Kansas | School of Rock

 Kansas is now on tour in support of their recently released DVD, There’s Know Place Like Home, and they will be at the St. Charles Family Arena on Saturday, October 9th.


Kansas may be best known for their iconic hits such as “Carry on Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind,” but those who have listened further have been rewarded with a rich tapestry of imaginative and inspiring music. The band has a full, heavy rock sound and uplifting lyrics, and they blend a variety of subtle musical influences into complex, epic arrangements that have helped to define progressive rock. Kansas is now on tour in support of their recently released DVD, There’s Know Place Like Home, and they will be at the St. Charles Family Arena on Saturday, October 9th. This will be an amazing chance to hear one of the truly great American rock bands of our time. In the week leading up to the show, I got the chance to sit down and talk with drummer Phil Ehart.
How did you guys come up with the concept of using a collegiate symphony orchestra in the current tour and new DVD?
Well, it came from us playing with a college orchestra, the Washburn University Orchestra, in Topeka. We went there to do our 35th anniversary DVD, and so we used their orchestra and played for the DVD and it was just great. Then we started thinking, “My gosh, why can’t we play with other schools? Why just this one?” So we started checking with other schools. We thought, let’s do it as a fundraiser. Let’s come in and help them raise money for their programs. So it had a philanthropic angle to it also. That’s how it was born, and we just picked out six schools—Truman University being the last one… And they’ve just been huge successes. The schools have much appreciated the opportunities to help their music programs. It’s been great for us, it’s been great for the schools and it’s been great for the students. It’s been a really cool thing. 
I would imagine that it is a great learning experience for the students from a musical standpoint, too.
Oh, big time! That’s the one thing that the music directors at each school were saying—that this is an opportunity that most of these students are never going to have [again]. They’re just never going to have the opportunity to play with someone like Kansas…It helps broaden them as musicians. It’s just been outstanding.
At the same time, it contributes in a charitable way to the schools?
Yes. When we leave, they are left with money from D’addario Strings, which is the presenting sponsor. Also, from Kansas’s merchandise, we make a contribution there. The record company makes a contribution from the sales of CDs and DVDs. And sometimes there are even local sponsors that will step in and write a check to help the schools. When we leave, it’s been a win/win all the way around.
Do you feel that there has been a recent increase in knowledge of Kansas among the college age group?
Oh yeah. When you ask them where they’ve heard of Kansas, they say Will Ferrell movies, Adam Sandler movies, Guitar Hero, Rock Band, commercials. Also, we were on “South Park.” We’re kind of part of the culture now, and that’s where a lot of the students are learning about us.
Has that changed how you look at the longevity of the band and the music?
Well, we’re in our 36th year already, so the longevity is already starting to kick in, but it’s not something you really think about. We’re just really glad everybody seems to still like [our music]. And it still gets played on classic rock radio every day, all over the country.
In preparing to work with the college orchestras, music had to be written and coordinated. How did that process work?
In working with the colleges, we had to get scores written, and Larry Baird was our conductor. We’ve had scores written, of course, for the city orchestras that we’ve played with for a number of years. So we had those scores, and then he actually did some new ones for some different material. He’s our conductor, but he also writes the charts…The students get the scores about a month ahead of time and they rehearse and practice with them, and then we have a three hour rehearsal on the day of the show. The band comes in for about the last thirty minutes of that rehearsal, and we play with the students and meet them and say hi and everything. Then a couple of hours later we do the show.
Has working with the orchestras changed your approach to the gear and the setup of the tour?
A little bit. Playing with the orchestra really affects how you play, rather than [changing] your equipment or gear or anything. You have to take a different approach, because instead of playing with five guys, you’re playing with 55 people. So you have to be a little more cognizant of your—at least as a drummer—of your tempos and how you end songs. You have to be a little more dramatic, because you have everybody ending with you. So yeah, you make some mental changes and also some creative changes to make it all work.
In a lot of Kansas’s songs the drum is integral to the arrangement and timing. Is that part of a collective creative process?
Oh, definitely, the arrangements are what it’s all about. That’s what really takes the longest, putting the song all together so it makes sense.
Does that still take a lot of rehearsal?
Sure, the rehearsal time is important. You go in before you record… and get everything worked out so when you go in [to record a song], you kind of know what you’re doing. That always helps.
Has the record company changed the way it markets and supports the band over the years?
Well it has, that’s a good question. A lot more stuff is on YouTube, a lot more stuff is sent out to the social [networking] sites, a lot more is done through the Internet than it ever has been before. The fans can see sample clips, they can hear sample bits of songs. They can really get a feel for what we’ve done with the orchestra on that DVD before they ever even purchase it. So yeah, the marketing has definitely changed. Very few people use magazines anymore.
Does that help draw interest to your live events, too?
Oh, heck yeah. [Fans] see a small little snippet of what you’re doing, and you’re going to be down the road at their concert hall, and then they’re more likely to come see you. We still go out and do 80-90 shows a year.
What do you do when you are away from the drums?
Well, I’m also the manger of the band, so that take up a lot of my time—putting all these things together. That’s what I enjoy doing. And of course family comes first. It does with all of us. But managing the band definitely fills in some of the holes when it comes to time off. | Derek Lauer
Kansas will be performing live at the St. Charles Family Arena in St. Charles, MO on Saturday, October 9, 2010. Tickets are $20-$50 and can be purchased online at www.familyarena.com, by phone at (636) 896-4200 or through MetroTix.

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