Todd Rundgren’s Space force The album was announced over a year ago, with a release slated for 2021. Ongoing production delays in the music industry have now pushed the release date back to early 2022.
Space force follows that of 2017 White knight, which has allowed the veteran songwriter and producer to collaborate with a wide range of musical peers, including Joe Satriani, Trent Reznor, Donald Fagen and Joe Walsh. The new album will follow a similar path, but with a twist, Rundgren told UCR in an exclusive interview. He did the majority of songwriting on White knight, but started with songs that were largely written by his collaborators this time around.
So far four songs have been released from the album – a voluntary return to the early days of his career when several tracks provided for an upcoming album. “Espionage,” created with Muslim hip-hop artist Narcy, was the first offering. Rundgren went on to release additional pairings with Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo and with Sparks, the latter eventually arriving around 50 years after Rundgren produced his debut.
Yes, keyboard magician Rick Wakeman, Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, and guitarist Steve Vai are among the others featured on Space force. In a recent conversation to discuss his upcoming tour, Rundgren shared more details about the pending album.
You have this new album, Space force, it takes shape. We’ve heard a few things so far, including the song with Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo and the Sparks collaboration, which people were really excited about. What is the current status of the album itself?
The album is delivered and we were hoping to release it this year. The problem is, if I was on another label, it would come out this year. But I’m on Cleopatra Records, and they’re very interested in material releases. It’s an old-fashioned label, sort of. They don’t want to stagger the releases of different formats. They want CDs and LPs – vinyl and everything – to all come online at the same time.
The sticking point is still the fucking vinyl. You know, all those vinyl factories closed when we started making CDs. Now all of a sudden someone wants to make a bunch of vinyl records, and there is just too much demand on the few factories that are left. It takes months to get a vinyl output scheduled and fabricated. This is essentially what is happening. So even if I delivered it on time – I delivered it on the weekend of July 4th or something – there would have been plenty of time to release it this year under normal circumstances, even at the era of vinyl. But I don’t know, somehow when they tried to schedule a vinyl release, they couldn’t get it in time to release this year. For the most part, when it comes to record releases, the year ends in mid-November.
Looking at the unique art for “Espionage” and “Down with the Ship”, it’s Space force a concept album?
No. The difference between White knight, which was the last collaborative album, and this one is on White knight, I wrote almost everything. There have been instances where someone else wrote [portions of] a song; it was never a whole song. It would be a fragment of a song, and it could even be just a few chords or a few changes. Almost all the songs [on White Knight] is mine. I wrote almost all the songs and attributed them to people, I asked them if they wanted to do them. On this one, it’s a bit the other way around. Almost all of the songs came to me as demos that were never completed. So you can watch the songs on Space force like songs you wouldn’t have heard if I hadn’t put my gloves on.
There’s a Thomas Dolby song that was basically a lost demo. He sent me an MP3 and I said, “Well that sounds pretty good. Can you send me the rods? He said, “I don’t know where they are. I don’t know if I can even find them. I had to reconstruct the entire song from a single MP3. That’s pretty much how it went with almost all the songs. There’s a song with Neil Finn, “Artist in Residence”. It was just a demo, but there was a song. He just didn’t have a background! [Laughs.] So I would take songs and fragments of songs and turn them into full records, something you’d be happy to play for someone else.
Listen to “Your fandango” by Todd Rundgren and Sparks
So there was a real birthing process for this disc. How do you know Neil and Thomas?
I have known Thomas for a long time. I met him [some time] in the 80s, with the release of his first album. I think Utopia was playing in London, and he showed up at our hotel to give me his first album. I have known him for so long. He probably doesn’t even remember it, as he probably did for a number of artists. But I had known him in the 90s when he and I were both working in IT and music. You know, he started a business and for a long time he didn’t make music at all. You know, he was just doing computer stuff. So, I have known Thomas for a long time.
Neil, I had never met before. But I was a Crowded House fan. When it comes time to do these collaborations, I just start calling people and pitching the idea to them. For this one in particular, I said, “I’m really interested in the things that you’ve lost interest in. Something where you had fire in the beginning, but lost it and never finished it. And it’s gathering dust somewhere and maybe never gonna be finished, unless somebody else puts some new ears on it and tries to finish it. I didn’t know Neil before that, and I had never spoken to him on the phone or anything like that. In fact, I have never met him in person. I met his son, but I did not meet him. [Laughs.]
When you make these cold calls to people you don’t know, have there been people that you are a fan of who, surprisingly, have no interest in working with you?
Certainly. And sometimes it’s not like that. I had called Pete Townshend to do something about White knight. I hadn’t spoken to him for years and years. You know he told me he wasn’t that passionate about music at the time. He wasn’t hot on records. He said, “I can’t figure out what the point of making records is anymore,” because of all the problems getting paid and that sort of thing. He was very disappointed with the very concept of making records, but we still had a 45 minute conversation. It was great to hook up with someone for a while and talk about music in general.
I told Chaka Khan about it and she was very interested, then when I tried to contact her she completely forgot that we had already had a conversation! Sometimes it turns into something that will work and sometimes it doesn’t – but just because it’s a bad idea to try. It’s just that maybe someone doesn’t have what it takes for the skills that I want to apply there. A few people categorically refused. We tried to contact The Weeknd and he just said, “I’m too busy. Younger artists are the hardest, because they think old artists are trying to steal their heat or something. But you know, for me, I don’t mind if somebody doesn’t want to do it. I have plenty of things to do. [Laughs.]
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