Styxworld Exclusive! Styx discuss the making of The Same Stardust, the band’s first-ever official EP release that comes out exclusively on 12-inch vinyl today in celebration of Record Store Day on June 12, 2021.
Text by Mike Mettler, resident Styxologist
“We’re not locked into thinking, ‘Ok, this song idea has to have 10 other songs to go with it. We can’t just put it out by itself.’ Well, sure we can. Why not?” —Tommy Shaw, on the two new Styx studio tracks on The Same Stardust EP
For the very first time in their long and storied career, Styx are participating in Record Store Day on June 12, 2021 with the release of The Same Stardust, a translucent-blue, 180-gram 12-inch vinyl-only EP release that includes two brand-new original Styx songs on Side 1 (“The Same Stardust” and “Age of Entropia”) and five live tracks on Side 2.
Said quintet of live cuts — namely, “Mr. Roboto,” “Radio Silence,” “Man in the Wilderness,” “Miss America,” and “Renegade” — have all been cultivated from the best onstage moments chronicled during the multiple Styx Fix performances streamed on Styx’s official YouTube channel over this past pandemic year-plus. (More on all the when and where-related details about each live track on Side 2 in a bit.)
The Same Stardust, or TSS for short, is being put out via the band’s Alpha Dog 2T/UMe label, the same label that’s set to release Styx’s 17th studio album, Crash of the Crown, next Friday, June 18, 2021. (Naturally, Styxworld will have more exclusive details about the making of COTC starting next Friday, so stay tuned to this very space for all that!) TSS is the first official Styx release to include any new studio tracks since The Mission came out almost exactly four years ago to the day on June 16, 2017. Let’s find out more about the ins and outs about this fine, fine pair of new songs, shall we?
SIDE 1: WE’RE ALL MADE FROM THE SAME STARDUST
While “The Same Stardust” and “Age of Entropia” were both essentially recorded during the COTC sessions and were also in the final running to be included on the core album itself — yours truly, your resident Styxologist, was privy to seeing a few of COTC’s trial running-order mockups with these two songs included on the track list — the band ultimately had other plans for them instead.
“These two new songs are not rejects in any way — they’re part of the fold,” guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw confirmed with me recently. “We just didn’t have enough room on the 12-inch vinyl for Crash of the Crown to fit them all in. Fans can have themselves an extended version of COTC with them, though!”
“The Same Stardust” is a classic Styx barnburner replete with shared lead vocal duties, as keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan takes charge on the verses and Tommy Shaw tackles the bridge, while sweetly stacked five-part Stygian harmonies rule all the choruses and a signature fiery solo courtesy co-founding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young rounds out the track. “Thank you for noticing!” exclaims JY, immediately followed by his typical booming laugh. Adds Will Evankovich, who both produced and played on the EP’s pair of studio tracks and handled the same respective duties for all of Crash of the Crown, “The JY element here can’t be undersold. Once he played that solo, it made all the sense in the world.”
Meanwhile, the dirge-like round-robin vibe of the truly mysterious “Age of Entropia” — featuring deliberate, contemplative lead vocals from Tommy — doesn’t really sound like anything else in the master Styx canon. That said, the instantly identifiable chiming 12-string guitar heard all throughout this track merges the past and the present in a most intriguing way. “It’s got that ‘Hotel California’ meets Equinox vibe,” acknowledges Will, citing one of the Eagles’ most iconic songs alongside the title of Styx’s legendary December 1975 album before adding, “but it’s most definitely its own animal.”
Rather than leaving two great Styx songs such as these in some kind of aural stasis, releasing them as the sonic linchpins of this special EP made all the sense in the world to Tommy. “Good songs don’t just die in a vacuum,” he observes. “We’re not locked into thinking, ‘Ok, this song idea has to have 10 other songs to go with it. We can’t just put it out by itself.’ Well, sure we can. Why not? There’s nothing stopping us from doing it that way.” (“Wait for the time,” indeed.)
Relative to that line of thinking, The Same Stardust EP is being made available exclusively to consumers today, June 12, 2021, at independent record stores honoring Record Store Day (a.k.a. RSD) on a first-come, first-served basis, which is the official M.O. of this vinyl-release-driven event that’s been happening on a semi-annual basis since April 2008. (If you’re unfamiliar with the official practices of RSD, have any Qs about how the day’s event works, or just don’t know where the participating indie record store nearest you is located, please go here to learn more.)
SIDE 2: STYX FIX TIMES FIVE
If you’ve been a faithful follower of the Styx Fix concert series that streamed on the band’s official YouTube channel during a number of Saturday nights over the past year-plus, then you’re likely familiar with the tracks that were chosen for this EP release. All five of these stirring live cuts were recorded and mixed by Chris “Cookie” Hoff, the band’s live FOH engineer who also worked his sonic magic for the production end of each individual Styx Fix presentation. (Besides undertaking that most crucial task, Cookie contributed scores of insightful technical tidbits in the live comments sections adjacent to each Styx Fix concert stream, I might add.)
Let’s go track by track in terms of Side 2’s running order. First up is Track 1, “Mr. Roboto,” which is culled from Styx’s show at The Riverdome at Horseshoe Bossier City in Bossier City, Louisiana, on February 21, 2020. Eagle-eyed (and eagle-eared) fans will note this particular show also happened to be Styx’s final, official public-audience live performance before the pandemic took over and the remainder of the band’s 2020 dates had to be postponed. It should be further noted that Styx’s triumphant return to the live stage for the first time in 16 months takes place a mere four days from now on June 16 at the St. Augustine Ampitheatre in St. Augustine, Florida. The band’s official summer tour with Collective Soul subsequently kicks off two nights after that on June 18 — which is not-so-coincidentally the release date for Crash of the Crown — at Ameris Bank Ampitheatre in Alpharetta, Georgia. (Go here for all of Styx’s currently scheduled live dates.)
The estimable Lawrence Gowan is the featured lead vocalist on this searing version of “Mr. Roboto,” and he’s truly made the song his own to a criminally minded degree since it first debuted in front of live audiences at the Five Point Ampitheatre in Irvine, California, on May 30, 2018. As Gowan confirms about the correlation between the mod-ren, er, modern man who’s not what you see and the sinister lead character in his most recognizable solo track that has long since become Styxified in all the right ways, “I like singing ‘Mr. Roboto’ because it reminds me so much of the same persona that’s in ‘A Criminal Mind.’” Since that initial, historic 2018 performance, the wholly band-performed “Roboto” has taken over the pole position as the first song Styx plays during their encores. Tommy assesses this rousing rendition quite succinctly: “‘Mr. Roboto’ just rocks your face off!”
Next up is Track 2, “Radio Silence,” which comes from the band’s triumphant Sweden Rocks festival appearance in Sölvesborg, Sweden, on June 8, 2019. This especially heartfelt Tommy Shaw-led song from The Mission has become a cornerstone of the first half of nearly every live Styx set since it was first performed, and it’s usually been preceded by Tommy’s verbalized intro about the machinations and making of The Mission album itself.
Track 3, “Man in the Wilderness,” comes from the band’s show at Frederik Meijer Ampitheater Garden in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on August 1, 2018. Another deeply personal Tommy Shaw song from Side 2 of July 1977’s pivotal The Grand Illusion, “Wilderness” made its way back into fairly regular setlist rotation not too long after the 25-date Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight dual full-album tour of 2010-11. More often than not since then, “Wilderness” has appeared in the second half of Styx’s longer, two-set shows.
Then we have Track 4, “Miss America,” culled from the earlier-noted Bossier City, Louisiana gig at The Riverdome at Horseshoe Bossier City on February 21, 2020. This perennial fan favorite from the mouth, guitar, and pen of co-founding vocalist/guitarist James “JY” Young not only kicks off Side 2 of The Grand Illusion, but many folks consider it to be JY’s signature song. I asked The Godfather of Styx if he considers the overarching themes of “Miss America” to continue to hold true in today’s world, and JY replied thoughtfully with a positive nod: “I suppose you’re right.”
Finally, Track 5 closes the Side 2 proceedings with, of course, “Renegade,” also taken from the Sweden Rocks festival in Sölvesborg, Sweden on June 8, 2019. Could any other song really close out a live EP side other than the perennial Tommy-led insta-classic that ends every live Styx show? (Oh mama!)
THE ART OF STARDUST
A few more TSS facts for you, if you please: The EP’s art direction and overall package design has been executed expertly by Todd Gallopo, the visual visionary head of Meat and Potatoes, Inc. who also handled the same duties for Crash of the Crown, 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. Hmm, do the visuals for TSS and COTC tie in with each other in some kind of thematic way? (Discuss.)
Today is quite monumental in the annals of the band because the stone cold fact is, Tommy Shaw and yours truly have often said to each other, “Wouldn’t it be great if Styx could put something new out on Record Store Day?” countless times in recent years. So, an RSD release like TSS seemed almost to be an inevitability — especially considering how much Tommy personally listens to vinyl at home and the way he talks about the overall joys of spinning wax in interviews, in social media, and even onstage, whenever he can! Not only that, but as all my fellow audio geeks out there know, the EP’s 180-gram distinction means TSS has been pressed onto the best-quality vinyl possible for the finest aural reproduction of what you’re going to hear as soon as you drop the needle on it.
But enough yakkin’ from me. My sisters, my brothers — pull yourself together, find a local indie record store whichever way you can, and then proceed to enjoy the scope of this EP’s sonic wonders that will indeed confirm we’re really the same stardust after all.