Given the detailed nature of the band’s five albums, you’d imagine they’re somewhat pedantic about the equipment utilised on stage. But ahead of this month’s hotly anticipated Australian tour, guitarist and vocalist Kyp Malone tells us otherwise. “The songs are the songs,” he says. “[On tour] I bring one guitar and my pedal board and then use backline amps and backup guitars. If a guitar is set up, they’re all kind of the same instrument. Synthesisers too; if you don’t have to program a bunch, then you can mess with the presets on the fly and get them sounding like an approximation of what you want. I remember the first time we played in Brazil, our stuff never showed up. We had to borrow other bands’ stuff and buy stuff and put together a ramshackle kit and it was fine.”
Over the years, Malone’s regularly played Fender Jazzmasters and Mustangs, as well as Gibson Les Pauls, SGs and Firebirds. But strangely enough, the one guitar he never leaves home without doesn’t even join him on stage. “I always carry my National Resophonic Resoelectric and I never play it with TV On the Radio,” he says. “But every tour I have it on me. If I’m practising or if I’m writing or warming up, it’s the guitar that I always have. It’s an electric guitar with a dobro-style cone in it. I really like it.”
TV On the Radio’s latest LP Seeds came out last November. Seeds is arguably the band’s most subdued effort, and sound-wise, it’s the warmest album in their catalogue. The band’s live shows are typically explosive, but Malone says they’ve been able to reproduce the album’s core duality. “I feel like we addressed it in regards to what our instrumental set up has been. On this record, re-issued digital mellotrons figure prominently in a lot of tracks, so they end up on stage with us now. Having those and then having more people working back and forth between stringed instruments and key instruments, it’s effecting how we’re playing the older songs. It’s all starting to get sewn together more and more that way. It’s like taking some of the recent approach and sewing it to an older approach.”
TV On the Radio formed in 2002, originally as a studio project for Sitek and vocalist Tunde Adebimpe. Malone joined them in 2003, and together the trio produced the breakthrough EP Young Liars. Two songs from that release, ‘Staring at the Sun’ and ‘Young Liars’, continue to show up in the band’s set lists. While he’d be forgiven for feeling less than enthusiastic about the songs by now, Malone maintains a Zen outlook. “My relationship to those two tracks continues to evolve,” he says. “Inhabiting a song live is the closest thing I know of to a yoga practice. I have a lot of friends that teach yoga and talk to me about it; the whole idea of getting into these positions, whether you’re in the mood or not, and having this intended effect regardless of whether your heart’s in it. I feel like that about tyring to embody songs in the moment. Even if I look at the set list and it’s not that pleasing to me, when we actually get up and do it, the best-case scenario, I’m going to catch a fire from it and really get into it. The shows behind this record have felt really good in that way.
“There’s these songs and these structures and you have to get into the different positions, but there’s also the thing about improvisation,” he adds. “One of my favourite aspects of musical performance and playing with people is the ability to expand and contract during improvisation. That’s also key.“ TV On the Radio’s enduring quality has a lot to do with the fact that each member makes an integral contribution to all of the band’s records and live performances. Adebimpe generally gets referred to as TV On the Radio’s frontman. It’s true, he has one of the most distinctly enveloping voices in contemporary music, but sometimes he’s given more credit than is due. See, Malone has been a contributing songwriter since day one – responsible for such favourites as ‘Golden Age’, ‘I Was A Lover’ and ‘Province’ – and he sings lead on every song he writes.
“Sometimes I see people talking about a TV On the Radio song and attributing something that I did to Tunde or vice versa,” he says. “But then also, every time someone makes that mistake I don’t want to get on an ego trip about it, because that’s not really what the point’s supposed to be. I was singing before anyone gave a fuck about it and I’ll sing after anyone does too.”
June 8 – Vivid Live Festival, Sydney NSW
June 9 – Vivid Live Festival, Sydney NSW
June 10 – The Tivoli, Fortitude Valley QLD
JUNE 12 – The Forum, Melbourne VIC
For more information visit www.tvontheradio.com.