Sunday, October 19, 2008


Published Date: 19 October 2008
By Aidan Smith

IT'S 10am, Hawaiian time, and Todd Rundgren has checked his mail, fed
the fish, poured himself a coffee, and now he's telling me why he's
chosen the most feted period in his long and fascinating career to
release an album of heads-down, no-nonsense, mindless boogie.
"I guess I've never been afraid of change," he says. "It's the fear
of the next step, and of that potentially painful transition, which
stops many people doing anything new. I'm 60 now but my attitude is
the same as when I started in this business ex actly 40 years ago:
there's always more to know, more to learn and more to create."

Contrary, wilful, maddening, downright perverse – Rundgren has
delighted in being all those things, often on the same record,
sometimes in the space of one song. Just when it seemed like he'd
settled back into the blue-eyed soul of his Philly roots – the Todd
most of us love – he promptly turned himself into a computer, changed
his name to TR-i and went all techno on us. Then he reverted back to
Todd Rundgren for a re-recording of all his old classics – in a
dreadful bossa nova style. But for wrong-footing moves, he's really
excelled himself with the new album Arena.

This is Todd the mad axeman, the heavy metal clodhopper. It's not a
new Todd – way back in 1974 he sang of how "everyone inside is a
heavy metal kid" – but neither is it the Todd that over the past year
has won him the admiration of the hottest electronic acts.

Rundgren songs have popped up as theme music for Daft Punk films, on
mix albums by Klaxons and in DJ sets by Simian Mobile Disco.
Lindstrom, the Norwegian pioneer of prog-disco, can probably claim to
have begun the trend when he featured Todd on his Late Night Tales
compilation, though it was Hot Chip who took him back into the charts
via a sample on their single 'Shake A Fist'. These acts were inspired
by studio-whizz Todd, LSD-indulging Todd, or the Todd who, back in
the day, could knock out three sweet pop ditties before fish-feeding
time, and anyone buying Arena off the back of their lionising of the
man will be mightily confused.

"I was kicking my heels recently so I took a guitar band out on the
road and the audiences seem to enjoy it so this album comes from
that," he says.

"The heavy guitar sound isn't a reaction against something I don't
like in music, but it does seem to be an unworked part of the field
that's grown fallow."

Rundgren is one of the few in his profession who'll permit his
publicity department use of the word "bombastic". "That's cool," he

The album is loud and also angry. So, living in paradise, and having
recently invited 200 fans to Hawaii to help him celebrate his 60th,
what's he got to be angry about? "Well, we Americans have been living
under a government which has been cowardly and hypocritical and lied
with impunity; there's a danger that men will believe this is the
correct way to resolve issues in their own lives." Women, he adds,
wouldn't be so dumb.

Rundgren is flattered to find himself a hero to so many. "It's
recognition of the fact I'm still around, that's the most important
thing. I'm very fortunate to have had a 40-year career because some
people don't get 10."

Always a nerd about new technology, does he share in the gloomy
prognosis about pop music's future? "No, I don't. The digital age has
made it easier for acts on the fringes to gain some parity with those
whom the record companies decide we're going to like, and I actually
think we're about to enter another golden age. People were making
music for years before Thomas Edison discovered how to record it and
they'll still be making it long after we're forgotten."

If we go back to Rundgren's beginnings, Arena makes some sense. "Aged
20, I wanted to become the world's best guitar player and I'd get
suicidal when I wasn't making any progress." He became a pop star "by
accident and with reluctance" and from that moment on, was damned if
he was going to perform to type.

In the prog era, with Utopia, Rundgren jousted with fire-breathing
dragons in the shadow of papier-mâché pyramids – the last time he
played arenas. "Imagine if this record became a self-fulfilling
prophesy and I got back into the big halls," he laughs. It would be
predictably unpredictable and typically Todd if it did. v

• Todd Rundgren plays Edinburgh's Picture House, November 7. Arena
(Cooking Vinyl) is out now

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Last Updated: 17 October 2008 4:01 PM
Source: Scotland On Sunday
Location: Scotland
Related Topics: Interviews

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