Interview: James “JY” Young of Styx
Only a small percentage of bands get signed, tour and make records for a living. Even more rare is the band that actually scores a hit. American rock band Styx is all those things in one.
Songs like “Lady," “Come Sail Away” and “Mr. Roboto” are among their many classic-rock staples that, to this day, can be heard on the radio and in bars around the world.
While Styx has gone through numerous lineup changes throughout the years, they’ve managed to stay popular over the course of their almost-40-year career.
The band can be seen on tour almost every year, playing to fans young and old while pulling from their vast catalog. Recently the band re-recorded some of their older hits for Regeneration Volume 1, with Volume 2 due out this summer.
Guitar World sat down with Styx guitarist James “JY” Young to discuss the band's 2011 summer tour with Yes, what it was like revisiting their old hits, and where he sees the band heading in future.
GUITAR WORLD: How did the summer tour with Yes come about? Were you friendly with members of the band before this tour, or did someone suggest the idea to you?
I can’t say there’s any real friendships. Styx was definitely early on influenced by Yes. They were really the first band from my vantage point that incorporated, full on, classical influences into rock music. Clearly that’s something Styx embraced early on, and it’s kind of what we do.
Speaking of touring, Styx seems to be on tour every year, so I assume you enjoy it. How do you keep it fresh and fun after all these years?
Our manager is the one I credit with resurrecting our career after we didn’t work together for 13 years with the main body of the group intact. He suggested there was a huge demand for the band and we just needed to go out there with guns blazing and treat it like a big event, and it would become a big event, and he was absolutely right. In 1996, we had a great reunion tour, and it kind of carried on from there.
You also have a "new" album coming out, Regeneration Volume 2, the follow-up to Volume 1, which included new recordings of some of your old songs. What was it like going back to work on these songs?
It really was educational in many ways. It was taking ourselves back to school by going back and picking apart our old recordings. You get so used to playing something a certain way. It was very instructive to go back and pay attention to what we did, and in some ways, we thought, "Wow -- it’s no wonder the song succeeded," because we really did a good job on it. Sometimes you go back and say, "We could have done a whole lot better."
I’m also a better guitarist now than I was then, on a number of levels. My goal was to sort of out-do myself; fortunately, I was able to in a number of instances. In my mind, anyway.
It’s probably safe to say there’s not much you haven’t accomplished as a band. While a lot of bands from the '70s and '80 have stopped playing, Styx presses on. Is there anything you still haven’t done that you’d like to do, and where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
People have been asking me a lot lately, "When are you guys gonna retire?" You retire from a job, typically because it’s something you’ve done for 40 years or 30 years or however long you’ve done it, and you’re tired of doing it and you want to do something else -- the things you haven’t been able to do. Whereas as for me, my career has enabled me to do all of the things I dreamed of doing as a young man.
There are certain geographical horizons, and I’d like to cross over into some other places we’ve never been before. Nothing in this world can match the unbridled joy of being on stage and performing and seeing the joy it brings to people to hear a song that you recorded 10, 20, 30 years ago that has some very special meaning to them. The look on their face, you can’t buy that, there’s no money in the world that can buy that.
It’s just this joyful experience, and music is this thing that comes from a higher place, and it’s channeled through us as a collective. It brings people great joy to watch us perform, and it brings us great joy to perform, and it brings us even more joy to see the look on people’s faces when they’re enjoying it. It can’t be duplicated, and it’s the fountain of youth in many ways.
It’s something I find great joy in, and there’s a lot of guys I went to college with, they’re no longer needed at their place of work, and they’re forced to do things they’d really rather not do to make ends meet. I’m a very fortunate individual, and yeah, we have some talent, and yeah, we worked hard, but a lot of other people have talent and work hard, and it hasn’t resulted in such a great thing. There's something special going on here with this group of people, and I love them all dearly. We’re going to keep doing this for a long, long time.