AWATS interview from Akron pre-show

Part 1

Hi everybody, I'm Todd Rundgren and I 'm standing in the lobby of the gorgeous Akron Civic Center... a location from which we are going to world premiere "A Wizard/A True Star"

A lot of people have questions about why this particular record after thirty six some years? I'm gonna tell you why.

All of the records that I made up until A Wizard/A True Star were recorded in independent studios in California and sometimes in New York. Pretty much exclusively a studio in California called ID Sound, and some work at a relatively new studio called The Record Plant in New York.

After Something/Anything and the success thereof I was...being tagged as some sort of "singer/songwriter" and the expectation was that I would continue to fulfill that...role...and I was often referred to as the "male Carol King". While I had no animus to Carol King, the idea of me being just a "singer/songwriter" was was not comforting to me, in terms of what I was hoping to create as a musical legacy, and I realized I had been doing a lot of things out of habit, I'd been going to the same studio out of habit. I'd been recording these albums of three or four minute songs in the same manner that most everyone else did, and had never stopped to consider other possibilities.

And after the success of Something/Anything I thought "here's an opportunity to kind of redefine myself" in terms I felt a little more comfortable with. And to do that, I felt I had to... as well as taking a new look at the musical part of it, I wanted to create a different sort of work environment, so that I wouldn't be watching the clock, and I wouldn't be necessarily limited by the kinds of equipment that was in that studio, I could get other oddments and things that gave me the sounds that I imagined.

And so I set about to build a studio in New York, it was called Secret Sound. I partnered with a friend of mine, Moogy Klingman (at the time). He had the space, and I bought the equipment.

And we essentially did it like a Little Rascals project. We would... none of us were professional carpenters, none of us were electronics experts or anything like that we just started doing it we started throwing up two by fours and built a control room and built a drum booth... moved the equipment in. I built a console from scratch, myself... wired the whole thing up pretty much myself, and then at a certain point we felt we were far enough along that we could start doing sessions.

So we called the session and the day that that session began, which was, I believe, "Sometimes I Don't Know What To Feel" one of the songs from "A Wizard/A True Star" the musicians were setting up and practicing while I was still on my back, underneath the console, trying to wire everything together. "We've got eleven channels working!" "Oh, we've got twelve channels working!" (laughs) "OK, we got fourteen channels working, we can record now!"

So it extremely organic process in that sense. And it sort of re-enforced this...this idea of not accepting the kind of rules and routines that records were normally made by and created more of... kind of like a...little musician's commune around the studio. Lots of players would come in and do projects of their own. And many of those players then became the musicians on "A Wizard/A True Star" and eventually musicians in the early versions of Utopia.

< So the idea of having a studio of my own paid back, not just in terms of making the record I wanted to make, but it created a whole sort of foundation for a musical... collective, I suppose, out of which came Utopia and a number of other things. So, in the end it was, I guess a revolutionary era for me, because I never went back, more or less, to recording in independent or commercial studios. From that point on, I always had a studio of my own, and all of my records were made in my own environments.

I still continue to produce other people and we do those in whatever studio seems appropriate to that. But a lot of work, even from, for instance, the first Meatloaf album "Bat Out Of Hell" we did a lot of the vocal overdubs in my studio. My studio just wasn't big enough to hold all the players for the basic recordings. But we eventually wound up there, and I mixed it there. The evolution from "Something/Anything" to "A Wizard/A True Star" to me was actually very sort of organic and necessary and not out of...necessarily out of character.

A lot of people will attribute the change that came over me, as it were, as being substantially due to my experiments with psychedelic drugs. But that is often sort of over-emphasized. We never recorded under the influence of psychedelic drugs at least.

A lot of people have forgotten my first solo album was a fairly eclectic piece of work. There were a lot of different types of music, and I invited a lot of different musicians to help me create it, and it was similarly received with some trepidation in (laughs) the world of music. It did have a hit single off of it, but it was an uncharacteristic song, it was not like a lot of the other stuff on the record.

And that has always been a problem for me, I make records that are probably more varietal than what the public at large assumes from the few singles that make it to the radio. And I've always felt that I had some sort of musical destiny that didn't necessarily include incredible commercial success or widespread popularity. It was always a musical objective that I was trying to achieve, and it wasn't... I wasn't making the music to increase my worth as a performer or personality.

And so I would often have some success, release a record that was "accessible" let's say to people, or fit the forms they were used to, and then I would immediately follow up with something else, simply because my mind had wandered off from (laughs) the thing I was doing.

Or, for instance, I would make a record like "The Hermit of Mink Hollow" and decide "OK, I'm going to do something that is a collection of highly refined pop songs". But to me, that's not an attempt to be commercial, that's just a concept. Can I do this? Can I pull this off in any way? And once I've done it I don't feel the necessity to do it again.

< Which is why the record after "A Wizard/A True Star" was even a further evolution. It went back to the idea of songs with spaces in between them unlike "A Wizard/A True Star" which is a long, sort of patchwork of musical ideas, but the songs themselves had changed form and began to incorporate other sorts of modalities, other sorts of instrumentation.

Something/Any...uh, excuse me... "A Wizard/A True Star" was probably the first time that I started to apply synthesizers in a serious manner. And that was because they were becoming more affordable and accessible. Synthesisers were now built into keyboards, where the very first synthesizer I bought was sort of a stand-alone thing and you had to buy a keyboard separately to make it play notes. <p>

And so, "A Wizard/A True Star" was my first opportunity to really incorporate a lot of unusual sounds that these instruments could create... sometimes in a musical context sometimes in a more textural way. They were not really playing notes and melodies, but they were creating sonic textures to embellish the songs.

I became sort of known for my application of the synthesizer in music. And some people enjoyed it and some people complained about it because it was something that was new and unfamiliar. And that's pretty much the way my history has gone. I'll do something, my fans will become accustomed to it... or inured to it, in a way... and as soon as that happens, I'll wind up doing something else.

But it's the reason I believe that I still have a loyal fan base, is that I try to make it interesting for everybody. It keeps us young. It keeps us all young because never know what's going to happen next.

End of part 1

Part 2

When I left the Nazz, I was very sort of frustrated and disillusioned with the kind of business side or the non-musical side of the so-called music business.

And so I decided I wanted to be a record producer and engineer, because I believed...not correctly... (laughs) ...that I would get out of some of the interpersonal politics that involved in being in a band. Or with the constant travel...and such that goes along with being a touring musician.

So I didn't ever plan to have a solo career, it was just an aside for me.

I was producing a lot of records for the Albert Grossman organization. This was prior to the formation of Bearsville Records. Albert, as many people may, or may not, know was... by the time I was to work with him in the late 1960s was the preeminent personal manager in the world. He had the largest catalog of well-known artists... he was managing the Band, he was no longer managing Bob Dylan but he had managed Bob Dylan... he had a lot of Folk acts that he signed when Folk Music was hot - a mere five or so years earlier, and some Blues artists like James Cotton, Country artists like Ian and Silvia, and he paired me up with all of them to make records.

He felt that most of his Folk artists were making records that were not getting considered because they had not been modernized, in a way. And so I was a young upstart with some what seemed like fresh ideas and they would put me to work with everyone. And after I had done maybe half a dozen projects or so for him, I asked him for a budget to make a record of my own.

I said "I have musical ideas that I'd like to get down, I don't have any expectations of the commercial success thereof...I just want to get into the studio and record my ideas." And the first album I came up with was called "Runt", and it had a fluke hit single on it, which kind of threw me into a different category.

I was suddenly almost obligated to follow up on that success. And the second record that I made was a fairly succinct collection of songs but because Bearsville Records was originally distributed by Ampex, the tape company...tape manufacturing company that wanted to get into making records, into the actual music business.

And so Albert formed a relationship with them and my first album came out on what was called Ampex Records. By the time the second record came out they had gone through a year with Ampex and decided it wasn't working, and so they switched to a distribution deal with Warner Brothers records, who was a very powerful label, and could do a lot of good things for the artists on Bearsville, so it made sense.

But my second album kind of fell through the cracks, because it was right in the middle of that transition.

Then I got to my third record, "Something/Anything" and expectations were not huge about what was going to happen with that time I had become so reflexive as a songwriter that I was writing songs in like twenty minutes flat.

< "I Saw The Light"? I sat down at the piano, twenty minutes later, it was all done. If you think about it, it's not much of a feat. It's not a complicated song, and the words are kind of silly.

So... I delivered that record, and everyone said "OK, this is what you've been...or this is what we assume you've been going for all this time". And had three hit singles off of it and a lot of acclaim, a lot of people in the music business as well, a lot of players and musicians seemed to become attached to the record.

I remember, at one point, we got a call out of the blue from Brian Wilson who had heard the record and wanted to meet me. And I went up and met Brian in all this craziness. Because of this record. I did a song about Wolfman Jack on the record, and got to meet and become friends with Wolfman Jack as a result of that, so the record was fulfilling all these dreams for me, and in a sense fulfilling dreams for the record label, because of the great commercial success of it.

But my head was in a different place, and by the time I got to doing "A Wizard/A True Star" and delivered that record, it was like I had lit off a stink bomb in the office. There was just so much commotion and recriminations (laughs) like that "Why did you do this!" and "What were you thinking?" and yadda-yadda-yadda... And most of that was coming from my friend, who I had introduced to Albert Grossman, Paul Fishkin, who became the Managing Director, eventually of Bearsville Records.

Yet Albert, I think was... he was more "artist oriented". The idea of having a record label was kind of a "down the road" thing for him. He had been managing artists, and been involved in the music business for so long that he looked at artists in a different way than just simply their work on record.

He was originally a club owner in Chicago and this is how he discovered all these people. Bob Dylan wandered into the Gate of Horn one day and started playing songs and Albert said "Well, maybe I'll get into artist management" instead of just being a restaurateur.

And so he had a...he was kind of a quirky guy. He was a hard guy to work with because he was very kind of... he wanted all the power... he wanted to be able to... "Svengali" artists into prominence and things like that.

And his reaction to the record was much more...bemused, I guess. And he thought - "This is what artists are supposed to do every once in a while".

He had lived through Bob Dylan transitioning from a Folk artist to an electric artist, and probably was completely amused by all the furor that happened when he did that.

And so Albert saw this as a kind of entertainment - me delivering a record that upset everyone else. He was entertained by it, and he actually made some interesting contributions to the package of the record.

It was his idea to put a postcard in there, to have everyone fill out and send in and eventually be part of the next record's package. And it was kind of a dual... double edged idea because his real purpose was to be able to collect a mailing list of names that you could direct market to, but it also created this kind of fan interest.

A lot of people thought it wasn't serious, a lot of people didn't want to give up the card because it was part of the package. But after the following record came out with a poster with everybody's name on it, we got about ten or twenty thousand cards after that, you know, thinking I'm going to do this every record, I'm gonna print people's names in the package. But, that was his idea.

And the little Band-Aid with the Patty Smith poem on it, these sort of extra add-ins. The die-cut on the record which is an expensive thing to do, it drives up the price of the record, but the record still sold at regular retail price - that was all his idea he was willing to take the financial hit to make the package as interesting as possible.

So while it was, on one hand, his record label that was so upset that I wasn't following up on "Something/Anything", at the same time he got a lot of entertainment and amusement out of the fact that I was suddenly making this left turn and watching the reaction that everyone had to it.

He thought you were supposed to do that every once in a while. I think it was always like that with most of Albert's artists. Albert never told anyone what they were supposed to play. He would work with whatever they came up with. He did know the difference between good music and bad music and if someone came up with just plain old bad music, no he wouldn't put the record out just because they had a right to put out bad music (laughs). He did insist on a certain quality of music.

But one of the things I think that kept him involved in the music business for so long was the fact that it did change, and that different kinds of artists would become popular, and he had the opportunity to manage a lot... a lot more artists than he actually took on.

I believe he once had the opportunity to manage Jimi Hendrix, I believe. And Jimi Hendrix again is a kind of artist who...just made the kind of records he wanted to make. He never thought about the commercial considerations.

So Albert recognized that as an artist prerogative, that you're the one who has to live with the music. All of your advisers, they can just go off and pretend they had nothing to do with it.

End of part 2

Part 3

The standard modus operandi of record making by the time I was established as a producer was to think in terms of songs three or four minute songs because that's what radio was willing to play and the goal for most records was to get it on the radio to some part get some of it on the radio as much of it as you possibly could.

And when I got around to doing "A Wizard/A True Star" and started reconsidering all my prior assumptions including how the record should be made I began to realize that the advance of technology had given us the long player, previous to that it was a 45 and 45 could practically fit up to maybe five minutes worth of music on it.

And I realized this was the reason why there were bands on an LP - the spaces in between the songs was because everyone was habitually thinking in these three to five minute chunks and I thought "what if I just sort of ignored that aspect of it?" "What if I didn't think about how long the song went on?"

If I only gotten through a minute of it and I thought - I sort of expressed that idea - that I felt no obligation to write a bridge, another verse or anything like that. That's enough of it... we'll move onto something else.

By the same token I've didn't think a song had to be restricted to a certain length if it was going to go on for seven or eight minutes, fine that's what is supposed to do. If it's a medley of songs, you know people have played medleys for a long time I just going to do a medley of my favorite songs and then I'm going to go into another one of my songs in the be a little ditty that it's a minute and a half long and then do some other thing.

There was no rules on purpose... On purpose there were no rules. And I was trying to convey what goes on in a musician's head or for that matter into anyone who has music in their head, what goes on before you get to the formalities of trying to turn it into this exactly three minutes long expression.

And so I essentially would sort of consciously cut the process off before it reached its obvious conclusion. And try and then imprint that onto the tape and try and not go back and resist the temptation to kind of dress it up or change it in a certain way.

If it seemed to require that then I would just say stop it there and go onto the next thing. It's kind of a challenging thing because there's the constant temptation to try and complete it or to put it in a certain more familiar context.

And if I had been a sort of more traditional studio situation I might have succumbed to that temptation but since there were no hours, there is no clock, there is no billing there was nothing that... None of the other things that always reminded you you were in the studio and eventually we got out of the head of being in the studio at all.

We were just making music we just pushed that button over there before we did it. And that, as much as anything, became the character of the record's the anti-record in a way... the whole idea was "Let's not think about this the way we thought about all the other records we've made. In fact let's not think about it all." "Let's just start getting as much as we can down on tape, I'll figure out how to deal with it later."

And ultimately that's what happened. As result of this idea of... removing the distractions of record making in focusing solely on the musical ideas, as a natural consequence you're not keeping track of how much music is being made.

nd suddenly when you figure "Okay, I've got enough" as it turned out on many of my records it would be too much... It would be more than... the technology could bear, in a sense.

"A Wizard/A True Star" must have gone through at least half a dozen different masterings, trying to figure out the ideal combination of equalization and limiting and other sorts of processes that you have to go through in order to make sure that the grooves are adequately deep in the vinyl.

And the longer record is, more shallow the grooves get, and the shallower the grooves get, the quieter the sound is and the more likely the record is to skip.

My records became exercises in mastering science at that point. They were all coming out longer than a normal record, because I was no longer thinking in terms of songs... that were supposed to live in any other context.

They were only... in my mind they only lived on the record, and they lived between this song, and this song... and if they ever found it to the radio ...whatever.

From my standpoint, I was evolving into an album artist. And I was not the first album artist, there were plenty of album artists. The Beatles were probably the first album artists, when they put out Sgt. Pepper and there were no singles on it at all.

And there were songs that sort of ran into each other and it didn't seem like they had a conventional concept when they went in to making the record. They were trying to do something different. Over the years that became sort of a template for any number of artists to look at the LP as their primary medium of expression as opposed to the 45.

And as time went on a number of my records that I never intended to be double albums had to be turned into double albums because of the excessive length of them. And whenever we could avoid that when we go through these mastering tortures trying to get an excessive amount of music onto vinyl.

And when CDs came out I looked at is sort of a boon to all of those old LPs because they could be remastered and played at top volume without skipping or anything like that so that was something of a advantage to me.

The disadvantage was because usually you go back to the stereo masters... the last stereo master used to make the vinyl and as I say we'd done so much sort of processing those to make them fit onto vinyl.

That I think a lot of my records would have, and maybe possibly someday will, improve in terms of the overall sound quality because we'll go back to the original intent, and remaster from let's say an earlier version of the that the mixes, or even mix them all over again just so we can take advantage of that.

But to this day I still don't... know how to maintain a sense of what is the appropriate length for a record, because a couple of years ago I put out an album called "Liars" and that pretty much pressed the limits of what could go on a CD... It was like over 80 minutes long just because I'm not paying attention to how long it is as I'm doing it.

I'm just doing it until I either exhaust myself or until I think "Well that's enough that's enough... it's enough for now. We'll do something later incorporate these other ideas.

End of part 3

Part 4

Most of the record was sequenced and segued after the music was recorded. There was no master template and that would've thwarted the idea in the first place of trying to create something without a lot of... restrictions or assumed limitations.

And so... we had to be fairly well through most of the recording, before it occurred to me how things might fit together. And indeed, probably in my mind I was thinking "Wouldn't it be great, if there wasn't two sides?" "Wouldn't it be great if there was just one big long side?"

It turned out that way, I might have sequenced the record a different way. If I had the opportunity not to have a break in the middle of it.

And when it comes to doing a live show I have a problem with the running order of the record. Because to me, this kind of a climactic moment it happens at the end of the first side. And if I played that in the middle of the show, it's almost like the show ended in the middle, and then I played another half-hour's worth of music.

Something like that, so... The whole "International Feel" concept is really supposed to be a bracket to the whole record. And so in the course of transforming this into a live presentation... I've taken some liberties with the running order.

And while extremely devoted fans may be a little bit taken aback... because they feel like the record as... as it has existed is somehow sacrosanct.

I'm trying to apply the same attitude I had when I made the record. Which is that... those kind of rules are superficial. And that eventually everyone will get used to the changes - whatever they are - and as most of my audience has become accustomed to the changes will become inevitable, (Laughs) and may be necessary in some ways.

It's more unusual for me to continue to do so the same thing over and over and over again, then it is for me to lose interest and try to do it differently, or do it in a different way.

I've got probably four different versions of "Hello It's Me" because people still hear the song, but... I'm bored with it (laughs). It's the first song I ever wrote. When I was like 19 years old. I just come up with different ways to play it not because the audience was to hear it different but because it amuses me to do it that way.

And then the audience comes along, eventually. They've resigned themselves to the fact that "Well, I'd like to hear it the old way... but if it's between hearing at this different way and not hearing it at all... okay, I'll listen to it your way.

End of part4