Self-described diehard Toddhead Brett Bayne recently tackled his hero for an exclusive interview -- not for a computer or music magazine, but for other diehard fans. In this telephone discussion from July 1997, Brett asks Todd about Patronet, rarities, and his new albums "Up Against It" and "With a Twist."
TR: Well, almost. He could copy it by hand if I needed transcription. It seems to be his current fixation.
BB: He was still a baby when I saw him last-during the final U.S. Utopia show.
TR: He's no baby anymore. He's five and a half.
BB: Your own birthday is next Sunday. Is this the big 5-0?
TR: I'll be 49, which is kinda inauspicious.
BB: Are you going to party like it's 1999?
TR: Well, more or less. Gonna party for 2 years, then it really will be 1999!
BB: I was very sorry I was to hear that your web designer and good friend Eric Myers died recently.
TR: That was a real stick in the spokes. That sucked.
BB: I understand you've been essentially been bearing the brunt of all the design work yourself now.
TR: Since then, yeah. I haven't even had time to interview anyone; sit down and give them the guidelines. But I'm coming to the mainland now and we are going to start interviewing some people and get him replaced eventually. We could have rushed out and found an art director, but Eric was more than an art director. He was a team member.
BB: We lost Laura Nyro recently as well.
TR: Well, I haven't really communicated much with Laura in a long time. That relationship pretty much went into the ether. We weren't unfriendly. She was kind of in her own world. I don't know that she had a whole lot of friends when she went. She was, in the end, she had a lot of personal unhappiness. I don't think she ever took very good care of herself. I don't want to say she was a sad person, but I can't say a happy person.
BB: I presume that Rhino has put the Todd Rundgren rarities CD on the back burner for the time being...
TR: It's still back on the back burner. It's sticking to the bottom of the pot now.
BB: Still, it's rather encouraging for a fan like me to know that you may be making some sort ofgoodies available to us via PatroNet.
BB: What kind of stuff are we talking about?
TR: Oh, I've got a few things here. I've got all manner of rarities and things I have access to, like various things I might have done for TV. Rhino always hoped that I had a cache of songs but I don't have such a thing. I usually either finish the song or I don't finish the song. They know about most of the ones that got finished and never got released. The ones that didn't get finished just don't exist. But I do have a lot of TV soundtrack stuff.
BB: Your TV arsenal would include things like "Aliens in the Family"...
TR: Yes, the "Aliens in the Family" theme, I could put that up there. I am trying to suss out now how best to deliver the sound.
BB: You mean, how to encode the stuff?
TR: Well, I know how to encode it. Shockwave is my preferred encoding format. The problem is that Shockwave is not Live Connect compatible so it can't control it without actually putting up the Shockwave controller. I've been trying to get everything into a unified audio environment so one controller controls the MIDI or whatever kind of compressor you have. If I decide to support RealAudio or some other playback scheme because I feel that the sound quality is good enough, I don't want to have everyone seeing different control panels come up every week. Then they'd have to figure out how the new one works. The problem is how to make the experience as transparent for everybody as possible, once they get the basic things that they need. In the long run, none of it's going to be a problem because we are going to replace the browser. We're going to make our own little double clickable desktop browser that will go directly to the site.
BB: I'd wondered if you would eventually create your own software.
TR: I think so, eventually. The problem is that we haven't got a solution for running plug-ins within an all Java environment. I I'm certain somebody is working on it but if they don't come up with a solution soon, we'll have to build it ourselves.
BB: I've noticed that Netscape takes a long time to render the page. The thing sort of draws and redraws itself back in over and over. It's about a five minute process before it all sort of settles down.
TR: Part of it is a problem because I have so many frames. Part of it is that the documents change. A lot of it has to do with your Netscape settings. There are some options to force it to reload pages every time it enters the site which, when things are in a state of flux, probably wise, it just makes it all take longer, nothing has been cached when you get back to the site. Once the site has started up, it usually runs pretty fast because everything has been cached. What I've been thinking of doing, once I get things kind of settled down, is putting up weekly uploads of the entire site compressed into a .zip file or something so that people could download everything. It would include all the gifs, MIDI files and everything. You could expand it onto a folder on your disk drive and launch it from there. The basic site itself which would be on your disk, would come in really fast. It would just link remotely to the stuff that changed or the stuff that was too big to keep locally. That way you could have the site and even runs parts of it offline. I don't know what the good of that would be except maybe for stuff that you read. That would increase the performance dramatically for a lot of people. It would also mean that the log-in procedure would be slightly different. I have to figure all of that out.
BB: Obviously, you've got your work cut out for you.
TR: I've got a giant stack of stuff to do and so far I've been doing it all alone, although I hope within a couple of weeks to have some help on it.
BB: Let me ask you about your forthcoming album, "With a Twist." Why bossa nova? And once you do a bossa nova album, how long before some record company comes along and asks you to redo all of your songs in the sound of Latin-American Salsa?
TR: First of all, I have to have some appreciation of the form first. They didn't ask me to do a bossa nova album -- they asked me to do an adult contemporary album. Something that people in their 40s wouldn't mind listening to. Of the things that I was considering, I had actually considered doing a bossa nova album even before it was offered, even before the thing came out of the air because I was thinking about the South American market. I don't know that I I've ever sold any records there but the Spanish-speaking market probably is the second largest market in the world in terms of record sales, next to the English speaking market. I was thinking, what if I did an album and sang a bunch of my old songs in Portuguese or Spanish or something like that.
BB: Or Chinese.
TR: Well, I haven't gone that far.
BB: But you are scheduled to perform there. Maybe that's the next market to target.
TR: Well, see, I've already got the record. If the market responds, I could do some of the numbers in Portuguese, new vocal versions. Although the background vocals would be a bitch because I'm doing them all myself. I've got 6 or 8 voices so I'd have to redo all of those. That's the way it is on most of my records actually. Unless I'm using a live band, I do all of the vocals myself.
BB: That's not counting "Nearly Human" or "Second Wind," where you sang only lead vocals. That was quite a departure for you because everybody else was doing the background vocals and the playing and performing.
TR: It did that to alter the way I used to do things. For instance, with this bossa nova record. It used to be I never attempted to get vocal performances or single take real performances before I started recording that way. At least not since I was in the Nazz. And now, it's kind of my preferred method if you can set it up because you get to hear what the final performance is like, rather than everyone just overdubbing things individually all the time. But back to the original question, if a record label came to me and said, would you do death metal versions of other songs, I'd figure why not? I've written so many songs that I could cull out an album of almost everything.
BB: I just wonder how a thirtysomething fan like me is going to react to an album of bossa-nova cover songs.
TR: I don't know. It depends on what your overall appreciation of music is.
BB: I like the original stuff!
TR: Well, it's highly musical. It doesn't sound like a little band or a pop thing. It's very musical, kind of jazz ensemble with full orchestrations and very big lush background vocals. From my standpoint, it's a fuck-all-night long album. That's the purpose of it; to get you laid. It's not really for your solo listening pleasure as for you to get some girl to take her pants off.
BB: So I'll use it for the same reason I use the Paul Shaffer album you worked on.
TR: An ice-breaker.
BB: More rarity questions. When you produced Cheap Trick's album, "Next Position Please," you gave them a song you wrote called "Heaven's Falling." You've never released a Todd version of the song. Did you demo up the song for them?
TR: I believe I demoed it.
BB: Your demo would be something fans would love to hear. Would you consider uploading to the PatroNet site?
TR: I would consider uploading it. The problem is, I don't know exactly where it is.
BB: Maybe you'll find it for us.
TR: I've gotten everything transferred to ADAT. In fact I've got several reels of "A Wizard A True Star," which will probably be one of the next... I've got to go away for about three weeks so I won't be able to do a lot of new music, but it will be one of the first things that I put up when I get back.
BB: I heard a lot of the original "Wizard" tapes were disintegrating.
TR: Oh it's all been transferred to ADAT. The biggest problem is that we think that one of the reels got burned up in the warehouse fire. It won't be possible to remix any of that, or to give the odd remixes but what I'll do is what I do in my nominal mixing process now which is I do three or four versions of everything with voices in and out. So I'll put up the karaoke versions for people. They can sing along without my voice in the way.
BB: I want the opposite -- I want to get rid of all the music and just hear your vocals!
TR: We can do that as well.
BB: I've heard about some unreleased song of yours called "Creeps," but have never actually heard it. Does it exist?
TR: It was an instrumental track; never had a song written to it. It was just a working title and I thought it would make an interesting title, "The Creeps." But I haven't written a song to it yet
BB: Here's my last question: Whatever happened to the idea of you and Don Was working with Brian Wilson on an interactive version of his "Smile" album?
TR: Well, Don and I sat down with Brian, and he smiled, and then he turned around and did some kind of thing with Capitol Records.
BB: I thought that was a great idea. He all these fragments of things he did back in the Sixties. They're all great, as you probably know.
TR: It's still a possibility. I heard that they actually tried to turn it into a record but I don't know whether that ever happened. And they may revisit it again. We'll have real solutions for them to do that pretty soon.
BB: I hope so. I enjoyed reading your ruminations about Brian on your upcoming autobiography, which is excerpted on www.tr-i.com. However, one thing you won't find on any of your websites is any mention of the fact that you have a new album out in stores, called "Up Against It."
TR: The problem is that that album comes out only in Japan within a certain window.
BB: As I well know, having paid 37 bucks for it.
TR: Yeah, well, if people would just wait a little while, it would eventually get to the States.
BB: You can't expect diehard fans to wait.
TR: I sort of depend on them. But in the Japanese market, CDs are more than twice as expensive there than they are here. So if the album gets released worldwide at the same time, the Japanese fans buy imports, instead of buying from the Japanese record labels who actually underwrote the album. There's a three- to six-month window during which the album can't be released outside of Japan until all of the Japanese fans have paid through the nose for it.
BB: And the diehard Todd fans in the U.S.
TR: Yeah, the diehard Todd fans in the U.S. In fact, I think they depend on them as well.
BB: There's really no chance of it coming out in this country, is there?
TR: "Up Against It"? Oh, there's a good chance. We haven't really aggressively explored it. I don't know whether any label would be interested in it but if Angel Records is happy with this, who knows, they might buy another one-off of an album already completed.
BB: I wondered if you'd considered doing what Andrew Gold is doing on his website, which basically to sell the music, the CDs, directly from his site.
TR: Well, we do have that on the Waking Dreams site. We sell The Individualist directly out of there. We might add that to the collection there. The thing is that we can't be importing out of Japan because even if they give us a break on it, they cost more than retail CDs in the U.S. We'd have to manufacture and find an ex-Japanese distributor first, to make discs.
BB: Once that window is gone and you are no longer limited by the time constraint, I would think you could then market your own album through the website.
TR: I can do that as well, although on the subscription Web site, I don't want to be selling things. I might point them to the place where they could buy that kind of stuff. Or actually, we've been trying to put together a way for people to get custom orders. We're trying to figure out the pricing and everything, but for instance if you wanted a cassette or a CD with a certain collection of songs on it, rather than they typical offline package, or to be able to order extra copies of the offline package. There probably will be some retailing in that sense and I've got to figure out some kind of way to put that in there so it doesn't look like I'm trying to pick people's pockets, because they I've already paid to be there. I find it weird. It would be like paying for HBO and then watching regular advertisements as well.
BB: People pay to go to the movies...
TR: Yeah, and then they show you ads. Fuck that, I paid to see a movie!
BB: Let me just tell you how much I did enjoy "Up Against It." I attended the New York performance of it three or four times, loved seeing it. In your liner notes of the "Up Against It" CD, you wrote that the song "We Understand Each Other" was a rarity, having never been performed in the show. That confused me, because I certainly saw it performed.
TR: I think you must have seen the previews.
BB: Yes, the song was probably cut during the previews I saw, because it was so complicated to perform. It's unfortunate, because it's a very challenging tune, with many overlapping vocal parts.
TR: Well that's the idea. It's got this element of cacophony in it. It's supposed to be people talking over the top of each other, which is what people do. They talk, assuming the other person's listening, when they are really just talking to themselves anyway. So these four people are talking to themselves, right over the top of each other. It's a little complicated and hard to understand. If you don't get the performance down to a certain level of precision, well, then, it's hopeless.
BB: Do you think that anybody would ever revive the musical?
TR: Oh, I think there's always a possibility. I think it would make a great film. It's just that it would need a radical rewrite, not of the music but of...
BB: ...of Joe Orton's flimsy excuse for a screenplay in the first place?
TR: Yeah, he didn't invest too much in it. It was just a draft and the problem was that when they did the rewrite, everyone was kind of being a little too reverent about Joe Orton. I think they also put the wrong slant on it. They tried to retain too much of that "Beatliness," that Sixties-ness. when there are plenty of contemporary issues that could have been highlighted. I don't think that people actually understood the degree to which it was about gender. They kept thinking that it was some kind of Beatles revolution adventure when it was really about gender swapping and gender roles. They noticed that the prime minister is a woman and the chief of police is a woman, but the revolutionary component and the iconoclastic component seemed to be the focus.
BB: I'm sure it was much more "revolutionary" when Orton wrote it, as opposed to when it was eventually performed at the New York Public Theatre.
TR: Yeah, by the time it got to the Public Theatre, a lot of the stuff was tired, the humor was obtuse and made reference to things that unless you were an Anglophile wouldn't make any sense to you. That was another problem. I didn't think that they should be making everyone speak in an English accent since half the people couldn't pull it off anyway. It just puts it in some other space where you have to exert extra effort to get into it. I thought it should have been universalized, taken out of that particularly British kind of milieu.
BB: It was great to see you and Joe Papp taking bows together after previews. What a collaboration of great minds! How sad that he passed away.
TR: It was a real drag to happen because he and I got along really well and had a lot of plans for other things that I was going to do for the Public Theatre. He wanted me to write an opera that was going to be based on Siddhartha, kind of a contemporary retelling of Siddhartha.
BB: Hey, I'd pay to see that. Or to have a Japanese import of the soundtrack eventually.
TR: (Laughs) Well, it's something I can get to eventually. It's like what I'm trying to do with the subscription thing is at least initially is to get away from concepts in a sense and just get into the flow of writing. Write songs whenever I feel like it because I know people are going to get to hear them. Whereas the album recording process is so heavily frontloaded. It's one of these things where it's such an ordeal to get into the studio and complete an album that most people do it all at once. You compress it down to a four to eight week period and it's kind of stressful doing that.
BB: I can imagine. But now you'll have the flexibility of say, recording over a year's period of time and making some songs available to us, the paying subscribers, over a much longer period of time and then at the end of the year, as you say, throwing the best hour of music on a CD.
TR: You've still got a CD at the end of the year.
BB: I hope that this method helps you create more music, because for a fan like me, it's been hell waiting a year or two or even three years between albums.
TR: Yeah, I know. It's hell for me during the period of doing it and realizing that, you know, I worked really hard on that last album and how do I top that? And that causes me to ruminate for an extra year so I can avoid repeating the same things.
BB: The PatroNet audience are the people like me, who love everything you do.
TR: That's the other advantage. If I can be spontaneous about it, it will be a broader variety of things as well because I don't have to fit things into a concept. "Oh, here's a little ditty with an acoustic guitar, and I don't feel like doing anymore than that." Or, "How would this fit onto a hip-hop styled format?" Maybe it wouldn't. In a subscription format, you're taking it or leaving it anyway. If you don't like it, you just leave it there. And if you do like it, you can take it and play it as much as you want.
BB: Well, I can't wait to see what you do with it. Thanks very much for an enlightening conversation, Todd.
TR: Thanks a lot, Brett. Talk to you later!