Really Happy Hour: Tony Styxx, Lily and Madeleine with ISO 

click to enlarge Tony Styxx - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • Tony Styxx
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When Zachary French, Director of Artistic Planning for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, called local rapper and spoken word artist Tony Styxx and asked if he'd like to perform with the city's orchestra, Styxx surprised him.

"No, I'm going to say no," Styxx told me he said. "I'm a young and upcoming artist looking for every opportunity I can get and [this is] one of the top symphonies in the world. I'm going to say no."

He was joking, of course. And thank god he said yes, because the show Styxx will perform Thursday promises to be one of the more exciting performances slated for the live music dead zone that is the month of January. Styxx will join local folk darlings Lily and Madeleine for the first Happy Hours program of the year, which features ISO artists in residence Time for Three.

I reached out to Styxx - real name Ronald Craig Jr. - to talk about that conversation with French and the experience of seeing his songs with collaborator Max Alley take shape on the Hilbert's stage.

NUVO: How did the orchestra approach you to perform on Thursday?

Tony Styxx: I can actually give credit to two people. Malina Simone, of Our Mosaic City, sent me an email and asked me if I was doing anything October 22 [to perform at the TedXIndy event] ... As time got closer to the TedX show, I started getting more and more information about it. I didn't know that TedXIndy was partnered with Ted Talks. I start realizing how big this is. I start working with Time for Three, a great group of guys. All three of them, Ranaan [Meyer], Zach [De Pue], Nick [Kendall], I love them like brothers. We come up with some stuff and perform it onstage at TedX.

So, TedX is over. Crowd of 1300 people at the Hilbert Circle Theater, the biggest group of people I've ever performed for. I loved it, had the blast of my life. I'm going on Twitter and Facebook and people are saying, "One of the greatest parts of the show was the opener." That made me feel great. But I felt stagnant, still. I've been performing in Indianapolis for about seven to eight years, and I've done almost every open mic. I've done almost every venue you could possibly squeeze your way into. I'm going to call it like it is, I'm blessed. There are a lot of great artists in this city and for me to get weeded out of such great competition and great competitors, and all the things I've gained and blessings I've been given, that's such a great thing.

I'm on the phone with [a friend], and talking to him and telling him the same thing. I'm telling him, "I just feel like I'm stagnant, I don't know if I can keep it up, I've lost the inspiration." He tells me to be patient. As soon as I get off the phone with him, that's when Zack French of the ISO calls me and leaves me a voicemail. I only hear him say, "Hi, this is Zack French of the ISO," before I hang up and go straight to calling him. That's all I needed to know. I call him back, and he says, "We wanted to know if you'd be interested in working with Time for Three again." It's an honor to work with those guys; of course I would.

So then he goes into the schematics of the show, and I say, "So let me understand something. You want me to perform onstage with the orchestra behind me, or with them." And he says, "No, with them. They'll cover your music, learn it, and then you'll perform with the ISO. So that's okay with you, right?" And I say [jokily], "No, I'm going to say no. I'm a young and upcoming artist looking for every opportunity I can get and [this is] one of the top symphonies in the world and I'm going to say no." That's the conversation he and I had. I could not make this up; that's exactly how it happened. There was no major meeting, no contacting, there was no press kit. It was simply him seeing me at TedX, everybody loving what I did, and then him contacting me a month later and saying, "We'd love to have you back."

Mind you, my first Happy Hours event was two days after the TedX event. That was the first time I've ever heard of it and first time I've ever been. It was amazing, I loved it, and [while there] I leaned over to my girlfriend and said, "I'm going to do this show at some point. I really want to be part of this show." A month later, I get to be a part of it. That is the greatest moment of 2013 for me.

NUVO: How many songs will you perform on Thursday?

Styxx: I'm going to be doing two songs. One is called "Grand Opening," composed by a good friend of mine and long-term partner Max Alley. Also "Refuge," composed by him as well, from my album Welcome to Life, that debuted Oct. 7 of 2013, my second album. I'll be performing an original poem that I wrote. I am a spoken word artist as well. That's called "Wedding Vows," with Time for Three. I know we're closing the show with a cover with myself, Time for Three, the ISO and Lily and Madeleine

NUVO: What's it like working with Lily and Madeleine?

Styxx: I have not been in their presence physically, yet. I will be in their presence two days from now and get to see them work together in person.

I went on YouTube and found their videos and was probably stuck to my couch for about three hours watching them, easily. They are amazing. Those two young ladies are extremely talented.

And then I got hit with the news that they're local girls. Homegrown Indiana. It's extremely amazing that these two young ladies have this really great and awesome talent and they're from here. That gives me hope. Lets me know that it's possible for an artist from Indiana to make it on the grand stage.

NUVO: How does it feel to see your songs begin to take shape with the orchestra?

Styxx: For a person who is known for manipulating words, I can't find any that would suit it. It's an emotion that you'd have to feel. ... You're asking me how I feel to have them play behind me. That's an emotion in itself, but it's probably an experience all on its own for Max [Alley, Styxx' collaborator]. Max is the one who made the song. For him to have the music that he composed in his bedroom be played on one of the grandest stages in the state, that's got to be a whole other thing for him. But for the two of us, there's no number you can put to it. It's an infinite symbol. Me and Max have been doing this since 2008 hardcore, making music together. And now we're witnessing something we've created take birth like this, and it's just an amazing feeling. Just amazing.

NUVO: Talk me through "Refuge," one of the songs you'll perform on Thursday.

Styxx: "Refuge" is the idea that a man's life is always going to be a battle, a fight. But a woman's life is like a war that no other being in the universe could understand. If you could find one other person that can give you refuge from the storm of your life, that will take you in and shelter you and help you grow stronger to weather the battle on the outside of those doors, you should always take hold of that. "Refuge" is the story of two young individuals who found each other in that essence and decided to grow old together. It's the idea that stories like that still exist. It doesn't have to be baby mommas and baby daddies and side pieces. It can be something pure and awesome like love.

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