Simon Townshend’s played the Super Bowl and the Olympics and his surname is one of rock’s most famous, but he’s just now feeling like it’s all coming together for him.
“There is a definite difference between an artist and a musician, and I’ve always seen myself as an artist,” Townshend tells Radio.com while on the road with The Who for the Quadrophenia & More tour. “I’m all about the artistic thing, writing songs and the emotional side of it. But I have worked very hard for the last five or six years, looking at my musical ability a bit more and studying guitar a bit harder. Everything has spear-headed to this moment in time where I’m now getting the chance to sing lead vocals on one song and play some guitar solos with the Who – and I’m actually able to do it and feel comfortable and confident.”
Simon says that after nearly two decades of touring with Roger Daltrey solo and The Who, he’s “earned his stripes” with the band. His challenge now is balancing his role as rhythm guitarist in The Who with his solo career, in which he’s feeling quite inspired these days. Maybe it’s the technology that’s allowed Townshend to record rough takes of song ideas while on the road, but he says he has another solo album coming out this year to follow up his first solo album in 10 years, late 2012’s Looking Out Looking In.
“The material came really quickly,” he says of writing Looking Out Looking In. “I was touring with The Who so I couldn’t go into the studio, but I was making the album without procrastinating. Now you can just pick up your iPhone and record an idea so you don’t lose ideas and can get the feeling and vibe down on tape. With some of my stuff, I filmed videos out in Japan and put songs to them, put them out myself after that. Like John Lennon was talking about in the ‘60s, songs should be written one day, recorded the next day, and released the next day. Now that actually is possible.”
The balance between The Who and his own work also consists of playing club shows on his own in the same markets he plays stadiums with The Who. He explains that logistically, his touring schedule “gets difficult now and then.” “If I have a solo show, I’ve got to coordinate my equipment with the crew, which can be stressful at times.”
“There’s something special about playing nose-to-nose with your audience and seeing the feedback,” he says of his solo club shows. “With something like the Super Bowl, you didn’t even know the audience was there. You could hear in the distance some sort of reaction but you weren’t sure quite what was going on. I’ve had to learn how to deal with both environments. There’s a joy with playing clubs – all bands love to go back to that, even The Who.”
But Townshend’s also found a way to merge his solo work into what The Who does, meeting with fans during the arena shows to sign and sell his own albums. “It’s a good platform to reach fans, even though my music is different from The Who’s.”
Simply put, Townshend is making it work, both pursuing his own music and supporting The Who’s. Of course, working with his family – big brother Pete in The Who and his adult son Ben, a drummer, on his solo work – is a perk of both gigs, even if it goes involve the occasional fight.
“Sometimes there’s a bit of fighting, because the family feuding thing is always going to be there,” Simon explains. “If Pete, for example, is in a bad mood, he might turn to have a go at me over everyone else because I’m his brother. But there’s a certain energy between family members without having to communicate too much. As soon as Ben starts playing drums on my music, it’s like I don’t have to say anything – he just knows what to play. The same can be said with Pete. I really try to play things live that give him a base from which to work. I try not to tread on his feet – might do it every now and again. It’s not that he needs it, but it’s something extra that he gets with me.”
Simon remains on the road with The Who through the end of the month for their Quadrophenia & More tour, and again this summer for a European tour.
– Jillian Mapes, Radio.com