Ricky Phillips, bassist for the classic and renowned rock band Styx took some time out of his busy schedule to speak with me about the band’s new release, Regeneration Volume 1. Since the 70’s Styx has been a mainstay on the musical landscape. They have released numerous hit singles that have flooded the airwaves, defined generations and withstood the test of time. The band is once again back together and on Regeneration Volume 1 they have rerecorded some of those classic tunes plus added an exclusive bonus track that fans will truly dig. As a long time Styx fan it was with great pleasure that I was able to speak with Phillips about the new project and the upcoming tour. Here is how the conversation went.
Hey how are you man?
Ricky: Are you ready?
How are you doing?
Ricky: I am doing great. I am in my hotel room in a little town in New Jersey and I am raring to go.
Have you been doing press all morning?
Ricky: You know, I am just getting started. I am starting to get my coffee buzz going and I am getting my game on.
I have about eight or ten questions for you and if I am the first interview of the day then hopefully these won’t be repetitive.
Ricky: No, you are fresh and good to go.
You probably get the same questions all day long.
Ricky: Sometimes, yeah, but it is alright though.
Alright now that your brand new disc, Regeneration Volume 1 is complete, how do you feel about it and are you satisfied with the outcome?
Ricky: Well, yeah. To be honest with you. I think everybody who writes and records albums is always wanting to redo everything… that is kind of the nature of the beast. I mean I still listen to the radio and I will hear songs that I did twenty years ago come on and I will think, man I wish I would have gone to the ninth fret on that or something. But yeah we are really thrilled with this… which is good. People have been asking us when we were going to do this and the fact that we also threw in a new song on there for a little something else to chew on is fun.
I can tell you a little something about that. Tommy had written a song called, “Difference In The World,” and when I heard it I immediately said, Tommy that is a great Styx track. It has that great introspective sort of positive from a side angle sentiment in the lyric. Well it took some time and when this record came up we decided to throw the new track on here and it has been received really well; I am very thrilled with that track. As far as the older Styx tracks go, you don’t want to reinvent the wheel. As musicians you naturally grow and because the band has been together for so long the performances just get better. We have been asked by the fans to hear some of the original songs redone… so here you go. So I guess the long answer to your questions is, yeah everyone is pretty stoked about the way this has come out and we are continuing on with Volume 2 now.
Oh cool. I know you just touched on it but how do you feel the newer recordings differ from the original ones?
Ricky: We make a conscious and concerted effort when we play these songs live to not change melodies and not to change arrangements. It is a pet peeve of all of ours when we go to see one of our favorite artists and they come up onstage and play the song that we love and it doesn’t sound anything like the original. So we have really tried to not change anything. Maybe there might be a little arrangement change or something that has grown just out of the process but I think the difference is more in the people playing those songs and the growth with those musicians over the years.
Are you guys planning on releasing singles this time around?
Ricky: No it is not really part of our game plan right now. I know for a fact that we have discussed that if we get approached to write a song for a film and something comes from left field then yes, that would be a good way to get a single generated. But these days we are concentrating more on our live shows and, with the way the industry has changed, you have to kind of learn how to move with it. We used to do records and then we would go promote those records, that is why we would tour. Now we are a touring entity and Styx is a touring band, that is our number one, making records is not our number one anymore. It is a matter of survival.
I am sure you can read between the lines here… we are all still writers and we still do write but it is just difficult getting songs on play lists these days, even for us. People always tell us that we already have our hits out and they already have us on their play lists so they don’t need anything new. It is a bit of a crazy place to be but you have to learn to accept it. That being said I can tell you a little story. We were asked to play at the first Eric Clapton event a few years ago in Dallas. We didn’t want to go because let’s face it, we are not a Blues band and this is generally based around good Blues guitar players. So anyway we went and we opened the show, we had been doing “I am The Walrus” in sound check just for fun, and we ended up doing it in the show.
We started playing it after that, I think it was a couple of months later it got recorded, and that live recording actually made it on three hundred stations within a month. We were approached by Universal and it actually got released and entered the Billboard Charts at #46. That is what I mean, there are crazy avenues. There are things that you do that you didn’t set out or plan that just happen on their own and songs do sometimes have their own life and find their own way. So maybe some of these songs that we have been writing and recording, if we don’t put them on one of these compilations, might be heard or played or come out some way. Hopefully there will be future singles out there, but it is a game plan that we really do not know how to tackle.
You mentioned you are going to be working on a Volume 2. Will that release also have some new stuff on it as well?
Ricky: Yeah you know I hope so. I can’t answer that as a fact as of yet, but I hope it becomes a sort of extra cap on the record because it worked so well on the first one. So far we are just finishing up the recording for the second volume which probably won’t come out for a bit. We are touring so much that sometimes it is difficult for us to get stuff finished in the studio. I think Todd and I have our stuff done and Tommy is working on his tracks now. I think it is a good thing that worked on this one.
Did you ever imagine you would be releasing records so many years later?
Ricky: To be honest… probably not. I think there was always a stigma about Vegas; I never wanted to become a ‘Vegas Guy.’ I never wanted to sell out and do a show that people came to from all over Middle America. I remember thinking that when Elvis started doing that he had sold out. I was eleven or twelve and thinking that I would never do that. Now Vegas and Atlantic City have turned out to have some of the best venues to hold a rock concert. They certainly have the money to put into the sound system and the lighting as well. As far as the recording end of it goes, no one could predict how everything has changed as far as trying to sell records and all the downloading. That has changed what I knew as the record industry. Even beyond that though, for me Rock and Roll and whatever you want to call music today is driven by culture. That is something I have always known and that is something that I have always approved of because that makes music reflective of the times. So I do approve of that and that is the reason I never would have thought I would still be recording and releasing albums today.
How did the reunion come about?
Ricky: That is a good question. I think that all of a sudden all of the arrows pointed that way. There wasn’t any one idea or game plan, no manager came and asked us to do it. I think we just kept hearing people tell us they wanted to hear updated versions of these songs. Let’s face it, the Styx catalog starts in the 70’s, we didn’t have the technology in those days to record like we do now. Technology can take the life’s blood out of some songs because we are able to correct and pitch shift and time change to the point where it is not fresh and does not have all of those nuances that makes things great. That said I think we were able to put out the songs with this band playing them for the fans, at their request and hopefully we have done it with a touch of caring and love and we have not overdone it.
I know you just mentioned that it is sometimes cool to rerecord those old songs. But to me some of them are timeless classics. You know when you hear “Come Sail Away” or “Fooling Yourself” on the radio it is a classic.
Ricky: Yes, so to rerecord a classic you want to hear the song. You don’t want to get a response like, ‘Oh my God what have they done to it now.’ They [the songs] might sound like they are a bit turbo charged but hopefully they have all of the simplicity and the nuances of the original. You don’t want to all of a sudden hear a new jam on some section and the public is confused as to what we are doing, we tried to refrain from that. I respect people who are going to say they will only play the original… that’s fine, I think we all totally get that.
We have been talking about your classic hits. Do you ever get tired of playing them night after night? I know the fans want to hear them but how do you deal with it? Does it become sort of a drag after a while?
Ricky: You know that is a good question because you would think so. But having experienced it we do change the set up and it isn’t the same dog and pony show every night. We sometimes do a 70 minute set, sometimes a 90 minute set depending on how many other bands are on the bill; if it is an evening with Styx we get to play for over 2 hours. We are changing songs that we are going to do that night sometimes while we are sitting in the dressing room getting ready to go out. We will just tear up the set list and say, ‘lets do “Boat On The River” tonight or let’s do “Snowblind”… so we do change it around and each night we try to change the presentation of the entire show depending on what type of venue it is. We have fun with it and we try and change things up just for ourselves. We are going to be doing songs this Fall that Styx has never performed before, songs off of Grand Illusion and Pieces Of Eight. That will be fun for us and for the audience.
Since we are talking about touring. What kind of touring plans do you have for the Fall?
Ricky: We are going to do 22 shows where we will be playing those two albums in their entirety in just the same order they were recorded. We are trying to recreate the listening experience of the 70’s and the 80’s when you bought a record that was a big disc, you opened it up, there was artwork, things to read and cover notes. Then you sat at the table and the needle dropped and you started listening. Then you had to get up walk over, flip it over and listen again. We are going to try and recreate that vibe. It is a fun project that we are really looking forward to and we are getting some great feedback from venues around the country.
In a hundred years from now what will the music history books say about Styx?
Ricky: In a hundred years from now when they dissect Rock and Roll and the various bands that played it, hopefully we will stand out as a band that had a unique sound with touches of progressive rock music lined with melody, structure and big vocals. I think that of bands like Queen, Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer and I think those are the pieces of music that will be remembered.
Any closing words?
Ricky: I am really excited to get out there this Fall and do this tour. I hope all of our fans enjoy what we are doing. We love getting the feedback from everybody and the interaction we get playing every night. It has been growing and growing and we love seeing all the younger fans that have been coming out. That makes us happy and we realize we will probably be doing this for a little while longer.