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Tv On The Radio

Interview von: Matthias Rauch mit Jaleel Bunton, am: 29.06.2006 ]

Wie oft durfte man schon von Bands lesen, von denen mit verstörender Überzeugung behauptet wurde, dass sie Klassifizierungen und einengende Genreschubladen hinter sich gelassen hätten. Häufig handelt es sich hierbei schlicht um ein billiges und oberflächliches Zusammenwürfeln von sowieso schon verwandten Stilistiken. Doch es wird weiterhin dummdreist der nächste große Entwurf innerhalb der allgemeinen Hype-Hysterie herbeigeredet. Glücklicherweise gibt es immer noch genügend Bands, auf welche diese Lobpreisungen zumindest stellenweise tatsächlich zutreffen. TV On The Radio aus Brooklyn gehören ganz ohne Zweifel dazu. Anlässlich ihres phänomenalen neuen Albums „Return To Cookie Mountain“ sprachen wir mit Jaleel über afro-amerikanische Sozialgeschichte, die postmoderne Verheißung der Rekontextualisierung und Prince.


Musicscan: Tell me a little bit about the creative process for this album. Did you approach it any differently than your previous releases?

Tv On The Radio: The most interesting thing of the creative process for this record to me is that the band has grown over the years. I played a bit on the last record but I was just coming into the band as they already worked at the record. This is the first album were all five of us really started together. This band is more like a laboratory and it is a really good way to record music. Some bands are trapped by what they can play. It goes along the line of: we’ll write the song, we’ll practice the song and we’ll record the song. In this band we are almost working scientifically, just like in a laboratory. Everybody plays everything. So you have a canvas and Tunde or Kyp will kind of start the canvas and then everyone experiments on this canvas. So we all come up with something we like. There is never a situation where someone sits down to rehearse a song. That is not what we are about. It is about brining a sound to the canvas which I think is cool.

Musicscan: Do you sit down and discuss things before you start or does that always evolve naturally?

Tv On The Radio: No, there is absolutely no discussion about that. We are all very different aesthetically, but there is something that is the same and that is why we play together. There is a lot of trial and error. But we never think that we now want to write a song that sounds like something in particular. Everyone intuitively understands what the song is doing and we just work towards finishing it.

Musicscan: The new record sounds a lot more laid back and relaxed to me somehow compared to “Desperate Youth…”. Does that reflect how you have felt lately?

Tv On The Radio: Absolutely not (laughs). I couldn’t imagine anything further from the truth, but maybe it is an expression of an increased anxiety. If the world around you is a little more hectic, you need something to balance that and maybe that is why the art world is a little more relaxed in the sense of a safe haven. To me it is both, though. At one time it is extremely relaxed at times and sometimes it is so spastic that it is the exact opposite, but that is just me.

Musicscan: What makes for the perfect song in your opinion? Have you ever achieved something like a perfect song in your opinion?

Tv On The Radio: I try to only respond to music emotionally. I used to think that it was really important to be cutting edge and to not repeat as a musician. That used to be the most important thing and it is still important to me in a way. We have a Charles Mingus, we don’t need another one. But I think it is easy for some people, myself included, to get lost in the art for art sake, being experimental for the sake of being experimental. I really value that and there is a lot of innovation and it broadens the imagination and it makes the realm of possibilities larger. It is a real gift and a motivating thing when someone designs outside of the box and thus makes the box larger for everyone. But at the same time I was caught up in these weird art forms asking myself if I liked it and then I realized that I don’t because when I like something, I like it right away. It is an emotional response and not an intellectual response. I can appreciate music that is cutting edge, but when I hear an Aretha Franklin song or a Black Dice song I think it is perfect. I have a connection to it or I don’t.

Musicscan: Do you think there are still genuinely new sounds to be discovered or can modern music basically be said to be a recombination of already existing forms and elements?

Tv On The Radio: There are new sounds. New sounds are made through hybridization. Do I think that there is going to be a new electric guitar or a new moog? Well, I think it is possible. But instead of sitting around waiting for someone to come up with a new instrument, I use hybridization for me to advance, to create wonder – because that is what new sounds ultimately do. That is what I like about this band. We will take a drum beat and sample the live drum beat and we will then dismantle it and re-mantle it in Pro Tools.

Musicscan: So do you think that this aesthetic or mode of hybridization and recombination has always been there or has that evolved as the predominant artistic form of expression within postmodernism?

Tv On The Radio: No, I think it has been like that for quite some time. If you look at it stylistically, there have always been mixtures and combinations: blues and jazz, for instance, or country and rock. Some combinations seem to work better than others. One of my favorite eras is the classic rock era. There is a reason why it is called classic rock, because it was really profound. It was a combination of technology, traditional blues with the spirit of the times. So I don’t think this is a very new phenomenon.

Musicscan: Is there something like a main theme lyrically on the album that you could identify?

Tv On The Radio: No, not really. Tunde and Kyp are the only writers lyrically and only once in a while there is a lyric from someone else. They write complementary. I don’t even want to begin to understand why they work together because they are very different singers and very different writers, but they seem to compliment each other. There is a common thread, but it is not the most obvious. There is a commonality, but I couldn’t say exactly what it is. It is more a commonality in spirit rather than anything else.

Musicscan: Do you think it is possible to be subversive through music?

Tv On The Radio: I think it is essential to be subversive in music nowadays. I can’t relate to music that isn’t subversive in a way.

Musicscan: And how would you identify this subversion in music? Through the musical aesthetics or solely through the lyrical content?

Tv On The Radio: There is a reason why certain things sound true to you when you are writing or recording a song. There is a reason why you choose a certain tone rather than another tone or certain lyrics sound better than other lyrics. It is because they all have this element of subversiveness. For instance, you have a keyboard sound in your mind and it references something. Maybe you want to reference something specifically or you want to take that reference and twist it into something else or maybe you want to reference a Celin Dion sound, but you take it and twist it and turn it backwards. This way you are making a commentary with sound by your choice. In this way, there is always going to be an element of subversiveness.

Musicscan: But now you have to explain to me how a certain sound aesthetic or a re-contextualization of sounds is subversive as such?

Tv On The Radio: Every sound you hear has a reference. There is one particular keyboard sound, for example, that Prince used and was really dominant in that era. If you notice that it references that specific era in your mind. Then it depends on in what context you put that sound. It depends on how you want to use that reference. Maybe you want to be a complete mimic and just copy that sound, which is fine, too, but if you take that sound and place into a different context. Of course, you are right that it doesn’t necessarily have to be subversive but it can be depending on where you place it in the music, depending on how you use it.

Musicscan: Do you think your music reflects the current political climate in the US on a meta-level?

Tv On The Radio: Yes, I do. If you are going to make music that is personable it is impossible to extract politics from it. I would hope that our music is representative of our time. I know it is for me and us as a group.

Musicscan: Do you think it is specific to an African-American experience in the US?

Tv On The Radio: Yes, it is specific to our experience. My personal window is that of an African-American, but Dave’s is not and we still obviously still share a lot. I would hope that it is inclusive of the African-American experience but not restricted to it. It reminds me of what W.E.B. Du Bois stressed that solving the racial conundrum is the main question of our time, not only for us but for all people. It is kind of tragic and also naïve that people will exclude themselves from the plight of minorities because the backlash is not far away. What is a problem for one is a problem for all.

Musicscan: What do you think needs to be done primarily in order to improve the situation for African-Americans in the US?

Tv On The Radio: I spend a lot of time thinking about that. I am trying to be proactive about it. It is really difficult and disheartening. To me the most the most destructive thing that has happened to the African-American community in the States over the centuries is that people have been really robbed of their dignity through the facilitation of commerce through slavery. This is done in a number of ways, one is through language. I just read a really good book about the economics of slavery and it really made sense. In order to keep people in a place where they are controllable you have to leave them subservient. And you need to keep them marginalized and fractionalized. So that was a really smart move by ultra-racist capitalists. It has been so instilled in black people for hundreds of years that they are inferior and that they are less capable and that they need to be dependent. The farther and farther you get away from your sense of independence the more absolute your dependence is. These things are so instilled in black people: “I am not African anymore. I have no language, I have only this dependence and this is my reality. This man is better than me. I have never seen anything else. I have never known anything different to it. Maybe it feels wrong but everything in my world is bolstering this opinion.” It seems to me that the ramifications of that are still very much part of the community. So the solution is to somehow recapture that. I think it has something to do with role models. It is important to show that there is another way. What happened to every member of this band is that someone accused them. My parents are middle-class, my mother is a teacher and my father was a professional. There have been black persons telling me that I spoke white. The tragedy in this statement is so deep because that means that having a good command of the language and grammar belongs the European descend and not the African descent. Intelligence is a universal domain.

Musicscan: What role can music play in this equation?

Tv On The Radio: Music is power, not just in a media and celebrity kind of way, but in a way of portraying honesty. A profound musician deserves profound respect and that is how we operate as human animals. We are mimics and we mimic what is the most charismatic. Even on the street and without the big media platform you notice who has a profound talent and you want to mimic what they do. Music has a very strong unifying power besides that.

Musicscan: You have been in the public eye since your last album for quite some time now? Do you ever read reviews or features about yourself?

Tv On The Radio: Yes, I do. I might stop really soon (laughs). I try my hardest not to take anything so seriously. It is too odd a phenomenon to totally ignore. I think everyone has that fantasy of being invisible in the room or being invisible at one’s funeral and hear what people say about oneself, so I feel like I have a chance to do that. It is funny.

Musicscan: Do you think that this also influences the way you see yourself and your music to some extent?

Tv On The Radio: I try hard not to be influenced too much by what I read. I would love to be a person who is totally immune to that. I really try to be when I feel myself catering to that or experiencing any kind of emotional reaction to it, positive or negative. I try to intervene. So it does probably effect me a little bit, but I do whatever I can to avoid it.

Musicscan: It seems like you are caught up in a little schizophrenic relationship here as I would think that visibility is extremely important, particularly for an African-American artist.

Tv On The Radio: Yes, I think it is important, but whether it is good or not or whether it is fair or not, it is a great responsibility. One of the things I would like to do as an African-American artist is to help solve this racial conundrum. I am equally off-put when someone is flattering to me because of my race like “oh I love black people.” It is bizarre. So in striving for neutrality I don’t want to represent everyone. I just want to represent myself. I know what I think and what my experiences as a black male have been, but I can’t possibly speak for everyone else and it is racist to try to do so.

Musicscan: Is pop music always already global these days or do you think that there are always local specificities that mark and distinguish certain regional and cultural aspects?

Tv On The Radio: I think it is not truly global now, but it might be pretty soon. The reason I moved to New York was to saturate my sense of a community of people who have devoted themselves to making art. New York is a place where people migrate to in order to make art. There is a specific level of intensity and urgency in what they are doing. I wanted to contribute to that and be a part of that. The whole internet brawl makes everything more immediate, so the community is in the process of being global. It is all about being in the proximity of ideas. It is still local, but it will change inevitably.

  TV On The Radio
  4AD Records