Nov 27, 2008

Personality - Todd Rundgren;Pop Genius & Studio Magician

Paul Ricard

PARIS (AFP) – His name may not be mainstream in the music world, but to die-hard pop lovers Todd Rundgren is a genius. Driven by a thirst for experimentation, the American technophile is known as a studio magician who has conjured up eclectic sounds for over 40 years.

The 60-year-old pop rocker has constantly crossed genres and pushed boundaries in his artistic journey, but in an interview said this was not groundbreaking and was surprised people expected him to recreate past successes.

"I had never thought about music in that way," Rundgren, in Paris for a concert, told AFP, adding that he was influenced by the experimentalism of the Beatles.

In three years, "they evolved from a straight ahead sort of rock 'n roll band into this highly experimental studio band", said the Fab Four fan, who in 1974 had a war of words with John Lennon, who he said at the time was no longer "revolutionary" enough.

Armed with a cult standing, Rundgren recently released his umpteenth album "Arena", in the genre of stadium rock. His previous albums -- whether solo or with groups The Nazz and Utopia -- ventured into an infinite variety of other styles, from pop to soul to experimental electronic music.

In the charts, Rundgren's biggest success was the 1972 double album "Something/Anything?", adorned with studio sound effects. It contained the hits "Hello It's Me", already played by The Nazz, and "I Saw The Light".

Instead of capitalizing on this success, Rundgren chose a new direction and the following year released "A Wizard, A True Star", a psychedelic and influential album thought to be his true masterpiece.

Unlike many prolific musicians, Rundgren treats success as something to be leveraged into completely new projects and discoveries.

"You use it to give yourself the freedom to try new things," said the tall strapping musician who in the 70s raised actress Liv Tyler (daughter of Aerosmith rocker Steven Tyler) when he was living with her mother, model Bebe Buell.

While his once lanky silhouette is now sturdier, Rundgren has kept his long mane, his multicoloured highlights of past days replaced with a mix of jet-black and platinum blonde streaks.

Artistically, the Philadelphia native is from the same family as the Beatles post-1966, Brian Wilson and, more recently, Radiohead, all perfectionist musicians who think of the recording studio as an instrument for creating experimental sounds.

"When I built my first studio, it was a fairly unusual thing for an artist to have his own personal recording space," said Rundgren, who adopted the approach that the musical creation process was something that happens in the studio while recording.

"I really didn't ever go back to the other way again; looking at the composition and conceptualisation as separate from recording," he said.

His love for the studio has made him a talented producer, working with the likes of Patti Smith, Meat Loaf and the Sparks.

His greatest success as a producer, however, remains the 1986 XTC album "Skylarking", one of the biggest albums of the 80s.

The creative process was anything but easy though, as Rundgren was at daggers drawn with frontman Andy Partridge, also renowned as a magician in the studio.

Today living in Hawaii, away from the cutting edge of musical innovation, Rundgren shakes off the description "technophile".

While he is not afraid of change, neither does he embrace all inventions over the past four decades.

"I don't use all technologies. I don't use a cell phone, I've made the evaluation that I like my privacy more than I like the idea of being connected all the time!" said the sexagenarian rocker with a laugh.

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