Talking with Kyp Malone and Papatunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio

At the end of the tour.

TV on the Radio is wonderful. The band’s two recorded releases are fascinating blends of garage-rock energy with studio savvy and electronic wizardry. What the band’s members began last year with an EP called “Young Liars” has come to fruition with their debut full-length, “Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes,” released this year by Touch and Go Records. Their live shows are amazing feasts of rock and roll, made all the better by a band that really seems to enjoy playing its songs.

TV on the Radio has been skirting the border between having-a-reputation-among-people-in-the-know and actually-becoming-famous for some time. Before its untimely cancellation, the band was scheduled to play the main stage at Lollopalooza, on the same day as The Pixies. Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe were generous enough to spare 10 minutes after the last show of their recent tour at the Supreme Imperial.

Matt Fishel: You guys are getting really big right now. How do you like that? (Malone shrugs and grins, they both shake their heads.) Big for an indie rock band, yeah. People talk about you.

Kyp Malone: Were you in the same room we were in tonight? (laughs)

MF: You didn’t feel it?

Malone: I had fun tonight. I had a really fun time, but …

Tunde Adebimpe: (laughing) I feel really detached from a lot of that shit right now.

MF: Really?

Adebimpe: Yeah.

MF: How long has your tour been?

Adebimpe: This feels like two months to me, but I know that’s not true.

Malone: Actually we’ve been out since, like, the middle of February, with a week off here and a week off there.

MF: Well, I heard about you guys through a friend of mine, which is kind of how it goes. But since then, I’ve heard people talk about you, I’ve read about you, and I’ve seen you on the Internet here and there. I think you guys have an amazing live set. This is what’s interesting about the band: The live set is not the same as the record. There’s the same spirit, which is that pounding, “This is rock and roll, ladies and gentlemen” attitude. I feel like there is no other band like TV on the Radio right now. I can never mistake any other band for you guys.

Adebimpe: (joking) Visually or sonically?

MF: (laughing) Yeah, I was gonna get to that later, if you felt comfortable answering that question.

Malone: Yeah. Any black man between 20 and 35 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is in TV on the Radio right now, apparently — as far as I’ve seen from shows we’ve played.

Adebimpe: Sonically, I guess you’re talking about right now?

MF: I am. I really am.

Adebimpe: Oh, I totally know. We’re completely fucking kidding. I don’t know but … Honestly, this is just me being at the end of the tour and just kinda … I think we had a really good show, but at the same time, I don’t have any energy left for anything but really having fun right now. (to Malone) I know right before the show, we both said, “Well, that’s it.” And I’m just like a fucking stick figure right now, so let’s see what happens.

MF: I’ve got a question for you: the loops. Everybody gets credit for certain loops on the inside of the jacket. I guess what I’m wondering is whether you sit down at home with your personal studio and assemble everything, and then get together as a band and figure, “Well, shit. Now we’ve gotta play this song live — How are we gonna do that?”

Malone: It happens all different kinds of ways. Sometimes we write things together, improvise together, and then record those improvisations and turn them into structured songs. Other times, we’re just four-tracking stuff on our own, you know?

As far as turning from studio to live, I think there was, like, a minute where we were trying to really emulate what was happening in the studio in a live setting, but it became boring and stupid. The studio is the studio. A rock show is a rock show. Not to say that we’re gonna always be jumping up and down, ’cause we’re already pretty old to be jumping up and down.

Adebimpe: I feel that way, but I still like jumping up and down, so …

MF: I feel sometimes like I kinda didn’t get it in high school, and I waited ’till college to find out about jumpin’ around and shit. I feel like I missed time, but it’s kind of nice to hear someone say that they feel that way.

Adebimpe: A lot of that spirit, too, is that it’s nice to be writing … I feel old and I don’t feel old.

MF: How old are you guys, if you don’t mind?

Adebimpe: Twenty-nine.

Malone: Thirty-one.

MF: Okay. That’s about the right age to be in a really good band. I wanted to talk about lyrics for a moment, if I could. Does Tunde write all the lyrics, or do you both write lyrics?

Malone: We both write lyrics.

MF: I feel like they’re not a typical libretto for a rock record. The lyrics are apart, I think, from the mainstream. They’re more structured, as far as meter. There’s an element of poetry to TV on the Radio. Do you guys squirrel yourselves away for hours and hours? Is there a natural flow to what you write?

Malone: No, now we just tour, and it’s very difficult to do anything but …

Adebimpe: (finishing his thought) … touring. It’s hard. I just can’t do it.

Malone: Well … (to Adebimpe) But you write all the time. Actually, you write more than anyone I know, even people who call themselves writers. Just journal-keeping — and while that can be looked down upon as not actual “practice,” but that’s writing. Lines that mean something.

MF: So, is 2004 the year of TV on the Radio, or is gonna be 2007?

Malone: Oh, but what does that mean?

MF: I’m sorry. I figured I’d ask a strange question and see how you react.

Adebimpe: That’s totally fine, but … the autograph signing thing. Did you see that?

Malone: Yeah, that was weird.

Adebimpe: The guy came up to us, and he had a folder. You know, after a show somebody wants you to sign their CD, whatever. That’s great. But this guy had a CD, and pictures he downloaded from the Internet, all together in a binder. He was like, “Will you sign these for me?” and I said, “No, I can’t. Those are just a bunch of weird pictures of us.” And I wanted to sign the CD, but I got a look at the other stuff, and I didn’t even want to sign the CD. It was too weird.

So he said, “How about just one with my name?” Which is fine. That’s what I do, but he had this weird press kit that it seemed like he was trying to get stuff on top of. Then he said he went through a lot of work to download the pictures from the Internet, and he was kinda implying that “You kinda owe it to me.” But that’s a picture that my friend Ludis took. Get Ludis to sign it. And whenever I would get people to sign comics or whatever, I was getting them to sign their work, not an image of them. And I don’t wanna be a dick about it, but he gets into the whole “I’m not gonna sell it” thing, which is even the more fucked-up thing: that by putting my name on it, it gives it monetary value. It’s not a check.

Malone: Yeah, and we’re fucking broke, and my teeth are falling out of my head. It seems kind of absurd to me that someone could be making money off my picture. I don’t even have a bank account right now.

MF: There was a baseball player who, when he retired to Florida, would always pay at restaurants with checks, because there was a good chance that they wouldn’t cash it. They’d just put it up on the wall because it had his signature on it.

Adebimpe: Did you ever see that “I am Picasso” skit on Saturday Night Live? Where Picasso is going from restaurant to restaurant and signing the paper table mat, and it starts to wear really thin.

MF: You know the Modern Lovers song, right?

Malone: Yeah.

MF: Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole. Not like you. Not in New Jersey. You guys are from New York, right? Do you live in New York, in the city? In the suburbs?

Malone: I live in Brooklyn.

MF: Okay, would you rather listen to They Might Be Giants or Mos Def, since they’re both from Brooklyn?

Malone: I like both of them.

Adebimpe: I’d like to listen to both at the same time, actually.

Malone: Yeah, that’d be great if they did a split record.

MF: Well, you guys have been very generous with your time. You played an amazing show tonight. I want to say, thank you very much. It was cool to see the local kids playing with the out-of-towners. I’ve got to believe that seeing Katrina Ford get up and sing “Staring at the Sun,” at the very least, is not going to happen very often. Maybe next time you come to Baltimore, if we’re lucky.

Malone: Maybe. I don’t know. She’s a fucking inspiration to us.

Adebimpe: She totally is.

Article © 2004 by Matthew Fishel