“We’re just blue-collar working musicians who like to do what we do.”
Ask yourself this question: Are there any songs whose popularity, it is conceivable, may continue on beyond the life of the artist? In answer to this, Kansas’s “Carry on Wayward Son” comes instantly to mind; I know it’s one song that will always stick with me. You can imagine, then, how I jumped at the chance to talk with Kansas guitarist Richard Williams.
Looks like you have the Leftoverture tour lined up with over 90 cities across America, and some dates overseas, as well.
I’m very excited about the tour. That’s going to be fun; we’ve never played the whole album before all in order.
The new album is called The Prelude Implicit. Can you tell me a little bit about the creative process and making new album, and how that compares to the creation of Leftoverture?
A lot of songs start out with an interesting riff or an interesting concept, then those parts are worked on and edited and changed and rearranged. It’s a process: Let’s try this, and let’s try that until it lands somewhere. During Leftoverture, we were in the process of working up the new record, selecting songs; a new song would come in and we would go through that same process: part we would do live, rearrange things, taking a passage in saying, “Instead of this way, let’s try it that way,” as a group effort.
Kerry Livgren was on an incredible writing streak at that time, and almost daily he was coming in with another song. We would be working on this one song one moment, and then Kerry would say, “Well, I’ve got this other song; it’s called “The Wall,” and then I would say, “You wrote that last night?!” He was on an incredible, unprecedented hot streak. “Carry on Wayward Son” came out of that. At the end of the recording process, we were packing things up. The next day Kerry says, “Hey, I’ve got one more song to throw into the pile”—and that was “Wayward Son.” Actually, the version of the record is probably the first time that we actually played it correctly.
Did the lyrics come later in the process?
Kerry came in basically with the riff and the lyrics, and the chord structure behind the verses, and then we as a group assembled it. And in part of that process we said, let’s take that a cappella apart and move it to the front of the song. Songs don’t generally come in complete from front to back with, “Here’s the concept and learn your parts things”; they always have to be run through the Kansas meat grinder.
Has Kansas always enjoyed a creative freedom away from the influence of the record companies?
That’s a yes and a no. They would always say, “Guys, this so great, but we’re not really hearing anything we can put on the radio.” They were always striving for a hit, but they weren’t forcing us throw away any material. When Don Kirschner first heard our demo tape, he heard something in us, something that really worked with these guys, and he pretty much left us alone to create, and provided tour support. He just stayed with us and figured sooner or later something would turn out, and he was right. They weren’t dealing with us in a heavy-handed sort of way, as much as trying to give us gentle nudges in the right direction: “You know if there were a song we could put on the radio, it would be nice.” They didn’t want every song to be like that, but they wanted something off of each album that they could promote that way, and I understand it; they’re in the business to do it.
On the other hand, with the new label Inside Out Music, I’ve never been with a company that wants us so much to just be what we are, completely. They’re not looking for the pop hit single. That’s not what they do, they do want us to be ourselves and that is very refreshing. The new album was done as a team, with everyone firing on all cylinders, and attacking the material. We sequestered ourselves away at a nice hotel down in Destin, Florida, and set up in one of the conference rooms and worked on material. We recorded those sessions to catalog it, and that was pretty much what got the process really kicked off. Once we got started on the new project, we just knew the group dynamics were going to be great.
A couple years back, you toured with high school and college symphonic students performing on stage, with the band playing full orchestral scores of the music. This was when I became aware the real charitable nature of the band. What are some of your current charities that you support or are involved with?
We are always involved in autism research and a portion of all of the merchandise sales go toward that. We are also auctioning off a custom Paul Reed Smith Leftoverture guitar, and all of the money from that goes to the charity.
Tell me about the new album.
We were aiming at being Kansas, Kansas, Kansas in every respect of it, and we really did nail it. Even the artwork is incredible; it goes back to the era of our creative covers and all of that. We’re lucky: We’re still standing, and we’re still around. All of this at the end of the day is to ensure interest in the group so that we can continue touring, being able to play this new material and please a crowd, and certainly not about making money. We’re just blue-collar working musicians who like to do what we do. | Derek Lauer
Kansas kicks off its tour in St. Louis at the Peabody Opera House on October 21; additional tour dates are below.
10.21 | Peabody Opera House, St. Louis
10.22 | Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Kansas City
10.27 | Murat Theatre, Indianapolis
10.28 | Sound Board @ MotorCity Casino Hotel, Detroit
10.30 | Taft Theatre, Cincinnati
11.01 | Goodyear Theater, Akron
11.03 | Pabst Theater, Milwaukee
11.04 | Copernicus Center, Chicago
11.06 | The Kalamazoo State Theatre, Kalamazoo
11.11 | Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater FL
11.12 | Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Ft. Lauderdale
11.18 | Zeiterion Performing Arts Center, New Bedford MA
11.19 | The Paramount, Huntington NY
11.25 | Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric, Baltimore
11.26 | Berklee Performance Center, Boston
12.01 | The Peabody, Daytona Beach FL
12.03 | Crown Theatre, Fayetteville NC