Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.
In this Love Letter To A Record series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.
GUM – Todd Rundgren, ‘A Wizard, A True Star’ (1973)
Todd Rundgren’s ‘A Wizard, A True Star’ marks a really significant point in my life, when I started to think of music as art. Not to say that this was the specific record that generated that shift in thinking but it was a perfect representation of the time. I was 21 or so, Tame Impala had gone to Japan to play Summersonic Festival and we tagged along played a couple of one-off POND shows there. We just had the best most eye-opening time overseas.
Japan was like another planet to me, alien in the best possible way and so different to Western Australia. I couldn’t believe it was real. We just cruised around for 2 weeks looking at music gear, eating food, buying weird clothes and seeing strange things. I was voraciously buying records at the time (I’ve since stopped once I realised my inability to look after them properly) and we discovered a street in Osaka that had 4 or 5 of the best record stores I’d ever been to. I found and bought this record for the cover basically, it looked perfect and ended up being a bang on representation of the music inside. I also kind of knew who Todd Rundgren was because there were 2 Nazz songs I was obsessed with, ‘Open My Eyes’ and ‘Forget All About It’.
‘Forget All About It’ in particular was a real blueprint for melodic songwriting for me and Tame Impala stuff. That was until I heard the first track on this once we got home to our sharehouse in Perth. ‘International Feel’ absolutely destroyed me, I had no idea what to expect. If anything I was expecting some generic ’70s soft rock, not the thing that came out of the speakers. It sounded like The Flaming Lips (our favourite band at the time) 40 years ahead of time. Huge Led Zeppelinesque drums, arpeggiated synths (which I then proceeded to put on every song I worked on) and this euphoric, triumphant songwriting. We ended up calling this sort of music ‘Epiphany Pop’ coz you’d just sit there staring into space transfixed with a stupid look on your face. I then listened to the rest of the album and decided it was terrible, how could he go from that first song to that second song!
I soon found out it wasn’t terrible at all. It was an extremely varied and mind-blowing journey covering heavy rock, musicals, tv jingles, avant-garde soundscapes and soul. It was just that ‘International Feel’ was so good it seemed to overshadow the rest. There’s even a reprise of the song later in the album called ‘Le Feel Internationale’ so I think Todd knew it too. Then I found out he played almost everything himself…
I can hear the influence of this album in all the bands I play with. ‘Zen Archer’s production reminds me a lot of Lonerism era Tame Impala, ‘Is It My Name’ was a fave of Nick and Joe and the Pond guys and I can hear it through so much Pond stuff. Pretty much every GUM record has some sort of idea cribbed from this album, from stitching songs together to the insane production ideas like full mix flanging and panning and completely overblown tape distortion. These weren’t new ideas at all, not even for the ’70s, but I’d never heard them done in such an over-the-top manner. Apparently Todd insisted the record be pressed on the one vinyl even though it was super long, which further resulted in the blown-out sound.
We ended up sampling a Todd Rundgren song ‘Cosmic Convoy’ for the Pond album The Weather. I’d slowed down 2 bars of the original song into what I thought sounded like hip-hop and gave it to Nick to write over. The best bit of the whole thing was that we had to clear the sample with Todd, and so now in the liner notes it says ‘Allbrook/Watson/Rundgren’ which made my life.
There’s an amazing Patti Smith review of ‘A Wizard, A True Star’ online that’s almost as good as the record itself, I highly recommend checking it out.
GUM’s new album ‘Out In The World’ is, funnily enough, out in the world today.