Interview: Roger Hodgson of Supertramp looks back on 'Breakfast in America'

Ed Masley , The Republic | 1:05 p.m. MST November 29, 2016

Supertramp lead-singer Roger Hodgson entertains a large Friday night crowd at the Blue Ash Town Square main stage. His composition "Give a Little Bit" was a mega-hit in 1977.He hasn’t toured with Supertramp since 1983. But Roger Hodgson knows he’s best remembered as the voice of “Give a Little Bit,” “The Logical Song” and “Take the Long Way Home.” That’s why he’s named his recent solo tours in honor of the Grammy-winning U.S. breakthrough that continues to define the legacy he carved out with his former bandmates, aptly titled “Breakfast in America.”

“People, obviously, they know the name Supertramp,” he says. “But Roger Hodgson is way less known. So this helps people to connect the dots. A lot of people are saying it’s like a Best of Supertramp show because obviously they hear most of the songs I wrote and the band is just superlative. We’re having so much fun. There’s humor. There’s a really strong connection with the audience. Everyone says it feels like I’m singing just for them. And I’m singing a whole lot better than I did for Supertramp.”

Did he say better?

“Yes, a whole lot better,” Hodgson says. “Which is amazing considering the age I am.”
He’s 66.

“I think it’s because when you sing, it’s really just a reflection of what’s going on inside,” he continues. “And right now, I’m older, I’m wiser, I’m content in myself. With Supertramp, I was very insecure. I tried too hard. And I can hear that. Some of those old records made me cringe, to tell you the truth. I’m just much more connected to the songs. I’m just singing a whole lot better. Everyone says it. So it’s wonderful. It’s fantastic that I can still hit those high notes and my voice is in such great shape. I’m a walking miracle.”

We caught up with Hodgson to talk about the tour that makes its way to Phoenix on Friday, Dec. 2, and the album that remains his calling card.

Question: You said some of your old recordings make you cringe. What would be an example?
To sing your heart out, your brain has got to be pretty empty. And I was so caught up in my head and trying too hard. I mean, I’m not saying it’s bad, but I can just hear that I’m much more comfortable singing, more comfortable in my skin now. And that shows in the way I sing. People can hear every word. And it goes straight into their hearts. It’s amazing to see people who have had a connection with a lot of these songs for so many years and they feel them even stronger now. So to look out in the audience and see people crying and hugging each other and smiling, it’s so rewarding for me to be able to give that to people.

Q: You said you named it the Breakfast in America Tour to kind of connect the dots, and that was obviously Supertramp’s most successful album. What do you think it was about that album that it resonated like it did?
I think part of it was timing. We had toured and made an album for eight, nine years solidly. So we were kind of poised. ... I don’t think I realized how successful it would become but back then, as probably it is still today, it was down to the songs and having the hits. And we had a string of them. We had “The Logical Song” and “Take the Long Way Home” and “Breakfast in America” and “Goodbye Stranger.” So I think it was just the collection of songs. And it’s a really feel-good album. A very uplifting album. And yet it has the depth and the commercial properties, too. We worked hard. It took eight months to record. And I know I was sleeping in the studio at the end. I wouldn’t rest until it was just right. And that was before computers and everything. So we worked hard to make sure every song really lived up to it’s potential. And we did pretty good.

Q: Was the goal going into the sessions to create the kind of record that could be that sort of huge commercial breakthrough for you?
Well, you know, it was no different to other albums. I was usually the one who chose the songs and tried to create the best 40-minute listening experience. With “Crime of the Century,” it was a much more introverted kind of deep. I don’t know what to call it. It was an introspective journey, maybe. And then with “Breakfast in America,” Rick (Davies), the other songwriter, we wrote separately, and I had to really look at what songs he had and he wasn’t as prolific as I was. I’ve always had 40 or 50 songs in my pocket to choose from. And so, I kind of saw what he had written and then kind of dipped into my bag and chose the songs that matched his and created the best kind of listening journey. ‘Cause that’s how I viewed it. It wasn’t, “What’s the hit on this album?” The song “Breakfast in America,” I wrote that 12 years before I chose it. But it felt like “OK, this is the collection of songs that this song might belong on.” So we included it. And obviously it was a great album title so we chose that.

Q: That’s interesting that it went from a song that you had sitting around for 12 years to being the title of the album.
Yeah, I never expected that. But it wouldn’t have worked on “Crime of the Century.” It might have worked on “Crisis? What Crisis?” “Even in the Quietest Moments …,” definitely not. But I think “Breakfast in America,” the songs had an accessibility, a lightness and a fun-ness about them to where the humorous element of the song “Breakfast in America” worked. I know it’s a very unique lyric (laughs), but it kind of worked. It had a sense of humor to it.

Q: I was wondering if you thought one of the reasons that that album did the best for you is that it showed off a more playful side of Supertramp.
I think so. I needed that. We’d created albums that were more serious maybe and I think with the way the band was at that time, I realized, “OK, we need to create some songs that are fun to play.” Because the tensions were building within the band. It was a great move. We were living in California, really enjoying it at that time, so I think that really projected the sunny side of that album. It really is a sunny album. “Crime of the Century” is definitely more attuned to the English rain.

Q: What was the appeal for you of leaving England for America? What brought you over?
I loved America as a whole but when I landed in California, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I was raised in England. I’d been in England for 23 years. And I was really a young, confused man who really needed to kind of reinvent himself. I was doing a lot of experimenting. I’d become a vegetarian. I was looking into spiritual things. And that was not in vogue in England at the time. So it was very hard for me to be either, a vegetarian or interested in spiritual things. But I landed in California and there was a health food store on every corner. It was like “Wow.” Everyone spoke my language. I just loved it. The space and the weather. For a very introverted Englishman, it was wonderful. It was very medicinal. And I kind of started to reinvent myself and reawaken sides of me that had been dormant up until that point.

Q: So what was the mood in the band when you were making “Breakfast in America”?
It was pretty good, really. The band was really into making the album. And as I said, I was totally committed. I slept in the studio for the last month, month and a half. And my wife was pregnant so she was there with me. It was an exciting time. It was good. I think the band was really needing to do something fun and light to keep the music fun. And then we took that on the road and it was a really fun show with obviously all of the past – “Crime of the Century,” “Quietest Moments” and etc., and all of these really fun popular songs that we now had to play along with them. So it made for a very rich show. It was really only later when obviously “Breakfast in America” went through the roof and the mega-success happened, that’s kind of where the band individually and collectively got more challenged and tested, as it would with any artist. Mega-success will turn your head around and challenge the strongest of people.

Q: So that was the source of the problems, the success that you enjoyed?
(long pause). Um. I don’t know. I’ve answered it a hundred different ways, really. I think somehow, when you’re on your journey to make it, if you like, that kind of gives you a common goal and it keeps you together. Everyone started having families and thinking individually instead of collectively. And it just became more difficult to bring everyone together and unify everyone. I know the spirit of the band kind of suffered. Especially, the “Breakfast in America” tour was very, very long and everyone got very tired and at the end, everyone had had enough. That’s why we took a break. But that’s history. Today, I look back and I’m very proud that we achieved what I could achieve in the band. It was 14 years of my life where I learned a lot about myself and I’m just really happy that today, I’m playing the same songs. They have not aged for me and for many people. And they are even more magical because people have such a strong relationship with them. And I never get tired of singing them. It’s really amazing that they stood the test of time so well and that I have so many to draw from every night. So in a way, I’m enjoying this stage of my life even more than the Supertramp phase – even though I really appreciate everything I learned and experienced back then.

Q: That’s great. Looking back at it from this vantage point, do you think there was a way you could have held it together or do you think it was destined just to go the way it went?
As hard as it was for me, it was what my heart was telling me I had to do. The album after “Breakfast in America,” “… Famous Last Words,” was so disappointing. It fell so far short of what we could have achieved if we had been more unified. And I couldn’t live with that. Plus, I myself suddenly had a family. And I realized that “OK, I really need to stop and get my compass back” because the success had really challenged me. And my heart was telling me the band had gone as far as it could and I needed to stop and do something else. It was a scary time but I just had to go with what my heart was telling me. And ultimately, I think the 15 or 16 years that I came off the road and made my family, raised my kids, was very good for me. I think that’s why I’m in such good shape today and have so much more to give to the audiences and to life in general today. It’s because I got away from the industry because it can eat you up in many different ways.

Roger Hodgson
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2.
Where: Celebrity Theatre, 440 N. 32nd St., Phoenix.
Admission: $49-$89.
Details: 602-267-1600 ext. 1,

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