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LL Cool J & Brad Paisley "Live For You," Plus A Conversation With Todd Rundgren

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LL COOL J & BRAD PAISLEY "LIVE FOR YOU"

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photo courtesy of 429 Records and LL Cool J, Inc.

As a respite from the deafening hullabaloo surrounding "Accidental Racist," here's a sneak peak at another brand new Brad Paisley/LL Cool J track, "Live For You." This track appears on LL Cool J's upcoming album Authentic. It's the two-time Grammy-winning recording artist's 14th studio album, which is out on April 30, 2013 on 429 Records. In addition to Brad Paisley, Authentic features a diverse and wide array of legendary and new artists that underscore the album's roots being born out of a true love of music, including Bootsy Collins, Chuck D, Charlie Wilson, Eddie Van Halen, Earth, Wind & Fire, Monica, Snoop Dogg, Seal, Travis Barker and many more.

Here's said sneak peek. Ears, up an' at 'em...

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A Conversation with Todd Rundgren

Mike Ragogna: Welcome, Todd Rundgren!

Todd Rundgren: Thank you so much. It's my pleasure.

MR: You have a new album called State. How was it working with Todd Rundgren in the studio this around?

TR: [laughs] How was it for me? It was kind of the usual. I moved to a different room, so it was a little disorienting at first.

MR: With you, it's always about some new technology or invention. Was there anything that you applied to this album that is sort of the next level of Todd Rundgren?

TR: Well, I try to adapt a lot more modern techniques in terms of making records as opposed to what I was doing. I don't know that I'm plowing new ground in the global sense, but at least, for me, I'm trying new things.

MR: Some of the tracks on State show that you've been having a little fun in the DJ world. Actually, DJ Odd is one of your pseudonyms.

TR: [laughs] Yeah, that was kind of an inside joke to my Norwegian friends--it's a common name there, "Odd," though I don't remember what it means. I was in Norway a little more than a year ago, and that trip kind of got me on the course that I'm on now. During the course of it, we joked about the possibility of me doing some DJ-ing, and that would be my name if I ever did.

MR: Did you do any?

TR: I have yet to do some, but during the course of the this tour, a lot of the show is going to be somewhat improvised, and the music on the record was essentially written with that in mine. So, each night, the show is probably going to be different in some regards.

MR: When you listen back to this album, what are your thoughts?

TR: Well, a lot of the times that I'm making a record I don't have a clearly defined end goal. It's all a process, especially now that much of it can be done on a laptop, and much of it was done in other locations besides my home studio. I don't really have a structure. It's more of a process, and then when I run out of time, that process comes to an end and I wrap the whole thing up. Then is the time I kind of come to grips with what I've done, so I'm only just now getting far enough away from it to begin to understand what it might mean.

MR: If you were to insert structure into your process, would you find that to be a filter to your creativity?

TR: In a way. Out of all the possible things that I could do, I do have certain things that I want to include and certain things that I don't think are necessarily germane to this particular project. I might do a record like this, and even though it may be successful--by whatever measure of success there is nowadays--that wouldn't necessarily dictate that I would try to do that kind of record next time. So there is a kind of persistent element in what I do, not becoming attached to a particular style of music. I can see the possibility of working in this area a little bit more because there is so much experimentation going on with sounds and how sounds are presented live. It is sort of a rich area to plow.

MR: Does it seem like now is a time where the live element is equal to or even more important than recorded product?

TR: From an artist's standpoint, it was always that way because whatever you make in terms of record sales, you're always getting the short end of a relatively inexpensive product. In other words, a record costs fifteen dollars and you're lucky to get a dollar of that. On the other hand, when you're out on tour, ticket prices can be forty dollars and you wind up keeping like eighty percent of it, so it always made more sense for artists to develop a thirst and an audience for live performances. Because of the way the record business has kind of stumbled and disintegrated in a way, you're as likely to sell records at your merch table at your gigs as you are to sell them in a regular record outlet or even online.

MR: Todd, you are one of the great producers. I imagine there is still a love of the record making process that ends up being that product that we were just talking about, right?

TR: Yeah, and that can be the challenge. Sometimes you create something in the studio that would be hugely difficult to reproduce live. In some ways, the audience's sensibilities about what you can do live have evolved to the point that it isn't as critical. It's great if you can afford to carry a string section on the road with you, but most people are used to the idea of just a keyboard player creating those string sounds. Even at this point, it's gotten down to a one man and his laptop sort of thing, and thousands of people seem to just enjoy watching one man and his laptop as long as he acknowledges that they're there and every once in a while screams out, "Can you feel the love?" [laughs] That gets everybody going. Expectations are fairly easier to meet nowadays.

MR: When you play live, you have always used a lot of technology, and it could be said that you did that for many years even before it was popular.

TR: Well, I first started doing some somewhat technology based shows in the '80s. If you wanted to get real technical about it, back in the '70s I used to open up with Utopia with just me on the stage with a four-track tape recorder. So, technically, I've been using the help of various devises pretty much throughout my career. As I say, though, I think the audience has evolved to a certain point where they're not that picky about it. Having said that, when I take this particular record on the road, even though I plan on having a highly improvisational element to it, I will be bringing a drummer and guitar player so it will have a little bit more--I guess a bridge--instead of just technology between me and the audience, it will be a bunch of technology and a couple of players, and that will help to bridge the whole technology thing.

MR: That must also help you with feeling what's going on during the performance, doesn't it?

TR: Yeah. I think the ultimate improvisation is with other players who understand what you're trying to do and what the limits are within that particular description. These are people that I've played with for such a long time that they don't find the concept to be foreign or overly challenging. We've tried things like this before.

MR: Who will be with you?

TR: It will be Jesse Gress, my guitar player, and Prairie Prince, my drummer. The usual suspects.

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MR: Prairie Prince, of course being of The Tubes, who's album, Remote Control, is among the many you have produced.

TR: We do have a myriad of connections over the years. First it was just production of The Tubes, then, at one point, The Tubes and Utopia went out together on a tour, and then I got an opportunity to produce another album by them. Then, as the band kind of toured less, I had the advantage of stealing players from them including Prairie Prince. [laughs]

MR: Are there any artists out right now that you'd like the chance to work with in this studio?

TR: I've always found that to be a dangerous desire. Usually, the people that you would like to work with are succeeding with what they're doing, so you figure the only thing you could do is screw it up. It has to be somebody who really desires to have you work with them because you don't really have any clout if you go to somebody and say, "Please let me produce a record with you." I just discovered that with the idea of making a record, sometimes, you need to have the upper hand, and that only happens if somebody has come to you and asked you to help them.

MR: To your point, you've launched so many acts. That has to kind of feel good, watching their success later?

TR: If I have a specialty, it's kind of in that area--people who don't have any experience in the studio, or are having unsuccessful experiences in the studio. As I said, people who are already managing to get what they want out of the process usually don't need somebody like me who specializes in shaking things up and trying to keep people focused on what are the most important goals when you're making a record. The longer that somebody has been in the music business, and the more that they've developed habits, it makes it hard to just step in and have them adapt to your process. I don't really go around wishing I could produce a bunch of people. [laughs] It just turns out that I do well with artists in a certain circumstance, and outside of that, I'm just happy to do my own records I guess.

MR: Were there any new toys or anything used on this project that you hadn't used before on any of the other projects?

TR: Not in terms of anything that wasn't already available, or anything that wasn't available to other people. There wasn't anything that I knew about that other people didn't know about. It often happens that I just come around to certain things a little later, so they might be new to me, but they're not new per se. I've been using the same software for most of my recent projects, so that's not new. The software itself evolved, but that was something that was driven outside of my purview. While there were new things for me to learn in terms of that process, it wasn't anything revolutionary. It was more of me studying up on the techniques that people are using. People are using the same tools that I have access to, so in that sense I didn't have to go out and learn something new. Put it this way, I could have gone out and learned something new, but I chose not to. There's a software package that a lot of people use, and I was tempted to go through the learning curve, then I realize that I had better things to do with my time than getting caught up learning this new software for six months.

MR: What was the software?

TR: Well, I use a program called Reason, and Ableton is a software that a lot of people use when they do performances, so I was tempted to figure that out, but it's a different metaphor from what I'm used to, so I figured, "No, I'm not going to do that." In that sense, I've never learned how to use Garage Band either, which every Mac owner knows how to use.

MR: Last time we spoke, I asked you for your advice for new artists, so I want to flip that around a little this time. What was the best advice that you got?

TR: Hmm...Well, the problem was that I got advice, but did not heed it, and maybe that was good. The thing that I got, especially in terms of production, was that it's not simply the music and it's not simply trying to make it sound nice. You discover after a while that it's really about understanding, in some cases, the actual psychology of the people you're working with. I used to have sort of mixed feelings about a producer whose only skills seemed to be going into the studio, schmoozing the artists and making them feel good. I can see now that in some cases, that's what you have to do because that's the only way you're going to get them to produce. So I had to learn all these people skills after I first started producing, and as successful as some of those records might have been, there will always be people who complain about my bedside manner. That's something that you continually have to find.

MR: Or throw up your hands and go, "Oh well."

TR: That, again, is the reason you want to have an artist come to you, as opposed to going to them and then having them get pissed off at your demeanor and firing you.

MR: Where is this upcoming tour taking you?

TR: We have a first leg that goes pretty much along the Northeast, then we go to Europe and do mostly Scandinavia, Amsterdam, Scotland and England. Then we come back for a little event I have in June that we're calling Toddstock 1.5 or something like that. That's just a big gathering that we'll have outside of New Orleans on a plantation. Then after that, we continue with a States tour along the South and into California. Then, we go to Australia for eight dates, then we return home and do I think so more dates--I don't really remember exactly--but then we go to Japan after that. So, the year is filling up.

MR: And I imagine on that tour sometime and somewhere you'll be stopping in again at Daryl's House?

TR: I don't know. I haven't been asked, but I would be breaking some sort of record, probably, if I were to do that. I would certainly take him up on that if he asked. It's a really fun show to do.

MR: It is, and it's always fun to watch you on there.

TR: Yeah, well, growing up in Philadelphia that's how we roll. [laughs]

MR: Todd, you are one of my favorite artists and producers ever. I really appreciate you taking the time to come talk with me today.

TR: My pleasure. I'll talk to you soon.

Tracks:
1. Imagination
2. Serious
3. In My Mouth
4. Ping Me
5. Angry Bird
6. Smoke
7. Collide-A-Scope
8. Something From Nothing
9. Party Liquor
10. Sir Reality

Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney