Interview with Styx drummer Todd Sucherman (Part Two)
Sterling Whitaker, Classic Hard Rock Examiner
July 20, 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 ths second and final part of an exclusive interview with Examiner.com, Todd Sucherman talks about his upcoming second drum instructional DVD and new book, life on the road, the current state of the music business, and Styx' most recent EP, Regeneration Volume 2.
Are you singing in the shows now? In some of the recent YouTube footage I've seen, it looks like you've got a microphone back there.
Yeah, well, I sang a bit in 1996 and 1997, and sort of stopped when [Glen] Burtnik came into the band, because he was a better singer than me anyway, and it was kind of a pain in the ass to sing and play. But when the medical issues happened with JY's wife and he missed a couple of shows, I sang on a few bits, and sort of kept doing it on a couple of songs. It was challenging and something new.
It's only a couple of bits: the beginning of "Crystal Ball," the middle section of "Suite Madame Blue" and the chorus of "Lorelei." God only knows if I'm in the PA or not, but I'm in my ears, and at least I always try my best, anyway! (Laughs).
You did a little bit of lead singing on Taylor's record [Todd's wife Taylor Mills]. Is that something you'd want to pursue a little bit more at any point?
Absolutely not. That happened entirely by accident, the song on Taylor's record. We thought we could turn that song ["Wish Me Well"] into, not a true duet, but have a male voice come in on the bridge with a male point of view for that particular song. And Scott Bennett, who is an amazing singer, wasn't at the studio yet, so I thought, 'Let me just go out there and hear if this idea works.'
So I went out there and sang those five or six lines, whatever it was, and I looked through the glass, and there's Taylor and our engineer, both hands up in the air with big thumbs up, and then Taylor was like, "You're doing it! You should do it!" And I was like,"What, are you kidding me?!" So that's how that went down.
I don't think I have the . . . it's one thing if someone said sh*t about my drumming, because I'm confident in that. But if someone said sh*t about my singing, I would not have confidence in that. That would cut like a knife. I would not have a thick skin for that.
Is there anything more subjective than somebody's taste in singing? Somebody can be a great singer, and someone can still hate the sound of their voice.
Here's something that's never been done: any artist that pleased all the people, all the time. (Laughs). Period. The f*cking end.
One day, of course, Styx will eventually come to an end. Do you think you'll want to keep touring with another group at that point, or will you have had it and want to focus more on studio work?
The reality of the music business in the 21st century is, if you want to enjoy making a living at it, playing live is the deal. There's two ways to make revenue in the music business right now: songs in movies and media, and playing live.
There once was a time when a hundred bands sold a million records. Now a million bands sell a hundred records. Selling records is an exercise in art, and believe me, I love recording more than anything. But as far as the session scene, there's not much of one anywhere. So this getting-to-be-old road dog will probably continue to be a road dog in some respect.
I can't think about what's going to be happening 20 years down the road. All we have is this present moment, and tomorrow may never come, so why would I want to worry about 20 years from now? Something will find me, or I will find something. Believe me, being in a band with guys that are older than I am, I'm well aware that this carousel will come to an end one day.
I'm so saddened for everyone in the world who's a content creator. I keep thinking surely to God there's got to be some way for somebody to pay these people again. (Laughs). It's pathetic that nobody will ever be able to get paid a reasonable sum again for writing songs.
Unless it's in a commercial, a TV show or in a movie. That's how you make money. Or if you're a rap artist that does somehow sell a million records, or somebody like Taylor Swift that has that teen and tween audience. There's money to be made there, but I mean, my goodness, it's never been more grim.
I know you've been working on a new drum DVD. How's that coming along?
I've been editing that for the last six months. It's actually being authored this week for a September 15th release.
How does this differ from the last one? What's the focus?
It's a companion piece, really, to Methods and Mechanics, the first DVD. So this one is called Methods and Mechanics 2, Life on the Road: Songs, Solos, Stories and Lessons. But Methods and Mechanics 2 will suffice! (Laughs).
Basically, presumptuous as it may be, I'm going on the assumption that the people who buy it have the first one and are familiar with the material from the first one. This is more of a performance-based presentation where there's 15 pieces of music. A bunch of Styx songs, Taylor Mills songs, a song by Jerry Goodman, some live clips. There's also solos and lessons, bits on hand techniques, career navigational techniques, career conduct suggestions.
The whole thread that runs through it is preparing someone for a life on the road, because as I said, in the 21st century, if you want to take your career to particular heights, you'll find yourself taking your act to the people for the irreplaceable live concert experience.
So there's tips about airports, airplanes and hotels, luggage, getting into various travel routines, tour bus life. There's lots of little vignettes peppered throughout that I think will help prepare young budding drummers for this life, or make them aware that this is going to be your life. And I think it could also help the seasoned pro who just hasn't gotten it yet. And there's certainly plenty of those guys around.
Both of these DVDs are sort of my love letter to drummers. Drummers are a big club. All drummers are friends. It's the coolest club in the world. (Laughs). I'm really proud of both of the DVDs, and I'm excited about this second one coming out, because there's a lot of content and information on there that's never been broached or dealt with in instructional DVDs.
Before you joined Styx you had done primarily studio work. Did you have any idea what you were getting into when you signed up for a big rock tour like that?
It was an experience that I wanted to have. I was actually making more money in the studios back then than I was by leaving that and going to do a tour. But I did that first tour because A, it was Styx, a band that I loved as a kid growing up, and B, because I had not had that experience yet. Most of my traveling experience had been doing fly dates or flying to do a session. But as far as playing with a band in big venues to big crowds, I hadn't done that before.
Musically I knew what I was getting into, but you only have your first tour once, and you learn as you go. There's a lot of information I've learned from being on the road for 15 years that helps me keep all of my belongings together, keeps me sane, and keeps me on time for doing my job. Don't pack up the hotel room when you're on the phone, that's when you're gonna leave stuff. Don't leave white clothing on the bed; your eye won't see it as it scans the room. All these little things.
I check into a hotel room, as crazy as it sounds, I want to make sure the toilet flushes. I want to make sure there's hot water and the shower head works. I don't want to get in the shower at 3:15 for a four o'clock lobby call and have the shower head not work. That happened once.
The idea is, you're hired to be in the lobby at four o'clock. That's the friggin' bottom line. That's what being a professional is. I take my job in that regard very seriously. I have a phobia of being late. I'm always early to everything. That's how I've conducted my business, and I think others should, too. I think when people are late, they're not respecting my time.
That would drive me bonkers, because obviously my time means absolutely nothing to you, that I have to sit somewhere and wait for you for 45 minutes because you don't have your sh*t together. That's not being a professional, that's being an a**hole.
Let's talk about Regeneration 2. Is this currently available at the shows?
No, but I think they just approved the art work. I think it should be soon. I know they approved the art work and the mastering some time in the last couple of weeks.
It's funny, you're asking me about the DVD and Regeneration 2, and I've been dealing with my own DVD and my own book, which is gonna come out in November. So I've been dealing with my own deadlines, and some of the stuff with the band is peripheral stuff flying around my head. (Laughs).
A couple of songs jump out at me that are Damn Yankees songs, which are "High Enough" and "Coming of Age." Styx actually played those songs live for part of last year. How did that come about?
You know, Tommy kinda felt like playing them. We did "High Enough" a bit in the summer run last year, and we only did "Coming of Age" a handful of times, like an encore if there was time to do it. It was just something fun, and it took us a day to learn. It was just something to throw into the encore.
Then for whatever reason Tommy thought, 'Let's record those, too.' So that's what we did. There weren't any big meetings about it or anything. It was just kinda, "Yeah, let's do that."
I was the same way with "Boat on the River." I recorded "Boat on the River" without telling anyone I was doing it. (Laughs). I just sent it along. It just worked out that way. People read into it, all these heavy things. "Why did they do that? I don't like that they did that." Sometimes sh*t just happens off the cuff. (Laughs). Like deciding last minute on a menu, "I'll have the corned beef on rye." Because it's the last thing you looked at and you think, 'That sounds all right. I'll have that.'
You mentioned a book. I didn't know a thing about that.
Well, it's not a proper novel. It's essentially a transcription companion book to the first Methods and Mechanics DVD. Most of the lifting was done by my my transcriber Brad Schlueter, a drummer in Chicago that I've known for more than 20 years. But there's new text from myself and certainly a lot of new text from Brad, who's a gifted drummer and transcriber.
It's gonna come with a CD of songs and solos from the first DVD, as well as a couple of play-along drumless tracks. I couldn't offer all of the tracks as drumless, but there are probably about four of them. So that should be coming out in November or December.
What's the title of that?
I don't know yet. (Laughs). We haven't got a title yet. That's a pretty d*mn good question, though. (Laughs). That warrants a phone call to my publisher. (Laughs.)
See what I mean? Things can get lost in the mix. "Why did he name it that?" I have no idea. I didn't have a title.
I'll have the corned beef on rye! (Laughs).