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TV On The Radio: No appetite for racism

No appetite for racism

TV On The Radio: Wolves like them

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
w/ Subtle
At the Olympia Theatre (1004 Ste-Catherine E.), March 3

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  7 comments

  • by Jenny Vouma - March 1, 2007, 4:54 pm

    Wow… that quote is deep: “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.”

  • by Eric St-Pierre - March 1, 2007, 5:25 pm

    Oh refusing to eat it. The ever extending relationship between pop and the challenge of breaking down racist stereotypes. A good call! Truly formidable! And doing so while i can dance my ass off, i must say: continue impressing me!

  • by Rob Postuma - March 3, 2007, 5:42 pm

    At one time, a “black rock band” would have been considered something unique, something that stood out. A “black band” on the other hand, wouldn’t have stood out at all – particularily in the r&b/soul/disco/gospel/etc. genres.
    Years have gone by. I think what’s unique nowadays, is a band that is a ROCK band – rather than something else. I can’t think of a new band that’s come out recently that considers itself rock – that’s what’s unique nowadays.
    Admittedly I’ve never heard of TV On The Radio in more than passing, but that’s more to blame on local radio – which does indeed suck, than my musical tastes. Now that I know of them, I’ll search them out.

  • by Lisa Truong - March 4, 2007, 11:11 am

    Wow, these guys are very opinionated. I didn’t realize they had such thoughts when it comes to music, which is very impressive. I can’t help but think “cool, such intelligent bands still exist?” As for the show at Olympia, these guys really know how to put on a show. I saw them yesterday, and it was just mind-blowing. Great guys like them deserve to stay in the music industry for a long time.

  • by Mark St Pierre - March 4, 2007, 5:28 pm

    Wow, they had quite a crowd at L’Olympia last night which is all the more staggering because as Rob Postuma rightly notes, this sublime ROCK band is not played on local mainstream radio. Rarely have I seen as impassioned a lead singer or as Kyp Malone who’s wild gesticulating spoke to the fire and intensity that he and his bandmates brought to the stage – wild, wickedly good show from start to finish!

  • by Martin Dansky - March 5, 2007, 1:04 am

    Here is somebody who can be praised for his candor and directness. There should be nothing else to say, because of the fact that blacks have been major contributors to jazz, blues, soul, gospel, funk, rock-n-roll and so much else. But it hasn’t been easy and just this morning I was reminded on the radio, that slavery has never really disappeared although it is 200 years since the landmark 1807. Slavery still exists today in the form of racism, bigotry and disrespect we give to newcomers from other lands who will eventually contribute to our musical culture and our culture in general. The thought of a black man having to prove himself 200 years after the abolition of slavery in the US disgusts me!

  • by Reuven De Souza - March 5, 2007, 12:30 pm

    I remember when it was hard to hear bands like Living Colour and Fishbone on the radio let alone anywhere else. With the deep ghettoization of commercial radio it is hard to get a diverse view of any given segment. Other than Jimi Hendrix when was the lest time that you an artist of colour on CHOM. Although to be fair I would not advise that as prolonged listening to that station will give a bowel obstruction! Glad to see that TV On The Radio is keeping it real…

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