Roger Hodgson of Supertramp Explains How He Loses Himself in the Songwriting Process

"Take a look at my girlfriend. She's the only one I got. Not much of a girlfriend, never seem to get a lot."

If you're a male between 25 and 75, odds are good you not only know those lyrics from Supertramp's song, "Breakfast In America," pretty well, but you also understand them. Roger Hodgson, 66, wrote them as a teenager in the mid-1960s, but didn't record the song with Supertramp until 1978 when it became the title track of their 1979 multi-platinum-selling sixth album. Somewhere in the world, odds are better than good that right now, as you read this Q&A, "Breakfast In America" is being played on the radio, and there is at least one boyfriend or girlfriend singing along with tears in their eyes.

Hodgson released seven albums with Supertramp and has done five solo records as well in his prolific career. After leaving Supertramp in 1983, he took a number of years off to raise his children before getting back out there and playing his songs for literally millions of fans during his subsequent tours. The soft-spoken expatriate Brit has been living in the United States, both in Los Angeles and now in Northern California, since the late 1970s.

"Take The Long Way Home," "Give A Little Bit," and "The Logical Song," just to name a few, are songs that Hodgson penned that everyone has heard. In fact, most people probably know his lyrics even if they don't know his name or the name of his former band. Hodgson has a unique ability to craft songs that speak clearly to (and about) what it means to be a human being, and that is a very special thing. We caught up with Hodgson over the phone a few weeks ago. Here's what he had to say.

New Time: So I have to admit to you that I have this compulsion about buying your records when I see them in a record store. I have multiple copies of most of the early Supertramp stuff.
Roger Hodgson: Well, thank you for that. What is cool is that vinyl seems to be resurging.

It just sounds better.
It does. When we went to MP3, the musician in me felt like slashing my wrists. You spend five months making an album, making it sound as good as it can be, and then they turn it into MP3s and it’s a shame. As the quality and the memory got cheaper, I thought they would revert back to higher-quality sound and they haven’t.

We could talk for hours about the state of the industry. I’m actually re-releasing a solo album, Open The Door (originally released in 2000 on Epic Records), on vinyl on this tour. We’re repackaging it and getting it out there as an album.

Tell me about the tour. … What can fans look forward to?
I’ve been on the road for six months, so I’ve just started this leg of the tour. We’ve got a great band and we have had some great performances. I haven’t been down in Phoenix for quite a while. People have been hearing the new versions of these songs. It’s not that they’re different, but I think I’m singing them so much better and have this amazing band that sounds incredible. … The power of the show really is very much about the connection people have with these songs. They have been a part of their lives and many of them have really spoken to them in hard times or times when they have fallen in love. Music is very deeply ingrained in their souls and their conscience. It’s an amazing connection to forge. It’s an amazing bond to have with people.

I was trying to think about how to ask you about that feeling. It’s mind-boggling to me that somewhere in America there are probably 10 radio stations playing one of your songs right now.

Does that ever make you kind of dizzy?
It just amazes me. The way the songs are still played. They never leave the airwaves. I think for some reason, the songs that I wrote, in particular, have a kind of evergreen quality to them. There is some that people seem to feel even more than the day that I wrote them. These songs really ask the questions that a lot of people are asking today.

I was talking to Joan Baez a few weeks ago and she was talking about the healing quality of music. People need music right now.
I think a lot of what of the music that is being played now is so focused on … (pauses) music with less depth. (Laughs) I don’t know if that is English, the way that I described it, but I think what Joan is talking about, with the healing quality of music, is true. That’s very much what my intention is when I go and play concerts. I know a lot of people are going through tough times and there is not much spiritual food around, whether you’re watching TV or going to church.

When people go to a concert, I try to give them more than just two hours of entertainment. It needs to be rich with a lot of things. I’m singing about God, and “Who am I?” and things that are really personal for whatever reason, and when I wrote them, I was very vulnerable. I wrote what was going on inside myself. I didn’t write them for anyone else. Many of the songs were written before even Supertramp began, so I had no idea these songs would go out and be heard and have millions of people be touched by them. So it has been an amazing experience to almost have my soul be touched by so many people.

There is a real strong connection that happens in these concerts, especially by the people that know these songs and have had a connection with them. There is a lot of healing energy, and I agree with Joan [Baez], the potential of music is unlimited. We haven’t scratched the surface of what it is. I think music is a very sacred art form, and we haven’t begun to realize what’s possible. At the very least, what I try and do is just give a little bit of my heart and my love for playing, my joy for playing, and my love for people and really kick down the barriers between the performer and the audience and create a great unity and feeling of love.

Were you able, at the height of the Supertramp days, to stay connected with this type of feeling you are talking about now?
I think success, especially mega-success, is probably the biggest test any artist can face because ... the pressures upon you to come up with the goods, you know, to live up to your last record, are very, very strong. I know that when I left Supertramp, I had to go. I had to take a break and leave it all together. I took a break of about 15 years and raised my family, raised my kids, and went up to Northern California. So coming back, it was almost like having a part two of my career, and I found that I’d changed in that time for the good. I am a little wiser and I have a lot more to give. The last 12, almost 15 years now, I’ve been touring almost every year.

The funny thing is that I’m singing a lot of the same songs, yet I’m appreciating them even more. They haven’t aged at all, most of them anyway. I’m singing them much better. My voice is still in great shape and the spirit of the songs is actually stronger than I believe it was in the '70s. There’s a real magical alchemy, if you will, about these songs that brings people into their heart and maybe makes them think about things that they don’t really think about in their regular life, which maybe makes them more important on a heart and soul level, and they get a really rich experience from it. They go away with a smile on their face, and that, for me, is my pleasure, of a sense. If the audience goes away smiling, then I have done a good job.

Makes sense to me.
There is so much negativity out there. Music can be a great medicine for people. I’m very fortunate to have the repertoire I have of songs. They make you feel you good.

This is coming from an old punk rocker. I’ve taken my fair share of grief from band mates and friends who didn’t quite get you guys.

What’s the biggest challenge when it comes to songwriting?
I think today it is time. For me, the process to write a good song is to get out of the way and let the song come through. I think the great inspiration for a good song comes from another place in our mind, and when our mind gets out of the way and we are almost lost in the music is when it kind of takes over. It’s a wonderful, magical thing. If I’m playing an instrument and it sounds gorgeous, whether it’s a 12-string guitar or a grand piano or a harmonium that I have it home, it literally takes me away and I lose myself in the music. My hands sort of know where to go, and suddenly, it’s like I’m experimenting and more of, (pauses) I’m kind of witnessing it all take place, rather than trying to create something.

Then for me, it’s like a love affair and for the next few weeks, I’m playing the [new] song every moment I can, and it just builds on itself. The lyrics tend to be a bit more work. Those come more from the mind, and the initial inspiration really comes from a very magical place. I’m really happy to have sort of stumbled upon that without really knowing what I was doing at an early age, and that has sort of stuck with me.

Are you one to just let the mood strike you when you are at home to just pick up the 12-string or sit at the piano or do you set time to write?
Occasionally. My life is pretty busy, so being able to find that time when I’m not running out the door and can just get into the music is tough, but occasionally a song does pop in that way. Unfortunately, I have over 60 unrecorded songs, and they’re all great songs, but I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to recording them properly. More than likely, I’ll just record songs and I’ll put them on my website or on YouTube or whatever.

You never know — that whole resurgence of vinyl thing.
I know. That does change things a bit. That’s the way I thought, back then, to put together a 40-minute listening journey experience for people, but very rarely now do people have 40 minutes to do anything, let alone listen to an album.

Roger Hodgson is scheduled to play Celebrity Theatre  on Friday, December 2, at 8 p.m. Doors at 7 p.m.