The Pistola Press

A Philadelphia music blog

TV On The Radio Interview

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TV On The Radio announced just a few weeks ago that they’re taking a year long break so they can take rest from it all (first reported by MTV). A hiatus that the band earned after the year they had following the release of Dear Science. Gerard Smith(keyboards/bass) dropped by back in June to talk about a variety of things from his art history background, his thoughts on band members who act as the producer, and what he’ll be up to during the band’s hiatus.

gerardsmith_shawnbrackbillPhoto by Shawn Brackbill

Colin: Hey what’s going on?

Gerard: I’m now looking at a rolling hill landscape which I don’t know what people mean by rolling. A series of hills that are laid out before you?

Colin: Maybe it’s never ending…

Gerard: Yeah, wouldn’t that constitute for some kind of strip or wouldn’t it have a different now.. I don’t know.

(Both laugh)

Gerard: Uh, oh, here comes the Home Depot truck.

Colin: Watch out.

Gerard: How you doing man?

Colin: I’m doing pretty well, just hanging out. Enjoying the nice weather.

Gerard: It’s fucking raining here dude. What are you talking about?

Colin: (laughs) Where are you?

Gerard: I’m soaked (laughs). I’m in Sunsbury, Canada.

Colin: Oh, geez. We’re in different countries right now . What are you doing up there?

Gerard: It’s a travel day so we just stopped off here so the driver can rest. Then we’ll make the rest of our way over to Toronto.

Colin: Very cool. I heard Toronto is a cool city, I’ve never been there. I’ve been to Montreal.

Gerard: Yeah, Toronto’s alright. I like it cause they got wicked good West Indian food.

Colin: I’ll have to keep that in mind whenever I make a trip up there. Alright, so how did you guys get involved with The Roots Picnic. That line up’s pretty killer. I mean The Black Keys, Santigold, The Roots, of course, and you guys.

Gerard: Is it SantAgold or SantIgold?

Colin: I think it’s SantIgold. It was SantOgold at one point, I think.

Gerard: Yeah, uhh, The (Black) Keys are gonna be there, really?

Colin: Yeah.

Gerard: Wow, I didn’t know… Well, I know  Jaleel (Bunton), our drummer, always been really active musically. And on top of being active musically he used to bartend at a relatively popular New York bar called Max Fish.

Colin: I’ve heard of that actually. A friend of mine told me a story where he threw up on a famous actor’s shoes the other night. It was pretty funny.

Gerard: Yeah, that’s usually the case.

Colin: I forget the actor’s name (Josh Hartnett) but my friend was pretty proud of himself.

Gerard: I never really went to bars much but I guess that’s kinda the place, a lot of people go there, you know?

Colin: Yeah, I heard it was pretty run down at one point and now it’s making it’s way up.

Gerard: No, well I think…

Colin: Maybe the area was..

Gerard:Yeah, the area was definitely fucking questionable for a good long while. It’s probably no worse than a lot of other places.

Colin: I mean I’m in North Philadelphia and that’s pretty bad.

Gerard: Yeah, no worse than Winnipeg, fucking Canada. Holy shit dude. I thought I was going to get stabbed in the dollar store.

Colin: (laughs) You gotta watch out for that.

Gerard: (laughs) Depending on what you consider a party, I suppose, yeah. So you’re in Philly? That’s a rough town too.

Colin: Yeah, definitely. I go to Temple University, not sure if you ever heard of it. It’s in a rough neighborhood so I have to watch myself sometimes.

Gerard: Yeah, man. That’s the way it was in New York for a while. I went to school at Pratt(Institute) for a little while and man, that place is fucking shady. You know, like buying drugs or buying weed through a wall.

Colin: Through a wall?

Gerard: (laughs) Yeah. You know, you go in and knock on the wall.

Colin: I’ve never experienced that one before. I’ve had some shady encounters.

Gerard: You go into the bodega. Have you ever seen that movie Half Baked?

Colin: (laughs) Yeah.

Gerard: You know that scene where he talks about buying weed?

Colin: Yeah, yeah.

Gerard: And he has to pull his pants down. It was like that.

Colin: (laughs) That’s hilarious but scary at the same time. So you guys are hitting up Bonnaroo as well. Are you excited for that?

Gerard: Yeah, it’ll be interesting. I’m a lot less attentive than I used to be. I have to, unfortunately, inform you. It’s like, “I don’t know. Cause I’m in another spot or something” I’m becoming real absentminded all of a sudden. I left my bag in a really weird spot in a venue and couldn’t find it. I haven’t really been keeping track of..like I used to be really, really, really attentive of where we were in a tour, like how many dates in we had and how days off we had and all that. Now they’re kind of just like.. rolls off my shoulder now. Yeah, I don’t know. I mean it’s always nice playing the festivals but it’s a little bit stressful too, you know?

Colin: Yeah, it’s probably hectic at some points.

Gerard: Everything is super last minute and stuff. It’s like the battle for food. You’re like, “Oh man,” cause if you’re at a festival, you’re nowhere near a place where you could just walk  to, grab some food. Then you’re like, “Geez, do I have enough food to survive? How many meal tickets do we got? Am I going to miss a meal?”

Colin: This is going to be my first time down at Bonnaroo so I’m preparing myself for some craziness.

Gerard: For spectators, that’s totally like the benefit of it, you know? If you’ve been at on the road and you’re getting all groggy and crossed and stuff. You’re like, “Oh man, am I going to make it through this thing?”

Colin: How many days are left…

Gerard: (laughs) Yeah. Well, no. It’s like I said you’re just kind of in the middle of nowhere. Everyday you at least hop on either catching a shower or getting meals in you.

Colin: Meals are important, gotta keep your mind straight. So David (Sitek) produces all your albums. Do you find it beneficial to have him as your producer? Instead of an outside source for the producer role.

Gerard: Well, yeah. I mean cause he’s one of the two founding members of the band. A lot of people sorta overlook that fact. It’s funny like the ‘facts’.. I get a little bit nerdy.  Cause I took a couple of art history classes so I fancy myself to be a little bit of a fake historian.

Colin: (Laughs) It’s cool. You could fool me. I’m not too up to date on my art history.

Gerard: Oh, man. You gotta work on that. So I feel like you kinda got to understand someone’s roots and stuff like that. I was talking with a friend about (Henri de) Toulouse-Lautrec the other day, right? Toulouse-Lautrec from what I recall and what I gather is his parents were first cousins. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a picture of Toulouse-Lautrec but I hope maybe you’ll go look one up after this little conversation. Very short man, that’s a result obviously of his parents being first cousins and what not. But you know I think that was the slight that nature gave his folks for being first cousins. So Lautrec always renders but he’s a great painter. I always looks at the way he paints. The way he painted things was just like… he painted big people so grotesque because he was in this world of like grotesque people. He was this little guy and stuff.

Gerard: So how this connects to the TV On The Radio. I’m saying you know, it’s always nice to know that , like if somebody’s  gonna like report on something or look into something, you figure that cause you this is not Boston. You know, Brian Wilson was the producer for the Beach Boys..

Colin: Yeah and Jimmy Page produced every single one of Led Zeppelin’s albums too.

Gerard: Every fucking Led Zeppelin record and little did I know that he wrote most of the lyrics. The guy’s a genius, one of the greatest. Yet another instance, you got Johnny Marr in the studio. They would do basic tracking then he was the one sitting there doing all the auxiliary tracking after that, you know?

Colin: It’s impressive to see a band member take that role.

Gerard: I totally freaked out when I met that dude. I was like, “Oh my goddd…it’s Johnny Marr

(Both laugh)

Gerard: Think of having to deal with Morrisey and having to overcome, just all the dynamics of having to be in a relationship cause that’s what being in a band is. You know, being in this relationship and having to carry on working after the fact. It’s a lot to ask. That’s a lot to deal with. But I think it’s important, it’s pivotal. Just like the way people are interested in knowing where there food comes from and like how it’s grown and what not. I think the same should be set for people’s artwork and the art that they feed off of.

Oh, for instance, I have another example. Kim Deal, she produced The Breeders first record, Pod. I’m pretty sure because I think I was looking at the liner notes the other day. Check me on that and then you can call me out if I’m totally wrong(laughs). She was the producer on that record and I was just like, “Wow!” And I think  of like her having that involvement in the record that I guess at some point, Kurt Cobain said it was one of his favorite records ever and stuff. He took them out on the road with them. I think it’s just a great record. I think it’s important for artists to stay close to their materials. I mean when you think back to like Rembrandt and them. These people had to crush their own paints and pigments to make the oils, you know?

That was just what was available back then. It’s like certain conventions or certain points in technology development allow people a certain grasp of what it is they’re doing. I think more and more, that would stereotype of big time record deal and the big time record producer and stuff. It just seems like a random thing to me. I always imagine people just, you work on your music then you went and recorded it. I think if anything artists should be faulted for having playing a role or not. It’s like that constant thing, which I’m guilty of as well. You know, you go to get your car fixed and people are  always saying, “Oh, I’m always getting ripped off by my mechanic” You know?

Colin: Yeah, just do it yourself.

Gerard: Yeah, but I think that privilege and ability has been sorta taken away from people, you know? So yeah, I think it’s totally important.

Colin: Definitely especially having your own member. They know exact what you guys are going for.

Gerard: Yeah! Also when I first met Dave cause you know I joined the band well after it had been established. Dave has always been experimenting with sound and he had a real philosophy. He had philosophy and an idea of how he wants to approach music making. To have someone else’s philosophy to be apart of what it is you’re making, if it jodds well like Flaming Lips for instance. Like Soft Bulletin, that record works amazing. And I really appreciate Dave Fridman’s role, it’s like amazing. And Steve Albini even more so because he tries not to really put that sort of like, he doesn’t have a suggestive hand so much in his production style.

Colin: Cool. So  your album has been out for quite a while now. What was the recording like throughout the whole process? The album turned out great and other publications thought so as well, they thought it was amazing. Was the recording process different than previous recording sessions?

Gerard: No, it was the usual grueling, crazy, madness you know? (laughs) We just get in there and get it done…

Colin: Does Dave have his own recording studio or did you guys go to a different studio?

Gerard: Dave had his own studio at the time, like an old studio in Brooklyn. It was right next door to the studio actually that Dave started working at Headgear, which is where most of Desperate Youth, (Blood Thirsty Babes) and part of (Return to) Cookie Mountain had been recorded and engineered in.

If anything’s different or something that I could point out is like this time, it was more of a collaborative effort on two songs in particular, which would be ‘Dancing Choose’, Dave had some beats already set up. You know he laid out the basis of that song and he appreciated it and he worked on top of it and that became ‘Dancing Choose’. And Taleel recorded most of the instrumentation for ‘Crying’ before we really tucked into the studio properly. We all had brought in things we were working on and we kind of put it all together. I guess if anything we brought what experience we have accrued throughout our time working together. And we have this record to show for it, you know? I mean it’s definitely a lot more organized, I feel like. Although, it was a pretty rigorous schedule. I feel like we’re definitely taking advantage of the fact that we’ve been a band together and really have a better understanding now of where it is we sit with eachother; in terms of who’s playing what role and who’s doing this role. I always take a backseat and I wasn’t there for the mixing, I wanted to stay back in New York and just start working towards the live show. Cause I knew I would be playing a lot more keyboards so I started working on that and stuff like that. All those guys went out to LA and worked on the mix. So I guess that was a bit different as well for us to go outside of New York.

Colin: Going away from your home base to LA, which is pretty different from New York.

Gerard: (laughs) Very different, yes. That’s the other thing, I’m a little scared of LA.

Colin: You’re not the first person I heard say that.

Gerard: (laughs) Yeah but it’s a wonderful place and that’s where the record got done….did.

Colin: Who wrote the string and horn section on Dear Science? Did you guys have a part in the writing process?

Gerard: Yeah, it was sort of a mish mash. I don’t know if anyone sat down and wrote lead sheets, that you give to the string players and what not. Usually it’s base around the basic chords of a song. . Take whatever key, whatever chords, and take individually notes out of those chords and build your string section to accompany whatevers happening at the time. I’m sure the string players themselves, this woman Janice and two of her friends must have sat down and done a bit of their homework and stuff like that, listening to things. So I know Taleel played bit of a role, I know Kyp(Malone) did quite a bit of ranging on the end bit of ‘Lover’s Day’ for instance. And I know, I’m pretty sure Stewart Bogey might of helped a bit. He’s one of the instrumentalists and one of the horn players. He’s been touring with us of late as well.

Colin: That’s awesome, it’s very cool. I love that aspect of the album. A lot of bands try to incorporate strings and stuff nowadays and sometimes people don’t pull it off.

Gerard: Yeah, I was worried about that actually. I had the same thing, you know? It’s like that classic indie rock band adds a cello player into the situation.

Colin: Have you ever heard of Ra Ra Riot? They’re one band that incorporate the strings really well.

Gerard: I’ve heard of them a little but I’ll try to look into them. I know 33 has done that as well. I think with a good bit of success. I know once again Flamings Lips has done it properly. Even though, I think a lot of the time they’re synth-strings but even just that notion. Who else? Oh and Neutral Milk Hotel the use of the horn in Neutral Milk Hotel, I feel is almost pivotal. I feel like it would an entirely different record without horns.

Colin: That’s pretty cool how something that’s not a traditional rock instrument, if you want to call it that, could have such a big difference on an album.

Gerard: Yeah, it really is. And at times that horn doesn’t sound like one, it’s so distorted. It’s kind of totally, totally amazing. I really, really appreciate it.

Colin: So I always ask a random question to the artist. Would you rather get pecked to death by vultures or devoured by piranhas? Either way, you’re going down and have no chance.

Gerard: What got me there? That’s what I want to know.  (laughs)

Colin: Umm, let’s just say you were wandering around, the vultures came out of nowhere and there was a pond filled with piranhas. You had to pick one- either jump in the pond or get attacked by the vultures..

Gerard: (laughs) Uhhh, you know what, even though I don’t wanna. I’ll say the piranhas because hopefully I would drown to death.

Colin: (laughs) Ok, good answer.

Gerard: The vultures…I don’t know.

Colin: They would peck you alive. So what’s your favorite thing to do with the band beside play music?

Gerard: Uhh, I don’t know just like whenever we’re like hanging out, everyone has got great stuff to say. So I’m really stoked about everyone’s input on things. You know? That’s definitely the saving grace of being apart of this. Everyone’s like relatively good humor cause I know it can really be, it can be very different. It can be difficult in band situations like relationships. You’re in this relationship and that can be really, really difficult.

Colin: It’s good to see bands with a good relationship and friendship. You don’t want to see a band on stage that don’t like each other but they play music because they have to or you know what I mean?

Gerard: Yeah, I feel like that happens quite a bit. I’ve witnessed that at one point. We went out on this tour and like the first night of this tour, this band started screaming and freaking out, where the tour manager had to… umm…

Colin: Intervene?

Gerard: Yeah, and like turn this music up really loud. And I was like, “Oh, man, that’s a total bummer. You guys don’t need to be doing that,” You know?

Colin: Right. They act like children where their tour manager is their parent, getting in the middle.

Gerard: Yeah,  that’s the thing, again that’s the dynamic of the relationship. I have a friend who has one of my favorite quotes. It is “The only that gets in the way of the music is impatience.” I just that quote to death. Because it’s just we’re all working towards something but you know, everyone tends to wanna get their own way. You want to have your voice be heard, it’s tough. It’s difficult at times to be like, “Oh, ok..well, you have to give up on it,” you have to let go of a lot of things to like progress or to have a successful collaboration you have to be like, “ Oh, ok..well you’re going to get this and maybe I’ll get that down the road or you know, I’ll get this and you kind of just take this thing” You know?

Colin: Yeah, definitely. So what are your guys for when after you get done touring in August? And in 2010?

Gerard: Per usual, I have not a clue. I’m gonna try and figure out how to have a little bit of a routine schedule. And try and be able to either taking my son, drop him off to day care and I might take some piano lessons. I want to just to embrace..uhh.

Colin: A normal life, in a sense.

Gerard: Yeah, trying to get back what little bit of life I can and appreciate that. That’s always the catch 22 or the snag of…you know? You have to give up somethings for yourself.

Colin:Right, make some sacrifices..

Gerard: Yeah, as much as I’ve enjoyed talking with you, I would have loved to been at a movie right now.

Colin: (laughs) Well, I appreciate you talking to me.

Gerard: And like you know, all the other things. I’m just trying to be a little more serious about my craft, I think, for me, personally. I’m just trying enhance some of it, take some piano lessons, play a lot more and work on new stuff.

Colin: That’s awesome though. You only get better by playing more, progressing and new ideas will come and such.

Gerard: Yeah, hopefully. That or I’ll turn into Yes or somebody.  I’ll have my own jazz odyssey(laughs).

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Written by Colin Kerrigan

September 21, 2009 at 6:44 pm

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