by Mike Mettler, resident Styxologist
Sucherman photo by Ronn Dunnett
“This was literally something I always dreamed of doing, but didn’t know that I could do.”
That’s Todd Sucherman, the widely acclaimed world-class drummer for Styx, explaining the impetus for cutting his first ever solo album, Last Flight Home, that’s set for release via Aqua Pulse Records on May 2, 2020 (which also happens to be the man’s 51st birthday to boot). Pre-orders for CDs, high-resolution audio WAV downloads, and limited-edition signed and numbered 180-gram vinyl LPs of Last Flight Home will commence at toddsucherman.com/store at 10 a.m. Eastern time on April 14 (his late father’s birthday).
Recording sessions for Last Flight Home, which was co-produced by Sucherman and J.K. Harrison, mainly took place between July 2019 and January 2020 at various locales in California and Texas, with Sucherman handling all lead vocal and principal drumming duties in addition to co-writing nine of the album’s ten songs. Over the course of its very concise and well-sequenced 42 minutes, Last Flight Home soars mightily, from the universal longing of the title track to the grandiose, twisted orchestral circus vibe of “Ad Lib Everything” (buttressed by a majestic string section) to the heartfelt surrender of “It’s Perfection” (featuring angelic background vocals from Todd’s esteemed better half, Taylor Mills) to the edgier, self-inflicted carnage of “The Damage.”
In fact, Last Flight Home is further proof that Sucherman’s inherent musical chops and respect for the pocket run deep and true, a fitting testament for a man who’s made a career out of serving the needs of the song at hand above all else. As further evidence, Todd cites a few key drummers he admires as being highly influential for how he approached his playing on this album — namely, the likes of Ringo Starr, Phil Collins, Dave Mattacks (Fairport Convention), and Jerry Marotta (Peter Gabriel).
Listeners expecting a Methods & Mechanics-flavored drum clinic will be in for a bit of a surprise when they cue up Last Flight Home — albeit in a good way. “Fans of complicated, fast, and tricky drumming are probably going to be disappointed,” Todd allows, “but I hope that fans of music will enjoy this record. I know that Styx music affords a lot of room for a lot of playing, but I always try to play musically anyway. Having the singer’s perspective this time was interesting, because there were a couple of drum moments I had planned that I thought would be cool from a drummer’s perspective. But when I went to play them, they were wrecking the song. I wound up editing my parts so the song could breathe and live better, rather than using it as a platform to show how clever I am.”
From Todd’s vantage point, the true stars of Last Flight Home are indeed the songs themselves, not the musicians who played them. “I’ve always loved singers, lyrics, and melodies,” he observes. “That’s more important than any drum histrionics to me. What’s drum stuff anyway if it’s not paired with music and works in a musical context where you’re choosing the right things to play on a song? For me, melody is the most powerful song element there is.”
To that end, the title track “Last Flight Home” is where Todd the singer/songwriter felt everything coalesced. “That’s a standout moment for me, the experience of writing that song — and it’s something that came together rather quickly,” he admits. “When we started talking about lyric ideas, I thought about how hard it is for me to get home sometimes when I’m on the road. It seems like it should be easy to do, but it often turns into being some kind of fight or warfare. It’s something you have to manage and navigate through just to be able to get home.”
From there, the songwriting dominos soon fell into place. “This was also the song that tied everything together,” Todd continues, “and to me, as soon as we started working on it, it was clearly Track 1. If you’re gonna lead an album off with something, that was the one to do it right. And it was right to be the album title too, because it encompasses my life experience of being a traveling musician. It all happened very naturally and organically, and that’s the thing I’m really proud of the most.”
The immediate sense of relatability “Last Flight Home” evokes feels even more poignant during these uncertain times. “There’s definitely a longing with a hopeful happy ending in that piece of music,” Todd acknowledges. “I think we’re all longing for something, whether it’s a longing for our safety, a longing for this to be over, or a longing for our old reality. It’s possible that people can attach their own meaning or gravitas to this particular song, just like they do with any good song.”
“Last Flight Home” is also the perfect showcase for Todd’s nascent emotive singing style. “It gave me the confidence that, ‘Yes, I can do this.’ Now I had to be the one to emote and be the storyteller who connects with the lyrics, and then sing them in tune and sing in time, line by line,” Todd observes. “And it’s not an easy thing to do! You’re just trying to detect what works, what can be better, and how it all connects to the star of the show — which is the song. And if my music can provide any sort of comfort at this time, then what greater thing to be able to do for others than to make them feel better, or hopeful, or able to eventually look back on a time where maybe this music got them through this unique and dark time in human history.”
Another thing Todd learned during the Home sessions was how he wanted to bond with his listeners as a lead singer. “Anyone who can connect with a song — that’s really something. My respect for all singers has risen exponentially after having gone through this process. Singing is like juggling a chainsaw, a bowling pin, an egg, and a hot potato in foil,” he says with a wry chuckle before adding, “I guess there are a few people who are born with it, but, boy — it ain’t easy, I can tell you that!”
Todd’s innate knack for creating memorable melodies stems from, to some degree, his admiration for artists who come from across The Pond. “I have to be totally honest — British rock has always been what I’ve gravitated toward,” he reveals, “whether it’s been The Who, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, XTC, The Blue Nile, or Aqualung. The reason a lot of British music is anthemic or epic is because those artists had to create their own sunshine, so to speak. Great music can come out of circumstances like those, and that hits me emotionally on the deepest level. My favorite records, like The Beatles’ Revolver, are ones that have hills and valleys, and act like a book or a story that pulls it all together.”
Ultimately, Last Flight Home shows a number of sides of a budding artist now emerging in full bloom. “The whole experience has been so deep and so gratifying,” Todd concludes. “It’s hard for me to guess how my music will connect with people. But that’s really the magic and mystery of music, isn’t it, because any piece of music can mean a myriad of things to whole groups of different people. If this album means something to even a handful of people, then it’s been my pleasure. If more people are apt to enjoy it, all the better.”
We have a feeling Last Flight Home will be the first of many fine sonic signposts ahead for Todd Sucherman, the solo artist. Do come aboard and join him for a most magical listening trip, won’t you?