January , 1983
By Gena LeBar
On the Road with Utopia
Todd Rundgren may have made his mark in the music business with some brilliant solo recordings early in his career, but his second attempt at a group setting (the first being Nazz) has proven to be far more complex and perhaps more personally fulfilling. The first two albums - Todd Rundgren's Utopia (1974) and Another Live (1975), featured lengthy, complex and highly arranged progressive rock pieces, performed by a six-piece multi-instrumentalist ensemble.
With the release of Ra (1977) the band continued the progressive trend, opening with an electronic arrangement of the "Overture: Mountaintop and Sunrise" theme from Bernard Herrmann's score for the film Journey to the Center of the Earth. The concept album also contained several shorter, more accessible songs. It was a precursor of what was to come with the group's subsequent albums that featured more concise and pop-oriented material that showed the influence of today’s New Wave trend.
Though the band had satirical political songs, showcased on Swing to the Right (1982) and plenty of bitter heartbreak songs, it was best known for its hopeful, uplifting spirit tune, "Love Is the Answer" from their 1977 album, Oops! Wrong Planet”. For the new release, Utopia, took the material on the road for a full year begging audiences to petition reluctant Bearsville Records execs to release the album.
Touring seems to be a basic in band survival these days. What's it like for Utopia?
Kasim Sulton - We tour a little differently than most bands. Usually, we'll play about two weeks then take a week off. We cover most of the U.S. except for the Southwest and far Northwest. We don't sell very well there. It seems to be mostly die-hard fans that come to see us. What about videos? We just finished two, "Hammer In My Heart," and "Feats Don't Fail Me Now." We don't have any more planned for a while simply because they cost a lot of money.
A lot of bands seem to be really concentrating on getting their videos out these days.
Video is important and becoming more important with each passing day. But you've got to have a hit song before you can have a hit video. People don't necessarily take to a band, or their song, just on the merits of a video.
Is it difficult, or refreshing, to work with a talented songwriter like Todd who came off a highly successful solo career to form Utopia?
Well, we all do solo work, but Todd’s was obviously more successful. The thing is, we all work well together. When the time comes to record an album, we each come into the studio with ideas and somehow we musically glue them together. We don't write on the road much. For me, it's impossible.
Why do you put so many songs on your albums?
In the case of the new album, it was the record company's idea. We came out of the studio with 15 songs for them to choose from. They liked them all so well, they decided to use them all instead of the 10 they had originally planned on.
How did you become a member of Utopia?
I was playing keyboards with a girl named Cherry Vanilla in Manhattan (1975). A friend who knew a friend told me Todd was looking for a bass player and would I like to try for it. I said, sure, who not? So he said call Cherry Vanilla's friend Michael Camen and tell him that you want to do it and he'll recommend you. So I called him and he said, 'Well, I've never heard you play bass, but I'll recommend you to Todd hands down!' He had heard me play keyboards with Cherry, so I guess he thought I was good enough. A couple of days later, I got a call from Roger (Powell) and he asked me if I would like to come up to Woodstock and try playing with the band. I had to borrow $20 to go to Woodstock from New York 'cause I was flat broke. And, the rest is history.
Where is Utopia headed from here?
We hope our single, "Feels Don't Fail Me Now," will do well for us and put the album on the right course sales wise. It will hopefully broaden our audience to. With any luck, the band will just keep doing what we’ve been doing and grow along the way.