PS: Can you walk me through how Proto-Kaw got back together - the whens & whys?
LM: It’s been a strange journey so far…Most of us had not seen or talked with each other in 20 to 30 years until May 2002. That is when Kerry called us to ask permission and tell us our original demo tapes from 1971-73 were being picked up by Cuneiform Records and they wanted to release them later that year. We were all stunned that anyone had heard of those tapes, let alone wanted to put them out. Kerry re-mastered them and did a fantastic job making them listenable and they were released in late September 2002. That in turn led to us getting together for a “CD Release Party” that same month. That was the first time we had seen each other…it was very weird, emotional and rewarding. We all jammed that night and there was some magic again. We later talked in the parking lot about considering getting together again and see what happens. We all stayed in touch over the winter and met in March of 2003. That is when we decided to start on some new material and take up to 2 years to complete. As we started though, our pace quickened and we wanted to do a self release of the cd in late 2003. As we neared the release date…Inside Out Music contacted us about a record deal and we went with them. The cd was then released in April of this year.
PS: As a member of the original Kansas, how do you feel the band we all came to know differed musically from the band you were in?
LM: I think they are pretty different… the famous Kansas plays music that is a bit more structured than our version. We tend to go with weirder time signatures, jazzy riffs and more jam-oriented passages. We’re still structured, but in a different way than Kansas. Some persons will always see some similarities because we are both doing Kerry Livgren songs, but we both have our own unique sounds. It’s not our goal to emulate Kansas…they have a great sound all their own and we have ours. It works pretty well.
PS: "Before Became After" is a very progressive, heavy CD, yet it also sounds like the band is having a ball. Were the sessions for this record as fun as they sound?
LM: Yes they were… We tried to record in groups and to be there for each other. It was always fun to sing with a few guys around…you get immediate feed back about your performance and they would give suggestions and encouragement. That meant a lot to us and I think it shows in each one’s recordings. But it is just great fun to record. We are very lucky to be doing this and you have to be appreciative and respectful of your opportunity. When you think that what you are about to record lives beyond you…it pumps you up…you get an adrenaline rush and you really go for a good performance. That might be what you are hearing in the music…our passion and appreciation for our chance to do this again.
We always wanted to be known for playing music that both musicians and non-musicians can enjoy. It’s been my opinion that with musicians listening to your music...you just try to perform at a level to add to the quality of your craft...to make those persons understand you are giving it your all. With many non-musicians…you have to perform like you are having fun…the level of passion and emotion in your music is often interpreted by non-musicians as talent.
PS: In the years since the original incarnation of the band, everyone got families and occupations. Was anyone hesitant to put their rock & roll shoes back on?
LM: I don’t think anyone was too hesitant…we all just so surprised by this whole deal. It’s only been 2 years since Kerry called us about the release of our old tapes…which led to our getting back together to record new material a little over a year ago. … so we’re all still adjusting a bit. Most of us had not stayed in contact with each other as well as not played much over the years...so we all had some questions about our abilities. But our families have been quite supportive…working real jobs and trying to do the music “on the side” has been a challenge at times, but we’re getting it done. It’s been pretty funny with teenage kids…who never knew us in this light… and see them react to dad being a “rocker”! They have also been great support for us…my daughters actually pick out clothes for me to perform in while my son gives me pointers on singing…it’s pretty amusing. Only a couple of persons…our former bassist, Rod Mikinski, and one of our drummers, Zeke Low were pretty busy and decided to move on…but the rest of us are quite happy with this project.
PS: Was there an event, a song, an album that made you want to be a musician?
LM: Actually, when I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan…I decided I wanted to do that. I joined a garage band the next day and combed my very short hair down onto my forehead. I was expelled from 7th grade that morning. I started singing soul music…especially James Brown…nearly every weekend and did that from age 13 on…but I enjoyed listening to “English” rock. I later switched to rock when I joined a band with the eventual Kansas members at age 19.
PS: How and when did you first meet Kerry Livgren?
LM: We met in a band called “The Reasons Why”. It was right after high school…I joined this band as a soul singer…Don Montre (Kansas piano player) was already in the band. We later added Dan Wright (Kansas organ player) and Kerry. The four of us left that group to start Saratoga…which later merged with White Clover to become the 1st incarnation of Kansas. After that group broke up…the four of us added three new persons to form Kansas II.
PS: There's a very heavy cover of the old Cryan' Shames tune "Greenburg, Glickstein, Charles, David, Smith and Jones." What drew the band to that song?
LM: It was Kerry’s idea. We were looking for one more song to add for the bonus cd and didn’t have a lot of time…Kerry had a couple of originals, but we thought they would take too long to learn…so we considered a cover tune. Kerry had always liked this song and had a partial arrangement already so we went with it. Once recorded, we had to decide whether to put it on the bonus track cd or add it to the main cd. Based on some informal testing, we went with it on the main cd and bumped “It Moves You” from the main cd to a bonus track. We were contacted by a representative of the Cryan’ Shames when they heard we were covering it…they were very excited about hearing our rendition.
PS: Your voice possesses power as well as beauty. Do you do exercises to keep it in shape, or does it all come naturally?
LM: Thank you for the nice words…I do feel I have some God given ability, but you have to practice to get better. It’s very hard for me to listen to myself sing, but I have to do that in order to improve. When this project started, I had not sung seriously in over 20 years and didn’t think I could do it again. Years of screaming at football players, I felt had ruined my voice…but once I started to practice…it came back quite strong. I was able to regain nearly every note of my original range. I wanted to approach the songs differently though. Unlike when I was young and just “sang” a song, I wanted to interpret the song by using my emotion or passion for the opportunity to record again. I have always had some unusual phrasing, which is by design. My dad was a big band singer and he used to tell me the great singers didn’t necessarily have the best voice, but they had great phrasing and passion. I didn’t pay that much attention to that when I was 20…but now I had another chance. I did/do practice a lot and also use the techniques of Mark Baxter…voice teacher to rock singers… his book really made me understand my voice and how to make it work better. A fantastic book for any singer!
PS: "Words of Honor" has a beautiful lyric. Can you tell me a bit of the story behind the song?
LM: Kerry wrote this song at the very last minute…in fact, we were done recording and had sent our songs off to Inside Out for pressing promotional copies. It was right after the Super Bowl and Kerry called and said I had to hear this new song…he said it was “a singer’s song”. So I went and heard the tune and he was right…I thought it was great. The song has lyrics that are ones of integrity. Some think it’s a song about Iraq…but it’s not. You could interpret that if you want to, but the intent is about your words meaning something…that there is a “right” thing to do when it comes to personal conduct and integrity. I enjoy the tune as well…in fact I had a really tough time singing this song…emotionally speaking. I was so wrapped up in the words and tune that I choked up…some of the takes couldn’t work because of that…it was very weird. Kerry sang the tune one day and I went home and practiced…but didn’t remember all the areas correctly. I ended up practicing the song incorrectly in a couple of parts. When it came to recording day…I sang the song with Kerry to refresh my memory and decided I wanted to do it a bit differently. So everyone left me alone for 30 or 40 minutes while I practiced it all over again. Then when the recording started...the emotion started and some notes came out I never had practiced…it was as if somebody else took over for a while. Weird experience…..
PS: Can we look for Proto-Kaw to be active as a live band with any regularity?
LM: We’re trying to be a live band…it’s our goal to play frequently…but it’s a hard task. Prog bands have limited venues to start with…when you add we’re fairly unknown…it compounds the issue. We feel we have a strong potential listener base with Classic Rock fans…but they don’t hear our music on classic rock radio since our music is new and we’re not dead yet… so it’s a perplexing problem. We have to depend on the Internet and individuals creating a “buzz” about us and turning their friends on to our music. Hopefully through cd sales more promoters and agents will look to us for live concerts.
PS: Please list 6 CDs you never get tired of listening to…
LM: There’s SO MANY….I settled on 10….
Pink Floyd – The Wall
Eagles – Desperado
Frank Zappa – Joe’s Garage 1 & 2
Roger Waters – Amused to Death
Yes – Close to the Edge
King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King
Genesis – Selling England by the Pound
U2 – Achtung Baby
Beatles – Abbey Road
Chicago – Chicago Transit Authority
PS: What can we expect next from you & Proto-Kaw?
LM: An evolution of our sound… we feel that the best is still to come with us. Kerry is already writing for the next cd and we hope to play live as much as possible. We all want to do live performances…because we enjoy it and it expands us musically….plus it’s fun to be together again. I hope we continue to have the opportunity. I also want to thank you and other fans of our music. We very much enjoy and appreciate all of your support. We all hope to continue to please you with our efforts.