Styxworld exclusive! Every member of Styx discusses the ins and outs of how Crash of the Crown, the band’s truly transcendent 17th studio album that’s being released today, June 18, 2021, came to be.
“We are not shy about accepting ideas on the songs we write, which makes them all co-writes. I’ve found this helps the songs and encourages ideas, and the songs tend to reflect the band mentality. Someone has the original vision, melody, chord progression, and basic lyrics, but having so much creative talent to lean on makes finishing these songs a real celebration.” —Tommy Shaw
By Mike Mettler, Resident Styxologist
Sound the Alarm! Release day is finally here for STYX’s utterly majestic 17th studio album, Crash of the Crown, which is officially available at the stroke of midnight Eastern time on June 18, 2021 via Alpha Dog 2T/UMe on a variety of formats — namely, 180-gram high-grade clear and black vinyl, CD, and all major digital platforms. (Crash of the Crown , or COTC for short, had been officially made available for pre-order back on May 6. Go here if you haven’t ordered yours already: is now available for pre-order here,
“We did something extraordinary in creating Crash of the Crown. It came to us so naturally,” admits STYX guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw before adding, “Absolutely no obstacles were going to get in the way of how we approached creating this album — and everything came out exactly the way we wanted to hear it.”
Let us first reiterate the basic FAQs about Crash of the Crown (or COTC, for short) — some of which we can now confirm are included in the album’s inner-sleeve liner notes, as written by yours truly, your resident Styxologist — before we get to all of this particular post’s exclusive reveals. Produced by Will Evankovich — the man behind the boards for the band’s previous studio masterpiece, June 2017’s The Mission — Crash of the Crown is a come-one, come-all clarion call that celebrates the creative mindmeld of seven musicians-slash-brothers in arms at the top of their collective game. The proof can be found throughout all 45 minutes of COTC, whether it’s the wistful observational musings of “Reveries” — an instantly catchy song featuring STYX’s patented, always-uplifting four- and sometimes five-part harmonious vocal blend on its choruses — the unmistakable snarl of “A Monster” that’s bolstered by a whirlwind outro solo from co-founding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young, the breathe-easier singalong mantra that permeates “Sound the Alarm,” the dark yet redemptively hopeful cautionary tale that frames “Hold Back the Darkness,” or the elegiac communal grace of “To Those.” In essence, Crash of the Crown is a modern-day sonic chronograph of the endless regenerative cycle of the rise and fall — and rise again — of our shared human experience.
Me, I’ve been listening to COTC digitally since, well, late 2020, so I for one cannot wait to drop the needle on the high-grade vinyl many, many times over the course of today (and well beyond!) to experience the music in the way it was meant to be heard!
COMING OUT THE OTHER SIDE
Tommy recently reminded me COTC had many humble beginnings. For example, songs like “Monster” and “Sound the Alarm” came to life in hotel rooms. “This is like finding out where our parents were when we were conceived,” he says with a laugh. “Take ‘Sound the Alarm,’ which was conceived in my room at The Venetian in Las Vegas when we were there with Don Felder [in January 2018]. And I did the writing demo of the original ‘Monster’ parts in my hotel room in Penticton near Lake Okanagan up in British Columbia during that break where we traveled through Glacier National Park and then stopped at the lake for a couple of days.”
That being said, Tommy points out every STYX song is a family affair. “As you’ll notice on the COTC writing credits, we are not shy about accepting ideas on the songs we write, which makes them all co-writes,” he clarifies. “I’ve found this helps the songs and encourages ideas, and the songs tend to reflect the band mentality. Someone has the original vision, melody, chord progression, and basic lyrics, but having so much creative talent to lean on makes finishing these songs a real celebration.”
The band is, well, positively passionate about COTC finally being made available to STYX’s many, many fans across the globe. “Oh, is it out today?” Lawrence Gowan asked me, somewhat rhetorically, in his typical, playful Gowanesque fashion. “OMG, I haven’t got a thing to wear!” Adds Tommy, with a wink, “After this, maybe we’ll have the guts to do that polka album we’ve all been talking about!” As you can tell by the degree of their levity, STYX are excited beyond words to celebrate everything that COTC is, and will be — and, naturally, that means the next logical step in doing just that is to go back on tour and road-test the album’s many aural wonders right where they belong: onstage. (See all of STYX’s upcoming tour dates here.)
OUR WONDERFUL LIVE PERFORMANCES
After 16 months of being on the sidelines due to the pandemic, STYX triumphantly returned to the live stage on June 16 at St. Augustine Theatre in St. Augustine, Florida. Though I was unable to attend this historic night personally myself, I can confirm both my parents were there in a four-person pod back in Section 303, and they enjoyed the evening’s two-set show to the max.
COTC was well-represented in St. Augustine, as the album’s opening track, the rousing “The Fight of Our Lives,” began the night as the band’s new walk-on song, taking over that hallowed set-starter’s slot from The Mission’s “Overture.” Other COTC songs peppered throughout the set include the Lawrence-led “Reveries” and the all-in multi-movement masterpiece “Crash of the Crown,” as well as Tommy doing some of the truly uplifting “Sound the Alarm” acoustically before going into “Crystal Ball.” After the show, Tommy told me, “COTC songs went over big time. We’re taking on a lot of new things, but it’s a very exciting time to be working with Will onstage in the live mix. We’re moving the details forward at light-speed now.”
Tommy continued singing Will’s praises, following his colleague’s first night as a full-set performer with the band. (Prior to June 16, Will had played onstage with STYX in various segments of Mission-specific sets in 2019 and 2020.) “Over the last several years, Will has become a welcome and integral part of the band behind the scenes with co-writing and production of our new music,” he notes. “This time around, we encouraged Will to take on the album mixing job for COTC as well. It was a natural next step to continue his role with us onto the stage. Will also took his first overnight trip in the band bus after the first show. We are now taking this to a new level out there, where the creativity levels we enjoy during writing and making records can continue uninterrupted.”
For his part, Will was quite gracious as he shared his thoughts with me directly following that June 16 show. “After many years of playing in Shaw Blades, and then seeing that relationship evolve into Tommy and I working through a terrific writing relationship, it manifested into the STYX universe,” Will clarifies, “and it is a massive universe of epic music. The entire band is made up of the finest musicians and creative artists you will find today. We have created a couple of really strong albums together, and I am now honored to have been asked to play this amazing collective of new and timeless music. I am looking forward to, to borrow one of our lyrics, ‘keep moving forward’ with this amazing group of musicians.”
Expect Will to be onstage with the band for the entirety of every live STYX set this summer, and then after that . . . we shall see!
LONG LIVE THE EASTER EGGS
As both Tommy and Lawrence discussed on talkshoplive online on the eve of release on June 17, there are indeed a number of Easter eggs embedded all throughout the entire COTC package, much like there were for The Mission. This is again thanks to the teamwork between Tommy and the art direction and overall package design oh-so-expertly executed by Todd Gallopo, the visual visionary head of Meat and Potatoes, Inc. who also handled the same duties for The Same Stardust EP, The Mission, and iconic Styx catalog reissues under the UMe banner such as The Complete Wooden Nickel Recordings, Come Sail Away: The Styx Anthology, and Rockers, to name but a few.
In fact, your Styxologist was hanging out in Tommy’s backstage dressing room at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills, California, on January 12, 2020, when Tommy first played a combination of early and mostly finished versions of most of the tracks that would appear on COTC for Gallopo to hear firsthand so he could begin visualizing the album-design concept you now have before you. Soon enough, Gallopo began formulating the crater-centric theme that would bless the main cover image — all of it done idea-by-idea in conjunction with Tommy. In fact, Gallopo can be given credit for convincing Tommy to remove the word “The” before the full COTC album title because Todd felt it would make the phrase read awkwardly and look too wordy on the cover — and his instincts were dead-on about that.
Not only that, but a cavalcade of Easter eggs — such as all the Morse code that appears on both the interior and the exterior of the overall package — was brainstormed by Shaw, Gallopo, and company. For my part, I too added a number of Easter eggs to the liner notes text itself, so have fun figuring out them all!
One final thing on this egg-centric topic: I won’t give it all away here, but I will confirm the various people you see scattered all over the cover in various poses and with different, shall we say, props are not members of the band or their vaunted crew. One of them, seen at the very top of the crater peering down inside with a trusty reporter’s notebook in hand, is indeed yours truly (an honor I will forever cherish, in fact). We’ll dive deeper into identifying some of the other COTC Easter eggs in future stories, but for now: enjoy the hunt!
INSIDE THE CROWN OF CREATION
Let’s go inside the making of COTC, shall we? Some of the following has been adapted directly from the COTC liner notes I wrote between October 2020 and February 2021 — but, of course, you will have to buy a copy of the album to read all of them!
STYX’s holy mission to fulfill the laser-focused vision outlined by guitarist/vocalist and chief songwriter Tommy Shaw for Crash of the Crown was undeterred, regardless of some of the socially distanced hurdles imposed on the recording process due to this past year’s pandemic.
Some COTC songs had already been in the works during the days of The Mission (such as the aforementioned “Reveries”), while some were workshopped in hotel rooms all across the continent while the band was on tour (the way “A Monster” was born and bred during a scenic tour break in British Columbia), and others reached final fruition during the recording process itself (like the angelic vocal bridge that cements the relieved bliss of “Sound the Alarm”). The recording sessions for Crash of the Crown mainly took place in Shaw’s home studio in Nashville — albeit in strategic, quarantine-approved doses. “Because we connected so well as a band when we recorded The Mission, I just had to go there to make my contributions,” recounts bassist Ricky Phillips. “Tommy and Will are very clear about what they wanted for each song, and my job is to play the best parts I can to make every song better.” Adds original STYX bassist Chuck Panozzo — who provided his signature low-end tone for the inspirational “Our Wonderful Lives” and the acute aquatic fever dream “Lost at Sea” — “I traveled over 900 miles by car to record with Will and Tommy in person. They’re both so good at getting the best bass performances out of me in the studio. Making that trip to Nashville was the highlight of my year!”
Prior to the lockdown, keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan had laid down many vocal and instrumental tracks in Nashville in the fall of 2019, including some of the synthesized flourishes that reign over the unifying come-together entreaty of “Common Ground” that recall The Who at their Quadrophenia peak. “And then I also got to use some gear I never thought I’d have the chance to play on a STYX record, like Tommy’s Hammond B3 organ,” he confirms. Gowan later followed through with a number of additional keyboard elements (with his vintage Minimoog and Mellotron among them) and other lead and background vocal duties from his homebase in Toronto. Meanwhile, drummer Todd Sucherman was ensconced in Austin, having recorded all his world-class percussion in his home studio with the help of Audiomovers Listento plug-in technology without compromising the quality of his playing in the least. “You know how meticulous I am when it comes to recording my drum parts,” Sucherman affirms, “and using Audiomovers ensured I could do everything I wanted on each track with nothing left to chance.”
The title track — which world-premiered during Eddie Trunk’s “Trunk Nation” show on SiriusXM satellite radio’s Volume channel on May 6 — holds the unique distinction of featuring three lead vocalists, with JY lending his distinctive baritone to the opening verses, Tommy heading up the heroic stacked-vocal middle section, and Lawrence taking the lead for the final verse — another STYX first. “Perhaps the closest thing to it for me would be how Tommy and I traded lead vocals on ‘Snowblind,’” observes JY in reference to the foreboding, concert-favorite track from STYX’s chart-topping multiplatinum 1981 release, Paradise Theatre. For his part, producer Evankovich — who co-wrote the bulk of COTC with Shaw in addition to singing and playing a multitude of instruments throughout the entire album — freely admits he was hoping to coax a David Bowie-circa-“Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” vocal vibe from Young, who was mostly happy to comply. “Will would sometimes ask me to do up to eight passes on various things, and I never like to do more than two or three,” Young recalls with a booming laugh. “But I respect Will as a producer and Tommy’s vision for the album, so we made it work. I gave them plenty of options.”
One of Shaw’s pivotal COTC contributions comes courtesy “Our Wonderful Lives,” a song he first previewed acoustically during the Big Love Benefit Concert that streamed online in January 2021 — and a track that serves as a stirring ode to taking stock of the finer points of life amidst trying times. It’s also the first-ever STYX song to feature a banjo, an instrument Shaw has occasionally played onstage as well as on some of his own solo recordings. “I never imagined playing banjo on a STYX record,” reveals Tommy, “but as we were cutting ‘Our Wonderful Lives,’ I thought maybe a touch of Americana might work — so I auditioned it, and it felt like it belonged.” Not only that, but another, er, wonderful “Lives” surprise comes by way of the jubilant piccolo trumpet solo from guest performer Steve Patrick, which exhibits quite the deliberate Beatlesque flair.
After spending the past year on the touring sidelines because of the pandemic, STYX are beyond eager to play as much of Crash of the Crown live as they can once they return to the road this summer. “I can’t wait to feel that group energy when we get back on the same stage together again,” Shaw admits. “We did something extraordinary in creating COTC. It came to us so naturally, and we can’t wait to bring these songs to life the way they’re meant to be played.”
As STYX begin to do full justice to COTC music out on the planks, we now finally have all 15 of its majestic studio tracks in hand (and in-ear) to continue taking us to new and renewed aural heights. Beyond the shadow of a royal doubt, I hereby decree Crash of the Crown to be a timeless album for the ages. Long live the king!
Tommy Shaw: Acoustic and Electric Guitars, Mandolin, Banjo, and Vocals
James Young: Electric Guitar and Vocals
Chuck Panozzo: Bass Guitar
Todd Sucherman: Drums and Percussion
Lawrence Gowan: Piano, B3 Organ, Synthesizers, Mellotron, and Vocals
Ricky Philips: Bass Guitar
Will Evankovich: Acoustic and Electric Guitars, Mandolin, Synthesizers, Soundscapes, Percussion, and Vocals
STYX: Crash of the Crown (Alpha Dog 2T/UMe) — released June 18, 2021
- The Fight of Our Lives
- A Monster
- Hold Back the Darkness
- Save Us From Ourselves
- Crash of the Crown
- Our Wonderful Lives
- Common Ground
- Sound the Alarm
- Long Live the King
- Lost at Sea
- Coming Out the Other Side
- To Those
- Another Farewell