Local supergroup play The Who by Numbers after the Who tonight [INTERVIEW]

Categories: Q&A
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Hear this underappreciated masterpiece tonight at the Entry after Roger and Pete play Target Center.
After the Who released the rock opera Quadrophenia in 1973, The Who By Numbers came in 1975. And, after the Who performs the rock opera on the eve of its 40th anniversary at Target Center, life imitates art down the street at the Entry. Legendary local musicians are performing the Who's seventh -- and lesser known -- album The Who By Numbers all the way through.

This sparse, darker record showcases Pete Townshend's raw, personal songwriting about alcoholism, lust and self-loathing, aging and the fear of irrelevance. Whether or not you plan to see the Who, this is a great chance to enjoy a lesser known side in a theatrically musical homage by venerable musicians inspired by that legendary band over several years. Gimme Noise spoke with Tom Siler and his wife, Joan Vorderbruggen -- frontwoman performing the singing role of Roger Daltrey -- over several German beers, pickled herring and lentils at the Black Forest Inn, a classic artist hangout for several decades.


The Who By Numbers' stellar local line-up includes Joan Vorderbruggen (Feather Underground) on vocals and cowbell; Jacques Wait (Pink Mink, Iguano) on electric guitar and backup vocals; Randy Weiss (the Hypstrz, the Mighty Mofos) on bass guitar; Tom Siler (the Odd, Tulip Sweet, the King of France) on piano, acoustic guitar, and backup vocals; Keely Lane (Ol' Yeller, Trailer Trash, Stockcar Named Desire) on drums; Carol Cunnington (Ear Candy) on backup vocals; and Dave Kapell (founder of Magnetic Poetry Kit) on ukulele.

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Joan and Tom

What are the origins of you performing The Who by Numbers?

Tom Siler:
Keely Lane had put a notice on Facebook that he got new drum recording software, and so anyone who needed drums, give him a shout out because he was eager to try out the software. At the moment I was listening to The Who By Numbers. I messaged him, "Do you think you could record all the drums on The Who by Numbers?" He said, "It'd be a challenge, but it would be real fun. Let's just do it!" So we went back and forth via email with three tracks, where I did the other instruments and he did the drums.

Then later, Michael Azzerad, who wrote Our Band Could be Your Life emailed me that he'd heard Pete Townshend might do one last tour for the Who, since he just got a new publishing deal -- which in effect frees him from the legacy of the Who because now they're going to start promoting more Who songs on TV and stuff. So he won't need to tour with them anymore. That's kind of why Quadrophenia is the last tour, the 40th anniversary of the release. He wanted to wrap that opera up one more time, or something like that. So we said, "Well, if it happens, let's do a show."

Joan Vorderbruggen: It's an album we started listening to a lot in January last year. There were a couple songs on there that I really related too. [Laughs]

I figured such might be the case.

JV: One of the songs I started singing in the living room was "How Many Friends."

I bet more people than we know identify with that song.

JV: There's these late nights, staying up with cocktails, being on the computer, busting out and singing along with the record. I did that enough times that it planted the seed that I might be able to sing that. Tom said you could do that sometime, but you would need singing lessons (laughs). Still not believing it would ever happen. We talked with Jacques Wait, one of our bandmembers on this project.

TS: I did various recording projects with Jacques, so we bounce ideas back and forth with each other.

JV: So, I asked Jacques if he knows anyone with vocal training. He said her name is Diana Grasselli. She had done backups with Dionne Warwick, Cher, Alice Cooper, Paul Stanley and more. Her band was Desmond Child and Rouge. She performed in Gilda Radner's Live From New York Broadway show! If you look on YouTube, "Our Love is Insane," is their hit.

She's amazing and has this vocal method. She's based in Northeast Minneapolis, still giving voice lessons. I went there a few times and learned some of her techniques. I just found out Carol Cunnington went there all summer too!

What were some of the things she taught you?

I didn't go there long enough to prevent the damage I'm about to do to my voice, but we worked on breathing, the importance of warm ups, and she has an amazing "Vertical Voice" method I hope to learn before attempting this again. She gave me a rescue session recently to "keep me from spitting blood!"

How do you feel about Pete Townshend singing two songs, and Roger Daltrey singing the rest?

JV: Tom is singing the first Pete track and Dave is singing the second one. I'm singing the Roger Daltrey songs.

Listening to how dark the songs are, and the issues they cover, would you like to talk about identifying with the songs?

JV: "However Much I Booze" has been referred to as Pete Townshend's suicide note . . . Tom's singing that one!

TS: The ones where he's singing about the music industry are the ones I like the best. Because he's an aging rock star and he knows he's going to be irrelevant soon. He's coming to terms with it then and he was still in his mid-30s! Back then that was as old as it got. And that's still as old as it gets. Except for Chuck Berry.

JV: I feel the core themes of the record are: loneliness, spiraling into obscurity, alcohol, lust... these are things artists can relate to.

TS: Also it's about failing at your original ambitions. "Slip Kid" is like a warning to anybody who gets involved with the music industry. That its not going to measure up to what you think it might be. (Laughs) It's going to cost your soul or whatever and everyone around you is going to be pretty unhappy.

There's so much bitterness in some of those songs. "Success Story" by John Entwistle.

TS: It's a nice dark answer to Pete's songs . . . its got more humor for sure.

JV: But it's also a rocker!

TS: Entwistle drew the artwork for the cover. In his later years he did artwork for other artists, like Ronnie Wood. I changed it; I connected the dots and then took away the dots. I wanted to see what the drawing looked like.

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