Todd Rundgren Todd Rundgren has long defied any easy sort of…
- Posted on Sep 15th 2011 2:00PM by Chris Epting
courtesy Panacea Entertainment
The result is a beguiling, ethereal mix of radically rearranged songs that, in some cases, all but abandon the original melodies. Rundgren's knack for crafting unorthodox pop hooks and his sonic sculpting behind the board make for a lush, compelling collection of spacey, beat-studded productions. On top of that, he got an assist from fans at Gigatone, a studio fantasy camp that allowed them to play on some of the tracks.
Spinner recently caught up with Rundgren to discuss the album, its unique concept and his thoughts on producing.
How did you come up with this concept?
I was doing a professorship at the University of Indiana and I was having some music-related discussions with students and one of them was ruing the state of music today and wondering where it was all leading to. Does it have any depth? Will it leave an impression for future listeners? Then we got to talking about Lady Gaga, who then was at the height of her spectacle phase -- otherwise, what Madonna used to do, but Madonna used to do it because her music was crappy.
Stream Todd Rundgren's 'Love My Way'
And I got some push-back from this particular student -- who went on to be a Rhodes Scholar, by the way -- who insisted there was some stuff happening in the music world today that was worth listening to. And I had to admit I had not spent much time listening to contemporary music, so I said I've got to make this sound contemporary. So today, that's a lot of dance music.
Essentially, the dance style was born out of this discussion with a younger audience. I realized I was making assumptions based on just what I was aware of. And there was plenty of music that I was not aware of.
What challenges did you face in choosing songs for the album?
The first thing we did was come up with a list of songs. Then the challenge is, what is a production approach that will tie all these together somehow? And like I said, we got to a point where dance music seemed to make sense.
When you realize you're doing pop/dance-oriented versions of songs, some of the stuff I've produced just doesn't work. I think probably the Psychedelic Furs in general have a kind of approach that lends itself to this -- a musically simple style which made it easier to transform into something else. For example, that's why we picked 'Love My Way' from the record of theirs I produced. Each song we picked shared a sort of simplicity.
And then it was time to head off to camp at Gigatone.
Right, then the concept had to be worked out to conform first to the recording camp concept. That dictated that the songs had to be at least familiar to the campers because they were going to participate. And they weren't going to get copies in advance. They were pretty much going to have to take a crack pretty much when they got to camp.
So we picked out two or three of the tunes most familiar to people and that became basically the audition tapes so we could find a drummer or singer or bass player, and that they could contribute in some relatively concise part of the project because the whole camp just lasts a few days. But we had some challenges because as we had some pretty good players and wanted to find things for them to do.
Is there any chance of seeing you perform these songs live in this updated style?
If the record took on a life of its own, maybe, but I'm not going to put a tour behind it and promote like that if an audience doesn't appear for it on their own. And I know I'm not going to be able to create one out my own audience. They're not all of a sudden going to go hit the dance floor and start boogieing around [laughs]. A lot of them are getting on in years. They might dance for one or two songs and then have to rest for the next three!
On your current tour, you've dusted off some of your more popular classics, like 'Hello It's Me' and 'Can We Still Be Friends.'
It's born out of a practicality and realization of how the music business has changed and how live performance fits into it. This tour I'm doing now is at the behest of management. There's critical mass now of what they call performing arts centers where people buy season tickets so it's good to have a show that appeals to your core audience but isn't offensive to season ticketholders. You have to do a fairly healthy dose of material familiar to a fairly dilettante audience and then fill it out so it's not too lopsided. The whole nature of touring has changed and so one has to be flexible. It's just the nature of things today.
How has the producer's role changed since the '70s, when your name as a producer on a record seemed to get as much attention as the artist?
I think it still means something but in a different way. People still want to get Will.i.am on their record or just get his name associated with it because he's hot. The difference nowadays is, if you look at production credits for an artist like Rihanna or Katy Perry or Ne-Yo, it's never one producer anymore -- it's like three producers for each song! An album can have two dozen producers on it [laughing] so there isn't that sort of bond between artist and producer. Now, making records has become like high science. People get called in because of their levels of expertise. The marriage between an artist and a producer is no longer there also because of how the material has changed. Many of the productions I've worked with, these are actual songwriters and the songs are very personal to them so the thing you're striving for is some bridge of how they feel about the song and how the audience feels about the song. Today, the songs are written totally to audience specifications. "We already know what the audience going to like so let's just create that!"
There's no really deep personal messages anymore in a lot of popular music. More than anything, they're trying to out-do each other. What is the outrage that will get people buzzing and tweeting? "She said c--- five times in a row! Wait, the song's called 'Peacock.' I get it!"
In the mid-1990s, you started sharing snippets of an interesting autobiography on your PatroNet website whereby you told a story from three distinct points of view. Many fans have wondered about the status of that project.
I've attempted to get back into it. I've gone back to re-read what I've done but the problem is -- and I have to get over this somehow -- psychologically it reminds of homework, which reminds me of being in school, which turns me off too much. So I have to develop a different attitude about it, probably because a little isn't enough. It's one of those things where you have to complete the whole thing or it's not a book, it's just a bunch of pages. I just have to get a fire under me or resolve myself to whatever weird head that it puts me in, but I do need to get back to it because there's a lot of stuff that other people have related and its not the way I remember it -- which was one of the principle purposes for me doing it in the first place [laughs].