I'm in Chicago. I'm doing a residence at a university here. It's not a tour per se, but I'm not at home.
Are you worried about North Korean rockets reaching Kauai, where you live?
Well, it crossed my mind, but I couldn't figure what the hell they'd get out of it.
Is this one of the more serious escalations of global tension you've experienced in your lifetime?
Well, I lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, so … I was still in school in Philadelphia, close to New York, a likely target. I remember Duck and Cover. Or Bend Over and Kiss Your Ass Goodbye, as we affectionately called it.
You sing on Sir Reality, from your new album State 'It's good to be afraid'. What frightens you these days?
Talking of teeth: your ex-girlfriend Bebe Buell (1) wrote that you look like a cross between Bugs Bunny and Antonin Artaud. Fair?
There's very little where I'd agree with that particular personality, on principle.
You make a lot of appearances in her book, Rebel Heart.
I haven't read it because the author is a fantasist. I try to avoid doing things that might enrage me.
She does say some nice things. She describes you as "the perfect combination of guitar hero, singer-songwriter [and] rock star" (2).
You should take some umbrage at that. She presumes to be a music critic.
She also said you had a titanic ego. True?
Titanic? OK. Let's go with that assumption.
Reading on mobile? See the video for I Saw the Light
I recently got married to I Saw the Light (3) and your UK publicist tied the knot to Izzat Love. But do you know of anyone whose first dance was In and Out the Chakras We Go (Formerly: Shaft Goes to Outer Space)?
That would probably be more of a divorce song. I've heard of someone getting married to Just One Victory – kind of, "You've finally landed one."
You were smoking marijuana for the recording of 1971's Runt: the Ballad of Todd Rundgren, taking Ritalin and peyote buttons for 1972's Something/Anything? and on mescaline for 1973's A Wizard, A True Star. What on earth were you on when you wrote 1975's 36-minute A Treatise on Cosmic Fire? (4)
Well, I know I wasn't high on Jesus. That was still within the window of my psychedelic era – the thing about psychedelic drugs is they don't always wear off. At least in my case, they didn't. Every once in a while I took a trip and never came back. I'd be like, "Whoops! Mismanaged my dosage."
When was your last serious drug adventure?
Last night! I had quite a few cocktails and then some fans gave me some pot. Not much has changed.
In 1973 you and David Bowie produced seminal proto-punk albums (you worked with the New York Dolls, Bowie with Iggy and the Stooges). Both of you formed bands with the Sales brothers and wore dyed hair and tight-fitting spacesuits. And both of you changed style from album to album. Were you the American Bowie?
I don't think I was as purposeful in what I was doing. I was a dabbler in things I didn't necessarily want to be tied to. I had a makeup and costume guy and he hung things on me (5).
You met Bowie, didn't you?
Yes, in the back room at Max's Kansas City. I believe the aforementioned Ms Buell was there. I don't remember our conversation, but I do remember somebody crying. And it wasn't me.
You're alleged to have said to Bowie: "I hear you're supposed to be ripping me off."
[Laughs] I don't remember saying that. But I don't remember half the things I said.
Is it true Prince, a real Toddhead, used to come backstage to try to meet you?
I did hear that. My most interesting experience with Prince was on Saturday Night Live. I was wearing a slightly racy costume in which my, er, package was prominently displayed. And there were some complaints. Then Prince came on for his first national TV appearance and he wore a pair of tidy-whitey underpants and a big cape. So no matter what anyone had to say about my costume, it became all about Prince in his underwear.
Talking of your package, do you remember you used to appear regularly in British music paper Sounds sporting what appeared to be a giant codpiece?
The English have a particular fixation with the package. I would say: look at yourselves, people. Don't be looking so much at my package.
In 1977 you produced Meat Loaf's Bat out of Hell, which you've described as a spoof of Bruce Springsteen …
A very successful spoof, yes. The actual number is contested although it is generally considered to be in the top five-selling albums of all time. I don't actually collect royalties for it any more. I decided to opt out – I wanted to move to Kauai and get this particular piece of property so I offered my "points" to Meat Loaf and Sony and said: "Just buy me out." So they did and that's why I'm living in Kauai right now. And I've never regretted that decision.
Presumably it was the most financially rewarding production you ever did?
Certainly. I originally took the job on under duress. Meat Loaf dumped his record label on the eve of us going into the studio and that meant I was the ultimate underwriter of the whole project. That's why in the end I did so well. By some estimation better than Meat Loaf and [songwriter] Jim Steinman.
Did you earn tens of millions?
Not quite that. But my very first royalty cheque was for three-quarters of a million. I haven't seen one like it since.
Reading on mobile? Listen to A Wizard, A True Star
XTC's 1986 album Skylarking was your most gruelling production job, right?
I would say probably true. But that's the price of admission. You never know what's going to happen. I try not to dwell too long on the horrible things Andy [Partridge] said to me. I try and focus on the final product and how that saved the band from destruction.
Were there fisticuffs?
Well, there was the moment Andy said he wanted to cleave my head in half with an axe. But there was never anything physical. Just verbal abuse.
What was it like working with Patti Smith on 1978's Wave?
Bittersweet. It was a difficult project. It's not something I look back on with the warmest of feelings.
Was that because you had been boyfriend and girlfriend (6)?
No, that was a different issue. I treated her badly at one point. Patti was a hugely talented, hugely smart person, and I didn't know anybody else of the opposite sex who I felt was – in my egotistical, juvenile way – on my level. In fact, I was intimidated by her. And that affected our relationship.
What happened between you and John Lennon? There was a series of correspondence that appeared in Melody Maker in 1974 … (7)
That was more of a stunt, really, cooked up by the paper so they could splatter the acrimony across their pages like blood! Ultimately, though, John and I realised we were being used and I got a phone call from him one day and we just said: "Let's drop this now."
It has been alleged that Mark Chapman read the exchange between you and it fuelled his feeling of betrayal by the former Beatle.
You can't blame the world. Blame yourself, then blame John Lennon. I don't feel any connection to Mark David Chapman. I never met the guy.
Were you creeped out when it transpired that on the day he murdered John Lennon he left a copy of Runt: the Ballad of Todd Rundgren by his hotel bed, that when he was arrested he was wearing a Hermit of Mink Hollow promo T-shirt and that he was obsessed with you and your music? (8)
I didn't learn about that stuff till way after the fact. But put it this way, I've had bomb threats, I've had assassination threats – it's part of the business of being in the public eye. I've even got a stalker in Kauai! Someone who moved there just to stalk me. It comes with the territory. It doesn't come with the territory if you write songs like Yummy Yummy Yummy I've Got Love in My Tummy. But it does if you write anything that affects people. If you're going to get seriously down with the muck of the human experience, you're going to have to deal with other people and all the weirdness that comes with them.
Then there was that terrible incident in 1980 when armed robbers broke into your house and as they tied you up and ransacked the place they whistled the melody to I Saw the Light.
Yeah, and threatened to cut all my fingers off if I didn't tell them where I hid all my cocaine, on the weird presumption that anybody in the music business had a lot of cocaine.
No! It's the drug that has the least return for your investment. I'd be more interested in having another psychedelic experience. Because I would get something from it. But you could pile all the cocaine in the world in front of me and I wouldn't care.
Cameron Crowe put you in Almost Famous and there was an episode of That 70s Show where the cast go to a Todd Rundgren concert. But what's your favourite pop culture incursion?
Probably Beavis and Butthead. In one episode Beavis points out: "Hey, that chick looks like Todd Rundgren!" Butthead didn't know who Todd Rundgren was. Me, I thought I was having an acid flashback.
Reading on mobile? Watch An Unpredictable Evening With Todd Rundgren
Is it true you researched Frank Ocean and Skrillex for your new album?
I researched everyone. Thank goodness for YouTube. If I found something that interested me I had to immediately stop listening to it because of the way my brain works. I start deconstructing things, and suddenly I'll be copying it.
What did you make of Frank Ocean?
It's R&B without all the histrionics. I can't stand Beyoncé. The way she sells it so hard, constantly. Everything is shoved right in your face. Like, you don't have the sense to make a judgment of your own. That's what I like about Frank Ocean or Bon Iver – they try to capture a feeling in the most sincere way.
Daft Punk, Hot Chip, Tame Impala – has there been anyone who has emerged as a fan of yours that has especially pleased you?
I'm pleased when anyone likes me or cares what I'm doing. That makes me want to understand more what they're doing.
Were you the original laptop boy?
Perhaps, yes. And now I'm living it. I am a laptop boy. People say: "Where's your studio?" I say: it's in my laptop, in my rucksack.
Your music has been described variously as prog, R&B, electronica, power pop, and soft rock. So where would you slot in the last remaining record stores?
I sit most comfortably in the so-called "singer-songwriter" or "auteur" sections. I never look for music by genre. I look for an artist who puts a dependable trademark on things. Like Elvis Costello, he's a great songwriter who presents his songs in a number of contexts. I feel the same about my own music. Last night I did a show with a string quartet and when I go out and perform State I'll do it with a lot of electronics. Then every once in a while I'll go to Holland and perform with the Metropole Orchestra.
• State is released by Cherry Red on 15 April. Todd Rundgren plays in the UK in June (details here).
Footnotes(1) Buell is the mother of actress Liv Tyler. Steven Tyler is the biological father but it was Rundgren who helped bring her up and put her through school.
(2) It has been said that, if only he had "played the game", he could have become one of the biggest stars on the planet.
(3) His 1972 single and a former Tony Blackburn Record of the Week.
(4) The side-long epic from Rundgren's Initiation album inspired by the 1925 esoteric spiritual tome by Alice A Bailey(PDF).
(5) It was designer Nicky Nichols who came up with Rundgren's famous "glam peacock" outfit.
(6) They were mutual fans, too. In an amazing stream-of-consciousness review of A Wizard, A True Star for Creem magazine, Smith described it as "rock and roll for the skull".
(7) Lennon rechristened him "Turd Runtgreen" after Rundgren questioned his revolutionary credentials.
(8) There is a chapter in Mark Chapman's biography entitled Todd and God. It is even alleged that Chapman went looking for Rundgren in Woodstock, New York, before heading back to NYC to kill Lennon.