Since May of 1999 he's been the lead singer of Styx. Prior to Styx he enjoyed a successful solo career. So, how do you make the transition? We put that question and more to Mr. Lawrence Gowan, Styx's lead singer.
Q - How does it feel to be the face, and since you're the lead singer of Styx I'm calling you the face, of what Rolling Stone magazine once called "a faceless band"?
A - (laughs) It's very self-effacing. I don't think it's possible to be faceless since everyone's carrying a digital camera now. If a band plays over a hundred shows a year, as Styx does, and there's a few that do that from our era, you can try as hard as you want to remain faceless, but your face is out there whether you want it to be or not. I think what they were referring to back then is that in the '70s, as the genre of the Classic Rock album was being perfected by the bands of that era, the spotlight was being shown on the band as whole and what the band was able to bring to the arena. After all, that's the era when that was kind of perfected, the whole idea of Arena Rock. In the arena back then you were a little, tiny thing on stage making a great big noise. What really mattered was that sound you were making. So, the focus on image was for less an individual thing and much more to do with the band as a whole. What did Styx look like? What did Yes look like? What did Genesis look like? It really came down to what the spirit of that name represented. You could be a different thing to everyone. The little details of the Pop star faces was really not of any significance.
Q - Styx wasn't the only group to be referred to like that. There was Foreigner, Journey, REO.
A - I remember meeting Roger Rodgson one day in Toronto. I'm from Toronto and grew up in Toronto. I remember I met him in the street. I knew what he looked like. I stopped the car 'cause I was playing a Supertramp record. I put the window down. He stuck his head in and said, "I must say you have wonderful taste in music." I knew it was Roger Rodgson, but no one stopped him on the street. Now today, the ubiquitous nature of the Internet, everything's concected to a face. It's a different era. To be one of the faces in a faceless band is quite an irony, isn't it?
Q - You were born in Scotland. How is it you found yourself in Canada? Was your father in the military?
A - My dad was in the British Navy, but that's not how we came to Canada. In the late '50s there was a large influx of particularly British immigrants. We lived in Glasgow, Scotland. My mom and dad just wanted to see... they were actually on their way to America, but on their way they stopped in Toronto, or my did initially. It felt right to him. Something just spoke to him and he decided to stay there. He got a job at I.B.M. That was during the time when you could get a job for thirty-five years, (laughs) and a great pension. That's how he decided Toronto was the right place for us. So we moved from Glasgow, Scotland to Toronto and I grew up there and still live there.
Q - You were once in a band that opened for Styx in 1997 and you appeared on the bill with Styx again in 2007. How did you land those gigs?
A - What happened there was my records started coming out in 1982. I had a deal with Columbia Records, the Canadian division of CBS. Those records were never released in the United States unfortunately, but they had several Gold and Platinum records in Canada. It's funny, you look at the charts and you see I had an album in 1985 called "Strange Animal" that was a number one record. Below that you'll see "Born In The U.S.A." by Bruce Springsteen, "Face Value" by Phil Collins and Madonna's record. So it's an interesting thing. I played in all the biggest venues. I played the hockey arenas and all the theatres across Canada and had a great fourteen year career from that point on and did really well across the country. But the way my deal was structured, back then a worldwide release was not guaranteed. In my case, a U.S. release was just taken off the table entirely when the company was sold to SONY. So, I was kind of relegated to that area. I sold a good number of records in England and Germany. So I went over and played in England quite a bit in the '90s. In early '97 I put out a 'live' record of myself in Quebec, in Montreal. I that year I toured a few months without any band, just myself solo on piano. And the promoter in Montreal had come in to the then new Montreal Forum, which is an 18,000 seat venue and seen me play. He called and asked if I could open the show for them. I hadn't opened for anyone in Canada since Supertramp, funny enough down in Eastern Canada. That was 1985. It's twelve years later and it was odd because I hadn't opened for anyone since then. I thought well, it's just me on piano. He said, "I saw you on TV doing it and I think you can handle it. People know your songs enough. You could just do solo piano in front of Styx." (laughs) I thought well, that sounds like a challenge. The weird thing is that during that show Styx's manager and a bunch of guys in the band heard the audience singing all these songs they were kind of unfamiliar with. It was a multiple encore night. Eventually the whole band was backstage and I was kind of holding up their show in a way. When I came off, Tommy Shaw came up and shook hands and said, "We gotta work together again in the future." I said, "That'd be great!" So when they called me in 1999 I was under the assumption that they were calling for me to open more shows for them. But instead they said, "Listen, we've had a complete parting of the ways with our keyboard player and singer. We went to know if you would take the job." And I said, "Yeah, let's get together and see how we sound." At that rehearsal, which was just a couple of days later, everyone felt comfortable with each other and that was sixteen years ago and I've been in the band ever since.
Q - When you got the call, did you feel like you were just going to be filling in until they found someone else?
A - No. I figured they've obviously made a monumental decision here. They're not going to commit to anyone or go back to their old ways until they see how it works. I seem to recall that it was after the third show, we're in the dressing room after the show and our manager was there and Tommy and J.Y. (James Young) said to me, "Do you want to stay on permanently?" I said, "Sure. We're having a great time. Let's make it permanent," whatever permanent happens to be in Rock music. I said, "Sure." We're coming up on our nearly 2,000th show in the next couple of years and we've played over 100 shows a year ever since I've been in the band. It's been a very successful merging of what I've brought as a solo artist to it and what Styx is. The lamentable fact for me is I had to kind of put my solo stuff away entirely that year when I joined them. My "Greatest Hits" album just came out in Canada. Luckily that was out and that reached Platinum just as I was in Styx for a couple of months. So, since then a lot of Styx fans have delved into my solo career and know quite a bit about it and I started playing solo shows again in 2010 and I've done so every year since. Actually, just last weekend on the same day Styx's concert from Las Vegas came out I had an ultra 4D video come out. That's part of who I was prior to joining Styx.
Q - You mentioned you had a Platinum album which means you sold how many records?
A - Canada is one tenth the size of the United States, so in the United States a Platinum album in the 1980s was a million records. So, one tenth of that in Canada is 100,000. The album in 1985 went Triple Platinum. So it's 300,000. And I had another album that was double Platinum in 1987 and the rest of my albums were Gold and my "Greatest Hits" album was Platinum. Gold was 50,000 'cause in America it was 500,000. It's like in the U.K., a Gold record in the 1980s I think was 150,000 and a Platinum record was 300,000. It's all proportional to the population.
Q - When you joined Styx, what did you think it would do for your solo career? Did you think it would give you an even higher visibility in the music business?
A - I thought that it was time to do something different. I'd done the solo career for fourteen years and I was definitely frustrated by the fact that I hadn't any really sort of U.S. exposure. I played a little bit in the United States, particularly in border cities like Buffalo and Billingham, Washington 'cause they got a lot of our airplay and took it upon themselves. So I was known enough along the border that I was able to play some shows there in the U.S. The records were on Impact. But it was a constant frustration that I couldn't get any records to that audience. Of course, shortly after joining Styx, that's when everything changed. Everybody gets a world-wide release now 'cause on the Internet you just push "SEND" and everyone in the world can see it. (laughs) That's a curious thing. We lived in a very different... there was a very different paradigm the business was structured on in the '80s and in the '90s it began to break up.
Q - Is that necessarily a good thing though? There was a system in place with the record companies, the local promoters, the radio stations. Now, that's a thing of the past.
A - Good question. I think like everything in life, when things change you lose something. At first it looked like it was going to be nothing but losses for the music industry and for some people it was, obviously for those giant record companies, the world-wide gate keepers of who heard what, when and where. (laughs) It was catastrophic what happened in that field. It certainly didn't do anything to diminish the desire to find good music in people around the world and now people do their own programming. They put together their own playlists and find artists from all over the place. I love that. There are things I miss about the old ways of doing things, but there are things that are just tremendous. I think Styx has benefited greatly from the Internet in a way that we never envisioned when it first happened. And that is, as we see the audience for our shows getting younger and younger, half the audience is under 30 years of age, weren't even born when the records came out, the biggest records. I think they're able to find these classic bands through the Internet or find a website like Classicbands.com and investigate and see a little something. Once the band is coming to town they can go see a 'live' Rock show. Once they see that they become galvanized to it and they love it and it becomes part of their lives and will remain so. I don't think that would've happened without the Internet.
Q - You say you perform over one hundred shows a year.
A - Yeah. We're about to start our Summer tour this year (2015) with Def Leppard. That begins in June. Ticket sales are through the roof on that tour already, the pre-sales. So they're excited about that. It's been like that. It's been like that since I joined the band. The audience keeps getting wider and wider in the age range. There seems to be this insatiable demand to see Styx and we're thrilled about that. We're doing everything we can to meet that demand because we love it.
Q - What type of venues are you playing?
A - Everything.
Q - State Fairs, arenas, theatres?
A - All of it. A couple of weeks ago we did a House Of Blues for twelve hundred people. But we'll go and play the hockey arenas and that'll be like fifteen thousand people. A few nights later we played for three nights with the National Symphony Orchestra. That only holds eighteen hundred people. And that was fantastic. This Def Leppard tour will be us in the amphitheatres and they hold anything from twelve thousand to probably eighteen thousand people. We'll do that and then we'll play the casino theatres. There's no elitist attitude when it comes to the size of the venues we play because everywhere we play, no matter what size audience, something great happens. Whenever a great Rock show happens we're happy to do that. That's what we're best at and that's what we continue to do.
Q - It's a great idea because it keeps everybody on their toes.
A - Exactly. You're absolutely right Gary. That's the beauty of it. I love the fact that I'm in a band with five guys that feel the same way about it. We love what we do. We see thousands of people on their feet at the end of everyday. That's a really rewarding thing to have happen. It's all built around music and Classic Rock and we're very thrilled to be part of it.