Kansas drummer Phil Ehart says he and guitarist Richard Williams weren't sure whether the prog rock group could or should go on after frontman Steve Walsh announced his retirement last year.
"We did look at each other and go, 'OK, this is gonna be interesting,'" Ehart says. "But we decided, 'Let's go do it,' and we did, and we think we've been very successful in getting it together. We hope we've started a new chapter in the book of Kansas."
Kansas is, in fact, busier than it's ever been. The group found a new singer-keyboardist, Ronnie Platt, in short order and also added former lighting director David Manion on keyboards and Zak Rizvi on second guitar. The Prelude Implicit, Kansas' first new album in 16 years, comes out September 23. The opening track, "With This Heart," is featured below, and Kansas' 100-plus tour dates this year include a fall run during which the group will not only promote The Prelude Implicit, but also play its 1976 breakthrough album Leftoverture in its entirety to celebrate the band's 40th anniversary.
"The title of the album, The Prelude Implicit, means without a doubt this is a new musical beginning for the band," Ehart says. "This is the prelude, this is the beginning of a new musical expanse for us. The thing that Richard and I realized is: it's the music, the Kansas music. If the band Kansas stops, then the music stops. Yeah, you can still listen to your CD and pop in a video or something, but it's a great live band, and the fans are not only coming, but they're coming more so now. We're enjoying a real resurgence of sorts, so it's something we want to continue."
Kansas has clearly been energized by the addition of Platt, Manion and Rizvi, whose presence brought the group back into the studio after its long layoff. "With the previous incarnation, it just wasn't meant to happen," Ehart says. "We discussed it. We talked about it, but the enthusiasm wasn't there with certain members. The new material wasn't being written. It didn't want to be written. But once the new personnel came on, boy, it happened overnight. It really ignited." The real surprise, in fact, was Rizvi, an engineer with longtime Kansas producer Jeff Glixman who Ehart approached to helm The Prelude Implicit.
"We never had any intention of him joining the band," Ehart notes. "We invited him to produce the album, and he then said, 'By the way, I've got some songs that I actually wrote for Kansas a couple years ago and then I learned you guys weren't interested in doing anything new, so I kinda shelved them.' So I said, 'Well, yeah, let's take a listen,' and it was just like, boom, it just exploded. We just had no idea he was such an incredible songwriter plus a collaborator as well as an incredible guitar player. I'm looking at Richard and he's looking at me and we're going, 'Why isn't Zak in the band?' So we added him."
The sound of The Prelude Implicit is vintage Kansas, flaunting intricate, orchestrated arrangements, tricky time signatures, sweeping melodies and rich harmonics -- and even a reference to the group's classic "Song for America" in the new track "Rhythm in the Spirit." And the group-written "With This Heart" was chosen to open the album explicitly to make that point. "It's probably the most representative song of Kansas in the past and Kansas in the future -- that's the easiest way to describe it," Ehart explains. "We feel it's a very accessible song that people will listen to and they're going to get it right away. You get to that middle section and, man, that's Kansas with the violin and the odd time signature and all the elements. We wanted something that just screamed 'accessible Kansas,' and we feel the song is that for sure."
Ehart is also confident it won't be another 16 years before the next Kansas album; in fact, Inside Out Music has already asked for a follow-up in early 2018. Meanwhile, Ehart is hoping the new material will sound that much more familiar alongside Leftoverture when Kansas begins the fall tour Sept. 30 in Pittsburgh. The shows will mark the live debut of not only The Prelude Implicit material, but also the Leftoverture track "Question of My Childhood," which the group has never played in concert.
"It's a major undertaking for us," Ehart says. "We've never done Leftoverture in its entirety, and there's songs we haven't played since '75 or '76 that will be in there too. It's gonna be over two hours long, and obviously we've done shows like that back in the day, but this'll be the first time in a long time that we've taken on this type of show, this type of musical extravaganza, playing an awful lot of progressive stuff as well as a lot of the hits and more popular songs. Kansas music is rather a chore to listen to, so we just want to deliver a great show and keep it entertaining."