Excerpts from In the Studio - Pieces of Eightpart of an Album Network series
first aired the week of January 14, 1991
... in which JY and Dennis talk about Pieces of Eight
There are ten sound files transcribed below:
Hey, this is JY of Styx, and Dennis DeYoung of Styx, and we're In the Studio for Pieces of Eight.
[ LISTEN ]
JY: That was our first headline tour.
DDY: Complete. But actually the back end of The Grand Illusion was a headline situation; the front end, we were in the big halls with Aerosmith and Kiss, I remember clearly, supporting them.
JY: We headlined some 5000-seaters ourselves at that point in time as well.
DDY: Yeah, and I remember by the time "Come Sail Away" finally did kick in, at the back end of that, we were out there doing the headline shot. I remember we actually headlined in Hawaii at the end of that. Initially, we used to stand behind stage all the time, John Panozzo and I, when we were supporting, and see the mounds of amplifiers and equipment for the headliners, and the lights, and we used to look and say, "When will this ever be our turn?" And The Grand Illusion was the thing, obviously, that was the catalyst to allow us to have our turn, to get up there and be the headliners, and have all the lights, and the sound, and aggravate the support bands that were on our shows, and give them 13 feet of space, and 27 minutes, and no lights.
JY: Payback time!
DDY: But we never really did that.
Dennis and JY on friends and family reacting to their success[ LISTEN ]
DDY: There's a period of adjustment for friends and family who are convinced that your newfound wealth and status are going to change you in such a way that they feel threatened - that they're in fear of losing you, as they have come to know you, and thereby they can react in ways that you'd never suspect they would ... and feel threatened ...
JY: A prime example is my dad - who's worked hard all his life and has his own business - looked at me one day across the table and said, "What's it feel like not to have to work?" As if what we do doesn't require a monumental effort, and isn't stressful, and you don't have deal with ups and downs and the fact that a lot of people are NOT going to play your record, even though a lot of people did for us at that point in time. But that perception that Dennis was talking about, that a family member could turn to you and say, "What's it feel like not to work?", just shows the perception gap that was created by our success for people close to us. And that was hard to deal with in some ways.
DDY: The thing is, it's always been our job, as rock and roll musicians, to make it look glamourous - The Grand Illusion - to make it look like it was easy, make it look like it's fun at all times - it's really our job to portray that to people. Because we're diversion. That's what we are. We're entertainment for them.
JY on listeners responding to the music more than the message[ LISTEN ]
JY: I really think that, certainly thematically, The Grand Illusion, less than half of our audience probably picked up on really what was being said. Pieces of Eight maybe 10 percent. People listen to the music first, especially with a band like Styx. It's the music, it's the sound of the voices and the instruments playing together that people respond to, and the rhythmic feel. And one element of what we do of the creative process doesn't necessarily reach everyone the first time they see the film, or even the second time they hear the music. We're trying to create something that's not only going to survive the first listening, but is going to survive the hundredth listening. And there has to be something of substance there.
Dennis on the meaning behind the album[ LISTEN ]
DDY: So there's a great deal of, you know, intellectual and emotional change that occurred to us between '77 and '78. And this record, as I look at it, reflects those feelings very clearly, now that I look at it. And I know that Pieces of Eight was my way of saying that all this good fortune had come to me, but the most important thing was still making music, and it wasn't about making cash.
Dennis on the album cover[ LISTEN ]
DDY: It's really very highly intellectual - it's three old broads on Easter Island, as far as I can tell looking at this thing. Here's the deal: when the people who designed this album cover, Hipgnosis, they're English - I think that explains most of it - when they showed me this album cover, I gotta tell you, I hated it. "Why do you have these old women on our album cover?" was the first thought that came to my mind. But here's the deal (and of course, now that I've gotten older, these women are starting to look pretty good to me): since pretty much what Pieces of Eight is about is not giving up your dreams just for the pursuit of money and material possessions, this album cover symbolizes these women who are affluent by their demeanor and they way they're dressed, and they all have these earrings on which are of the Easter Island statues, made famous by Thor Heyerdahl in Aku-Aku, and what that supposedly symbolizes is that these women - imagine them all belonging to the same country club, where the status symbol is to have these earrings, the statue of these little Easter Island earrings, as a symbol of their achievements in life, a symbol of their monetary success and materialism, yet Easter Island, as we all know, the statues themselves symbolize a lost civilization, which somehow built these wonderful monuments, and has completely disappeared without any trace. So I suppose the moral of the story is, when you just pursue this sort of thing, this monetary gratification, that perhaps the ultimate goal would be extinction.
Dennis on the quality of his work on Pieces of Eight[ LISTEN ]
DDY: When I look at Pieces of Eight, I think personally as a writer it's probably my weakest effort of all the A&M albums. That's how I always view this record. And I think in a large part I was trying, personally, to live up to some expectations created by The Grand Illusion. We had broken through finally, and most of the categorization of the band at that time had been "art-rock band", and it was a very popular format for radio for about 5, 6 years, I believe, and I think as a writer, I repressed certain tendencies in myself to try to fit a mold that I perceived was expected of us after the success of The Grand Illusion. And in a large part I think it was not a good idea. It was detrimental to my own writing, and I was very unhappy after the Pieces of Eight album. Not in the record itself, because - I think Tommy's contribution on this record is very strong. But my own personal contribution when I look back at it ... I'm not crazy about what I wrote. There's one thing on the record I really don't like at all, and there's nothing that I can point to that I'd go ... you know, the thing I like best on this record that I had anything to do with was probably my collaboration with JY on "Queen of Spades."
JY and Dennis on "Blue Collar Man"[ LISTEN ]
JY: "Blue Collar Man" was something that, Tommy had this little idea, and then we're standing on stage, and Dennis just - at sound check somewhere, I can't remember where - Dennis cranked up his big Hammond - his big Hammond organ -
DDY: His big organ! He has a big organ. ... Speaking of his kidneys, though ...
JY: Speaking of his heart. ... And just cranked up that beginning riff to "Blue Collar Man," and then we went from there.
DDY: Not to miss the lyrical content of "Blue Collar Man" which is really terrific, about being unemployed at a time when unemployment was really becoming a critical issue in this country. Tommy was living at the time in Niles, Michigan, which was feeling the pinch - that whole quarter there from South Chicago up into Gary and Hammond where there was a lot of layoffs in the steel industry, a lot of layoffs in the auto industry, because he even had friends who were involved in the auto industry in Michigan -
JY: Stealing cars?
DDY: Stealing cars, as a matter of fact - and so "Blue Collar Man" was not only a great rock tune, but it actually was saying something pretty interesting about needing a job to have an identity, which is what that song is, I think, truly about, insomuch as so many of us see our jobs as a definition as to who we are. When you take that away from us, it's more difficult for us to define who we are.
Dennis on the transition between Pieces of Eight and Cornerstone[ LISTEN ]
DDY: Cornerstone to me was a pivotal album in our career. In some ways it was initially viewed as a softening of the band - and it was a softening of the band in some respects - but it wasn't really an attempt to soften it away from rock and roll as much as it was an attempt to go away from art rock - from '75 to '78 we had pretty much defined who we were in that field, and I felt in my own mind it was time for us to move away from art rock, because I felt that it was dying a quick and sudden death, partially because of the punk thing, and partially because it had run its course. And Cornerstone to me was just a way to get back to something simpler and more natural. So you have things on there like "Babe" and "First Time" and "Lights", "Why Me" and "Never Say Never" and a great thing called "Boat on the River" which are very simple, straightforward things that don't have all the classical flourishes and all the stuff we'd been noted for prior. And Cornerstone went on to sell 3 million albums anyway, and "Babe" was our first #1 single.
JY on the transition between Pieces of Eight and Cornerstone[ LISTEN ]
JY: The transition in our music from Pieces of Eight to Cornerstone was one that didn't sit really that well with me. But Dennis was the creative leader of the band at the time and it was really his voice and his writing that had given us our hit records to that stage. And I was vocal in some ways about the way I felt this was maybe not the right thing for us to do, because I had felt we would reach our first peak when we had a hard rock song that was actually a hit, which "Renegade" and to some degree "Blue Collar Man" as well gave us that. I was very concerned about "Babe" because I was very scared that "Babe" would alienate the audience that we had built. And of course it didn't do that; it took this band to a new level, and indeed 1979 was the year, and I'm sure partly as a result of "Babe" and partly as a result of our career history up to that point, we were voted #1 rock band in America in a Gallup poll.
Last edited by Kristi Wachter, Racer Records, December 11, 1999.