By his reckoning, Keith Richards has lived in Connecticut for 25 years. So when asked if he feels like a New Englander, the Rolling Stones guitarist lets loose one of his famously piratical laughs — the sound of countless cigarettes and late nights — and says, “I’m both, I’m an old and a New Englander.”
Richards is looking forward to returning to the area with his bandmates in the Rolling Stones — Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, and Ronnie Wood — when their first major tour in six years hits the TD Garden, on June 12. Tickets go on sale Monday.
Dubbed “50 & Counting,” the tour celebrates the band’s golden anniversary. We caught up with the 69-year-old rock icon by phone to chat about the show, the recent Stones documentary, “Crossfire Hurricane,” his 2010 memoir, “Life,” the return of guitarist Mick Taylor — who is being billed as “a special guest throughout the tour” — and the importance of new music.
Q. You really seemed to enjoy yourself at the PEN New England songwriting awards event honoring Leonard Cohen and Chuck Berry last year at the JFK Library and Museum here in Boston.
A. It was great, I thought, because at last the literary society decided that songwriting was actually writing. [Laughs.] I was so glad that Chuck was the first one brought into that thing. His lyrics were poetry. I defy a lot of straight-up literary writers to come up with what he came up with, so I’m so glad he was recognized.
Q. I read a lot of good feedback about the New York and London shows in December and caught the Barclays Center show and have to say you seemed energized.
A. I was amazed. I think one of the main reasons we’re continuing into this year is because I think we surprised ourselves with how much energy and freshness we put into it. Maybe it was the years off or, I don’t know, but I would suspect that that had something to do it. . . . Energy and freshness [are] my key words this year. [Laughs.]
Q. The band also released another hits compilation, “GRRR!,” which featured two new songs, “One More Shot” and “Doom and Gloom.” How important was it to you to have those new tunes to play?
A. I don’t know how important but I think it was important to have a couple of new tracks to go out behind because it gives the sign of future possibilities and it gave us something new to play. So it’s something to add to the incredible list that we have already.
Q. Between your autobiography,
“GRRR!,” the “Exile on Main Street” reissues, and “Crossfire Hurricane,” you’ve been forced to do a lot of reminiscing in the last couple of years. Have you enjoyed looking back?
A. I came to terms with it. Quite right, at the beginning [I thought], “Oh, all we’re going to do is regurgitate the past. Is that all we have left?” With a band that’s been going this long, you’re bound to have fallow periods and there’s going to be periods where it all suddenly hits the spot, and hopefully this year is one of them.
Q. Did you watch “Crossfire Hurricane”?
A. Oh yeah, I watched several edits of it. We were all involved in it. I loved [director] Brett [Morgen]’s work in it. I thought he did a great job and finding some footage I didn’t know existed.
Q. Was there any particular moment that struck you?
A. Not one incident. It was just the overall impression that, God, there was a cameraman, there? I had no idea. [Laughs.] That’s the sign of a good cameraman, you become friends, you don’t even notice them. They’re flies on the wall. You don’t think about it at the time. But I was just happy to see certain old friends of mine in the background, that I thought, “I wonder what happened to him?” I’ve got in touch with a few guys since then, so it brought a few old friends together as well.
Q. Writing the book was probably different and more solitary. There were probably some things that weren’t as pleasant to relive. Did you feel like you learned something about yourself when you were done?
A. I thought that I learned more about the Stones than myself. [Laughs.]
Q. That’s interesting, why is that?
A. I’m not really sure. I think just reviewing the whole thing from that distance, I detected certain patterns of events that I wasn’t aware of at the time. These were all separate incidents when they happened, but I saw a certain thread running through things.
Q. What was that thread?
A. That thread is how much I love Charlie Watts and actually how much I admire Mick Jagger for all of the work he does in front. You can take it for granted, but that man is incredible. His determination and the way that, with a bit of luck, he can be swept along with enthusiasm, which is very difficult to do with Mick. [Laughs.] The band tries to turn Mick on. That’s when we know we’re doing a good gig, when Mick is turned on by the band. That’s the whole point of it.
Q. One passage in the book struck me. In talking about writing the song “How Can I Stop,” you say, “I always thought that’s what songs are really about; you’re not supposed to be singing songs about hiding things.” How long did it take you to come to that realization, that as a songwriter you’re not supposed to be hiding things?
A. It’s a slow realization, and a lot of it came through doing the book. And also there’s nothing much productive that comes out of hiding things. It’s much better to be open and cause a flash and not to bury things, because they only simmer. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. So I think I learned a bit something about that.
Q. At the show in December, Mick joked that when you first played New York, a carton of milk was 25 cents and a hamburger was 50 cents and that a ticket to see the Rolling Stones was — and then he stopped himself and said, “I’m not going to go there.” What do you say to the people who think your ticket prices are too high?
A. It’s the price of living and it’s the state of the economy. Actually, we’ve taken a deal on this tour which is substantially lower than another one we were offered. We’re not out to soak people, for Christ’s sake. It’s just what it costs to put it on and to pay everybody and to make a profit. It’s a business, but after all these years I don’t think anybody seriously thinks that the Stones are out to soak you.
Q. Plus, you have to pay Mick Taylor. How great is it to have him back?
A. Mick, I’ll give him 20 bucks a night. [Laughs.] It is brilliant. I think it’s going to be a very interesting series of shows with Mick Taylor involved. Both Ronnie and I are looking forward to this because we need all the help we can get. [Laughs.] You’ve got to realize that on Stones records there’s probably four or five, sometimes six guitars playing in and out of each other, so when we get onstage, Ronnie and I have to pick which bits of those six guitars we’re going to play. So to have Mick Taylor there as well, it just gives us a chance to maybe make the stage show sound a little bit more like the records.
Q. There are probably at least a dozen songs that you have to play to get out of the building alive. How do you figure out the rest of the set list? Is it a debate?
A. It’s a good question. We kind of throw all the songs in a pot, in a way. For the last shows, for instance, because it was so obviously a 50th [anniversary] we decided to throw in a few much earlier things than we would normally do. This has widened up our thing, and we can carry on doing that. And also be a little bit more experimental on the set-list side. It’s sometimes difficult to get Mick to change a groove once it’s good and once it’s hooked. I’d like to throw in three or four different songs at least a show in different places. But at the same time the show develops during rehearsals. Since I’m not going to be rehearsing until next Monday you’ll have to wait and see what happens. [Laughs.]
Q. Are there certain songs you’re itching to play, though?
A. If you feel like that, anybody, Ronnie, Charlie, can come and say, “What about playing this?” It’s one of those things, this band, sometimes we say, “What a great idea! I’d forgotten that one.” Anything’s possible.
Q. The subtitle of “Crossfire Hurricane” was “The Rise of the Stones,” which leads me to wonder, is there going to be a second part?
A. Whoa, you’re very observant. [Laughs.] But what are we going to do, “The Fall of the Stones”? [Laughs.] “The Rise and the Rise”? It depends on how much footage there is around. Since we’re going out on the road again, there might be something there. Really, that’s planning ahead. I’m just happy that I’ve got the boys back on the road. Right now I’m just resting on those laurels.
The Rolling Stones play the TD Garden June 12 at 8 p.m. Tickets go on sale Monday, April 15 and are $85-$600 at 800-345-7000 and www.ticketmaster
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