Todd Rundgren once wrote that love is the answer, but times change and so does Todd. The past 35 years have seen the legendary musician, songwriter, producer and multimedia wizard weave his way through a series of cutting-edge projects with no end in sight. Most recently he was recruited as front man for the New Cars in a revival of the '80s pop group. Their summer Road Rage tour came to a screeching halt just weeks ago when their tour bus crashed, resulting in Elliot Easton breaking his left clavicle. Despite this unfortunate turn of events, Todd will still be appearing in Calgary, just not with the rest of the New Cars. The Gauntlet had a minute to catch up with him and chat all about his history, current projects and current tour.
Gauntlet: What's your opinion on the state of music today?
Todd Rundgren: The music business is in one of its troubled eras. For instance the story of the year is Mariah Carey's comeback. That doesn't say much for the progressive aspect of music. Even though there are bands that are doing something creative, they're not getting the full attention of the radio and labels. If you fit into a certain formula you can probably get their attention.
G: I read an interview with Frank Zappa where he said it would be impossible to have success with the Mothers of Invention in the '90s.
TR: Yeah, if the Mothers existed today, nobody would know it.
G: You've always worn your heart on your sleeve with personal lyrics. Is it difficult to relate to fans who think that they know you?
TR: No, I don't think so. At least they've been exposed to my music and appreciate it. That's a signature element for me. My biggest problem has been that I can't write out of a vacuum like a professional hit songwriter can.
G: Thank God for that.
TR: (laughs) It does keep me off the radio.
G: Is that important to you?
TR: No it isn't. I do get a lot of satellite airplay which comes from having such a large back catalogue. I believe there will always will be an audience who prefer to listen to music that's revelatory in that sense and reveals what the artist is feeling as opposed to music that's purely manipulative. It's designed to mess with your emotions in a way (laughs). Certain formulas, words and mediums accomplish that. I can't just say okay I'm going to write a song this very half-hour (laughs). I imagine there are people who have a formula for that. I'm not a genre-centric artist. I like to do a lot of different kinds of music.
G: That's always been the wonderment of picking up a new album, you never know what to expect.
TR: Yeah, (laughs) the wonderment and sometimes the frustration. Especially if I've done a record that everyone likes and I don't follow it up with something identical. Unfortunately for them, my head has moved on and there's nothing I can do about it.
G: I assume that this current tour is a direct result of the New Cars tour being cancelled.
TR: It is pretty much. The Canadian tour was our best attempt in the short amount of time that we had available.
G: Was it difficult to assemble such a prestigious line-up on short notice?
TR: Actually, the line-up came together relatively quickly. Jesse can rehearse Tony and Jerry and spare me from flying in from Hawaii. Hopefully it will all come together and we'll sound like a real band (laughs).
G: I can't see it going wrong. Will Tony be playing any stick?
TR: I don't know, actually. We'll be travelling by plane so we pretty much have to carry anything we intend to play. I think we'll avoid keyboards so it'll be mostly guitars.
G: If you ever need a bass player who's willing to play for free, give me a call.
TR: (laughs) Okay! Maybe the New Cars are looking for one.
G: I know a lot of your songs.
TR: Terrific, that would work out well. This will actually be an opportunity for me to stretch out on the guitar as opposed to the context of the New Cars where I was mostly playing rhythm. Jesse's a great guitar player too. I think we'll divide it up a bit so he gets his rocks off as well. Jerry has a really good voice so the harmonies should be great.
G: Is love still the answer?
TR: I would say it's a substantial part, but it obviously isn't enough nowadays. You can't simply love a terrorist out of his crazy ideas. There was a time when it seemed that if you were willing enough to apply it to a situation you might overcome. Love is only as valuable as the reality of the context you find it in.
Rundgren plays Mon., Aug. 28 at the Whiskey with Jesse Gress, Tony Levin and Jerry Marotta. Check out www.tr-i.com for a site that will mess with your head like bad acid.