Starting with 707, his first “big band” as he calls it, Tod’s impressive resume has also included touring stints with REO Speedwagon, Ted Nugent (for whom Tod also contributed backing vocals on Ted’s Penetrator album), Cheap Trick and, of course, the aforementioned Frehley’s Comet.
Tod has also produced some incredible work in his solo career including the albums Silhouette, Cobalt Parlor and West of Eight, which I reviewed and interviewed Tod about. With the release of his newest album, Opposite Gods, I’m happy once again to interview Tod and review his latest masterpiece.
Your last rock CD, West of Eight, was released in 2000. Why such a long time between it and Opposite Gods?
Tod Howarth: Life in general, really. The band that I put together to support Cobalt Parlor was to record all of the West of Eight CD, which we did, except for the then bass player who I had to let go during the recording and re-do all his parts. During this drought I recorded Winter, which is an ‘easy listening’ but haunting type solo CD that was to satisfy my creative needs.
I wanted to do more rock music right off the bat, but with a real solo effort it is just so time consuming. I had to find or create that time and it was hard. I am not the ‘rock star’ anymore that people may think I am – although I am flattered! – and my attention has been turned to the family business that I run now days. Plus, my adult kids have needed a lot of attention that required not only time but money as well. It is wild how ‘stuff’ never ends.
I’m sure you want listeners to form their own impressions of the CD, but generally speaking is there a theme to Opposite Gods?
TH: Well, yes and no really. It runs the gamut from “I’m pissed at worthless so-called talent being famous for being famous,” to the worthless current political administration, in my long term opinion. I get so bent about this that I really have to watch what I say online otherwise I find myself wasting time ‘discussing’ opinions when I should be writing, playing, recording. I guess the theme is my concern for family, veterans, real love, imagination and true friends.
Did you use any unique instruments, like the baritone guitar, or recording techniques for the CD?
TH: You know, I didn’t use the baritones at all this time! I was surprised when I got done with the basics and overdubs and discovered that I had overlooked them completely! I did use the 12 string bass guitar that Tom Petersson from Cheap Trick gave me. What a great instrument… that I’ve yet to learn how record properly.
Truly, I ran out of convenient time to experiment with all my instruments because during the recordings I had studio breakdowns, schedule conflicts, and my daughter and grandson moved into my studio during her ‘life transition’, a father’s responsibility, and I had to move the bare recording essentials to the hobby car garage area – dusty, no air, dank – and that was where I did ALL the overdubs and vocals.
Which certainly would make things interesting. Do you find your approach to music, either musically or lyrically, changing as you’ve gotten older?
TH: Great question, Beth. Yes, I did. I have grown tremendously. Be it for better or worse, I feel that I have evolved into FAR more intelligent rock music as I’ve aged. Some fans may not like it, but one has to grow – especially if your recipe isn’t of stellar success. My lyrics are so much better than in the Comet era, and the music… well, structurally it’s just so much more interesting and thought evoking as far as I’m concerned. I do have a lot of Comet fans that are just floored and love my adult contemporary style tunes as well as my new rock material – man, I love those fans with all my heart because they hear it all. It’s the very reason that I continue to try and share my music.
And you share your music close to home as well. Your son and one of your daughters were involved with Opposite Gods. What did they contribute and how did that come about?
TH: Tara, my youngest daughter, can sing. I had her do an ‘answer voice’ in the verse, when she was just 15 years old, on my Winter CD because out of 7 women that I auditioned for a small part none of them could catch or replicate my vocal inflections. I could not believe this! But Tara could and did in a few takes. On the new CD I had her sing a part on “Jimbos Bunk,” a song about one of my best friends. But I had to really coax her on this one as she’s become even more shy about singing.
My son Tommy is an unbelievable artist. I paint and draw and have done this since I was a kid, but his ability is amazing. Far surpassing me. In fact, he recently had an art show in San Diego to display and sell his art. I have a tattoo on my back shoulder of a skull that he designed, and will have more ink done of his style soon.
Because of the nature of this CD, and the fact that the title came from one of our discussions, I thought that it would be great if he did the artwork. So, after a lot of review of his portfolio I arranged some of his ideas in what you see in the booklet and on the CD cover. I had wanted my oldest daughter, Amber, to contribute some art as well, she is good too, but this became an extremely difficult task to complete.
There has been a tremendous amount of change in the music industry since West of Eight was released. Do you think the digital download constitutes a real threat to CDs?
TH: Initially, yes. The threat is the immediate gratification process that many people are exercising to ‘have it now’ and then move on to the next ‘cool, sweet’ thing. Hopefully we’ll get back to the allure and treasuring of the actual product in hand, where art work and continued creativity can be cherished.
Really, the state of the industry is so sad because the ‘machine’ can’t have it any other way. There’s just too much ‘talent’ out there to be heard and the public is being force fed so much. The ‘machine’ of success is seemingly so much more important and needed today than before when it was – and still is – hated so very much by the purists.
In that regard, has this new platform made it easier or harder for you as a self-financed solo artist?
TH: At first, a few years back, I think it made it easier as a solo artist, but now that everyone is doing it it’s harder. Too many choices from the menu. I believe that you have to have to whole package (band, CDs) moving and shaking to grab a hold of the fan base and build upon that. Playing live, new songs, hype and youth doesn’t hurt either!
Speaking of youth, what are you listening to these days? Are there any new artists that have caught your ear?
TH: There are many new artists that I listen to, though many of the newest ones I don’t even know their names. I still love to listen to Alice in Chains, Korn, Chevelle, STP, Soundgarden, Deftones, Staind, Van Halen, Rage, Nirvana, Evanescence, and Linkin Park. There are many more but I’m not sure what to list! I like very heavy melodic rock with a twist of something fresh and new, and then there are the adult contemporary artists that I like to listen to… early Sting, Seal.
Have you begun work on new material for another CD yet… and are going to have to wait another 10 years for it?
TH: Ha! Good one. I am now putting my studio back together as it was a temp home for my daughter and grandson. Sooooooo it will not be another 10 years… hopefully! I have new songs that I am writing that are, again, haunting melodies but consist of just piano and vocals and then guitar and vocals. Very simple.
I’m also writing new rock tunes that will be recorded when I can without being rushed or technically ‘broken’ down. The pisser is that I can’t get every song down quick enough because I’m hearing way too many songs in my head at the same time, and then I have to attend to other life necessities that suck up my time just like everyone else… and rightly so.