Somewhere to Elsewhere
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Released July 11, 2000
"I don't think we fit anywhere. And I'm very proud of that; meaning that the band, to me, defies easy categorization, and that's something I personally hold very highly. I like that fact. I'd just call us an American progressive rock band, which I guess is different from the British approach because of the blues influence."
A plaintive basis for discussion from guitarist and keyboardist Kerry Livgren on this crucial rock event that finds Kansas reconvening for a full-on reunion album for 2000. And the man's words ring true. Kansas, proving through 30 million albums sold over a powerful 30 years in the business, that their unique brand of heartland art rock can, and indeed will, live on. Somewhere To Elsewhere, recorded at Grandy Zine Studios on Livgren's farm in Berryton, Kansas, underscores and emphasizes that fact in fine fashion, the band creating dynamic progressive rock that indeed takes the listener to Elsewhere, back to the multi-platinum strings and strains of Leftoverture, 'Carry On My Wayward Son' and 'Dust In The Wind', and forward to the front edge of creative music-making this collective has produced since 1970.
Kansas has indeed kept nearly continuously busy for the past 30 years, challenging audiences with sights and sounds with only a two year break between 1983 and 1985; and since 1991, playing a minimum of 100 dates a year. But Somewhere To Elsewhere is a big event in the long history of this esteemed progressive collective, bringing back each and all recent contributors and original members, including lead singer Steve Walsh, frontman and violinist Robbie Steinhardt (essentially the band has had a unique two frontman configuration), and chief writer of the album Kerry Livgren, back after a 17-year absence.
The result is a record that flames and flares with Kansas chemistries. Seven alumni are involved, including two very different guitar minds, three lead vocalists (Steve Walsh takes most of the leads, although original frontman Robbie Steinhardt takes two, while Billy Greer takes one), rounded out with two different bassists, a drummer, and the band's signature violin, the aforementioned Robbie Steinhardt being the original at this unique post.
Drummer Phil Ehart explains how the project got its start. "Kerry and I discussed over the number of months leading up to this that he was writing material that sounded very much like early Kansas. So he was just as surprised as we were. The stuff was coming out of him and getting demoed and he was like 'This sounds like classic Kansas.' So that's when we took a good listen, and when we heard it we said, 'we really want to do this. This is powerful material.'"
Then band then convened at Kerry's rural studio. Kerry speaks fondly of the sessions that ensued. "Probably the most significant thing was the relaxed and pleasant atmosphere minus all the normal stresses of recording. And I think that really contributed greatly to the album's vibe. I think that's one of the reasons I like this album so much. For one thing it is a reunion. It's a bunch of guys with an incredible past that haven't worked together in a long time. I guess we got together to see if we could still do it, and not only could we still do it, but maybe in a lot of ways, we found that we could do it better than we ever did."
And the finished product is rife with good wishes and vitality, while at the same time, constructed firmly with the band's '70s accomplishments in mind. Kerry quantifies this fine balance. "I guess that in the nature of things writing seems to be cyclical. We got to a point where we no longer cared about trying to fit neatly into any of the format niches. I came to the Resolution myself that 'why not write what I do best and not worry about the consequences?' Be true to your school (laughs). And what seems to be interesting, with the buzz about the band, is that people are generally very glad we did that rather than try to fit in."
Vocal dramatist Steve Walsh sees 'mood' in the final result: "I think every song on this album has sections that vacillate between extremes. It is incredibly moody. And I think things people identify with us in terms of the past, are also here in the present. And moody means a variety of moods, not just purples and browns and blacks. It's uplifting as well."
Somewhere To Elsewhere is studded with interesting twists and turns, soaring choruses ('When The World Was Young' should be a rock smash), celebrated Kansas styles, and some drop-dead surprises. For example, 'Myriad' is the first song Kansas ever wrote, albeit here offered in radically different form. "Myriad was an interesting song because parts of it were written even before this particular Kansas was even formed," offers Phil. "It was one of the songs we learned when Kerry and I were back in the very first Kansas. It basically harkens back to 1970, 1971 and the song never saw the light of day. And Kerry thought about it in this particular context. He kind of rewrote the whole thing. But there are parts in that that I remember playing 30 years ago. And it was actually called 'Myriad' back then too; we kept the title."
Opener 'Icarus II' is an instant Kansas classic, in essence, a follow-up to 'Icarus' from 1976's Masque. Through elegant harmonies, hot solo performances, quirky arrangements, and a lead vocal from Steve that cuts through to the heart of the matter, 'Icarus II' tells a tragic tale. "'Icarus II' is actually based on a historical event about a World War II pilot who commanded his crew to bail out when the plane was all shot up. He stayed with it all the way to the ground to keep it from crashing into American troops. It's quite a heroic story." The closing minutes are touched off by a heart-rendering "I'm going home...", after which the band creates a grand conclusion, Robbie's violin and Kerry's rich piano work sewing the finale together, creating a triumphant close that is sure to become an inspirational high watermark of the band's inevitable live presentation.
Elsewhere, the album contains what is perhaps the band's funkiest song ever 'Grand Fun Alley' featuring a lyric which Kerry says is "kind of poking fun at the apocalypse. It's a song about a fictitious character who realizes he's at the very end of the ages and he still has a good attitude about it." Byzantium, according to Phil, is also firmly in the departure camp. "'Byzantium' is unlike any Kansas song we've ever done. It might hearken back a little bit to early Zeppelin, or maybe Robert Plant circa Now & Zen, kind of that Arabic sound, which we've never addressed."
On the title of the album, Somewhere To Elsewhere, Kerry offers the following. "One of the reasons this title was chosen is that it has relevance to the project," offers Kerry. "For one thing I live on a farm out in the middle of nowhere, and all the guys that live in Atlanta, arguably live somewhere. From their perspective, they definitely came to elsewhere (laughs). And I also think the somewhere refers to the fact that we are all so scattered and apart and we suddenly reunited elsewhere." Phil adds another twist. "It was a title that could pretty much mean anything. But for me it meant that this music can take you from somewhere to somewhere else, that Kansas music always evokes interesting images and that the music can take you from one point to another point."
Emphatically, Kansas is this type of band, Somewhere To Elsewhere offering prog rock trips heavy on dynamic, each tight, hard rock arrangement countered with moments as touching as 'The Coming Dawn', calming exotica like 'Byzantium' countered by signature grand arrangements like 'Distant Vision'. The key is that Kansas can only be seen in the summation of its many stylistic forays. It is a tall order, but this is a band that has never patronized their audience's intelligence, ever optimistic that the caravan to elsewhere can be a productive collective experience.
Last word on the general direction of Kansas 2000 goes to Steve, one of the band's key creative weapons, a man who on top of the Kansas experience. "I would say Somewhere To Elsewhere is a branch of the tree that got us to wherever we are now. There's still experimentation going on, as there always will be. But there's a certain element where you go 'oh, I see now. I hear this and I recognize who this is.' There's definite identity in this material."
Click here to order Somewhere to Elsewhere! Kansas vocalist Steve Walsh released Glossolalia on Magna Carta in 2000, and Kansas (or Kansas members) are also featured on The December People's Sounds Like Christmas, and Explorers Club.
Somewhere to Elsewhere
Catalog # : MA-9050-2