STYX vocalist/guitarist Tommy Shaw recently appeared on "PodKats!", a podcast hosted by John "Kats" Katsilometes of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The full conversation can be streamed below. A few excerpts follow (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).
On living in Nashville:
Tommy: "There's a Southern way of life — Southern attitudes. It's a friendly place. It's encouraged — that kind of thing is just in the culture. When people move here, they tend to want to assimilate into that instead of bringing the culture with them from the last place they lived. You get a certain attitude when you're driving in Chicago or New York or Los Angeles, and when you come here, you notice right away that you don't hear anybody blowing their horns... People are polite. It's just a Southern way. We lived in Los Angeles for almost 24 years. It just got so crowded. Parking was hard to do. To go one place and get one thing done would take you two or three hours because of traffic... The other thing is, Nashville is pretty centrally located. If you're a musician that gets on the road a lot, the trip home or the trip out there is a lot shorter."
On getting his big break:
Tommy: "Back when I was still living in my hometown, what you did was you played in clubs. There were lots and lots of clubs where live music was the center thing. That's how I got my break — playing in a club on Rush Street in Chicago. The tour manager for STYX came and saw us play and came back and introduced himself. When they were looking to replace John Curulewski, he remembered me, but he didn't have my phone number. I had forgotten to make it unlisted when I moved back to Alabama, so he got my number from directory assistance — but it was because I was playing in that club."
On auditioning for STYX:
Tommy: "It was kind of urgent to find somebody who could mainly sing those high parts. You had to look the part. You had to fit in. Everything else was gravy. I had a reputation in that city for being a guitarist and a singer and a songwriter. The main thing was, 'All right, we're going to do 'Lady' now, and you take the high D.' There was actually a high E in it [too], and I sang it, and I'm still singing that high D and E now. Everything we do is in the original key. It sounds better that way, and we can [still] do it."
On the band's musical catalog:
Tommy: "Most of our fans, they haven't quit — they haven't stopped living their lives and doing the things that they love. It's only natural for us, because we haven't stopped creating. It's the continuing story of STYX, and now we have current music that we can play, but we have music that goes all the way back to the early '70s. It's quite a night, spanning time. There are certain songs that people [expect to hear] or they're going to go, 'What happened?' — 'Come Sail Away', 'Renegade', 'Foolin' Yourself', 'Blue Collar Man', those kind of songs. We always want to have that there. It's our identity, but we like bringing people along and we like to go back and do some deep tracks. We've been doing 'Snow Blind' lately. We did 'Pieces Of Eight' the other night. We can really make create some great little musical landscapes by mixing all those type of songs together... We did wind up getting songs that went up the charts as singles, but they were never written as singles. We weren't those kind of songwriters. We were more interested in telling stories with an album. Certain songs just emerged because they were a little catchier than others."
Tommy: "It started as almost a dirgey kind of Alan Parsons thing. I wrote it on piano. I had taught myself how to play the harmonies of 'The Raven', an Alan Parsons song... I was all proud of myself. You know how some people type with one finger? I'm like that on piano. Then after I did that, I started jamming around on that and I wrote 'Renegade'. It was this dark, dirgey little thing, and when I got with the band, we were always, 'Let's take it up a little bit,' and then it became the rock song that it is. We had those harmonies in it, and we said, 'Let's start the song with those harmonies.' That little thing that I pecked out on the piano became the opening."
On the current state of rock:
Tommy: "It's very exciting. It's just a different time. When I was in high school, it was CROSBY, STILLS & NASH. Even before that, it was BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD. Those bands were emerging, and I was just, 'How are they doing that? How are they getting those sounds?' Now, it's the younger bands, and it's like, 'How are they getting that sound?' You keep being influenced.
Tommy: "It's such a great thing to do and be able to make a living at it, and most importantly, to have the opportunity to go out there and continue to do it... The band is such a joy to work with, and it's a dream for me. I always wanted to be in a band where I felt like I was the least talented guy there. I just get blown away by these guys night [after] night. It was like that the other night — I was looking at these guys like, 'How did I end up in this position?'"
On the band's 2017 concept album "The Mission":
Tommy: "There was a time when it seemed like there wouldn't be a place or an opportunity to have new music, but the new music kept coming. 'The Mission' was like a storm of ideas that just all stuck together one after another, and you just had to get out of the way and let it come down and record it. It so wanted to be created. It was amazing."
On when to expect the group's next album:
Tommy: "We're pretty well into it. Lawrence [Gowan] will be coming to Nashville, and our producer, Will Evankovich, we're going to be doing the writing demos for the songs that we have so far and finishing up a few things. Mainly now it's just a matter of scheduling between times that we're on the road and times that we need to be home. That's the hardest thing — just getting us all together in a room."
In addition to Shaw, STYX's current lineup features 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.