Pete interview in Arizona Republic

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Mon Feb 26 05:02:47 PST 2007

This is not on line. Who fan Marc typed this up from the Sunday paper. Hats off to Marc!

An Endless Wire to the Who 

With a resume that includes such classic rock albums as Tommy and Quadrophenia, the Who doesn't need an excuse to tour. 

But after 25 years of on-again, off-again reunions and the 2002 death of bassist John Entwistle, a new Who concert is greeted with some skepticism. 

Until you give the band's new CD a spin, that is. 

Endless Wire, the band's first disc since 1982's It's Hard, is a strong reaffirmation of the group's legacy, filled with thunderous vocals from Roger Daltrey and some of guitarist Pete Townshend's sharpest songwriting in 30 years. 

We recently conducted an e-mail conversation with Townshend about Endless Wire and the band's new tour, which visits US Airways Center on Wednesday. 

QUESTION: With all the numerous reunions since the '82 Farewell tour, many people had written off the Who as a creative unit. Was there a sense of trying to prove the naysayers wrong with Endless Wire? 

Answer: Nay. There is no question in my mind that I left the Who in 1982, and as far as I was concerned, that was that. I was in an absolute creative dilemma with the band and the brand. Roger never let up, as he says himself - he nagged constantly and to some extent so did fans. So reunion events were really just that, chances to get together and attempt to show the willingness to do the holiday-season thing. For me creatively, the Who were always a possibility, but one that became more and more remote as time passed. 

What happened to produce the songs for Endless Wire was sudden, unexpected and quite strange. I had played Roger a few new songs here and there, in response to his constant, self-confessed bugging that we should try to make one more great record (and, of course, it's good to be wanted!). But his reaction had been cool. When John died, and my only client was Roger, I was able to focus more tightly. I decided to stop flying songs past Roger (in a kind of audition process) and just start making a record that he could react to, almost like an editor who performs. That worked, and thus the use of the Who brand itself became the subject of some scrutiny. The two of us decided that we had to accept who we were, but also who we had been, and what happens whenever we stand together. The Who, in stripped-down form, was reborn. 

Q: Listening to Endless Wire, my first thought was how much it felt like the Who's early '70's output - Who's Next to Who Are You. But then I noticed how much I missed the bottom end on the album. What was it like recording without John Entwistle?

A: Remember, too, that we live in CD land now - little, tinny CDs. It was hard getting John's sound onto a CD. He had such a massive sound, it's hard to replicate, and it could be wrong to try. John would have listened to my demo bass lines (as he always did) and played his own amazing versions of them, with flourishes, additional depth and harmonics and a huge, fat sound. 

Q: Much of your work, especially on Endless Wire, seems very personal. How does it feel to have those lyrics sung by someone else?

A: I'm glad it feels personal, but it is not as rooted in me personally as it seems. A lot of my most reflective songs were actually about the band, each of us, and what we were going through. Because I was the songwriter, I got the credit or the blame. As for who sings what, I want Roger to sing it all. What he is uncomfortable with I happily sing. 

Q: Many older bands put out a new album, then barely give it credence live. But you guys are tackling the bulk of Endless Wire. How are the audiences reacting to the new material?

A: The audiences are being gracious. Radio is being pretty good, too, but everything has changed since our last album as the Who. We are playing what we feel is a reasonable balance and getting a good reaction. 

Q: You seem to teeter between writing epic suites and stand-alone songs. Endless Wire has both - shorter songs like Black Widow's Eyes, and the "Wire & Glass" mini-opera. Is it easier to write a stand-alone song or one that fits into a larger narrative?

A: Having a story helps me a lot, I write much more from the hip when I have a theme underpinning my songwriting. On the other hand, sometimes songs just land from nowhere, and it is only later that I realize they, too, come from some thesis I've been dragging around. I don't have a lot of new ideas. My old ideas were so extraordinary for the young man I was, my teachers so smart, that I feel I should simply continue to honor the job. 

Q: Do you plan on doing more recording as the Who?

A: No plan as of today, but if I write some songs, I will record them and see what happens. 

Q: What was your reaction to Won't Get Fooled Again becoming a 9/11 anthem?

A: It was appropriate. The song is about a refusal to be bullied into what to vote, what to think and what to do if attacked. It is not so much a conservative song as one that is against bullying and self-righteousness. After 9/11, what was needed was not vengeance but a message that we would not stand for suicide terrorism. We might not be able to prevent it, but we would never be fooled into thinking that, because our system is not perfect, we are in some way evil. I have never felt Islamic bombers were evil, just wrong. If someone call me Satan, they are (expletive0 nuts, because, actually, I'm a man from West London. 

Q: About 15 years ago, you were having trouble with tinnitus and there was talk of you not being able to play electric guitar live anymore. What are you doing to protect your hearing now?

A: I'm probably not doing the best thing - which is not to play music at all. I tried that. In fact, I reduced the Who's stage volume from 198 onwards. I've always had an acoustic flair. ... Behind Blue Eyes, Won't Get Fooled Again and Pinball Wizard - if I play those songs on acoustic, they sound pretty strong. I play electric guitar very differently today. I take care not to deafen myself or anyone else. 

Q: As someone who has had a strong Internet presence for years, how do you see the Internet driving the music industry in the coming years?

A: Driving it? Exploiting it. At least MySpace and YouTube fall into that category. Even iTunes is not entirely fair; Apple set their own price structure that bears no reflection whatsoever on the cost of making music. Musicians and music are regarded as worthless these days. Their work can be picked up free and shared. They are less valued than bottled water ... 

A performance of mine on YouTube might attract a hundred thousand hits and I wouldn't get a cent. It's a form of theft. The people who run YouTube will be multibillionaires. They are all copyright thieves equal to the Chinese in their flagrant disregard of creative talent and its value. 

Even so, I love YouTube. In a way, it is first and foremost enthusiast-driven promotion. The problem is that it is OK for the Who - we can sell out a big hall and pay the rent and the mortgage. We can stand some theft. New musicians are really struggling. 

Artists really are prostitutes now. But I always said they were. People looked at me as though I were mad. We stand naked. We want approval. We want recognition. Sadly, this desire makes us vulnerable. Rock and roll (read all pop music) is a huge bonfire onto which young people queue up to throw themselves. Line after line of them. It has always been that way. We are shameless. We will do anything to see you smile. Anything for a halfway good review. 

The Internet has simply revealed what I have always known about myself. If no one is willing to pay for what I create, I would rather give it away free than keep it hidden.

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!

Expecting? Get great news right away with email Auto-Check. 
Try the Yahoo! Mail Beta. 

More information about the TheWho mailing list