Features

Kansas Carries On: A Conversation With Phil Ehart

by Mark Kadzielawa

Kansas is one of America's longest-running progressive rock bands. They're also considered a classic rock band, as their 1970s hits ("Carry On Wayward Son," "Dust in the Wind," "Point of Know Return") "are often played on radio stations specializing in that format. Whatever you wanna call them, one thing is true: they're an outstanding band and very original in what they do. That continues today -- Kansas does not give an impression of a band that strictly relies on their greatest hits catalogue. They're still releasing new albums, playing many concerts, and staying active creatively. Their newer material may not get the recognition or airplay it deserves, but is just as strong as Kansas' '70's output.

Recently the band completed its first DVD release, titled Device Voice Drum. The performance is top notch, showing the band very well rehearsed, and enjoying itself on stage. The real breakthrough comes through filming. Kansas is a band with many tempo changes, and spectacular fillers added by each of the members. The camera eye was able to pick each person who is in the spotlight for that particular time. So this is the perfect Kansas live document.

Kansas drummer Phil Ehart shared his excitement with The Daily Vault about the new DVD, the live album, and future plans for the band.

 

Mark Kadzielawa: First of all, let me congratulate you on the new live album, and DVD. I've never seen the filming be as accurate as on this particular set. Did you get those camera guys prepared?

Phil Ehart: That goes out to Mickey Turpin, the director, of the whole project. Him and Steve Shepherd, the director of photography, came out and spent a week with us on the road, before we even did the filming. Plus, we had six cameras, and with this many cameras you can get everybody covered. Both directors were also Kansas fans, so they knew the music, came out on the road, did their homework. We were very happy with that.

MK: I was very taken by the performance itself, but then I had a chance to see the band about a month ago, and the show was equally as good, so this is a norm for you, isn't it?

PE: Well, thanks. We try. Sometimes we're on, and some nights we're not quite as on. We felt we captured a great show on the DVD.

MK: What I enjoy about Kansas' concerts is the fact that you don't play with an overbearing amount of volume. Everything is always audible, and you certainly are able to pull everything off live without relaying on loudness.

PE: No, we don't. We don't have a lot of amplification, and we have to be able to hear each other when we're on stage. It helps to keep the volume down.

MK: I've always considered that a plus for a band like Kansas.

PE: I think so, too. Plus, it allows you to build up to a crescendo at the end. We come on kind of strong, and then we dip down a bit in the middle, and then we finish strong with 'Wayward." If you're loud throughout your whole show, you have no place to go at the end. We try to use our head in that respect.

 

kansas_promo_504

Kansas 2002:
Billy Greer, Steve Walsh, Robby Steinhardt, Richard Williams, Phil Ehart

 

MK: After watching the interview sections on the DVD I got the impression this was big deal for the band. I was bit surprised because you did two official videos in the past. What made this so special?

PE: That's a good question. It kinda turned into that. It didn't start out to be such a big deal, but we kept adding and adding things, and it turned into big deal. Plus, we hadn't really done any videos of the band for over ten years. It's just been a long time since we've done anything like this. And we just don't know if we ever gonna have a chance to do anything like this again, so we pulled everything we had into the project. It was gonna be this regular performance piece, but it really turned into a movie. We added the choir, and the string quartet, and the animation. These were the things that we didn't really have to do. We could've done it without it. But, we just kept on expanding, and the more we got into it the bigger deal in turned into. It just snowballed.

MK: Do you think this live document sums up what the band had become in
the '90s?

PE: Well, I don't know. I haven't really thought of it as such. We just look at it as a live performance.

MK: In my eyes it looks that way. I've seen the band several times in the '90s, and the performances were always getting better and better. Also, you did the orchestra project, and that's reflected on the DVD as well, so these are the points I go by.

PE: Yeah, it could, sure. I think to look at it better I think it's a bookend to the band for the last thirty years. I think it's more of an end of the last thirty years vs. just the 90s. The majority of the music comes from the 70s. We have "The Preacher" which was a big song off In The Spirit of Things with Steve Morse, so it's a combination of all three decades. To me it's a period at the end of that sentence, so I think you're right.

MK: The next question comes in two parts. How come you didn't bring Kerry Livgren into this performance? When you see Kansas live, you see the members that appear on DVD; did you want to keep it that way?

PE: Kerry hasn't been in a band for almost 20 years now. He left in 1983. So, this is one thing which people are not aware of. We knew that VH-1 would be playing the concert in its entirety on their cable channel. They played it three times already. What happens is, if lots of people see Kerry in this they're gonna think he's in the band. Kerry doesn't want that confusion, nor do we. When we did Live At The Whiskey we introduced Kerry as a special guest. Afterwards we had the promoters and fans asking if Kerry will be involved in tours, and so on. He's not in the band, he doesn't want to be in the band. He's really represented by all his songs we performed, so he really is there, in spirit. We just didn't want to confuse people. We just wanted to show the band that's on the road now.

MK: Are you still involved with Magna Carta Records? I noticed that the live album and DVD was released through another label.

PE: We owe Magna Carta another record. This is a separate deal, just for the video.

MK: Going back to your last record Somewhere To Elsewhere, were you disappointed that it didn't sell as much as you expected, or didn't get enough airplay?

PE: Sure, I was. We don't have really high expectations for sales these days because there just doesn't seem to be there, the fans out there to buy. It's not that we don't hope that it sells well. The last ten products that we put out sold just ok. Be it Sony, Magna Carta, or Compedia acting as a label. There just seems to be certain amount of people that are gonna buy Kansas records, and that's ok. It doesn't matter who the label is, and it doesn't matter how much we tour. The albums just seem to sell a certain amount, and that's about it. It's something we live with, and we do fine. The radio airplay just isn't there. When we do something new like Somewhere To Elsewhere, nobody's gonna play that on the radio. It's kind of hard to get that large audience to even hear that we have something out, unless they come to our concerts. That's our best advertisement, really. Back in the day when we sold lots of records we had lots of airplay.

MK: Do you have any plans for the next studio album?

PE: We owe Magna Carta another record, so sometime in 2004, there'll be new Kansas record. I know that Kerry and Steve are working on things individually, but we didn't do anything as band yet.

MK: Is there a possibility of rekindling the Somewhere To Elsewhere experience where everyone was brought back into the studio?

PE: Good question, we're not sure exactly what's it's going to be. I know that Kerry is going to contribute song, and so will Steve. Kerry will probably end up playing on it, I'm not sure about Dave (Hope) our old bass player. It will probably be a lot more about the current band, but we'll see. As of now we're trying to promote the DVD, and will be doing that for another year or so.

MK: It seems like your '90s recording output is hard to come across these days, will those records be re-released in the future?

PE: They're kind of in and out of print. They're talking about releasing a compilation of those albums. Putting the best songs on one disc. I think the symphony album, Always Never The Same is out of print. I'm not sure about the others. I know that company who own those records had some bankruptcy problems, and now out of those problems. Our earlier albums are sort of hard to find.

MK: I really enjoyed the re-mastering and packaging project you did on Leftoverture, Masque, and Point Of Know Return. Is there are chance that other albums will undergo the same process?

PE: Yeah, the last time we were working on The Ultimate Kansas compilation we re-mastered Song For America. So, that will be the next one that will come out. It will be released sometime next year.

MK: The same goes for the MCA albums.

PE: Yeah, those need to be put back in print as well. It's real tough to figure out that company. We had fun making those records, but they own that product. We don't really have any control over what they do. Who knows what they want to do with that.

MK: Those discs are very hard find. A DVD with some old footage and clips would be a great ideas as well, don't you think?

PE: Well, we don't own those. I get requests all the time, for something like that. People think we own these tapes, but we don't. The companies that paid for these clips and performances own it.

 

Many thanks to Phil Ehart for speaking with The Daily Vault.



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