JIM WELTE. Writer. Editor.

Catching Up With… TV on the Radio

BY JIM WELTE | Published at 7:00 AM on September 25, 2008

For the second year in a row, a 70-year-old, man-made island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay was home to some of the finest live bands in the country. Over two days this past weekend, the Treasure Island Music Festival welcomed the likes of the Raconteurs, The Kills, Hot Chip, Vampire Weekend, Spiritualized, Dr. Dog and the Dodos.


The sunny, blustery first day was dominated by electronic and dance music, with French electro-house duo Justice tapped as the headliner. The goth- and gospel-infused art rock of Brooklyn stalwarts TV on the Radio seemed an odd inclusion in the first-day line-up. But with its new album, Dear Science, the quintet made a dance record that also fed the brain, anchored by the downright bouncy first single, “Golden Age.”

In the middle of the first day, with the wind tearing through the artists’ tents behind the main stage and breathy electro-pop group Goldfrapp about to take the stage, TVotR’s singer Tunde Adebimpe and guitarist-vocalist Kyp Malone spoke about the new album, closing the door on old emotions and their individual artistic pursuits.

Paste: Have you guys had a chance to catch anyone today?

Kyp Malone: Antibalas [Afrobeat Orchestra].

Tunde Adebimpe: And a bit of Aesop Rock, and some of Hot Chip.

Paste: You guys are very familiar with Antibalas, with their horns appearing on a number of your songs over the years. Let’s start with you, Kyp. You’ve trimmed your afro, and before you did that, you worked with ?uestlove and the Roots on the soundtrack for the documentary Soundtrack for the Revolution. Did you lose some sort of trim-the-afro bet with Questlove?

Malone: [Laughs] No, I just decided it was time to cut it.

Paste: You’re in the first quarter of this tour, you just played Monolith and Street Scene in San Diego. How has it been so far?

Adebimpe: It’s been going really well.

Malone: I’m really psyched about this festival. It’s a good one, and I love San Francisco. Great vibe here.

Paste: You lived here in San Francisco before right?

Malone: Yeah, back in the ’90s

Paste: There’s a pretty stark departure in terms of tone and bounce between this new record andReturn to Cookie Mountain. How did each of you prepare yourselves to come back to the studio with a blank slate and some fresh demos to begin the process of putting this new record together?

Adebimpe: I think it’s just a natural progression that we go through. We spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get to certain places, and the way that you got to those places before isn’t something that can be repeated. It’s a choice that you make, and it’s part of the palette that you draw from. And after touring the older songs for a while, you’re just in a different place. You’ve done them enough to be able to put them in a box and start fresh. Then it’s not too hard to start from zero.

Paste: How many demos did you begin with? I assume each of you brings demos to the table and then you whittle down the list as the rest of the band works through them.

Adebimpe: There were around 33 or 35. There were a lot.

Paste: You are a band for which creative control has always been a very important part of the deal. I read that a bulldozer drove into the side of [producer-bassist] Dave Sitek’s studio in Williamsburg. Was that bulldozer owned by Interscope?

Malone: If it was, they actually missed. It hit Headgear studios next door.

Adebimpe: It’s right next door, but yeah, they missed us. Unless Interscope was building a condo or something.

Malone: I think creative control is the prerogative and priority for most every band. I think it is the minority of bands that are controlled by forces outside of it that don’t have anything to do with music. For us it doesn’t seem like we are sacrificing anything to get creative control or that having it is anything special. I can’t imagine doing it any other way.

Paste: There’s definitely a lighter, bouncier feel to this record. Can you attribute that to anything in particular, whether it be Jan. 20, 2009 or something else that might have you feeling more optimistic than the last time around?

Malone: I don’t have much faith in our system of government in general. But the range of emotions that humans can experience is pretty broad. I feel like we have been tagged in some ways as this brooding, dark, pessimistic band. I kind of know what people are talking about when they say that, but I don’t think that they are totally listening. I grew up listening to goth music at times, and that music was encouraging to me at times. Hearing someone reflect it, talk about it made me feel like I wasn’t alone. That also kind of shaped a lot of what the only thing of any kind of real weight or profundity is sadness or darkness.

Adebimpe: At certain points and certain ages, you find yourself sitting down to write about anything, it’s usually at that point when you say, “I am already depressed  and this isn’t going anywhere, I might as well open up this piñata and see where it goes.” But that being said, I don’t know if it’s maturity or what, but you can’t stay in one place for too long. It’s not all death.

Paste: Especially, I would imagine, because you guys toured on the last record for so long, that it would be easier to close the door on those emotions for a while.

Adebimpe: Yeah, let’s say you do feel depressed and you write something about it and then you craft it into a song. By the time you’ve played it 400 times, I hope to God you’ve worked it out, whatever it was. I would have to go back into my journals from years ago to find the sources of discomfort that became some of those older songs. I definitely don’t bring those to every show because that would make me a super sad person.

Malone: I feel that with explorations of light and explorations of joy, there’s room for all of it. I feel like joy and light isn’t given enough attention in our culture.

Adebimpe: Or if it is, it’s a really plastic version of it.

Paste: Kyp, you mentioned the range of emotions. “Lover’s Day” is about as overt a song about sex that you’ll find without being ridiculously over the top. Does it have a specific origin, or in this case, recipient?

Adebimpe: It’s Usher. I Wanna Make Love. In this club. Make love. Yeah. [laughs]

Malone: I was trying to make a gender neutral, non-hierarchical song about fucking that was positive. I love it. I think it’s awesome. It’s the spice of life. I love fucking. [Laughter fills the room as label staff groans.]

Paste: Can’t argue with that.

Malone: I played it for my kid, and she said that it was about my girlfriend. It is to a certain extent, but you want to make music that people can relate to beyond my own life.

Paste: So you are off to Europe for a few dates next week, then back for a few weeks in the U.S., and then back to Europe into December. What are the plans into early ’09?

Adebimpe: I’m sure we’ll be touring into the spring.

Malone: I’m going to be mixing a record that I recorded for a friend, Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson.

Paste: Very talented guy. Were you on his last record?

Malone: I was on a song that didn’t make it onto the record. But it will be on the European release. He’s really coming into his own and getting better and better.

Paste: And Tunde, you appear in the film Rachel Getting Married, which comes out in October. You’re also an animator. Do you have any animation work planned?

Adebimpe: As soon as we’re in one place for a while. I have a whole big box of stuff to do but I have to be in one place for a while to get to it.

Malone: I want to put together a tour where we can be in one place for a week at a time and travel to each show from there, so that we have a home base where we can have some art supplies and books and some recording equipment and we can work on stuff in one place, maybe work on some music. That’s when you get some of the best work.

Read Paste‘s review of TV on the Radio’s Dear Science here.