Ehart, Phil (Kansas) (March 2003)

Kansas' Drummer Carries On

Phil Ehart (circa 2000; courtesy)It's been 29 years since the release of the first Kansas album, the 1974 self-titled release that started everything - not counting, of course, those even earlier years documented on the Proto-Kaw release. In the intervening years, Kansas have released no fewer than 14 studio albums, and three live albums, including the recently released Device Voice Drum CD/DVD (though the discography is deeper than that, with licensed releases, special editions, boxed sets, etc.). Igor Italiani recently spoke with the band's long time drummer, and one of the few mainstays over the years, Phil Ehart.

Igor Italiani: Hello, can I speak with Mr. Phil Ehart of Kansas?

Phil Ehart: Hello, this is Phil. So how are you doin' and what's your name?

II: Well, I'm fine. I'm Igor from Italy, and I must let you know that Kansas is my favourite band so...

PE: Oh, OK. Great, great, and I appreciate that you're calling...

II: So Phil, I would like to start the interview from the web -- right now Kansas have a brand new website inspired by your first DVD, so it seems to me that the band really believes in the Internet and the new technologies as promotional tools, yes?

Screenshot of the Kansas website (as of Mar 9, 2003)
Kansas website (as of Mar 9, 2003)

PE: Yes, very much so. We work very hard on our website, and we think we have a very good one. We are very proud of it. Of course we work with other technologies as well, as the DVD you already mentioned or the QuickTime video featured on the double live album can attest. Yes it's true, we really believe in new technologies.

II: And among the features of your website there is the one called "Wheathead TV." Can you explain its function to the ones that have never heard about it?

PE: Yes, it is a subscription service, and we take cameras with us down on the road, to band meetings, to concerts, into dressing rooms, just all over where we go when we are on tour. We film everything and we make 5 to 6 minute short movies, once a month, for our fans. So for a few dollars, as a one time subscription, the fans get a five minute movie of behind the scenes [footage] with the band downloaded to them, every month on the Internet. This thing takes them into what Kansas is doing, and where we are going, and let me tell you it's been very successful so far.

II: Another site feature I really love is the auction page called "Tomb 19." Do you think it's something you'll keep online forever?

PE: Well, it probably could, yeah. On the 18th of January [we started it up again], 'cause we stopped it for a while to better promote the DVD and the other things we were focusing on. But now we're back on track with "Tomb 19." The thing is that we have a lot of things to auction that we'd probably run it for a long, long time. It's something we really appreciate doing, as the fans' bids go strictly to charity foundations.

II: In fact, another thing I always appreciated is your support for such significant but somewhat forgotten themes like Native Americans or the Earth's pollution -- for example, what do you think about the current world's condition?

PE: The current world condition? Gee, that could take a long time. You know, it's, it's ... it is what it is, you know, and it will probably continue to get worse before it gets better. All we can do is hope for peace ... you know, just like some of our lyrics, even if I have to tell you that nowadays our positive approach seems very old fashioned, and that's a sad thing. Today it looks like [that] if the bands are more into negative behavior, then they are more successful.

Kansas - Somewhere To ElsewhereII: OK, so now we move to the music -- what can you tell me in hindsight about Somewhere To Elsewhere, your last studio album, which is now more than two years old?

PE: Yes, we still are very pleased with our last studio album. We had a lot of fun doing this record, to rejoin forces with Kerry Livgren. We enjoyed the music so much that we hope to do this again maybe next year, in 2004. Who knows, probably we will repeat the same line-up once more; we really hope so. However, returning quickly to this particular album, it also sold very well worldwide, so I think it was another step in the right direction for us. Obviously we know that we don't sell like we used to, 'cause we are not on the radio anymore, but we were and still are very happy with it. Yes, we really are!

II: But are you writing any new material for the next studio album?

PE: Yeah, there are some new songs already in the works, but right now we are just concentrating on this DVD and its promotion. However there's always writing going on, even if it's still hard to say if Kerry will compose the majority of the music or not like with the last studio album. The fact is that Kerry kind of writes when he is in the "mood," so we don't know if he'll have the same huge number of songs next time around.

Kansas - Device-Voice-Drum DVDII: Phil, talking about your first DVD/double CD, I was really impressed with the image and sound quality of the Atlanta shows. Do you think you could have added something more or are you satisfied with these results?

PE: Oh, we are very satisfied with the results. There's more stuff in there in animation, sound quality, video shoots, and it must be said that it took a lot of work to do everything. Yes, every little aspect of this DVD, like the string quartet, the lasers, the crowd -- it took about a year and a half to put all that together, and really bring it all together. So we are very proud of it!

II: But do you think that this DVD is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Kansas or are we poised for some more titles in the coming months?

PE: Probably this may just be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a band like us. Device - Voice - Drum is going to be very difficult for us to top, hard for us to beat, so I don't think we will unleash something else, at least not in the very near future. Who knows, if we have an opportunity of doing something different we might, but at the moment the answer is no.

II: However, let me tell you that I was really pleased with the song tracklist, as it really covered your entire career, even if you missed the Power and Freaks Of Nature albums, which I really love?

PE: Well thank you ... we approached this DVD like kind of a summary of our career, so we tried to cover as many things as we could. Well, obviously when you have more than 10 albums you can't cover every one of them, but I think we did a pretty good job in the end.

II: Is it true that it was you that organized the lighting scheme and stage's scenery?

PE: Well, I produced the DVD, but to be honest I didn't have much to do with the lighting. It was our lighting designer who created the beautiful atmosphere you see on the DVD. The scenery, instead, was like a collective idea between our set designer and cameramen, and lighting guy. I can say, and I think you can notice by yourself, that it was a total team effort.

II: One little curiosity, Phil -- considering that Kerry Livgren still plays a gig or two with you when he wants, why wasn't he there in Atlanta?

PE: Ahhh ... too confusing. People would look at this and think that Kerry is still in the band. When he plays a gig everyone thinks he is in the band ... the truth is that Kerry has not been in Kansas for over 20 years, and people kind of need to understand he is not in the band anymore. So this is the band, as it is, and this is the band the way that it is ... you know, Kerry is there in his music, because we obviously play a lot of songs written by him. For example we knew that VH1 would take some songs from the concerts and show them on TV, and if we brought back Kerry for "Dust In The Wind" they would show it, and people from all over the country would watch it and think that Kerry was back in the band. It's too confusing, so we eluded the risk of being misinterpreted. However it is true that when Kerry wants he rejoins the band for the occasional gig, which usually turns out great!

II: Phil, Kansas still plays a lot of concerts around the world, so you are not tired of playing it live for the audience yet!?

PE: No, it's what we do, we are a live band and we love to play in front of an audience, so I don't think we will stop anytime soon.

II: But now tell me the truth ... are there any hopes of seeing you again in Europe anytime soon, and especially in Italy?

PE: Well, all the interviews that we do with Italy, with Italian interviewers, they are always very good and they always ask us this specific question. Now I have to tell you the same answer we tell to everyone ... we have never been invited. No promoter has ever wanted us to come and play in your beautiful country. I tell you this, the closest we came to playing in Italy was three years ago, when we did our last European tour. Someone called and asked if we were interested in playing a gig in a city near Milan. Of course we were very interested, but in the end the offer didn't materialize. The Italian fans of Kansas should know that we really want to come and play here, but to this day no one has ever offered us an official invitation to perform a gig or two.

Richard WilliamsII: Phil, you and Richard are the only two musicians that have never left the Kansas line-up ... can you tell me, in your humble opinion, what where the lowest and highest points in the band's career?

PE: Oh Gosh .... you know, the low points are always the disappointments like when an album doesn't sell well ... mhh, maybe this is THE most disappointing point, 'cause you work on an album so long and then when it comes out if it doesn't sell well, or if the company doesn't promote it ... yeah, it's pretty disappointing. On the other side there are a lot of high points, too; for example, when every night we go out and perform! In fact we've been doing this for 30 years now and we've never complained about our ability to go out and perform for people, that's a very special thing for us. But you kind of forget about the down points, because there are bad days and good days in every life, and we like to remember the good ones.

II: Phil ... I would like to end the interview quoting the band's speech on "Child Of Innocence" ... who says you can't rock when you're fifty-two?

PE: [Laughs] Yeah, that's Robby. Yeah, that goes over, that goes over very good every night. He has to be careful, 'cause we are getting older, so pretty soon it could be "who says you can't rock when you are sixty years old?" [laughs]

II: OK, Phil, I have nothing more to say, except that it was a pleasure and that I hope to see your band here as soon as possible.

PE: OK, Igor. First of all let me say that the questions were very good, and thank you for calling once again. Who knows, maybe Kansas will come to Italy sometime soon ... we hope so ... bye, bye.

Kansas (1974)
Song For America (1975)
Masque (1975/2001)
Leftoverture (1976/2001)
Point Of Know Return (1977/1984/2002)
Two For The Show (1978)
Monolith (1979)
Audio Visions (1980)
Vinyl Confessions (1982)
Drastic Measures (1983)
The Best Of Kansas (1984)
Power (1986)
In The Spirit Of Things (1988)
Carry On (compilation) (1990)
Live at the Whisky (1992)
Box Set (1994)
Freaks of Nature (1995)
Always Never The Same (1998)
King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents Kansas (1998)
Best Of Kansas (altered re-release) (1999)
Somewhere To Elsewhere (2000)
The Ultimate Kansas (2002)
Device - Voice - Drum (2002)
Sail On: The 30th Anniversary Collection 1974-2004 (2004)
Works In Progress (2006)There's Know Place Like Home (2009)
The Classic Albums Collection 1974-1983 (2012)
Original Album Classics (2015)

Device Voice Drum (DVD) (2002)

Added: March 9th 2003
Interviewer: Igor Italiani

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Language: english

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