The Absence of Presence, American progressive-rock band Kansas’s sixteenth studio album, was released this past July 17 on Inside Out Music. The album follows up 2016’s The Prelude Implicit, which entered Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart at #14.
Kansas, who have sold more than 30 million albums worldwide since their self-titled 1974 debut, are most famous for two iconic songs—“Carry On Wayward Son,” from 1976’s breakout album Leftoverture, and “Dust in the Wind,” from ’77’s Point of Know Return. The Absence of Presence features the band’s latest lineup (from left in photo): keyboardist Tom Brislin, violinist David Ragsdale, guitarist Zak Rizvi, guitarist Richard Williams, drummer Phil Ehart, bassist Billy Greer, and singer Ronnie Platt. Kansas has so far released videos for The Absence of Presence, “Memories Down the Line,” “Jets Overhead,” and “Throwing Mountains.”
MD: Congratulations on the new album, Phil. Where and when was The Absence of Presence recorded?
Phil: Thank you. Due to our heavy touring schedule, it’s taken the last couple of years to write and record this latest collection of Kansas songs. It was recorded in private home studios as well as the studio we’ve used for many years, Real2Reel Studios in Stockbridge, Georgia.
MD: What was the writing and preparation process like?
Phil: Writing and album preparation for Kansas is a constant ongoing process. It never stops. All facets of songwriting continue on airplanes, in cars, in hotels, backstage at gigs, and while we’re at home off the road. Then it’s announced that we’re going to record, and all these songs present themselves. It’s pretty amazing…but not that unusual.
MD: What were you hoping to achieve in relation to your last album, The Prelude Implicit, which was your first in quite a while, and your first with the new lineup?
Phil: Well, an artist always hopes to achieve new musical heights with a new album that maybe they didn’t quite reach on their last endeavor. That’s the hope, anyway. Sometimes you succeed, and sometimes you don’t. We feel with this newest record that we did just that.
MD: Were there any tracks on The Absence of Presence that were especially challenging to play or record?
Phil: Since day one, recording our very first record, it’s never been the playing or the recording for me that’s been challenging, it’s been the composing. Coming up with all those drum parts for all those song parts for all those Kansas albums…that’s what wakes me up at 3 a.m. and sends me running to my drum studio to try out a part that just popped into my head. Thank goodness I have a very patient wife!
MD: What drum gear did you use?
Phil: Yamaha Recording Custom drums, Zildjian cymbals, Evans heads, and Promark sticks.
MD: Do you enjoy recording more or less than you used to?
Phil: I guess after all these years I am much more appreciative of making recordings. I can’t believe, after all these years, that I still get to play drums in a really cool band, play gigs all around the world, and make recordings of new songs. I am a blessed person, for sure!
MD: What’s your favorite aspect of recording? What’s your least favorite?
Phil: There is no downside.
MD: Without the ability to tour right now, how are you approaching supporting this album?
Phil: Support for this album is all done online. Like doing this interview with MD. We’re getting the word—and music—out on the Internet around the world.
MD: What song are you most looking forward to playing when you start touring again?
Phil: “Throwing Mountains” off our new album!
MD: Have you been working on any other projects outside of this release, musically or otherwise?
Phil: I do have an offer to play on a solo project from one of my favorite guitarists of all time, but due to the virus spreading around the world, I don’t feel comfortable mentioning it at this time. Hopefully it will happen soon.
Along with being the drummer in Kansas, I’ve also managed the band for the last thirty-two years. It’s never boring!
Thank you, MD, for having me.
Band photo by Emily Butler
Phil Ehart still from the “Throwing Mountains” video