March 12 2013 – In October, 2011 we saw Roger Daltrey performing The Who’s Tommy (reviewed here). In November, 2012 we saw The Who performing Quadrophenia (reviewed here). That show would be eventually be on our list of Toronto’s Top 10 Concerts of 2012. Simon Townshend (brother of The Who’s Pete Townshend) was playing at both shows, and now in March, 2013 he is back in Toronto – but this time without members of The Who. Townshend is performing solo and opening up for Heart on a killer double bill, and clearly this is a situation in which the opener should NOT be missed. The show occurs at Massey Hall on Thursday March 21st. We had the privilege and honor of speaking to Simon Townshend who called us from Regina on a tour stop, this is how it went down:
T-Mak World: Simon, let’s start with your latest album Looking Out, Looking In. Congratulations on what is a fantastic record. How was the experience of making this album overall?
Townshend: It was a very inspired album. The ideal project would move along fairly fast as this one did because sometimes you can get caught up in recording and writing. Before this I hadn’t had a record out for some time, it came along and shocked everyone around me, that all of a sudden I had become incredibly inspired to write. In fact I have written another album coming out at the end of the year. That’s what makes this one a special record, I didn’t have to work too hard to put it together.
T-Mak World: Was there anything specific that inspired you? Townshend: This particular album is very introspective looking at what’s been and looking positively at the future. I cleaned out basically and gave myself a chance to focus better and give myself a new lease on life. It’s been something special for me.
T-Mak World: Based on that it sounds like it was self produced.
Townshend: Oh yea I produced it. I wanted the challenge Sometimes producers come along and get heavily involved but they don’t have the love and I really wanted this to be a personal record. The way the industry has changed it allows for records to be more lo-fi, to be more personal to the writer. It felt the right time for me to produce my own album and I got really into it. It took a bit of courage to take that on my shoulders and I wanted to prove to myself that I trusted my ear. So finally I put myself in a position and tried it and proved to myself that I can do it. That’s one part of it, the other part is the songs. If you have good songs you can do anything I think. I had the raw material as I had worked really hard on the songs but they practically wrote themselves. I did put the time in to make sure the body of work is strong though.
T-Mak World: The album swept a wide musical horizon. There were ballads, there were progressive rock influenced songs, and one could even say classic rock songs. Did you decide on a holistic direction for the record before you begin recording or do things fall in place as the music gets created?
Townshend: I let the songs do what they wanted to do. I wanted to keep it varied, which I like. This comes down to again to the way that you can record and do things yourself these days. The equipment really caters for the artist in that respect. It’s been a lot of experimenting, trying things out and new approaches. The main thing though is decision making. At some point you have to say that’s it, it’s done – this is how I want it. That can be the hard part and often one would hire a producer to make those decisions. I wanted to be a decision maker on this album and indeed on the next one as well. Suddenly I started to believe that I was able to make those decisions.
T-Mak World: Touching in the upcoming record, would you consider it almost like a sequel or continuation of the current work Looking Out, Looking In? Townshend: The next album is incredibly inspired, as I had quite a year with my family last year. So I wrote the whole album in about 3 months. I demoed all the songs as I wrote them. I didn’t want to leave it for almost a year before I started tracking them as they might get stale before I got back to them. I had to work until May of this year. So last October I started cutting the bass and drum parts and its there. I’m so glad I did because now I have got it all down, the energy is there, the vibe is all there and I can continue working on it when I need to.
T-Mak World: You are currently opening up for Heart across their Canadian Tour. What can we expect to hear from you, will some of the new unreleased songs be featured? Townshend: Yea for sure I am playing some of the new songs. I played 3 of them last night in fact. I am here to focus on the current record and it is important for me to get people to hear songs from Looking Out, Looking In and go home and check it out now that they are current, but I am also very excited about the new stuff.
Simon Townshend – Photo Ron Lyon
T-Mak World: You actually just finished a fairly lengthy tour of North America with The Who less than 2 weeks ago on February 28th and were back on the road doing your solo work less than 10 days later. I would have assumed you would take a rest from the hardships of touring, obviously my assumption is wrong (laughing). No need to rest Simon?
Townshend: That’s the big advantage of being completely clean. I have the energy to do all that stuff. I can actually look after myself on the road and do what needs to be done. If you have the energy to do it, which I currently do, then yea it’s a lot easier.
T-Mak World: It generally sounds like you are in a good state Simon, quite content with everything you have accomplished musically.
Townshend: Yea I am and I do not intent to stop here. I want to move further forward and keep progressing because life is running out. I am 52 years old and I just want to get out there. That’s why I didn’t want to go home, I wanted to stay out there and keep touring.
T-Mak World: What is up after the Heart tour? Townshend: The Who are doing a tour in June and I have a whole load of solo shows that I put in for June. They are touring in the UK and they have left gaps between the shows so I have put my own tour on, on the side. That will be fantastic, I am looking forward to it.
T-Mak World: One observation, not sure if it’s just me or not but this album seems like an excellent piece of work to be released on vinyl. Are the economics of doing so just not there anymore?
Townshend: I just had the songs mastered at Abbey Road in England and I will put it out in vinyl in June as a signed and numbered limited edition at first. It’s so exciting, I listen to vinyl all the time and to me its just an amazing format. I do agree with you vinyl sounds different, it feels different and ya Looking Out, Looking In deserves to go out on vinyl.
T-Mak World: Great news, I for one will be buying it as soon as it is available. You announced on your website that you will be hanging out after your set and signing CD’s for the fans that are interested. I personally think it is very cool for a musician to stick around for a bit and say hi to the fans. Do you enjoy meeting the fans both old and new?
Townshend: I made a real big effort in the last year to go out. Until I started doing that I didn’t even realize how important it was to the fans I toured with The Who in 2006 and 2002 and I never got out to meet the fans and I wish I had. Some amazing things happen such as pictures with guys and their sons seeing the show for the first time. They get a photo and something signed and they are so happy. Without the fans you couldn’t be doing this and I have lots to thank the fans for.
T-Mak World: Your show with Heart at Massey Hall is actually part of a huge festival in Toronto called Canadian Music Week which features 1000 artists in 60 venues over the span of 6 nights. Any chance you will have time to check out some of the incredible talent gathered in Toronto while you are here?
Townshend: I sure hope so, but I don’t think we are staying that long in Toronto. That would be ideal to check out.
There you have it folks, Simon Townshend is opening up for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Heart at Massey Hall on Thursday March 21st. Make sure you check him out live, you won’t be disappointed. This is not a show where you want to miss the opportunity to see a fantastic opener whose latest work is truly an inspired piece of music. Simon I want to sincerely thank you for giving me the honor to speak to you and we can’t wait to be in Massey Hall watching you show this city what classic rock sounds like! More info is available on Townshend’s website. We leave you with the official video for Forever And A Day.