“Anything in the immediate future that you’re really looking forward to?”
“Maybe getting a root canal performed in Los Angeles so I can stop feeling like I’m getting stabbed inside of the head.”
Kyp Malone, guitarist and singer for Brooklyn-based TV on the Radio, is somewhere in Colorado, and he is in pain. He won’t reveal this until the end of the interview, but it seems prudent to lead with this little bit of information, because while it may not have much to do with his answers, it does lend an air of credulity to his excitement: if a man can sound like they care about something-a record, a tour, a sound-then you can probably be damn sure that he’s not faking.
TV on the Radio’s 2004 effort, “Desperate Youth, Blood Tbirsty Babes,” garnered them the Shortlist Music Prize – awarded to the best album released in the United States that failed to go gold (think the indie Grammy’s – just as arbitrary, but the concert is better), and their new record, “Return to Cookie Mountain” is a strong follow-up. The ghostly vocals, provided by Malone and singer Tunde Adebimpe, are still there, whispering like the wind through shattered glass, but this time the layers of sound go even deeper. Drummer Jaleel Bunton and bassist Gerard Smith flesh out soundscapes previously only occupied by Malone, Adebimpe and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Sitek.
The difference is noticeable, although there’s no harsh move away from their previous sound. While a song like “I Was A Lover” sound more like their older stuff, the new contributors prove their worth on songs like “Hours” and “Playhouses,” which feature the trademark tape loops and fuzz-drenched vocals, but adds a steady hand in the background courtesy of the rhythm section.
Another new contributor shows up on this record: David Bowie. The man formerly known as Ziggy Stardust shows up doing backing vocals on “Province,” leading one to speculate how one would get David Bowie to do backing vocals on something. Are you just in the studio, thinking, “Hey, I think Bowie would sound really good on this. Let’s give him a call.”
Not exactly. “We gave him a bunch of demos and he decided he wanted to sing on that one,” Malone says. “And we thought that would be nice.” Just in case you were wondering, it is.
When they’re not making records with androgynous rock and roll extraterrestrials, the band finds time to dabble in politics. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina last year, they released a free single on the Internet, “Drunk Dry Emperor,” that was, shall we say, a bit critical of certain administrations (sample lyric: “All eyes upon dry drunk emperor
He’s been standing naked for a while … Get him gone … And bring all the thieves to trial”). Asked why other bands are more hesitant to get political, Malone bristles.
“If you’re not saying anything about what’s going on in the world right now, it’s a political statement in and of itself,” he said. “There are issues that you’re trying to escape from. Oftentimes music is an escape, I don’t want to turn on a record and feel like I’m watching CNN. I want the exact opposite, but at the same time I feel like it is our responsibility to comment on what’s going on, and as human beings to try to effect positive change on the world.”
This conscious decision to go a bit against the grain is imbued in their music, too. Malone once joked that any time he ever comes across indie-pop gem “Summer Babe (Winter Version)” style chord progression, he erases it. “I think it’s great, and it made a big impression, so I don’t want to just keep regurgitating things I thought were great,” he said. “That would be a particular kind of gratifying to be writing Pavement songs over and over and over again, but it would also not be rewarding in a lot of other ways.”
So there we go: nothing against anyone else, but TV on the Radio is going their own way.
TV on the Radio will play the 9:30 Club on Oct. 15 at 10 p.m.