|Sterling Whitaker, Classic Hard Rock Examiner
July 17, 2011
Todd Sucherman has been the drummer in the superstar rock group Styx since 1996, when he originally filled in for founding member John Panozzo. In the ensuing 15 years Sucherman has performed well over a thousand live concerts with the group, which keeps a busy schedule of more than 100 dates per year.
In 2009 Sucherman released a drum instructional DVD entitled Methods and Mechanics, and the readers of Modern Drummer voted him the #1 Rock Drummer of 2009. He is currently at work on a second instructional DVD, as well as a book. Styx is also set to release Regeneration Volume 2, the second of a three-disc set of re-recordings of Styx' past hits.
The band is currently on a summer tour with progressive rock stalwarts Yes.
In this first part of a two-part interview, Sucherman discusses the Styx/Yes summer tour, Tommy Shaw's recent interview with Rolling Stone, dealing with member changes in long-standing bands, and keeping sane on tour.
You're about a week into the Styx/Yes tour. How's it been going so far?
It's been going great. I had a bunch of Yes records growing up, so for me it's another band I couldn't have imagined I'd be on the road with. So it's fun to hear that music wafting through the air either before or after our sets, because we're flip-flopping through this run.
So you've been to Yes gigs before, I assume?
I actually only saw them once, on the 90125 tour. That's definitely a different incarnation.
They're focusing more on out-and-out progressive rock on this run, is that right?
They're definitely playing a lot of their classic pieces and stretching out. They're not doing "Close To The Edge", but they're doing stuff like "Heart of the Sunrise," and of course a lot of other songs that you would expect to hear from them.
Since you're on the bill with a legendary progressive rock band, were you mindful of that when you were creating a set list for this tour?
We thought that we could get away with playing "One With Everything," which is definitely one of the band's more progressive numbers. Sometimes when people are expecting the hits and you pull out a song like that, you're in danger of sending them to the beer lines.
It's hard to tell how many people came to see them or us, but we love playing the song. That's really the only thing that's changed in our set list. We've been doing "Man in the Wilderness" now regularly, which I feel we should have been playing that all along for years. It's one of my favorite Styx numbers, period. So personally I'm having a great time playing that one.
I guess that came about because of the Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight tour last year. Did that change your perception of what you can get away with live?
I've been pushing for that one for a long time. We played it for a bit in 1999 or 2000, and somehow it just fell out of the set list and remained absent for years. But I think the enjoyment that we felt playing it, and I think Tommy really enjoyed singing it, that led to its re-emergence in our set.
What else is in the set list?
Definitely when you have hits, you have to play them. (Laughs). That's a good problem to have. It's an 85-minute set that's definitely hit-infused, but it also has an ebb and flow, like the aforementioned "Man in the Wilderness" and "Suite Madame Blue." So it's a powerhouse up top, then there's kind of the moody, introspective middle section, and then into the slam-it-on-home end. So the set has a nice pacing to it.
Are you aware at all of what's been going on with Geoff Downes and his online war of words with some of the Yes fans over their tour reviews?
No, I'm unaware of any of that.
The reason I ask is because Yes as a band is kind of where Styx was a dozen years ago, going out on the road and performing after a major member change and having to face harsh criticism from fans. Can you sympathize with them in what they're going through right now?
I had no idea any of this was going on in their camp at all. I can sympathize with them as artists, but you can't read what people write on the Internet and have that dictate what you do. There's people that love you and hate you, and it would drive you crazy. Who wants to read things about how people hate you? (Laughs). So you can't really lash out at that, although that might be the human instinct, if anyone read horrible stuff about them, or the group that they were playing in. (Laughs).
But the reality is that you can't pay any mind to that. Ultimately it doesn't matter. Your work is subjective; you go play, and people are gonna like it and people aren't gonna like it. But I don't understand people who don't like things who spend all their time letting their feelings be known.
There's a lot of things that I don't like and things that don't do it for me, but you know what I do? I change the channel. I pay it no mind at all, and I focus on things that I do like. I think that's a much happier way to exist on this planet, is finding things that you do like and enjoying them. Not b*tching about things that you don't like, or even defending them if you do. At a certain point you have to realize that this all childish. If you like something, great. If you don't like something, great. Move on.
Sadly, there's a lot of people that don't have that viewpoint. I used to check out some Internet message boards and see what people would say about us, and I just thought, 'Wow, this is not healthy for anyone involved. Least of all me!' (Laughs).
I know the war of words continues for every band, every musician, every actor, every comedian . . . anything that is artistic and creative is subjective. And most of the people that argue about those things have never created anything in their life, and have never put anything into the world of their own. So why would I ever listen to their opinions?
So you've finally given up reading message boards entirely?
Yeah. There's no good that could come of it.
Let's go back to the Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight tour last year. Are there going to be more dates?
I certainly hope so. There's been talk far and wide about it, but I haven't heard anything materialize into reality about it, other than it's talked about maybe for the early part of 2012.
I understand there's a DVD that's been filmed. Is that in editing, is there any release date on that?
I don't know. I think the fact that we've been on the road so much, and our engineer Gary Loizzo, live and in studio, has been on the road with us, so it's been hard to chip away at that. And it's also hard in between runs to immediately go into the studio and work on that. I mean, people need a break from this to live their lives and spend time with their families.
So I don't have a release date, but I can only imagine it's going to be released later this year. I've seen tightened up edits, and it looks and sounds great. I think for me it's probably the best example of my work with the band.
Tommy gave an interview to Rolling Stone recently, and it focused on the tag line that Styx is never going to reunite with Dennis DeYoung. Do you still get that question from fans all the time?
Rarely, if ever, quite honestly. And I don't want to speak for Tommy, but I heard that he was disappointed in that interview, and that he was misquoted, and the writer took a lot of liberties with what he was saying. So I don't know what he said in the interview; I wasn't there. But I do know that Tommy expressed some disappointment in the outcome.
But really, [the writer] turned that into the sensationalism, tabloid-style - "A feud! Rumors! Reunions!" That's the type of sh*t that makes a headline. Nobody wants to hear that everything's fine. That's not a great story. That's just the f*ckin' cold truth. "How are you doing?" "Great . . . having fun, playing shows, laughing with my friends . . ." "Okay, see you later." No story at all. (Laughs).
Every band from that era is struggling through some member change or another. It's inevitable that if it goes on for decades, people are going to rotate in and out, just as people enter and leave any other job.
Whether people can't play anymore, or can't get along anymore, or can't exist on the road anymore, there's a myriad of reasons for member changes, and that's just the way it is. That's the way it's always been with any band, any jazz band going back to the early 19th century.
Let's talk about symphony orchestras. Are people writing online, pissed off because Fritz Reiner's Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the brass section was so much better than it was under Schulte? It's still the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and I'm not gonna go, "No, it's not the original one." What would be the point?
Music is to be enjoyed while being played and being listened to, and if people don't enjoy it, then don't come. Simple as that. But as long as people want to keep playing, why not? I never take that for granted, that people want to come see and hear the band. That is a great position to be in, to have fans. Okay, so it's not four nights at Madison Square Garden. Who cares? Who keeps that up for 40 years? Maybe a handful of people. What are you comparing Styx to, Springsteen or U2?
Styx is an amazing band to be in and play this type of music. For a drummer it's great because there's so much activity back there. I never get bored. If I played two and four disco beats all night long, then I would have a gun to my head.
With the heavy schedule the band keeps, what I always wonder is, how do you personally keep going? When you're on a three-month tour and there's no going home, how do you keep yourself sane? I can tell you right now, I would flip out in that situation.
The first thing you have to do is get your thinking straight and realize that this is what I do. This is my job. If I was a baseball player and traveling on the road all the time, well, how do you keep playing baseball? The answer is, you love playing baseball.
I love playing the drums. I love playing music, and I realize that my job is a good one to have. Especially in this economy, when I know so many musicians don't have jobs, or the ones that do, they don't get paid very well. (Laughs). That eases the blow a little bit, as well.
But when you get out onstage, adrenaline's a funny thing. That takes over entirely. I realize that there are people here who have never seen the band before, I realize that there are people here who have never seen me play the drums before. And then it's a hundred percent.
When you go through a tour there are ebbs and flows. People catch colds. Tommy's just been dealing with some sort of bronchial virus that, through June, has kept him from hitting on all cylinders. That sh*t happens. So if someone's hurting a little bit, we all seem to kick it up a notch, to carry everybody through. And I look at the job as a drummer to sort of be driving the bus and fuel everybody, and provide the backbone of the energy. So it's not in my job description to be a p*ssy. (Laughs).