TV On The Radio - Biography
By Marcus Kagler
TV on the Radio was still gestating when New York City became an indie rock hot bed around the year 2000. In hindsight, missing out on The Strokes bandwagon or the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s hype machine and certainly the abysmal foe-art electroclash dance party, was probably the best thing that could have happened to such a belligerently high concept/ high art rock band like the Brooklyn based quintet. Reveling in dense swaths of electronics, waves of guitar distortion, and the surreal poetry of singer Tunde Adebimpe, TV on the Radio are hardly radio friendly. Since their inception in 2001, the band has steadily followed their own path, which runs well outside any “scene” journalists have attempted to paint them into. As is the case with all great bands, TV on the Radio stands powerfully on their own, for there isn’t a band who sounds quite like them before or since they appeared on the radar. Dark, sensual, violent yet beautiful, obtuse yet melodic are all apt descriptions of the band’s unique sound. Despite their persistent lack of mainstream exposure, TV on the Radio have garnered a rabid worldwide following and critical darling status with the two full length albums they’ve produced so far standing resolutely in the upper echelons of the American indie-rock canon.
Founding member and multi-instrumentalist David Sitek formed TV on the Radio in 2001 after moving into an apartment building in New York City where vocalist Tunde Adebimpe was also living. Although both share a background in painting, and in Adebimpe’s case stop motion video shorts, they had also been dabbling separately in avant-garde music, with Sitek producing releases by fellow New York indie artists the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s and The Liars. The duo soon began writing and self-recording their own compositions with Sitek’s brother, Jason, filling in on drums. The result was the rare self released 24 track collection, OK Calculator (2002), which featured a heavier electronic and turntablism element not indicative of their later work. After signing to the venerable Touch & Go label, the duo crafted their official debut EP, Young Liars (2003 Touch & Go) which better represented their fusion of shoegaze, hip hop, and African tribal drumming elements while also featuring Yeah Yeah Yeah’s guitarist Nick Zinner on the signature track “Staring At The Sun”. Guitarist/vocalist Kyp Malone was added as an official member a short time later, quickly becoming an integral songwriting partner to Adebimpe and Sitek. The vocal harmonizing between Malone and Adebimpe would quickly became an integral component to TOTR’s overall sound, with Malone often layering his upper register melodies over Adebimpe’s guttural poetics. By later releases, the duo’s vocal harmonies became so complex it was often difficult to separate Malone’s parts from Adebimpe’s.
Following a tour supporting The Fall, the band recorded their debut full length, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (2004 Touch & Go) as a three piece. Combining dense atmospherics, hip hop, funk, psychedelic rock, free jazz, and elements of doo wop with Abedimpe’s socio-politically charged rhetoric regarding race relations and the post-911 world, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes was an immediate critical success, spawning a modest indie radio hit with a reprisal of “Staring At The Sun”. The band subsequently embarked on a worldwide tour supporting Pixies, one of their biggest influences. In order to satiate their growing fanbase, the band released anther EP, New Health Rock (2004 Touch & Go), which won the 2004 Shortlist Prize but was later criticized for lack of new content.
TOTR entered Sitek’s Stay Gold studio the following year to record a follow up, adding drummer Jaleel Bunton and bassist Gerard Smith as full time members in the process. Avid anti-war activists, the group subsequently released the free download track, “Dry Drunk Emperor”, a protest song heavily criticizing the policies of President George W. Bush. The higher production values of Return to Cookie Mountain (2006 4AD) highlighted TOTR’s hypnotic genre experimentalism with impressive results, and even featured the legendary David Bowie on back-up vocals for the track “Province”. As a testament to TOTR’s broad popularity, the band’s blistering in-store performance at Amoeba Music Hollywood on September 23, 2006 was packed to the gills, with excerpts later released as the live EP, Live at Amoeba Music (2007 Interscope). TV on the Radio is currently recording their third full length titled Dear Science, (Interscope) slated for a Fall of 2008 release.