Todd Rundgren said he “wanted to walk into the ocean” when Utopia's upcoming reunion tour ran into some problems after keyboardist Ralph Schuckett’s health issues forced him to bow out.

Shuckett was forced to bow out at short notice, leaving Rundgren, Kasim Sulton and Willie Wilcox with the challenge of replacing him. Their first response was to invite public auditions, warning potential applicants, “You won’t have a lot of time to learn the set.” But they ended up recruiting Gil Assayas after a recommendation from one of Rundgren’s sons, and rehearsals are now underway.

“I was traveling back from South by Southwest, so I didn't actually find out until that Sunday morning,” Rundgren told Billboard. “And at that point, I wanted to walk into the ocean and not come back 'cause we were fully committed to this and there was nobody off the top of my head I thought was gonna be able to just walk in and do what Ralph had been working on for months. So we decided we would just open it up to anybody, but in the meantime we found someone that my son had actually met and heard play. We looked at his stuff on the internet and were all blown away by how talented he was and how confident he seemed.”

Rundgren said Assayas “knows the stuff better than we do at this point." “He's not particularly a fan," he added. "It would've been nice to have a fan, but it wasn't required. He's got the chops that will essentially mean that he's not playing up to us, that we're not kind of pulling ahead of him while he's trying to play catch up. We expect he's gonna be right up there the whole time. I think it'll be interesting for the fans to see someone who they've never seen before but who quite obviously is going to be somebody whose name they should remember.”

He also revealed why there will be fewer over-the-top props in Utopia's stage show this time. “We're not endangering our lives to that extent anymore," Rundgren explained. "I didn't have children back then, so I could climb to the top of [Utopia’s prop] pyramid and potentially hurt myself badly. The pyramid is still around; it’s actually in a friend's field near Providence, R.I. The giant head is still in Woodstock, somewhere in storage. The motorcycle drum kit was burned in a warehouse fire along with the ankh guitars, the chrome-plated guitars we used to have. We're not bringing that stuff, but we're not bringing nothing either.”

Rundgren avoided making any firm commitment to what might come after the tour. “I think what everybody on our side fervently wishes is that this goes well," he noted. "And that's it for now.”

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