Starcrawler. Photo by Claudio Fox

 

Grulke Prize Winners Bridge Styles and Generations

These three artists earned SXSW Music honors

An audacious L.A. band barely out of high school, a rootsy British singer-songwriter with a freshly-minted No. 1 Billboard Triple A hit, and one of pop music’s great polymaths beat out more than 2,000 other Showcasing Artists to take home SXSW’s 2018 Grulke Prizes. Conferred by a panel of festival staff and selected music-biz insiders, the annual award honors SXSW Music’s longtime Creative Director Brent Grulke, who passed away at age 51 in August 2012.

This year’s winners are Starcrawler (Developing U.S. Act), Jade Bird (Developing Non-U.S. Act), and Todd Rundgren (Career Act).

Before joining the festival in 1993, Grulke worked as a sound engineer, tour manager, record label manager, and the Austin Chronicle’s music editor. At SXSW, the number of performers he booked doubled in his first five years. His fingerprints are still all over the festival, whose total performances topped 2,700 across more than 100 stages this year. Of Grulke’s remarkable career, veteran music writer Michael Corcoran wrote: “first you learn to become a professional, and then you never stop.”

Those words could just as easily have been written about Todd Rundgren. As a producer alone, the Philadelphia native has delivered landmark albums across the pop-rock spectrum. Grand Funk Railroad’s We’re An American Band, Hall & Oates’ War Babies, Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell, The Tubes’ Remote Control, XTC’s Skylarking, and Psychedelic Furs’ Forever Now are all his. So is the New York Dolls’ self-titled 1973 debut, the launchpad for dozens of punk and glam-rock bands in the decades that followed — including, one could easily argue, Starcrawler.

Todd Rundgren. Photo by Akash Kataria

Todd Rundgren. Photo by Akash Kataria

 

And that’s just a handful. Rundgren has been equally prolific as a performer: as a teenager in Yardbirds-inspired rockers Nazz, on early-‘70s AM-radio staples “I Saw the Light” and “Hello It’s Me,” and all the way through several years with Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band and his star-studded 2017 album, White Knight. Even more recently, he’s been back on the road with his ‘70s/‘80s prog-rockers Utopia, whose highly anticipated reunion tour wraps in early June — a few weeks before Rundgren turns 70. Then it’s on to the next project.

“A lot of people may, at a certain point, [wonder] whether the music business is really working out for them, or they may get into some other aspect of the business,” said Rundgren, on his way to a Utopia gig in Washington, D.C. “But I never stopped.”

Rundgren admits he was “taken aback” upon learning he won this year’s Grulke Prize, marveling at how much both Austin and the festival have grown since his last SXSW. The technologically astute musician — something he credits to helping his dad, a DuPont engineer, tinker with projects on the elder Rundgren’s basement workbench — was actually the very first SXSW Interactive keynote speaker back in 1995.

This time his visit was fairly laid-back, Rundgren says. Besides a late-night solo show, where his White Knight-heavy set also included past cuts like Utopia’s “One World,” he also appeared on a songwriting panel and left himself plenty of time for sightseeing.

“There was a lot of interesting things, like solo performers on street corners and stuff like that,” he says. “I saw a girl with an electrified Plexiglas harp.”

Rundgren still makes younger musicians starstruck. Last year he appeared onstage at Coachella with Long Island retro-rockers the Lemon Twigs, 2017’s Developing U.S. Act Grulke Prize winners.

Arrow de Wilde of Starcrawler. Photo by Claudio Fox

Arrow de Wilde of Starcrawler. Photo by Claudio Fox

 

Another fan is Starcrawler bassist Tim Franco, who, according to that band’s guitarist Henri Cash, spied Rundgren on the street during SXSW this year “but was too afraid to go say ‘hi’ to him.”

That sort of shyness seems unusual for members of the young L.A. quartet, considering how much their Ryan Adams-produced debut album, released in January, oozes vintage ‘70s-rock swagger. Early champion Elton John played their debut single “Ants” on his Rocket Hour Apple Music program; never mind that some band members were still in high school. (This was way, way back in November 2016.)

Certainly watching Starcrawler strut around a downtown donut shop in their “I Love L.A.” video — directed by singer Arrow de Wilde’s mother, celebrated music photographer Autumn de Wilde — it’s not hard to imagine how they might need medical attention after some shows. That’s exactly what happened after a party at Waterloo Records, one of at least nine times Starcrawler played during SXSW.

“I think the second or third song I went to do a stage fall that I normally do, but it turned into a real fall and I banged the side of my head on the stage floor,” de Wilde explains. “There was like this huge bump. The rest of the song I was singing on the floor. But we’re fine.”

Jade Bird. Photo by Lisa Walker

Jade Bird. Photo by Lisa Walker

 

Between that, criss-crossing Austin in ride shares and humping their gear in assorted pedicabs, Starcrawler says their first-time SXSW experience is a little hazy. But it was also fruitful; they headed to Canadian Music Week earlier in May, and a few weeks later to one of Europe’s top music-fan destinations, Primavera Sound in Barcelona, Spain.

They’ve also already crossed paths with this year’s third Grulke winner, Londoner and self-professed “army brat” Jade Bird, who, after making waves with last year’s Something American EP, currently tops Billboard’s Triple A chart with her sparkling single, “Lottery.” Bird will be touring throughout the U.S. and Europe through the summer and autumn months.

“I love Jade Bird,” says Cash. “I met her a couple of weeks back; she was [playing] something we were on too. I got to hang out with her and her boyfriend, and they were super nice. She’s an amazing performer.”

Read more about the 2018 Grulke Prize winners at sxsw.com.

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