TV On The Radio acknowledge bigotry in music, but "refuse to eat it"
Of the thousand or so superlatives blarney-peddling music critics have applied to TV On The Radio’s Return to Cookie Mountain, the one I’m the most sick of reading is the one that’s the most ambiguous: "intelligent." For the record, TVOTR guitarist and vocalist Kyp Malone has no clue what being a purveyor of "intelligent" pop music means either.
"Maybe [it means] we have a decent editing system?" he jokes. "It’s a compliment, but I don’t know. Is The Stooges intelligent pop music? I feel like I don’t want to be separated from The Stooges, you know?"
Malone is a disarming, unorthodox conversationalist, and his speech is like some experimental modern dance – stark lucidity interrupted by tangent; tangent capped off with bursts of humour and insight. In this way, the way he talks is similar to the kind of music he makes, which, for all the labels it’s endured, has a pretty standard designation:
"I just call it rock’n'roll," Malone says.
Return to Cookie Mountain was a genuine sensation last year, a mainstay on critics’ "Best of 2006" lists and arguably the most interesting of the many contemporary avant-garde takes on rock.
Lost, somewhat, among all the positive press is the fact that Cookie Mountain was TVOTR’s major-label debut for Interscope. Strangely, in a day and age where indie acts are getting more flak than ever before for jumping to major labels, the Brooklyn-based band has received very little. Stranger still, it seems as though the band is making better music after joining a major, bucking an established trend, at least in the court of public opinion.
Strangest – and best – yet, the topic of major labels takes us in an interesting direction: race. I tell him that I’ve heard rumblings that rock bands with black singers have a hard time getting signed to majors, and ask him, as a black member of a famous (mostly) black rock band, what he thinks.
"I don’t accept that," he responds. "But if that is the case, it would be someone’s inability to give the public the benefit of the doubt, [to doubt that] they are sophisticated enough or have enough of a longevity of cultural memory, to Bill [Withers], to Otis Redding."
"And I don’t feel like being signed to a major is a prize," he continues. "The business end of music, it’s ugly no matter what. Music and art is a social space that exists, and has existed, where black people helped create it – did most of the heavy lifting as far as rock’n'roll [is concerned]."
And then the coup de grâce:
"I recognize racism as something that exists, but I refuse to eat it. So many people of my parents’ generation and before sacrificed a great deal, and there’s nothing [any more] for any of us [black people] to fucking prove. That’s all I can say."
TV On The Radio
At the Olympia Theatre (1004 Ste-Catherine E.), March 3