When Dennis submitted the music to Frontiers Records, they convinced him that there were so many great songs that it could be split into two volumes. They were correct indeed. Vol. 1 contained such winners as "Run For the Roses", "Damn That Dream" "With All Due Respect" and "To The Good Old Days", a tear-jerker duet with Julian Lennon.
Vol. 2 is no slouch either. Songs like "The Last Guitar Hero", "Your Saving Grace", "There's No Turning Back Time" and "Isle of Misanthrope" are equal to the task. As a long-time Styx fan, I had to speak to Dennis to find out more. The result is one of the most enjoyable interviews I've had the pleasure of being a part of. Besides a top-notch musician and performer, Dennis DeYoung is a great guy and a terrific interviewee. Here's what he had to say:
Dennis: Hi I'm Ed Bradley. Hi I'm Mike Wallace. I'm Morley Seaver. Never mind.
antiMusic: (laughs) Hi Dennis. How are you?
Dennis: Ah shut up. Why do I want to talk to Ontario?
antiMusic: (laughs) Dennis, I can hardly hear you.
Dennis: That's good because I don't want any of these words used against me in the future. Is this better?
antiMusic: A little bit better.
Dennis: Well I don't know. Maybe call me back because I've used this device well, for I don't know, only about 25,000 interviews over the last two years and no one ever says, they can't hear me. Is this better?
antiMusic: Yes, the last couple of lines are a lot better.
Dennis: Well, now I've got my mouth right on the screen so thanks for that, Moose Creek. (sings Bob & Doug theme)
antiMusic: First off, please accept my sympathies on the passing of your sister. Along with COVID, this has been a pretty crappy last two years.
Dennis: You're very kind. You know, I don't know about you but I've had so many friends and relatives die in the last two years. I start to think sometimes that I'm dreaming all of this or having a nightmare. And most of them...no I don't think any of them are COVID-related. Mostly cancer and stuff. But it's crazy. I mean, have you had that kind of experience with people you know?
antiMusic: I haven't fortunately so I thank my lucky stars for that. I'm sorry that's been the case with you.
Dennis: Well, there it is. I'm dreaming. It's a nightmare.
antiMusic: Well, this is one of the greatest days of my life getting this opportunity to speak with you...
Dennis: ...Morley. Morley. Stop please.
antiMusic: I know that you said, "deep inside we're all the same" but you're the guy that wrote "Suite Madame Blue", "Come Sail Away", "Lady", "Babe" and about a billion more. This is a thrill so thank you so much for taking the time.
Dennis: Ah Morley, I've got to go back in your history. Are your Mom and Dad still alive?
antiMusic: No, they're not.
Dennis:Ah, so sad. How old are you?
antiMusic: I'm 62
Dennis: Well, I was going to go back in your history and find something that was better than meeting me. (laughs)
antiMusic: (laughs) I don't want to use up the time talking about me but I have to tell you really quick...
Dennis: ...Wait. Wait. I have nothing to do. I am bored out of my mind. I'm sitting next to my wife. We've been in this house for 15 months. You talk as much as you want cuz I got NOTHING!!! (laughs)
antiMusic: It was Dec of 1975. I had been hearing "Lady" on CHOM-FM in Montreal for a long time and I wanted the record but didn't have any money. I finally saved enough for the 45 and my friend and I made our way through a snow storm to visit the only record store in the city. This was about a two mile walk by the way. When we got there, the store was playing Equinox which they had just received that day and it absolutely blew our minds. By the time I heard "Suite Madame Blue", I convinced my friend to lend me the money and I got both the "Lady" 45 and Equinox and I've been a fan ever since. So to speak with you today is a thrill beyond words.
Dennis: Well, all I can say is this. How the hell can I top that story?
antiMusic: Well, I'm sure you can easily. Congratulations on both volumes of 26 East. They're excellent records and I love both of them very much. Man, you certainly put everything you had into these two releases. You're not cheating anyone with 22 songs. Once you started writing with Jim, did that open up the floodgates for the writing process or did the songs come in fits and starts?
Dennis: I think the way that Jim even got me to consider this project was to send me a couple of songs that were unfinished in his mind and he wanted to know if I would help him finish them. He had been asking me for over a year to consider making new music and I was totally interested.
I heard a few songs and thought those are good songs so I'll give ol' Jimbo a try. We'll get in a room together and see what comes out of it. So I went over to his studio which is in his house, as is mine, It's literally three blocks from my house...and we started.
We were just completely sympatico. I'm a little older than Jim but better looking (laughs). We had similar experiences in the times we grew up. We're South-side guys and we had both been married a very long time. We had known each and had done some things but never really tried to write together. But it was effortless. And we didn't disagree. Ever. On anything.
I remember this. Jim was afraid of "With All Due Respect". So we didn't work on it for a while. Cuz, this is not his thing. I quantify Jim like most of us that get into show business is that we are desperate for approval. (laughs) We're very needy people. He's always taken the less controversial path on his road to success. And I just felt, when I wrote "With All Due Respect", that in my heart those kind of things needed to be said. Because I was in fear that this great republic we live in might be destroyed by people's greed and ignorance. I talked him into it and then went full steam ahead and said, "I need a riff, Dude." So he wrote that great opening hook and then off we went.
antiMusic: I love the way that you weave all your history into the songs in both records, starting with the title and things about the band but especially how much The Beatles played a part in your career. I'm always amazed at how many musicians I talk to are doing this as a result of seeing Ed Sullivan or just hearing the records. Can you talk a bit about how you first heard them and what they meant to you?
Dennis: Well, you're a little bit young but let's see, I was 17. You were 5. So you were a little young to understand the impact that The Beatles had on the world musically and culturally. You can't explain this to someone. They would have to had experienced it. Because it was so profound. I mean, in the second verse of "Hello Goodbye", I said "and the whole world formed a band." I was just saying that these are my experiences with so many musicians. Before that most rock & roll performers were single artists or singing groups. They weren't bands that played their own instruments and wrote their songs. And so it doesn't surprise me that the people you talk to say what I said because we have that collective experience.
But for me, on this being my last record, I felt I wanted to pay tribute to, well as I told Paul McCartney when I met him, to pay tribute to "if it wasn't for you, buddy, I wouldn't have a big house and fancy cars."
antiMusic: I know you say this is your last record so it should be no surprise that there is a certain amount of looking back. The songs suggest you really are aware of the passing of time. Did the idea of wrapping up your recording career put you in a nostalgic mood when writing or are you generally a person who likes to look back?
Dennis: I think if you looked at my music over time, lyrically --- young people look forward. Old people look back. It's just a simple fact of life because you realize when you're older that the bulk of your great experiences are done. They're gone. People who are 70 don't go, "Hey, I can't wait for 20 years from now." You know where I'll be? Probably under the dirt. Nobody does that. So particularly in this instance, it is a reflection on my life. On my career. On my influences. And trying my best to tell the audience what I think I have learned over all this time. So that's what these two volumes would reflect.
antiMusic: Let's talk about some of the songs. After the intro of "Hello Goodbye", the energy level gets turned way up for "Land of the Living". We could use this song as a theme when the Covid thing is finally over. Tell us about writing this song.
Dennis: That was the song that broke the ice. Jim sent me that and I thought "That doesn't suck. That's pretty sick." So that's the thing that started me. I thought "OK, let me think about it." And then he sent me something that he had written in Italy and it was the beginnings of "Run For the Roses". I thought if I can't add something to these two songs, then I deserve to be retired. So that's how it all began. "Land of the Living" was written before the pandemic. And we sat down in a room and just banged it out, man. It was painless.
antiMusic: Was it strange to write with somebody else other than your former bandmates and the way you've done your own music for the past while?
Dennis: No, I don't think so. The biggest hits by Styx were essentially written by individuals. Our collaborations were primarily in arrangements and ideas that could be brought to a song. I've often said, to listen to a Styx album or individual song and know something about the person who was responsible for writing it --- you're probably going to be mistaken because the records we made from the songs the composers brought in were a collaboration in trying to achieve that Styx sound. So when I wrote with Jim, it was basically no different.
When Tommy and I would actually collaborate, it was rarely from note one, where you'd sit down and go "What are we writing today?" Like "Lights". He wrote verses, I wrote the chorus, if you know what I mean. "Borrowed Time", I had the chorus and he came up with a guitar pattern in the verses that I sang to. You see what I'm saying? It wasn't like "I've got a C chord. What do you want to do with it?" It wasn't like that.
Jim and I took that approach. We hauled out tons of old cassettes of song ideas that for some reason or another, the songwriters goes, "Ahh pffft. I don't want to do that." When you're by yourself, you sometimes can think, "Ahh...isn't the ball game on?", you know? That's how songwriting is.
And that's why we wrote those eight songs...I won't say quickly but pretty quickly because Jim and I both had touring obligations. And for me personally, when I came off the road because I had to sing on weekends on most occasions, I can't be singing all week in the studio. I'm older. And vocalizing is finite. So we took our time and I'd say that the eight songs were written probably over two years off and on.
Because remember, my goal for doing these two records --- because my name is on it --- was not to produce music that would somehow sound like Jim's. As much as I love him --- the vehicle was mine. It couldn't sound like Ides of March or Survivor. It had to sound like me or at the very least like Styx.
Because that's what people wanted from me all along. When I did my solo record when Tommy quit, I didn't go into the Styx trick bag and pull all of those things out. I knew how to do them. Criminy, I invented most of them. But I thought that specifically it was the territory of the band Styx and not me. I felt that I had to create a new persona for myself musically and not just regurgitate what I had been doing in Styx for how many, 10, 11, 12 years?
So starting with One Hundred Years From Now, an album I did in 2007, I knew I wasn't in Styx anymore. I felt that I could give myself permission to do that...to play my role in the Styx sound on those records. Which I did. Not constantly. Not always. Because Styx was so many things musically when you look back at it. We had an eclectic style in songwriting.
So when I look at these records, could I have made a pure prog or pure rock album with nothing but Styx music on it? Sure I could have. But I'm always driven by the idea that the SONG is the most important thing. Not the cut of your jib. Not the length of your hair. Not in the particular genre that you want to claim as your own, whether it's ballads or hard rock or prog or Klezmer. What does it matter? Not to me. Because music is too big and beautiful to be trapped into one small style that's going to please an audience who really truly likes only one thing. And to people who like that, I say, "Well, that's you. It's not me. And I don't envy you. But if it makes you happy, God bless."
antiMusic: For those of us that like our songs with a bit of muscle, "The Last Guitar Hero" doesn't paint a very good future for rock music. Tell us about how this one came together and how Tom Morello got involved.
Dennis: Jim had the title and we were sitting in the studio. He said, "I have a great title for a song." He had written the lyrics to it and they were very performer-centric. I thought, "You know, it's bigger than that. I don't see it as a discussion about why guitar sales have fallen 40% at Guitar Centre. That's one story. My story, that has interested me since the '80s, is what does technology ultimately mean to human existence? How the displacement of human endeavors by machines affects us and what is the societal cost to all that?
So although "The Last Guitar Hero" sounds like it could be about musicians, if you read it carefully, it's about mankind and the bargains they must make with the technology they invent. We went back and forth about how does the riff go and we agreed upon the riff and then there's the B section and the chorus. We wrote it together. It is the most collaborative song on both volumes. That's as 50/50 as you can get.
We decided earlier that whatever we came up with would be as 50/50 partners. That will avoid what? Ego. If I came up with 62½% of...you see what I'm saying? It saves things from getting stupid. So that is a 50/50 co-write, that one.
antiMusic: As much as I like the rocking songs, there are tunes that nobody but you can do. "Your Saving Grace" is one of my favorite songs of the two records, along with "You My Love". I assume this is another song for Suzanne?
Dennis: "You My Love" is not. It's a song about my daughter's divorce. Here's the thing. We all know that we love our stereotypes, don't we? We love putting things in categories because it doesn't force us to think. Yeah? The first time you see a certain actress you see her one way and then you see her in something else and you had no idea that she could sing so you have to re-evaluate.
When it comes to me, because I've had, thankfully, so much success writing love songs, about my relationship with my wife. She's sitting right at the table with me and she could hit me if I don't say the correct thing. And is all that true honey? Now you're going to go mute? For the first time in history my wife has nothing to say?
Anyway, what the hell was I talking about? I'm 74, I can't remember what I was talking about...oh my wife. My relationship with my wife....from "Lady" for God's sake. I wrote it. It was a minute and six seconds of a ballad. A pop ballad. And then the uninvited power chords popped in and started rocking the thing. And a style was discovered --- Styx style.
Having that kind of success, it seems to me that people like me when I do this. So I don't know about you Morley but when people like me I tend to repeat it, rather than the things they hate about me. I avoid those things. Can we agree on that?
OK, so over my career, I've had an awful lot of success. BIG success. Visible success. For everyone who knows "Babe" there's a small minority of people who actually know "Suite Madame Blue" by comparison, Morley. You'd agree to that, wouldn't you? You can't compete when you compare the two. One of them becomes a world-wide hit and the other one is a great song from a Styx record. They're not the same thing and they never will be the same thing. So for me, writing ballads are important because there's a huge contingency of fans, Styx fans, that like that, right along with....I don't know, "Renegade". You see what I'm saying? They can like them both.
On the first volume, I had these two ballads and I thought there was only going to be one record. I didn't know there as going to be two. So I thought there could only be one ballad. I know what I like, Morley and I like you already because "Your Saving Grace" is the best one. It might be my favorite song on both records. Because it's true. It's not manufactured in any way. It speaks to the very nature of who I am. And the hook doesn't suck either (laughs).
But when it came time to put "You My Love" on the first record....I read some reviews. Here's the thing. As soon as people hear me singing, they don't even care what I'm singing about. They just go, "It's another song for his wife." Did I get divorced? This is a song about a tragic breakup. Is it not? A lot of people think this is a love song to my wife. I just nod and go OK.
So on this last record the ballad was specifically written as a love song. "You My Love" is about the concept of being saved but not by me, but the concept of being saved by a higher power. I was trying to write "Let It Be" and I failed. But this one is not bad.
antiMusic: "Proof of Heaven" is an interesting song. Musically, it wouldn't sound out of place on The Grand Illusion. Tell us about this song.
Dennis: I had written it. I had part of the song for forever. And then Jim came in and said, I like this." I said, "You do?" So we took my initial thought musically and collaborated into what you hear. Now the hook is absolutely me. And the lyrics were batted back and forth. The title was something else....I can't remember. Jim suggested "Proof of Heaven" and I thought OK. I knew it was a book and about the guy who wrote it. So off I went. Most of the lyrics are from the guy from "Show Me the Way".
Like most human beings, there really is only one question. Morley. Why? Why we here? If you can answer that one, everything else falls into place. But nobody knows. So that's a guy who wants to believe in something, possibly a higher power. But he still doubts. He's still unknowing to know the unknowable.
antiMusic: Perhaps after "Your Saving Grace", my next favorite (although it's close) is "There's No Turning Back Time".
Dennis: You're a sentimental old sluff aren't you? Well, you're 62. You have family?
antiMusic: Yep. Three kids.
Dennis: Your kids are in their 20s and 30s now, aren't they?
Dennis: Well then, Christmas day mornings. Kids on first dates. That's your life. No, it's my life. I just wrote about it. And as I said before, I write songs, hoping that people like you will find themselves in my story. That's MY story. But the differences between us are not. There's more of a similarity. So in that song, that was written....gosh...over 20 years ago... the verses.
It was originally called "Once". I think it was Jim who said we should call it "Turning Back Time". I didn't like it at first. I was just thinking of Cher on the battleship, you know? (laughs) So I lived with it for awhile. And then I dug down and had a set of lyrics and added a third verse and I said, "OK". I get it. The lyrics are kind of a combination between he and I. We were like two old farts on a beach in Florida waiting for the tsunami. And when you get to the end with that up-tempo part, that's his contribution. And I said, "Ooh, I knew there was a reason I let you in my house." So we just came together and created that thing.
antiMusic: The tour-de-force on the record is "The Isle of Misanthrope" --- an interesting concept. Let us in on putting this one together. I didn't want to watch your YouTube explanation of it because I wanted to hear it from you.
Dennis: Look it. I'm needy. I'm in show business. So I look for the human thing. Whenever I make a joke, there will be a kernel of truth hidden amongst the punch line. So with "The Isle of Misanthrope", I'm taking a very serious...I mean, when I say no more life....(laughs) this is serious. And the music itself is very serious. But in the description, I'm poking fun at everything. I'm poking fun at all the images in the video because that's what I do. Because I want you to know that these are very serious subjects to me. I myself am still one of the Three Stooges.
Do I know what people like? Do I know what you like? People who like Styx? Morley, I know you. I've seen you. At countless shows. I've met you. I know what it is. So I thought, OK. I rarely start out writing a song with a pre-determined destiny. I believe the writing process is magical. It's mystical. But this time, I thought if it was 1975. Remember that guy with the long hair and the beard? What would he do?
Because we know that Morley, sitting up there in Moose Creek is going, "When is he ever going to write another song like "Suite Madame Blue"?" So I thought, OK fine. I sat down with that in mind and came up with something and went "Oh, that's good." And then I sang the melody to it and I had the fake-out soft bit. So when the unexpected loud bits came....you know what I'm saying? I had it.
And then I was thinking about what was going on in the world. This was before the pandemic, of course. This was based on essentially two things. The nature of social media which clearly exposes mankind. And seeing the biggest bunch of a**holes ever created. This is my view of what social media has done. Is this what people really think? Or do most people say this stuff because they can say it behind the curtain? Which I find the most destructive thing about the Internet in that you can give voice to your worst angle and not give responsibility to it which I call the fist-fight syndrome.
You want to say that sh*t in front of me? You might get punched in the nose. This is valuable in civilization, don't you think? You have to have consequences to your actions. This is what I believe. Well, the media immediately destroys that. I thought, "Well this is awful."
We know what a misanthrope is. You write for a living, so you have a definition. And Google, I think. So I thought, are we all becoming misanthropes? That we need to find things that we hate to justify our own believe systems.
And then we were in the height of the political season of this great country...I mean, formerly great country. I say this and people go mental. Well, I'm sorry. Anybody who was alive in 1960 or 1970 who thinks this is the same country....you weren't alive.
I thought, what in the name of Jehoshaphat is going on? Are we determined to divide ourselves into factions without an ounce of knowledge about the other because it allows us to then have a belief system without getting involved outside of that. So I thought, what is going on? What are you talking about? How many times do you have to look at the TV and think OK, that person thinks that. When are we going to bring back firing squads? Don't think you haven't thought it. You'd be lying. A friend of mine....he's your age. I keep telling him that these people are determined to destroy democracy for money.
That's why I wrote 'With All Due Respect". But it continues to the point of absurdity. So we disagree politically. I'm fine with that. But when I said about public executions, he agreed. Do you want to know what he said? He said, no public hangings would be better because it would take longer. Do you see what I'm saying? This is what is going on. So I thought has America become the Isle of Misanthrope?
antiMusic: Before we go, I have to ask you about "Run For the Roses" from the last record cuz that is just a monster track.
Dennis: In some ways, I can tell you which songs are the most unique. This one, in my opinion, is mostly Jim. Now we got in there and made it together and the lyrics are mostly a collaborative effort but when he sent me that initially, the melody, I thought that's something I can get behind. But you know how my two former bandmates who have tried to turn me into Liza Minnelli, so people have said, "Well that's the Broadway side of Dennis." When they say that I'm wondering who they're referring to. Is it Green Day Broadway? I don't get it. But that's mostly Jim's music. So if you stand next to me, be careful. You might get your tap shoes on.
But for the lyrics, Jim's initial lyric ideas about the verses were about the weakest thing about the song. We just sat down and I told Jim that it was the truth about the lyrics that will connect with people from my point of view. There is a lot of pop music that is disposable and inane and banal and I've written some myself, which sounds good and is simplistic and makes people feel happy and there's nothing wrong with that.
But with a song like that and a premise that I talk about...if you look at "Run For the Roses" and "Damn That Dream"...read the lyrics to them after we hang up together. That's the same lyrical song. It's about what price of fame to pursue a career in the spotlight. What is it? Not just musical spotlight. But whatever it is, whenever you jump up and down above the crowd and wave your arms and say, "Hey, look at me. Judge me."
What is the motivation? What is the price that pays for that kind of behavior and those decisions? That's it! "Run For the Roses" and "Damn That Dream" is the questioning of "Why am I obsessed? Where does the ambition come from? Where does the need for attention and approval all stem from?" And ultimately whatever your destination you believe was when you started, is there such a place from which you can arrive?
Wow, this is so smart, isn't it Morley? I feel so smart. I don't know why I'm saying this today.
antiMusic: Well, it's you. Of course, it's to be expected. I'm sure in the old days especially about the time of Equinox, you must have seen your share of odd show billings. Was there anybody that stands out as one of the more unusual musical pairings that you were involved in?
Dennis: There was so many because when you're trying to get started, you'll do anything. Like Dennis DeYoung, when I was starting my solo career, at the VSW Fish Fry...things like that. I think the craziest Styx pairing was with Stevie Wonder. That was interesting. But over the years, there's been so many. Another was Styx and Jean Luc Ponty. (laughs) There's a lot of them but those two will give you an idea. I mean we backed up Be-Bop Deluxe. Wow.
antiMusic: It looks like COVID is putting the brakes on the entertainment industry once again...
Dennis: ....Well, how could it not? I mean, how stupid are humans? Honest to God, I wouldn't want to go down with all these stupid...I wouldn't want them causing me to go down. Go back and watch "With All Due Respect" the video and it says, "Breaking news. Nobody knows nothing." That wasn't there by accident.
It's science. It was settled after the Big Bang. So when people are trying to pretend publicly to keep their phoney baloney jobs...I don't care if they're doctors or nurses. Politicians. I don't care if it's the jack-offs on social media. Everybody should shut up and try less hubris and more humility and say these simple words, "Duh....I don't know."
We don't even know what consciousness is now, Morley. Is this a real interview we're doing? Or is this imagination in a computer. So the first people out of the chute....performers. There's two kinds of people. First the kind that don't have a life unless they're on stage in front of people. I've met people like this. I've worked with them. If they're not standing in front of their musical instrument, they're not really alive. I'm not criticizing. That's who they are. So they've got to get out there because that time spent in that imaginary world, the Grand Illusion that they've created is vital. I know people like this and I don't criticize it. It's what they need. Those are the first ones out.
Then the second ones are out for the big alimony payments. They've got bills to pay. But me, I'm 74. I'm not a kid. I don't get to travel in the luxury of my own private jet. Because of the situation with my former band, I travel commercial airlines. I'm in hotel rooms. There's a big risk there.
Let me just point out that my first volume came out two days before the WHO... and I'm not talking about Daltrey and Townshend, I mean the World Health Organization...says it's a world-wide pandemic. I didn't get to tour one show on the release of my first record...which hurts. Now I'm seeing the same thing happen to me on the second one. Now could I be out there? I think Yes...if I had a death wish. I don't. I don't want to get sick. I've been sick. I'm not crazy about it.
antiMusic: So if things go back to normal next year....
Dennis: ...I think wishing for things to go back to normal is foolish. It may not even be in my lifetime, Morley. That's my belief. I'm hopeful that we'll be able to achieve it. I'm encouraged by the fact the Delta, as awful as it is, has caused some people to go and get a vaccine. Now we still don't know what will happen with the vaccine...cuz we don't know nuthin'. But we have to do something? Don't we? Well this it. We have to go with our best effort and even then we don't know.
So yes, I want to go out and play. I don't need to. There's the difference. I have two live video packages that I'm extremely proud of. The one in LA with my rock band and the one I did for PBS with the Symphony Orchestra. If you want to hear me singing "Suite Madame Blue" or "Come Sail Away", get one of those or go on YouTube. It's free. And turn it up as loud as you can get it. Beyond that, I don't want anyone coming to my concert and getting sick over it. I've met a lot of people who have made me a rich man and I don't want any of them to inadvertently become ill.
Morley and antiMusic thank Dennis for taking the time to do this interview.
Buy the CD here.
Check out Dennis' website here.