I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Tommy Shaw and James Young of Styx regarding the band's operatic new album, The Mission [Alpha Dog 2T/UMe], which is set for release on June 16, 2017. (Watch for the feature in the August 2017 issue of Guitar Player.)
The Mission — Styx's 16th studio release — is a concept album revolving around a manned mission to Mars in 2033. Shaw, Young, and vocalist/keyboardist Lawrence Gowan all play singing roles in the work, and bassists Chuck Panozzo and Ricky Phillips, and drummer Todd Sucherman serve as the crew of the nuclear-powered spaceship.
"We were always trying to make the guitar sounds as cinematic as the lyrics and the story," says Shaw about translating the libretto to music and audio. "I was playing around with my amps—a blackface Deluxe Reverb, a couple of Matchless amps for that AC30 sound, a Marshall TSL 60, and a Bogner Shiva—and the Shiva kept winning the shootout. It had the sound of the Marshalls we made records with in the ’70s, and that’s what we were looking for.
"Then, with the Shiva as our friendly go-to amp, it was, 'Which guitar do you want to play?' We actually went back to basics. I had a couple of Les Pauls and Fenders, and JY had his Strats. I think what we all love about the old Styx records is when you listen to them, you hear five guys. You don’t hear 12 or 15 guys all layered. There are some stacked keyboards, and that sort of thing, but pretty much it’s five guys playing live and singing, and we tried to keep that all throughout this record."
Shaw's Gibson J-45 acoustic also played an important role in the production, and in this exclusive clip from The Mission EPK, he shows how he used the guitar to tell some "Martian Tales."