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
Two years ago, Roger Hodgson surprised the world with a come-back: a solo tour and a live album, Rites Of Passage. Now he's released his first studio album in thirteen years, and doing another solo tour. Again his tour has brought him to Amsterdam, and the review of this concert, written by my team member Derk, is here. The day after, I was able to meet him for an interview. I had a very pleasant conversation with a nice, gentle, confident man.
To start with, I gave him a print of the Duo Review that Ed Sander and I wrote.
(Please note that the quality of the photos you see here have, unfortunately, suffered greatly from the type of camera used.)
Open The Door
[Reading the review.] Did you write this?
Ed Sander and I wrote it.
Looking good. Is this for me?
Yes, it is. What do you think of the album yourself? Both Ed and I rated it 8.5 out of 10.
You gave 8.5? I'd probably give it about that too, which is higher than most of my albums. As an artist you're cursed with never being a 100% happy. It never turns out exactly the way you thought or you'd liked it to. But I'm about 85% happy, which is very good for me.
And when you compare it to your first album?
In The Eye Of The Storm? That was about 85% too. Hai Hai was 30%, and Rites Of Passage was more like 65, 70%.
Did that have to do with your come-back?
Well, Rites Of Passage wasn't really going to be a Roger Hodgson album. I wasn't really in good shape when I started that album. It really started out as being a band album, but then turned into a Roger Hodgson album. I'm quite happy with it. The success of that album has brought me back to life. It put me back on stage again.
In 1998 you were here at the Paradiso, and you said it was actually your wife who put you back on stage.
Yes, it was.
How does she feel about it, now you're on tour and away from home such a long time?
She wishes she'd never done it! Haha! No, she feels really good about it. She's really happy to see me out doing it again. Now she can relax and let me do it, and she doesn't have to support me. She does support me, but not in the same way. She loves Open The Door! It's hard for me being away so much, but that's the life of a musician, really.
She doesn't like to join you on tour?
She does, occasionally, but we've got a full plate back home, that someone needs to look after. Two kids, and dogs.
Where do you live - California?
Yes, Northern California.
The last question of the Roger Hodgson competition on DPRP was "what would you ask Roger?". One of the people who wrote us asked when you are taking "the short back home", back to England. When are you going to play in England again?
Whenever I can! I have not been boycoting England on purpose.
The Artist And The Man
In what way do you feel you have progressed as an artist, from 1984 till now?
I think I have progressed more as a man. I am more in touch with myself as a man and also as an artist. That's really how I see it, and I think that's the truth of it. I think who we are as an artist is who we are as a man. I guess some artists feel like they're progressing if they practice like crazy and they can play faster or play more or whatever, but I've never been one of those artists. I am not interested in being a virtuoso in that way. I am interested in being a virtuoso of finding deeper ways to touch people, deeper ways for the music to affect people.
That's exactly what I like in music...
That's exactly what I like in music too! That's what I am looking for but I can't find in the world, music that touches me in ecstatic ways. Miles Davis said that the goal of a performer is to take his audience to spiritual ecstasy. I've adopted that as my goal. That's what I want, and that's what I want to give through my music. And I've got a long way to go. I've touched on it ocassionally...
For me, when I listen to my music, I think Only Because Of You - I often feel tears welling up inside me, so something happens. The alchemical balance is correct there, in some way, because if I can feel that, and I'm a performer, then something's just right. I hit a right combination.
When you feel that, you know it's just right.
I think that if you feel anything that makes you want to dance even - anything! Music is designed to have an effect. Well, there's a lot of people doing good dance music nowadays, but what about music that makes the tears well up in your eyes, or your heart expand, or going from feeling depressed to feeling excited about life - whatever. Music is the most powerful force we have in the world, I believe. In general it's getting more and more trivial. It seems like that is where everything's going. So I'm happy to be back and I am excited about Open The Door. And Open The Door is just the beginning, believe me. You ain't seen nothing!
I'm just very happy to have made an album I feel good about. It's a good production, it's good music, and it's going to give people a lot of enjoyment. But I'm really looking for those missing alchemical combinations that I want to listen to. Even Open The Door I don't put on for my enjoyment. I want more. I want the new classical music, I want the new symphonies that make my spirit soar.
Symphonies as in the musical sense of the word or with a big band?
No, just in a big piece. I'd quite like to come with a twenty-minute piece of music. It gives you the chance to take you somewhere. First of all, with music, people's attention span is so little nowadays, you've got to grab them with something. It doesn't have to be heavy, but can also be subtle. That's why Queen Elizabeth is on the beginning of the album, because it grabs you: "woah, that's interesting - haven't heard that before..." It's a way to just draw the listener in.
And what does the morse code in the beginning mean?
It means "open the door".
Do I understand correctly that you're a bit disappointed by the contemporary musical world?
Disappointed... I just don't hear much that really inspires me. I need to be inspired, too.
What does inspire you? What do you like to listen to?
A lot of female artists. I think women are doing the best music nowadays. For me, anyway. I think women in general are more in touch with themselves than men anyway. That's coming through now, especially in America. There are some great female artists. not just female sex symbols, but female artists who are making some great music. They're singing about stuff that's important.
Sarah McLachlan. Loreena McKennit is very good, too.
But she's Canadian.
Actually, they both are. Well, Celine Dion is also Canadian, but I don't put her in the same category! She's a different type of artist... Hm, who else... Enya I love, Jewel, Alanis Morisette... There's a lot of them.
In what way have they affected you in your composing?
I like a lot about their music, but what I find refreshing is that they're true artists. For me, it's inspiring. They're true to themselves as artists. I see that less common with men, even though there are more men in this field than women. I just see it less often with men.
I think men are more technical, have a more technical approach to music.
Technical, or they want to be sex symbols more.
What about Fish? I read his newsletter, and he mentioned a festival where you met.
We met, yes.
He really loved your set, and he admitted to being brought to tears.
Really? Oh... Yeah, we really had a nice chat afterwards. Very nice. I like him a lot.
Are there any artists you would like to work with?
I'd like to do more work with Trevor Rabin, who is on this album. We have a strong musical chemistry, so I'd like to do more with him. I don't know who else - there is no one who springs to mind. There's obviously a lot of artists I'd like to meet and get to know. If something comes out of it, then it's great.
Someone who replied to the competition noticed a comparison between you and Fish. You both write from being disappointed by how bad things are in this world on the one hand, and unstoppable hope and love on the other hand. You are both writing from that position.
...I like that!
The person who wrote that, was wondering if there will be any collaboration between you and Fish.
Who knows... To tell you the truth, I've got so much stuff individually that I've got to get out. I am always open - if something comes along and it happens naturally... If we're in the same studio or in the same town or whatever, I'm totally open to it. But that's not what I am looking for first. I've just worked with Carlos Nuñez - I don't know if you know him, he's a Spanish artist, and it just happened naturally, so we did something together. It's easy for me, it's usually the business part that gets complicated. When two artists are working together, you always need to get permission from all these people...
That didn't inspire you to remain an independent artist?
Rites Of Passage was released independently. We put that out on our own label. And it's just way too difficult. If you want to be a grass root artist selling a few hundred CDs at every gig, that's a great way to go, but if you want to be an international artist, forget it. And I prefer to be an international artist.
We know.... We at the DPRP are covering prog and related musical styles, and we know a lot of bands who will remain small. Few bands manage to sell large amounts of CDs, but it's still a small world.
Yes, it's difficult. Often, you can make as much money doing it that way. Just doing shows and selling two hundred CDs, and make as much money as you can, funnily enough. Because if you go the major record company way, then your expenses are much greater. Your debt is much greater with the record company, because you're sharing all the promotion and stuff. Maybe if I would start today as an artist, I would go the grass root approach. but that's not what I need now.
Did you really try to find a record company, or did they come to you?
After Rites Of Passage, it was Alan Simon who put this whole thing together. He got the interest of Sony in France, and we made the album there. It's a French story.
You like being in Europe?
Yeah, I do. I've been in Northern California now for over twenty years, and I love it over there. But I have been missing Europe. So it's good to be here.
What was the reason for you to go there in the first place?
To America? I went there with the band when I was 24, and we all fell in love with California. After 25 years in England, it was like... whahhh... Big open skies, sun, open people... We really liked it, so we settled down there, and most of us stayed there.
Old Band Members
John played on Rites Of Passage. Are there any others you're still in touch with?
Yes. Dougie got on stage with me for a few shows on the solo tour that I did. I speak to him quite regularly. I speak to Bob, too. I haven't talked to Rick in quite a few years, but in general, I'm in good touch with them.
Are there any further collaborations possible in the future?
With them? Not at this point. Nothing planned. Some day? Maybe.
Do you mind talking about the old days?
I don't mind it. I'm easy either way.
As was to be expected, there were a lot of questions among the competition entries that concern Supertramp. One was if you would do a reunion, although you have tried this already.
In 1992 that was. Again? No, I don't think so. I think that was it. I'm feeling very comfortable where I am right now. I am not feeling like looking backwards. It's like marrying your ex wife again and expecting it to be magic. It doesn't work. It was magic then, it was fantastic, it was a great adventure. But people change. Things change and it is not often that it comes full circle and sets you back where you were twenty years ago. We're not young, single, simple-living people anymore. Life is much more complex. So it's much easier for me to be a solo artist and to collaborate with whoever I want to, than to go backwards.
I think Rick and I are very very different. I don't see it happen, no.
I'd like to work with John again. He's my favourite sax player, so that, I hope, could work. And maybe the Supertramp concert for old time's sake to renew old friendships would be great, but that's about it.
To me, the differences between you and Rick created the magic in Supertramp's music. It's not surprising that something like that one day ceases to work. People are different.
Rick and I were always very different, and that was the magic of the band, like a Yin and Yang polarity. But it was external forces that split the band up more than our differences. It just got too complicated. Everyone got married. We married some strong women. They had a lot to say and their needs met to, which became very difficult to get together.
More differences between more people...
Yeah, it's too unyielding. We needed a psychiatrist rather than a manager. The manager, who had been our manager for fifteen years, left. He couldn't do it anymore. So we suddenly didn't have a manager. Rick is now managed by his wife, whom I have a difficulty with, and have a totally different set of values with. So it's very difficult to have a relationship with Rick, because he's managed by his wife.
What are the plans for the future?
I'll tell you some of my musical plans. I really want to push my boundaries and limits and make some great music that's really, truly innovative. That's what my goal is.
And I also want to tour where I've never toured before. I'd love to go to China. There's just some places where I've never toured. So I got a full plate for as long as it's fun. If it stops being fun, I'll stop again.