Celebrating the ongoing resonance of Styx’s first full-length studio album of the 2000s, which was released on February 18, 2003.
by Mike Mettler, resident Styxologist
Cyclorama, Styx’s first full-length studio album of all-original material of the 2000s, was released 18 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,” “These Are the Times,” “More Love for the Money,” and “Fields of the Brave.” Cyclorama — which also saw a wonderfully enveloping 5.1 surround-sound mix done by the late, great Loizzo for both the DVD-Audio and DualDisc formats, via the Silverline label — reached #127 on The Billboard 200 Albums chart. (Cyclorama wouldn’t be followed up by an all-original studio album until the June 2017 release of The Mission.)
Almost six full months ago to the day — at 12 p.m. Eastern time on August 21, 2020, to be exact — a new animated lyric video treatment for the aforementioned “These Are the Times” was unveiled on Styx’s YouTube channel to coincide with Cyclorama’s debut on all major download and streaming platforms. The video was directed by longtime band associate Steve Jones, a lifelong friend of co-founding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young who also happens to be an accomplished film producer to boot (see Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Mad Dog and Glory, to name but a few). If you haven’t seen the gripping “These Are the Times” clip yet, or want to revisit it like you know you should, you can check it out here. (“These are the times we find out who we really are,” indeed.)
In a Styxworld exclusive, guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw recalls the unique location for recording some of Cyclorama’s vocal tracks, the initial and wisely discarded title for “One With Everything,” and the evergreen 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 three 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/vocalist] Ricky Phillips came into the picture.
[Your Styxologist clarifies: Glen’s last show with the band was on September 14, 2003 at the Los Angeles County Fair, just three days after Tommy's birthday, and Ricky’s first gig as a member of Styx was October 24, 2003 at the Grand Casino in Tunica, Mississippi. Glen has since gone on to resume his solo career and also helped co-found the ongoing, critically acclaimed Beatlesque garage-rockers known as The Weeklings.]
Tommy Shaw: 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.
[Your Styxologist notes: In an interview conducted on June 9, 2014, Paul Rodgers told me about that very specific 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 microphone 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. 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 being 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.”
[Rock history lesson duly concluded! We now return to the continuation of Tommy’s 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. It’s one of our favorite things to play whenever we can fit it into the set, especially because of the great, progressive middle section in there.
“Yes I Can” was another one of those California-based songs. The imagery is the California scene. 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.”]
Right up until we began incorporating songs from The Mission into our set a few years ago, we used 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?”
Cyclorama also had this great Storm Thorgerson album cover, our final Storm album cover. He and his team did [September 1978’s] Pieces of Eight as well. We were proud to be associated with him and his great, iconic album covers.
[Your Styxologist clarifies: Storm 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 British graphic design firm Hipgnosis. For his part, Powell was directly involved in the Pieces of Eight cover design.]
Tommy Shaw: 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.