By: Kathy Wagner -

STYX is set to release their first studio album of all new material in 14 years this Friday, June 16th. The Mission is an aurally adventurous 43-minute thrill ride that chronicles the trials, tribulations, and ultimate triumphs of the first manned mission to Mars in the year 2033. From the hopeful drive of “Gone Gone Gone” to the stargazing machinations of “Locomotive” to the rough-riding blaze of glory that permeates the hard-charging “Red Storm” to the melancholy optimism of the closing track “Mission to Mars,” the album succeeds in delivering the greater good from a band that continues to fire on all cylinders, 45 years after signing its first recording contract.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the release of the biggest selling STYX album of all time, Grand Illusion, released July 7, 1977. “It just seemed truly appropriate to save our new studio album until this year, ” says founding guitarist James “JY” Young. “Needless to say, I’m very excited.”

I recently spoke with guitarist-vocalist Tommy Shaw about the making of The Mission, the band’s visit to NASA (along with NASA’s thoughts on the new album), what fans can expect when STYX hits the stage this summer (they have a stop at Bethel Woods on August 11th), and the talented musicians that make up the STYX family. Here are some of his thoughts, with a link to the full interview below. Enjoy!

Kathy Wagner: Every day you’re getting more and more new fans, and there are also older fans — maybe more casual fans — that perhaps might have fallen out of touch with the band over the years. So I wanted to take a minute to call attention to the tremendous amount of talent that makes up the STYX family today. Each band member is a star in their own right, and together you’re outstanding. Let’s take a minute to talk about each member. Start with Lawrence Gowan; what makes Lawrence an outstanding performer?

Tommy Shaw: Well he was born to be a performer, it’s so natural to him. On top of that, he works at it, constantly… constantly… making sure when he hits the stage his fingers are all loose and he’s ready to go. And he keeps himself in top physical condition, he eats great, he’s constantly challenging his mind and he’s working on music. He’s really one of the most remarkable musicians I’ve ever worked with.

KW: On bass, Ricky Phillips…

TS: Ricky Phillips, whenever we’re in the dressing rooms, he’s got his bass and his rig set up next to his wardrobe case and he’s back there playing stuff that someday there will be songs for, and it’s remarkable.

KW: And your monster drummer, Todd Sucherman…

TS: He is a student of his instrument. Not only that, he’s a great teacher. Todd goes all around the world starring in these drum clinics that are getting more and more popular. He came to Nashville recently, and started out in one venue and before it was over they had changed the venue three times to handle all the people, and they were still standing room only in that venue. He’s just so good, and so…. he’s been playing drums since he was 5 years old. Gigging… playing gigs! And he’s never stopped studying.