Interview: Tunde Adebimpe of TV On The Radio on musical ‘Seeds’, Celebrity Deathmatch, and collaborating with Mike Patton

To say that TV On The Radio is just an experimental rock act is a vast understatement. The New York City band’s ability to meld the styles of punk, noise, new wave, soul, R&B, and funk into one original sound has not only been fairly mind-blowing since their start in the early 2000s, but has also positioned them as one of the most important acts of the past 15 years.

TV On The Radio will be making their presence felt at Boston Calling Music Festival at City Hall Plaza this weekend with a 7 p.m. Sunday set, right before headliners Tenacious D and the Pixies. So it was a the right time to catch up with frontman Tunde Adebimpe to chat about a variety of topics, including last year’s release of spectacular new record Seeds, his time as an animator for MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch, being a music video director, actor, and a visual artist, and who can we expect him to be collaborating with in the near future.

Rob Duguay: TV On The Radio put out their fifth studio album, Seeds, this past November and musically what struck me was you could sense a shifting towards a ’60s psychedelic pop sound along with a good amount of soul and R&B. Were you guys listening to a lot of Motown leading up to going into the studio?

Tunde Adebimpe: We’re always picking up fragments of different types of music pretty much all the time. I don’t know if anyone has been specifically listening to any sort of Motown or anything from the ’60s, not consciously anyway. Usually when we all get together and do a show and tell with our demos they can be in any form, we can write something that might sound close to an R&B song that gets switched into any kind of combination. Not as far as like trap or country, but it definitely mutates into something else. Everybody has got an encyclopedia of music they like in their head and it’s bound to show through whatever you’re doing.

There’s always been a kind of spontaneity to your sound and a very unique way of doing things. What’s it like working with Dave Sitek as a producer versus working with him as a guitar player?

Dave is one of my best friends in addition to being my bandmate so it’s kind of the same thing for me. He’s a great producer and he’s a great guitar player. We’re both kind of geniuses and morons at the same time so it all works out.

One thing about you that people might not know about is that back in the late ’90s you were one of the first animators for the MTV violent claymation show Celebrity Deathmatch. First off, what was it like working on the show? Second, do you think it should be rebooted?

It was a great first animation gig, it was nice to be paid for something that was considered at the time — and still is considered — an archaic form of filmmaking. I actually quit over one of the episodes because while it was a great experience doing stop motion animation it wasn’t a great experience making people kill each other a millimeter at a time for 14 hours a day and 7 days a week. I would love it personally if there were more TV shows and films that were stop motion animated and hand animated. I’m not a guy who’s against everything computer generated but it’s just my personal aesthetic that I like to see someone’s hand in something.

As far as rebooting Celebrity Deathmatch, it’s been almost 20 years since that show has been on and they’ve tried to do a reboot before but I think that the nature of celebrity has shifted so much now that I think the less attention celebrities get the better off the world is.

Along with being a musician you’ve also directed the visual companion video for TV On The Radio’s album Nine Types Of Light, music videos for The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Pin”, and Higgins Waterproof Black Magic Band’s “The Blast The Bloom” — plus doing visual art and acting in a few films. Do you consider yourself a person who is most comfortable when they’re doing multiple things instead of being grounded to just one?

Yeah, I do, I just don’t like waiting around. Any push towards art for me is to deepen my interest in the world and get out of myself. We’re all only here for a short while so we should take in and process as much as we can. I don’t know what else I would do with my time, so I definitely like to stay busy.

Nothing wrong with staying busy. Other than what you’ve done with TV On The Radio, you’ve also done a bunch of collaborations. You’ve been on tracks with the likes of Massive Attack, Tinariwen, David Bowie and a bunch of others. Can we expect you to do any more collaborations in the near future?

There’s this long project that I started working on around seven years ago and we just finished it. It’s a project with Adam Drucker, better known as Doseone, myself, and Mike Patton that I think will finally be out this fall. It’s not just one song, it’s a weird record. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with people who on some level were friends first but there are also a lot of people who’s work I really admire who’ve gotten in touch. It’s always an interesting thing to get into a situation where you have a different set of toys to work with and someone else’s input is floating around.

TV ON THE RADIO, LIVE AT BOSTON CALLING :: Sunday, May 24 @ City Hall Plaza :: 7 p.m., all-ages, $75 :: Advance Sunday tickets :: Weekend tickets :: Facebook event page

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