- Posted on Mar 14th 2011 2:00PM by Kenneth Partridge
From their stark, soulful 2004 debut, 'Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babies,' to the freaked-out, kaleidoscopic art-rock of 2006's 'Return to Cookie Mountain,' these multiracial, multi-instrumental Brooklynites succeeded in soundtracking the Bush years, capturing the anxiousness and uncertainty that defined the era. On 2008's masterful 'Dear Science,' they took a slightly more optimistic stance, giving a generation of indie kids its own 'Purple Rain.'
After a yearlong hiatus, TV on the Radio return next month with 'Nine Types of Light,' an album they recorded in Los Angeles at the home studio of founder David Sitek. Before heading to Austin, where the band will preview its new material at Spinner's Official SXSW Showcase, singer-guitarist Kyp Malone chatted by phone about politics, "post-racial" America and whether he feels his group has hit its creative peak.
You're getting ready to hit the road in support of 'Nine Types of Light.' Are you excited about the tour?
I'm looking forward to going out. We're still figuring out live versions of the new stuff. I'm just excited to be going back on the road. I like traveling. I like touring.
The band took a yearlong hiatus before making this album. When you reconvened, did you gel right away and pick up where you left off?
By degrees. Everyone hopefully in that amount of time is at some different type of place than where we left off. It takes a minute to get back in the swing of it, but we all know each other very well. It's not like we didn't see one another that whole time.
During the break, you made an album as Rain Machine, and David Sitek released one as Maximum Balloon. The other members also did their own side projects. Do you feel like everyone came back to the band with new ways of playing or new ideas to add?
Definitely, every experience you have, you can potentially learn from. I know I learned a lot from a year touring that Rain Machine project, and I definitely hear some refinement in Dave's production techniques, but everyone was having experiences and those all come into play, for sure.
Your songwriting has always been very collaborative. Did that change at all with this record? Did you find yourself trying any different approaches?
[It was] basically the same way. I tried to write with [bassist and keyboardist] Gerard [Smith] more than on the last record. Inside of a group dynamic, different alliances form and different relationships form. Fairly organically, people are drawn to different ways of working and being creative. I wanted to mix it up. I just tried to be a good listener. That's the only thing I can think of. I was trying to be a better listener.
In the past, you've talked about the importance of knowing when to back off of a song and stop layering on more instrumentation. Do you think you achieved that on this new record?
I don't have any objectivity for that one. Things that sounded too busy on 'Cookie Mountain' now sound like a good idea, you know? I don't think we have full control over what comes out, no matter what we think. I hope we don't have full control.
You recorded this album at Dave's house in Los Angeles. It seems like the pace would be slower out there than in New York, and that in a house, rather than a proper studio, you'd be more relaxed. Was that the case?
I don't know if that's true. I mean, maybe some people. I find it kind of alienating. I don't need to be in a house for me to be relaxed. I just need to know I have enough time to do what I need to do. New York is my home, so that's where I feel at home. Beverly Hills, not so much. But that being said, we made the record we made, and making it there probably had a good deal to do with how it came out, and we're all happy with it. I don't want to make all the decisions, so it's fine we did it there, for sure.
So far, you've released two songs from the album, 'Will Do,' which is sort of a love ballad, and 'Caffeinated Consciousness,' which is maybe more what people associate with TV on the Radio. Are these songs are representative of the album on the whole?
I guess those two pieces cover some broad ground, but I believe the record to be more varied than that. It feels like all the pieces stand on their own as much as they work as an album. I feel like there are some surprises, but I could just be deluding myself.
One of the things people talked about with the last record, 'Dear Science,' was how funky it was. Does the new album feature those same kinds of Prince-like grooves?
Probably to some extent, but to a lesser extent. ['Dear Science'] wasn't a put-on, but it's probably not as pronounced.
Another thing you guys have always been good at is incorporating political themes without doing so explicitly or sounding preachy. Do you continue that on this album?
I don't really like using the word "political" to describe writing about the world. I guess it's political on some level, but it's all political. If what we're doing is political, all pop music is political. If you're making music that's just reinforcing the status quo, or the world as it is, I feel like that would be a political act -- just as much as a protest song would be a political act. So much has changed. It doesn't feel like things are more awesome to me. If you want to write a protest song, there's still plenty to rail against in this world, regardless of whether the Democrats got into the White House.
You mention the 2008 election -- it definitely seemed like people talked about your band in the context of this "post-racial" age President Obama was supposedly ushering in. What are your thoughts on that?
I think the idea of a post-racial America is laughable. I don't understand which America people are talking about when they say that. It's a nice fantasy.
I can't control other people's perceptions. I know some of the markers why some people put us in that category -- we're a band made of people of different races -- but Sly and the Family Stone was before any modern thing, any current thing. If that's what people want to see, that's what they see.
You guys have been a band for 10 years. Do you ever think about your legacy as compared to some of the other New York City bands that came out around the same time? Do you keep tabs on, say, the Strokes or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs?
I think about the neighborhood and friends I don't see anymore, and I'm proud of all of that, but I don't know. Ten years isn't enough time to really say, as far as I'm concerned. I don't feel done. I think there's a tendency for an acceleration of trying to canonize things. Jazz, from bop to free jazz -- that's something we have enough time to look back on and understand what it means culturally and the significance of it. The '00s -- I don't feel like I have any objectivity, or anyone has any. I know I liked a lot of the music that's come out of that. I have a lot of friends, and I still see them from time to time, but it's too early to tell what that means, you know? I remember when Seattle was it. That doesn't seem like a good idea anymore, short of Nirvana or Mudhoney. No offense to anybody. It's hard to tell. I know, god willing, I'm not done, and I hope my friends aren't done.
Do you think TV on the Radio could have five more albums in them, or maybe another 10 or 20 years?
That seems highly unlikely, but I'm not a fortuneteller. We'll see. I certainly don't think we've fulfilled out creative potential, exactly, but I also don't think we necessarily have to. We're proud of what we've done so far, and that's a feat in and of itself. I like making music with these guys, and everyone loves one another a great deal. We're family. I don't see the family disintegrating, but whether it remains [TV on the Radio], we'll see. It doesn't matter right now, because we have a record we're very excited about.
Catch TV on the Radio's SXSW Set on Thursday, March 17 at Stubb's (801 Red River St.) 12:30AM.
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