HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: September 2016. We had the honour to talk with a great musician: Richard Williams. He is best known as a founding member and guitarist of Kansas. They just released an amazing new studio album after 16 years, called “The Prelude Implicit” (Inside Out). Read below the very interesting things he told us:
“The Prelude Implicit” is the first studio album of Kansas after 16 years. What did you have in your mind before entering the studio?
It’s very important that this was a good record. It’s very important that you mean something. We didn’t make an album just to have another album after 16 years. It’s enormous important that this was a very strong and interesting album. Otherwise, there would be really no point in doing another album. Our goal –that the record company wanted and we wanted- was to make the best quintessential Kansas album that we can possibly make. From the album cover artwork, the lyrics, the music, the variety of all these things. All these remembering what our legacy is, what our history is and honouring that, plus writing this music. We didn’t want to recreate things. That was our goal. If it wasn’t heartfelt, it wouldn’t be very serious.
Are you satisfied with the response you got so far from fans and press for “The Prelude Implicit” album?
Everything I’ve read so far, I’ve read 30 reviews and everyone is absolutely positive. They got it, they said it is new music very much reminiscent of the early years of Kansas. That’s what we wanted. That was the heart of our aim.
I think “The Voyage of Eight Eighteen” is an amazing progressive rock composition. Can you tell us a few words about this song?
Yeah, it’s my favourite. It’s very good form. There are harder songs that I have played but this is the best of them. It’s very hard for everyone. It’s not hard the way you play it, but there are many passages. There are different tunes that sort of come in and out, with different time signatures. It needs your concentration. If you make a mistake, you are lost (laughs). In the last few days, I started to play it automatically. I became very comfortable playing it. It’s by far the most interesting song that I have ever played. It would be in any of the first four Kansas albums and it would a highlight in one of those records.
You stated that it was the first time you didn’t feel pressure to make a hit song from your recording label. Was this a liberating aspect?
It’s normal for record companies to ask for a hit song. They say: “Write a hit song”. Kansas had never been a hit machine. We had some songs that stuck in the radio, but we never wrote radio-friendly songs, because it has never been what we are in. As far as the radio, this has nothing to do with Kansas. In the ’70s, we had some of our songs on the radio, but we never did it halfheartedly. We wanted the best for our band. We have a record company, Inside Out, which actually wants us to be ourselves. This is very impressive. They were demanding from us to make some really progressive songs and they didn’t worry about writing a hit song. I’ve never heard that until the new record. It was nice. We went into the studio to create a great Kansas album, not worrying about what a disc jockey would expect from us to do. We were concentrated on making the best possible Kansas record, we were concentrated on writing songs. That was what we wanted to make and Inside Out was just the perfect thing.
Do you think “Summer” is the hit of the album?
I guess it is (laughs). Everybody says a different one. As “Rhythm in the Spirit”. It’s a great receptive song. It’s a very Kansas song. You can say instantly a lot of songs. It depends on what they like. A lot of people like the rockier side, other people like the softer side, other people like multilayered tunes. There is something different for everyone. We always tried to make a record that has different moods, different tempos, different chord structures, different feels, as we did in the new record. If every song that we make, repeats those things, it would be boring and it would lack the variety that we have.
Zak Rizvi started working on “The Prelude Implicit” as an outside songwriter and producer and later he joined the band as a full time guitarist. How important was his role in the album?
At first, he worked as engineer for 15-20 years. He was (ed: longtime Kansas producer) Jeff Glixman’s engineer and we knew him for a long time. When we started that record, we wanted someone to bring an outside influence. When we started working on the songs, we saw that he had so much to offer in songwriting. He has so much musical knowledge and he was so creative as we were working together on songwriting, that Phil (ed: Ehart –drums) and I, we realised that if we want to continue and keep recording and make more records, that involves him not to work just on this record and then we say goodbye. We were in the studio recording when we invited Zak to be a member of the band. He is a great songwriter, besides he’s a brilliant producer. He wrote most of the music of the album. All of us were involved in the songwriting process. He was kind of the missing piece with the absence of Kerry Livgren (guitar) and Steve Walsh (vocals, keyboards), who they don’t want to ever write again for Kansas. That was the perfect fit. Having him as a second guitarist is great too, because there are a lot of our old songs where Kerry and I, we are both playing together. That’s another bonus. If Zak played the piccolo, he would have to be in the band, because of his beautiful mind and his songwriting ability. He’s a genius in songwriting, that’s why we needed him. Even if he played the horn whistle (laughs)!
What fans should expect from the upcoming “Leftoverture 40th Anniversary Tour”?
It will be a long night. We will play all of the “Leftoverture” in its entirety, in the sequence of the record, plus we will play half of new album. Then, we have a lot of other songs to play. We still have to play songs from “Point of Know Return”, or a couple of songs from the first album that we have to play for 40 years. It will be a long night. Just the music, is 2 hours and 15 minutes without any time between songs, without speaking. There will be a wonderful night.
Are you looking forward to doing the Cruise to the Edge in February 2017 with Yes, Steve Hackett, John Wetton and others?
Yeah, there will be a lot of fun. This will be our first time on Cruise to the Edge. We did a classic rock cruise some years ago. It was fun, but I think we fit better in this cruise. In the last cruise, there were a lot of American rock bands. Although it was good, the genre is much better on the Cruise the Edge.
Kansas remain an amazing live act. What is the secret?
Of course, we have a couple of songs that everybody knows like “Carry on Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind”. Those songs really became part of American rock ’n’ roll music and enabled us to continue our career. I want to continue playing with Kansas. I never wanted to make a solo record. I never wanted to have a different career. I love what I do, as I never had any desire to do anything else. So, basically Phil and I, we want to keep the band moving forward as long as we can. As far as the last 43 years, it’s been a long time. Over the last 43 years this is what I do, day by day.
Did you expect the commercial success of the “Leftoverture” album in 1976?
We knew that we had made a fairly good record. There is a possibility in this business. Until then we were an opening act and the success of the “Leftoverture” enabled us to make a headlining tour. Of course, we didn’t have the whole idea that it would be so successful, but we knew that it was the best record that we had ever made.
Is it a bit strange that the Martin D-28 guitar you used for the recording of “Dust In the Wind” is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but Kansas as a band are not?
They have my guitar there for about 8 years now. My name wasn’t originally on. It said: “Kansas guitar”, so it took me two years to find someone to put my name on this, which says “Richard Williams”. My guitar is there, but Kansas are not. There are a lot of great bands that are not and never will be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nobody that I know, really care about the Hall of Fame. I don’t get it. It doesn’t affect what I do. I would be honoured if we will be inducted, but it will not change the things that I do. The importance of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for me personally, will be that my grandchildren will say that Richard Williams is their grandfather. I am still standing, I am still working, I am still busy, more than I have ever been. We did a great record. I don’t feel that I am not lucky that I am not in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If I will be, it will be appreciated. I think for the Kansas fans, if we will be part of it, it will be a great honour for them.
Do you have happy memories of the “Sheer Heart Attack” (1974-5) tour with Queen?
Oh yeah, that was great! We both were relatively new bands. It was their first US headlining tour. They were not very famous then. Both bands were new. We got on very well with them, we had deep respect for each other and we had a lot of things in common, although our music was different. We had a lot of camaraderie plus this relationship lasted forever. We had Brian May in our documentary (ed: “Miracles Out of Nowhere”) and he was very kind on what he said.
How helpful was it for you to be in a band with a great songwriter like Kerry Livgren (guitars)?
Kerry is my favourite songwriter of all time. He had the ability to write songs. Kerry was absolutely brilliant on songwriting. Every day he was walking in with a new song. After rehearsal he would go home, he was writing a song and he would come back with a new song. I mean, this is great. We were working on a song, and the next day he would come in with a new song. We said: “Wow, this is the new Kerry song”.
How did you feel when you played at the Madison Square Garden on 28 June 1978? Please tell us the Jeff Glixman (Kansas, Gary Moore producer) story.
We were very busy at the time. The first time we played at the Madison Square Garden, we said “Wow!” Our manager hired a limo and he was so excited: “Oh Madison Square Garden! You guys have a big success!” For us, it was just another day at the office. We were playing shows every day and Madison Square Garden was just another day. All of us were watching boxing on television live from Madison Square Garden. We didn’t realise the importance of that at the time, as much as we do today. Of course it was important that we sold out the Madison Square Garden, that we had a great dinner and all of that. As we were arriving at the Garden, Jeff Glixman saw T-shirt bootleggers who were selling Kansas T-shirts. Jeff got out of the car and told a bootlegger: “Hey you kid, you steal money from Kansas!” and that guy pointed a pistol at his face! Jeff said: “Oh, ok!” This is what I remember from that show.
How did you come up with the idea to make the “Miracles Out of Nowhere” documentary?
Phil and I, we wanted to make a kind of book, to discuss our story. But then we said, maybe it won’t be a written book, maybe it will be an audio book. Then we said that it would be better to have everyone to tell the story. Our ex manager, Budd Carr, who was working with us for years, had the idea that we should all get together to tell the story and to film this for a documentary. At the time, Phil and I, we thought that we need to come here, in Topeka, because every time I go round and round to the next quarter, it reminds me of another story. To get all of us here, to the place that we started, it would be more inspirational and so it was. Then we had to agree on what the story is. The story is that we started in this place and time, how we made our music and the importance of that. We stayed together for the first seven albums but then Steve left, then Kerry left, then Steve came back. That is part of our story, but it’s not as important as the beginning of the band. So, that’s why we decided to tell the story of the first five albums. It was great to have the story told by the six original members. We were very happy that we were able to do it.
A lot of people say: “Kansas are not the same band”. The original band has not been together for more than 30 years and it will never possibly happen. Robby (ed: Steinhardt –violin) had suffered a heart attack, Kerry had a stroke, Steve Walsh has lost his voice and doesn’t want to ever do this. You can wish the original six members to get back together, but there is a reason that we are not together for more than 30 years: Because some people didn’t want to continue. So, when I hear the question: “Why don’t you all get back together?”, I answer that you shouldn’t ask those who never left. When people say: “Why Kerry Livgren is not in the band?” I say: “Kerry left 30 years ago. Why you blame the people who are still doing this and are still dedicated every day to this? I can give you the phone numbers of the guys who quitted. Ask them (laughs). Don’t ask me, who I stayed here and still play in the band”.
Do you remember the concert that Kansas played in Athens, Greece in 2005?
Oh, absolutely yes! Our hotel was on a hill overlooking the city and apart from a couple of mountains, you could see the whole place. The Acropolis was across the hotel. It was a great experience. I had never been there before. I have been to Crete actually once, with the USO entertaining the soldiers there, but I had never been to Greece. It was amazing. Hopefully to be repeated.
A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr Richard Williams for his time and to Peter Klapproth for his valuable help.
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Buy “The Plelude Implicit” from Amazon here .