“I’m doing actually really well, all things considered,” said Styx drummer Todd Sucherman with a hearty laugh as he discussed the band, the pandemic and the trials and tribulations detailed on his first solo album, Last Flight Home.
“It’s sort of a grand experiment to see if I could do something that I wasn’t sure that I could do,” he says. “It came out to the point where I thought, ‘Hey, I can release this, be proud of it and stand behind it.’
“As of now I really have no aspirations of being some sort of singing celebrity and taking this on the road or having people go, ‘Hey, is he gonna leave the band?’ I have no aspirations to leave my post as the drummer in Styx or my other duties as a session musician or educator. This was just completely a side project that was fun and exciting to do. And I kind of did it in a fairly secret fashion from friends and family and bandmates because, like I said, I wasn’t sure that this would actually turn into a reality. I didn’t want to blow the trumpets on something and then kind of crawl back into my shell going, ‘Nope, sorry, false alarm.’ (laughs)”
Over the course of his career, Sucherman has performed with everyone from Brian Wilson to Spinal Tap and won awards such as Modern Drummer magazine’s Best Rock Drummer (2009) and Best Live Drummer (2020). But he hadn’t made a solo album or taken on the role of lead vocalist — until now.
“I sang a duet on my wife’s first record that I produced in 2007, and that was sort of the first foray into that,” he says. “But I was very, very comfortable in that situation and it was only about five or six lines, and I knew that I could pull that off. I had some friends through the years — some old friends — believing in me and kind of cajoling me into doing something, and I’d always assumed, probably like most people that would be familiar with what I do, that a record that would bear my name would be some sort of drum-centric jazz fusion recording. But the reality is that I had just played on the Antoine Fafard Borromean Odyssey record, which I think is a jazz fusion masterpiece. I played on the Tzan NiKo record, Ascension, so playing difficult, challenging instrumental music …. that scratch had been itched, so to speak.
“I’ve always been drawn to songs, melodies, lyrics, a story. Those are the things that kind of affect me on a deeper emotional level than drum pyrotechnics and Olympic musicianship. That’s great and that has a part in the world and I enjoy partaking in that, but the convergence of how this all came about was very organic and natural. I didn’t plan on this to go down the way it did, so the fact that it opened up so organically … I just followed the road that was unfolding before me.”
Prior to that unfolding, there were some should-I-or-shouldn’t-I moments due to the current climate caused by the pandemic. But Sucherman got by with a little help from his friends and social media followers.
“It’s 10 tracks and the way this whole thing came about is, the record was done, the artwork was done and it was ordered and printed and sent to me, and then the COVID-19 situation hit. I thought to myself, ‘I can’t release a record or work a record during a global pandemic,’ and so I had completely indefinitely postponed it. Then I had several dear friends kind of come around and say to me, ‘You know, it’s done, you should release it because people need entertainment, people need new music, something to look forward to. Even in The Great Depression, entertainment was needed. You should think about releasing it.’ And my wife, who was originally thinking, ‘Ah yeah, we can’t put this out now’ … when she changed her tune I thought, ‘Okay, let’s see.’
“So I posed a question on all of my social media outlets saying, ‘Hey, it’s done. Do I wait for brighter days? Would any of you be interested in new music right now?’ … The responses were 99.9 overwhelmingly positive responses of, ‘Yes, release it now, full steam ahead.’ So I actually moved up the release date from May 30 to May 2. The 180 gram vinyl won’t be pressed and won’t be ready until the end of May because that’s the schedule that it was on, but hard copy CDs are available on my website at toddsucherman.com and on all of the other digital outlets available in the world.
“My collaborator and co-producer J.K. Harrison really did the majority of the heavy lifting with demos and nuggets and then we put things together. The song ‘Kindling’ is actually a cover from the English band Elbow so that’s the one cover on the record. I heard that song and I thought that it was one of the most impressionistically romantic songs I’d heard in ages and my wife happened to mention while that song was playing, ‘You’d sound great on this. If you ever do something you should cover this.’ So that was another little germ that stuck in my head.”
Last Flight Home is rooted in experience and lots of it. The album and its title track (see video below) reflect times on the road when things can be a bit frustrating.
Sucherman said that when he and Harrison wrote that song, “it was one of those magic nights where the song came like lightning. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, and basically the song was done in a half hour. If songwriting were only that easy all of the time it would be fantastic, but that’s why that was a very special evening and that presented itself as well. This clearly is the centerpiece and could very well be track one, which it is.
“In being a road musician for the last 24 years, it would always seem that getting home and getting home to my wife and daughter now was always like warfare. It seemed like I could fly out and begin a run, no problem, but to be able to get home, it was a barrage of delayed flights, broken planes, missing crew, inclement weather. Whatever the case, it was always warfare to get home, for some reason. So that song basically encapsulates the feeling of constantly being stuck in an airport, not wanting to be there, just wanting to get home and wondering why it’s so damn hard to actually get home (laughs).”
Styx are true warriors of the road and rarely take extended time off, so where were they when the virus began to shut down life as we know it, and could this be a true depiction of “Last Flight Home”?
“We had several dates mid-March to the end of March and we had some dates in April. Actually we had dates every month of the year, when I think of it. So yes, we are always in the middle of it.
“I was sent on a plane to begin an East Coast run on March 12 and I knew in my gut it was going to be canceled and I said to management, ‘Please don’t put me on a plane if we are going to cancel this,’ and they said, ‘No, as of right now it’s all full steam ahead. The promoters are thumbs up and we’re gonna go through with this.’ So I got on a four-hour flight from Austin to Philadelphia and I landed only to find 10 texts and 10 messages saying, ‘Call us, the tour is canceled and we’re flying you home right now.’ So I basically had nine hours in an airplane that day in a mask and gloves, which wasn’t fun, but it’s what happened. The powers that be that aren’t me decided to pull the shows, so that’s how it went down. It was a day that I will long remember.”
So what are his plans for the record, and what can we expect from Styx in the future?
“First plan of action, had none of this hit and normal life had continued, I would’ve recorded all of the drum tracks on the new Styx record in April, so that would’ve been done. I know once this clears up, that will be one of the first things to be done, and management has assured us that we’re not going to do anything until it’s safe for everyone. When you’ve been in a band this long and you’ve kept by and large most of the crew for years and years and years, it’s a 35-person family, and no one wants to see anything happen to any one of them because it’s a family member. So that’s really the first thing, whenever it’s safe to do it, that’s when we’re gonna do it and we look forward to that time.
“I think in reality it’s going to be a lot longer than any of us would like it to be, but I’ll take a year off to maybe live to 80 years old (laughs). Hey, look, it sucks, right? I’d rather be doing this than on the front lines in a gun boat on Normandy Beach, I’d rather be doing this than walking through the desert somewhere and hoping I don’t step on a landmine. People are freaking out about this and I understand that some people’s economic situations might be dire, but you can’t make or spend money if you’re dead. I’ve had 24 straight years on the road. I’m kind of a homebody but I realize that I’m fortunate, I’ve got a wife and a daughter and a little room to move here, so I’m having an okay time with it.
“Would I like things to get back to normal? Absolutely. But I’m not going to do anything until it’s safe to do so.”
For more about Sucherman and “Last Flight Home,” visit Toddsucherman.com.
Styx has shows scheduled at the New Jersey Lottery Festival of Ballooning at the Solberg Airport in Readington, July 26; and at the Tropicana Showroom in Atlantic City, Oct. 31. For information and updates, visit styxworld.com.
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