Kansas Interview


Taking a break from the Sweden Rock marathon, to have a chat with Rich Williams from Kansas allows for a glimpse to the seemingly more casual and calm backstage area. As time was pressing, we only spoke about the sort-of-Kansas-sub-project, the Native Window, and what is required to flip the perfect hamburger.

By George Anasontzis


Rockpages.gr: You are touring now with Kansas, you recorded with Native Window, which is Kansas without Steve Walsh. What’s next?
Rich Williams: We did it once, we wanted to do something different and we did something different. We were not starting a new career… Kansas wasn’t doing anything new at the time, and we were a little frustrated, and me and Phil said it would be kind-of fun if we had an opening act and we open for Kansas. So, we had to write material and to record it. So, we went to the studio, we were sitting there, and it was just “I got an idea, how about this?” and we didn’t really know how it was going to be. But every time it started to turn towards Kansas, we were like “Change it a bit”. We just wanted to put on a different hat and be somebody else for an album and we did that. There won’t be a Native Window 10… we did it once.
Rockpages.gr: Will there be a No 2?
Rich Williams: I don’t know. It’s not in the plans right now. It’s an expensive experiment. Really! We played around 20 shows opening for Kansas, but it doesn’t generate any money and all the money that we made, we gave to the road crew that helped set it up. It was fun.
Rockpages.gr: Was it tiresome to play two shows every night?
Rich Williams: Not for me. I’m warming up anyways, so to go out for 45 min and work on my tantrism looked really easy, yeah. It was harder on Phil (Ehart) or on Billy (Greer), because he had sung so much in the Kansas show. But we enjoyed it. The studio was great! Because Kansas recording was usually like, Kerry (Livgren) would write a song, Steve (Walsh) would write a song, and then we’d all fight about it for a long time, ended up in stripping the threads and putting them back together, and the songwriters to pull their hair out. But when it was done, it was done really really well. But this has a weakness. In Native Window we were like, “what do we got?”, “I don’t know, let’s see”. It was a very organic album. Kind of everybody on equal, brain tilted, threw the ideas against the wall. So, the recording process was a lot of fun. I would do it again.
Rockpages.gr: So, you miss that element in the Kansas process?
Rich Williams: Exactly. That’s what we miss. You know, some of the things we do require more creativity. But this is what we love to do. It’s fun. The travel, to meet people, see new places of the world, that’s what a musician does. People ask, don’t you get tired to play the same crap all the time? No…! Playing the same crap brings all those years back. And I love those years. I totally can’t complain. I would like to put a new Kansas album? Yes, I’d rather do. But until that day, I’ll play what I got.
Rockpages.gr: What stops you from recording a new Kansas album?
Rich Williams: We could do that. If I were king, we would tie Kerry down and grab a couple of his songs, and we’d record just two songs. You see we don’t have to make a record anymore, two downloads to release. You could do whatever you want. And that’s what I would have done. I would love to record sometimes. There is a studio that we use in Atlanta, we can mail our parts for that matter. Because there is a whole studio, there is so much that you can do. I would personally enjoy that.
Rockpages.gr: Did you prefer being the only guitarist at Kansas or as part of the guitar team?
Rich Williams: I get that question a lot. Well, I prefer the way it is now but I like it both ways. It’s really a different time. When I sit back, Kerry was in the band actually 26-27 years from now. Really long. So, I’m used to this. I like what we do now a lot better. I enjoy myself more now than I did then. Back then it was all new. I didn’t have anything to compare these experiences to. So, I kind of look back to those times, that was great I guess. But now, I can live in the moment and enjoy the day for what it brings. And that’s a big difference. I would say, I enjoy being the guitar player, typically guitar players tend to kind of step all over each other a lot. But especially with Kansas, we have a very big sound. When Kerry was in the band, he was playing keyboards and guitars, so we had two keyboard players fighting each other, and two guitar players fighting each other, but it worked! It worked very well, but sometimes we didn’t need all that. Cause where we are now, with the violins, the guitar, the bass, and the keyboard sound, we don’t need another guitar player. In a way, it sounds big enough.
Rockpages.gr: Do you now think that the competition is actually helping, or maybe it was too much?
Rich Williams: Competition is something that an observer would think it’s there.
Rockpages.gr: But sometimes players think that too.
Rich Williams: Well, we didn’t stand there and say, “ok, you play this”, “no no, you play this”. It’s not like that. That’s more an observer’s opinion, rather than what happens on stage.
Rockpages.gr: I said that because sometimes bands disband because of such issues.
Rich Williams: It could be, yeah. But if it was a competition we wouldn’t be listening to symphony. We wouldn’t be listening to jazz. There were bands, who know that they will be heard only of such things, cause they suck! If it was a talent show, we’d be listening only to opera by now. But it’s not about that. There are certain parts of music that everyone likes and you don’t have to be the best one. You want a hamburger, you don’t have to get the best chef in the world to flip it for you.
Rockpages.gr: But you write the music and you play music. It’s not just a hamburger.
Rich Williams: Well, still you don’t have to be the best. Sometimes if you hear the best guitar player playing samba, it’s gonna be too perfect, too refined. But if you get a little kid that just learned to play, it has a different emotion there, maybe slightly out of tune, and it works! When Steve Morse was in the band, we were at a hotel and a band was playing at the bar. You know, Steve Morse is so good. And we’ve been watching this band, like “woo, they are a little shitty”. And Steve watching the show “Did you see that?” He noticed something that the guitar player did. He goes, “I’m gonna take a note of that”. You can learn from everybody. It’s not a contest. Everybody can express himself musically, you do something that is very organic. You stand and you play a melody it’s an expression. Competition is good to sports, there is not much need for it in music. Anybody’s effort can be appreciated. Competition means that somebody is going to win and “Ha! You suck!”.
Rockpages.gr: What’s your favourite cover on a Kansas song?
Rich Williams: I got my least favourite, these Oak Ridge Boys doing Wayward Son (manager laughs). Favourite cover, probably…
Manager: Scorpions?
Rich Williams: Yeah, Scorpions, doing Dust in the Wind.