Playing Woodstock and being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame might be success enough for some musicians to settle into retirement feeling accomplished. But for Paul Kantner, who reached both milestones with the 1960s-’70s psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane, the great mystery of music keeps him performing, now into his 70s.
When Jefferson Airplane disbanded in the early ’70s, Kantner moved onto his next project, Jefferson Starship, a band rooted in his solo project Blows Against the Empire, a sci-fi concept album which launched the Airplane into outer space. The band will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of that album with a show set for July 29 at 8 p.m. at the State Theatre that is being billed as a science fiction rock opera, pairing the music of Jefferson Starship with the soundtrack of “Blade Runner,” a dystopian sci-fi thriller.
The News-Press spoke to Kantner about his band and their upcoming show.
LP: What inspired the Blows Against the Empire 40th anniversary show?
PK: We wanted to particularly play the State Theatre in a unique way, as we’ve always had a good experience there. The Blows Against the Empire show is a science fiction project we’ve been working on lately, that we will debut at this theater because of the nature of time and space, if you will. It was my first solo album, a thousand years ago, and it got nominated for a Hugo award, which is kind of like the Oscar for science fiction. I’ve been doing it on and off here ever since in various formations with another favorite of mine, the “Blade Runner” movie, so we are combining them in our own peculiar way.
LP: What can audiences expect from the show?
PK: We are going to involve imagery and light show stuff that goes along with science fiction. It’s our music, and also from the movie “Blade Runner,” which is quite an iconic movie in my estimation. Some of the music from that movie has thrilled me over the years. It’s a natural culmination to weld them together in a way to move people. It’s an adventure.
LP: I understand that the name Jefferson Starship appeared on that album. How did the band go from that name to a full-fledged touring and recording act?
PK: That’s the first time I ever used the name. I was in Jefferson Airplane to start with, and Jefferson Airplane was in the process of more or less breaking up. I got the opportunity to do my first solo album, which was originally going to be tracks for the next Jefferson Airplane album. In the recording studio doing it, I decided to take a step up and away from Jefferson Airplane, so I subtitled it Jefferson Starship. That’s the first time I used that name. A couple years later, when I did form a for-sure group, I called it Jefferson Starship, but that was the first mention of it.
LP: What projects are on the horizon for the band?
PK: For the band, our website, jeffersonstarshipsf.com, has a thing called The Windowpane Collective, where we’ve taken scenes and gone in and created a body of music – for Christmas, for Valentine’s Day, and we have one coming up for the Civil War, a body of Civil War songs. We are also working on our next Jefferson Starship album. We’ve been working with a bit of electronica as well, which is interesting, given all the new toys and tools they have available.
LP: What has kept you in the music industry for all these years?
PK: Music in general fascinates the hell out of me. I wonder still if this combination of chords and melody lines and words and lyrics can conspire to affect people emotionally and as it does me, and I have wondered about that more and more over the years. I don’t know if I want to know the answer, because I am a bit adept at doing it, but I don’t really know why it affects people emotionally, and that really presses me forward.