Pete interview in the Long Beach Press-Telegram

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Sun Feb 25 07:24:59 CST 2007 

An interview with the Who's Pete Townshend 
Band plays tonight at the Long Beach Arena 
By Ryan Ritchie, Staff Writer 
Article Launched: 02/25/2007 12:00:00 AM PST 

Rock royalty doesn't come a-knockin' very often, which makes Monday's appearance of legendary '60s mod band the Who at the Long Beach Arena that much more special.

The group, featuring original singer Roger Daltrey and original guitarist Pete Townshend, along with keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick, bassist Pino Palladino, Ringo Starr's son Zak Starkey on drums and Townshend's brother Simon on rhythm guitar, is touring in support of the band's first new album in nearly 25 years, "Endless Wire."

Unlike many classic artists whose new music fails to live up to their original heyday, "Endless Wire" has earned critical praise from publications ranging from Rolling Stone, Mojo and All Music Guide.

The Who have been hailed as one of the top musical acts in history, with many considering the original quartet of Daltrey, Townshend, bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon to be as important and influential as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The band's catalog, much of which was written by Townshend, includes the well-known hits "I Can't Explain," "Pinball Wizard," "Boris the Spider," "My Generation," "Substitute," "Magic Bus," "Baba O'Riley," "Won't Get Fooled Again," "Quadrophenia" and "Who Are You." 
Here, in this e-mail interview, Townshend discusses the Who's latest record, the late John Entwistle and some of his favorite authors.

Q: In the liner notes of "Endless Wire," you write "only delivering it to the Who's touring band when I was certain it was properly realised." Explain the difference in having studio musicians perform as opposed to the touring band. Is that why Starkey and Palladino's involvement was smaller than many would have assumed? How do you think the touring band performs the new material in live settings?

A: Pino played bass on nearly every track. Zak was unavailable for much of the recording period. Both of them, with Rabbit on Hammond who also played on the record, are people I would describe as our touring band. I love the way this stuff sounds on stage with the band. The point I was making in the liner notes was that I am not ready to pretend that the band we tour with is a creative recording entity called 'The Who.' Any one of them could be replaced and Roger and I would still sound the way we sound. Our touring band is incredible though, and set a high standard.

Q: You're known as the main creative force behind the Who. You composed most of the songs on the new record. Is Roger still interested in songwriting? Is it difficult to incorporate his material into yours when you are working on larger-scale musical and lyrical ideas?

A: You'll have to ask Roger whether he is still interested in songwriting. I invited him to come to my studio a few times, so I could help him with demos, it never happened. As yet Roger hasn't submitted songs to the 'pool' what happened was that I gave him a group of songs and he responded to each one on its own merits with respect to his needs as a singer. Songs he didn't like, he would not reject outright, but we would talk about whether we really needed to force them through. I wanted Roger to love this new record. I wanted him to love it more than fans. That is very different from in the past when I was glad if he liked what I did, but I didn't mind if he didn't like it. I have been the creative guide for the Who, but now it is just Roger and me, I feel we need to be more balanced. We are no longer a committee serving a small country, we are two old guys who want to have fun entertaining our audiences old and new.

Q: Talks of a new Who record began in 2000. Was John a part of the demo process? Did he have the opportunity to perform (even in a practice setting) any of the new material? How do you think "Endless Wire" would have been different with John?

A: John told me he was nervous about giving his songs to Roger. So I'm not sure how his material would have worked on "Endless Wire." He did not hear any of the songs. John would have added what he always did to my music, his depth and harmonic richness of sound, his eloquence and humour as a player (musically), and his fluidity he was such a vital part of the old Who sound as exemplified on "Quadrophenia," in my opinion the only Who record to capture him partly because I produced it.

Q: It took 24 years for a new Who record, although you've been active throughout that period. What does it take for you to write new Who material? 
What happened recently that made you want to write music for the Who again? Where does the Who fit in with all of your other creative outlets?

A: Patience is what I needed. I simply had to wait, keep writing. I lost hope a few times and cried wolf about the end of a creative Who brand. Suddenly, at the end of 2005 and beginning of 2006 the music started to flow, and it sounded to me to be music Roger would respond well to. That is what happened. All I do for the Who creatively speaking is write songs and perform. Everything else I do runs in parallel, whether it is fiction writing, poetry, running studios, developing theatre or movie projects. My main project outside of the Who at the moment is "In The Attic," a webcast show hosted by my partner Rachel Fuller. I produce it at executive level, and fund it. But I also appear in it and very much enjoy it. It seems to complement what I do with the Who very well. With the Who I get to be a big rock star, on "In The Attic," I get to be a player, a mixer, a foil for other great musicians and song writers some old, some young. An example of what I do in this part of my life is now up on iTunes "Attic Jam."

Q: You've played with arguably the most impressive rhythm section in rock 'n' roll. Did you ever think the Who's music couldn't carry on without them?

A: This is almost a trick question isn't it? I know you didn't mean it that way. But of course only the four original Who members could play the way they played, and they defined a sound we all now regard as the Who sound. But you say 'The Who's music' now that is something quite different, and it has lived outside the band in various ways even when we were still the four of us alive and kicking together. So Who music will and does live on. In fact Roger and I feel we are the main beneficiaries of the way this seems to work. It is almost as though when we perform we evoke the old energies. I've heard this said about several Who tribute bands, that people close their eyes and feel what it must have been like back in the late '60s.

Q: Is it difficult finding people to fill their shoes? When you've played with other drummers (and more recently Starkey) and with Palladino, are you looking for people who can duplicate Keith and John or someone who brings their own voice to your music?

A: I'm not looking for replicators. I think Roger prefers a Keith Moon style, whereas I luxuriate in drummers who don't sound like Keith so much. 
I spent too long keeping time for him when he should have been keeping time for me. I like the balance Zak brings. I get the best of both worlds. Pino doesn't go near John's style, and I'm happy about that. He is a superbly gifted and creative player my No. 1 choice of bass player for my solo work, and for the Who too now I know he can get comfortable.

Q: What does the guy who wrote "hope I die before I get old" have to say to the guy responding to this e-mail?

A: The song was about a state of mind. I have no idea how old you are, but at my age the words still ring. When I look in the mirror and I accept I am getting older, getting old I suppose, all I care about is that I remain true to my beliefs and my artistic manifesto. To be truthful, I would rather die than live the way so many people I see around me are happy with. I don't sneer at people who want to settle down and rest. I get angry with those who stop fighting for a better world and stop fighting for the truth. The boomer generation is almost out of steam now. Our power is slipping away. But even while we were powerful, one thing we never managed to do was to get our parents and grandparents to tell us how they really felt about two world wars, the appearance of the bomb, and the relentless battering we gave our planet. We never managed to touch their hearts, we just frightened them. I think they felt so lucky to be alive, that they just didn't want to think about the horrors they'd seen. Now I feel as if we are all just starting to wake up at last. We are not safe from our enemies. Our planet is not secure. We are responsible. We are not powerless.

Q: What is your current set list like? Roughly what percentage of your material does the entire touring band know?

A: We play some old classics and about ten songs from the new record. We know lots of songs, but Roger decides what goes into the list, and we tend to get stuck with the same list of songs for years at a stretch. He's not keen on taking chances, and to be honest I only like to do that outside the Who, not inside it. What we have works.

Q: Green Day received a lot of positive press over their album "American Idiot." They mentioned you and the Who when asked about their taking on a rock opera. Did you hear the record? If so, what did you think?

A: I heard the single. No chance of me ever becoming an American Idiot so I'll leave the contextualizing and analysis to you. Great record though I thought.

Q: Tell me a little about your literary endeavors. Who/what inspires you to write? What authors do you like? Do you even like other authors?

A: I read a lot of crime Henning Mankell, Simenon, etc. More generally I like Paul Auster, Updike, Hustvedt, Winterson, etc. I'm away from my bookshelf right now. If I was near it the list would be longer. I am inspired to write more by films rather than other writer's songs or books. Of course I like other authors, I worked for three years at Faber & Faber as an editor, and did a fair bit of proper editing as well as commissioning new titles. I met there Pinter, Stoppard, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes and dozens of my literary heroes. Right now I just finished a Henning Mankell non-crime book, perhaps his first, called "Depths." Deeply depressing, but powerfully engaging and poetic, utterly Swedish. I moved on to a country detective novel by the Canadian writer Peter Robinson. He is one of the writers I know I can trust on a long flight, or a beach somewhere. Without writers like this I couldn't do an 18 month long tour.

Q: Chuck Berry or Little Richard?

A: Chuck Berry. In the clean air between him and Bob Dylan we now know we can write a pop song about any subject we like. Chuck Berry brought real poetry, intelligence and literacy to rock lyrics. Little Richard brought bravura vocals, power, sex and towering presence. Both of them have terrific sense of humour. 

-Brian in Atlanta 
The Who This Month!

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