“We’re always wary of having a specific sound, and a sound had emerged. We were just refining it,” says TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, and he doesn’t sound happy about that development at all. With two critically hailed and creatively daring full-length releases, you’d think he could take solace in the fact that the specific sound that has emerged has won them a legion of listeners and accolades. But while discussing his thought process while writing the band’s third full-length release, Dear Science, Adebimpe acts as if whatever had become familiar was suddenly anathema. The familiar was to be avoided at all costs.
“You get used to doing a certain thing with a certain group of people, even if it’s not specific or nailed down,” he continues, pausing to do an interview while taking a break for lunch before a San Francisco show. “I feel like when I’m writing, I realize that certain songs are for TV on the Radio, and certain songs are filed under ‘x’ because I don’t know what to do with them. I feel like for this record, I went into ‘x’ a little bit and just said, ‘OK. Let’s see how this will work for this band.’ I think a song like “Dancing Choose” is something that three years ago wouldn’t have been at the forefront of what I wanted to do. Now, it feels absolutely right to do something like that and have it go with the rest of the songs on that record.”
This time around, it also felt right to flirt with Prince-inspired funk, swooning string-laden soft rock, and retro-fitted synth pop. There are handclaps and horns, wounded falsetto and predatory growls, and it all fits together seamlessly. Adebimpe is right; “Dancing Choose” wouldn’t have fit on either their 2004 breakthrough Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes and 2006’s Return to Cookie Mountain. But it makes perfect sense here, its rush off words, rattling percussion, and fuzzy synths swirling around a soft pop melody that is more approachable and less evasive than most anything found on those releases. For a band that has always colored outside the lines, this is their first real curveball, a loose-limbed take on dance music from a consummately experimental band.
“I guess a dance record would be overstating it,” Adebimpe continues, “but maybe we wanted to make something that moved a little. I guess we wanted a lighter record. Musically, I know we wanted it to be a little bit clearer. Not that they’re stripped down, but for us the sonics are a little more conventional on these songs. The loose constraint was that we’d make something that would be really fun to play live, and whatever fell within those brackets could be really varied.”
In short, those brackets are positioned wide enough apart to allow just about anything that emerged during the process to come up for consideration in front of TVOTR’s five-man committee. What remains mysterious is just how they find enough space between the margins to both coordinate the ideas of five individuals and create something that makes sense as an insular whole.
“It’s a wide page,” he says firmly. “There’s enough for all of us always. A lot of people think that would be the hardest part of being in a group of people, with four other people who are very well rounded, independent creators. You almost feel like there would be a surplus of ideas and everyone would be vying for space, but I feel like everyone appreciates that it’s this place where we can come and put everything in and have a lot of fun with it. I know that if you’ve taken something as far as you can take it, I can take it to Kyp [Malone, guitars/vocals] or Dave [Sitek, keyboards/guitars/production] and they’ll have a suggestion that more often than not will improve on something. I know I’ve made suggestions to them where they’re like, ‘I know that that’s exactly the wrong thing to do, so now I know what the right thing to do is,'” he laughs. “But we’re all on the same page. It’s all page, no book.”
Gerard Smith 34
Dave Sitek 36
Kyp Malone 35
Jaleel Bunton 33
Tunde Adebimpe 33
HOMETOWN: Brooklyn, New York
Adebimpe on the greatest live performer he has ever seen:
When I moved to New York, one of the first people I saw who I felt like made the stage extend into the rest of the room was Ian Svenonius of Nation of Ulysses and the Make-Up. I was at a Make-Up show at the Cooler in New York, and that guy uses the stage for maybe 30 percent of the show, and the rest of it he is climbing all over the rest of it. It goes from that end of the spectrum, to Ian Svenonius who is that much of a showman on stage and is very passionate about what he’s doing, to going to a Lightning Bolt show and sitting on the floor in a ring of people, and it makes more sense than any other show you’ll go to.