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Todd Rundgren
Back To The World (Again)

Todd Rundgren

On the eve of the US leg of his upcoming tour with Joe Jackson and string quartet Ethel Todd Rundgren talks to TotalMusic-Online’s David Davies about his latest unlikely collaboration, the excellent reception his recent album Liars received and his enthusiasm for rebuilding his UK fanbase

On the surface, it is not the most likely of collaborations. While Joe Jackson continues to be identified with New Wave through an early run of suitably angular hits, Todd Rundgren is a songwriter and producer whose numerous and often widely varying musical pursuits have tended to keep mainstream success at arm’s length. But delve a little deeper, and the newly-minted partnership begins to seem rather more logical. In truth, both are essentially eclectic artists whose reach has only increased with the passing years – Joe has experimented with classical composition and soundtrack work, while Todd’s ever-growing mastery of studio technology has lent his most recent solo work a cutting-edge feel entirely lacking from that of many of his peers. There is, in short, not one whiff of complacency about either peformer.”

But their paths had never crossed before Joe made a short-notice guest appearance at celebrated NYC venue Joe’s Pub in a one-off charity performance of Todd’s musical, Up Against It, last summer. “Joe’s agent called up to find out whether there were any parts that Joe could do,” says Todd Rundgren. “As it happens, there were – he did them beautifully, prompting the offer of an open-air gig in Central Park.” The concept of two separate solo sets was given cohesion by the incorporation of left-field string quartet ETHEL – which had worked with both Todd and Joe before, most prominently on the latter’s 2000 release Night & Day II – for a number of songs and a joint closing section. The response to this part of the show was so strong that, as Todd recalls, “we thought we would test out the demand for a full tour”.

TRi Joe Jackson & Ethel Speaking to TotalMusic Online a few weeks before the US leg of the tour gets underway, Todd is enthusiastic about a show where there will clearly be a great deal of leeway for experimentation: “We’re really going to see how it develops. As I’m sure he would admit, Joe is fairly new to the idea of a solo show, and has only recently started playing alone. I normally do a 2hr-plus solo show, so I have some condensing to do – which probably means that I’ll lose some of the more fringe elements.” The stripped-back performances will come as a contrast after the all-guns-blazing visual spectacular of last year’s Liars tour, which brought Todd back to the UK for the first time in a decade. “It is at the other extreme completely,” he agrees. “That was a brand new show which we built from the ground up. Although I didn’t make a lot of money on that tour, the response was terrific, especially in Britain, and that’s clearly been a factor in my returning so soon. I’m hopeful that I can rebuild a solid audience in the UK.”

Todd’s most recent album, Liars, was his strongest for many years, something he credits to an extended recording period – he generally averaged three weeks from start to finish in the mid-‘70s – and simply “waiting around for a concept to fall into my hands”. Taking the “paucity of truth” in public life as a starting point, the album’s lush electronica proved the perfect backdrop for attacks on targets as various as derivative soul singers (‘Soulbrother’) and the ‘strident’ nature of current US foreign policy (the title track). “Some people see it as being an angry record,” he says, “and that’s part of it, but I would prefer people see it as an expression of renewed passion, regret and disappointment. It’s really looking for affirmation of things we already know.”

For Todd, the tour is the next logical step in his “re-engagement”: “The next year, year-and-a-half will really see me consolidating my status as a live performer. I consider myself as a working musician, and this project is another aspect of that.” While live DVD and CD releases will ensure the partnership has a life after the tour, Todd can even envisage these “historically non-collaborative” musicians finding another project to work on. “I’m going into this with no preconceptions,” he enthuses, “and although I don’t envisage us writing together, who knows what might come our way?”

Joe Jackson, Todd Rundgren and ETHEL tour the UK in May/June, for more details, head to... www.noblepr.co.uk/Press_Releases/sanctuary_records/joe_todd.htm , www.joe-jackson.com and www.tr-i.com

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