Why Dennis DeYoung’s Next Album Will Finally Sound More Like Styx: Exclusive Interview
Dennis DeYoung had to do some soul searching when it came to the idea of making new music.
“Really, the amount of work I do on a project, I will torture myself,” the former Styx frontman tells UCR. “I've tried to figure out ways to be less pleased other than the search for perfection. Talk about a thing that'll make you have a miserable life. On that quest, on that journey, down that path, there's a lot of feelings of, 'Why am I doing all this?'"
Songwriter Jim Peterik – known for his '80s-era hits with Survivor along with composing fan favorites for artists like Sammy Hagar, Cheap Trick, .38 Special, REO Speedwagon and many others – had a different question.
“He called me up one day and said, ‘Why aren't you making a record?,’ DeYoung recalls. “He said stuff like, ‘Dennis, the world needs your music. Dennis, you gotta do this.’ And I kept saying, ‘Jim, show me the memo from the world that said they need my music,’ right? But he kept on me and I said, ‘Look, I need songs, Jim. I need to write songs. You haven't got a record without 'em.’ I think too many people fail to understand this part.”
Undeterred, Peterik pressed the issue, knowing that he and DeYoung would be able to make it happen.
“I said, ‘Look, we've got to start. Let me hear what you've got,’” Peterik recalls in a separate conversation. “We started getting together and he would show me these snippets on cassettes and ancient tapes and I said, ‘This is great. What's wrong with that one?’ ‘Oh, that one, you know, well.’ ‘No that's great. Let's work on that.’ So, we would take an old song that he probably forgot about and I would reinvent the lyric and then he would take it the next step on the lyric.”
DeYoung says he’s now in the “home stretch” of the album that grew out of those initial conversations. He’s hopeful that the project will be released later this year.
Fans can hear the first sampling of the collaboration on Peterik’s newly released World Stage album, Winds of Change. As he was formulating plans for the project, Peterik knew he wanted to include a song from the material that he'd been working on with DeYoung.
“I said, ‘Dennis, I really need you on this record.’ He said, ‘Well, I'm really focused on my album and blah, blah, blah,’ Peterik said, with a laugh. “Then I sent him the rest of the record and he realized that this is really a good album, and maybe I want to be a part of this album. And he said, ‘Jim, I want to be on this album.’ And I said, ‘Great. What song? Is there something we have?’ And he said, ‘Well, what about that one that we were almost done with, ‘Proof of Heaven?’’ I said, ‘Shit, that's my favorite song.’ ‘Really?’ I said, ‘Yeah, let's finish it.’ So that was the right answer. All the songs we've been writing are really, I think, top quality. And, of course, some he's written all by himself – which are masterpieces, just classic Dennis DeYoung things that you would expect from him.”
Hear Dennis DeYoung's Collaboration With Jim Peterik
Listening to “Proof of Heaven,” it’s hard to argue with Peterik’s summary.
“It's really Dennis' lyrics. I did this and that here and there,” Peterik says. “It's my title, ‘Proof of Heaven,’ but then he took it and just made it this anthem to the human spirit. It's such a special song: ‘We search for proof of heaven in every stranger’s face.’ It's not religious but it's very spiritual in nature, and I absolutely love it. I think it's one of Dennis' strongest lyrics.”
DeYoung says that there’s plenty of “rock stuff” on his forthcoming album, specifically mentioning “The Last Guitar Hero” as a song that would have fit well on the Styx record Equinox, comparing it to the “rockin’” tone of “Midnight Ride” from that album.
With his past solo work, DeYoung says has consciously avoided writing and recording material that could be viewed as Styx-like, something which goes all of the way back to the early ‘80s when bandmate Tommy Shaw left the group to embark on a solo career.
“For us, it was out of nowhere. [James] J.Y. [Young], John [Panozzo] and Chuck [Panozzo], they wanted me to replace Tommy immediately and keep making Styx albums," DeYoung says. "I felt in my heart that that was an ill-advised idea, because I really thought I knew who Tommy was to the band. I thought maybe Tommy would just get it out of his system. I went to A&M and they had all the options on my solo records. I made Desert Moon and when I made those solo albums, I was trying not to be Styx, because I thought, 'That belongs to us.' So, I made different kinds of solo albums that were not dipping my hand back into the magic Styx jar and pulling out all the tricks – because bands, they have tricks, don't they? That's what makes them different.”
More than a decade ago, when DeYoung released his most recent solo album, 100 Years From Now, he began to pull out some of those “tricks.” Now, “all of the tricks are on the table,” he says.
“As much as I have lobbied to return to Styx and at least do one more grand tour [and] finale, there's been resistance. So I thought, ‘Well I'm making this album, I'm gonna make it, for Styx fans,’ DeYoung adds. "And that's what I've done. I gotta tell ya, there's a couple things on here, one song in particular, I just play it every morning, because it makes me smile and remember the best of times, as it were. Not the song, but it reminds me of the best of times when we were making those records, and really being as popular as anyone in the United States of America. That's a good memory.”
DeYoung is confident that fans will find a lot to love when they finally get a chance to hear the new album.
“If they're honest with themselves, if they were truly Styx fans, they're gonna like it,” he says. “That's my goal and I know I'm gonna accomplish it, because I'm sitting here listening to 12 tracks already that go, ‘Well, that's gonna make these people happy.’ The first thing I think is, ‘Okay, the death metal group of fans, they're not gonna go for this record, but you can't please 'em all.’ This may be a little loud for the fans of Peter, Paul & Mary, as well.”