When any band makes the jump from an indie label to a major, questions about creativity and integrity start to crop up.
TV On The Radio was no exception when it moved from Touch & Go to Interscope for its latest release, Return To Cookie Mountain. “A lot of people wonder about that more than we do,” producer/guitarist David Sitek told Pollstar. Sitek recognized a major-label marketing budget means increased exposure but said he and the band are “in a whole different world” when on the road. Luckily, TV On The Radio has agent Sam Kirby and manager Sara Newkirk to lean on. Newkirk – who, like Kirby, works out of William Morris Agency’s New York City office – came on board in 2005 as the group began evaluating its options. “I can honestly say, hands down, [Sara’s] probably the greatest person I’ve ever known,” Sitek said. “She’s amazing.”
“She was kind of the impetus for us making a lot of the adjustments and changes that we needed to make,” he added. “She’s just, in general, a pretty incredible person. The amount of change that this band goes through – the magnitude is enormous. Every time we turn around there’s something else we didn’t foresee, and she just makes it manageable. It makes her live up to the title.”
TV On The Radio started as the apartment-bound project of Sitek and vocalist Tunde Adebimpe, later adding guitarist/vocalist Kyp Malone and releasing the Young Liars EP in 2003.
The group’s first full-length - Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes - won the U.K.’s prestigious Shortlist Music Prize in 2004 and earned fans like David Bowie, who contributed backing vocals on Return To Cookie Mountain.
The band began with tours of Europe and North America including opening slots for Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Pixies, and The Faint. Sitek described the group’s early performances, though, as spotty “to say the least.”
“It was pretty crazy,” he said. “We never even really bothered trying to reproduce an album, for a multitude of reasons, one of which is difficulty – carrying all that equipment around that we used to make the record would be impossible. But also I think it’s kind of boring to go and hear the exact same thing loud. I personally don’t like those kind of shows.”
The group still performs the old tunes “in a different light” thanks in part to the addition of drummer Jaleel Bunton and bassist Gerard Smith. Press materials now describe all five members as “multi-instrumentalists” and the band’s live sets have become as integral to its identity as studio work. Sitek had a hard time saying which aspect he prefers.
“I think it fluctuates,” he said. “You know, live [performance] is something temporary and beautiful, kind of like a Polaroid. And we know time will pass and that moment will never be recreated, so that’s kind of fun. … But I think at this particular moment, because you’re asking me while on tour, it would be, ‘We really want to make records.’ We’re a grass-is-greener band.”
TVOTR was mostly quiet during 2005 but kept fans and critics engaged with “Dry Drunk Emperor,” a track released free online in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The politically charged song hinted at the themes that would emerge on Cookie Mountain, although the group doesn’t plan to turn its shows into partisan protests.
“I guess, in a broad sense, we want people to recognize we’re all together and it’s an opportunity ... to not worry about yourself, and just kind of lose yourself in the spirit of things. But we don’t have any particular message that I know of. Maybe we do. Maybe the message is you can be in your 30s and still pretend you’re in your 20s,” he said, laughing.
Last year, TVOTR toured North American arenas supporting Nine Inch Nails and doing a number of headlining dates. The group toured steadily into November, hitting Australia, Brazil, U.K. and Europe in addition to the U.S. and Canada.
In March, TVOTR will launch its most extensive tour ever – a seven-week North American theatre jaunt. The 34-date itinerary includes double gigs in Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Overseas trips are a possibility later in the year.