UTOPIA biography for Network Records UTOPIA album promotion
By Barry Alfonso
Most groups, in order to establish an identity and make a dent in the mass marketplace, are forced to find one sound, one mode of expression, and drive it into the ground until they have beaten a vast audience into submission. But Utopia was founded (in 1974) on a completely different premise. The four members of Utopia - Todd Rundgren, Poger Powell, Kasim Sulton, and Willie Wilcox - felt from the beginning that, in order to come up with fresh, creative ideas on every album and every tour, the group would have to be an open collaboration among four individuals, with each allowed the freedom to explore new artistic territory. "Our ideal is balance," Sats Rundgren, whose fame as a solo artist compels him to make a conscious effort to "blend in" with the group concept. "So far, we've been able to maintain that balance. That's why it's called Utopia."
The groups eighth album (and sixth in the present configuration) and debut release on Network Records (distributed through Elektra/.Asylum), Utopia is an unabashedly eclectic song collection, demonstrating how much room for variation is still possible within the traditional pop form. There's the humor and wit of "Feet Don't Fail Me Now" and "Neck on Up," the enchanting romantic impact "Bad Little Actress" and enough hard rockers to knock your socks off, including "Hammer In My Heart" and "Burn Three Times".
Contrary to the word's dictionary defination, Utopia (the band) isn't a state of perfection - which is precisely the way Rundgren, Powell, Wilcox, and Sulton prefer it. Their new Utopia LP shows they're as unpredictable and suprising as ever and that they continue to exist on their own terms.
Utopia has always had a reputation for technological exploration, a trademark of the quarter from its inception. While always striving for new sounds and techniques to enhance their sound and make listening more fun, the group has also been in the forefront of video presentation, laser shows, live satellite broadcasts and other innovations. In their two-million dollar state-of-the-art video studio Bearsville, New York, Utopia has been experimenting with all kinds of TV programming, including documentaries, action/adventure serials and as-yet-uncategorized genres. Recently, Rundgren and his cohorts devised an exciting, revelotionary new computer graphics program - The Utopia Tablet - which has been mass marketed by Apple Computers.
Whether it's on their records, in their live shows (Utopia remains one of the most popular concert attractions in America), or in their video and computer explorations, Utopia continues to demonstrate what Michael Bloom said about hem several years ago in The Boston Phoenix: "Todd Rundgren and Utopia...have always advanced the idea that their followers are more important to them than mere customers."
TODD RUNDGREN: For more than a dozen years, Rundgren has been a major pop music force, as a master of the Top 40 single, a sustaining album artist (he has recorded some 16 solo LP's), an inovator in sound and visuals, and a producer of some of the major recording acts of the last decade.
Rundgren broke into the business as an 18-year old in 1967, fronting the legendary group The Nazz. Throughout the 70's, he scored with a string of hit 45's, including 'Hello it's Me,' 'I Saw The Light' and 'We Gotta Get You a Woman.' His production credits include Mealoaf's multi-platinum debut LP and hit albums by such disparate artists as Grand Funk Railroad, Hall and Oates, Tom Robinson, Paul Butterfield, Patti Smith, The Tubes, Alice Cooper, Shaun Cassidy, and others. Among Todd's solo efforts are Runt, Something/Anything?, A Wizard A True Star, The Ballad of Todd Rundgren, The Hermit of Mink Hollow, and 1981's Healing.
ROGER POWELL: Keyboardist Powell is considered a leading authority on the synthesizer, having lectured on the instrument, written for Comtemporary Keyboard magazine and been a consultant to the manufacturers of Arp and Moog.
As a member of Utopia, he's been responsible for numerous technological breakthroughs in synthesizer sound, including the creating of computer programs that allow a single microcomputer to control several synthesizers at once. Powell recently delivered a paper on that topic before the national convention of the Audio Engineering Society. He also invented the "Probe", an eight-pound synthesizer keyboard which hangs from the neck, allowing him to roam the stage freely.
In addition to Utopia, Rogers credits include a stint with David Bowie and a couple of Solo LP'S, the most recent of which is Air Pocket (Bearsville).
KASIM SULTON: Bassist Sulton, whose vocals were termed by The Aquarian a "cross between Paul McCartney's and Billy Joel's" is also a multi- instrumentalist and, at age 24, a rock music veteran. He's performed with numerous groups, including a long stint with Cherry Vanilla in the early days of the new wave movement in New York City. One day, he cut a Cherry Vanilla rehearsal on the pretext of "visiting friends upstate" to audition for Utopia.
In addition to Utopia, Kasim has sung with Zoot Money, Meatloaf, and Tom Robinson as well as running his own group on the side. He has recently had his debut album, simply titled Kasim, released through EMI Records. Sulton fits neatly into the Utopia mold of not fitting into any mold at all.
WILLIE WILCOX: Drummer Wilcox's credits include laying the backbeat for Lionel Hampton and Daryl Hall and Joan Oates' band. He met Todd Rundgren when Todd was producing Hall and Oates 'Wat Babies' LP. A Musician of unlimited energy, Wilcox used to rehearse with Utopia seven hours a day before rushing off to play every night on Broadway in Bette Midlets "Clams On The Half Shell" revue. After the show, he'd fill the wee hours with session work on Midler's album.
A Former student at the Berklee School of Music, Wilcox at age 18 performed Darius Milhaud's "Piece for Percussion and Small Orchestra," a compostition so complex that it's usually reserved strictly for graduating Julliard students. Since moving into rock full time, Wilcox has played with MeatLoaf, Shaun Cassidy, Dan Hartman, and others, in addition to his duties with Utopia. He too, is involved in several solo projects.