There’s no denying the legacy of rock band Kansas. Since the mid-’70s, the progressive-rock outfit has produced iconic songs like “Carry on Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind” while touring relentlessly—including a show at Fantasy Springs on Friday, Sept. 9.
Kansas’ story is unique—but what’s even more unique is the story of the band’s newest member, Tom Brislin.
“I had been touring with classic-rock bands for over 20 years, and they tended to lean toward the progressive side of things—from the bombast of playing with Meat Loaf to touring with Yes on their symphonic tour,” Brislin said during a recent phone interview. “Through that, I had worked with several progressive-rock bands over the years, including a band called The Sea Within, who happened to be labelmates with Kansas. We performed in Germany at a big prog-rock festival, and the head of our label saw The Sea Within play, and when Kansas had a need for a keyboard player, he thought to recommend me. One day, I got a phone call from Phil Ehart asking me to join Kansas, which I did not expect in a million years—and it’s been pretty great so far.”
Brislin cut his teeth by being a backing musician for various long-time bands, but he was invited to do far more for Kansas when he joined the group in 2018.
“What made the Kansas situation unique was that they really wanted me to be a member of the band in every capacity, including songwriting,” said Brislin. “That was something that hadn’t been available to me in most of the other groups that I’ve worked with, so to actually be a creative part of the group and be a part of the band’s story, that was new. I’ve been writing songs as long as I’ve been playing music, so it was especially important to me to have that enticement, so to speak, and that’s been one of my favorite parts of being a part of the group.”
I asked Brislin if he felt like his solo and songwriting work suffered when he was primarily playing someone else’s parts.
“I think that I was working on growing as a player at the same time I was working on growing as a songwriter, so when these playing opportunities came, I just went full on into those—but I was still writing for my own group,” Brislin said. “I had a group called Spiraling for many years, and then eventually did some solo work, and I would always make sure that I kept the burners on for that, even if it wasn’t what I was doing in the forefront. I just would try to embrace what the challenge was for each group, and try to improve as a musician, and grow and get more experience. When it comes to Kansas, both are worlds colliding, and I think what I’m really supposed to be doing is both.”
Brislin is credited with writing or co-writing a majority of songs on Kansas’ newest album, 2020’s The Absence of Presence.
“I was learning this massive show of Kansas music, including all of the Point of Know Return album and a lot of deep cuts,” Brislin said. “When I knew that I had the open invitation to start submitting original music, that Kansas music was swimming around in my brain, so it naturally started to occur that stuff I was creating had a Kansas vibe to it.”
Brislin said he and his fellow band members took a measured approach to the process.
“I think they wanted to see what I came up with, and then talk more about it. They were just saying, at first, ‘Show us what you have,’” Brislin said. “They didn’t want to get too specific in terms of exactly what they wanted to hear from me until they got a vibe of what I was showing them. I started getting the green light, and then they gave me a couple of guidelines as to what they feel makes a Kansas song. … A lot of Kansas music is about the big picture. ‘Dust in the Wind’ or ‘Carry on Wayward Son’—these are sort of broad landscapes lyrically, and musically speaking, this band isn’t worried about trying to please the radio anymore, so we can do whatever we want. We can go full-on prog-rock-odyssey if we feel like it, but Kansas also has hooks, so I like that combination of musical adventure and memorable songs.”
Brislin’s classic-rock resume includes work with many bands and artists that would make many music fans freak out, yet Brislin learned to suppress the urge to “fanboy” pretty quickly.
“Having my first world tour experience with Meat Loaf definitely cured me of any starstruck attitudes, because there was no time, and there was no room for that,” Brislin said. “You had to show up and be professional. I was 24 years old, and I had been playing locally with my band, but to get in the room and work with such a demanding superstar, it was like, ‘All right, get down to business.’ I’m glad that happened first, because the Yes experience happened after that, and that was a band whose posters I had on the wall when I was a kid; I knew all the interviews, and I knew the albums front to back. Who knows what would have happened if that was the first tour experience?”
Kansas will perform at 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 9, at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, in Indio. Tickets are $39 to $69. For tickets or more information, call 760-342-5000, or visit www.fantasyspringsresort.com.