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TV On The Radio
talk about their unique brand of "fancy music."
by: Liz Schroeter - May 1, 2009

We would like to thank our friends at "Subject Magazine" and Liz Schroeter in particular for allowing The Deli s to publish this interview.

Merely two years ago, no one outside of NYC knew who TV on the Radio was. Hell, most New Yorkers hadn't even heard of the band. A few scant shows were played at odd places like the now-defunct electroclash club Luxx in Williamsburg, or the hole-in-the-wall bar Stinger across the street. However, bands like The Yeah Yeahs Yeahs and the Liars were starting to break out of the Brooklyn indie rock scene, and these bands owe much to the production work of one David Sitek--one third of TVOTR. While Sitek takes the roll of a sort of man-behind-the-curtain as a producer as well as on stage with his band, it's singer Tunde Adebimpe and singer/guitarist Kyp Malone who front this eclectic NYC group. Their music has drawn comparisons to everything from Interpol to Soul Coughing to Peter Gabriel, and with their unique, soulful vocals and falsetto harmonies, TVOTR started turning heads. Soon they had a deal with Chicago's Touch and Go records (who also jumpstarted the career of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs a year earlier), and soon thereafter they hit the road for the very first time. Now TVOTR have a #1 college radio record under their belts and one of the most talked-about debut full-lengths of 2004 with 'Desperate Youths, Blood Thirsty Babes.'

While taking a break in their hometown of New York this spring, I had the chance to have a truly fun conversation with Tunde and Kyp. Besides all the things you'll read below, they also made me some very nice doodles of a pony in a river and a man with a large nose.

Subject: Since this is the "What's in a name" issue, I'm going to ask how you got your band's name.

Tunde: Dave [Sitek, guitarist in TV on the Radio] and I had been making music for a little while, and this friend Martin called up and said "What are you guys called?" because he had listened to some of the stuff. "So what are you called? What are you called?" And we didn't know. He paused for a second and said, "You should be called TV on the Radio." We just kind of paused for like four seconds and said, "That's fine. Ok."

S: And why did he suggest that?

T: I don't know why he did, and we're not really talking to him anymore, so we'll never find out [laughs].

S: So you have this name, and you don't even know what it means or where it came from?

Kyp: That's like everybody though.

S: When did you guys start playing together, because you really haven't been around for all that long.

T: We've been playing out in this set-up, this five person thing for…is it a year?

K: No.

T: That's really weird.

K: We started playing with Jaleel [Bunton, drummer] and Gerard [Smith, bass player] at the end of August [2003] right before we went to Iceland.

S: And before that it was just a three-piece?

T: Before that, the three of us played for maybe two months or something.

K: The first time we played together [live] was February 14th, 2003 at the Brooklyn Public House cocaine explosion, monkey for a promoter and gorilla for owner, asshole extravaganza.

T: That's actually the name on the marquee.

S: Before that, how did you start writing songs together?

T: Well Dave moved into the loft I was living in, and he had all this equipment, and we just started painting together and hanging out. The music was a natural extension of that. So we just made weird four-track stuff and locked ourselves in the house and drank way too much coffee, did beat-boxing and all that. The first time we played out, this club called Stinger booked us for a residency, even though we had no songs, so we would just make it up as we went along for an hour and a half on a Saturday.

S: I saw you guys at one of your earlier shows at Luxx when it was still a three piece, and it was so different than it is now. Some of the songs were already there, but it was much more-

K: Bad.

T: Much more bad is what you're trying to say.

S: It wasn't bad!

T: It wasn't good!

S: A little more experimental. It's been interesting to see-having seen you guys play a few months back and then again just recently-it's really cool how it's come along. I saw you open for Interpol at Roseland, and you had a saxophone player too with some wind-chimes. Going into some hippie shit.

K: Yeah we were stoned on marijuana, because we're hippies. Especially Dave.

T: David Sitek is a hippie.

K: A dirty, dirty hippie.

T: Tree-hugging, animal-loving-

S: Now this isn't fair, 'cause he's not here.

T: --devil-stick…

K: Oh he wouldn't deny it.

T: No, he's all peace and love, brother. Him and his didjeridu. It's all good, Dave made that up.

S: I know [Sitek] has done production work with The Liars, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and I'm sure that has brought with it a bunch of opportunities for you. Is that how you ended up with Touch and Go?

K: In a round about way, yeah. Dave was doing roady-ing and sound for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and he met [label owner] Corey [Rusk] at SXSW. They hit it off and Corey said, "If you ever want to send me any of the stuff you're working on, personally send it."

T: We didn't like send a tape to the attention of Touch and Go saying "Here, put this out." We were pretty amazed when Corey called and asked if he could put it out. That was not expected.

S: Has it been really exciting to tour with all these pretty big, up and coming, New York bands?

K: We've actually only done a bit of that. We did a week with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and that was inspiring, because they were fucking kick ass. They were so good live, that it was kind of like, "Oh, we have to be better, and better, and better," because we saw them do this.

T: Because we'll look foolish.

K: We'll look foolish.

T: Even more foolish.

K: But it was cool to play at Roseland, to have a view into that world of mega-crowds.

S: You also got to appear on Carson Daly. Tell me about that.

K: It was exciting, and weird, and anti-climactic, and exciting again, and then weird-

T: And then totally anti-climactic!

S: Who else was on the show?

T: Donald Trump and Vivica A. Fox.

S: Did you get to meet either of them?

K: I didn't try to meet either of them. I consciously didn't even make peripheral eye-contact when I was passing by Donald Trump's room. Not because I was nervous, but because I thought I wouldn't know how to behave and be an asshole.

T: "I don't even know you, but I just want to be mean to you, Donald Trump."

K: Then I heard him talk for a little bit, and I was like, he's probably still exactly the person I think he is, but at least hearing him talk and the way he was talking, it was like, "oh, he's a human being."

S: Was that totally weird being on a TV program for the first time?

T: Most of the time we were waiting backstage, and I took a nap and went for a walk.

K: I got to watch a video feed from a satellite in Baghdad without any news commentary or even audio. Although there was an audio accompaniment, but it was just clicks and buzzes and digital distortion. It just started, on accident, to coincide perfectly with the imagery and it was super psychedelic and fucked up.

T: It was pretty amazing.

K: It was crazy to watch some of this stuff in real time. People dancing around with guns parading around American Humvees. Like you see on the news just a clip of it, but then you watch this and see that these people could be dancing for joy-

T: For a couple of hours!

K: --as long as this thing is burning. To see that is kind of a different feeling, but not in any way a kind of surprise. To see it in real time and see it's a lot of energy born from hatred. It was weird. That was actually the weirdest part of the whole thing. And then getting up on stage and the lights go "pop"!

T: Yeah and they start flashing, and there was smoke machine that I wasn't aware of.

S: I got to go there once for a Sonic Youth taping, and it's really weird because they make you stand up right in the front and they go, "Ok: Rock out!" That would be a weird audience to play for. "Look like you're having fun-go!"

T: Some of our friends came though, which was nice.

K: It was fun. And weird. And exciting. And anti-climactic. I wanted to hate it more than I did. I wanted to be more uncomfortable than I was, but the people at NBC were really nice.

S: Did you get to talk to Carson Daly at all?

T: For two seconds.

K: I looked into his soul.

T: I looked past it. Into his eyes and straight past his soul. [Laughs] It was such a quick turnover. The show is like three, seven-minute segments essentially. It's really, really short, so people were just in and out. He got up on the stage with us afterwards and it was like, 5, 4, 3 [in announcer voice] "in four seconds you're going to say goodbye, he's going to say thanks for being on the show." It was funny. It was like a weird assemblage.

S: I was trying to think of a tactful way to ask this, but you guys being black and playing for an audience that is probably mostly white kids-

K: I'm "African-American."

T: I prefer "Jet Black."

S: Okay, okay. I mean, do you even think about it? Do you get any special attention because you're a black band?

K: We get privileges. We get mad privileges. [laughs]

T: Like most black people, we are afforded things the rest of the world is denied. [laughs] It's a weird thing to deal with, because it's not something that I personally think about any more than is necessary, any more than someone who is not-black is walking around going, "I'm not black, let's do something about that."

K: There are plenty of people spending a lot of time walking around saying that to themselves, though.

T: Yeah but they're in the kind of shit I don't have the shovel for. But someone was talking about the band and said, "Isn't their whole shtick that they're black?" [laughs]

S: Well you appeared on the cover of URB magazine, and I don't think many indie rock bands would get that opportunity.

T: But as far as the music goes, I can sort of see why we fit in with that sort of electronic culture, a little bit.

K: Yeah, like every time we're just improvising and come across those magic indie-rock chord progressions, that like write songs like [Pavement's] "Summer Babe," as soon as that would happen, we're like "Oh! Erase that! Stop that!" because we don't want to do that. Someone already did it, and it was good.

S: Going back to the theme of "What's in a Name?"-if you had to make up a name for a genre that you guys fit into, what would you call it?

T: House music.

K: Deep, deep house music. Yeah, names. I'm going to send you a bunch of things I just read about names and the idea of naming and how you're basically blessing something with mortality by the very act of naming it. But, I don't know, have you ever heard of "Rock and Roll?"

T: A little thing called rock and roll. Do you know me? Have you ever heard of rock and roll?

K: I feel like that's an easy thing to say, that's why I tell people when we're at, like, the Waffle House, "we're a rock band." In my mind it's a very open-ended thing that isn't done being created and co-opting things from different sources, and it has been since its inception. Like someone was saying, "Is it do-wop? Is it gospel? Is it soul?" and all these things are on a timeline that ends with-

S: With TV on the Radio!

T: With rock and roll.

K: With hip-hop and rock and roll. The only reason there absolutely needs to be a name made for it is for when we have our own section in the record store, separate from all the other records, on a golden pedestal, encrusted with diamonds, and then it would be called, "Fancy Music."

T: Or "Buy-Me Music."

S: What about the bands you guys are into? What did you grow up on, what are you into now?

T: I listen to a lot of the typical indie-rock fare. I went through a Superchunk phase.

S: We all did that.

T: He didn't [gesturing at Kyp]. The Pixies I like a lot, like everybody.

K: I really like Polvo's 'Today's Active Lifestyles.'

T: Sonic Youth.

K: Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore. I'm trying to think of things I don't say every time I get asked this question. Shudder to Think, I like Jeff Buckley a lot. I listen to a lot of the Sesame Street soundtrack. That song Big Bird sings about the alphabet, "I Love Trash" by Oscar the Grouch.

T: That's a very good song.

S: I love "I Love Trash."

K: I like Parts and Labor, Coachwhips, The Fakers, Devendra Banhart, Tyondai Braxton, Battles, Coco Rosie…I like the Chicken of the Sea song, I don't remember how it goes, but I remember liking it. I like the Strokes a lot. I like the first record so much I can't stand it. I listen to it all the time. …Can we pose a question on names to you and your readers? I don't know how this will work in print, but what happens to the meaning of the word banana when you say it "ba-na-NAAAA?"

T: And then you follow it up with the word Armageddon, but you say it, "Ar-MEG-a-den?" What is a "ba-na-NAHHH Ar-Meg-aden?"

S: I'm not even going to ask about the back-story on that one. Sara Tolbert [from Touch and Go Records] told you that we've turned your name into an exclamation, right?

T: My name? Sweet.

S: It's a form of salutation, and it's a form of exclamation.

K: First name or last name or both?

S: The full name, or one or the other.

K: Like you curtsey and say, "Baba Tunde Adepembe?"

S: Kind of like Hakuna Matata.

T: Oh my god. Well I hope that more women use my name as an exclamation.



 
 




TV On The Radio
"Desperate Youths, Blood Thirsty Babes"


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