The Minstrel Has Found Himself
an interview with Roger Hodgson
place: lounge of Barbizon Palace hotel, Amsterdam, Netherlands
interview conducted by: Jerry van Kooten
photos taken by: Mariëlle Crijns
Did it help to look back to the Supertramp years after such a long time not being on stage?
I didn't look back to the Supertramp years. It was really a brand new beginning. The last few years with Supertramp were not fun in any shape or form. Touring was not fun. That was the memory that I was left with. In its heyday, Supertramp was a lot of fun, but twenty years later, I was a very different person. When I came back to the stage twenty years later, it was with a confidence that I never had with Supertramp. It was fun like I never had with Supertramp. It was like discovering a whole new side of performing that I never knew existed. That's why I did the solo tour - the one including the Paradiso that you mentioned. That tour was a revelation: I could stand alone on a stage and have an intimate connection with the audience. They can have a great time, I can have a great time. It was something that I had never tasted before, something I didn't even knew I could do. I felt like there was a minstrel inside me that had suddenly found himself. That was what really gave me a reason to do it all over again. That more than anything.
Recording albums is a lot of hard work, an emotional rollercoaster. There's a lot of joy and sorrow in every album. Disappointment and pleasure. It's work. A lot of work.
Also with this album?
Yeah, all albums. They take a long time and you have to put a lot of energy into an album. The only way I can do it is by taking the energy I get from touring and go to a studio with that energy and make it work. I hadn't been on tour for years and years, which is why I couldn't get an album done. I ran out of energy. It's just too hard.
You needed a recharge.
I needed something. "Why am I doing this? Making albums is just too hard work. Even touring, which I hadn't done in so many years, didn't seem to be fun anymore. So why do it?"
Did you go on tour after In The Eye Of The Storm?
No, I didn't. The only touring I did was two minor excursions with the Night Of The Proms. That was the only thing I did, but it was a lot of fun. It was only four songs a night, I was just warmed up, and I had to leave stage. But it was a little taste of... that something had happened. I felt the confidence and a sense of fun that I hadn't felt before.
And the difference in audience? Night Of The Proms was in front of a very large audience, not as intimate as the Paradiso or Milky Way.
Yes, and it also wasn't touring. It was my name, but it was Night Of The Proms. It wasn't touring as Roger Hodgson. It really took the 1998 tour after Rites Of Passage to cement: myself, under my own name.
I first heard about your solo tour when someone said there was a solo show available on the Internet - your show at the House Of Blues.
Is it still on there?
It was a downloadable file first, but they changed it to a streaming audio file, so you can't download it. I was in time, so I was able to download it. Would you like to have it?
On CD? Really? Wow, that's great! What does it sound like?
Very good, actually!
So it's audio only? Great. Thank you.
I filled the disc with the demos that are on your website.
I've got them! :-)
Will there be more demos on your website?
Yeah, I want to put out a whole bunch when I get a bit of time.
At the Paradiso you said that you had written about eighty songs.
Well, I've always had a backlog. With Supertramp I only got five out every two or three years, and Rick had four or five. So there were a lot built up. So I've got a lot of songs from the last thirty years.
I heard The Garden was a very old song, and on Hai Hai there's another song from years back. Is there any chance we will hear new versions of Mr. Boyd or Imagine?
No, no chance. But there's plenty of other songs that haven't made it on record. The Garden is thirty years old. The recording is brand new, but the song is very old. The great thing is that people don't say it sounds like an old song! Every album will be a combination of old and new. The newest song on this album is Death And A Zoo.
It's on there [House Of Blues CD] as well.
I did, didn't I? So, it's not that new - it's a few years old. I think it was in the process of being written.
You refer to Mary in a couple of songs. Who's Mary?
I don't know, I really don't know. I think in one song it was the Mother Mary, but it may also be a word I enjoy singing. It keeps on popping up in me. Maybe she's a guardian angel somewhere. She's appeared a few times.
Along Came Mary, Had A Dream... So just a beautiful name to sing.
Soapbox Opera, too. Yes, I think so. There's no person that I think of when I sing of Mary.
The story behind Death And A Zoo - can you tell me something about that?
The song-writing process is fascinating to me. I don't think I've ever sat down and said, "well, I'm going to write a song about Mary or about animals or this or that". It's like an automatic process. I start playing the guitar, the piano, or my pump organ or whatever, and ideas just start to happen. And I start singing when I hear a melody in my head, and I sing la la la la la la or sing words. Often the words don't mean anything, but often there are phrases. They're more like musical phrases, 'cause words have to be musical too, for me to be able to sing them. So, words just come.
With Logical Song, it was "...when I was young... na na na liberal..." or something. Or "radical". That gave me a clue. That was probably the most fun lyrics to write, because I got the dictionary and I wrote all these "-al"-s! Liberal, radical, digital... And the song grew from that.
The basic idea will come with this process. I don't know for sure how Death And A Zoo happened, but the melody came, I fell in love with the melody, and that line came: "death and a zoo". I didn't know what "death and a zoo" meant. What the hell does that mean? [Singing:] "hey, what would you do, hm hm hm death, death and a zoo"... I really didn't know what it meant. At the time I think I was feeling a bit trapped in my own life, so I think it came out of that. I switched it to be about animals, because I liked the idea.
I'm always trying to find out what a lyric wants to be. The lyrics usually take the most work. The music comes pretty easily. I can hear where it wants to build. That's pretty simple. I try to make lyrics in the same way, to let them be born that way, but normally I have to get very disciplined to finish the lyrics. Only one verse will come, for example, and then I have to write three more. Sometimes that happens fifteen years later! I was not very disciplined to finish it off at the first time.
So the song's not finished and thus remains unpublished.
Yes! There are eighty songs waiting, but there are not eighty lyrics. It's usually, when I record them, that I finish off a lyric. And that's a lot of hard work. Recording a song definitely forces myself to finish a song. I'm not particularly interested in finishing it unless I'm going to record it or to play it live.
However, I do go on stage and do it now. I'd go and sing a song with an unfinished lyric. Especially in a foreign country, they don't know the difference. It's not even that, I do it in America, too. Often, it sounds like the lyric is finished, but it's not. To me it's just a string of words, it doesn't make sense to me. What's the song... there's a song on this album a little like that too... Open The Door! The lyric to Open The Door is a complete mystery to me! All the other songs I know what I'm singing about, but Open The Door - it's doesn't really add up for me. I've lived with it for so long - it's an older song - and it is what it wants to be. No one said to me, so far, "what is Open The Door saying?". It's not saying anything, and you're the first person I've told this to. Sometimes you have to go with the lyric because it's finished, and I can't change it. So I have either choice: don't record it because it doesn't make sense, or just put it out. And it doesn't really matter. Sometimes there's only one line that people hear, which they hold on to or like singing. The rest of the song might be absolute rubbish, but that one line is just magic. That's the only thing that matters to me.
I obviously like to have a good lyric - Logical Song is a good lyric, for example. I'm proud of that. And there's some good lyrics on this one. I feel pretty good about most of my lyrics. There are a few lines that I'm not crazy about... It's Raining Again! "Come on you little fighter, no need to get uptighter..." Uptighter? Hmmm, rhyming. I had to find something to rhyme with "fighter". I generally like my songs, which is good. I don't whince (???) when I sing twenty-year old songs.
You still like playing them?
Yeah, I do.
You play a lot of them.
I play almost all of them!
At the Paradiso you even played a song of Indelibly Stamped. And from all the Supertramp live recordings that I know of, there's no song played from the first two albums. Why was that?
Well, it was a different band, that's why. And now I'm a solo artist, I can do what the hell I like! They're my songs, and I enjoy playing them. I think Rosie Had Everything Planned is the song you're talking about. The next album you'll hear from me probably will be a live album.
Isn't that a lot easier for you? You get the energy from being on stage, and you simply record the event.
It's easier, much easier. You just have to have a great band and record it well.
You like to be back on stage with a band again?
Oh yeah, definitely. But I'll always have a part of the show where I'll be alone with the audience, 'cause I like that. It's more intimate.
You need small venues?
I'll try and keep it intimate even in big venues, if I can.
A long time ago I read about a soundtrack album that Supertramp once did.
So that's what it's called... A Polish release, was it?
I've never seen it. I don't think it was ever an album. It was the very early days, we did it in Munich.
Does the recording still exist?
I don't have it.
Do you regret that?
That I don't have it? No! But there's a lot of stuff at home that I'd like to put out on the website. I'd like to put out all the bits and pieces that are not good enough to go on an album, but fans would find very very interesting. All the old demos for Crime Of The Century, you know. A lot of stuff...
Are there any things you regret having done or not having done?
Good to hear.
Yeah, things are as they should be.
You're a happy person?
Yes. I feel very good about where everything's going. It's good to be back, it's good feeling the way I'm feeling. I have more energy now than I had ten years ago. I really think that music should go better with age. This is not an industry confined to teenagers. If you want to be a sex symbol or teen idol, you need to be a teenager, but if you want to be an artist, you're really only going to start, even coming to terms with being an artist, even understanding what it means to be an artist, in your later years. And to do that, you've got to survive this industry. And that's the tricky part. Not just the industry, just being a famous anything - being a famous musician, being a famous movie star. That's really the tough part you put yourself to, and no one is ready for it. So you've got to survive and learn whatever lessons and challenges come with it. When you get past that, you get strong enough to want to do it some more.
And you still want it?
Now I realize it's what I have to give. The world's full of stuff I don't particularly care about, but I'll try and have fun with all of it, and not take it too seriously. That's the secret.
Including interviews. I actually like giving interviews. It's really interesting. To me, an interview is a conversation between two people. Some are boring and some are great. That's not only down to the interviewer, but it's also down to me. I can find out who you are, for example, and try and find a place for us to meet, and enjoy the experience. Or I can go "oh god, this is boring... No, I didn't mind leaving Supertramp..." To me, everyone I meet is interesting. I'm trying to see my life that way. Everyone has a story to tell that's really interesting.
Thanks Roger Hodgson, for this very nice and interesting conversation. Hope to see you on stage again soon.