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Pete Townshend Talks Mods, Recording, and Smashing Guitars

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Do you ever think of using the demo version instead of the group version?
A lot of the demo's have been so good in fact that it's scared us out of making recordings. "I Can See For Miles" and "Magic Bus" both had demo's which were very, very comparable to the finished releases. They were just so exciting and so good that for a long time we didn't ever dare attempt to make singles because it was blackmail. I'd made this demo and I was more or less blackmailing Kit Lambert, our producer, into doing better. So we always put it off until Kit was very sure of himself. One night he just turned around and he said to us "Let's do 'I Can See For Miles.'" I had the demo there and we put it on and we dug it again and he just seemed like he was going to do it and he did it. He got it together.

The same with "Magic Bus" – we didn't want to do it. I listened to the demo and I thought that demo was good but that we're never gonna catch it on record. It's gonna bring us all down. Let's forget it, let's do something else; and Kit was going, "No, we're going to do it, we're going to do it, we're going to do it, you're going to learn every line, every little detail, every little precious thing in the demonstration record, you're gonna catch and you're gonna copy it if necessary." What happened is in the end we gave up and we thought, "Oh we'll do it," and we went down and we did it completely differently, but it all came together and we went up and we thanked him for making us do it.

What approach do you use?
The only way I can describe it is to go through it: We walk in, we set up our equipment and through the talk-back will come, "Can we hear the bass guitar, please?" And then for quarter of an hour it's clang, clang, where the bass guitar microphone is corrected and so on. Then "Can we hear the bass drum, please?" and clang, clang, another quarter of an hour and "Can we hear the top kit?" and Keith plays the top kit and "Can we hear the guitar," the guitar's always good. The guitar really is good the first time.

But by this time, of course, you're pissed off at the whole proceedings. All you want to do is go out for a drink so that's usually what happens. We all go out for a drink and come back in and we seem to have screwed up the balance a bit. So "Just a quick check on the bass guitar" and a "quick check" on bass rhythm and you go through the whole proceedings again. "Okay, we're ready to go!" Then you find that the number's only half routine, that you've forgotten something, and so by the time you're worked the routine out, the balance is lost again and you have to start all over again. And this is the way The Who record.

How would you do it?
The way I would do it is set up the amplifers, and the drums in a kind of a fairly separated manner, but as they would normally appear on the stage, in the same stereo picture. I'd set up one stereo microphone up in the air above the lot and I'd record a backing track. That's the way I'd record The Who's backing track and on top of that I'd add voice or whatever went with it.

That's what you want: you want that action – walk in, set up, play. That's what you build music on, that instant thing of like having a lyric and just seeing it, and being given some words and having to play guitar to them in front of a tape recorder. This is a recording and it's going to be used and it's gonna be our next album. The music has got to be good and it's got to be immediate and it's got to be exciting, it's got to be now.

Why aren't you already recording in that fashion?
We're gonna, we hope. I'm working on the lyrics now for the next album. When we get through that, all the lyrics cleaned out, we'll start to work through the album. We'll probably have to do it in short sections, like 15-minute sections. Ideally, I'd like to record one backing track for the whole album whether it lasts for two hours or two days. We sit down and we do it in one go and then okay, we spend the next two years adding tarty voices or whatever it is that it takes to sell the record. But at least you know that what's happening in the background is real meat and immediate meat and it's part of the present.

The whole thing about recording is that man feels slightly cheated anyway, because he's getting a recording of something which has happened, so he feels like he's getting something secondhand. If he thinks he's being fucked around already, this is a whole different thing. A lot of people, I'm convinced, that buy records don't realize what happens when a group records on an eight-track machine. They don't realize that they record half of it one time, and then another eighth of it another time. They record it in eighths at different locations and this ceases to become music to me.

What's happened when you've tried spontaneous recording so far?
We've made tapes of a backing track for a song called "Now I'm a Farmer," which is a song I wrote. We were going to release it as a single in England instead of this one we've just released called "Dogs." We made one backing track mono the first time. And it sounded okay. It was exciting, but what it needed was voices. Only it didn't stand out much as a backing track. And then we recorded it segment by segment as I recorded it on the demo disk: guitar first, then drums, then bass, then tambourine or whatever it is we wanted on it. Of course, the one we did separately fell apart. It was gonna need someone to say, "Set one of those metronomes by it," in order for everyone to keep together. It wasn't music, it wasn't a happening, it wasn't an event, it wasn't a musical situation, it wasn't a beginning and it wasn't an end. It was just roughly parallel musical statements. There was none of the constriction of thought or anything, it was all analytical. And if a thought went along a song, it came in "A" and went out a "Z." With grooving or jamming or whatever you want to call it, you just pick up your guitar and – okay you might have a very complicated lyric in front of it – you just play the lyric out. The music becomes far more realistic. In today's time sequence, you got to make something which adds up like the present. Albums are only going to be played once or twice.

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