A band that has never shied away from putting their heart and soul into their music is Brooklyn’s TV On The Radio. Their most recent album Seeds appeared following a three year absence in which the band dealt with the loss of bandmate Gerard Smith, while releasing one-off singles and pursuing outside projects. With a recent appearance at the esteemed Sydney Opera House tucked under their collective belts, Chris Berkley of Static caught up with Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone and spoke about the path of reflection and renewal that resulted in Seeds.
It’s good to have TV On The Radio back again and touring. It seemed that when Seeds came out a lot of people were really grateful that you had made another album. They’d missed you this time around.
Tunde: Yeah, and we’re absolutely grateful in return. Also, for me, we’d been touring, basically, for seven years straight, making a record and going on the road, making a record and going on the road. It’s hard to think about anything outside the creative work and the physical travelling that you’re doing, but I think with taking a break I just started hearing from various friends how much people liked our band (laughs) so I feel really lucky to get to do that.
Not that they haven’t said nice things before…
Tunde: Yeah, but when it’s coming from friends or people you trust their opinions or people who you run into on the street who are incredibly friendly and kind and are cool about telling you how what we’ve done means something. We’re totally super lucky if that’s the case.
Did it feel for a while after Nine Types of Light that you might not make another TV On The Radio album? That was a pretty difficult experience in the fact that Gerard died right after it came out, you obviously had to get through it and tour it. Was that a rough 12 months or so to be in the band?
Kyp: Of course it was difficult. Death is a super painful experience for those who survive the person who leaves, and we all know each other in the context of our creative work together and the life that we shared inside of that. So for better or worse it was the best possible place to be after losing our brother and friend.
Was that because you were all around each other and looking out for each other while on tour?
Kyp: It’s not ideal. It would’ve been better to go away somewhere where there’s grief counsellors and therapists or something, but that’s not the way capitalism works. I think there’s actually been other times where it seemed like there wasn’t gonna be a band that much.
Tunde: Like after every record (laughs).
Kyp: After every major touring cycle, you know.
Those moments when someone takes their shoes off at the wrong point in a band. That’s when you really think you’re not gonna make another record.
Kyp: Or their psychic shoes off. Their psychic foot stink. (laughs)
Was there much soul-searching then when it came time to making new material? Interestingly enough you did that between albums with the single “Mercy” which was an incredible aggressive statement in the middle of the two albums that you’ve just done.
Tunde: Yeah, the great thing about that it was just a thing of our volition. I don’t know if “fun” is the right word, but actually it was fun to hang out, primarily just to hang out, but if we made something it would be great and “Million Miles” and “Mercy” came out of that and went really quickly. I think it’s good. Anything that anyone is doing especially if you’re doing it for a sustained period of time I think it’s the best thing in the world to drop it for a while and come back to it with new experiences and from a different perspective, so it doesn’t get pointless to you. Doing those two songs felt like a very healthy thing and the idea was just to keep making singles. I think the idea was to put whatever singles got made into a compilation that we would call an album.
It seems again that when you’re so many albums in you do have to change up even that idea of how you’re going to go about making a record or approaching writing songs together if you’ve all been around one another for a over decade or more.
Kyp: Things change anyway because everyone’s having experiences and creative experiences outside of the band and that ends up influencing orientation towards the creative process. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a conscious “let’s sit down and figure out how we’re going to make it different”.
It seems as time goes along TV On The Radio have got better at embracing your pop side or making those more euphoric kind of tracks. Have you been conscious of that happening?
Tunde: Not particularly. I think whenever we make something it just comes out the way it comes out. Also the weird thing as far as our pop sensibilities go, I feel like for us, many songs, even records that we’ve made, sound like pop to us. It’s definitely not the case on a global scale (laughs).
But it felt the first couple of albums were a lot more claustrophobic and dense. As time has gone on you guys have let a bit more sunshine in.
Tunde: There’s a lot more space on the songs, absolutely. Like I said when something comes out the way it’s gonna come out, I feel like just as you grow as a creative person and whatever path you’re going down you can start to see where you’ve been or just feel where you’ve been in your bones. It’s not even a fear of back-tracking, just to go forward there has to be an evolution or higher thinking about things or putting things together and I feel like when we’ve made records that felt more claustrophobic it was a pretty claustrophobic time and that’s what came out.
Does it feel like you’re paying more attention to the personal rather than the political as well these days? A track like “Trouble” I could never have seen existing on one of those earlier records. It’s almost like a salve, that song.
Tunde: Yeah, happily so. I feel like that is, if you’re gonna go into definitions of political, I think the amount of solace that you can give yourself and other people should be the root of any sort of politcal movement. For us it’s definitely not, but I feel like the idea of being a better person yourself so you can actually help someone else, I think it could be seen as a revolutionary idea.
Do you get those fun coming up to you and telling you they got married to TV On The Radio songs or some tracks have helped them out of difficult periods?
Kyp: It happens, yeah, and that’s beyond flattering if someone is incorporating something that you worked on into their life on that intimate level. It’s inspiring. That’s great feedback to get.
They must use those songs for things you’d never imagine they turn up in.
Kyp: Oh yeah, I hope people are doing some weird, weird, weird shit with what we’re putting out.
Tunde: I hope so too.
You mentioned earlier you guys really embraced time outside the band and side projects and things like that to give you a bit more identity away from TV On The Radio. Now the pair of you have done acting the last few years. Is that a great thing away for the band to be able to take yourself out of the character as a musician and do something completely different?
Tunde: I really think it’s important to do everything you want to do. I think there’s some times the whole idea of “oh, you’re spreading yourself” but not if you put yourself into things 100% no matter what you’re doing. Being a part of a film is great as far as being different from a band you’re not the center of attention in a way. If you’re written a movie and acting in it, that’s more like being in a band but if you’re working off of a script, it takes so many people to make a movie you feel a part of something that’s just way, way bigger than you and that’s a really refreshing thing too. It’s always great to be on a set and see how things work.
At the same time, so many years in a band must prepare you for conflict resolution and working well with others and that kinda thing. It must’ve stood you in good stead.
Kyp: You would hope. It depends. (laughs)
When you’re both Oscar-nominated I’ll talk to you again and see how you feel.
Tunde: (laughs) When we’ve mastered conflict resolution in Hollywood.
Interview broadcast on Static on 11th June 2015. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3 FM) and via the Internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening (AEST).