STYX guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw spoke to SiriusXM's "Trunk Nation" about the progress of the writing and recording sessions for the follow-up to "The Mission". Released in June 2017, that disc marked STYX's first new LP in 14 years. It was recorded at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, co-produced and co-written with Will Evankovich, a longtime collaborator of Shaw's in the SHAW/BLADES band and who also plays with THE GUESS WHO.
"We've been working on it," Shaw said. "You just never stop writing and co-writing and working on stuff till you feel, like, 'Okay, that one's ready.' And then you work on another one. And then, next thing you know, we're thinking, 'We need to go ahead and record this. Otherwise, we're gonna have enough for…' Actually, we do have enough for a double album, but we're just gonna pick what we think are the best ones that go together. So we did start, and we've got one version that we really like. I'm just talking about writing demos."
Speaking about the recording process for the next STYX album, Tommy said: "Todd's [Sucherman] ready to go in and start cutting drums. That's how we do it. Because we're all in different places — especially now, we can't all be in the same room. But we're all used to recording that way… We haven't [recorded in the same room] since the '70s. Especially since Pro Tools came about. Because I've always lived somewhere else, getting everybody to do that in-the-same-room thing, it wasn't that big of a benefit for us. There are some bands, like if you're TEDESCHI TRUCKS [BAND], their whole thing is that the thing is moving and it's a living organism. Ours is more compositional — it's almost like a little rock symphony. Everybody has parts, and you play your part. And Todd, he's the glue that holds it together, and Ricky [Phillips, bass]. And we're fine with it. You keep working on your part, and it's all built to fit together."
Asked about STYX's penchant for putting out new music even when most fans of classic rock bands don't always like to listen to fresh material and prefer to hear old favorites, Tommy said: "It's something I can't turn off. And all of us are like that. You wake up in the morning, and next thing I know, I'm singing a song to the dog. And I go get the guitar and I say, 'I should record that 'cause I'll forget it.' I've got so many little song seeds that are on iPhone, iMovies. Like on this record, I went through it and found some and I started to plan it. I was, like, 'We can flesh this out into a song.' And then Will gets ahold of it and he starts arranging and building demos, and I add to that. And we start pretending were Ricky Phillips and Todd on the drum machine, just so we can give those guys an idea. Then they get in and they make it theirs.
"It's so real and it's still us — it's the same people who did those songs back then," he continued. "We didn't change — we just have more life experience. And we play the new music with the same kind of authority that we play the songs we've played a thousand times. And our experience has been, especially with 'The Mission', that even if people… You can look out there [into the crowd] sometimes if we're playing a song like 'Red Storm', and it starts out [with people going], 'I don't know that one,' and as it builds, there's people sitting on the edge of their seat, and by the time it gets to the end of it, with Lawrence [Gowan] playing that huge keyboard solo and Todd whaling away on the drums, people, they stand up, and I can tell it's like a 'holy shit' thing. So what is not to like about that?
"I understand some people, they might not want us to do that, just thinking about it, but once they're there in that seat and they realize that we're playing this new music… If we didn't believe in it, we wouldn't have released it," Shaw added. "We have plenty of songs that don't belong on albums. That happens when you write — sometimes you have to write the awful stuff to get to the good stuff. But we choose it very carefully, and we craft these records so that it's… We have to like it. And we're deadly critical of ourselves: 'This is too long,' 'I'm bored now,' 'Put this one in.' So by the time you heard this album, this thing has been beat up and kicked around and worked on. It's something we're very proud of, and we look forward to playing it live."
Sucherman recently told Audio Ink Radio that the new STYX material "definitely leans to a progressive side with always a big, heavy emphasis on melody and lyrics. There are several songs and several lyrics in there that — I haven't even talked to Tommy about this — that are almost about what's going on in the world right now," he said. "It's like a prophecy, some of the bits in the lyrics… There's one song called 'Sound The Alarm' that I damn near stopped playing and burst into tears while rehearsing because it sounds like it was written about what's going on today, like he wrote it today. So next time I talk to Tommy, I've gotta ask him, 'What made you write that four months ago?'"
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, four straight STYX albums sold at least two million copies — "The Grand Illusion" (1977), "Pieces Of Eight" (1978), "Cornerstone" (1979) and "Paradise Theatre" (1981). The band eventually replaced original singer/keyboardist/songwriter Dennis DeYoung in 1999 with Gowan.