|TV On The Radio
|talk about their unique brand of "fancy music."
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.
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
S: And why did he
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
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?
T: That's really weird.
K: We started playing
with Jaleel [Bunton, drummer] and Gerard [Smith, bass
player] at the end of August  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
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-
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
K: A dirty, dirty hippie.
T: Tree-hugging, animal-loving-
S: Now this isn't
fair, 'cause he's not here.
K: Oh he wouldn't deny
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
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
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
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
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
T: "I don't even
know you, but I just want to be mean to you, Donald
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
T: Or "Buy-Me
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
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
T: That's a very good
S: I love "I
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
T: Oh my god. Well
I hope that more women use my name as an exclamation.