It has been 10 years since Todd Rundgren, the wizard/true star, produced his last band, The Pursuit of Happiness. Though he was repeatedly offered chances to produce over the past decade, he couldn’t be lured away from his own career, which included creating musical gizmos and pioneering on the Internet.
So, it says an awful lot about a new band for it to bring Rundgren back behind the boards.
The New York-based rock quartet Splender was “honored” to be the chosen ones, says bassist James Cruz.
“When we first met with Todd,” Cruz said recently, “we were expecting a guru, this god, this immaculate person, but we was very down to earth and very exhausted-looking. He was coming off a tour called ‘Todd With a Twist.’ As soon as we started talking, it was right away to business. He was very direct, right upfront.
“We had gone after a lot of producers and he was the last one we thought would’ve answered. When he did answer, it was like, ‘What?! Oh, my god.’ Right away, you start thinking, at least I did, ‘Okay, what does this mean now? This is no no-name guy or somebody only underground musicians know about. This was a legend.’ Could we live up to it?”
Lead singer Waymon Boone said Rundgren, whose vast resume includes Grand Funk’s “We’re an American Band,” Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” and XTC’s “Skylarking,” quickly put them at ease.
“We had a lot of phone conversations to get a sense of what he thought of the band and the songs,” Boone said. “He let us know very early on that he was impressed with the songwriting and the pop sensibilities in the music. He liked the way the songs were structured, and he didn’t feel the need to mess with the nucleus of the music. He always thought the demos were a great template for the album. It gave us confidence that we were already in the right direction.
“He was very vocal in the beginning, telling us that he really liked the music and really thought he had heard something special that he hasn’t heard in other bands in a while. We were elated to hear something like that.”
Splender’s strong debut Columbia album, “Halfway Down the Sky” (out May 18), moves effortlessly from the jangly guitar rock of “I Don’t Understand” to the borderline psychedelia of “London,” along the way injecting a fierce view on love gone awry on the impressive first single, “Yeah, Whatever.”
The album is the culmination of years of sweat and toil for Boone and Cruz, who have been together in a variety of bands since 1990. It finally fell into place when they teamed with guitarist Jonathan Svec and drummer Marc Slutsky nearly three years ago.
“We pounded the pavement around New York,” Boone said, “sort of beating on everyone’s door, walking around with demos coming out of every pocket and asking anyone who would be willing to listen. The only people that were willing to listen was this one publishing company. That was our first break, because they took us in and really worked with us and helped develop us, encourage us and give us the pat on the back that we needed. At the time, we were going through a lot of stress and anxiety because we had been playing for many years and not getting anywhere, and they were the first ones to step up and say they got it.
“Once we started working with them, we did a series of tours around the country. We went to Europe, we opened for Primus, we opened for Korn. Even still, it was years after that before we even made a dent toward making a (label) deal.”
A self-professed incurable dreamer, Boone said he never lost faith.
“We always had the belief we would get somewhere, that at some point something good was going to happen,” he said. “We’ve worked so hard that we are completely appreciative of what’s going on now. At the same time, I think we’ve earned it. We’ve paid our dues.”