Posted December, 2011
Michele and Todd Rundgren - Photo Courtesy of Michele Rundgren
It’s a worn out – but still very relevant – cliché that behind every great man is a great woman. That saying couldn’t be more true when analyzing some of the greatest names in rock and roll in general and Todd Rundgren in particular. For, behind the rock icon who has written some of rock’s most iconic tunes and has produced other history-making albums by others, there is his lovely wife, Michele.
Michele and Todd met in 1984 and, as she tells it, “Fell in love . . . sex, singing, touring, breeding . . . then he moved me to paradise (Kauai) and forced me to raise our progeny. “ No, this isn’t the voice of an embittered woman. This is the humorous, matter-of-fact run down of a woman who knows who she is, where she has been and a real good idea of where she’s going.
Michele’s comes shining through as she describes herself a “has been” for she is or “has been”:
· A trapeze artist
· A singer, dancer and actor on and off Broadway
· A member of rock group, The Tubes
· A backup singer for Todd Rundgren
· A “Brood Sow” for the same Mr. Rundgren (Rex (Infielder for the Edmonton Capitals), Randy and Keoni call her “Mom”)
· A frequent guest on “The Late Show With David Letterman” often with the
· A host of her own PBS radio show, “Chick Rock, Chick Talk” on KKCR in Kauai
· Is still raising her husband, Mr. Michele Rundgren, four kids and five dogs.
· Currently, she’s the Director of Human & Creative Resources for DS Vocology, the parent company of a wonderful company, VocalizeU, that offers software and VIP instruction to singers.
One might think that Michele and Todd would just chill in Hawaii and not worry themselves with cares of life. As easy as it might be to assume such things, greatness rarely rests and such is the case with both Mr. and Mrs. Rundgren. When both aren’t cheering their sons on in their endeavors, Todd is still neck deep in his prodigious musical creativity and, as indicated above, Michele is quite the businesswoman, serving on the management team of DS Vocology, a relatively new company that produces a brand spankin’ new software application called VocalizeU which was a big reason why I wanted to speak with her.
I called Michele at her Southern California office where, despite being inundated with a day’s worth of computer problems, she didn’t let those technical travesties quash what I suspect is her perennial sunny disposition and effervescence. With a laugh she said, “It’s funny. I guess my karma is up and now, having used computers since the early 80’s, I’m now suddenly paying off my free ride. My tech-problem free life over the last 25 years is now coming back and saying, ‘Oh! We’re going to give it back to you all in one week!’”
As we settled into the interview, I commented (after running down the list of her past and current accomplishments) how it’s obvious that she stays continuously busy.
“I guess it’s my parents fault. I was never one to play it safe and easy. Same with Todd. I think that’s why we’re such a good match is because something always has to be going on. A few times a year we take small chunks of time off to totally relax and try to make each other relax. It’s pretty tough sometimes because we like to live life to its fullest – as packed as we can.
“The radio show I’ve been away from for two years. Our youngest son, Rebop, got into college at sixteen so I went to San Francisco to go with him for a year. Then I was offered to be a part of this start-up company – to be a part of DS Vocology – exactly a year ago. I moved to L.A. so now Todd and I date each other! After 26 years, it’s worked out pretty good!”
I surmised that Todd comes through to see her often because of his work related travels.
“He always comes to the mainland - L.A. - for at least a day on his way to wherever he has to go. Flying from Hawaii to, say, the East Coast just takes so long, so, yeah, I see him a lot here. I’ve gone home three times in the last year: Once to help do production work on Live From Daryl’s House. They did Live From Daryl’s House from our house. That took a lot of pre-production work as well as production work. Even though they bring their staff and are only there that day, we did a lot of prep work and help at the last second. Everything went wrong that could go wrong. Charts needed to be printed up right before they start taping. You’re sneaking under cameras and handing them charts and getting the house ready. I don’t know if you’ve seen it but it was a pretty big event and that’s a pretty big house to get ready.”
That it is. Check out the entire episode here at Live From Daryl’s House.
We move to the subject of VocalizeU and DS Vocology. I was very intrigued by the product and asked Michele to fill me in on it.
“One of my dear, dear friends, Dave Stroud, has been a sought after vocal teacher for, gosh, 20-some years. He came up with a concept to put together a vocal studio in an iPad. It’s really a vocal tool for singers – beginners to professionals. It can teach somebody how to sing and it can make professional singers sound better. Rather than meeting a voice teacher for anywhere from $100 to $500 an hour, for $40 on your iPad, you’ve got a studio that helps you determine what vocal habits you have, sending you to different workouts to correct the bad habits you have, extend your range and strengthen your voice. If you decide that you need to work on a song or you want a live voice lesson, there’s a little picture of a telephone in your studio graphics and you tap that and it connects you to a live teacher. We say that it’s a virtual vocal lesson for anyone, anywhere, anytime. It’s pretty cool.
“We’re hoping to be a virtual college of music so we’re developing a lot of add-ons that are extensions taught by icons. So, anything you want to learn in the music business, you can learn through VocalizeU. Our next extensions that connect to our vocal studio are background singing with Denosh Bennett – she sings for all of the famous acts – Colbie Caillat, Drake, Justin Temberlake – a bunch of people.
“There’s The Art of Management by Justin Timberlake’s label manager (Dre Persons) to teach people how to be a manager. We try to make them really interactive and fun. The art of management is almost like a video game that you can program to really act like a manager where someone’s irate wife calls you on the phone and you have to make some decisions on your phone in the middle of the night in order to pass up to the next level.” Then, with her engaging laugh, she adds, “I’m taking all my experience of what exactly can go wrong on the road and sticking it into that one!”
Continuing on about the many courses available, Michele adds, “Matt Scannell from Vertical Horizon is doing a singer/songwriter course – beginning, intermediate and advance – and other artists will contribute to that. Remember Martin Atkins, the drummer for P.I.L.? He’s doing an extension with us that every band can use that helps them become totally self-sufficient since all of the record companies have all disappeared on all the up-and-coming artists. So, this is ‘Band Smart’ How To Make a Living in the Music Business On Your Own.”
As for the operating platforms that VocalizeU is compatible with, Ms. Rundgren says that, in addition to the iPad, “It will be on Lion OS soon. We even have a version coming out any day now on iPhone. It’s a ‘lite’ version of VocalizeU where you can do your warm-ups and workouts. Hopefully, people will see how cool it is and want to buy the $39.99 VocalizeU.”
“VocalizeU, it’s amazing. It lets you record songs, import songs, export songs, video, face-to-face voice lessons, it has a journal. It’s really cool. Sometimes I don’t even know what to say about it. A lot of people look at it and say, ‘Oh my god! This is amazing!’
“We just did a great deal with Guitar Center. They saw it and said, ‘This is what we’ve been looking for. We have sections for guitar players, keyboard players, drummers and bass players. We don’t have a section for singers and this is it!’
I asked Michele who would benefit most from the VocalizeU program.
“You know, we’re trying to own the vertical market of singers. Singing – that’s the number two hobby in the world. Golf is first, singers are second. Everyone wants to learn how to sing. Dave developed the tools for his celebrity clientele who are on the road all the time. Adam Lambert, Natasha Bedingfield and all of these people were flying him all over and he just couldn’t continue to go from celebrity to celebrity and service them all. So he came up with VocalizeU for them and then realized it’s not just a tool for people who know how to sing already. It’s a tool for people who want to learn to sing as well. It’s Photoshop® for singers!”
Even though Michele had earlier touched on future plans for VocalizeU, I asked her what else was on the boards as far as future enhancements and developments are concerned.
“Well, we have an accredited program for high schoolers and home schoolers - There are over 4 million homeschoolers out there! - that’s going to hit the market probably in Spring. All the music programs are disappearing in schools because of the budget cuts - well, they have been for years. So, we decided to try to cover that market. We’re trying to do a lot of charity work as well, but, if a homeschooler or a high schooler – say there’s one teacher with an iPad that can go around to the schools and give them their music classes – for $40 teachers and parents can buy classes for their kids.
“It also has a social network. For instance, a singer in the middle of nowhere in Alabama can actually learn to sing a choir part, then participate online and actually go to some of our events where all the homeschoolers from around the nation are gathering in different areas - he walks in and knows his part and sings his part with all these people and they compete together.
“So, we’re trying to put music back into everyone’s life. I’ve made such a great living doing it and it’s filled me up my whole life. I can’t imagine anyone being without it. I want people to have access to tools and knowledge and education no matter where they are.
“Also, our first four other languages for the program are Japanese, Korean, Spanish, and German. Singing is an international language. When they sing, ‘guh, guh, guh’ or ‘nay, nay, nay’, those are not English words, those are phonetic sounds that everyone in the world can do as a singer. As long as we translate the educational information part of it, then the ‘doing of it’ is an international sound! Can you tell I’m excited about it?! You should see my house in Hawaii. It’s so close to the beach it’s ridiculous but it takes something like this to get me to leave my leisurely lifestyle and jump in!”
And how about plans to apply the same concept to musicians?
“Yes! But our forte and our greatest knowledge base for us right now happens to be in the singers world. So, yes, we’ll expand quite a bit but we should really tap into every single area for singers that we know how to do before we start working on guitar and bass. Other people are doing the instruments and no one is doing voice as in-depth as we are.”
I had to ask the obvious question of how singers can secure their own copy of VocalizeU.
“It’s VocalizeU in the Apple App Store! Also, very, very soon, you’ll start to see some of our clients selling it on their website because they use it – such as Adam Lambert, Natasha Bedingfield, Jordan Sparks, a lot of the American Idol people that we coach. Almost everyone loves it so we’re letting them take it to their fan base and that’s part of our marketing. Because our celebrity clientele uses it and loves it, they’re willing to say, ‘I’m willing to tell my fans about this’. But, again, the easiest way to buy VocalizeU is at the Apple App Store - $39.99, I think.”
And what does the Nazz man think about VocalizeU?
“It’s funny, I’m going to show it to him the night before our launch party. He knows what I’m doing but I haven’t shown it to him because I wanted to do it without him. I want him to be really proud of it. He’s teasing me a lot but he’s going to see it the night before the launch party. There’ll be lots of press there and they’ll ask him about it so I don’t want him to go, ‘I don’t know. I haven’t seen it!’ But, he is really proud of me. I even asked him after I was here for four months, ‘Is this working okay? We just date each other and live in two different cities?’ He said, ‘Is it okay if I said that I really like it?’ I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s okay!’
So, shifting my focus from VocalizeU to Michele specifically and find out what else she’s up to since she’s the poster child of multi-tasking and has the personal goal of keeping Todd a kept man.
“This has been my focus for a year solid. It’s been 14 hour days 6 or 7 days a week. But I still occasionally have to – when he does some revival thing like Todd/Healing or AWATS or Utopia, I’ll be able to carve out some time and design and make him some costumes and help him with putting a tour together and helping with Live From Daryl’s House. Those are the only things I’ve had any time to do other than to tune in to my son’s baseball games occasionally.
“Up until then, I was raising kids and had the radio show. I toured with a comedy act for awhile. I was not too bad at the comedy thing. I never experienced silence. Everybody always laughed but that is the hardest performance I’ve ever done is comedy. It’s scary and I have no stage fright whatsoever. But with comedy you can fail every 30 seconds – even though I never did, I don’t want to do it anymore! Never!”
That statement surprised me because it’s obvious that comedy comes easy to Michele.
“It does come easy for me but, when you sing, you just open your soul and express yourself through your voice and it’s very rewarding personally. The audience automatically claps for you. They’re predisposed to clap. They’re predisposed to enjoy that kind.
“In comedy, the audience is almost predisposed to fold their arms and go, ‘Okay now, prove it to me’. Even though I proved it to them over and over and experienced tons of laughter all the time, it’s just not as rewarding. Instead, it’s a fear of pleasing them every 10 seconds – every 30 seconds – that fear of ‘Are they going to like this? Are they going to like this?’ Where singing, I don’t care! I always have a good time when I sing! I don’t care if they have a good time or not!” And when Michele says all of this, she says it with a genuine, infectious laugh while concluding, “I think it’s one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done and I’ve had some pretty tough gigs. But, oh man! It’s a love/hate thing. It really is.
“Singing is way safer! If I hit a wrong note, I just vibrate my way out of it!”
Since Michele is married to one of the premier maestros of our time, I was curious what she was listening to on her iPod these days – aside from his work, of course.
“It’s funny. I listen to our clients’ music when they come because they’re usually asking for a little bit of performance coaching and my partner, Dave, does vocal coaching. But it’s usually what Rebop is listening to. My son is 19 and I always like what I hear. I don’t listen to the radio anymore. I just let him bring music to me and thank God I love the kind of music he’s playing! My oldest boys, Rex and Randy? Ugh! I couldn’t stand their rap!”
Speaking of music, when Michele learned that I grew up in Phoenix, she immediately opened the door to the next subject I was planning on asking her about anyway: Her stint with the Phoenix based band, The Tubes. I asked her what there might be about her and the band that fans might not readily know.
“I was actually a Broadway kid so I worked my whole life to get onto Broadway and audition for Kenny Ortega and was cast in a Broadway show that he was directing. I was also singing on Long Island after hours in little cover rock bands. He (Ortega) found out about that and called me into his office and asked me about it. I thought I was in trouble. I go, “I’ll quit! I’ll quit!’ He said, ‘No, I have a better job for you.’ I was like, ‘No! No! No! Please!’ He said, ‘You have to trust me. I know what I’m doing.’
“So, he sent me off to hang out with a band called The Tubes who was recording with David Foster at the time. He said, ‘Pack all your bags because you’re going to do this.’ So I went to the studio and was recording with Dave Foster and The Tubes and left for a European tour. It ended up being some of the best years of my life. It was amazing. I loved getting paid tons of money touring the world and having everybody wanting your autograph or a piece of your hair or clothing, being on a tour bus – I loved it! It was a democracy and everybody could contribute. We all would write in the bus or make costumes or decide to do something or build a set together. It was absolutely amazing! Todd produced two of The Tubes’ records. That’s how I met Todd. Then, when The Tubes lost their record deal, I just sort of went to work for Todd instead. I found out, ‘Oh! The democracy is over! Sing every note as written!’”
With Todd Rundgren arguably considered one of the most brilliant and intimidating musical geniuses in rock and roll, I asked Michele what is one of the most misunderstood or least known aspect about her husband.
“That’s very, very easy. I constantly, constantly have Todd fans come up to me who are amazing. We recognize that Todd fans have put our kids through college and helped us pay the mortgage. Of course, he’s giving them something that they cherish as well. It’s definitely a two way street. We’re very appreciative of them and we have events like, for his 60th birthday we invited fans to camp on our property for a week and have a celebration – and they did! That was really wild! Toddstock!
“I think the most misunderstood thing is the fans are constantly telling me how lucky I am. ‘Oh, you’re so lucky! Does he play the guitar for you and sing?’ They think he is the man behind the music and that it’s a performance that he gives to me, too. But it’s not. He really is kind of a hermit and all that kind of creativity stays inside his brain. His focus is all music. It’s almost like some idiot savant sitting in the corner who really doesn’t communicate with anybody at home unless you literally pull him up and say, ‘Okay, now we get to go talk or walk on the beach.’
“So, I facilitate that for him. I am the wife and the mom who runs the house and the family so that when he is not thinking about music, he can come into that world. We make it safe for him to also leave us mentally. He’s not really with us mentally very often but that’s not horrible for us. We’re the type of people that we understand that kind of focus. It takes a while. Each kid is mad at dad at a certain point. It’s like, ‘I can’t believe that he’s not really a father’ then you have to show them, ‘Yes, he is. He’s just not like the TV dads.’ It’s hard to explain.”
I’ve seen it many times where fans, whether they realize it or not, come crashing into the life of a celebrity without having any thought or consideration about the celeb’s feelings or privacy. Michele shared her insights into that aspect of their lives.
“I think that’s why he loves Hawaii so much – especially Kauai. We have a lot of celebrities who live there and we’re very protective of them. I’d say that everyone is extremely respectful. Nobody walks up to our house like they used to in Sausilito or Woodstock. Nobody’s knocking on the door. Nobody’s camping in our backyard. We don’t have to have any guards at our kids Little League games or nursery schools like we used to. So it really is paradise for us. Yeah, he can walk on the beach everyday and nobody knows who he is or, if they do, they’re like, ‘hi’ and that’s it.”
While Michele Rundgren has seen and accomplished a lot, I asked what she hadn’t accomplished that she wishes to.
“Boy, I don’t think there’s anything that I haven’t done yet that I wanted to do. The only goal that I’ve never accomplished was my own solo record but I’ve had ten thousand goals that I have reached. I think the only that I think I regret is to not be able to continue my career as a singer. But having made the choice to move Kauai and raise my sons – it was the correct thing to do even though it was painful as an artist. Todd even said, ‘Hey, one of us has to stay home’ because our boys were hard to control and Todd and I were the only ones who could control them. ‘So, one of us has to stay home and I sell more tickets than you do’. ‘OH! Yep, you’re right!’
“I’d say that I wish that I could have continued as a performer. So now I’m getting a little bit of joy – I’m getting a lot of joy actually – out of helping up-and-coming performers succeed and have their dreams of having a voice, having a career, having a great show – that’s what I do now and that’s what I really love!”
I followed up with Michele after the launch party to see how everything went. She was ecstatic with the turn out and results.
“It was so successful, Rolling Stone Lounge asked us to do a weekly VocalizeU party. I thanked them but WHEW . . . a party for 1000 guests every week? I have to sleep sometime! We had many celebrities at the party. Even my husband, Todd, had fun! I think Todd's and my sons favorite part of the party were the VocalizeU girls. Hot, young singers dressed in white VocalizeU onesie’s with just enough rhinestone bras showing to make the demo sparkle. Rex and Randy each got 4 demos. Hmmmm.
“The voice of VocalizeU and Justin Timberlake's latest artist signed to his Tennman records, "Bren", sang her showcase and brought the house down. What a voice ! Then, Natasha Bedingfield and her brother, Daniel, did an a cappella jam to close out the night. I am so proud of the work I have been a part of for the last year.”
Why blew my mind is the surprise that she is giving to Boomerocity readers who happen to own iPhones. “My holiday gift to all of your readers is a FREE lite version of VocalizeU for their iPhones. Just go to the app store and type in VocalizeU lite free. We put it up this morning. I hope the lite version encourages people to buy the full suite of VocalizeU tools that every singer deserves!”
You heard the lady so what are you waiting for? Click on the iTunes banner on this page and search for VocalizeU lite free. However, I have a hunch that you’re going to want to have the whole suite of functionality so you may as well go ahead and purchase the whole enchilada. At $39.99, it’s such a steal. Also, because Michele is such a great lady, she’s given me the link to the great pictures shot at the launch party. You can check ‘em all out right here. You just might recognize a person or two.
Oh, and remember: When you make it big as a singer, a) thank Michele and the DS Vocology team and, b) please, please, please, grant me an interview.