Thursday, October 16, 2008

REVIEW: A Talk with Todd

A Talk with Todd, Part 2

Rundgren releases the motivational album Arena
By Jeff Eason

Musician Todd Rundgren is currently on tour promoting his latest album, Arena.

A lot of musicians slow down as they get older. Todd Rundgren turned 60 this past summer and is busier than ever with a new album called Arena and a tour that will take him and his band all over the United States and Europe.

Best known for his radio hits such as “Hello It’s Me,” “Bang on the Drum All Day” and “I Saw the Light,” Rundgren’s four-decade-plus career has seen him venture into all manner of musical territory including psychedelic rock, Brazilian music and American soul music. Arena takes Rundgren back to his days as a guitar hero and is filled with the power chords and searing leads that his fans remember from albums such as Todd, Another Utopia Live and Faithful. It is also a thematic album in which many of the songs call his listeners to get up and take action on the issues of the day.

Todd Rundgren’s five-piece band, featuring longtime bandmates Kasim Sultan and Prairie Prince, will perform at the Orange Peel in Asheville on Wednesday, October 15.

The following is the second half of a two-part interview with Todd Rundgren. The first part was published in the Oct. 2nd edition of The Mountain Times.

The Mountain Times: With your new album, Arena, your theme is that people need to stop talking about issues they care about and start doing something. Can you give me an example of what you mean?

Todd Rundgren: I’m not talking about going out and bombing something or enlisting and getting yourself shot at or shooting at other people. If you are so motivated, fine.

It’s all of those little daily habits that we’ve gotten ourselves into that we refuse to change. The whole core of what’s going on now has been completely driven by the rising cost of gasoline. The cost of fuel has made the cost of everything go up and as the cost of everything goes up then the economy starts to collapse.

When people don’t have money because the cost of everything is going up, they start to borrow money. I had a building loan to build a house here and the gas crisis hit right in the middle of that project and by the time we got to the end, the building loan was never going to be enough to complete it. The price of concrete, the price of lumber, the price of everything just continues to go up.

Once gas hit a certain price we don’t rethink our addiction to gasoline, we just start looking for more gas. We’ll drill here, we’ll drill there. We won’t change our habits. We won’t, for instance, get out of our car and get in somebody else’s car to go to work.

MT: Many smaller touring bands are having to modify the way they travel. Is it the same with national acts?

TR: You have to because you’re not going to see anything positive otherwise.

This whole drill, drill, drill thing is pointless. People want industry and the government to take care of our problems for us. If everybody started carpooling tomorrow, the price of a gallon of gas would go down by a dollar in a month. And once that happens, everything starts to move again. People have money that they didn’t have to spend on gasoline. Not only are they using less gas, but the gas costs less. Once people start spending that extra money on stuff, then people have to go back to work at factories to make that stuff. Then suddenly, there’s money in pension plans and for investment.

Everyone’s coming up with these complicated plans, but if somebody could just convince the people of this country to half their gas use—completely voluntarily—the problem would immediately begin to fix itself.

MT: How long has it been since you played in North Carolina?

TR: I’m on the road constantly. I don’t often get to Asheville. The closest to there is when I went to see my son play AA baseball. He was with the Carolina Mudcats so I would go see him in the Raleigh area in Zebulon.

MT: How long is the current tour going to last?

TR: We’re doing this tour in chunks right now because the release date of the record was pushed back. It was originally supposed to be released in July. Then we got an international distribution deal and because of the peculiarities of record distribution and the weakness of the dollar, one of the restrictions of that deal is that the record has to be released worldwide on the same day. Otherwise, people would go out and buy American imports because the dollar is weak and an American import is cheaper than the domestic version in many countries. In order for the album to chart, the label has to make sure that everyone buys their domestic version. If they only buy imports in doesn’t show up on the charts.

MT: Do you sell much of your music as online downloads?

TR: I don’t have at this particular time an individual download site. I’m on iTunes and other sites where you can purchase individual song downloads. People still order my albums on and we still sell a few at the merchandise tables (laughs).

I’ll be interested to see what my new label can do to help sell the new record. They seem to have a whole master plan.

MT: How much do you have to do with Rundgren Radio and some of the other Internet sites dedicated to your music?

TR: There’s a bunch of third party things out there. In some ways I find that if the fans are the ones who get the idea to do something, then the sites tend to have greater legitimacy then if I put up a site that’s supposed to be the official site. First of all, it gets me out of a lot of babysitting. If I was running my own site—you know how these squabbles can break out between people on blog sites. And I’m just not interested in that kind of stuff. Somebody else should police that. I can’t deal with that stuff anymore. My first response would be to say, “Just shut up, both of you.”

I’m perfectly happy to have the fans maintain the sites and a couple of them do an outstanding job. There’s the TR Connection which is very complete and friendly. Then there’s Rundgren Radio ( which basically produces (streaming audio) interviews with people connected to my career. I did an interview for it yesterday. But the rest of the time it just plays my music or music that I’ve been involved with somehow

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