Phil Ehart on Kansas’ Resurgence: ‘We’re Going to Try to Stay on That Roll’
In part one of our interview with Kansas drummer Phil Ehart, he talked about Anthrax‘s cover of “Carry On Wayward Son.” Now, he tells us about what comes next for his group, which involves looking forward with a new album and looking backward by continuing to perform their best-known albums in full.
The band hit the road last fall in honor of the 40th anniversary of Leftoverture for what they thought might be a short run of dates. Once they got out on the road, they found the reception to the shows was overwhelmingly positive. Additional shows were added for the early part of this year — and the tour continues to expand with dates on tap through the end of the year. It ended up being a good musical carrot to help get the word out about their latest album, The Prelude Implicit.
“Well, it was just a darn good idea,” he says. “That’s the main thing. It’s like, why did we not do this earlier? But we kind of had to wait for the 40th anniversary. But you know, I’ll tell you this. It kind of ties in well with the release of the new album. As you can expect with a new album, people are not overly receptive to that anymore [at concerts]. You announce, ‘We have a new album out’ and people kind of moan. So it’s the kind of thing that, well, we’ll do Leftoverture and when they come to hear that in its entirety, we’ll play some of our new album. It’s worked well for us in that regard.”
Ehart admits that when it came to tackling the album itself, it was a bit challenging as they dug into preparing to play it live.
“It’s a very famous album and we wanted to do the songs justice,” he continues. “Some of them are kind of hard to pull off, but we think we’re nailing all of them. ‘Questions of My Childhood,’ it was never even performed live. … So we’re playing that song almost like a new song now, 40 years later. It’s been real exciting. It really has. It’s not like we’ve played all of Leftoverture for the last 40 years. In fact, most of us, we had to go back and listen to the album, because we couldn’t even remember the songs! Because some of them, we haven’t played in a very, very long time. So we kind of had to relearn some stuff and it made us kind of appreciate the songs. And you know, really, how much is anybody up on something they did 40 years ago? Just about anybody, no matter what, you’re going to just have to go back and revisit it and listen to it. And then we had to capture it. We had to capture what that sound was like on that album. It just didn’t come, like, let’s sit down and play Leftoverture, it took a lot of work to get it to sound like the album. It seems to be going over very well. People are coming to see it and we’re having a blast doing it. It’s a major undertaking. Because that album has an awful lot of notes on it. But that’s okay — we’re up to the task!”
The Leftoverture shows have been a test of endurance for the group as well — they’re playing two and a half hours, with an acoustic opening section, followed by an electric set, the full album and then an encore.
“[There were] lots of push-ups for me,” he laughs. “Just the physicality of playing for two and a half hours really required a lot of extra working out and just getting in shape where I could sit and play drums for two and a half hours. Well, for me, it’s about two hours, because of some of the acoustic stuff we do. But yeah, that was the main thing. And then just setting up the concert in such a way that it had a flow to it. We have some dramatic things that we’ve added that we didn’t have. We brought in our lighting system, a dedicated lighting system that we carry with us in our semi and stuff. It’s the kind of thing that we didn’t have that before, so we really built a show that we haven’t done in close to 20 years. The demand is there and it’s really a pleasure to go into the theaters and be a hard ticket act and people are paying money to come and see it and you want to give them the best show that you can. That took a lot of work on our part to get back in shape and to do it and to be able to pull it off. It’s been great.”
Their current encore of “Point of Know Return” offers a bit of foreshadowing as to what fans can look forward to in 2018 when the group will hit the road in the fall for a series of shows featuring the Point of Know Return album, which turns 40 this year.
“I don’t know if it’s going to be harder, but it will be equally as hard, because we want to do such a great job,” he says.” I think if we didn’t have such an intense work ethic, it would be easier to just kind of do it, you know, “Oh, that’s close enough.” But we’re not a cover band of our own material, I mean, that’s our material — so it’s the kind of thing that we worked hard when we wrote it. We worked hard when we made the original albums and we worked hard as we played those songs over the years. So we want to deliver the same amount of intensity and [do] the best job that we can do. When people are paying money to come see you, you owe them the best that you can do. So it will require a lot more push-ups. [laughs]”
If everything goes according to schedule, they’ll also have another new album. They’ve got January and February marked off on the calendar to record — which means that fans won’t have to wait another 16 years to hear the next album from Kansas.
“[We just want] to keep going,” he continues. “I think that’s the easiest thing to do when you get this far into a career. When you’re talking 44-45 years, it’s kind of easy to just rest on your laurels and say, ‘Well, we’ll just go out and play the hits and take the paycheck,’” he says. “You know, if that’s what you want to do…and in fact, we’ve done that before, because we didn’t do a new album for 16 years. So we really didn’t have much choice except to go out and play the hits and go home. Well, things have changed now. We’ve got a whole band that wants to do new material. We haven’t had that in a long time. So doing it, but also doing it well enough where the fans really embrace the new album. I mean, they really liked it, which was great, because we really liked it too, so it worked out great. So we’re going to try to stay on that roll and set the bar high and see if we can reach it.”
Ehart and the members of Kansas are grateful for the unexpected wave of success they’ve enjoyed over the past few years since retooling the band lineup — which included the arrival of new vocalist Ronnie Platt who stepped in when longtime vocalist Steve Walsh departed from the group.
“It’s pretty incredible to have a resurgence this late in one’s career,” he says. “You know, usually you have your heyday, you ride that for a long time and you never really expect another one to come along, but it’s really been something.”
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