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Styx ready to embrace new media in getting its sound out

| Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 8:05 p.m.
Ash Newell
Styx 2010 Photo Shoot

Like many veteran bands, Styx has found that there are drawbacks to trying to make new records.

“Radio, particularly classic-rock radio, won't touch new music by us,” says James Young, Styx guitarist-singer.

There's also a financial disincentive to making new albums, Young says. It means spending money for studio time, a producer and other expenses, while taking time off from touring, which is now the primary source of income for most bands.

That's tough to accept for a band like Styx, which, at its peak, had four straight albums — “The Grand Illusion” (1977), “Pieces of Eight” (1978), “Cornerstone” (1979) and “Paradise Theatre” (1981) — top 2 million copies sold.

The band will perform May 19 at First Niagara Pavilion, Burgettstown.

The band's last studio album of original material, 2003's “Cyclorama,” barely made a blip on charts. Its most recent releases were 2010' “Big Bang Theory,” an album of cover tunes, and two EPs, “Regeneration: Volume 1” and “Regeneration: Volume 2,” featuring the current lineup — keyboardist-singer Lawrence Gowan, Young, guitarist-singer Tommy Shaw, drummer Todd Sucherman and bassist Ricky Phillips — re-recording its versions of songs from the Styx back catalog.

Despite that, a new Styx studio album could happen in the not-too-distant future, Young says, because he's seeing a viable way for groups like Styx to get their music noticed by large numbers of potential fans.

“I honestly believe, not only for classic artists, but for artists of all stripes, more and more it's about creating one great song and creating a visual thing that can get on the Internet and perhaps go worldwide, and, all of a sudden, ignite a worldwide sort of viral-media-frenzy kind of a thing,” Young says. “That's the way to really get people's attention.

“I think we do need to start putting music out there — and with unique visual presentations,” he says. “So, the tools to create the next wave of things from Styx are there. And we just have to figure out exactly what the heck we want to do with them.”

As it is, Young says video sites like YouTube are already having a real impact in growing Styx's fan base and introducing the group to new, younger fans.

“A young person can hear one Styx song and they can pretty much be able to go (to) our whole catalog and have it in their computer,” Young says. “The Internet has given us immediate accessibility, and, fortunately, that has worked in our favor, I believe, in letting young people spread the word.”

Fans — new and old — of Styx will have opportunities to see the band live and in person this spring as the group teams up with REO Speedwagon and Ted Nugent for the second straight year on a tour called the “Midwest Rock 'N' Roll Express.”

Young says the Styx and REO pairing just seems to be a package that works.

“Styx and REO, something about that billing starting in the year 2000, one and one has equaled three, four or five depending on where you're at. But it's always more than two, it seems,” he says.

“I think both bands had No. 1 albums in 1981, and you add the wild card of the Motor City Madman, the shy, retiring, politically neutral, Mr. Ted Nugent, and I don't know, Ted is probably the world's greatest self-promoter, and it just helps draw attention to what we're doing.”

Young says he suspects having Nugent on the tour has done more good than bad.

“I'm sure there are people that stay away from the shows as a result of him being there, but there's probably an equivalent number or more that have showed up because he is there,” Young says.

“It's a tradeoff, and some of our fans, perhaps, weren't 100 percent happy that Ted was on this show. Fortunately, we're out there enough that they can wait to see us the next time.”

Alan Sculley is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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