TV On The Radio's New Album 'Seeds' is Whatever You Want It To Be
It's been a long journey for the members of TV On The Radio, but Tunde Adebimpe has finally found the way.
Tunde Adebimpe is feeling pretty good today. His band, TV On The Radio, is releasing their very-anticipated sixth album, Seeds, and he's finishing up a series of paintings and drawings that they're giving away with special preorders of the new record. "Because that's what you've got to do to get people to buy records these days," the singer says, laughing. "No, it's fun, I'm definitely not complaining about it."
"I love making music, I really do, but I love to paint when I can get to it," he continues. "I've been doing it for about three years. I'd like to get to it more, but the band stuff tends to run over it a lot." The "band stuff" Adebimpe refers to is some intense touring following the release of their last album, Nine Types of Light, two off-the-cuff singles last summer, as well as side work like the experimental Higgins Waterproof Black Magic Band, who released an EP last year.
There's a lot of hype around the new album, but it's warranted and expected. Since their first album, 2002's OK Calculator, the Brooklyn band has been praised for their unique, genre-bending songs, attracting a loyal throng of listeners in both fans and critics. Over five albums and several EPs, the quartet has created a sound totally and very recognizably their own, evolving with each record, constantly pushing increasingly unstable boundaries. You always know when you're listening to a TV On The Radio song.
Since the release of Nine Types of Light, the band tragically lost their bass player and creative brother, Gerard Smith to lung cancer. He was only 36 at the time. In spite of that serious blow, they've recovered in a substantial way with Seeds, a chimerical collection of 12 songs, more dramatic and positive than anything they have done before. From the punk-rock vitality of "Lazerray" to the fleeting synths of "Careful You," the new album is sonically more liberated than previous work, an exorcism of any artistic inhibitions, and a cathartic fuck-off to the recent difficult times.
"You go through a bunch of horrible things in your life … just having a place to work it out is good," he says, lowering his voice to almost a whisper. "We had this very salient realization that we don't have to be doing this and the fact that we can and that anybody's interested at all is a super, super lucky thing."
Noisey: You told me this is your favourite record. Why is that?
Tunde Adebimpe: I think because it's just we didn't really over-think anything while making it. The feeling I had from it was similar to when Dave (Sitek) and I started the band and we were in a busted loft drinking too much coffee and staying up way too late and smoking weed and just making a bunch of songs overnight… pretty much every day. It was that same feeling. And I think it's just having done this so long and we know what we're doing. And also the fact that everyone's completely out of bullshit at this point. [Laughs.] We're too old to be wrapped up in any bullshit. There are bigger things in the world than us making music, and I feel that the more aware of that we are, in a weird way, the more focused we can be focused on making something just beautiful to us.
So arguably it's your most honest record then.
I don't know about that. I feel like they're all, for better or for worse, pretty honest. I guess I feel like this is the most direct one, maybe.
What's the story behind the album title Seeds. To me, it says there's some growth and evolution in these songs.
Initially, it just came up as a song title. Taking a break and coming back and making something, deciding that it's worth doing – could be seen as a kind of start over, I guess. There are a lot of base metaphors, like a seed might be dormant for a long time, but it's going to change and grow and it's going to take time to grow. When it gets to the point when it's ready to bloom or something, hopefully you recognize that no matter what comes through, and because of what it had to go through, it's ultimately a beautiful thing that it even exists. But looking back now, it didn't feel like a conscious album theme while we were working on it.
What was writing for the album like? Pretty smooth?
Usually, the way it goes is everybody comes in with a bunch of song sketches. This time around, we had like 65 to 70 sketches and that's kind of a large number, but it was because we had also taken a bit of time off. So everyone would put in the songs they felt the most confident about from their batch and then we combed through to a list of about 20 songs. Then we do a little bit of work on each of the 20 songs and it kind of becomes obvious which 10 to 15 we want to put the time into finishing.
It went really quickly on this record, just song by song. It was sort of unspoken but it kept happening that if the foundation wasn't obvious or recognizable as a song after a few days, we'd just toss it. We'd try to finish the bulk of a song within a week. It was really great working that way, just a lot of fun and a challenge to see if you could actually do it. Also, if a song you really liked was about to go onto the heap, you'd put the extra time into clarifying and improving it.
Before we went on to making the record, we decided, after we had some time off, to make it a piece at a time – even if we weren't ready to make a whole new record. That's when we recorded the "Mercy" and "Million Miles" singles and that went really quickly and easily. I think both of those songs came out really nicely and we all liked them a lot. We thought, "Well, that was so painless, maybe that's what we should do." We kind of thought that every three or four months put out two singles and then collect all those singles into a record or keep on working in pieces. The more we did that, everything kept going so fast and after while, while nobody said it, we ended up making a record and it was sounding pretty good to us.
It's just good all around. It feels like we're all back…like Voltron is back in place. The small parts of the big robot are working as one and not caught up in itself. [Laughs.]
Photo via CrazyBobbles
What are some of themes explored on the album?
I don't usually think in terms of specific themes. It's mostly just putting things down in the order they come out. I guess if I had to break it down, one of the big themes could be the love of something greater than yourself, whether that's the "meaning" of life or the joys and sorrows of the world. It's not necessarily all about interpersonal relationships. Like, "Quartz" to me, isn't about a relationship, it's not people talking to each other about how to work out a relationship. I don't know if it's about a spiritual connection, but it's about collectively eliminating fear in the face of things that might call for you to be fearful of them. Eliminating fear in favour of acceptance, of humanity, regardless of how great or shitty it might be – whether that's actually possible of not, I have no idea. [Laughs.]
And then there are songs like "Careful You" that could be specifically about a situation that you go through, where you're trying to see the positives and negatives of that situation, or just trying to explain it to yourself. And then there's a song like "Lazerray," which is basically a punk song shooting into the past and into the future and slicing through absolutely everything – a beam of light that's not concerned with or even aware of time. "This too shall pass" at hyperspeed. There are a lot of songs questioning whether or not it's a great thing to be connected to this world.
Yeah, but also the whole of idea of seeds, generally, is about the journey of transforming into something else and using the knowledge for transformation as a manual for whatever place you go to next. Hopefully it's a better place, but "better" might be too direct of a word.
Looking back at your six albums, are you surprised at how far you've come?
Yeah definitely. When I think about it, "surprise" is a huge understatement. I remember saying, "I think this is going to last a week. Like, I've got to get back to work after Dave and I play these shows." And that week turned into like, 12 years. I also remember right after we recorded Desperate Youth, Kyp (Malone) and I walked out of the studio at four in the morning and we shrugged and were like, "Well, I guess that's it." [Laughs.] We just thought we'd play some shows around town and go back to work, but that didn't happen.
I feel so lucky that anybody cares about what we're doing. It makes me care more that the whole shared experience is a very vital part of it. We're not trying to be cool…we're too old for that. [Laughs.] It's not about seeing how awesome we can be. I feel like any sort of art should be about connection and that's what we've done and have headed in that direction.
Gen Handley is a writer who is on Twitter.