By Jeb Wright
Onstage and on its records, Styx melded the different musical personalities of its members to create its distinctive sound. From progressive art rock to pop, the band’s music dominated the charts, and it was one of the most successful bands of the 1970s and 1980s.
Off stage, however, things were different. Inner turmoil, creative differences and even lawsuits resulted in band members choosing sides and going to war against each other. Guitarists James Young and Tommy Shaw banded together against Dennis DeYoung, and when the smoke cleared, DeYoung found himself out of the band he helped to found. In the interview that follows, DeYoung takes us through the earliest days of Styx, explains why he feels prog rock is dead, why illegal downloading is killing the music industry and whether he would ever reconsider re-joining Styx after the very public conflicts the band has endured.
GM: Before we get to talking all things Styx, you released a great album titled “100 Years From Now,” and I wonder how you feel the current music industry affected the sales.
DDY: Here is what it boils down to: The business model that allows a Justin Bieber, or a Lady Gaga, is on its way out the door. As soon as that collapses, and it will, it will directly affect touring for the next 10 years. Most of the acts that make money are built on an old business model where they grew a large fan base that made money on the sales of CDs and were able to mount big tours. By big tours I mean lights, sound, truck drivers and bus drivers. When we are gone, I mean us, the old farts, who is going to replace that? I believe the size and spectacle of shows will go out the window.
GM: I saw Bob Seger the other day, and the house was packed, and there was a 10-piece band onstage, and there were lights and a huge sound system. I realized when I was watching that concert that this type of thing is about to go away.
DDY: It will go away when Bob goes away. You don’t think Justin Bieber is going to be around in 5 years, do you? I have nothing against Justin, but I don’t think he will be able to keep drawing the big audiences that he draws today. I have nothing against the artist; it is against what this generation is doing. There are a lot of people in the younger generation who have no issue with illegally downloading music. They are killing the golden goose. In addition to that, fundamentally, you have more choices for music than anyone could have imagined 10 years ago, which means that you have no choice. When there are that many choices, what human being has the time and the energy to sort through it? The only people who spend their lives listening to sh*tloads of innocuous music are guys like you. The average schlub, even though it is sitting there waiting for them, have no time to seek it out.
Record companies and radio stations would sort through the music and make some sort of value judgment on what was, in their minds, good enough to pass muster. They made mistakes; I know they made mistakes, because they made mistakes in my career. No longer is there any filter of any real nature. What you end up with is a lot of choices. Out of the 10 million choices, 9 million, 9 hundred and 99 thousand of them are lousy, because they are being done by people who have not passed any type of test other than buying a digital recorder and a computer.
This is not a condemnation of talent. It is a condemnation of how people will then begin to sort through the myriad of choices they have. Because it is free, there is no value to it. Things that are free do not have the same value as things that are purchased. If you pay for something and you own it, then you have some sort of stake in it.
GM: My daughter, who is in law school and is very liberal, believes that all art should be free to all of the people.
DDY: She is in the perfect profession, because the truth is malleable. Tell your daughter that I agree with her that art should be free, and so should radial tires, mortgage payments and bananas. Let me think about this: Art should be free to the people. My question to her is this: Who, then, supports the artists? Artists get paid to create. Who will pay them? You know what else should be free? Everything that you write should be free, because that is an art. If she is going to be a lawyer, she really needs to re-evaluate her beliefs, or she could just extrapolate it back to where it all begins.
GM: She tells me that she is having this argument with me, a guy who gets his music for free by bands who want me to do reviews.
DDY: That’s different, because you are dancing with the devil. I made a pact never to complain to any critic that has ever written anything about me, because I made a decision to tell total strangers to go ahead and judge me. If you’re asking for it, then you’re bound to get it. If not, go hide someplace.
I believe the quality of music will suffer, and I will tell you why. “Lady” took almost three years to become a hit, and when it did become a hit, it was by accident. The record company and the music business missed it, for whatever reasons. These things happen. If that had happened in today’s music culture, I would have never had a hit and I would not have been given the chance to make a second album. “Lady” would have never been a hit. I’m not saying that there would be less famine in Africa because of it, but the song would have never seen the light of day. I think the maturation of any musician will be stifled to one and out.
GM: What will real musicians do?
DDY: I think they should go to law school. People are always going to be f**king with each other, so people will always need lawyers. I don’t know ... maybe health care?
I was in Guitar Center last week. I asked the guy behind the counter how business was. He said, “Business is great. People still have the dream.” I said, “Tell them that the dream is over.” The chance for a kid to have the opportunity that I had is gone. Let me quantify this by saying that I lived in the greatest time in mankind’s history to be a musician. I don’t believe that ever before, or after — although I could be wrong because people make lots of mistakes trying to predict the future — but at the moment, I don’t see a time where a guy like me, who is 64 years old and plays 50 shows a year, and has an audience, will be possible in the future.
I just happened to live at the right time. There are a lot of musicians who still have a valid audience 35 or 40 years after they made this music. I will tell you that is not what it is going to be like in the future. I was lucky by birth. I am the guy who wrote “The Grand Illusion.” I have made that a theme for my whole life. Don’t fall into the trap that because there are people standing up on stage and banging on instruments that they know more than you or that their life is fundamentally better than yours — I think in many ways it is the opposite. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that who we are, and what we do, is somehow more important than someone trying to figure out the God Particle, for God sakes. We are still entertainers, musicians and guys with lampshades on our head.
GM: Wait a minute … I thought Dennis DeYoung said to never give up on your dreams?
DDY: Let me quantify: The dream that I knew is over. You’re not going to stop me from having dreams. The dream that I was allowed to see fulfilled had a lot to do with my date of birth.
GM: Before we delve into Styx past, I want to talk about “100 Years from Now.” To my ears, you have returned to your Prog past on that album.
DDY: That entire album was an attempt on my part to confront my past. The audience I have, for some miraculous reason, has supported me with platinum status to this day — for what reason, God only knows. My manager, Tim Orchard, encouraged me to give myself permission to make a Styx record without the benefit of the other guys. I had not just resisted that idea; I had absolutely thrown that idea out of the window back in 1984 when I did “Desert Moon.” At that time, I was still a member of Styx, and I had every hope in 1984 that in 1985 Tommy Shaw would come back to the band, and that we would continue making Styx records. That didn’t happen. I felt the responsibly and the need to carve out some niche for myself that wasn’t just my regurgitation of what I did with Styx. I held that music sacred, and it is something that I wanted to do with the band. I decided to make more pop oriented records. I had, through no fault of my own, been embraced by those radio formats. My strength as a writer lies in writing melodic music, which lends itself to ballad writing. Primarily, I investigated that side of my personality.
By the time I did “100 Years From Now,” it was clear that I was no longer going to be in Styx. The current time had nothing to do with me anymore, so I agreed to go on that journey with all of the tools that I had at my disposal from 1975 to 1983. You have to understand that all of the, quote, unquote, Prog Rock people don’t want to listen to songs that don’t have a least a classical flourish in them. I understand that they do not think that Styx passed the true test of being a prog rock band. On the other hand, I didn’t know there was a test, and I couldn’t care less.
GM: Here is the million-dollar question: Was Styx ever a true prog band?
DDY: When we were making our early records, there was no attempt to fit the music into a narrowly defined genre. The guys in the band were not narrowly defined as musical writers. We were a group of people trying to come together in an amalgam to create whatever it was that we could create. If you look back at those early records, and you look at the guy who was the most prog rock, then it was me. I had classical music training from the music that I had to play as a kid, and I taught music history; it was in my vocabulary.
GM: Going back to “Styx I,” there is the song “Movement for the Common Man,” and this is before the great prog masters Emerson, Lake and Palmer did that.
DDY: Let’s give the devil his due. I was influenced by Keith Emerson. He made being a keyboard player on par with being a guitar player. Guitar players had the advantage, as the guitar is the instrument of rock ’n’ roll. You can see what they are playing on it, and it has a sexual connotation by the way it is played. It is the instrument of advantage to rock music; there is no question about it. Keith Emerson suddenly made it reasonable for keyboard players to be in a band. I was heavily influenced by Jimmy Smith, Jon Lord and Keith Emerson. We came together at the moment that Emerson, Lake & Palmer hit the scene. Yes was another band that was out then. We used to play a song by Yes that Richie Havens wrote called “No Opportunity Needed, No Experience Necessary.”
“Styx I,” by the way, should have been “Styx II” with the “Movement for the Common Man” on it. The first album was a total manipulation by (Wooden Nickel Record Company President) Bill Trout. It had little to nothing to do with the band.
“Lady” was written for the first album, but it was kept off the first album by Bill. Bill was the record company president, and he made us record four songs that we had no interest in recording. We had very little control at that point. “Movement for the Common Man” was a three-minute version that was cut down by John Ryan. In our estimation, that song was going to begin the record and be three minutes long, but John cut it down and put all of that weird stuff on it. The first album, we really had no power at all, and we did what we were told. “Movement” was recorded in its entirety. I don’t know where those tapes are, but we did it.
In 1970, we felt no allegiance to any particular musical style. Throughout Styx’s career, I tried to, as the shadow producer of the band, to adhere to one simple principle: Put the best songs on the album. That really is the mantra I followed.
GM: Prog rock really didn’t have the label that it has today.
DDY: It was just what the people were doing at the time. Those influences showed up in our music because we liked it. When you think about “Lady,” which is the song that the world first came to know us by, it’s not prog rock. I guess it does have the “Bolero” in it but, truthfully, it’s a pop song with a hard-rock chorus. We were never a prog rock band in the purest sense, and that’s OK. All of the prog rock aficionados who see us as not a prog band … good for them, as that was not our intent, anyway.
GM: Did Wooden Nickel push you to be a certain type of band?
DDY: They made us do George Clinton songs; they didn’t know what they were doing. It was one of the worst songs of all time for us to record. That was not our idea.
GM: If you could have combined the best of “Styx I” and “Styx II” then that would have been a great debut album.
DDY: We would have been off and running, and we should have been. “Lady” was the first song that I ever wrote and sang lead vocal on, on a record. Imagine the first album containing “Movement for the Common Man,” “Children of the Land,” “Mother Nature’s Matinee,” “Best Thing,” “Lady,” “Father OSA,” “You Need Love,” “Earl of Roseland” and “A Day.” That would have been the first album. It would have been a hell of a record.
GM: Why don’t you like “The Serpent is Rising?”
DDY: Here is the problem: When you denigrate the music that you create, it is not a good thing. There has been a lot of that going on in this band for the last 11 years. “Styx II,” and every other album we did, I’m very proud of. We had no control over “Styx I” but other than that, I hold myself and the band collectively responsible for “The Serpent” and “Man of Miracles.”
I believed that “Lady” was a hit record. I also believed that “Styx II” was really a record worthy of an audience. It failed when it was released. For almost three years, in the time of which “Serpent” and “Man of Miracles” were written and recorded, I was convinced that what I did, people hated. I didn’t have enough knowledge to understand that musical success is completely dependent on business success and promotion. They go hand in hand, and you have to have it, or the tree falls in the forest and no one hears it.
On “Serpent is Rising,” I tried to be anyone but myself. We did “The Grove of Eglantine” and “Jonas Salt,” which was a song about pirates — good Lord.
GM: Did you realize you were not being true to yourself?
DDY: I didn’t know it at the time. I was just scared, because I thought I wasn’t good enough. I was insecure.
If you can hit the outside jumper at the top of the key and that is your shot, then if you start missing that shot, then you lose your confidence and try another shot. I was trying another shot. I had no confidence in my jump shot.
GM: “Winner Take All” really has a lot of elements that became the classic Styx sound.
DDY: You could hear those elements on “Lady,” as well. I should have sung “Winner Take All.” I lost confidence. You get into that thing where you pass the ball instead of taking the shot.
The first album really focused on JY (Styx guitarist James Young). Wooden Nickel President Bill Trout did that. He gave us those four songs, and he suggested the name of the band. We were just kids happy to have a record deal. The second album is mostly my record; the songs are mine. It has gone on to be a gold album over the years, but at the time, it failed. I really tried something I was not after that, and that is why I have such hard feelings over the next two albums. The production and mixing was also horrible. It was done by Barry Mraz, all by himself, late at night in the studio, with no input from the band members.
GM: “Man of Miracles” I kind of liked. I hate to disagree with you.
DDY: I appreciate all of that; I just disagree. The song “Man of Miracles” is OK; it doesn’t suck. Once again, the mix is atrocious. I heard through the grapevine that the person who was in charge of the tapes has openly admitted that he does not know what happened to the original tapes and that they are lost. I always wanted to go back and remix those albums. I know I could make those albums better. I know that is a dangerous thing to say, but I know “Man of Miracles” could have been so much heavier and better.
You have to realize that not only was I having confidence problems, the albums were horribly mixed. Here are the ones that I like from the two albums in question: “Young Man” on “Serpent.” “Witch Wolf” is OK, but I think “Young Man” is actually the only song I like off of “Serpent.” Off of “Man of Miracles,” I like the title song. “Christopher, Mr. Christopher” is not so bad. If you listen to “Man of Miracles” and then listen to “Equinox,” it sounds like a leap of 10 years. If “Lady” would have been a hit song at the time, instead of becoming one two-and-a-half years later, then “Equinox” would have been the follow up to “Styx II.” We didn’t get any smarter. I just found out that people liked what we naturally did.
GM: “Equinox” is an amazing album, and it was your first album on A&M. Did Dennis DeYoung produce that album?
DDY: Let me quantify what I consider a producer to be: musical material and direction. The most important thing a producer can do is to get the best musical performances out of the band. That is what I did.
GM: You have songwriting credits all over “Equinox.”
DDY: I think I’m credited on every song other than JY’s “Midnight Ride.” You have to understand that by this time “Lady” was a hit — it was a big hit and it allowed us to get with a big record company. The pent-up feeling in my gut over “Styx II” was finally reinforced when “Lady” became a hit. Once that happened, then I knew the course that the ship should take. I knew who we were and what we would do best.
GM: Was there a shift in leadership within Styx at that time?
DDY: Yes. It wasn’t like someone went to Kinko’s and had a sign made up and we hung it in the studio. It was far more subtle. I asserted myself at that time. I had confidence, and that was the difference. I was role-playing before that in a role that I was not suited for, by which I mean I was trying to fit a mold. I believe real creativity and important creativity comes from a place where there are no governors. You express whatever it is you have, whether it is writing or music, unabashed. It comes from that place in you that is pure and uncompromised. When you do that, then you get the best work from yourself. Along the way, you’re going to be compromised. Inherently, when you write the damn song, then you need to let the song be what it is. When you start going, “I need a song like the ones in column A,” when you do that, then you immediately put on the blinders, and you go down a particular path. I do not think that is what great songwriting is about. Great songwriting is the freedom to express yourself in the manor in which it comes.
GM: Talk about “Suite Madame Blue.”
DDY: It was the bicentennial, and as it was coming up, you started seeing commercials for the bicentennial mug and the bicentennial panties and all of that. The 200th anniversary of America was being totally taken over by commercialization in a rather unceremonious fashion. I had a moment of reflection. I had grown up in the so-called glory days of the United States of America, which was post-World War II until 1970. To live in this country at that time was really the golden age. The fallibility of the United States was something that struck me and that set the tone for “Suite Madam Blue.” Maybe I was fearful of being literal — I think I probably was.
Take Bruce Springsteen, for example. In his early work, he is very literal in his storytelling, and there is not a great deal of mysticism. I was still being influenced, lyrically, by art-rock bands. I really love Yes as a band in their early years, but to this day I still don’t understand any of their songs. I have no idea what any of those songs are lyrically about. That is mysticism to the extreme. “Suite Madame Blue” is somewhere in between.
GM: Did you write the song on the guitar or the keyboard?
DDY: It was written on keyboard, and it was originally intended to be played on the keyboard. Remember, we were following “Lady.” I wrote it on keyboard. I want you to think of something … where is there a piano on “Equinox?” That was done on purpose. Could “Lonely Child” have been done on piano? It could have been. I was fearful of repeating myself. “Suite Madame Blue” was turned over to the 12-string guitar.
GM: I love the huge guitars at the end.
DDY: That was written on keyboards, as well. It was conceptualized on the organ. The guitar is the instrument of rock ’n’ roll, and the guitars were essential on that album. The songs were better served on the guitar. I didn’t want people to go, “Oh, another ‘Lady.’” People are dumb, and I mean that with all due respect. Just remember that the song was written on piano and given to the guitars.
“Suite Madam Blue” and many other songs around that time are rip-offs of “Stairway to Heaven.” Rip-off is the wrong word. It was my take on that song. You don’t think “Dream On” by Aerosmith isn’t their take on “Stairway to Heaven?” Maybe I’m saying something that isn’t true, but that kind of a song, to me, is a take on “Stairway.” I wanted to go in and write that kind of a song. By the way, that version of “Suite Madame Blue” that is on Equinox is a demo. We went in to see if we had a song and the demo ended up being on the record. The vocal performance and everything else was a one-day demo that we did in early 1975.
GM: “Crystal Ball” was not the follow-up needed to “Equinox.” It seems that, once again, you took a step backwards.
DDY: I had less involvement on “Crystal Ball” than I did on any other Styx album. I had a terrible time when “Equinox” did not equal the success of “Styx II.” It was a terrible time, and it is a long story that I’m not going to get into. I was depressed.
GM: But “Equinox” is an amazing album.
DDY: Here’s what it did: It stopped in the charts in the 60s and it didn’t go gold. Originally, it sold around 350,000. We didn’t have a Top 10 single off the album, either. It was, once again, a failure on the record company’s part. It went on to sell around two or three million copies. Before that happened, I had always said to the band, “If we only had a great record company; then we would be big.” We got a great record company, and they dropped the ball on “Equinox.” They really dropped it. A few months earlier, the album “Frampton Comes Alive” came out on the same record company. That affected the entire music business, because that album told record company executives that they could sell millions of albums to kids without the benefit of hit singles. In a sense, A&M, for us at that time, became a small record label with no distribution, because Frampton was everywhere and “Equinox” got shoveled out the door.
GM: So you were emotionally out of it with “Crystal Ball?”
DDY: Between 1975 and 1983, “Crystal Ball” was the album that I had the least to do with. I was not as involved with that album like I needed to be. It was no one’s fault but my own. We were bringing in a brand-new member. When JC [Styx guitarist John Curulewski] left, Tommy had to come in. When Tommy brought in the song “Crystal Ball,” the entire thing was all in three part harmonies like a Crosby, Stills & Nash song. Tommy, originally, did not sing any notes on that song by himself. The song was a lot like “Helplessly Hoping.” There was also no big chorus like the song ended up having; it didn’t exist. I said, “Tommy, this is a brilliant song, but you need to sing it by yourself. The lyrics are so personal that one voice really becomes greater than three.” I told Tommy that we had to make him a member of Styx. He was never in a band like Styx; he was in a pop band and he was an acoustic guitar player. We were a pompous and pretentious rock band, and I mean that in the best sense. I said to him, “You’ve got to sing the f**king title of the song.” I sang it for him. It was a great song, and I decided that it should be the title of the album, as it was the best song on “Crystal Ball.” We went on the road and toured, and it really took that time for us to become a band with Tommy. We became writers together, and “The Grand Illusion” is the outcome.
GM: “The Grand Illusion” mixed pop, hard rock and prog better than any album that had come before it.
DDY: It doesn’t suck.
GM: You once again came back as you did with “Equinox.” Where did you draw the inspiration from?
DDY: I think the song “Come Sail Away” means so much to people because it is a song of a great journey to be someplace else. It is a song of guarded hope that it can be better. The character in the song says in the very beginning that he wants to set a course for a virgin sea. He doesn’t want to be held back; he wants to have all options open to him. It is fraught with peril, and he realizes in the second verse that he chased the pot of gold but that he didn’t get it. We, Styx, didn’t get it, either, but that isn’t going to stop us from moving forward.
GM: The song is about you.
DDY: Totally. This is about the disappointment of what I had lived through. It is the realization of the good and the bad, some happy, some sad. The song talks about childhood friends. I’m talking about the band and our dreams, and I’m trying to encourage myself to carry on. I had to carry on; I needed to.
GM: What was the band’s reaction when you played them the demo to “Come Sail Away?”
DDY: I never did a demo. I just played it, and we learned it. We put “Come Sail Away” together at SIR in Chicago. I had the verses and the chorus, and we just did it. I remember the first time I played the song for Tommy was in my house. We just put it together in rehearsal. Like all bands, the arrangements of all the songs are collective. The flavor of the band comes from all of the individuals who come together and put their stamp on the song. Rarely, as I told you the story of “Crystal Ball,” does a song come out like it was written. That was especially true in those days, as all you had was a f**king cassette player; there was no digital recording back then. You didn’t have a 16-, 24- or 48-track studio in your house. You just went, “La, la, la, la, la” into a tape deck and went for it.
GM: “The Grand Illusion” is very personal to you, lyrically. Just look at “Castle Walls.”
DDY: What do you think “Castle Walls” is about?
GM: I don’t take it literally. I think castle walls are there for protection.
DDY: There you go! The character in the song does not want to go beyond the castle’s walls. It was written from a very dark place in my life, from around the time of “Crystal Ball.” Inside the castle walls was a metaphor for where I felt protected. Who is the minstrel singing that song? It was me. I was talking about the ominous feeling that comes from venturing away from the protection you surround yourself with, which, to me, is a symbol for home and family.
GM: It is worth mentioning that you have been married longer than you’ve been in Styx.
DDY: I don’t think there is any value assigned to that in the rock ’n’ roll culture. The opposite is actually true. The value in the currency is in the opposite with people who lead hedonistic lifestyles. It is like being a sober man in a room full of drunks; there is no point to that. You’re going to have the suspicious eye cast upon you.
GM: It is interesting that the success of that album ended up being because of the song “Come Sail Away.”
DDY: Our manger, Derek Sutton, and our promotion man, Jim Cahill, wanted “Superstars” to be the first single. I said, “That is the weakest song on the album.” The songs were sitting between “Fooling Yourself” and “Come Sail Away.” “Superstars” was like a cute girl sitting between Salma Hayek and Elizabeth Taylor. That song is a journeyman infielder sitting next to f**king Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. It is not a bad place to be. It’s that old story that if you want to look attractive, then surround yourself with ugly people.
GM: Why didn’t you get a writing credit for your keyboard part on “Fooling Yourself?”
DDY: Songwriting and arranging are two different things. The definition of songwriting in Styx that we tried to adhere to was that if you wrote melody, chord or lyric, then that was songwriting. If it was a musical interlude, no matter how wonderful, then that was not songwriting; it was arrangement. As wonderful as the introduction to “Fooling Yourself” is, that song started with the acoustic guitar, and it would be a great song with just the acoustic guitar. The rest is just an arrangement. I don’t know that the keyboards make it a different song. In fact, I don’t think so.
GM: Was “Pieces of Eight” the end of any prog music in Styx?
DDY: Absolutely. When it came time for me to write “Pieces of Eight,” I thought about the last seven albums that we had done and the massive success that was “The Grand Illusion.” We had done seven albums of that style of music, and I thought that maybe, in my own mind, I had a yearning to try something new. I didn’t have the will to do it, because the band had just started having worldwide success; we had just broken through.
You’ve got to remember that “Lady” was written and recorded before Queen was a f**king recording artist of interest in this country. Because of the delay of our success, people think that we are a derivative of bands that we recorded before. We recorded before bands like Kansas and Boston. We were singing those high, screechy choruses against those hard-rock chords in 1971. By the time we got popular, everyone knew who Queen was, but we came before them. It was just bad timing for us.
GM: So you just stuck to your guns on “Pieces of Eight."
DDY: We fulfilled our duties on “Pieces of Eight” as a style of a hard-rock and prog band. If you listen to “Pieces of Eight,” there are really not any pop tunes on it at all. To make my point, listen to the first two minutes of “Come Sail Away,” and you will hear a pop ballad. There is nothing like that on “Pieces of Eight.” The only ballad-like thing I wrote was the song “Pieces of Eight,” and that was more in the mystical, proggy style — whatever you want to call that sh*t.
I was the theme guy in Styx, and I had come up with the theme for “The Grand Illusion.” I got everyone together, and I said, “Look, in the last year, we’ve made more money than we ever thought we would make in our entire lives. How has it affected us?” I know how it had affected me. We set on a course of trying to make a loosely thematic album based on success, failure and money.
GM: How does “Lords of the Ring” fit into that theme?
DDY: The “Lords of the Ring” was not about J.R.R. Tolkien. There is this elevation of rock star in our culture. You hear it all over the place in our culture, even in politics. People say, “We’re gonna rock,” or they say, “Let’s rock ’n’ roll.” Being a rock star means you’re the f**king king of the entertainment world. “Lords of the Ring” was me, once again, being a coward and writing in metaphors. I was commenting that we had finally made it; we were the lords of the ring. If you listen to the lyrics of the song, it is not boastful. To me, it is tongue in cheek, like the “Grand Illusion” was: “All hail to the lords of the ring.” It is not literal. Once again, I’m saying, “It’s all bullsh*t. It’s a fantasy.” It was my version of being successful. I was saying that being entertainment royalty was pure fantasy. It is mythology in the guise of being a rock star, but it is just not true. “Don’t be fooled by the radio, the TV or the magazines.” What the f**k more do I have to say? I’m talking about me. I’m saying that you can’t think that everybody is better than you. People just make this sh*t up, and they get the mythology going.
No offense to Barack Obama — I voted for him — but he rode in on that mythology. There is a song on “Brave New World” called “Fallen Angel” where I really talk about this idea. I believe we need that, because it gives us hope. I was just being cautious by saying, “We need that in our lives but don’t believe it’s you.” “The Lords of the Ring” has been misunderstood and misinterpreted for a long time. The song is about becoming more successful in 12 months than anybody I knew. It made me feel like I was on an island.
GM: After “Pieces of Eight,” you abandoned this style of music until your latest solo album and the song “A Hundred Years.”
DDY: In 1978, we got to go to Europe for the first time. I was a musical anglophile; you can hear it in my phony-baloney accent when I sing. It meant everything to me to be able to go to Europe. We got there right in the middle of the punk explosion. We just had become successful, and we got over to Europe, and we were vilified and eviscerated as dinosaurs. We had just got there. I saw the music scene in Europe, and I started to look around. I thought to myself, “This music is f**king dead. If it ain’t dead today, it ain’t long before people are going to be kicking dirt on the gravestone.” I really believed that in order to survive, we needed to take another musical course. If you look at 1979 and 1980, then you can see that prog rock died.
GM: You did bring it back with your album “100 Years From Now.”
DDY: All of the people who like that kind of stuff really like it, and it got great reviews. But guess what? Art rock is still dead; it’s not alive. I made that record because in many ways, I wanted to prove who I was and what I meant to those Styx albums. If you like those albums, then a lot of that music had to do with me.
A lot of Gentle Giant fans are going to read this, but the fact is that prog rock died. Look at Yes; they ended up doing “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” That is a pop record. It’s a great f**king song, but it’s a pop record. Prog rock died, and that is why there is “Cornerstone” and “Paradise Theater.”
GM: How do you obtain such creativity and control it all?
DDY: No, no; you can’t f**king control it. If I could, I would write one great f**king song after another. It is elusive. You can’t control it. You don’t know when you’re going to do your best work, and you don’t know if your ideas are right when you’re creating them, and you can be criticized in a minute. You can also be absolutely right in the moment and then find out, historically, you were absolutely wrong. You can be right for 1980 and wrong for 2012. Most of the time, I did OK with it, but once in a while I got it wrong.
I have seen some things about people who like prog rock; I read from time to time, and I get it. When somebody penalizes who Styx is in the pantheon of that particular style of music, I think to myself, “I don’t remember saying that I had to belong to that club. I never joined that club.” I was making it up as I went along for whatever we were doing at the moment. I was never serving another purpose. Remember, this is coming from the guy who was most responsible for the classical influences in the band. I’m the keyboard player, and I’m the guy who brought all of that crap in there. JY didn’t do it, because he’s the hard rock guy. He brought things like “Midnight Ride” and “Miss America,” and that is really where his great love was.
GM: Are you content with the way things are?
DDY: Content? I wish my prostate was smaller. Am I content? No. The things that happened in Styx over the last 10 years are unimaginable to me. I had never foreseen a time or place where I would not be in the band or where someone other than myself would be singing my songs.
GM: I have seen Styx in concert without you. They were not bad at all.
DDY: Why would they be?
GM: It wasn’t the same as seeing them with you, but it was good. I chose sides in the Styx divorce. I wanted to hate them live, but I didn’t.
DDY: That’s OK. Just because I’m not there does not mean that these guys can’t play and sing. Just because I’m not there doesn’t mean that Tommy Shaw lost his talent. There is one thing in this world that I’m better at than anyone else and that is being me. I have to walk the finest line in any discussions about the current band. Let me just say this: I invite anybody to pick up “100 Years From Now.” You don’t have to buy it; you can steal it online. Just listen to it. To me, I think I’ve made my case.
GM: You have a new band now, as well.
DDY: I have made the choice to play all of the music that the Styx fans want to hear. For the last 10 years, they were not able to see all of that if they came to see me. I only did the songs I wrote. Tommy and JY are not doing a lot of the songs that people want to hear, so I put this band together where I play all of the songs that people want to hear. I’ve got a guy named August Zadra who does “Renegade” and “Blue Collar Man.” I bet you didn’t know that. You can check it out on YouTube. He plays JY’s leads, too. I made the decision to do this, because I now felt this music could be credibly played. I’ve done it, and it has been an incredible success.
I didn’t ever want to get into a situation where someone was standing on the stage next to me, playing those songs that Tommy had written, and have them do that music a disservice. I just couldn’t feel good about it. After seeing this guy, then I knew it was possible to this now. We played 50 shows last year, and I am putting the schedule together for 2012 now. I am working on a DVD with my new band. We’re probably going to do it during the first quarter of 2012. We have had a great deal of success with Public Television. The last DVD helped them raise over two million dollars. We will be doing, on this DVD, “Renegade,” “Blue Collar Man,” “Crystal Ball” and “Too Much Time On My Hands.”
GM: After all the BS that has gone down, would you want to play with the band again?
DDY: Here’s the thing: I have never ever said one bad thing about the music that we created. You want to know why? It’s because I don’t believe it. I think the music we created is something to be proud of — some better than others, as we’ve already discussed.
GM: So if Tommy or JY called you on the phone today and asked you to rejoin Styx as a touring and recording member of the band, would you join Styx again?