The Who — more specifically, the Two, that is Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend — have hit the road for the umpteenth time. Once again, they don’t necessarily see eye to eye.
For the veteran British band’s 10th tour of this century, it’s working with a 52-piece orchestra. This was Daltrey’s idea since he performed the rock opera “Tommy” with an orchestra last year. Townshend preferred to continue working on a new Who album, the first since 2006.
The tour contract was signed before Christmas 2018, the recording deal (with Interscope in the States) inked just after Christmas. Townshend spent the spring and summer toiling on the album, which has no title or release date.
Townshend, the songwriter and guitarist, and Daltrey, the singer, don’t work together in the studio.
“We are not a ‘band,’ ” Townshend said in an e-mail interview. “We have worked together for 55 years. We don’t need to pretend to be young men trying to prove anything to each other anymore.”
With the Who coming to St. Paul on Friday, Townshend, 74, talked about the album in progress, the Moving On! Tour, and why he won’t perform certain songs from “Tommy.”
Q: Why have you called this Who tour with an orchestra a compromise between you and Roger?
A: “Compromise” seems to indicate an argument. Roger was keen to experiment with the tour, and I had spent a long time in my studio working on the new songs and was concerned about how much rehearsal time we would need to use orchestra. I’ve worked solo with orchestras quite a bit. I have no fear of it.
I also heard Roger’s “Tommy” concert — and seen reviews and spoken to fans who had attended. I was pretty confident it would work as long as I could find a way to get my stage guitar sound. It’s all done and sounds great and is a challenge but a joy to perform.
Q: What do you hear onstage? How do you deal with your tinnitus in the context of playing with such a large orchestra?
A: I don’t suffer from tinnitus anymore. This is old news that still goes round and round from 1975, and people forget I left the Who in 1982 to 1997 with a few shows in between, and gave my hearing a proper long rest and — to the chagrin of guitar freaks — stopped using my old, very loud, guitar rigs on stage.
Q: What do you recommend for people to do to protect their hearing — for concerts, recording studios and listening with personal devices?
A: Brutally? For working musicians and producers, there is very little you can do. If you wear protection or work at very low sound levels, you lose the vibe. Sorry, that’s my view. We need to work at what would be illegal levels in industry or normal workplaces in order to FEEL what we do. At least, I do. It inevitably causes damage.
Then, if you’re me, you get old, and your hearing deteriorates further. I wear modern fancy hearing aids, and life is grand. For audiences (where in fact the sound levels are far higher than onstage in my case), the decision is yours.
Q: Does it feel like the Who to you or “the Two” or a brand or what?
A: It’s a brand. We could call ourselves Daltrey and Townshend and promoters (and maybe even fans) would just call us the Who.
Q: Why do you avoid performing certain songs from “Tommy” including “The Acid Queen,” “Cousin Kevin” and “Uncle Ernie”?
A: They trigger childhood abuse I suffered as an infant.
Q: Please tell us about the “mental crash” you had performing “Tommy” at the Royal Albert Hall benefit for the Teenage Cancer Trust in 2017.
A: This was the first time the triggering I speak of above actually disabled me. It was the worst show from me for a long time. I kind of left the building mentally.
Q: What can you tell us about the new Who album that you’re working on?
A: It’s a bit early to say much. But with a couple of exceptions, I wrote songs for Roger’s voice. I tried to take on the issue of getting older in pop music, and in the changing world, and, for the first time, even a little political ranting. Roger and I are slightly different in our political views, but we have aligned on a number of subjects — especially on the power of music to unite people, young and old, on the street.
Q: How much of it is newly written material and how much is stuff that you wrote in the past — and how long ago?
A: It’s all new material written in 2018 except for two songs that were written a little earlier, one we played at Wembley Stadium called “Hero Ground Zero,” which I wrote in 2015 for my “The Age of Anxiety” (née: “Floss”) solo project. We may also drop a song called “Sand” that I wrote and recorded in 1967, just to remind you all how sharp I was back then.
Q: Why are you not in the studio when Roger records his vocals?
A: Please, let me turn this around. Why was Roger not in the studio when we recorded, overdubbed and mixed the tracks? We have both found that working in parallel — each focusing on what we do best without the sense of judgment between us — is the best way. It works.
Q: How do you feel about Roger, who is 75, saying in recent interviews that his voice will give out within the next five years?
A: He knows better than me. I see myself primarily as a writer, songs and stories. If Roger’s current singing voice goes, he will still be a fine interpreter of what I write. So, I’m not too worried, but I know it must be a tough thing for Roger to face. He’s singing so well at the moment.
Q: What are your thoughts on this possibly being a farewell tour — or even doing a Who farewell tour?
A: It’s not a farewell tour: Having [messed] up in 1982 by announcing a farewell tour that we all knew was a guess, not a certainty, we won’t go there again. You will know when we’re done. In 1982, I very much doubted we could ever regroup. But it turned out the time we spent apart was a good thing, for me, if not the other band members or our fans.
Q: What can you tell us about the biopic of Keith Moon, the Who’s late drummer, that Jeff Pope — who wrote the screenplay for the Laurel and Hardy biopic “Stan & Ollie” — is working on? In what ways are you involved?
A: It is progressing. I’m not involved, although I have been interviewed for jolly-fun road and studio stories about Moon, making me laugh and cry, love and hate him, sometimes all at once.
Q: Much fuss is being made over Woodstock, which took place 50 years ago this summer. What did Woodstock mean to the Who and what did it mean to you personally?
A: I got to see Sly Stone and his amazing band at the height of his powers. I got to see Carlos Santana ascend to what appeared to be a spiritual release. I got spiked with bad acid in my first cup of coffee. I arrived at 2 p.m. in the afternoon and did not play until 5 a.m. in the morning. Fifteen [bleeping] hours standing in my white boiler suit in two feet deep stinking mud. I remember remarkably little, but what I do remember is not what most people want to hear about.
The drama around the event, the fact that we played pretty well despite exhaustion, that we got the weary crowd on their feet, and then the powerful effect on our career of the beautiful Mike Wadleigh’s equally beautiful movie … in the end it was a hugely positive event. But very, very tough. Probably the hardest gig we’ve ever played.
Q: Being in Bob Dylan’s home state, I have to ask: What does Dylan mean to you, and how would you describe his contributions to music and culture?
A: He’s brought me both joy and anxiety. Above all, he is an activist-poet, I think, but he has composed some wonderful music and melodies along the way. A chameleon, who has pulled off as many changes as [David] Bowie. More? Maybe more to come? Always a surprise.