An Interview with Todd Rundgren (12/21/15)

Paul Caparotta
Underlying photo: Danny O’Connor Illustration: Todd Rundgren
Todd Rundgren will play twice in the Bay Area kicking off 2016 with a bang. The first stop will be at the Fox Theater in Redwood City on January 11th, followed by a show at the Fillmore in San Francisco on January 14th. Tickets for both shows can be found here: Fox Theater (RWC) | Fillmore (SF)

Todd graciously made time to speak with us just before the holidays to discuss touring, the new album and more. Check out the full interview below and hope you can catch at least one of his upcoming shows in January!

SF Bay Area Concerts: We’re excited to have you back in the Bay! I saw you in 2009 during one of the first complete performances of A Wizard, A True Star at the San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts. That was an epic show— I believe the first time you played that album in its entirety on the West Coast? For this tour it looks like you’re playing “fan favorites;” what should we expect from “An Evening With Todd Rundgren?”

Todd Rundgren: Well, I can’t tell you exactly, because we never play the same show twice. We have a list of about 50 songs that we mix up from night to night. Just to keep it interesting for the band, and a little bit to keep the audience on their toes and so they don’t go out on the web and see a set and then think that that’s exactly what I’m going to see. Yeah, principally, it spans the even up to some more of the recent records, and I’m throwing in some nuts and raisins in with the more familiar stuff so that people are encouraged to keep up with what’s going on.

SFBAC: You have such a multitude of musical styles and profiles—what goes into choosing the musicians who will join you on tour?

Todd Rundgren: Well, I usually work with the same group of players. The band that I’m out with now, I’ve been touring with in some combination for 20-30 years now. The fans will generally recognize all of the players.

Todd Rundgren (Photo: Esoteric Recordings)

SFBAC: You mentioned earlier the ‘nuts’ and ‘raisins’, I’d like to ask about a couple of newer releases: “State” and “Global.” It’s great to hear you continuing to do some really interesting and energetic songwriting. What I found really interesting is the themes of exploration that are on "Terra Firma” which seem to echo throughout much of your recent work—is there music you’re listening to now that encourages you to take your work in different directions?

Todd Rundgren: Well I actually… I sort of languished for a while, in terms of my interest in contemporary music. I tended to equate what you’d hear on the radio with what was happening with music in general, and that isn’t necessarily always true. So before I did the State record, I did a lot of research. Using mostly YouTube, I asked my kids ‘OK, who’s a hot new act? Who do you think is cool?’ And they would give me a name and then I’d start using the side bar in YouTube to essentially navigate through, sometimes very winding threads of connectivity to discover kinda what is out there at the boundaries and what isn’t necessarily mainstream yet. And I was surprised by the great variety of things that were possible. And it encouraged me to get a little bit more experimental again myself.

SFBAC: Well, I know this tour isn’t reproducing a particular album, but when you do perform an album in its entirety—how do you approach something like that?

Todd Rundgren: Well, when we do those album reproductions, there’s often a lot of expectations that go along with it. The audience is usually familiar with the record, and some subset of the material likely has been performed before. But when we do the whole record, in order, the way people remember it, we need to put some sort of visualization, or some sort of visual thread to go through the whole thing. When we did Wizard of True Star, the essence of the show, besides trying to do the material as close to the original as possible, was essentially a dozen costume changes in an hour. I was essentially changing my clothes every 5 minutes. Which involved sometimes me wearing three things layered on top of each other. That was what made the show worth looking at, as well as worth listening to. And we did another tour where we recreated two albums, we did the Todd album and the Healing album, and we came up with the visual theme for those as well. That was interesting in as much as we essentially made everything on the stage mobile, so things were moving around all the time. Everyone was on a rolling platform, so sometimes a bunch of people would be on stage, sometimes fewer people would be on stage. It was kinda of an interesting approach from that standpoint. and so, the focus of that particular one was more of… I think that was the first one we rented some real serious video for the background. We had a big video curtain and a lot of what went on there visually, was taking place in the video realm. So as things progress, not only do I try to take advantage of whatever musical progress is made, but incorporate new technologies into the show. Our most recent tour has some of the most up-to-date technology in terms of presenting video on the road. It also presented technical challenges since we were carrying the equivalent of the kind of production that you’d use in a festival setting… and we were putting it in every little club we could find!

SFBAC: If you don’t mind, I’d love to take a few minutes to talk about Something/Anything? That album is a truly singular experience—it feels to universal but at the same time the work of a single individual. It has so much personality to it. Looking back, do you have any particular thoughts on it today?

Todd Rundgren: Well, that’s the record that everyone wants me to reproduce. you know? To do it in its entirety on stage. There are challenges to it, but to me, the situation is, that I spend so much time trying to put together these album tribute shows, and then the tour lasts a couple of weeks. So it’ll be 3-4 months of preparation, and then it’ll be over in like, half a dozen or ten dates and the thing is all over. So before I take on anything, I have to devise a way that I can survive past that expiration date that some of those other shows have had. So, I’d like to be able to put together something that even somebody else could do. Somebody else, if they wanted to, there’d be a story that went with it, in a particular setting, and that sort of thing. And that way, it wouldn’t seem like such a lot of effort for a minimal return.

SFBAC: Gotcha. That makes complete sense. Well, that’s all the time we’ve got, but thanks so much for making the time Todd and we can’t wait to catch your upcoming bay area shows at the Little Fox in Redwood City followed by your show at the Fillmore. Have a great holiday and we’ll catch you in a couple of weeks!

Todd Rundgren: Terrific. It’ll be good to get back! Thank you!

Todd Rundgren (Photo: Esoteric Recordings)

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