Kansas is one of the greatest bands of all-time, and certainly the best progressive rock band to ever come out of America. The band is best known for their slew of radio friendly cuts from the 70s, but always had strong rock albums musically, and were top-tier musicians, especially live. They are back this month with their first new album in over a decade and half, The Prelude Implicit, from InsideOut Music. Longtime guitarist, and band leader Rich Williams chatted with Keith Chachkes of Ghost Cult to discuss changes in the group, their bright new future.
We are talking about the upcoming, brand new album, The Prelude Implicit (InsideOut Music), the first brand new Kansas record in almost, I think it’s 16 years. Why now was a good time to have a new Kansas record? Where did it come from and what was the process like for creating this album?
Why so long? With the last album we did 16 years ago, we did l, I can remember that we did it back in Kansas because we had material laying around. We had been a band for several years. We thought there might be some fun stuff to do for a Kansas record. It was in the dark ages as far as our career was concerned. In rock, it was not making any type of rebound, and why not? But it was not a what we would call a group effort where we all got together, worked on material, all were together recording it. Steve (Walsh) was working on a solo album at the time. He just mailed his parts in from his house. He wasn’t in the studio the whole time, but those came up and played a new song, and he’d come and do bass, leave. Robby (Steinhardt) was there for a while, so it was more of an assembly line, and it’s got some great stuff on it. I like the album, and it was a different pace than it had been done before. I think we actually took this album with all the members that are currently in it based on its been longer than that. Why in 16 years was it that one? Kerry (Livgren) and Steve are traditionally the main song writers, both lost interest in writing. They didn’t have any good ideas for something. Do you want to record it? No. The sore was always open. Do you have any material? No. I said this to Steve, when he was in the band, and he would tell you the same thing. He didn’t want to have anything to do with that. “I’m done with it.” He sold all his recording gear from home, was tired with it. In doing solo projects, I think he became very frustrated. They spent all their time and money into it, and nobody hears. Nobody gets that it’s good play outside of that group of talented bands. I think the problem is they are just bored, like what is the point? We go on the road, we play the same songs. We did that, and it was fun to do, but we’ve been treading water for a long time. Steve was also getting tired of being on the road. He wasn’t enjoying doing it. He was struggling with his voice. He didn’t really like the comderie anymore. He didn’t like a thing about it. That’s not really an environment for making a new record. When somebody on the team is just flat refusing, it’s impossible. Two years ago, Steve was into it, but now, he had just had enough. He said “I’m retiring.”
That was shocking of course, but change is always difficult. Change is always inevitable in everything in everyone’s life. Everything is in flux at all times and change happens naturally, but we have to deal with it. With that change, we said okay, what now? We had the tour completely booked with Ronnie Platt, and Robby on the keyboards. David Manian was our light man for the last quarter century. He worked with Steve Walsh and Billy Greer in their solo projects. He was the keyboard technician for them also. As always, he was a great keyboard player for them, and he played it for them. Steve said yes, you need to have a manager that plays keys. Now, we’ve got a working band, but what we’ve also got is a band that wants to be there, a band that wants to do this, that is hungry. That wants to play more, wants to play more material, not the same songs we’ve been playing for years. We’re just, this is all we are going to play. Now we’ve got a team that wants to play the song. Great, let’s do it. There was no more restrictions to anything, no more limit of dates, no more limit of going overseas, to anything.
All of the sudden, we’ve been released to completely do everything. Along with that, we’re getting a chance to be creative. The next logical step was to make a record. Okay, what’s this going to be? We had of course never made a record without Harry or Steve, so we had no idea how this was going to pan out. We sequestered ourselves away in Florida for a while, away from girlfriends, wives, children and all of that, and just started writing. We were going to see what was coming out. Zak Risvi, who is a guy we’ve worked with over the years, he was our check engineer, worked on many projects with us. We decided that we wanted him involved in co-producing the record with us. We didn’t want it behind the desk. We wanted him for his musical Insight, because he had a really good understanding of us because we’d been playing and working on projects for a long time. As we started working, the material really started coming along quickly. The more we did it, the better at it we got as we started realizing what a fantastic songwriter Zak was. In the perfect mold of what we do, he really had a grip on the Kansas style and understanding of it. Philip (Ehardt) and I just looked at each other and said this kid has got to be in the band. Zak is now a member of the band and we wrote the album. Now it is done. The goal of the album was, our goal was, the company’s goal, across the board; the target was to make a Kansas record, and that was everything from our artwork, our lyrics, lyrically, musically, everything about it was going to be the way we used to do it. The details to all those things to make this a Kansas record again. We’re done with it now and I think we’ve done it. I’ve heard from people who’ve heard it, they’re very surprised with this record.
I definitely thought hearing the album that this sounds like the band should sound and it does have all the real touchstones that Kansas is known for.
Rich: There’s a song called ‘The Voyage Of Eight Eighteen’, and for the most hardcore Kansas fan, this is going to be the favorite. It is very long piece. It’s the last thing we recorded because we were afraid to get started on it. It was quite an undertaking and it’s a prodigy of anything we’ve ever done. There’s great lyric in it. This song just takes you to all sorts of places. I’m really proud of it. I think it’s my favorite because it’s the most candid-ques song off the record. For Kansas fans of early Kansas, this is going to be the one that they will absolutely love. This album is what we’ve always tried to do. There is a lot of variety. There is a flat line on one broad approach. There’s all sorts of hints. There’s instrumental on it. There’s basically an acoustic approach to a song. There’s a lot of, for me and for us, we need to cover a lot of different feels on an album to make it complete, and we achieved that too.
Do you feel like a pressure to keep up with those hits from early on in your career or do you just write a record where your guys’ hearts are right now?
Rich: We have not really been relevant to radio since the ’80s, and so that’s just not a concern in any way. Guys- “gotta to have a hit.” You look at what is pop radio today, and then look at us, go how could we possibly shoehorn ourselves into that? Relevance in “pop radio” and is almost 30 years ago. That takes a lot of that pressure off. The record company, this was fantastic because every other record we’ve ever put out or worked with, the guys have been interested in the stuff here, but we’re not hearing any hits. “We’re not hearing what we’re hearing on the radio”. InsideOut was what they wanted from us, was the progressive side of Kansas. They weren’t looking for us to be hit makers, so they were extremely beyond supportive, but demanding. That is the side of us that we tap into. That made us just following our nature a lot easier to do. That was just not a concern. We were going to make a great Kansas record. The variety that comes in with that, not listening for that toe tap or catchy lyric because that’s never going to happen, have everybody whistling. The songs you mentioned, the song ‘Dust In The Wind’, those became hits, but they weren’t written to be hits. They were complete accidents. At the time those came out, those weren’t standard of the day flavored hits at the time, but they were a big deal. People always have something to say negative. You always find, “oh Kansas sold out”. We stumbled upon a great song, became popular and became a hit, but it wasn’t a formula of what’s going on today to catch on to the latest trend. ‘Dust In The Wind’ is even more of an example, what song was that on the radio? That was when we tapped into the Woody Guthrie era of folk songs. There was, the reason that song stood up from the rest was just because they were exceptionally written songs. Fortunately they’ve stood the test of time, and are just as popular today as they were then. They were accidents, and good ones. You never know, there might be one on this album.
The new album from Kansas, The Prelude Implicit comes out September 23rd.
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