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Cyclorama Turns 14!

Celebrating the resonance of Styx’s most recent full-length studio album, which was released on February 18, 2003.

by Mike Mettler

Styx’s last full-length studio album of all-original material, Cyclorama, was released 14 years ago today on February 18, 2003 by Sanctuary/CMC International. The album was produced by Tommy Shaw, James Young, and Gary Loizzo, and it contains such enduring tracks like “One With Everything,” “Yes I Can,” “Killing the Thing That You Love,” “More Love for the Money,” and “Fields of the Brave.” Cyclorama (which also saw a wonderfully enveloping 5.1 surround-sound mix done by Loizzo for both the DVD-Audio and DualDisc formats, via Silverline) reached #127 on The Billboard 200 Albums chart.

In a Styxworld exclusive, guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw recalls the unique location for recording some of the album’s vocal tracks, the initial and wisely discarded title for “One With Everything,” and the ongoing poignancy of “Genki Desu Ka.”

Tommy Shaw: Cyclorama was a fun record to make. It was a real “California experience” type of record. We recorded some of the vocals standing outside. That was in my home studio up in Beachwood Canyon in Los Angeles, where I lived for quite a few years before moving to Nashville. After we released the album, we went on a great tour with Journey and REO Speedwagon, and sold out arenas all across the country [from May to August 2003].

Lawrence [Gowan, keyboardist/vocalist] had been in the band for 3 years at that point, and it was our first album with him. We didn’t realize it at the time, but Glen [Burtnik, bassist/guitarist/vocalist] would be leaving that year around my birthday in September, and that was when [bassist/background vocalist] Ricky Phillips came into the picture. [Glen’s last show with the band was three days after Tommy's birthday on September 14, 2003 at the Los Angeles County Fair, and Ricky’s first gig as a member of Styx was October 24, 2003 at the Grand Casino in Tunica, Mississippi.]

I remember both Lawrence and me standing underneath a palm tree, getting this great vocal sound outside. It’s something we learned from [Damn Yankees producer/engineer] Ron Nevison, who had told us about recording Paul Rodgers outside singing the song “Bad Company.” So we tried it, and we loved it.

[Styxologist aside: In an interview conducted on June 9, 2014, Paul Rodgers told me about that very recording of the song “Bad Company,” where he was indeed standing outside Headley Grange in England while cutting the song live in November 1973: “When I came to do this vocal, I thought it would be nice to get some atmosphere. We were in an old mansion and we had a mobile unit outside — Ronnie Lane’s Mobile Studio, actually. We stretched the mike leads waaaay across and into the fields out there. I waited until midnight and the full moon, and then I sang it. It was very atmospheric. To me, that’s what music is — creating a mood, and taking the listener to the place that you’re going.”

And when I spoke with Ron Nevison about “Bad Company” on June 28, 2016, he added, “It was up against the wall. It was a really cold night. If you listen to the song as it’s fading, you can hear him sing, 'And the cold wind blows…' And it did! We only did one vocal take. We tried it. It was a house where we had rooms. For me, on a vocal, you don’t want coloration. You don’t want a room to color it. You don’t want the room’s reverb; you have your own, you know? You want as dry a place as possible — and you can’t get drier than outside. As long as, you know, there are no trucks running past, or anything. (laughs) But it was pretty quiet out in the country there.”]

History lesson duly concluded! Shaw continues his Cyclorama narrative:

Tommy Shaw: We had a great time jamming on those songs. “One With Everything” was this amazing song that went through all sorts of changes. It had a different name at first — something crazy, like “My Beautiful Pompeii.” That was one of those songs where my wife Jeanne would come over and I’d say, “Listen to this song!” We’d start playing it and she’d go, “What the hell — ‘Pompeii’? WHAT???” (laughs heartily)

We realized at that point in our enthusiastic joy of creating this great piece of music that we hadn’t really thought about what we were singing! (laughs again) So there was a quick rewrite to “One With Everything” — which actually had a great deal of meaning. And now we play “One With Everything” every chance we get. It’s one of our favorite things, especially because of the great prog middle section in there.

“Yes I Can” was another one of those California-based songs. The imagery is the California scene.

And we still use the song “Genki Desu Ka” as our walk-off music. “Genki Desu Ka” is Japanese — a very polite way of saying, “Do you feel good?”

And speaking of California, our friend Billy Bob Thornton makes an appearance [doing lead vocals on “Bourgeois Pig”], and Tenacious D is in there somewhere too! [Jack Black and Kyle Gass — a.k.a. Tenacious D — appear on the hidden track “The Chosen One,” which follows directly after “Genki Desu Ka.”]

And Cyclorama also had this great Storm Thorgerson album cover, our final Storm album cover. He did Pieces of Eight (1978) as well. We were proud to be associated with him and his great, iconic album covers. [Thorgerson, who passed away on April 18, 2013, is perhaps best known for designing album covers and related artwork for the likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin with partner Aubrey Powell in the graphic design firm Hipgnosis.]

Cyclorama was kind of an experimental record, just to see where we were as a band after having reformed in 1999. We were stretching our legs in the studio, and there was a lot of growth and moving forward. That’s how I look at that album. Whenever I think of Cyclorama, it puts a smile on my face.