Even if Tunde Adebimpe has never been a household name, TV on the Radio, the band he formed with David Sitek in 2001, has persevered and thrived longer than many of its more conventional brethren. By putting out one fully realized musical art project after another, the New York group kept critics' tongues wagging even after a shift to a major label.
Nine Types of Light represents the latest entry into TV on the Radio's bulletproof catalog. But 2011 will be remembered more for a tragic personnel shift. The band's energetic bassist-keyboardist Gerard Smith died from lung cancer at the age of 36 in April, and his bandmates responded with the statement, "We will miss him terribly."
Adebimpe's voice was already a world-weary one, a thick-walled instrument rivaled only by the fractured wellspring of his lyrical cohort Kyp Malone. But if the crew has shown a tender side on songs such as "Love Dog" and "Family Tree" — both from 2008's masterful Dear Science — it's impossible to predict what Smith's passing might bring.
In a recent email conversation with New Times, the TV on the Radio cofounder talked about Nine Types of Light, Occupy Wall Street, the past, the present, the future, and impersonating Prince.
New Times: Where are you and what are you doing?
Tunde Adebimpe: I'm on a plane. I can't complain.
What does the age of the email interview, along with traveling in a speeding bullet with your band, do for your grasp of reality?
Do not have much of a grasp on reality, hence being in a band. It's not helping the minuscule grasp I've got. Hopefully, it'll be loosened completely before I'm 40, Yahweh willing.
How will traveling to Algeria and collaborating with the Malian Tuareg desert blues band Tinariwen change the way you approach your recordings? What was the highlight of that trip?
The highlight of the trip was being invited to spend time with people that I greatly admire as artists and human beings and getting to hear some insanely beautiful music under the stars, in the cradle of civilization. I can't say how it will change my approach to my own recordings, or our recordings as a band.
Kyp got out for the Occupy Wall Street protests. Do you share his sentiments? And how much political discourse in music are you comfortable with?
I think Kyp just went down there to see what was going on, and I don't know what his sentiments are, so I can't agree or disagree. I think it's extremely healthy for people to voice grievances, in song or otherwise.
The character you play in TV on the Radio's "You" video reminds me of a guy I used to see performing on New York City's F train. Can you break down his character development?
The director of the video, Barnaby Clay, had an idea about a down-and-out Prince impersonator that was hilarious to me, so we did it. Character development? Well, it was 5 a.m., freezing-cold on Coney Island, and I had a Jheri curl wig and an ankle-length purple trench coat on. Plus it was my birthday. Sadness ensued. It all felt a little too real, to be honest with you.
You've also done some feature film acting. What did the Rachel Getting Married opportunity open up for you? What else is in the works in that area?
I've been offered a lot of great stuff as a result of that. But I'm just focusing on touring right now.
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How does it feel to have ten years as a band under your belt? How does the OK Calculator stuff sound to you now?
It feels good. It doesn't feel like ten years. The OK Calculator stuff is actually some of my favorite music we've done, and it all sounds great to me. It's kind of like looking at an old picture of yourself and going, "Man, I was a complete mess! I looked awesome!"
Throughout the history of the band, has it ever felt like the whole thing was coming apart? And what ultimately brought you back together?
I think we break up every time we make a record, for a second anyway. And then something shifts and everyone is invested again and interested again, and we make something we're all proud of. I don't know what it is, except that we love each other and annoy each other and piss each other off, like any family. But ultimately, we like the things we make together.