Q&A: Roger Hodgson
Following the postponement of a handful of Northeastern U.S. concerts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Roger Hodgson, co-founder and original singer/songwriter from Supertramp, picked up the U.S. leg of the 2012 "Breakfast in America Tour" on Sunday (11/4) in the Boston area, which was spared the level of devastation wreaked on New York, Connecticut and New Jersey.
In a media advisory issued Oct. 30, Hodgson said, "We have been closely following the path of Hurricane Sandy and witnessing how the flooding, high winds, downed trees and power outages have been disrupting the lives of millions of people. Our sympathy goes out to all those whose lives have been affected. For the safety of all those traveling to my concerts, we are shifting the dates for the first three shows." The shows originally scheduled for Nov. 1 in Glenside, PA; Nov. 2 in Long Island, NY; and Nov. 3 in Ridgefield, CT; will be rescheduled for either another day in November or the beginning of next year. The nearly three dozen scheduled dates represent Hodgson's first major U.S. tour since his departure from Supertramp in 1983. The shows -- to be staged in small to medium-sized venues -- will showcase many of Hodgson's hits, including "The Logical Song," "Breakfast in America," "Give a Little Bit," "Dreamer," "School," "Take the Long Way Home," "It's Raining Again" and "Fool's Overture."
Hodgson co-founded Supertramp in 1969 and served as both the heart and creative force behind the band for the 14 years prior to his departure. He is looking to rekindle the connections and intimacy many of his songs evoke in longtime fans as well as those who have come to know Hodgson's material in the years since he departed Supertramp. In a conversation with Hodgson ahead of the tour, he talked about the fulfillment he enjoys by continuing to recreate, with his own band, the material made internationally famous by Supertramp. He also touched upon how he always approached his career holistically, paying equal attention to the detailed production aspects of his recorded material and live performances.
SoundSpike: Let's begin by talking about how you go about crafting your concerts as well as your recordings to achieve that phenomenon of transporting the listener to what is still apparently a very magical place?
Roger Hodgson: I'm trying to think why I started to be that way -- and I'm thinking maybe it was because of the Beatles. I was a teenager when the Beatles happened, so for me a Beatles album was like a musical journey through a lot of different emotions. But I know even with Supertramp, from "Crime of the Century" on and including "Paris," and with our stage shows too, I really think in terms of the journey it's going to take the listener through. The emotional journey; the spiritual journey -- and I became very aware from early on. So if you put the wrong song in the wrong order, you can actually kill a song. So from "Crime of the Century" on, I really took a lot of care to find the right collection of songs and the right running order to create the best listening experience for that 40 to 45 minutes. Maybe that's why "Paris" (Supertramp's only live album) works so well -- because I had done that work to figure out the best order.
Maybe by that time you had become very astute at producing your material that way. I find it very difficult to just drop the needle on "Paris." It really seems to command a listener's full attention from beginning to end.
It's funny today, because it's rare that people sit down for 40 minutes and listen to a whole album. But they do at stage shows, so in the show now I'm always trying to craft the best listening experience for the environment I'm walking into. If I walk into a theater, I may play one kind of show. And if I'm walking into a festival, it will be another kind of set. I look to see if people are standing or sitting -- really trying to tune into what is going to give them the richest experience for that two hours I am entertaining them.
So even in the moment, you and the band can change up the setlist on a dime if you suddenly feel a change of energy in the room?
Every night we're able to do that.
It's kind of amazing to think that so many of the songs, particularly on "Breakfast In America," were written or conceived years and years before you even formed Supertramp. And how you had to fight to not only keep them intact, but to even to keep them on the album. Do you recall getting push back from the record company as well as your bandmates when you were fighting for the songs and the order you imagined would serve the album best?
I think I was incredibly stubborn. But I don't recall getting much push back from the label. We had earned, and I had earned the record company's trust. We were lucky to be on A&M, which had a lot of faith in us. We delivered the goods before and they left us to it on that project. To me, one of the good things about creating an album is discovering the collection of songs that all work well together. That's what makes "Breakfast In America" so special. It's hard to discern why the songs work so well together, but you know it works when people tell you they get to the end and they want to go back to the beginning and listen to the whole thing over again. So when people can't get enough like that, you know you've hit it on the head. I guess when you stop the CD or take the needle off the record on track three because you've had enough, you know it isn't working.
I suppose early on the execs at A&M knew they had something quite unique in Supertramp?
Yes, I think so. Jerry Moss was kind of a patron of the band. He came to the studio when we were making "Crime of the Century" and realized there was some magic going on. So he really put forth a lot of his effort on our behalf. To me, that was the job of record companies, back then anyway. If they were doing their job, they would allow an artist to develop and we were very fortunate to have Jerry Moss behind us in that way.
You are among a select number of musical artists like Tom Petty, Jon Anderson and Rick Allen who suffered potentially career-ending injuries, but who have come back. Can you talk about the recovery process after you fell and fractured both your wrists? Because there is no lingering evidence of such an injury in your performances.
It was quite miraculous. The first thing the doctors said when I got to the hospital was, "you'll never play music again." I didn't know if it was true or not because my hands and wrists were in casts for three months. And when they were removed I could barely move my hands -- so that was pretty scary. Initially I got very depressed because I thought my musical life was over, and I didn't know what else I could or wanted to do with my life. Then I remember one day I just decided I'm not going to allow this to be my life reality. And I started to put the effort into physical therapy and prayer -- affirmation, determination, visualization, you name it. I worked very hard to get my wrists back to work again. It took about a year, but they slowly came back. It was pretty amazing that they are as good as new today. You know, John, most of us have a wake-up call in life. For some it's cancer, for others it's an accident like I had. I really believe you have to pay attention to that because life is telling you something. In my situation, life was telling me something. So I had to make some changes and it took awhile to make those changes, but it really wasn't a bad thing. I look back with gratitude for having that experience.
You started writing music on guitar, and then became a self-taught pianist, and also wrote a lot using pump organ. How do you so successfully arrange and integrate so many other musical elements and instruments into your songs?
I just have a natural ability to hear what a song wants in terms of color and arrangement or rhythm. If a song has a potential for something, I'll always hear that potential. And I will always use whatever is available to me whether its instruments or musicians. Obviously, with Supertramp I had a huge pallet of horns and a lot of elements to pick from to arrange these songs.
When you do performances with orchestras around the world, do the conductors and musicians work off arrangements that you have created, or do you partner with an orchestral arranger?
I work with an arranger for those. Interestingly enough, I don't know how to write music so, for the orchestra shows I work with someone to produce the arrangements.
Since you were so influenced by the Beatles, can you reflect on your time working with Ringo Starr, and maybe share a couple of your favorite memories from that experience?
It was great getting to know Ringo. Here I was, profoundly affected by the Beatles as a teenager. They changed my life and inspired me to break down my own barriers by putting the joy into music, and the willingness to experiment which ignited something in me that led me to do everything I did in Supertramp and beyond. I never got used to the fact that I was playing "The Logical Song" and "Give a Little Bit" with Ringo backing me up with that unique backbeat. It was pretty incredible.