The entire band discusses how Crash of the Crown, Styx’s transcendent 17th studio album, came to be — in a story you’ll only see right here on Styxworld.
“We did something extraordinary in creating Crash of the Crown. 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.” —Tommy Shaw
By Mike Mettler, Resident Styxologist
How do you follow up a career concept album that explored a perilous manned mission to Mars? If you’re the veteran rock stalwarts known as STYX, you come back down to earth in spectacular fashion to create a 15-song supersonic cyclone that encapsulates universal emotions, wrestles with top-of-mind issues, and celebrates personal triumphs over adversity in ways everyone can relate to personally. These are just some of the deep-seated feelings evoked by STYX’s 17th studio album, Crash of the Crown, which is set for release on June 18, 2021 via Alpha Dog 2T/UMe on 180-gram high-grade clear and black vinyl, CD, and all major digital platforms. Crash of the Crown is now available for pre-order here, as well as right here on Styxworld.com. (The title track will be available to stream and download with pre-orders on digital platforms.)
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 (or COTC, for short) 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.
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. “Absolutely no obstacles were going to get in the way of how we approached creating this album,” Shaw asserts. “And everything came out exactly the way we wanted to hear it.”
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, and can now be listened to here — 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.”
Until STYX does full justice to COTC out on the planks, we have its 15 majestic studio tracks 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