KANSAS has a new album out in The Prelude Implicit (InsideOut Music) and it’s fantastic, as well as one of 2016’s best releases so far. Just before it came out I sat down with vocalist Ronnie Platt for about 20 minutes to talk about what it’s like to be writing in this band, the tour they’re on, and being the man who replaced legendary vocalist Steve Walsh after his retirement. Take a look:
Amps: I was a casual KANSAS fan at best, Ronnie. But after hearing The Prelude Implicit, consider me all in now. My Gods, man.
Ronnie: You know, when I listen to it I say the same thing (laughs)! I listen to it in its entirety and I’m like, “How the heck did we ever record that in only a month and a half??”
There’s just so many parts and time signatures, and it only goes to show how crazy focused we were in the studio. Nine, ten, eleven hour days in the studio, six days a week, just going in there and hammering it, gettin’ it done.
Amps: The sound is unmistakably KANSAS, but it sounds fresh. Do you have any favorite tracks on the album, because I sure as hell do.
Ronnie: You know, that’s a tough one, because it’s like asking a parent which child is their favorite. It’s tough. My favorite one is usually the last one I listened to (laughs). It’s really what you’re in the mood for and what moves you, you know? I’m really proud of the whole thing. It turned out better than I ever expected. Everybody’s real excited about it. And like you said Damian, there’s no denying that it’s KANSAS, but it’s loaded with fresh writing, the intensity’s there, the prog rock is there.
Amps: I’m really digging “Summer” a lot. And the epic “The Voyage of Eight Eighteen” had me right away.
Ronnie: That’s such an upbeat song. Billy Greer (bass) sings lead on that and he kills it! And then you go to “Eight Eighteen”…you talk about some diversity on an album. “Eight Eighteen” is that multi-part epic prog rock KANSAS song, and then you got “Summer” which is a straight-ahead rocker, you know? It’s a toe-tapper, isn’t it?
Amps: You’ve been in the band two years. And now you’re part of the writing and recording. What’s that like for you, in KANSAS, in 2016?
Ronnie: I have been in the band two years now, and I can’t tell you where they’ve gone. It has gone by in the blink of an eye. I am perpetually winning the rock and roll lottery over and over and over again, Damian. Between getting to be the lead singer of this band to being a writer on the first new KANSAS studio album in 16 years, and everything else in between, it’s wild. You couldn’t write this stuff in a movie. It’s been an intense ride. To have the concept that you’re writing lyrics in the same band that Kerry Livgren wrote lyrics for. Gee, no pressure there, right (laughs)?!?
Amps: I’m super-excited to see the band in Baltimore the day after Thanksgiving. My first KANSAS show!
RONNIE: AHHH! Cool! I might be going out on a limb here, but after you see your first KANSAS show, you’re gonna be pretty hungry for the next one. The things that we have going into this show, even beyond musically, the production that we’re putting into this show is just epic. And if we’re not putting you in a trance enough with the music we’re just gonna knock you out with the whole overall show.
Amps: Who were some of your heroes and influences as a young lad, whether they were vocalists or otherwise?
Ronnie: Growing up in Chicago, WLS radio played all the hits from my favorite vocalists like Steve Walsh, Brad Delp of BOSTON, Lou Gramm of FOREIGNER, Jon Anderson of YES. I was and still am a BIG Geddy Lee (RUSH) fan. But I always say it’s “The Two Steves” that developed my voice, and that’s Steve Walsh and Steve Perry (JOURNEY). Guys that I saw live that just blew me away, and I wanted to be those guys. Talk about picking out a couple of guys who just had insane talent!
Amps: There are times I close my eyes and I can hear Steve Walsh. Not that you’re a soundalike or anything, but you definitely capture the spirit of KANSAS in so many ways.
Ronnie: We’re a product of what inspires us throughout life, and a couple of producers on other projects I’ve worked on after hearing me sing a line would go, “Wow, you sounded so much like Steve Walsh on that line!” I can’t help it, I’m just a collective culmination of everyone that’s influenced me and made my own mold. And it’s the same with writing these new songs. Sure, I’m new in the band and David Manion, Mr. Keyboard Wizard, oh my God, you gotta use a high speed camera and slow it down to get what his hands are doing. Zak Rizvi (guitar) wrote the majority of the music on the new album. Even though we’re the new guys on the block we’ve just been so heavily influenced by KANSAS our entire lives, that when we write something it can’t help BUT have an element of KANSAS in it.
Amps: What’s your regimen to keep that voice in shape both on and off the road?
Ronnie: Sleep is the number one factor for keeping the voice up. Man, I’m just lucky that I started singing so very, very, very young and I think it’s just conditioned my voice my entire life. It’s one thing I’ve always taken a lot of pride in, my endurance, even before I was in KANSAS or SHOOTING STAR, my cover bands over the years were playing 75-80 shows a year and I was also working a full-time job on top of that. That’s quite a workload, not only yelling, screaming, or talking all day at work, but then going to band practice at night and doing shows on the weekends. It’s quite taxing, but it’s something I’ve done my whole life, which has helped build that endurance.
It’s tough on the road to take care of yourself and eat right because you’re constantly moving. We do one show after another, and it’s show-hotel-airport, which doesn’t give you a lot of down time. So, I’m lucky my endurance is there. Sure there’s times when you’re tired after three or four shows in a row, but when you hit that stage that adrenaline kicks in, and even though you’re doing the same show, it’s a new audience every time, and these are people who haven’t seen it yet. So we’re all racing with adrenaline and deliver every time.
Amps: The album comes out soon. How are you and the guys feeling as it draws near?
Ronnie: We’re not counting the days or weeks anymore. We’re counting the minutes. We can’t wait for this record to come out and “With This Heart” and “Unsung Heroes” have been out as singles priming everybody for the release. Every song on the album is just candy to the ears in my opinion.
Amps: What do you want to say to all the KANSAS fans out there in the world?
Ronnie: Thank you for accepting me. I know that I am filling the shoes of one of the greatest singers of all time in Steve Walsh.
Thank you so much for letting me grab the reins of this and continuing on the legacy that is KANSAS. 43 years and counting and Phil (Ehart, drums) and Rich (Williams, guitar) are still looking into the future. They’re respective of the past, but still ambitious for the future.
Wow. What an unbelievably humble, and genuinely nice guy Ronnie Platt is, on top of being a powerhouse singer. In a sea of sharks, he is really and truly someone you feel an instant connection with because he’s so cool. If I was hyped for the tour date in Baltimore next month before, I was even more crazed for it after this conversation. Catch KANSAS in a city near you, and be sure to pick up a copy of The Prelude Implicit if you haven’t already. Oh, and by the way, did I mention that the band is celebrating the 40th anniversary of Leftoverture by performing the album IN ITS ENTIRETY on this run?? I’d click that link and score some tickets if I were you!
B&W PHOTO: DAVID CARSTENS
BAND PHOTO: MICHIE TURPIN