When TV on the Radio announced they were taking a hiatus in the fall of 2009, they did what anyone would have come to expect of them: They stayed plenty busy. Kip Malone released his first solo album, while Dave Sitek moved to L.A.—and also found time for his own side projects. Tunde Adebimpe even appeared in the film Rachel Getting Married.
Early this year, the Brooklynites returned with Nine Types of Light, a more relaxed and unabashedly funky album than anything they've done before. They'll be coming to the Mainroom next week for a pair of makeup shows (they were originally scheduled to play in April before bassist Gerard Smith passed away from lung cancer), and City Pages caught up with drummer and jack-of-all-trades Jaleel Bunton to talk about their experience recording at Sitek's new studio and getting back on the road.
City Pages: What was it like recording in California for the first time?
Jaleel Bunton: It's funny, I always used to hate on L.A., being a New Yorker, you know? And I still kind of do. [laughs] But there are really amazing, amazing things about L.A. that you don't get in New York. The place Dave is staying is amazing: tranquil and out of the way, not in Hollywood or anything, just a canyon and hawks and shit. It's pretty incredible.
CP: What was best about recording out there?
Bunton: You really can get some solitude in your home, which is really difficult to get in New York unless you're just filthy, filthy, filthy fucking rich. So even from our rehearsal space to your apartment or whatever, even going to the store, you're constantly bombarded with other people's realities. You're just never alone in New York.
CP: Did recording in L.A. wind up having much of an impact on the music you made?
Bunton: I should say yeah but probably not. I mean really only half the record was recorded in L.A. A lot of the songs were written in New York.
CP: Generally speaking, the album's a little more accessible than its predecessors. It's even been referred to as a "love album." Do those sorts of descriptions ring true with you?
Bunton: It's funny, my reflex is, "No, man, we're avant garde! We're punk rock! We don't ever make something successful!" Look, that can be just as much of a constraint. It's important that you don't pigeonhole yourself or don't restrict yourself in any way. If you're afraid to make a song that, I don't know, makes traditional sense, then you're not following your creativity.
CP: Maybe you guys are a little more comfortable being conventional now too?
Bunton: I would hope so. I hope I'm comfortable being whatever I feel like being. Whether you're a musician or a painter or an actor, you know when it's right. And that's it. Sometimes it's right, and it's totally conventional—then awesome. Sometimes it's right and it's like one weird-ass drum note on some synth—then that's right too. But you know what's right only when you're listening to yourself, so I feel like we're very consistent with that.
CP: Nine Types of Light also seems like a less political album. Would you agree, or is it not as straightforward as that in your mind?
Bunton: I wouldn't say that it's intentionally less political. When you make your first or second record you have years to get together this material, years of thoughts and introspection and ideas and experiences that go into the first couple records. After you kind of exhaust that, what you get coming out is really a slice of a few months of your life. So the things that were affecting us emotionally happened to be politics at one time, or sometimes, and it's always a mixture. Maybe whatever the political climate is right now wasn't as emotionally engaging, or was redundant for us to revisit. It's like, "Well, we already said that."
CP: The band took that long break after Dear Science. What prompted the time off?
Bunton: We started touring right around when we recorded Desperate Youth, so it was 2003. And we'd kind of been touring and recording ever since.... But seven years in, it was like, "Oh I think my body's dying! I'm appreciative but I realize that if I don't take a break I'm going to lose who I am." It's weird when you're on tour and that much inside your work, the rest of the world doesn't stop to wait for you. So we had to check back in with life for a bit.