STYX vocalist/keyboardist Lawrence Gowan has commented on the band’s decision to perform the song “Mr. Roboto” live in its entirety for the first time in 35 years.
“Mr. Roboto” — which originally appeared on STYX‘s 1983 concept album “Kilroy Was Here” — was written by former STYX vocalist Dennis DeYoung, who left the group in 1999. The song reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the charts in Canada, but guitarist Tommy Shaw‘s reported dislike of the song and direction of the group’s concert performances — which, in keeping with the album’s concept, featured bandmembers acting out certain roles — led him to leave the band at the completion of the “Kilroy” tour. He eventually returned in 1996.
Speaking to I’m Music Magazine, Gowan explained why STYX brought “Mr. Roboto” back into its live set. He said: “Believe it or not, that conversation started about five years ago on our bus. Tommy said, ‘You know, I’d really like to play ‘Mr. Roboto’, but there’s just so much baggage that we had to go through when we made that record. It ultimately led to the band breaking up, but I actually like that song. I just didn’t like the experience of making that album. I’d like to play it, but people will be upset if we play it because it’s so on record that we didn’t enjoy the experience.’ Really, it’s the convoluted interpretation of that statement that really has stuck with the band. For example, ‘The Mission’ is a concept record and some critics said, ‘I thought you guys hated concept records?’ No, that’s not the case at all. You could argue that ‘Grand Illusion’ is a concept record and so is ‘Pieces Of Eight’.”
He continued: “It was the experience around that concept record [‘Kilroy Was Here’] that left the band at odds with each other, but that’s not disparaging of the song. That’s the part that you have to separate from it. I was all for it, because for a song like that to last as long as it has with numerous cultural references to it, it’s part of the history of the band. Flash forward to this year when we decided to actually do it, it was pointed out that when they did the song on that tour that Dennis DeYoung sang it to the track as part of the theatrical production; the song preceded the other guys coming on stage. This came to light because Tommy would look at JY [guitarist James Young] and say, ‘I forget what I played on this.’ JY responded, ‘I don’t remember playing on this at all. Did I play keys?’ Our drummer Todd told us that he was at the show in Chicago when he was 13 years old and neither of them were on stage for that song. That was kind of a great moment because it kind of opened it to, in that case, let’s make it a little heavier and add some guitars to it. I intend to sing it with a bit more anger; I love the built-in drama of the lyrics. Someone who is forced to hide their identity; I think it’s a great concept. The robots are here to stay and we’re living with them and with a little bit of fear of just how high they will rise, whether we like it or not. On top of everything else, the song is fun, so why shouldn’t we play it?”
Earlier in the month, DeYoung took to his Facebook page to address “Mr. Roboto”‘s re-emergence, writing in part: “I imagine it will become obvious to them when they perform it… what they have been missing. It’s something I have known for 18 years. And that is… people will go bananas when it’s played, ’cause they like it, it’s fun. It’s that simple, and a whole bunch of STYX fans became so after hearing this song. They then went back and bought the catalogue. I know this because I have read it and heard it from fans countless times. Also, the song was placed in the most prestigious spot in their show, the encore, a spot reserved for the big ones. Wow, that’s a reversal of fortune from derision and ignominy to the encore.”