‘SUPERTRAMP IS A GROUP WITHOUT SEX-APPEAL’
by Roberto Palombit
Translation from Dutch: Monique van Luijk
After Roger has had enough to let his radiographic white car make loops between the legs of passers by, he walks with me to the bus. The roadies do not only care for the instruments and installation, but also for the toys of Supertramp. In the “coach” as they call the bus, the video has started it’s program being a few Monty Python shows. To have an undisturbed chat, we move the back of the coach. On the left, Roger’s wife is sleeping with his small baby under a blanket. He lays down on the right side and asks if I want to come and stretch myself out on the couch next to him. To me it looks like the perfect place to have an interview with the modern Supertramp.
Roger dressed in white mahavishnu clothes, starts talking about the difficulties of living a life like a tramp.
I’ve been on the road for ten years and to be honest I have had enough. After this tour I will not do a long tour for at least 1 year probably 2 years. Fortunately we are in the position that we can record a record and not having to promote it via lots of concerts. After playing for ten years you think: there is so much to see and to do in the world. I would for instance like to grow my own vegetables and tour the world in a camper with my family. Some time ago I’ve toured The States with my wife, that was fun, nobody recognized me. Of course that’s not strange: Supertramp is a group without sex appeal and is only known by its music. Hardly anybody will remember our faces. Do you know what is interests me lately? Film. I am thinking to make a movie with Supertramp.
Hopefully not like so many others where a concert is filmed?
No, definitely not, we would like to make a product worth watching. It would be nice to film the theme of Crime of the Century. Someone offered us a script that is based on this record. In this, the idealist Rudy is getting himself in a bad situation because people do not understand him and eventually he dies in prison. The script was not strong enough for a film. Since Breakfast in America is a million seller, we also get a lot of offers to compose film music. Up to now there is not one decent script there, most of them were from film producers that wanted to share in our success.
It looks like you, as well as John, really feel at home in the States?
I really escaped England. I get depressed from that country. For me it is impossible to be creative there. I love Great Britain but stagnation and conservative behavior are there in politics, economy and culture. People do not understand if I say “new age thinking”. When you want to grow your own veggies or built an architectural strange house in England, people will fight you, they’ll think you are strange. There are a lot of things wrong in The States, but you can at least do these types of things, hence there is a lot of space there to do so. In England you find the various classes, upper class, lower class, middle class.
You’ll find the class system in The States as well, only there it is done by how much you earn!
I find that less negative and less disturbing. In England you belong to a class if you speak with a posh accent and have attended a certain school. I’ve had a “better” education and was told that we were better then them to whom we in future had to lead and manage. They were “nobodies”, who could not put their thoughts into words, an inhuman situation.
You find the difference in classes by having more or less money responsible?
No, for me, every human being is equal, but it appears there have to be differences, if I have to choose between the two, I will choose the American way. Previously I thought money stank, there was a time I gave it all away, it was me escaping and that isn’t good. Now I see money as an energy source, something you can do something positive with. Now I sponsor foundations that do good work and by doing that I feel good. I am for instance against nuclear power and would like to stimulate/encourage alternative self-supportive communities. That is a way to use your money in a positive way.
PRODUCE HOME GROWN VEGETABLES AND EXPLORE THE WORLD IN A CAMPER VAN
Have you changed since you’ve become a vegetarian?
Yes, eating meat has a negative effect on me: I get depressive, aggressive and nervous. Half a year after I stopped eating meat, all these things disappeared. When an animal gets killed, it will cramp because of fear and various fear juices will be released, these juices will enter your body when eating meat. This is the reason according to me that you will get fearful and cramped yourself. When you hide behind a shrub and shoot an animal in the free nature with bow and arrow so that animal has not feared for his life, you might get good meat, but this type of meat is not for sale anywhere.
How do you write your numbers?
I for instance pick up my guitar and play without thinking for hours, that way I will be totally alone in my mind, like a sort of trance. Sometimes this results in amazing things, I can’t sometimes not even understand that I wrote it. It feels like I receive the songs from outside, that they are not mine. Songs made on a guitar are totally different than songs made on piano. I am trying to find a new instrument to compose new numbers; I am sure that songs then would get a different sound.
Nobody mentions the first two albums you’ve made, what do you think about that?
The first album is very naive. Some numbers are good but the way we’ve recorded them is not the best. The second album is a strange album but then it was a strange period of my life. There are a few decent things on there but the album does not mean anything to me anymore.
Crime of the century has a totally new sound. How much of this is the sound of Ken Scott?
The numbers are created by working as a team, but the sound is almost for 100% that of Ken Scott and not ours. It took us almost five months to record it. He was there all that time to work on the sound.
Scott pushed Bowie and the Mahaviahnu Orchestra a certain way; he pushed you guys even more.
When the album was released, everybody agreed that the sound of crime was the best that we’ve ever made. We got a name, a kind of hi-fi group and because of this all our next albums we had to create up to these standards. People expect us to record the most perfect recordings.
One could say that without Ken Scott Supertramp would have become a totally different group?
That’s difficult to answer; it is very possible. He had a big influence. Personally I find the music on Crime very good but the sound is too clinical. Breakfast in America is a lot more personal, warmer.
Can you explain the differences?
I will try to explain it in a simple way. Look, the frequency spectrum is this big (he points to the full windscreen). The bass drum is from bottom to middle. What does Scott, he makes the frequency less wide by taking away the top part of the bass drum. Other drums get the opposite treatment. The low frequency gets taken away and the high frequency accentuated. Can you understand by working this way, the frequencies of the various instruments will not overlap each other that much. The result is a perfect hi-fi sound, all instruments can be heard because they are next to each other. The sound doesn’t get thinner because Scott doesn’t cut all the sound, he squeezes broad sound into thin “loud” sound. This is in brief what was done, in reality it goes a lot further. Scott is a genius in doing this. We did not follow this procedure with the making of Breakfast in America, we recorded this album like it normally sounds. So the instruments are overlapping each other. We have recorded everything much more direct whereby the sound sounds a lot closer. The end result is that the sound comes towards you and that must be the reason that this album is sounding so good on the radio. With Crime you will listen from a distant to a film of sound, with Breakfast you are surrounded by it.
You and Dougie Thompson produced the last two successful albums. What would you like to improve?
I get very annoyed with the sound of drums in rock music – it sounds the same on every album. That is one thing I would like to change on the next record. The sound of pop music in general is very boring because it is build around the bass guitar and drum sound. Drums bang these days against you, you will never hear the sound of an African log drum where the sound will go thru you.
THERE ARE A LOT MORE THINGS WRONG WITH THE ROCK MUSIC IN THE 70’S
You find pop music of the seventies very boring. What is wrong with it according to you?
These days song writers will use as many instruments as possible, have a synthesizer, trumpets, a few extra voices. Everything gets filled as much as possible. In the music nowadays, there is little open spaces whereby the listener can fill the gaps with his own creativity. The power of the Beatles songs were that they most of the time were one-voiced, the chorus was twin-voiced. This way everybody could create a third or even a fourth voice themselves. Play a Beatles album and ask someone to sing along, most of the time, that person will sing in a third or fourth voice. Nowadays that is not possible anymore because the groups sing these voices themselves. A group that does leave space for the thoughts of a listener is Pink Floyd. Their music will take you away to unknown areas and leaves your mind to play your own roll. However the Pink Floyd musicians are primitive, they could be much more creative, it is an open area music wise. There are lots of other things wrong with rock music made in the 70’s, aggression for instance is dominating. I always divide it like this: music can touch your brain, heart and crotch, good music moves something in all three areas. Most music touches you there (he points to my little boy) and disco music goes the furthest in that. Groups like 10CC or Steely Dan tickle the sexual zones but also make you think, but they miss the feeling, the don’t offer the heart anything. Most rock groups won’t touch anything but the crotch.
Are you now telling me that Supertramp does touch the audience?
No, Supertramp does not touch the three zones. Very occasionally we do, just like other groups do. At the moment there are big talents on this earth, but maybe they miss the spirit, the magic that artists of the 60’s did have. In this decennium, one will try and look for new leaders, like the Beatles were, who will touch the feelings of young people and if that happens one should work with a lot of retrospectacle. All those new acts repeated themselves, stuff that was there 10 years ago, there has not been added anything new that is essential. I am convinced though that the 80’s new exciting music will be created.
After Crime of the Century you have not written any numbers with Rick Davies. What is the difference between your numbers and those of Rick on the albums produced after Crime of the Century?
I am an idealist and pretty romantic, Rick is very cynical, reasonably hard and he speaks the language of the street. He understands the ordinary people better then I, but he is very suspicious and he also finds it difficult to get in contact with others. He is realistic, I am a dreamer. Musically Rick is rock orientated and his strong side is the rhythm, I learned a lot from him. I am more the man of melody and harmony, my voice is also more fragile. Both of us together often choose the numbers for the Supertramp albums. I write a tremendous lot of numbers that will not be released because they are not suitable for Supertramp. An example of this is the number Lord is it Mine on Breakfast in America. It is a good song but too personal; it should have really been released on a solo-album. When I have time, there will definitely be a solo-album. It is purely finding the time, because I have plenty of good material for such album.
I’ve got the impression from these last few days that you are the dominating part of Supertramp and that Rick does not do that much anymore?
Uhh.. you’ve seen right. The last years I have created most songs for the group. After Crime Rick did not feel like it anymore, he wasn’t interested in music anymore. After he got married, he started to get interested in other things that are part of married life. After Crime, from 1971, Rick has not written any number for about 3 to 4 years. The parts that he did write were mostly written before he got married. I however am still very productive. I’ve always had a guitar with me and wrote a lot so that the group would not be left without material. Again, a lot of numbers are not suitable for Supertramp. I’ve made a lot of songs without drums and saxophone and that of course is not possible within the group; that would mean John and Bob would be out of a job. Also there are numbers that are too personal. And because various members of the band think different to me, it could be that they wouldn’t like to play those numbers. That doesn’t happen too often but you can understand that because of this quite a bit of material is not suitable.
It sounds like your contacts especially with Rick have reached a minimum?
Well look, on such a tour you are live and breath with each other for seven or eight months. There comes a time that you start to irritate each other. Therefore it is best to go your own way sometimes.
Could you still write together like with Crime?
Our relationship is not like it was. We do not have an argument but character wise we are so different. For Crime we lived and played in the same house for a long time. Because of the marriages and other issues I don’t think that this is now possible anymore.
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The Garden Gate - Roger Hodgson
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