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DailyBoom Your Old School Music Authority

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Exclusive Interview: Dennis DeYoung on '26 East: Vol. 1', the First of His Two-Part Farewell to Recording


Dennis DeYoung Promo Shot


I can still remember being a little kid sitting in my dad's big green armchair, his headphones on my head, listening to Paradise Theater, Styx's most popular album still, so many decades later. I was ten and knew precious little about anything that this world had to offer, but I knew who Dennis DeYoung was. Now, nearly forty years later, he is on the edge of releasing the first part of his farewell to recording, 26 East: Vol. 1. and his voice is as pure and textured as ever.

I had a chance to chat with Dennis this week and he clued me in to his mindset while constructing this new project, which includes a little help from Jim Peterik (Ides of March, formerly of Survivor) and Julian Lennon. Check it out below.


Dennis DeYoung Promo Shot


Dennis on working with old friend Jim Peterik on 26 East, Vol. 1:


"He likes to think he encouraged me but I think he just nagged me like a mother. “Den, Den, you’ve gotta make music.” I said, “Jim, no I don’t. There’s no rule.” (laughing) We are the perfect yin and yang. He’s the positivity and I’m all cynicism so it worked out nicely. Our two personalities worked perfectly together. I heard a song and he was trying to convince me to do it. He wrote this song called, Run For The Roses, that he had finished when he returned from Milan. He said, “Okay, let’s see if we can finish it.” So we did that and we finished eight others without hardly even trying so that was a great start. It was a great partnership. During the process, about 18 songs were written. A little more than half were written together and the others I had written myself. It was a catalyst to get me to do it."


DeYoung & Peterik- Photo Cred: Kristie Schram


Dennis on writing East of Midnight:


"When we sat down it was a ‘you show me yours and I’ll show you mine.’ We started that way rather than starting with one which can be tough. He (Peterik) had written that three years earlier and called it Late Night Radio and I thought musically I could turn that into a Styx song, I know what the ingredients are. So we sat down and rejiggered it. I made it more personal about my experience in the southside. From my perspective, he set the idea down and I just added what I needed to signify it. Every time I hear it, it just makes me smile. To all those fans out there who liked that thing out there in 1977 and ‘78 well there it is! It sounds fresh to me."




Dennis on his writing process in general:


"Well, most of the things I’ve had success with were done by myself. When writing with someone, the process that turns out to be the most successful, I think, is when we both have an idea that someone is stuck on or needs more investigation it’s like, okay where will that go? What would you do to that and vice versa? That’s the process that I have found has been the most successful. For instance, Tommy (Shaw) had chords and the verses to a song called Lights we did in ‘79 and same thing with Mademoiselle when he first joined the band, he had the verses and I wrote the choruses. I’m very competent in writing hooky things that people tend to recall so the hook on Lights and the hook on Mademoiselle was mine. So that’s it. If you’re stuck for a hook or stuck for words, you just piece it together like a jigsaw puzzle. Then you hope when it’s done it doesn’t sound just pieced together. It’s got to sound like it was written all at the same time by one person. That’s the point.



That’s why groups are so important. All that Styx music would not have been the same if those people weren’t in that room playing off of each other and really competing! That’s the best for the competition as a whole, that’s the best scenario for any group. Competition for the good of the whole instead of just one is good for the group."


Dennis on working with Julian Lennon:

"This was my last album and the thing is from the beginning, I knew there was no rating that mattered anymore. East of Midnight begins the record and To The Good Old Days ends it, with all that’s in between that is kind of the tissue that connects it. I loved The Beatles on Ed Sullivan in 1964 and I did it in a completely Beatles style. Some people might consider a rip-off, but I went right at it. In the beginning, when Paul and John sang together you really couldn’t tell much difference and then they harmonized. To me, the harmony was the whole thing. When you saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan what struck me most of anything was the joy and the action of the group, not the vocal harmony but the harmony of the guys on stage. They seemed so filled with joy. What they were doing was also brand new.


I was looking for somebody to sing that part on that song and I thought, well maybe Julian. Then I composed an email and at the last minute, I thought that I shouldn’t send this to him because it’s not his story. It’s my story about what The Beatles meant to me and the world and it’s too diddly. I realized that if I wanted to do a song with Jules, I wanted it to be ours. So I went to the piano and imagined what we would sound like and I wrote the song specifically for our voices. Then I sent it to him. Oh, and I didn’t know him, I had never met him.


He responded, which shocked me ‘cause I didn’t expect it. He said he’d be honored to do it, so we met in Brooklyn and I really wanted him to just sing it like he would sing it because the lyrics really touched him. The opening line is, “It’s so hard to say goodbye. Promise not to cry.” When he sang those lines by himself, wow. So I brought it home and I matched him. I sat in my room and thought that this has to be the kind of harmony that the lads from Liverpool did or dare I say The Everly Brothers because that’s the pattern we want. People love The Everly Brothers. So, I just sang and I finished it. I pulled all the stops on this thing. Then I figured that this has got to be us. Not them. This is about Jules talent and my talent because I was a fan of Jules since ‘84 and his album Valotte. So I got my own Beatle, (laughing). Quite frankly, when we were standing in the control room, not even the studio, we just started singing together and I thought, man this is going to be good. If ever there was a time that we needed to have a song like that, it might be right now."




Dennis on 26 East, Vol. 1 & 2 being his final farewell:

"I try to explain it this way. I frame some notes and put them on chords and then I stick words on the notes. Then I attempt to tell you my point of view regarding my life and what I see around me hoping that you will find yourself in my story. That’s it. When you do that right, you’d be surprised how many people relate because when people listen to music, they think it is their story. I think I’ve done what I needed to do. I’ve completed the circle with this record. I've come full circle.


Dennis DeYoung- Promo Shot

I believe that I don't have the ambition to do it again because I sing it, I write it, I mix it, and I produce it. You know, I’m not a kid. When you’re young, you have this ambition that you must pay attention to. Then, after you’ve had some success, and you were looking for success, you think that success will change you fundamentally. It will not. It will not change you and when you realize that, life becomes more in focus and in perspective. For me, after this, I’ve said what I need to say. I thought I’d said what I needed to say before this record (laughing). I’m 73. It’s time for me to say thank you very much to everyone who has given me this incredible life and then that’s it. The thing on the album says it best, A.D. 2020. If you know anything about Styx music, if you’re really a Styx fan, you might tear up." 


Dennis on what comes next for him:


"I think Law & Order reruns with pizza (laughing). I have a musical that is supposed to open at the Skylight Theater in Milwaukee in September. I can be content working on that for the rest of my life, just working on and being a part of productions across the country. I tour a lot, I still do. I don’t know what that holds for the future anymore."



26 East: Vol. 1 is out on April 10th and you can preorder it now from Frontiers Music Srl