sense for us to get back into the recording business again.
YOUNG: We also knew we were coming up on the 40th anniversary of The Grand Illusion, which for me was our most productive, progressive time frame and our most successful as well. There’s elements of that album as well as Pieces of Eight on this record.
What was the songwriting process like?
SHAW: For me, the best songs are the ones that come to you. It’s like you just walked into a room and they were already playing on a radio. This album started out as a little acorn that fell to the ground and took root. That acorn [“Mission to Mars”] was an idea that came to me in a dressing room playing around on a warm-up amp. It had a setting with a little echo and I started playing this guitar riff. I liked it and recorded it on my phone and then later built a demo around it. One thing Styx is good about is talking about things you’re going through in life. No matter what the subject is, there’s always a human element to it. That’s when I realized this was something Styx could do.
What can you tell me about “Gone Gone Gone”?
SHAW: That was another dressing-room idea. James Young is one of these guys where you always have to pay attention when he first puts his guitar on, because a lot of times he’ll spew these amazing ideas out when he’s warming up. It’s like they come out of thin air. He had been playing this riff for a few days, and I finally asked him to show me how to play it. So, we started playing it together and then Lawrence walked into the room and he said, “Alright, somebody make this into a song!” We knew all along that this had to be the [album’s] opening song. It’s the perfect way to open the album and start the show.
Read the rest of my
Interview with Tommy Shaw and JY Young Here
To fans of classic rock and arena rock, it just wouldn’t be summer without the music of Styx.
For more than 40 years the band, whose hits include “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights),” “Renegade,” “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “Come Sail Away,” has been delivering the goods the only way it knows how: through infectious live performances.
This summer, Styx—Tommy Shaw (vocals, guitars), James “JY” Young (vocals, guitars), Lawrence Gowan (vocals, keyboards), Todd Sucherman (drums) and Ricky Phillips (bass)—are teaming up with Def Leppard and Tesla on what promises to be one of the season’s hottest tour packages.
I recently caught up with Phillips to ask him about the new tour as well as his time with Styx, the Babys and Bad English. He also gave me an inside look into his new album project, the final recordings of Ronnie Montrose.
GUITAR WORLD: What can fans expect from the new tour with Def Leppard and Tesla?
We’ve been wanting to work with Def Leppard again for quite some time. We did some dates with them around 2007 and it was a really good fit. If you’re familiar with Tesla’s catalog you already know that they’re a very aggressive, cool, no-frills band. They just come balls out and do it! Then we go everywhere from a little bit of prog to the guitar duo of Tommy Shaw and James Young to having three lead singers. Then Def Leppard come out with their big arena rock show. It’s a special package where fans will really have a great time.
You’ve been with Styx for more than a dozen years. What’s it like being part of such an iconic band?
The cool thing about this band is that everybody recognizes that what we have is really special. It’s rare to get a group of guys that gel as good as this band does. We all have a lot of strengths to lean on personally and musically. There’s a lot of fun and joking around to keep things entertaining, but once we get on stage it’s all business, which is a good time as well.
Has there been any talk of new Styx music in the future?
I can’t talk about it too much, but there’s certainly some stuff in the works. It’s going to happen. We’re just not sure when.
Let’s discuss a few of the other bands you were involved with. What was the story behind you joining the Babys?
I had always been a big fan of Tony Brock and John Waite and thought “Isn’t It Time” was just a masterpiece of cool rock. Shortly after I got to LA, a sound man for the band saw me play and tracked me down. It was around the same time that John had decided he wanted to front the band and not be weighed down by playing an instrument [Waite had also played bass in the Babys].
I was working in the music store across the street from where they were auditioning when the sound man came in and told me that I needed to go across the street and play. I remember pulling a bass off of the wall and (with the price tag still swinging from the headstock), went over and jammed with the guys for about 15 minutes. We played “Run to Mexico” and “Head First” and then Jonathan Cain and I harmonized with John on “Isn’t It Time.” After that, they all left the room and came back in with their manager and asked me to join the band. That’s how it all started.
Read the rest of my
Interview with Ricky Phillips by Clicking Here!
Styx’s new DVD/Blu-ray, Styx: Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight — Live, captures the band performing their two classic multi-platinum ’70s albums live in their entirety for the very first time.
The DVD, which was filmed at the historic Orpheum Theater in Memphis, is the ultimate showcase for the albums helped establish Styx as a global phenomenon and defined their sound for a generation of fans.
I spoke with Styx guitarist James “JY” Young about the new project, plus his early days, seeing Jimi Hendrix perform and the future of Styx.
GUITAR WORLD: How did this project get started?
It started as a notion that a promoter who’s close with our manager came up with. He had the idea of us performing the Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight albums live in their entirety in the order in which they originally appeared on the vinyl LPs using the latest in HD technology. For us, it was an experiment and also a way to give our real die-hard fans the chance to hear some songs that we had never played live before, and some others we haven’t played since the late ’70s.
Read my Guitar World interview with Styx’s JY Young by Clicking Here
It’s funny how some dates just stick out in your mind. I’m not talking about the usual ones like birthdays, anniversaries, graduation dates and the like. I’m talking about ridiculous days that you never seem to forget.
For example: July 21st, 1979 is a day that sticks in my head. It was the day my father came home with this big black electric box and said “Hey family, there’s this new thing called HBO. Check it out! All we have to do is hook up this contraption to our television, turn it to channel 3 and then twist the dial on it. We’ll get to see all of these new movies they never show on TV”.
Why that particular day sticks out in my head is still a mystery to me but I’d really like to focus this blog entry on another ridiculous date two years later: August 10th, 1981. I recall that it was a beautiful sunny day just a few weeks before I started 7th grade.
The summer of 1981 was one for the books. Days were spent in our swimming pool with my cousin and having picnics. Nights were spent by the fire and chasing lightning bugs through the backyards in bare feet.
Music was also a big part of that summer. Casey Kasem’s Weekly Top 40 always filled the airwaves almost every weekend (although as a child, every day in the summer is like the weekend).
The song “Celebration” by Kool and The Gang had just come out and I remember many a night listening to its soulful lyric “We’re gonna have a good time tonight. Let’s celebrate. It’s alright!”…pumping from our little AM/FM radio that sat on the picnic table on our patio. Some nights, we’d sneak into the house and watch Smokey and the Bandit on HBO. Jackie Gleason’s “That some-bitch!” line always cracked me up.
The summer of 1981 was also the summer I got my first tape recorder. You know, one of those Panasonic job-ees. The ones with the big red button to alert you that you were actually “recording”. Ones where children with nimble fingers could press the record and play buttons with just their thumb. For something thirty years ago this was high-tech and I used to spend countless hours that summer recording anything and everything. Usually it would wind up being me interviewing myself using different voices.
On this particular day though, after listening to another “Long Distance Dedication” portion of Casey’s radio show, I had an epiphany. Why couldn’t me and my cousin do our OWN show? We could tape record it and mix in the songs we heard on the radio! That little idea turned into the one thing I remember most about that day: The Weekly Top 20.
We found out quickly that in order to stay relevant we had to record hit songs on the radio that were current. So we spent a few hours doing the prep work of recording songs off the radio (in retrospect, we were probably one of the first kids guilty of piracy). The idea of actually getting 20 songs to play in full quickly became unrealistic. Mostly because my attention span for doing this wasn’t going to last and soon the swimming pool would be calling me. So I had to get the show on the road. I think in the end we were able to get three or four songs recorded in pre-production. (I loved using technical terms as a young boy)
My cousin and I spent most of that afternoon recording The Weekly Top 20. In between songs we did little interviews with each other and talked about the music. Our number one song the week of August 10th, 1981 was “The One That You Love” by Air Supply (one that actually was the #1 song just two weeks before). We also had Foreigner’s “Dirty White Boy”, Kool and the Gangs “Celebration” and Styx’s “Come Sail Away” as part of our line up.
The moment we wrapped, I remember writing the title of our show and the date, August 10th, 1981 on the cassette tape and then making a bee line straight to the patio where my Mom and Dad were to let them listen to the finished product. I couldn’t wait to see the look on their faces as they listened to The Weekly Top 20. Seeing them smile and get a chuckle out of what we accomplished was the greatest feeling an eleven year old could have.
It sure was an exciting day. My cousin and I talked about what we would do for next week’s show and how we would spend our money once the show went into syndication. The possibilities were endless. And to celebrate our success, we went swimming.
So here I am thirty years later sitting at my computer and thinking about that day again. Technology sure has come a long way since I pressed record and play simultaneously and HBO is bigger then ever.
I sometimes wonder how we would do that show now with all the new fangled equipment available. I suppose it would be much better but in the end I wouldn’t change a thing.
But the best part of all is when ever I hear that Kool and The Gang song on the radio now or at a wedding. I get to recall all the innocence of childhood from one of the best summers ever.