It’s been nearly three years since TV on the Radio (TVOTR) filled SOhO to capacity and it’s no understatement to say that plenty has changed. For starters, the band spent the better part of the past few years venturing out in all sorts of directions. Frontman Tunde Adebimpe starred alongside Anne Hathaway in Jonathan Demme’s acclaimed Rachel Getting Married; guitarist David Sitek lent a hand on new albums from Scarlett Johansson and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs; vocalist Kyp Malone released an EP with his side project, Iran-and the list only goes on from there.
Between it all, the guys also found time to regroup, record, and release what many have called music’s crowning jewel of 2008, Dear Science. Like its predecessor, 2006’s Return to Cookie Mountain, Science is a stunning and coherent melding of genres that nearly defies classification. Funky bass lines, driving post-rock progressions, free-form jazz arrangements, brass bravado, and in-your-face deliveries combine with lyrics that range from the culturally critical (“Dancing Choose”) to the sexually deconstructing (“Lover’s Day”) to create an album that runs the musical and emotional gamut. And while many have called Science a less brooding, more pop-friendly incarnation for TVOTR, it’s certainly done nothing to water down the band’s musical might.
On Thursday, April 16, TV on the Radio will return to the Central Coast to play a show at the historic Ventura Theater (26 S. Chestnut St.) at 7 p.m. Recently, TVOTR vocalist, guitarist, and lyricist Kyp Malone phoned in from his home in New York to discuss writing, recording, and the joys of reinvention.
How did you come to be recruited into the TV on the Radio camp? I was trading records and talking about records with Dave [Sitek]. I borrowed equipment from him-I borrowed a guitar from him. And I was trying to get him to help me master this recording for a songwriting competition that me and my friend Kish had set up at the cafe we worked at. He wasn’t interested in helping me do that, but he wanted to make a song with me, so we did that for a night. Then Tunde got back into town and put some stuff on it. I saw them play and I invited them to play a show that I set up for my band, and they asked me if I’d play with them. So I went to a practice, then I played the show with them, and then :
You guys came together in less than conventional ways. I’ve even read that Jaleel [Bunton] was a guitarist, not a drummer, before you started playing together. How has the dynamic changed during the past few years? Well, Jaleel is a musician, and any musician who is applying himself to an instrument for five or six years straight-he’s definitely more than a competent drummer at this point; as is Gerard [Smith] a more than competent keyboard player and bassist, even though he primarily was a guitarist when he joined the band. I feel like I’m a little bit better at playing guitar than I was when I started, and I’m not afraid to pick up other instruments.
With so many multi-instrumentalists in the mix, how are songwriting duties shared? Anyone who has something to bring forward that they want to have be part of [things], they’ll bring it forward and either people will dig it and want to actively be a part of it, or they’ll keep it in the forefront of the process if we’re making a record. I don’t know. I write songs by myself, sometimes I write songs with Dave; on the last record, I wrote a song with Jaleel. And Gerard and Jaleel have been writing together and have given us stuff to listen to. Dave sometimes gives me tracks, or he gives Tunde tracks to write over, and then we pass ‘em back and forth and everyone gets in on it. And sometimes Tunde will bring something to the table pretty much fully formed, you know? It’s just whatever works.
Do you have a favorite track on Dear Science? It switches around a lot. I like the song I wrote for my girlfriend-well, I wrote it for a lot of people, but-called “Stork & Owl.” That’s definitely one of my favorite songs on the record. Gang Gang Dance just did a remix of it and I now like the remix better than I like the original. “Family Tree” is one of my favorite songs ever by anyone.
I feel like it’s kind of a privilege to be inside of a band and still be a fan of a band because I can step back and see what someone else is going to do and appreciate it from a distance. Even though I will actively become a part of the music sometimes, I try to stay out of it as much as possible just to watch it unfold, then do whatever the person who is actively leading the song wants me to do. :
I [also] like the song that me and Dave did, “Red Dress.” I want to do more music like that. I don’t like to go back to forms once there’s some expression to it-that’s the easy way to get into a trap-but I like the feeling of that song. I also haven’t totally felt completely like we’ve done it justice live yet, so : it’s an itch I’m still scratching.
Dear Science has been called a more upbeat, even pop-friendlier TV on the Radio album. Is there an overriding concept or theme that you would attach to the record? I don’t think so. : We all spend a lot of time together and share a lot of life experiences and were born into the same time, so some of the songs share some of those themes, but it’s not a concept record.
I think, overall, we just wanted to make it uplifting. I don’t like the self-reflection-ness and I try my best not to read anything that anyone says about the band or the records. It’s not like I don’t care, but I don’t want it to be influencing what’s coming out, you know? :
[But] I have read stuff that would go on and on and on about how brooding and dark and melancholic [our sound] was. And certainly we all feel that way from time to time. There’s a whole industry set up, making billions of dollars a year, making pills to make people feel one way. That’s there, and it’s a valuable part of our experience right now, but it’s not all we want to express. I don’t even think it was really a fair estimation of what we were doing anyway-I thought it was kind of lazy-but I heard it so much. : It was tiresome.
Among the whole thing of having to talk about it, and having to answer questions related to a bio or related to what other people already said, it gets mind-numbing. It’s crazy fucking boring. So even if just to change things for that sake, it was worth it in a lot of ways.
TV on the Radio will play the Majestic Ventura Theater (26 S. Chestnut St., Ventura) on Thursday, April 16, at 7 p.m. For tickets and information, call 653-0721 or visit venturatheater.net.