[MUSIC: Interview] Roger Hodgson
By Krissi Weiss
Roger Hodgson, former co-frontman and founding member of British prog-rock/ pop band Supertramp, embarked on his first major US tour in 30 years in February of last year. His return to the world of performing began in the late ‘90s, but this latest world tour is his largest in a while. In the late ‘70s, Supertramp was one of the most successful acts in the world, and Hodgson’s songwriting was leading that charge. Despite sharing writing duties with frontman number two, Rick Davies, it was Hodgson-penned classics like ‘The Logical Song,’ ‘Breakfast In America,’ ‘Dreamer’ and ‘Take The Long Way Home’ that catapulted the band into global stardom.
Nevertheless, Hodgson never felt at ease with the rock star lifestyle, and at the height of the band’s success he moved to California in pursuit of spiritual awareness and family life. Tension had been brewing in the band for a while and the distance didn’t help: in 1983, Hodgson announced his departure from the band. Although he continued making solo albums for a few years, he eventually entered into a sabbatical, of sorts. Davies has reformed and reshaped Supertramp many times over the years – the latest incarnation was as recent as 2011 – but without Hodgson, it has never enjoyed the same success. And a Hodgson/ Davies reunion is apparently never, ever going to occur: Hodgson sent out an olive branch in 2011, offering to return for a tour, but Davies flatly refused.
Hodgson is a humble, softly-spoken man, with a warm manner and tendency towards effusiveness in conversation. He’s enjoying a return to the stage, he says; he loves exploring the old songs as much as performing his newer material, but it has never been more about the music and less about the business than it is now. This is no nostalgia tour – Hodgson feels his new music is just as moving and relevant as anything else he’s written. “I like to set up the concerts so that every song has an effect,” he says. “To be honest, most people in the audience might know ‘The Logical Song’, ‘Give A Little Bit’ and ‘It’s Raining Again’, yet they can be disappointed if they don’t get to hear enough of the other songs from Supertramp that weren’t on the radio as much.”
Nonetheless, Hodgson says he’s surprised how often people express their enthusiasm for his new material as well as the older, more well-known Supertramp material. “Is there a comparison between what I did after ‘Breakfast In America’ and those later songs? I guess there is, but I never really paid much attention. These days, if you want to hear good music you have to go digging for it, you’re not gonna find it on the airwaves, so I think people are used to that and embrace that at my shows.”
An artist’s greatest achievement is often, unfortunately, seen as a benchmark that they must continue to exceed – once a band gets a number one on the charts, then anything less is a failure. Hodgson manages to ignore these sorts of unreasonable expectations when he creates new music. “You’re talking to an artist that’s very at peace with himself,” he says with a chuckle. “But I certainly wasn’t all my life. I think there were times when it was super important to me to come up with something special for the world. Now it’s not; I’m not out to have a massive career. I’m just grateful to have a legacy of songs that have been a part of so many people’s lives all around the world… [When] I look out into my audience and there are four generations sitting there, it’s amazing and I truly know the power of music.”
Hodgson has always gravitated towards music for its power, passion and emotion, rather than awards and prestige. But he frequently expresses his gratitude for his past successes as we chat, while maintaining that every song – from the chart-topping hits to the tribal folk–is a gift to be shared and a moment to be embraced. He jokes about having never been one to practice his instruments, preferring to always play just for pleasure. “For me, [writing and performing is] constantly an exercise in giving a little bit, not expecting anything in return,” he says. “As well as that, as an artist it was always more important to me to give birth to a song that fulfilled its potential and in that way I am driven. ‘The Logical Song,’ for example, fulfilled its potential but a lot of other songs didn’t do that, and I can see that. Its potential doesn’t have to be global success, though.”
There is a tone of resignation when Davies’ name is mentioned and Hodgson seems to prefer to talk about Supertramp’s past rather than the embittered present. “I do live very much in the present; the trophies of the past don’t mean that much to me,” he explains. “But I’m very grateful for the joy it has brought to people and I appreciate every experience I had with Supertramp. Beyond that, all I can do onstage is my best, and I’m not in control of whether people like it or not.”
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