Kansas Look to the Future: Exclusive Interview
When Kansas hit the road in the fall of 2016 for a series of shows featuring a full-album performance of their classic Leftoverture album, it was a carrot to get people in the door. But it also exposed them to music from The Prelude Implicit, the band’s first new album in 16 years.
More than a year later, the band continues to tour the Leftoverture show, which will wrap up before the end of the year. For those fans who can't make it out to see one of the concerts, there's a new double live album, Leftoverture Live & Beyond, that documents the tour. The set includes deep cuts, the Leftoverture album performance and material from the band’s latest LP. (The new album is available now on CD and digital; a vinyl box set version will be released in early January.)
“When we put this all together, the Leftoverture tour was really devised because we wanted to play the new album for Kansas fans,” guitarist Richard Williams tells Ultimate Classic Rock. “Well, how do we do that? How are we going to stack the house with hardcore Kansas fans? So we thought, 'Well, if we put together a 10- or 15-date [tour] in select cities, we’ll know that we will do well, and we’ll make it a 40th-anniversary tour for Leftoverture.' That will get our hardcore fan base in the building ... so they will be interested in hearing the new album, they will like to hear the deep cuts. That assures that we have Kansas fans in the audience instead of Mom and Pop eating corn dogs and funnel cakes, walking by and going, ‘Look honey, there’s a combo!’ We knew that we would have our crowd there.”
Williams says that gave them “the confidence to just go as deep into any album as we wanted to.” “The hardcore fans, they’ve been wanting to hear those things for a long time anyway. With the new lineup, there were no restrictions,” he says. “You know, ‘I don’t want to do that song. I don’t believe in that song anymore. I will never play that song again.’ The new lineup, anything that’s suggested, everybody says, ‘Sure, let’s do it. Why not?’”
Watch Kansas Perform 'All I Wanted'
As the tour has progressed, the set list evolved. And they’re still adding songs to it, like “All I Wanted,” the band’s 1986 Top 40 hit from the Power album. “Ronnie [Platt]’s a singer, and Ronnie will sing them all. He’s always just going, ‘You know, I’d like to do this song, let’s do that song,’" notes Williams. "So we started just kind of messing with it in the dressing room and he just sang the crap out of it. We’ve [also] been doing “The Coming Dawn” [from 2000's Somewhere to Elsewhere] in the acoustic set. We’d done that and it’s a beautiful song, but it’s a bit of a dirge, and opening with it, we just thought, “Okay, we’ve done that now, let’s change that up too.” So we thought, “Let’s try that acoustically.” It worked extremely well.”
Williams says that adding violin to “All I Wanted” helped to bring it closer to the vibe of what some fans expect from Kansas. “It was done in the Steve Morse era and there’s no violin at that time," he explains. "We kind of turned it back into an earlier Kansas sound with the violin and stuff. I was very surprised at how well it’s being received and how good it sounds. Again, this band is very willing to experiment with anything. There’s no bad idea. Sure, let’s give it a try. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Everybody is all ears and willing to try it. That’s very much like being in this band originally was. It was just a team with all pistons firing that was eager to try whatever.”
Carrying the band's success into the ‘80s brought an interesting period of adjustment, Williams explains. “At the time, every album was progressing and progressing and progressing -- more popular and more sales," he says. "Then we took a break in writing and we had the live album, Two for the Show [from 1978]. That did really well. You get used to climbing the ladder. It seems like the next logical step is the next album, and it’s going to be bigger than the last one and then bigger than the last one. Then the times changed a bit and the band changed a lot.
"We signed a terrible record deal with [Don] Kirshner. It was our only option. But he was very upfront with us from the beginning: “Guys, I’m a publicist. That’s what I do and in this record deal, I will own your publishing. Period. And if you’re not interested, find somebody else.” We were dumb. “Oh, don’t worry about publishing. That’s just like sheet music and stuff.” We had no idea that was a third of the pie. We got basically 25 cents an album.”
That deal put the group on a steep hill from the very beginning -- especially since some members were left in a better position. “We had to pay back our entire debt," Williams says. "All of the recording costs, all of those plane flights and trucks and hotels, and everything that we had for the previous three or four years. We had to pay all of that back. The songwriters, though, they get paid from record sale one. So the songwriters were suddenly seeing big checks. The band was only seeing money from being on the road. So by the ‘80s, suddenly people are buying boats and airplanes, building houses. But the rest of the band hadn’t really seen any money yet other than from the road. We weren’t all that savvy as far as dealing with promoters and stuff. We’d play Kansas City at the baseball stadium, sold out and we had all of these expenses and stuff. So we didn’t go into the percentages -- we didn’t have anybody in the box office. We got screwed. We didn’t know better.”
As the ‘70s rolled into the ‘80s, Williams says that “instead of being this pirate ship out on the open sea, all for one, one for all, kicking ass and taking names,” differences began to develop among the band. “People were getting married and buying things," he recalls. "It was a different hunger now. People were getting comfortable, starting families and all of that. I’m not complaining about it. That’s life and things change. It’s not that it’s a bad thing in any way, but it does change the dynamic within the organization. We were becoming different. Individually, different people and as a band, those mutations were changing what we were. So by the ‘80s, it wasn’t as cohesive of a singular drive as we once had. People’s motivations for doing it and philosophies were changing as we were individually growing. All of those things really started to change everything about us.”
Listen to a 2017 Live Version of Kansas' 'Carry on Wayward Son'
Radio was changing too. Kansas found themselves now burdened with a new tag: “dinosaur rock band.” “It’s like, wow, I’m 30 years old and I’m suddenly an ancient dinosaur,” Williams laughs. “It’s funny, the perspective is always unique to yourself and where you are in your life and your own age. In 1969, me and Phil and [bassist] Dave [Hope] were playing in a band in the French Quarter. The Warehouse had just opened up and we were actually the first band on that stage, because they needed a band to come in and help them test out the PA system and stuff, because the Grateful Dead was coming in to open up the Warehouse. The next day, we’d gone to the show and I think they played two nights there. We went back to the band house and we’re sitting there and all of the sudden, here comes this girl that lived in the band house with us. She comes walking in the band house with Jerry Garcia. My God, this is so cool. He’s like the grandfather of rock 'n' roll.”
They sat and listened to Garcia tell stories -- this “wise old man.” “He was probably 26,” Williams recalls. “We were 19, and he was a dinosaur to me! Opening for the Kinks, one of our first tours, I can remember thinking, 'God, these guys are still around, really?' I was 24 and they were probably, maybe 30. 'Wow, I can’t believe these guys can still get it up!' The perspective of that is so weird. It depends on which side of the hourglass you’re on."
Rejuvenated with new blood (in addition to Platt, guitarist Zac Rizvi and keyboardist David Manion are newcomers), Kansas plan to keep building on the momentum they’ve generated since the last album and the heavy road work they’ve put in since 2014, when Platt came on board as the group’s singer. First up is some recording at the start of the year. After that they have another album celebrating 40 years: Point of Know Return. And then another tour playing that record in its entirety.
Williams says Kansas are ready for the next stage. They've already cleared their biggest hurdle -- making a new album after so many years away from the studio. “We didn’t know what that was going to be," he says. "We were scared s---less. Can we do this? We’ve never done this before without Steve [Walsh] or Kerry [Livgren], and for 17 years, [they] refused to ever do it again. So have we got the right stuff to make a record without their input and still make a Kansas record? Well, we can! So now, we go into this album with confidence. The one thing that we do know is that we can do it. We just don’t know what it’s going to be yet. And that’s excitement in itself.”