TV on the Radio – Interview with Jaleel Bunton (2008)By Craig Smith • Nov 4th, 2008 • Category: Interviews
Having just released one of the stand-out (and Webcuts approved) albums of 2008 with the awe-inspiring brilliance of Dear Science, Static’s Chris Berkley spoke to Jaleel Bunton, drummer of Brooklyn’s roof-raising TV On The Radio as the band embark on their American tour.
Webcuts was on hand recently to see TV On The Radio debut their new album live in front of a packed and heaving audience at Cargo in London. The expectation ahead of Dear Science and the anticipation of those waiting within (not to mention the hundreds locked outside) provided for an entertaining and exciting show. New tracks like “Dancing Choose” and “Crying” got their first airings while reworked versions of old classics like “Wolf Like Me” and “Staring At The Sun” proved that TV On The Radio are constantly evolving and constantly moving forward.
Currently amping up audiences all across America, we caught up with Jaleel to ask him about the recording of Dear Science and the current state of TV On The Radio affairs.
How are you holding up? The tour hasn’t been too stressful so far?
It’s been stressful (laughs). It’s been a little stressful, but you know it puts us to good work.
Is it getting harder or easier this making albums and touring them?
It’s a progression. In some ways it’s a lot easier without nine people crammed into a six person van, as was the case for a little while.
When you’re in the studio are you conscious of a point of not repeating yourself? Was Dear Science an easy record to get out?
It’s funny. I’ve been asked that question a few times. Different people have different motivations with what they make and what they do. It’s not too difficult for us to not repeat ourselves because we have no desire to. I just can’t find the aesthetic motivation to do it. It’s not what we get out of music. We don’t get any kind of challenge from doing the same thing over and over and over. In a way, no, that’s not the difficult part. It wouldn’t be any fun to do it otherwise.
So was there an idea in mind for when you went to make Dear Science and what kind of record it would be?
We really wanted to make a record that got finished (laughs). As long as we were able to make a record that got finished, we were willing to accept wherever that lead us.
It seems like TV On The Radio’s ‘pop album’. There seems to be a bit more buoyancy about this record.
It’s something that’s come up a lot. I guess I didn’t realise how depressed we are (laughs). The problem with that is we’re not so morose that’s it’s all a melancholy lament. That’s what people expect from us, but to us it’s a kind of a surprise, but we’re obviously multi-faceted people and there’s a lot of different shades to our personalities. Maybe it’s kind of new, as a voice of TV On The Radio, but as far as I know, and the other people in the band and what work they’ve done, I feel like it’s an aspect of our personalities that only existed in each of us as?un-medicated voice.
Even the slower songs like “Family Tree” don’t seem as dense though. There’s a real elegance about those tracks.
Elegance is an excellent trait. I feel that “Family Tree” is my favourite song on the record. I think also there’s a bit of maturity that happens, with the whole arc of this band’s success, whatever that is. It’s really surprising, we never expected much success out of it. I joined the band thinking I was going to drum for a friend of mine and have to go back to my job as a bartender. I never expected this and didn’t think it was some great moral leap, we’re kinda inept in how to do what we do. Everyone in this band is kinda out of their element. We’re limited in our approach to music. Tunde was never really a musician. Dave’s not really a guitar player. I’m really a guitar player, not a drummer.
Dear Science also sound pretty loose for TV On The Radio – “Red Dress” is kinda funky, and “Dancing Choose” as well. It even goes the playful step further of rhyming “action pose” with “axl rose”.
Yeah that still cracks me up, but that’s ok to crack yourself up sometimes.
Is Dear Science a bit more of a personal record then for a band who wrote “Dry-Drunk Emperor” about George W. Bush in an election year especially, there doesn’t seem to be anything that overt on Dear Science. There’s sex odes like “Lovers Day” on this record.
I don’t really write the lyrics and a lot of times that’s how the political context comes across. A lot of that is borne out of conversations and dialogue that we have amongst each other. You want to feel like what you’re doing is your making a sound, a universal global validity that’s not just about you and your girlfriend. With politics especially, you run the risk of being didactic and sometimes it can be at odds with the music for us musicians. If you’re so hell-bent on pumping your political message down someone’s throat quite often you lose the message. So maybe we’re conscious to not do that, to not take that step of making political stances rather than musical stances.
I guess inbetween writing TV On The Radio songs, you guys all keep really busy on the side and even between records there’s always a lot of projects going on. It would take days just to talk about them all, but I do want to quiz you on one thing that not only your bandmate Dave Sitek produced but also you played on, the Scarlett Johansson record.
Of course. I knew that was going to come up. I guess you had to ask (laughs).
Well let’s face it, Dave Sitek is on every second record that comes out, but you pick and choose a bit more yourself, but the pair of you teamed up for Tom Waits covers. How was it for you guys working outside the realm of TV On The Radio and doing a project like that with those songs in particular?
Well, I can only speak personally, but really the thing that impressed me about the whole experience was the lack of hubbub, you know. I didn’t know what to expect, I’m not in that world of a-list starlets which has gotta be super insane. I kinda expected it to be a little more entourage-y. I was definitely impressed. It was just me, Dave, Scarlett and the musicians that were playing. There wasn’t any special treatment or catering or handlers or any weird stuff like that. It made me feel a lot more comfortable about working on the project.
It was reassuring for us as well to see the end result. It’s nice to read that you guys were doing the album with Scarlett as it obviously could’ve gone so wrong with any other people.
I’d heard some previous attempts and it was a little weird.
It’s a good family Jaleel, and I hope that you can bring at least part of that extended family back to Australia at some point.
It’ll be great. I can’t wait to go back to Australia.