Roger Hodgson was not a household name, yet the songs that he wrote with the band Supertramp have taken on a life of their own. His songs remain staples on classic rock radio 28 years after he left the band.
Jeb: It has got to be a great feeling to know that your first two concerts on this tour are already sold out.
Roger: To me, it is exciting to be touring my home country, as I live in America. I have been touring a lot over the past few years in Europe, Australia and South America – everywhere but the USA. A large part of that is because the name “Roger Hodgson” isn’t as well known as Supertramp. It was hard to get promoters to book the show. It is ironic because everyone knows my voice and, obviously, they know the songs because they have been listening to them for 30 to 35 years.
Jeb: You are calling the tour The Breakfast in America Tour.
Roger: It was actually my agent’s idea to call it “Breakfast in America” because it helps people connect the dots between my name and Supertramp. I play my songs in concert from Breakfast in America, which are the hits. I also play “Child of Vision” and “Lord is It Mine?” which are fan favorites. For me, it was a great way to connect the dots. It is working because the tickets are flying out; the shows are selling very well.
Breakfast in America was a wonderful time and it was a wonderful album. It brings back so many memories for people. It is from a time in the lives of many people when life was simpler. It was a very sunny album. For me, it is bringing a lot of uplifting energy.
Jeb: Supertramp played around the world in stadiums. Solo you play much smaller venues. As an artist, which do you prefer?
Roger: Hands down the more intimate venues. I love them all really. I played Wembley Stadium with 60,000 people, alone, four or five years ago. I wouldn’t want to do that as a steady diet, believe me.
To tell you the truth, for me, performing, now, is about connecting and having people feel the emotions that I am putting into the songs. That can get lost in a big stadium where the sound is reverberating around; you lose all the nuances. I’m a just a dot on the stage for most people. The smaller places sound much better. People pay a lot of money to come see me and not only does it sound better, they can see me, they can feel me and they can connect with me and I can connect with them. The feeling we can generate over two hours is much more powerful than in a stadium.
A stadium is a much different experience. I’ve done that extensively with Supertramp and it has its own type of thrill. I prefer the kind of connection that I can make with audiences in a two to three thousand seater.
Jeb: You’re a very personal songwriter. You put your soul out there and when you look at the crowd and they are singing along with you…what is that like for you?
Roger: As an artist, and as a human being, I feel incredibly humbled by that. It is a wonderful gift that I’m able to give. For whatever reason, I’ve not been afraid to share my deepest longing, pain and joy and that is what my songs have related. “Breakfast in America” is a fun sing-along type of song and then I go to something like “Lord is It Mine?” which is a much more deep and emotional, soul searching and questioning song that came from deep in my heart. Because I am able to take people on a range of emotion – they all have relationships with these songs and they touch a nerve. I look out and I see people laughing and I see people crying and I see couples hugging each other and it is a wonderful feeling, as an artist, to be able to give that to people.
Jeb: Will this tour be the catalyst to get you to release a new album? I’ve heard you have a bunch of new songs written.
Roger: I kind of go one year at a time, right now. My biggest problem is what songs not to play in my show. Undoubtedly, someone will write in and say, “Why didn’t you play this song?” The trouble with having so many songs that people have such a relationship with is that it makes it hard to tell them that they are going to have to listen to thirty minutes of new music. As great as the new songs are, for me as an artist, I want to give people the deepest experience that I can. If that means playing the songs that people have the deepest relationship with and maybe throwing in a few new ones, then I will do that. I won’t say they have to listen to thirty minutes of new songs.
You are right, I do have a lot of new songs and they are wonderful songs and I will have to figure out a way to share them with people at some point. For now, I try to share maybe one or two of them during the show and introduce them that way.
Jeb: It has to be frustrating because putting out a new album of material, in this musical climate is going to be tough.
Roger: It is, very much so on a logistical level. If the demand was greater then I think I would think differently. I have a choice to make, do I go into the studio for four to five months and put out a CD that is going to go nowhere, or do I spend that time connecting with people playing live and give a little bit of my heart to them in a much more instant and intimate setting?
Jeb: I want to talk about Breakfast in America. That album meant a lot people. It really was a great and meaningful record.
Roger: I think Crime of the Century was that as well but in a different way.
Jeb: Breakfast was more commercially viable.
Jeb: Talk about “Breakfast in America” the song. Who came up with the line that said, “What’s she got? Not a lot?”
Roger: That was Rick’s contribution. I wrote that song in my mum’s living room; I was either eighteen or nineteen years old and I had just bought a pump organ. I found one in the English countryside in a church. When the churches went to electric organs they put all of the pump organs in the back room. I scoured the churches for a pump organ. I don’t remember why I wanted a pump organ so badly but I finally found one and I bought it for twenty six pounds. I took it home and “Breakfast in America” was the first thing I wrote on it.
Jeb: “Take the Long Way Home” was a huge, huge hit. What is the story behind it? Is it about someone specific?
Roger: It wasn’t consciously about people I knew. There is a double meaning to that song. There is the obvious meaning of taking the long way home when you don’t want to get back home to your wife but there is a deeper meaning of taking the long way home about what really has meaning in life. You can take the long way home to your heart. You can look back on your life and wonder where it has gone. You wonder where the meaning of life has disappeared to.
It is an interesting song on two levels. The last chorus talks about looking at your life and wondering what you could have been if you’d had more time. It has the lightweight meaning of your wife treating you like a piece of the furniture and then you get thrown a heavy line about where your life has gone. It has an interesting duality.
Jeb: “The Logical Song” is a song that shows how in tune you were with life. It can be related to young people as well as older people. How were you so in tune with human nature at such a young age?
Roger: I don’t know if I was in tune with human nature, I just had those questions going on in me and I wanted to express them. Early adulthood can be a very confusing time. You learn all of these things in school and then you are thrown out into the world and you’re expected to have all of the answers. I didn’t have any of the answers. I certainly hadn’t found the answers to the deeper questions in school.
The song was very autobiographical. I knew how to be sensible, logical and cynical but I didn’t have a clue who I was. To me, that is the life journey we are on; to find out who we are and what life is. They don’t teach you that in school.
I get a lot of emails from younger people today and they tell me that song totally captures what is going on with their lives.
Jeb: You were a very intuitive individual.
Roger: I was very sensitive and intuitive. I don’t know whether I felt different but I had very deep questions going on and I was surprised that other people didn’t. I wanted to know where true happiness lay. I wanted to know who or what God was because it didn’t make any sense. The God they taught me was not working. I knew there had to be an inward connection as that is where everything was pointing. It was a connection that was severely lacking in me and I was longing for it.
Jeb: Breakfast in America won two Grammy’s but wasn’t the album very difficult to make?
Roger: All albums are hard to complete. That one took eight months to complete. For the last two months I was actually sleeping in the studio. I parked my camper outside the door and at four o’clock in the morning I would collapse in the camper and then at ten o’clock in the morning we would start again. We were trying to get done before the tour started, which was looming in front of us.
I was tenacious and I couldn’t rest until we got the mixes right. Back in those days, we didn’t have computers; we did everything manually. We had to keep at it until we got it right.
Jeb: Did you perceive Breakfast in America was going to be the album to break Supertramp in a huge way?
Roger: I think we all had a sense. There was expectancy and we were poised for this album. We had done a lot of touring and we were primed for it. It was a time where radio was king and with this particular collection of songs we felt that we had the songs that would get on the radio. That is why I fought to really get it right. We all had our different roles. I was really the main producer and the driving force. I was the last one that was to say that it was done. I think everyone else trusted that I knew what I was doing because I had come up with the goods up to that point. We had to keep going until I said that we got it.
Jeb: Were you involved with the cover art? It is an iconic cover.
Roger: We were very involved with the sleeve. We had a guy named Mike Dowd that we had worked with for a couple of covers. We gave him our ideas and he came to us with his ideas. Eventually, he came to us with the idea in sketch form. I remember choosing the lady that was on the cover, her name was Libby. The original cover had a sexy, young waitress but we felt that wasn’t us. We felt like a more frumpy, twinkly, middle aged lady would be better. We chose the lady from a modeling agency. It really represented the more eccentric quality of the band. It was a great idea.
Jeb: Where are you eating at on the back cover?
Roger: It was a diner where we went to have breakfast. I think we’d eaten there a couple of times before but we did have a photo shoot in the diner.
Jeb: Did the new level of success with Breakfast in America change the dynamics of Supertramp?
Roger: Yes, it did. There were a lot of other things also happening. On the Breakfast in America tour I had my first child. Shortly afterward, I had my second child and suddenly I had a family. Other band members were also going through a lot of changes like that.
I have always tried to follow my heart and my instincts in life. When I made the decision to leave the band, three years later, it was because my heart was telling me to stop because I needed to learn how to be a father. I was wanting to step away from the music business for a while in order to have a more simple lifestyle. This was at the peak of Supertramp’s success, so it was a difficult decision but I just knew I had to do it in order to be at home with my children as they grew up.
Supertramp had been my baby. It had been my passion for 14 years but my heart was telling me that this was more important than to continue with Supertramp at that time. Looking back, I do not regret my decision. My kids have grown up and I was able to learn a lot and give to them while they were growing up. I believe my absence from the music business at that time is why I am still in my prime, creatively, today.
Jeb: Some people would fear they might lose that creative edge.
Roger: It was a huge surprise to me to come back twenty years later and find that people still knew who I was and that the songs had stood the test of time. It still amazes me today. Here I am getting ready to embark on a US tour and the tickets are selling like crazy.
Jeb: Was there a big argument or breakdown that split the band up or was it something that just needed to end?
Roger: It was more a natural breakup. In a way, Famous Last Words was an attempt to give it one more shot and it didn’t work. The album had a hit and it did very well, but for me, artistically, it was very disappointing. It was the same way for Rick. We called the album Famous Last Words because we didn’t want to go through that again. It was all happening at the same time. The band was falling apart and people were going their separate directions. For me, I wanted to be with my family and to be committed to that.
Jeb: You knew what was important in life.
Roger: That is the key. When you’re in the music industry you can lose sight of that very easily. I had to pull back and see what my priorities were and what was important to me. My heart was not into it and I had to make a change. At a certain point, my heart was telling me that it was over and that the journey was over with Supertramp. I had to let go of the baby I had created. It was very difficult but it was very necessary and it opened up a phase of my life’s journey that has been very, very important to me.
Jeb: When you started with Supertramp, and I’m talking back in 1970, you refused to write lyrics. Seeing as you’re known for such wonderful lyrics I have to ask why?
Roger: I didn’t have confidence that I could write lyrics. I read some of the lyrics now that I did write, and I put out on those early Supertramp albums, and I cringe. As I got to know myself more I got comfortable. I had to learn how to get inside and express myself. I started out trying to write about things that were not true to myself and it didn’t work. It was not something that came naturally but it slowly evolved.
Jeb: Does the music come first?
Roger: The music always came pretty easily. Both the music and the lyrics come from the same place. For me, composing is literally losing myself in the music. I let the inspiration just come naturally. It is a very magical process. When I start hearing melodies, then I just start singing and the words start coming. The words will have something to do with what I am going through in my life, or what’s in my heart at the time. I will have an idea of what the songs about and then work with the melody.
Jeb: When you look at the first two Supertramp albums and how you were allowed to develop your craft then you were lucky. In today’s music industry you would not have been given the chance to develop and you may have never recorded Breakfast in America.
Roger: We were very, very fortunate to have a record label that believed in supporting the artist and letting the artist develop. A&M Records, especially Jerry Moss, he really believed in us. He probably lost money the first few albums, but he allowed us to take as much time as we needed in the studio because he believed in us and he saw the potential. It was much more common in those days than it is these days, obviously.
Jeb: Last one: What is going to happen after the tour?
Roger: To tell you the truth, right now, I’m really enjoying the touring experience. I’m able to give a little bit of what I consider important, or special, attention to audiences in the live format more than I can on CD right now. I will continue to do that until I get the message that that is enough.
Jeb: That is wonderful news for Supertramp and Roger Hodgson fans. We are going to be able to come see you play live.
Roger: The bottom line is that there is an incredible love for Supertramp. When the people think of Supertramp they think of the music that was created, so much of which were my songs. If people want to hear that again, they do have another opportunity in my shows. People tell me all the time that it felt like a Supertramp show to them. I think that is because I was so much the heart and soul of Suptertramp and these songs were such a huge part of it.