Styx’s 2022 lineup has ‘home run hitters at every position’

After half a century of rock stardom, Styx have become one of the most recognizable bands in the United States. It stands out primarily for its unmistakable layered harmonies and catchy synth melodies in hits like “Fooling Yourself” and “Come Sail Away”, the first band of all time. releasing four multi-platinum albums in a row has become synonymous with the progressive pop genre.

Despite past scruples, Styx persists, backing his new album, “Crash of the Crown,” with a nationwide tour that stops in Cincinnati in June. I recently had the chance to chat with guitarist and vocalist James “JY” Young about new material, his experience in Chicago, and persevering with differences in creative vision that can make or break a band.

Question: You are from Chicago. Are you still hanging out there?

Answer: I live in a suburb of Chicago. Like all great cities, it has evolved and changed in different ways. I went to Calumet High School on the south side. Shaka Khan went there a few years after me. The children of Bo Diddley and Willie Dixon went to school there. The first vinyl I bought was “Bo Diddley is a Gunslinger”.

Q: Do you think there was something special about Chicago that made your sound?

A: Chicago is a multicultural thing. It is a jazz center that dates back 100 years and is known for having a great symphony orchestra. The bands that came out of Chicago in the ’50s were like the Buckinghams and the Cryan’ Shames and the American Breed. American Breed lead singer Gary Loizzo became a recording engineer and recorded a number of our albums. Then there are the guys from Chicago. We did a few gigs with them back then. But eventually, we had our own way.

Q: You have an engineering degree. Was there a choice you had to make between “normal” life and music?

A: I come from a family of musicians. My aunt was a church organist. My dad would hear a song and sit down and slap it on the piano. My older sister was also very talented. We all started the piano at the age of 5 in our family, then we were all encouraged to play an instrument in elementary school and high school.

There was a family construction business that my grandfather had started, and I was in line to take it over if I wanted to. That’s why the engineering degree seemed right. Back then it was mechanics and aerospace, but there was hardly any space program when I started college in 1963. Manned space travel only happened towards the end of my stay there. I really wanted to leave college and do music. Dad said, “Just graduate, and I’ll stop bothering you.”

Styx, left to right, Lawrence Gowan, Chuck Panozzo, Tommy Shaw, James

Q: Your new album, “Crash of the Crown,” is still 70s progressive rock, but also incorporates modern production. What influenced this production style?

A: This most recent record was probably the least involved in making a record that I’ve ever been. The pandemic was continuing and I was spending time with my wife. Tommy called me up and said, “Hey, you gotta come over here, play guitar on this record and sing a little.” So I went down and did all my parts in a few days. God bless Tommy, because we have a new record and, if I was in charge, we wouldn’t have had this. There is a good team spirit in the group. We have home runs in every position in the Styx at this point.

Q: You seem to be a very collaborative group. Everyone works together to write. How does this process work?

A: In this case, it was Will Evankovich, who became a new member of the band and Tommy’s collaborator. Tommy had gone to Damn Yankees with Jack Blades and Ted Nugent. Will was part of this circle and Tommy enjoyed working and writing with him. He paid for Will to move to Nashville, where Tommy lives. He has a studio in his basement and Will is an engineer and can write and sing. So they just started writing. And then Lawrence came down and joined them, and all of a sudden there’s a record. So they called me to play and sing.

Q: Do you have any words of wisdom on how to successfully navigate group drama?

A: There’s an old Kenny Rogers song: “Know when to hold ’em and know when to bend ’em.” Try to find the middle ground. And if you can’t find it, think about what needs to happen next. Dennis (DeYoung) went off to do solo records, and that kind of pushed me to do solo records and Tommy to do solo records – that’s when he joined the Damn Yankees. We’ve evolved, but what we do now still resonates with our early records.

Styx & REO Speedwagon: live and without zoom, with Loverboy

When: 6:45 p.m. Saturday, June 11.

Where: Riverbend Music Center, 6295 Kellogg Avenue, Anderson Township.

Tickets: $29.50 – $104.50.

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