Most of the material is pretty uptempo,” says Pete Townshend, discussing his second solo album, Empty Glass, due out April 14th on Atco Records. “I did have a couple of ballads I was thinkin’ I might include, but I didn’t – mainly at the behest of Chris Thomas. He figured the album should be pretty ballsy, and that’s the way it’s come out.”
Thomas, who’s previously produced the Sex Pistols and, most recently, the Pretenders, kept Townshend “living in studios the past eight months” while putting together the ten tracks that make up Empty Glass. Although two songs – the title tune and “Keep On Working” – date back to the time of the last Who album, 1978’s Who Are You, the rest were written early last year, including such titles as “I Am an Animal” (the LP was originally going to be called Animal), “Let My Love Open the Door” (which may be released as a single), “Cat’s in the Cupboard,” “And I Moved” and “Rough Boys” (formerly titled “Rough Kids,” and dedicated to Townshend’s two daughters). Backup was provided by Who keyboardist Rabbit Bundrick, former Stanley Clarke drummer Simon Phillips (Kenney Jones plays drums on one cut) and Tony Butler, who plays bass with On the Air, a band led by Townshend’s younger brother, Simon.
“The only way I’ve approached this album any differently from any other I’ve ever worked on is that I took the material I had available when I went into the studio and used all of it, figuring. ‘When the Who go in, I’ll just have to write another lot.'”
Although Townshend found working on his solo album “very, very exhausting,” he adds, “I didn’t have any difficulty at all coming up with what I think is some exciting, new-sounding material for the Who quite quickly. I think I’ve changed my style slightly through workin’ on my solo album. Because I was singin’ every day, my voice improved a hell of a lot, and that affects a lot of the melodies I’m writing and also the kind of diction I can get across. It’s quite a contemporary style of singing, and I was worried at first that Roger [Daltrey] might find it difficult. But in fact, he’s really taken it another level up.”
The Who are already recording their next LP at London’s Odyssey Studios. They break to begin a North American tour in Vancouver on April 14th, proceeding from there to Seattle, Oakland, Salt Lake City, Denver, Kansas City, St. Louis, Iowa State University (in Ames, Iowa), St. Paul, Chicago and Toronto, ending up at Montreal’s Forum on May 7th. The group will then return to Europe, with Daltrey dropping by the Cannes Film Festival on May 11th for the première of his film, McVicar, and then flying back to London to resume work on the Who album. When it’s completed, Townshend and company will return to the U.S. for a midsummer tour.
“I think we’ll keep the horn section for this tour,” says Townshend. “It really does add extra color. But apart from that, we’re sticking with the same lineup – Rabbit on keyboards, and that’s it. The only thing I’ve been toying with recently is the possibility of gettin’ some kind of string section playing old-fashioned string instruments; we’d build a glass booth for them to sit in.” Townshend chuckles at the idea. “No, actually, we were thinking of mainly using female string players. Keep us out of trouble with the groupies.”
This story is from the April 17th, 1980 issue of Rolling Stone.