Concert preview: TV on the Radio still looking for answers on the spacious Seeds

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Seeds, the fifth full-length from experimental rock collective TV on the Radio, arrives awash in far more questions than answers.

“How much do I love you?” Tunde Adebimpe bellows at the outset of “Quartz.” “How hard must we try?”

Similar uncertainties surface over the course of the album’s dozen tracks, Adebimpe and fellow frontman Kyp Malone singing: “Should we stay? Should we go?”; “Can you feel that rumble?”; “Could you open up your heart?”

“It was more about trying to look at myself and how I relate to other people and to this world and this life,” said Malone, who joins his bandmates for a concert at Newport Music Hall on Friday, May 15, of this more inquisitive approach. “I listen to a lot of contemporary music and hear a lot of braggadocio, and … I can’t imagine actually feeling that way every day. I imagine there must be a day where you feel like shit, and you still have to tell everybody you are the shit, and that would make me feel super crazy. But that’s me. Maybe I should start writing those songs. Maybe that’s a good exercise for getting one’s vibe up: talk about how fucking badass you are, even if you’re not badass all the time.”

This on-record vulnerability could have been sowed, at least in part, by the difficulties the TV on the Radio mates have struggled to overcome in recent years, including, most prominently, the 2011 death of bassist/keyboardist Gerard Smith, who passed away following a bout with lung cancer.

Growing up, Malone never considered himself the questioning type — “I think I was mostly just floating around in a dream world,” he said of his childhood — though he recognizes and admires the quality in those closest to him, including his daughter.

“My kid, she’s a young woman, and she’s a ‘why?’ person,” Malone said. “I always try to answer her, even if the answer is, ‘I don’t know the answer to your question.’ I think that’s a quality that should always be encouraged in people. And it hasn’t gone away with her; she’s still seeking answers.”

It’s a drive familiar to TV on the Radio, which, for the better part of 15 years, has continued to stake out new sonic terrain, shifting from the muddy, hurricane swirl of Return to Cookie Mountain, released in 2006, to the comparatively pristine, futuristic funk tunes populating the shimmering Nine Types of Light.

The spacious Seeds continues this evolution, pushing the vocals closer to the foreground and further pruning back the band’s once thicket-dense sound, like a garden bed prepped for spring planting.

“Everyone wants the opportunity to keep growing and keep challenging themselves as musicians and artists,” Malone said of the group’s constant reinvention. “Ultimately I don’t think any of us are that interested in doing the same thing over and over again.”

With Seeds, this sonic shift can be attributed to a number of factors, including the decision to move recording sessions from the band’s longtime stomping grounds of New York to sunny Los Angeles, a city a handful of the band members, including Adebimpe, currently call home.

“It’s a different way of life in L.A. You have access to places that are more contemplative and have the potential to encourage that kind of thing — meditative spaces like the Huntington Gardens or Griffith Park,” said Malone, who still lives in Brooklyn. “And sometimes we had access to quality marijuana … that could potentially lead to a wild epiphany or navel gazing, or maybe some mixture of the two. You can get good weed in New York, but it’s a different vibe than in California with the quasi-legal aspect of it there.”

The album’s reflective bent was further heightened by the passage of time. Much of the writing took place as the bandmates entered into their late 30s and early 40s, an age, Malone said, that naturally lent itself to increased introspection.

“I definitely feel when you get to the other side of 35 it’s time to take stock of some things,” said the singer, now 42. “It’s a typical developmental stage for human beings.”

Admittedly, few bands stick together long enough to experience this stage as a unit, and as TV on the Radio preps for its 15th anniversary, which arrives in 2016, Malone is careful to recognize the achievement.

“I’ve been thinking about that and trying to appreciate that while we’ve been touring this record,” the singer said. “You can’t fake time spent together, and I feel fortunate to still be able to play with people who inspire me both as musicians and as artists. The relationship that one gets to build over that length of time is certainly not something to be taken for granted.”

Photo credit TV on the Radio

Newport Music Hall

7 p.m. Friday, May 15

1722 N. High St., Campus