International Songwriters Association (ISA) Songs And Songwriting Rodger Hodgson Interview

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Rodger Hodgson Interview

Introduction by Jim Liddane
Born in 1950 in Portsmouth, England, Roger Hodgson is a musician and singer, best known as the co-founder and former lead vocalist of Supertramp. He is also widely regarded as one of the most talented and influential songwriters of his generation,

Rodger's parents were both interested in music, and his father - who played clarinet and saxophone - was a Royal Air Force musician. Hodgson grew up in Oxfordshire, and formed his first band, People Like Us, while attending Woodcote House School near Windlesham in Surrey. After leaving Woodcote House, Hodgson briefly attended Stowe School, where he also played in a school band.

In 1968, Hodgson moved to London where he met Rick Davies, and the two musicians started playing together in various outfits. His first professional gig was as a member of Argosy, a band that also featured future Elton John guitarist Caleb Quaye. Argosy released a single in 1969, which was produced by Beatles producer George Martin, but the record failed to sell and the band soon disbanded.

After Argosy, Hodgson and Davies formed Supertramp, and began playing gigs in and around London. They signed a record deal in 1970 and released their self-titled debut album later that year. That record was not a hit, but the release of their album "Crime Of The Century" in 1974 brought them critical and commercial success, reaching the Top 10 in the UK and the Top 40 in the US. It included hit songs such as "Dreamer" and "Bloody Well Right" and showcased the band's unique blend of progressive rock and pop sensibilities.

Following the success of "Crime of the Century," Supertramp continued to release hit albums throughout the 1970s, including "Crisis? What Crisis?" (1975), "Even In The Quietest Moments..." (1977), and "Breakfast In America" (1979). "Breakfast In America" was the band's most successful album, reaching No. 1 on the charts in both the US and the UK and selling over 20 million copies worldwide. The album included hit singles such as "The Logical Song," "Take the Long Way Home," and the title track.

Hodgson wrote and sang many of the band's biggest hits, including "Dreamer," "Breakfast in America," "Give A Little Bit," "The Logical Song," "Take The Long Way Home," "It's Raining Again," "Fool's Overture," "School," "Hide In Your Shell," "Lovers In The Wind," "Lord Is It Mine", and so many more!

In 1983, Hodgson left Supertramp to focus on his solo career, and has since released several albums, including "In the Eye of the Storm," "Hai Hai," and "Open the Door." He continues to tour and perform around the world, playing both his solo material and Supertramp classics.

Noreen Skeene interviewed Roger Hodgson for the International Songwriters Association's publication "Songwriter Magazine".

Comments on your new solo album have included "It sounds like Supertramp", this from people who do not realise that basically, you were Supertramp. Does this in any way worry you?
This is better than the last interviewer  who  said:  "Why  have  you copied  Supertramp?" The thing is,  it sounds  like Roger Hodgson - it's still going to be my voice whatever I do. I cannot disguise that, and anyway, they're still going to be my songs. Actually, in a way I'm quite glad that people are saying this, because I need to tell people who I was in Supertramp.  I  want  to  take  my audience with me, rather than go too far too quickly, lose them, and have to start from scratch again. I'm going to have to start from scratch with the name as it is, so for now, I'll just take one step at a time.

You're  the  singer,  songwriter, producer,  designer  -  everything  In fact. How difficult is it to retain objectivity?
I wasn't really alone of course. For example,  I  was  working  with  an engineer who was very vocal in his opinions, and a friend as well, Ken Allerdyce. Actually, I have a lot of people around me who are in fact my worst critics. If I can make them happy and myself happy, I'm pretty sure the album will work.

How much did it cost to make this album?
Most of it was done in my own studio,  so  it  was  probably  about £200,000 or $300,000. It would have cost a lot more if I'd gone to some other studio.

Do you think it's justified for groups to spend vast amounts on making an album?
Well, Supertramp are probably the most guilty of the lot for taking exorbitant amounts of time to make an album. "Breakfast In America" was eight months in the making, "Crime Of The Century" took five months.

We used to take our time! Actually, now I think the trend is going the other way, and people are taking a much shorter time. If you go beyond a certain amount of time, you begin to lose sight of the objectives, but of course, sound is a tricky animal.  It's  very  difficult  to  get exactly the sound you want. It's like mixing colours the whole time to get that exact shade you want.

Do you miss working with Rick Davis?
I find it 100% easier. I still want to keep a relationship with him as far as playing goes, but not writing. Our writing relationship is over.  I did in fact ask the sax player, John Helliwell, to join me, but he wasn't available. Rick and I learned a lot from each other, but there is no longer the room on one album for the two of us, although there might be in the future.

When  you  write,  do  you  write specifically for an album, or are you always creating?
I've got songs from every period of my life over the past 22 years. I started writing when I was 12, so any album I do is a collection of songs written during that whole period. Some of them may be only six months old, but there are two or three brand new ones on the album. "Had A Dream" was started twelve years ago. I have over 80 songs at the moment I haven't used yet. 

It's nice because I write in different styles at different times, so it means I will always be able to put together a very diverse album.  There's  a  possibility  that I might put out a double album when I go back into the studio, a double one because I have so much material, and also, because half way through making this album, I started to write in a style totally different to anything I've ever done in the past, and it's a style that demands stretching out.

So how does Roger Hodgson write a song?
What I do is sit down at the piano or pick up the guitar, and start to play anything, maybe a song that I've  already written, or just anything I like  playing at that time. Then I just try to  lose  myself,  let  the  music  go  wherever it wants to go, while I try  to get out of the way. It's almost like meditation.

Maybe I'll play a certain pattern I like, and I'll keep on playing it until it grows and slowly becomes a song or a piece of music. Then I'll just start singing any old words that come  into my head, often a song is born  that  way.  From  singing  absolute  nonsense, a line will pop up that suddenly makes sense, then another one, and so on. I was doing that when the  word "logical" came into my head and  I  thought:  "That's  an  interesting  word.

Which is the hardest to work on, lyrics or music?
Lyrics. They demand so much more effort. Usually a lot of lines do come with the birth of a song, but usually, I have to discipline myself to finishing those lyrics off, sometimes five or six years  later.  Unfortunately, by then, I've often forgotten what I was feeling at that time, and I have to start to try and duplicate that feeling once more.

Does anything inspire you to write a song. For example, "In Jeopardy" is very "1984" in concept. Did that have anything to do with the lyric?
Not really. "In Jeopardy" is one of the new songs I mentioned. Lyrically, that was inspired by the last tour of Europe I made with Supertramp. It happened that on that tour, I talked with a lot of people, and so many seemed to be worrying about the state of the world, and about what America and Russia were doing.

"In Jeopardy" came from  that,  about a world in jeopardy, and that theme stems from all those conversations I had.

How do you feel about the fact that there are a lot of people out there listening to what you are saying on these subjects?
An artiste has total freedom to say whatever he wants to say, but I do not think that any human in the world has the right to force anyone else to believe what he believes. I also do not think that it is the artiste's job to preach, or convert people to his way of thinking. As an artiste, 1 want to express my feelings and my concerns about what I see, and about how I feel about my own life.  If anyone happens  to  agree  or disagree with those opinions, that is totally up to them.

Would you be interested in writing songs for other performers?
Yes I would; my only problem would be finding the time. I'm writing so much  music  for myself which  then takes so long to put on record, that the one thing I really lack is time.

But I agree it would be fun to submit songs  for  those  artistes  that  need material. The Everly Brothers and Tina Turner for example  they'd be nice artistes to write for.

Do  you  write  songs  with  your audience in mind?
No, but I do choose songs for an album with the audience in mind. For example, I chose a very energetic song ("Had  A  Dream")  for  this  album because that was the kind of album I wanted to make, and also, the kind of song that would appeal to people. I think that's what people want at this moment.  People are dancing for a reason  they're trying to escape.

Is there a video for "In The Eye Of The Storm"?
Yes, for "Had A Dream", but it is not suitable for British television, or so I'm told.

Have you ever thought of writing something like a musical?
A musical is not my style. It has to be written very conscientiously and carefully planned, and I cannot write like that. I've written a film though, an animated story called "The Tale Of The Unicorn", and it's for children young and old. There's about ten songs in  there,  and  that'll  be  a  future album. The songs and the storyline have been finished but we still have to sort out the animation.  Later on, when we've got a bit of time, we'll start talking to Disney .

Supertramp with Rodger Hodgson

What do you think of the present music scene?
I  think  the  music  industry  is strangulating itself. The British music scene is geared for nine to ten year olds, and it's like "Flavour Of The Week" time. It's all style and not much content, very trite with nothing particularly  new.  There  are  new sounds alright, synthesised sounds and the like, but nothing really new. Over here, it's all pop radio and no rock radio whatsoever.

The  British  market  has  been described  as  a  singles  orientated market. Would you agree?
Yes, and it's unfortunate that if you do not have a hit single, then no one will  discover  your  album.  Even word-of-mouth in Britain is not very effective: in Europe, you can have a hit album through word of mouth, but not over here. It's also just too easy. The technology is incredible. You don't have to be a great musician to make records nowadays, indeed you don't even have to be a musician at all, just able to press buttons. And people are actually getting away with it. Unfortunately, they are taking up a lot of space that true songwriters should be occupying.

Who are the true songwriters?
Sting: Peter Gabriel, who is doing some  amazing  things,  and  Bruce Springsteen. ord". The next line that came was "When  I  was young",  and so "The Logical Song" got built.

Which is the hardest to work on, lyrics or music?
Lyrics. They demand so much more effort. Usually a lot of lines do come with the birth of a song, but usually, I have to discipline myself to finishing those lyrics off, sometimes five or six years  later.  Unfortunately, by then, I've often forgotten what I was feeling at that time, and I have to start to try and duplicate that feeling once more.

Who did you listen to at twelve, when you started to write?
Ray Davies, who is a great songwriter,  Lennon  and McCartney,  and Stevie  Winwood.  There  are  not  as many nowadays. Perhaps that's because my standards are now so high, and anyway,  I need something that will give me goose bumps, and there's not too much of that about. There is stuff I like, and things that when they come on the radio, I enjoy listening to, but there are no really great songs right now, and no artiste who is consistently good.

After all these years, is there still the same excitement when you begin recording a new album?
There is even more excitement now actually, because I feel as though I've only just begun, or at least as if I'm just entering phase two. The energy and the spirit is back. I think there's more of both on this album than on any Supertramp album, or certainly, anything which I captured on a Supertramp album. So in that way, I'm happy to have this re-birth.

So what will Phase 2 be like?
It'll be a lot of different things, but when I write a song, you will know that it is a Roger Hodgson song and a  Roger  Hodgson  arrangement.  But there are whole areas of music that I  haven't  touched yet. 

One is the concept  of  starting  a  theme  and letting the mind fill in all the gaps - and so letting the imagination soar. It seems that nowadays everything has to be instant; cram as much information into three minutes as possible and almost overload the senses. The listener is not given any chance to fill  in  the  spaces  that  the  music leaves, and certainly that is what I'm looking for. I feel there are a lot of people like myself out there who need something  that  doesn't try to beat them over the head.

This leads to the question of just how long one song can be?
Indefinite. I do not think there can be a restriction. If I need a double album or even a triple to say something, then I'll do it. Unfortunately, the albums themselves are still limited to 20-24 minutes.

Is this how you think a "true" songwriter should be working?
Not  necessarily.  I  think  a  true songwriter  should  have  to  almost analyse himself constantly, analyse the song he has just written and see if it has been constructed out of his head or out of his heart. A truly great song is one that has been sung from the depths of the heart and one that really comes from the soul, but there aren't  too many writers like that nowadays.

It seems as though the whole industry is geared to writing a  hit  song,  which  is  different  to writing a true song. To write a hit song, all you have to do is to steal a melody from another hit, which is what most groups are doing now. If you  are  interested  in  becoming involved in the music business, you must decide if you wish to become a pop star or an artiste. You will have to decide which. To become an artiste means taking a path of rigorous self-analysis, and exploring oneself in order for the music to come from the deepest parts of your own being. It's not an easy path to take. Frankly, it's easier to become a pop star.

Of all  the tracks you've written, which are your favourites?
I like "Hide In Your Shell", "Give A Little Bit", "Fool's Overture" and probably the most  famous piece of music I've ever written, "The Logical Song".

Well, "Give Me A Little Bit" is an example of a very successful simple song.  It's  very  difficult  to  write successful simple songs. "The Logical Song" is a very unique lyric, and it's hard to write a unique song nowadays. "Fool's Overture" is an epic which worked, and "Hide In Your Shell" is just  a  beautiful  melody  with  good lyrics. On this album, I like "In Jeopardy" which is proving a big success.

"Give Me Love, Give Me Life" is probably one of the best things I've written. It's reached about 80% of its potential, but I feel it could be better. "Only Because Of You" is dedicated to  God.

You  mentioned  meditation earlier.  How  much  of  this  is  a religious experience?
My interpretation of God  is that force  which makes everything  work in the world. God is part of everything.  Whether  I  call  it  God  or something else, the music is coming from somewhere other than me. The way  I  view  music  is  that  it  is something almost separate from me. I think the music is coming through me rather than from me. I see myself as a channel for it, rather than the author of it. Sometimes, even I am blown away with what comes through: By trying to clear myself out as a sort of channel, the better it comes, so I try to keep myself healthy, full of energy, pure of heart as much as possible, and then apply the energy. It's not a passive thing: you really have to work hard. It's like being a transmitter. I'm the antenna, and the signal you get in the end, depends totally on just how good that antenna is.

Copyright Songwriter Magazine, International Songwriters Association & Norene Skene: All Rights Reserved


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