An Interview with the founder, leader, and primary mastermind behind KANSAS, AD & solo fame:
VM: Greetings Kerry! Thank you very much for your willingness to give an interview for ProgressoR. Seizing this opportunity, I'd like to thank you a thousand times for making such an invaluable contribution to the development of the Progressive Rock movement. Finally, I want to congratulate you on your very successful activity for the last few years, which saw the release of one of Kansas's finest albums to date "Somewhere to Elsewhere" and your "Collector's Sedition" edition as well.
Thanks to the numerous publications in the various magazines and on the Internet, most
Prog-lovers are familiar with the creation of Kansas in general and details of the latest reincarnation of the band in particular. In that way, please allow me to direct the course of this interview mainly to your solo creation and the more obscure aspects of the history of Kansas. First off, please describe your early years. How and when did you become familiar with music?
KL: At a very early age. My Father was a musician, and my Uncle was a well known player on radio here in the State of Kansas. However, I did not become seriously interested in music until the age of 14.
VM: What were your first experiments within the framework of the Progressive Rock movement?
KL: That would have been in the middle and late sixties. I was following the Yardbirds, Kinks, especially Procol Harum, and some of the psychedelic American bands such as H.P. Lovecraft, Touch, Iron Butterfly, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Spirit, the Doors, etc. Though the progressive rock movement had not officially begun, there was a lot of really creative music going on at that time. Actually in the early seventies I was also quite influenced by Chicago Transit Authority, Santana, Mothers of Invention - really too many to mention.
VM: For me, the most obscure period in the history of Kansas is the very beginning. Please tell me when and under what circumstances the band was formed?
KL: The band was formed in 1970 here in Topeka by myself and Phil Ehart. We combined members of our respective bands to form the first Kansas. We had seven members - two lead singers, and musicians who doubled on many instruments, including saxophone and flute. We did all original music which I wrote. We had quite a unique American progressive sound.
VM: In fact, I knew that Kansas was formed a few of the years before the band's self-titled debut album came out. What did the band do in those early years? While perfecting your compositional and performing skills, were you searching for the band's final stylistics as well?
KL: We were not so much searching for a style as we were a record deal. I believe we already had a well-developed style. We played many concerts around the U.S. (including a show with the Doors - the last show they ever did with Morrison.) Unfortunately we never got recorded.
VM: The self-titled debut Kansas album I regard as the best in the band's discography. Curiously enough, I've listened to it much later than the other albums by the band. (Until then, my favorite Kansas album was "Leftoverture".) Although at the time Kansas was a new act on the scene, you've composed and performed your debut album with the experience of a much older band. Even more surprisingly, I've come to realize that "Kansas" is also one of the strongest albums (in all senses) of the 1970s. This exceedingly original and innovative album has paved the way for all of the band's further successes. At the same time, however, it's obvious that "Kansas" was and still is the band's most underrated (just greatly underrated!) album. What are your thoughts on Kansas's debut album, and its role in the overall development of Kansas, as well as its real status with regard to the Progressive Rock movement as well?
KL: My regret about the first album is that it was made so hastily. After all the years of our struggle, most everything was done in one quick take in a few days. We were not even there when it was mixed. It could have been much better. Still - it launched our recording career, as well as our near-endless touring.
VM: Could you briefly explain the process of composing and recording this album?
KL: The first album was actually a historical look back at the band we had been playing that material for quite a long time. However we had no recording experience, so we did not play our best.
VM: Before you formed the Anno Domini band (in Russian, by the way, K.L.A.D. sounds like "Treasure"), you have released two solo albums under your own name: self-titled in 1980 and
"Time Line" in 1984 (both through CBS). Why have you decided to create a solo path at the time of
the release of the "Audio-Visions" album -- and, after all, quit Kansas a few years later while you had always been the mastermind of the band?
KL: In 1980 I had written a great deal of music that did not interest Kansas, yet I felt that it was some of my better material. Kansas by that time had developed somewhat of a formula and the band did not want to stray far from it. I was also quite excited about working with some different musicians just for fun and variety. CBS was interested enough to give me a budget, so I started work on "Seeds of Change". Steve Walsh left Kansas shortly after, partly I think because of my Christian beliefs, but mostly I think because he simply wanted to be independent. Once he left, and then Robby Steinhardt, I felt too much of Kansas' identity was gone and it was time to do something new - "A.D.".
VM: Knowing your healthy attitude to the dictatorial policy of major labels, I slightly wonder why you have parted with Epic / CBS only in 1984? Or, perhaps, you didn't feel any of the pressures from the direction of the label's management? (Sorry if I am mistaken here.)
KL: After I left Kansas, AD was hampered by legal entanglements. Epic / CBS did not promote "Time Line", but Kansas would not let Dave Hope and I go. Our only option at that point was to form and independent label.
VM: Unfortunately, I am unacquainted with your solo creation. As far as I can remember, there
were two former Kansas members in the original Kerry Livgren A.D. line-up: you (on guitars and keyboards) and Dave Hope (on bass). Please explain to me the formation and creation of Anno Domini up to the release of "Prime Mover" (1988), which is the only K.L.A.D. album I've heard. Who were the members of the band? What were the albums that the band had released in that period and what
do they represent stylistically? What was (were) the label(s) that you've been releasing your albums through? All of this will be of considerable interest not only for myself, but also for the fans of Kansas, and all of the existent and potential connoisseurs of your solo creation. This would be more than interesting for most of the Prog-lovers in general.
KL: "A.D." was formed in 1983 after the "Time Line" album was recorded. There were other musicians on the album, but the core band consisted of Kerry Livgren, Dave Hope (Kansas), Michael Gleason (keyboards, vocals), Warren Ham (vocals, woodwinds), and Dennis Holt (percussion). "A.D." recorded four albums - "Art of the State", "Reconstructions","Prime Mover", and "A.D." Live. I would describe the music as progressive rock, though a different flavor than Kansas. The "A.D." albums are all currently available on the Numavox label (see a link below).
VM: "Prime Mover" has been performed by a duo consisting of yourself (on all instruments) and Warren Ham (on vocals & flutes). Was this the last album, which was released under the moniker of K.L.A.D.? Please explain what you did after that and up to 1995? (In other words, here, I should ask you the same questions: Who were the musicians that you worked with? What were the albums that you had released in that period and what did they represent stylistically? What was (were) the label(s) that you've been releasing your albums through?)
KL: By the time I began working on "Prime Mover", AD was no longer really a functioning band. We never officially "broke up", but we were just not able to keep it going. The "Prime Mover" album was basically just Warren Ham and I, just as "Reconstructions" was primarily just myself and Michael Gleason. Both albums continued in the progressive rock style. ("Prime Mover" contained a re-write of the classic Kansas song "Portrait"). After "Prime Mover", I recorded an instrumental CD, "One of Several Possible Musiks", which one the American Dove Award for instrumental album of the year (1989). This CD is still one of my favorites, and is in a musical style quite difficult to describe. The next five years, however, I basically took a holiday from music and did very little recording until "When Things Get Electric" in 1995. During this time I also moved from Georgia back to my native state of Kansas.
VM: In 1995, you begun working 'within the precincts' of your own label "Numavox Records". Please explain how and why you came to the realization of the necessity of creating a small, yet independent, recording company?
KL: Kansas history of working with record labels has been very difficult (nothing unique about that) After many years of frustration, audits, etc., and the fact that few labels were interested in progressive music, I finally decided that my best option at that stage of my career was to start a small independent label for myself and perhaps other artists.
VM: Are you pleased with having your very own label? Please describe briefly how your label works and how you distribute the ProGduction of "Numavox"?
KL: Very much so. Sales are in fewer numbers, but every dollar is accountable and I have complete artistic freedom. Distribution is primarily over the internet, but also through a few small distributors.
VM: What are the albums that have been created with your own mind and hands - from the first note and up to the final mixing touch? Who are the musicians with whom you worked with on them?
KL: The only album I have ever really done by myself is "One of Several Possible Musiks". On all the more recent releases I have worked with many musicians and singers - too numerous to list here. Lately I have been working a lot with my nephew, Jacob Livgren, who is an astonishing vocalist.
VM: What are your future plans regarding your solo career and the activity of your label as well?
KL: I hope to continue working, God willing, until I no longer am able. I have two works in progress, my Cantata, and a "Best Of Kerry Livgren" CD which contains several new works.
VM: Finally, what's next on Kansas's agenda? I've heard that, according to the contract with "Magna Carta", the band should be releasing another album for that label. If so, please tell me a little of how you're working on the upcoming album. Has it at least a working title yet? What is the current line-up for Kansas? Is it the same one that worked on the band's previous album "Somewhere to Elsewhere"? Will the band be touring in support of an upcoming album? Will you remain with the band after the new album is released? What are your thoughts about the future of Kansas in general?
KL: I really have no insight or comment on the band's plans. I assume they plan to continue. Thanks for the interview.
VM: Thank you very much Kerry for taking part in this interview and for your valuable time as well. In closing, I wish for you to carry on delighting your fans (including me) with your wonderful creation for years to come. Carry on Kerry!