Todd is Still God
If there was a multiple choice question about who Todd Rundgren is, you’d be correct if you picked the answer at the bottom of the long list: all of the above. Whether it’s producing artists like Patti Smith, The Band or The Tubes, leading proto-jamband Utopia through hours of improvisation or developing music-based technology, Rundgren has brought impeccable skills to each. He was enough of a rockstar in the ‘70s to have adoring fans pin up posters with his countenance that read, “Todd is God.” Despite releasing 13 albums while part of The Nazz and Utopia, the prolific Rundgren released his 16th solo album, Liars, this past April. And, not surprisingly, it’s as good as anything he’s done in the last 25 years.
You’ve said you’re not a big fan of rock and roll.
I’m a fan of examples of a lot of genres, but I don’t necessarily fully commit to any particular one. In that sense, rock and roll by it’s strictest definition, which I always kind of think Elvis Presley on the white side and Chuck Berry on the black side, is a very particular kind of music that I can’t say I played a lot of. Sometimes we go back and play those things almost as a goof. I remember for a while in Utopia we used to do “96 Tears” [Englishmen] during some period of touring and that was because, by contrast to all the complicated stuff we were doing, it was extremely simple. And it had some weird cultural significance to us which I don’t quite remember what it was, but in that sense, I like all kinds of music but only because somebody did it really well. You can say you like R&B because people like Marvin Gaye sang it or you like rock and roll because a band like Cheap Trick plays it. But in that sense, I don’t have a commitment to a particular genre.
You weren’t into being a heavy guitar player because you said it was like the old west gunslingers and people were always looking to hunt you down and beat you. Would you say you successfully stayed out of that arena?
Well, I didn’t get shot! [laughter] There was a time, and I was pretty young, I didn’t write a lot of material so I didn’t have anything that I thought was my own personal mode of self-expression except for playing the guitar. Ironically enough, a very derivative kind of guitar based on other influences I had. It got to a certain point, after I started to write songs, when the guitar became more of a tool I guess to me, a lot of my writing was taking place on the piano and I suppose that I just evolved away from the idea that you had to prove something as a guitar player. I still enjoy playing it and I still every once in a while think I can do something that’s, something that might be recognizably me as opposed to all my influences [slight laughter] and so in that sense I don’t have any new horizons planned for the guitar. You get to a certain point and then you plateau I guess.
Most people think of you as a musician, but you’ve had a prolific career as a producer working with everyone from Janis Joplin to Patti Smith to Bad Religion to The Tubes. Can you talk a little bit about being on both sides of record making?
I originally thought, after I left The Nazz, that I was going to be spending most of my time as behind the scenes guy, basically engineer, record producer. And that’s also a rewarding existence because you get to work with so many talented people. And for a long time, after I quit the Nazz, I felt to go out and perform would be a distraction. I did an album, more or less for my own amusement, and it turned out there was a single on it [“We Gotta Get You a Woman”]. I got forced, I suppose, into thinking, again, as a performer. And I’m kind of glad I did because I guess because when I was in The Nazz, the reason I didn’t want to go out and perform is because I always saw myself as essentially a sideman. Not as a frontman. And there’s a whole other bunch of skills you have to develop as a frontman that have been really useful to me ever since, extending all the way to the point that I can now to a two and half hour show by myself and entertain people. And that’s a valuable skill that can be applied to a lot of other things. I participated, just about a week ago, in a sort of a performance piece, a tribute to the Fireside Theater. And most of it involves more or less acting and doing voices and things like that and because I have a comfort level as a performer, I was able to work with other people whose work you normally can just sit back and admire. Actors like John Goodman and George Wendt And comedians like Mark McKinney and Bob Odenkirk and other people who work in an arena I don’t normally work in. And because I did have the comfort and skills of a live performer, I was able to drop into that world for a little bit and not be too out of place.
Would you say that one your early band, The Nazz, was the first, true Anglophile group?
I would say that we were, but I wouldn’t say that we were the first because I remember at the time of the so-called British Invasion, a lot of guys affecting a British accent because they thought it would get them girls you know. And some of them would be incredibly awful. Guvnor type of stuff, you know? [laughter] I remember this happening even in high school. If a guy could get away with growing his hair long, the next thing he moved on to was his fake British accent. In any case, I do admit that we were Anglophiles and the bands we emulated and the fashion we emulated, were essentially British. And for a good long time, I wouldn’t even buy clothes in America. I would take a yearly trip to England and stay with friends in the fashion business and go shopping in the warehouses and come back with two-dozen pairs of crushed velvet pants. So there was a time, for all intensive purposes, that our musical influences and the way we looked, in other respect, you could have said we were from England. A lot of people even to this day, say, “you know, you don’t sound English.” [laughter] That’s because I’m not English.
You’ve said that record is more than just a 12 inch piece of plastic, that’s it a lifestyle. Can you explain further?
You mean how it can represent a lifestyle? There’s no guarantee that the record conveys its message without condition to anyone who listens to it. So you would certainly have to have some reference points but for me I’ve discovered there’s a big difference in the way that the music is created. For instance, the last album I made was purposely an anti-concept album. I wanted to just let whatever ideas happen, to try and complete them at the time they came to me rather than save them up for some grander project. And then when I had enough of these ideas completed, I would have an album, kind of like an old fashioned, make a single at a time and then when you have five singles and B-sides, you got ten songs and that’s an album. And that was the way things were before The Beatles recorded Sgt.Pepper. Because that was first, real concept album and they made themselves, at that point, the first album artists because there were no singles on the album. So I do recognize the difference in terms of what my lifestyle turns out to be when I take the two different approaches. On the most recent record I had to do what I’ve done more traditionally which is isolate myself so that whatever it is that my subconscious is really fixated on can start to be heard over the din of daily distractions. And so for me, it does become a lifestyle in terms of being alone a lot [slight laughter]. Not necessarily because you crave being alone but because the process just doesn’t happen otherwise.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
- Relix Live Fridays: Trey Anastasio at The Fox
- Grace Potter & The Nocturnals "The Lion The Beast The Beat" (Official Video)
- The Allman Brothers Band Before Gregg?
- The M & Ms: Medeski, Mali, Mercurio, Moore at (Le) Poisson Rouge (A Gallery)
- Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger "The Pequod"
- Trey Anastasio with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center
- More Visions of the Hangout Music Festival 2013 (A Gallery)
- A Blowout for the So So Glos
- Interlocken Festival to Feature Neil Young, Furthur, String Cheese Incident, Black Crowes, Zac Brown and More
- Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers "Friend of The Devil" at the Beacon
- The Salvation of Page McConnell (Relix Revisited)
- Interlocken Adds Widespread Panic and John Fogerty, Furthur to Play Workingman’s Dead
- Warren Haynes and Joe Bonamassa "If Heartaches Were Nickels"
- The Final Ingredient in Dogfish Head’s Grateful Dead Tribute Ale Is…
- Stone Gossard Readies His Moonlander
- Trey Anastasio Band at The Hangout (Video Stream)
- Doctor’s Orders: So what should we call the Super Ball IX Newspaper?
- John Kadlecik Posts Statement on Bob Weir’s Collapse
- "I Wanne Be In moe.": The Latest Volunteers
- Bob Weir Escorted Off Stage During Furthur Show
- Vote for Your Favorite "I Wanne Be In moe." Contestant
- Furthur Cancels BottleRock Show as Bob Weir Is Out Of Commision
- Doctor’s Orders: What’s Your Favorite Furthur Song? (Win Copy of Relix Signed by Phil and Bobby)
- On The Verge Poll