By Max Parker Dahl
SALT LAKE CITY — Styx tours around the globe more than 200 days annually with marquee icons Foreigner, Journey, Kansas, REO Speedwagon, Yes, and other 80’s rock icons. The first band to receive four consecutive triple-platinum albums, with some of the most recognizable anthems of all time, awarded by music organizations and worshiped by fans—their mythological namesake alludes to their impermeability. Here’s the story: The Greek warrior Achilles was dipped into the river that ran through the underworld by his mother when he was a child. The River Styx made him invincible wherever it touched him. Achilles the warrior became the quintessential war hero of Greek lore. The band must return to those waters often to bathe, because they continue to gain vocal power and fans along the way, and Styx the band is fabled to play the greatest rock-and-roll show of all time.
“The band always pushes forward to elevate itself to raise the bar or at least change the placement of the bar, because the bar has been pretty high for a while,” bass guitarist Ricky Philips said. “We push forward to do more because we have a deep fan base that returns every year. We take pride in doing an amazing live show and will study past shows, because we want to give fans something new and make things better. Styx is the first band I have ever seen who has really cared enough to go that deep and keep changing and moving forward. It’s not just for the audience, we do it for ourselves.”
After a long stretch on European and festival stages, Styx is still excited as it rolls into Salt Lake’s USANA Amphitheatre Sept. 23.
“I lived in Salt Lake in my early years, so it has a special place for me,” Philips said. “I’m personally looking really forward to Salt Lake, because it was that proverbial time when you are eating Top Ramen and pancakes in the morning; lean times for me, definitely. Those are the days that you look back on and wouldn’t replace—because it is the prep you need—to get kicked around a bit, to be tough enough to make it when you get thrown in with the big boys. I feel Salt Lake had a big part of that in my career.”
Phillips left Salt Lake for Los Angles and has had a very successful career playing in British band The Babys, forming Bad English with members of Journey, and recording with Jimmy Page and David Coverdale before landing a touring slot with Styx in 2003, playing more than 900 shows to date.
“Styx is an amazing organization from all angles,” Phillips said. “It’s the perfect situation and has been an education. To be at the peak of what I’ve been able to do as a performing artist, I don’t take it for granted and I definitely feel blessed. All three singers are in fine shape; we never lose our voices even though it is such a vocal band because we play so much, and this year has made us even stronger. The band keeps muscling up each year. We tip our hats to the ‘repeat offenders’ who repeatedly come out and are going to play the songs you want to hear.”
The pop culture resurrection of the 80’s has hit hard around the circuit, and there are notable numbers of younger fans coming to see how their parents rocked out. “For us it’s a very cool rush to look out and see a body of young people en-mass, and see the same age group we were looking at when we started and when we were in our twenties,” Phillips said. “That’s the best payoff; you definitely appreciate the people who have been there since the beginning and supported the band, but it’s incredible to see fresh faces there.”
As for recording new material, Phillips promises that it will be worth the wait. “We haven’t found time to properly sit down to record,” he says. “It’s a process that shouldn’t be rushed. We know what it’s like to go in the same room and have five pistons firing at the same time; there is a magic that happens, the feeling of a live, charging animal when a whole rock band plays together. When you record it apart, there is just this one element that’s missing.”
Phillips spent the 90’s producing music and knows a thing or two about the “it” factor. “I’m hearing a lot of great music right now from people like Avenged Sevenfold, Muse, Black Keys, Kings of Leon; bands that when I hear them, I know it is them immediately. To me, that’s what Styx is all about; Styx has a sound that is very identifiable and does very positive material with a message. It is something everyone has felt and can relate to.”
Whether the magic is in the name, or the rich harmonies blasting “Oh mama I’m in fear for my life from the long arm of the law”, or simply the dynamic energy of five guys having the time of their lives, there is something magical and mythical about Styx. Their track and touring record is tangible, impressive and rushing headlong to Salt Lake’s USANA amphitheater with REO Speedwagon Sept. 23.