Interview with Dennis DeYoung
DDY Talk: We’re here with Dennis DeYoung talking about the new release 100 Years From Now.
Dennis: Hi everybody.
DDY Talk: We have a release date: April 14th.
Dennis: That’s what they say—The people at Rounder Records have claimed, so we’re going to go forward with that in mind.
DDY Talk: OK, what kind of goals or expectations do you have for the release?
Dennis: Well I think I’m just thrilled that Rounder Records, which is a real record company—we can just see what happened to the Allison Krause/Robert Plant record. I don’t have any expectations for sales. I think anyone that’s my age would be foolish to have expectations. You know, I’m just happy that I have a record company that is going to release the record and give me some visibility, and allow me the opportunity to be heard by somebody. But beyond that I think you can’t really have expectations anymore in the current culture of radio and TV. It’s not really geared for people who are over 60 years old, to say the least. It’s not even geared for people over 40.
DDY Talk: Right. Were there any kinds of obstacles or anything to be able to get to where we’re at; to have this release?
Dennis: No, none whatsoever. It was John Virant, who’s a fan and the President. He distributed the double live album in the US. Rounder Records are the guys that put records in record stores. So, when it came time to do this record, he wanted it immediately after we sent it to him. And then, you know, I got busy with so many things. Really, so many things. So I didn’t have the time to do everything. So the delay was all mine, nobody else's. Rounder never flinched for a minute and they waited patiently the whole time.
DDY Talk: How is the US release going to be different from the Canadian release of 2007?
Dennis: Two new songs, “Private Jones” and “There Was a Time”, and “Respect Me” was taken off the other record, because I didn’t want to have 13 tracks. And I’ve always been a believer that less is more on albums. Although in this day and age, quite frankly, people—they expect a lot of music on their CD’s, don’t they? They want this and they want that and they want bonus material and they want a video of you in the bathroom at 4 in the morning. So, I made sure that there’s a dozen songs.
DDY Talk: I think a lot of that comes from when you had an album that had 23 minutes on each side.
Dennis: You couldn’t even put 23. Good albums were under. They were definitely under 35 minutes. Because vinyl had limitations.
DDY Talk: As a writer, when you write your music, how do you determine when a song is finished? In other words—That’s it. I can’t make it any better.
Dennis: You mean making a record or writing it?
DDY Talk: Both.
Dennis: I think you can write a good song and make a bad record out of it, and you can write an okay song and make a good record out of it. But the trick for me in doing this was - as I’d said on my website - was when you’ve got the thing sitting in your basement you can tinker with it for a year and a half. It’s just not right. It should be taken away from you so you can’t do that. And that’s part of the process I went through in remixing things that I didn’t like.
DDY Talk: Were they major changes, or little small tinkering in the mix?
Dennis: No, I don’t know that you’ll even notice. That’s how crazy it gets. Because when you’re doing it—and I mix all my own songs. I mix me. I’m the guy that does it. So you know every note and after a while you can’t really—you become incapable of judging it because you’ve heard it too much. The surprises and the excitements are all gone by the time you’re done. So having it in my house to tinker with was not a good thing. But I made it better, in my mind. Whether others will think that, I don’t really care. Because really—I don’t mean that in a mean way—but I make these records for myself. I always have. You make them for yourself, and you hope that other people like them.
DDY Talk: When you made this album, you said you were trying to make it more like a Styx album, whereas your previous solo work you wanted to make it not . . .
Dennis: Distance myself.
DDY Talk: How is your process in doing that?
Dennis: Well I just went back, and I was encouraged both by Tim [Orchard] and my wife Suzanne, and the record company up in Canada. They like a particular style of music that I made many years ago, and asked me if I would go and make a record like that. And I thought, “Why not?” because I’m not in the band anymore. And I wanted to—you know a lot of those—if you listen to, particularly to the new 100 Years that’s coming, it really reflects, I believe, my influences on Styx. What I felt I was responsible for. There was a particular thing that I did that was emulated on this record.
DDY Talk: The big story in the news is the Coldplay / Joe Satriani ordeal, with Joe saying that they lifted his one song for their big hit. As a writer how can you avoid being influenced by other music or writers?
Dennis: Well, if I had known that I would have lifted it and then I'd have had the hit. I don’t know. Look: There’s only 12 notes. Too many times these cases sound stupid to me. I never heard, still to this day, I don’t hear “Ghostbusters” in “I Want a New Drug”. I don’t. Sorry. “My Sweet Lord” and the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine” I don’t know, I never heard that, and I got a pretty good ear. I mean rock music is like Blues—take blues for instance. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! Sometimes it sounds like the same song, and you know it is.
DDY Talk: What’s your feeling on radio edits?
Dennis: They help you to get airplay. They’re usually shitty. Does that sum it up? The edit of “Come Sail Away”, like when you see it on YouTube, that’s what A&M did, they chopped it when they released it as a single, because Top 40 stations wouldn’t play 6 minute songs. But if you give them a hit they’ll play the 6 minute version.
DDY Talk: I remember when that first came out it was like – song’s okay. Then I heard the long version – it’s a good song.
Dennis: The edit is stupid.
DDY Talk: We have a new President. Any thoughts or suggestions you would want to give to the President? I know you keep up on politics and current events.
Dennis: Well, he’s from Chicago, and we wish him well. Anybody who roots against the President of the United States that lives here should be—you gotta be out of your mind. Why anybody would want that job is beyond me. There, I’ve said it all. But we wish him well.
DDY Talk: You weren’t giving Governor Blagojevich a bid for that Senate seat, were you? (Laughs).
Dennis: The truth of the matter is, sometimes you think to yourself, 'Do people have mirrors? Do they look at themselves ever?' It’s like the culture of morons, it defies explanation. The headline in the paper today, he hit Burris up for money. Oh, we can’t wait to see that come out. Well, they shouldn’t surprise people, because that’s Chicago politics.
DDY Talk: Well it could be Boston politics.
Dennis: You know people get into politics so they can help their brother-in-law.
DDY Talk: Is there anyone in particular you would like to see cover one of your songs?
Dennis: No, I’m happy when anybody does it. I’m not an elitist when it comes to that. Sure it would be great if Paul McCartney did, but he writes his own stuff, for the most part. But anybody who covers it I’m always thrilled, even if they screw it up.
DDY Talk: Is there a song that you used to perform, that you used to and don’t anymore that you miss doing?
Dennis: “Harry’s Hands”.
DDY Talk: We miss hearing that.
Dennis: See, my career has taken a turn. Where I get hired, primarily, to provide people with memories. And those are essentially based on my time in that band, Styx. So the majority of people who come to see me—the vast majority—want to hear those songs.
DDY Talk: “Mr. Roboto”, big hit back in ’83. Number 3.
Dennis: Yeah. Million seller.
DDY Talk: After a couple years, sort of disappeared, vanished.
Dennis: I think he got a job on a Ford assembly line.
DDY Talk: He better watch it or he’ll lose his job.
Dennis: He’s a robot, he’s always got a job.
DDY Talk: You can go down the street now, and probably go up to anyone and say “Domo Arigato” and you’re going to get “Mr. Roboto” right back. It’s got this iconic status now. How does that happen, and when does it happen?
Dennis: It has a lot to do with TV. You know I signed off on doing that TV commercial redoing the music for the VW, and that started it. And then, it’s weird, it just happened, and it became a catch phrase in so many motion pictures and TV shows. The requests I get for “Roboto” are constant. I don’t know how that happens. I think if I did know I would have it happen to a bunch of other of my songs. (Laughs). But you know what? Eleven-year-olds loved it in 1983; Eleven-year-olds today, and I think in 50 years eleven-year-olds are going to like it.
DDY Talk: “First Time”: Wonderful song from Cornerstone. Wanted to release it as a single . . .
Dennis: Not me; A&M wanted to release it. They had six Parallel One stations, the biggest stations in major markets, playing it without it being released as a single. Because it was destined, as everyone in A&M Records told us, to be a #3, 2, or more than likely another #1 record for us. It didn’t come from me, ever. It was the promotion department; Harold Childs, and the promotion department at A&M Records. Or was it Charlie Minor? I think it was Harold Childs.
DDY Talk: Unfortunately, it didn’t get released. A lot of the stories that I have heard as a fan for that was because it wasn’t a “Styx” song.
Dennis: What does that mean? I’m not sure what that means.
DDY Talk: I agree with that.
Dennis: I don’t think “Boat on the River” - “Boat on the River” falls in the same category.
DDY Talk: But if that was the case, how did it get recorded?
Dennis: I just think . . . you know a lot of this stuff is way after the fact, but I think that when people say it’s not a Styx song there is a certain ignorance to that statement - and ignorance means unknowing - because to me Styx was always the sum of its songs. That’s all. We were the sum of our songs. If you write a good one, then people like it. If you write a bad one they’ll tell you. But a lot of people - which is true with every band and every artist - when they first discover a band, the first album, it tends to be their favorite, and if you’re doing a particular style at that moment, you tend to like that style. As artists change and mature, especially the ones that have long careers it’s impossible . . . it’s not impossible, but most artists change over time. Like you do, buddy. You can’t run as fast as you used to, so you do different things because you get bored. You get bored with doing the same thing over and over again. Now that doesn’t mean there isn’t an audience that would be happy to be serviced with the same thing over and over again. But that’s not my job. My job, as I told you before, is to please myself. That’s the good thing about being an artist, is that you don’t have a boss. You’re your own boss. And when you’re in a band, there’s always give and take, and there’s always compromises. When it comes to that particular song, that was a terrible mistake. Here’s my theory: If “First Time” had been released, it would have been, absolutely, unquestionably, a top 3 single. Which meant at that time that Cornerstone would have sold another 4 to 500,000 albums, ‘cause we were the biggest band in America. You could look this up.
DDY Talk: I lived it, I know.
Dennis: So this is not a statement of bragging, this just is what it was. That would have meant at that time that Cornerstone would have outsold maybe everything except for Grand Illusion; and maybe it would have outsold Grand Illusion at that moment. And then I believe that “Boat on the River” would have been a hit. By the time it took “First Time” to go the 12-14 weeks, 16 weeks to run its course, by that time we would have known that “Boat on the River” was a hit in Germany, and then you know what we would have done?
DDY Talk: Release that?
Dennis: That’s right. And it might have sold 4 million copies—or more. That’s how not releasing that turned the tables on that record. Because the problem with Cornerstone - as is the problem with Kilroy as I’ve said before - is it lacked that one great rock song, okay. That’s what really separates those records, is that one great rock song. And they just didn’t get written. It wasn’t that it got held back, or it was under a rock, or it was ignored; it just wasn’t there.
DDY Talk: Hunchback. Great run last year, at the Bailiwick. Any future plans, future opportunities for that production?
Dennis: We’ll see. You know the next step’s got to be the right step in these things. Listen, what’s happened to the economy has really hit Broadway. Because people who invest in Broadway are generally people who have disposable income—rich people. And Bernie—what’s his name Bernie Madoff—he made sure that—(laughs). It’s a difficult time, a lot of Broadway shows have been canceled because funds are tight. So we can be patient.
DDY Talk: Any chance about a forthcoming book about your career?
Dennis: I’ve thought about it, and I’ve started to write some stuff. Because I have a great story to tell. For instance, the “First Time” story is so completely misunderstood because, once again, the record company was the catalyst to releasing “First Time”. It did not come from the band. I find it misguided for anyone to say—because if you look at these things musically, in my opinion, if you looked at “Babe” and “First Time”, “First Time” is much more of a rock ballad than “Babe”. There are really no power chords [in “Babe”]; there are power chords in “First Time”, those power harmonies, a blistering solo, a great solo. So I just never understood why anyone, anyone, would say that. Because when you think about it, that Barry Manilow shit, when did he ever do a song like that? When that kicks in and we get going? I don’t think so. Not to me.
DDY Talk: Do you have stuff buried away, unreleased?
DDY Talk: There’s the ’92 demo…
Dennis: We have 9 songs.
DDY Talk: Any chance of some of that seeing the light of day? Specifically “All For Love” since you have performed that a couple of years ago?
Dennis: Yeah, I just don’t think so. Well, “All For Love”, Glen and I wrote that song, so that could be recorded. Now that I think of it, I think Glen and I were the only writers on all of that material. But Glen has recorded some of that stuff subsequently.
DDY Talk: I know he has trickled out some, you’ve trickled out some. Styx lore for a fan we like—
Dennis: It’s nice stuff for what it is, but they were demos, they weren’t like records.
DDY Talk: You’re a singer, writer, keyboard player, producer. What’s your greatest strength? What do you feel is your greatest strength?
Dennis: I think I see the big picture in everything I do. I see the finished product when it's beginning, whatever it is. But I want to be remembered as a writer first and foremost above everything. I’ve said it before: As a singer (shrugs), you know, I’m better now than I was. I know when I was starting out people loved those records, though, and they loved the way that I sang in those days. I was always afraid of allowing the legitimate side of my voice to come out on rock records. I really did stylize my vocals in those days, to not sound like a real professional singer. But being a writer is what matters most to me. It is the way that you touch people more than singing or playing or any of it. The songs I write—you saw “Come Sail Away” tonight—that’s not about me the singer, because I know that people are still playing that song, and I’m not singing it. But the meaning it has to people—that’s the reason I do what I do, is the opportunity to touch people and to illustrate the oneness of human beings. Because that song is just about me. It’s not about you, or anybody else, it’s about me and how I felt at that time in my life. And guess what? So did a lot of other people. But I didn’t know that. These songs belong to me. They are an expression of the sum of the experiences of my life, and I try to get them down musically. And when I get ‘em right, people like them. And that’s all it is. It’s the song. Always was. That’s why “Boat on the River” is a great song. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t have a power chord on it, that’s such nonsense. It’s just great. It doesn’t matter.
DDY Talk: The fans are fans because of the songs.
Dennis: Here’s the thing that I believe has been so misguided and misinterpreted. The people who loved Styx, whether they knew it or not, loved them because of the variety of songs. The variety of songs. There were different points of view. I think that’s why we had such a big fan base, and sold so many records. It was the diversity. It was what made us.
DDY Talk: One of my favorite parts, you could put the needle down on the first track, and let the thing play through. You could listen to the whole album.
Dennis: We tried. We weren’t always successful; there’s always a couple of clinkers once in a while.
DDY Talk: One of the most requested things I see on the site. We love “When I Hear a Christmas Song”.
Dennis: If I may say so, that’s a really good song. It’s on an album now up in Canada, with a bunch of other people.
DDY Talk: Fans would love to hear a whole album from you, specifically, “O Holy Night”.
Dennis: Oh. Well, a lot of people have done that one pretty good. But I do like that song. I love that song. It’s one of the greatest Christmas songs. Fall on your knees, baby.
DDY Talk: Tour dates this year: You have a lot of stuff on your plate. How many tour dates?
Dennis: I don’t know. It’s a tough year, all around. We’ll do probably what we always do, somewhere in there. I have the album coming out, so we’ll do what we can.
DDY Talk: Any other closing thoughts or message?
Dennis: Tell the people at DDY Talk that I appreciate their, what I would consider unwarranted devotion. I’m glad they like me and I’m glad they like the music, and I’ll try not to let you down.
DDY Talk: Thank you very much, Dennis. I appreciate the time. One Hundred Years From Now on Rounder Records available wherever you can get CD’s nowadays April 14th.