Interview with Rich Williams

What’s the story behind the new Kansas DVD?

It came out at the end of last year, it’s called There’s Know Place Like Home, which the title is, because we recorded it back in Topeka, Kansas, where we got started. We did an album with London Symphony Orchestra a decade and a half ago and since then we have periodically done, just about every year, symphony dates, all in hopes of one day actually filming it. And when the 35th anniversary of Kansas came along, it seemed like a great project to commemorate that. Finally we got the wheels turning and we knew we wanted to do it, but there needed to be a reason why and where, you know we could go to Omaha, but it just didn’t really mean anything. We tossed around a lot of ideas, but it wasn’t until we decided to go back to where we got our start in Topeka, and from there the whole project started to make some sense. At White Concert Hall at Washburn University we had played there before, three of us went to college there, the producer, his father was a teacher, they lived across the street. So this whole thing became a ‘coming home’ project. Thus the title, There’s Know Place Like Home.

Right, that’s awesome. Was it a big challenge arranging everything?

It’s quite a challenge, but not for us [laughs].

We hired Larry Baird, who is the go to guy when it goes to arranging a rock band with a symphony. He’s done all The Moody Blues’ concerts over the years. He’s a musician, a performer, he’s also a conductor, that’s just what he does. So we hired him to write the scores for the London Symphony, when we went in to do that album. So he writes the scores, he rehearses them, we show up, and basically it’s just a sound check. They follow us, so really the load of the work is on them and on Larry, it’s another day in the office for us.

So, you didn’t really have to think differently, the orchestra is following what you do.

Yeah exactly, it makes it easy for us, and that’s what’s important [laughs].
There’s a little bit of homework that we have to do because there are a few arrangements that are different with the symphony than there are without one, so we just have to kinda kick each other, with ‘remember when we get to this part,’ there are a lot of like big winks and nods on stage like ‘here it comes’ because this is not like a normal day. But other than that, when I watch the DVD, I couldn’t sit and watch the whole thing in one [sitting], there’s just a lot going on, a lot of music, it’s exhausting. To watch it, to me, is a lot more work than it was actually playing it. It looks much more complicated than it is, but you know, we’ve been doing it for 35 years so hopefully we did get good at something.

Was it all done in just one take?


Did you guys work any studio magic behind the scenes later on, do some overdubs?

There’s a few little things in post production that were repaired, but it wasn’t a big rerecord or anything. The post production was mostly spent just creating the mix for Kansas plus a fifty piece orchestra, but then also having to do it in 5.1 Dolby, just all the different ways of doing it, along with selecting the camera scenes and all that. It’s not like we’re The Rolling Stones where we can pull up the mobile truck, record eight nights, and pick the best of. To have ten hi-definition cameras running is all expensive, so we knew going in, you know ‘guys do your homework’ because it’s gonna be 1,2,3 go and when the show’s over, we go home. Which does make it hard to relax, not so much during the show, but the 10 days prior to the show, you’d wake up screaming sometimes [laughs].

Well you had 10 cameras watching you at all times, so it’s like a weird reality TV show featuring a rock band onstage with an orchestra.

Just going up there, wetting your fingers a little bit, and having fun with it. You know, it’s only costing a fortune to do this, you only get one shot at it and it’s going to be recorded for all time. So, no worries. All those thoughts get in your head, you have to just tell yourself, “calm down, you know how to do this, you do it all the time” it’s not like somebody’s going to hand you a 13-headed guitar with snakes for strings and light your head on fire. You’re gonna do what you do all the time. That would’ve been more of what you would do [laughs].

In terms of gear, are you using the same guitars and Marshall stacks as usual?

Well actually we kind of started retooling things, once we started the symphony tours, because you have to have everything off stage. But it just started being kind of an easier way to do things. I’ve gone from, you know, a Marshall stack and different things to now, where I’ve got a stereo cabin way off stage and running a computer program by Native Instruments called Guitar Rig. What’s handy about that is, doing any flying or going overseas instead of having to cart all your big equipment around and just getting all beat to hell anyway, I’ll fly a computer and a pedal board, and I can carry it with me. I’ve been waiting for this kind of technology for a long time. There’s been a lot of guitar simulators and emulators over the years, but this is the first time that it has really come out as something that is live applicable, in my opinion. It’s a great studio tool.

Right, they actually sound like amps now!

Oh yeah, this is becoming an industry standard in the studio now and it’s so easy, you can get exactly what you want, every night it’s the same, but I still mic the cabinet. I still go through a power amp, to get that, there’s just something about a microphone in front of speakers moving a lot of air to get that snap for guitar that direct won’t do. So I kinda have the best of both worlds. But to answer your question, it has made the live setup a much simpler thing and now it works in any situation, wherever we play.

You guys are in Guitar Hero II and Rock Band 2. But those are cover versions of your songs, correct?

Unfortunately, correct. Yes. When all that first happened, it was like “Would you guys be interested in us using your song?” “That’d be great.” I had no idea the impact that those games would have, they’ve really changed the face of our crowd. Guitar Hero, I suddenly had a guitar army of kids in front of me. Then, when it went to Rock Band, whole families now come to shows. It’s really added a different dynamic to the crowd. But as far as like, I mean those things have sold gazillions, and the songwriter, they get the songwriter royalties and you know they threw a bone to the band for being able to use the songs but the performance world, this is where the band would make money in something like this. Since they did a rerecord, the band gets bupkis, I get to talk about it, do the interviews about it, not that I’m bitter, but they’re very smart in the way they put that together. They rerecord it then they get to keep it. They sent me a copy of it, to be honest, I didn’t notice when I was listening to it, it was a hard song on Guitar Hero II, I thought it was hard, I didn’t notice it, they did a great job in copying it. They get to keep the money, and the band gets to talk about it.

When can we see you on tour?

We’ve been doing some dates but it starts to get busy actually very soon. We’re doing two months with Foreigner and Styx. It’ll be five nights a week for a couple of months and when that’s over, we go back into symphony mode. We’re playing a lot of colleges around the country with their symphonies and there’s other normal Kansas dates that we do, we’ll take that up into the holidays.

Check out Kansas’ brand new DVD There’s Know Place Like Home.