The Absence of Presence will be the next album offering from prog rock veterans Kansas, who have been more present than absent in recent years.
The nine-song set is due out June 26 — in time for the group’s summer tour with Foreigner and Europe — and was, like 2016’s The Prelude Implicit, produced by guitarist Zak Rizvi with founding members Phil Ehart and Richard Williams at Real 2 Reel Studios in Stockbridge, Ga. It’s Kansas’ second outing with Rizvi and singer-keyboardist Ronnie Platt and first with keyboardist Tom Brislin (Meat Loaf, Debbie Harry, Yes), and Ehart tells Billboard that the “new blood” has made another album that stands alongside vintage ’70s Kansas.
“This sounds like Kansas,” Ehart says. “Zak wrote the majority of The Prelude Implicit and this album, and now having Tom Brislin add a couple of his songs and his keyboard prowess really pushes the band even more toward that original sound, which is not easy to do by any means. You’ve got to have the material. You’ve got to have the singer to sing it. You’ve got to have lyrics that are Kansas-type lyrics. These guys get it, and the other four of us who have been here for 20, 40, 50 years, we’re just sitting here grinning, going ‘This is great!'”
Ehart says that if the band had its way, The Absence of Presence would have been finished sooner. But the popularity of recent tours, in which Kansas has played its two biggest albums — 1976’s Leftoverture and 1977’s Point of Know Return — in their entirety kept the group away from the studio for longer than intended. “We got so busy we couldn’t make another album,” Ehart says. The Absence of Presence was recorded in a couple of shifts and finished earlier this year, with mixing recently completed and mastering under way.
The lyrics to the title track, meanwhile, were written by Brislin from a title and concept suggested by Ehart. “It can mean a couple of different things,” the drummer notes, “but what sticks out is when we’re at an airport, there’s a lot of people there but everybody is staring at their phone or looking at their computer or their iPad or reading a paper or whatever. Someone’s sitting across from you looking up, and you can tell they’re not engaged at all. People are there, but they’re not really there. They’re present, but there’s an absence of presence.”
As the album is being prepared for release — a first single is due to be announced during early April — Kansas is preparing to return to the road. It’s just started a U.S. run of Point of Know Return and Kansas Classics shows that stretch into May, then it hops on the Juke Box Heroes 2020 tour starting July 9 in New Mexico. Ehart notes that Foreigner toured with Kansas in Europe during the ’70s, and he’s looking forward to pairing up again.
“We’ve been trying to put the two bands together for quite a while, so when this came up we jumped on it,” he says. “We’ve stayed in touch over the years and they’re a great band and good guys, and I think we have a mutual respect between the two bands. We get one hour and it’ll go by very quickly for us, but we’re just happy to be there and get offstage and watch Foreigner come on. And Europe, too. It should be a great summer.”
October 18 London, England Palladium
October 20 Frankfurt, Germany Jahrhunderthalle
October 21 Hamburg, Germany Docks
October 23 Tampere, Finland Tamperetalo
October 24 Helsinki, Finland Culture House
October 26 Stockholm, Sweden Cirkus
October 27 Oslo, Norway Sentrum Scene
October 29 Berlin, Germany Tempodrom
October 31 Brussels, Belgium Cirque Royale
November 3 Munich, Germany Circus Krone
November 5 Heilbronn, Germany Harmonie
November 9 Bochum, Germany RuhrCongress
November 10 Amsterdam, Holland Carre Theatre