Simon Townshend: "Looking Out Looking In"
JPG: I find it fascinating when family members get into the same business. In your case you seem quite comfortable. Were you always that way or did you develop some thick skin…?
ST: No. It’s been an up and down ride. I’m probably feeling right now that I’m at my luckiest and my most prolific and my most settled. Obviously, when I was in my 20s, trying to break as a solo artist in that, as I mentioned earlier, that capitalist side of the music industry where everything was how successful someone is by how many records they sold, how much money they made or how high in the charts they are. The Who were at a point…they’ve always been famous to me because of the age difference. I grew up with a famous brother. So, nothing really changed there and they were really active in the early ‘80s, coming up with Who Are You in the late ‘70s and stuff, and that’s when I was doing punk music.
I suppose if I didn’t see it going on I might have found it more frustrating then, not being able to break through, but I’ve always been of the understanding and I’ve been a big Who fan. I’ve always understood that my brother is a special writer and I’ve always loved his work and been appreciative of it and been respectful and mindful of the fact that he is a very talented guy. I, obviously, know how hard it is to some people on the outside to accept another person from the same family but we are unique. My music is very different from Pete’s and we are unique. We got to where we are now and it is what it is. I have to accept that I didn’t go into global stardom when I was 20 years old but I can walk out and not get completely hassled all the time. So, I have benefits where I am. I still have a certain level of fame. I, now and again, have my moments to express myself and that’s wonderful. It’s all about the journey, isn’t it? And I’m really happy with where I am and how it’s gone.
JPG: As far as the Quadrophenia tour, I’ve read some reports that there’s been a production glitch here or there but, overall, it’s working better than ever. When past shows have been brought up, especially the initial one supporting it, the word was always about how difficult it’s been to put across live. Why is Quadrophenia so challenging to do?
ST: It’s a dark piece of music. For Pete it’s probably his darkest bit of music. It’s not the most commercial album. It’s not all about hit singles. It’s very artistic and quite deep. We had a lot of practice putting it over in the ‘90s, and before that the Who tried to do it in the ‘70s and it didn’t go on too well. It’s developed and we’ve created it in such a way now that it really is accessible. It’s got legs on this tour because it’s very much centered around the Who and the unit that remains of the Who and also the new Who, too, added on, me Zack and Pino. We kind of bring this vibe of newness to it. The combination works. That’s why it’s so successful. That and what they’ve done with the films to bring in Keith and John have made it special.
JPG: There is a stronger spotlight on you during this current tour.
ST: Yeah, there is.
JPG: It seems like it’s all fallen into place with the release of your new solo album, touring with Roger Daltrey on his solo dates playing Tommy, taking on a bigger role in the Who’s performances…
ST: Yeah, it’s a bit of everything. For starters I really pushed myself as an artist. I started in February of 2012 doing shows in the UK. Roger Daltrey landed a tour right on top of my tour, which meant I had to reschedule some shows. I was off doing three shows in the UK then flying to Italy to do a Tommy show then flying back to Birmingham to do a show there. Then, going back to France. It was tough. I had to be very together and focused on what I was doing.
All that plus the fact that with the Who I’ve been brought forward on the stage where I used to be at the very back of the stage doing backing vocals. Since the Olympics they’ve brought me to the forefront for that and they left me there. I think Pete counts on me in a way that’s developed. It’s a work towards that since the ‘90s where he was playing a lot of acoustic then and we had a big stage production around us. We had an arranger. We had guest stars. Now, it’s very much the Who with films of Keith Moon and John Entwistle brought into the show. We did the Who tour in ’04 and ’06, and those tours cemented Pino Palladino, the bass player, into the band. And it’s become a tight unit. By now given that extra responsibility of going out and being more involved and the timing of it had brought me a bit more notoriety. And the pressure of that and the responsibility makes you step up to the plate. Either you do or you don’t. And I’m doing a good job of doing what I do and people are responding to that.
I also go and meet the fans before the shows as well. I’ve been doing that every night. I didn’t realize, and I’m being serious when I say this, I did not realize how important it is to the fans that you go out and do that. Otherwise, I would have been doing it years ago. It’s not hard to do that. Pop out after you had a bit to eat and done your soundcheck. You’ve got a couple of hours to kill before a show. It’s not hard to go and find a bunch of people that want to get a few photos and things signed. It really means a lot to them, especially people who bring their kids along. It means a helluva lot to them, longtime Who fans and Simon Townshend fans as well; people who have come to see me. And it just means a lot to them. I’m really happy to do it. It’s helping me network my way out there.
And I’ve certainly used the internet as well, which relates to that last question you asked me. I’ve been interactive on the internet in terms of Facebook and the website and I’ve been making my own films and putting my own artistic touch on things. If I can’t sleep at night I don’t lay in bed. I get up and get my camera. I go out and I film and I put that to music and stick it up on YouTube. Everybody is interested in that hands-on stuff that’s done in 72 hours. You put it down, edit it and get it out there. I’m loving that.
JPG: It’s a lot better thing for a creative person to do that than say 20 years ago when there would be time to kill and you would be bored and end up downing a bottle of Jack Daniels.
ST: Yeah, well, those are days are gone for me. There was a time when that’s what we did. We did a lot of partying. I still like to have a party. I still like to hang out with my mates. I still do that but it’s not like it used to be where it’s all about the after show. Now, every minute of every day you’re always thinking of what you can do creatively.
So different, isn’t it? The music [industry] now is so different. The capitalist side of the industry has died off to a degree. It’s still there but it’s much more in the commercial field but bands like myself who in the ‘80s and ‘90s you were still making CDs and still selling CDs. Now, you’ve got downloads…you’re more about almost giving the music to the public to get them to come out and support your shows. You’ll always have this live music scene because people always want to go out and see live music. That’s the saving grace right there that people want to come out and see shows. So, you have to give your music away in order to entice them out, then do so. And anyway you’re not going to stop people from sharing mp3s. That’s just how it is now. If you take it and run with it, it’s no problem.
JPG: Something that kind of connects the dots to what we’ve been talking about, your live stream performance at TRI Studios. Give me some background on that.
ST: Well, it’s Bob Weir’s place from the Grateful Dead. And he built this amazing studio where you can recreate any sonic ambience of any venue like Radio City Music Hall. You can type that up and get that ambience. It is extraordinary. When it’s all switched off it’s just a dead room. And then they switch the system on and all of a sudden it’s very much of a feeling. It’s hard to describe. It’s hard to put into words but it’s something you feel, you’re aware of.
And it was a real pleasure to go there. I had a bunch of songs that I knew I could put across well live. And having worked with Roger Daltrey for a few years doing Tommy and various hits tour while Pete wasn’t touring, I got along really well with Scott Devours, his drummer. He brought the bass player along and I brought a guitarist over to the States and we all met in San Francisco. We had a day’s rehearsal, and we did what we could. We did the best show that we could to put across the material. Scott and Dave Beste (bassist) did a really great job of this thing and figuring out what was necessary and what worked with the songs. I really enjoyed working with those guys. Tony [Lowe], the guitar player, we have in our band in the UK, so he’d already done countless shows over in England. And, of course, I’ve been working with him on my projects for years.