STYX Keyboardist/Vocalist On Performing 'Mr. Roboto' Again: 'We Felt It's Dumb For Us To Ignore It'
July 28, 2018
STYX keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan was recently interviewed by Anne Erickson of Audio Ink Radio. The full conversation can be streamed below. A few excerpts follow (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET):
On performing live:
Lawrence: "There's a built-in joy knowing that the day is going to end with thousands of faces with big smiles on them and their arms in the air yelling for more. That's a great motivator. It's a great way to end the day, and in order to get there, you need to put on a show of the caliber that STYX are able to muster. I'm lucky to be in a band where each guy on that stage really derives as much joy out of it. I realize that, and that's really what keeps us motivated. It's another chance to try to get it right."
On bringing back "Mr. Roboto", a song the group refused to perform in concert for decades:
Lawrence: "I thoroughly enjoy performing it, as does everyone else. I'm really enjoying singing it. I like the character that's portrayed in the song. It's got that built-in rock drama to it, and I entirely gravitate toward that. I'm in my twentieth year with the band at this point, so I wasn't around when they first performed this in the 1980s. But this is the first time they performed it as a band on stage. It used to be back then, Dennis DeYoung sang it to a backing track, and then the band came on. We learned it, and it was great. Maybe about 12, 15 years ago, we used to play the opening snippet of it in a medley that we did, and it always went over well, but we're at a point now where the song has withstood the test of time. It's a very prescient song, but it's also very entertaining. It's got built-in entertainment value that we just felt it's dumb for us to ignore it and not play it, so that's why we're playing it."
On why he thinks the song has remained popular over the years:
Lawrence: "I think that the younger faction of the audience... the phenomenon to me and to all of us is, about half the audience we play to on any given night are under 30 years of age, and they really have become more and more the voices that we listen to. They're the ones who were most enthusiastic when we put out 'The Mission' last year. We see more and more t-shirts on the younger faction of the audience, and they really have their favorites. The cool thing with them is they never had to live through deciding whether 'Mr. Roboto' was a good idea or a bad idea back in the early '80s, when STYX switched their sound to that much more techno-influenced sound. Instead, they just hear it as part of the STYX legacy, and they really enjoy it, and they jump up and down when we break into it."
On the current health of the rock genre:
Lawrence: "I've lived long enough to hear rock be pronounced dead probably every decade since the sixties. What is undeniable is that rock music was the gigantic musical statement of the last half of the 20th Century. There's no getting past that. It was the music that had more effect on the planet than any other type of music, and people are still drawn to it. It's such a venerated vintage at this point. I think any talk of it being dead... I hear new bands that I love all the time. People say, 'Oh, there's nothing good coming out that's new.' I listen to ROYAL BLOOD, TAME IMPALA, MUSE... there's a bunch of newer stuff that I think is just right up there with the best rock that was ever done. We played to one of [our] biggest audiences ever in New York just the other night. You really have to scratch your head when you hear people say anything negative about it. Rock music still has this visceral connection to people that we see on a daily basis."
On the band's 2017 album, "The Mission":
Lawrence: "We're continuing to push that and play as many songs from that as we can in the show. We're preparing to probably put together a short tour where we'll play that album in its entirety. We're just looking for the opportunity and the time to do that, and pick what cities we'll do it in. We'll probably pair it with another classic STYX album — 'The Grand Illusion' or 'Pieces Of Eight' or 'Paradise Theater'."
When they kicked off their summer tour with JOAN JETT AND THE BLACKHEARTS and TESLA at FivePoint Amphitheatre in Irvine, California on May 30, STYX surprised the crowd by beginning their encore with their first full live performance of "Mr. Roboto" — which originally appeared on the group's 1983 concept album "Kilroy Was Here" — in 35 years.
The song, wrtten by former STYX vocalist Dennis DeYoung, reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the charts in Canada, but guitarist Tommy Shaw's reported dislike of the song and direction of the group's concert performances — which, in keeping with the album's concept, featured band members acting out certain roles — led him to leave the band at the completion of the "Kilroy" tour. He eventually returned in 1996.
Guitarist James "J.Y." Young addressed the re-emergence of "Mr. Roboto" during a recent interview with Billboard. "There were young people whose first song they bought was 'Mr. Roboto', and that sent them back to the previous albums," he said. "While ['Mr. Roboto'] killed the momentum of the first huge wave of STYX, it actually spawned the next generation of STYX fans. A lot of people under the age of 12 bought it, and those people are now in their 30s, perhaps even older. It just became clear from an unsophisticated poll that there were people coming to our concerts that wanted to hear that song, so we just decided to try and do it."
According to Young, the version of "Mr. Roboto" that is being performed on the current tour is substantially different to the original. "It's reinterpreted into something much more palatable to Tommy and myself and the rest of the gang," Young said. "We were looking for something new and a curveball to throw at the audience. I can't say 100 percent of the people love it, but... we're embracing the fan requests and fulfill a yearning request form a lot of people over the years that we'd turned a deaf ear to."
DeYoung recently said that he was "totally shocked" by STYX's decision to perform "Mr. Roboto" live again. "After all this time, I'm really happy that they've just come to the realization that this is nothing to be ashamed of, for god's sakes," he said. "It was an experiment; we tried it; the show was marvelous; it was fantastic. It was wildly entertaining. And I just say, was I shocked? Thoroughly and totally."