When it comes to prog-rock – that ever complex genre of music made famous in the ’70s, there are only a short list of names that managed to make it big. Bands like Rush, YES and Kansas. The latter of which will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 2, at Ocean Casino Resort.
Though known for their musicality and complex arrangements, Kansas was also masterful at pumping out radio-friendly hits. “Carry on Wayward Son” which was released in 1977 still manages to be in the Top 5 most played songs on classic rock radio and “Dust in the Wind” is the type of earworm that everybody has sang along to at least once or twice.
One man who grew up singing along to those tunes is Tom Brislin. Brislin is the keyboard player and newest member of Kansas, and at 47 years old, he’s the youngster of the band. Though his baby face looks may imply a certain wide-eyed naivety, its merely a façade, as Brislin is a seasoned vet, having already taken up reins with other ’70s rock gods such as Meat loaf and YES. We had a chance to chat with him about the upcoming tour, his love of prog-rock and what it’s like to walk into an already established group. Here’s what he had to say:
Ryan Loughlin: What was it like coming into an already established band like Kansas? Was it a smooth transition?
Tom Brislin: The band has made it as smooth of an introduction as possible. I’ve played with several classic rock bands before, so I know what it means to step into a storied franchise and just get with the program. But Kansas took it to another level because they welcomed me as a full band member writing songs with the group ad being part of the story moving forward.
RL: Speaking of that, you’ve written a good amount of music for the new Kansas record. Do you consciously try to make the songs adapt to what you might think of as a “Kansas type of song?”
TB: I try to write without any preconceptions and see what happens, and then sort out the details afterwards, however in order for that to work I have to be writing a lot. Because I could go and write something that has no business being on a Kansas record and the next day I could write something that seems taylor-made for the group. And if there is something I am really passionate about there are ways to sort of steer it in the right direction and get it to be in that vocabulary of what Kansas is all about.
RL: Will much of the new stuff make it into the live show?
TB: Eventually. At first we will be doing the classics as sort of a way to get back in the loop after being away for so long. We did a few shows so far and we have bounced back really well and so has the audience.
RL: You have played with Yes and Kansas. Do you naturally lean towards prog-rock, or is it simply a coincidence that you ended up in two of the biggest bands within that genre?
TB: I was raised on prog rock and all sorts of ’70s music. And then I discovered the ’80s stuff myself. It’s always been kind of a part of my musical DNA. It’s funny, because I tried having a prog-rock band when I was younger and so many people in the business said ‘oh that stuff is over. You can never make it as a musician touring with prog-rock only.’ And now I’m touring with Kansas after playing with YES, so …
RL: Besided prog-rock, what are some of your influences?
TB: I definitely devoured a lot of new wave stuff and a lot of 80s bands like The Police, Men at Work and Duran Duran. Prince was a big influence. And when I got serious about playing keyboards, I went to college at William Paterson in North Jersey and was part of the jazz program there which was very challenging. So jazz has been a big influence on my playing as well.
RL: You grew up in Jersey – what town are you from?
TB: I grew up in Dunellen in Middlesex County.
RL: How accepting have the fans been to you and your contributions to the group?
TB: I think that as long as I show respect for the tradition and do my job as well as I can, than that gives me more of the green light to add more to the group. Because they know that I did my homework and that I get what Kansas is all about.
RL: After being stuck at home for so long, is there a sense of excitement within the band to be able to get back on the road and do some touring?
TB: Oh we are ready. And we’ve been ready!