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Rundgren And All That Nazz

Cult musician discusses past successes and present tour

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Todd Rundgren emerged as a blip on the rock scene radar in the late 60s as guitarist and songwriter for the eclectic pop band the Nazz. Since then, he's worked in almost every aspect of the music business, often blazing a trail of new ideas and innovation. The mercurial Rundgren -- long considered a pioneer of music technology -- has successfully blended elements of power pop, progressive rock and theater. By combining the warmth of heartfelt singer-songwriter intimacy with cerebral themes and unique recording techniques, his often challenging and experimental journeys have earned him cult figure status. Rundgren spoke with Creative Loafing from New Orleans as he prepared for the solo tour that brings him to Charlotte this Friday for a show at the Neighborhood Theatre.

Creative Loafing: This is going to be your first lengthy Southern tour in quite a while.

Todd Rundgren: The South is still not the strongest market for me so we outlined some of the places I haven't been in a while. This is pretty much a Deep South, Southern Maritimes tour. In a sense, it's planting a seed for further development, hopefully, so we don't spend so much time between trips.

You don't have a new studio album out right now, but there is a new collection of some early Nazz material. Tell us about that.

This [Open Our Eyes] is a recompilation with some oddments thrown in. I'm not sure I wanna hear any of that, but the completionists like it. We have a whole series of CDs and DVDs of stuff that Sanctuary is gonna put out. There's live material and some things from a relatively huge archive of shows that were shot or recorded but never released. Around 5,000 pieces, total.

Is this a way to beat the bootleggers?

I've never been one of those "Oh, let's get the bootleggers; they're hurting my career" [types]. I want to be heard. If somebody feels strongly enough about what I do to sneak in a recorder, well, that's fine. First of all, they bought a concert ticket. And second of all, they probably already have the studio recordings. Some artists overreact to it. I think the biggest reason some try to enforce it is they don't want a record of the night their voice was shot floating around. But there are plenty of those for me.

Some of those more "human" performances become very popular bootlegs.

Oh yeah, there are some recordings that become famous for the "humanity." They don't rank as quality musical performances, but it could be one of those nights where, let's say, to compensate for the fact that I'd completely lost my voice, I might get really drunk and make up for the lack of chops with silliness, so it can be fun.

You've managed to basically do what you want musically for well over 30 years now.

I've survived as an artist because I have a really loyal core audience who support me in the expectation that I will continue to perform music, play live and write new songs for them -- and hopefully not disappear like a lot of artists are forced to do when their time is gone.

And some just won't go away.

Yeah. (cough) Ozzy. (cough)

You're a bit unusual as a "cult figure" because you also have a gigantic hit single and that's all some people know you for. Right now, somewhere, "Hello It's Me" [Rundgren's 1972 hit single] is on the radio or Muzak or both.

Well, it's great to have at least something that people will remember. At the same time, it has an albatross aspect. Right after it was a hit, I was expected to keep doing that song, or that kind of song, in order to build a career. I didn't record the song thinking it would be a hit single, so I wasn't going to suddenly skew my entire career to compensate for an unintended consequence. It continues to be an albatross that no matter what it is I'm trying to convey, somebody will scream out "Hello It's Me" during the show. Or whine, "Why didn't ya play "Hello It's Me'?" It becomes an exhortation or a complaint.

Do you still play that song live?

Recently, I've taken to doing it because it's been a long time since I've done it. I try to keep things mixed up and not do the same show all the time. So there are always songs that people haven't heard, haven't heard in a while or haven't heard me do in a particular altered style. I want to keep it interesting for everyone -- including me.

Todd Rundgren will perform this Friday, February 7, at the Neighborhood Theatre. For more information, call 704-358-9298.

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