As a youngster, Malone studied violin and viola, developing a liking for printmaking and drawing along the way. He initially encountered fellow Pittsburgh native (and future loop sampling partner) Tunde Adebimpe prior to heading westward seeking artistic exposure in an unheralded ‘90s improv duo. Then, by sheer happenstance, the two were reacquainted at a now-notorious Brooklyn coffeeshop around 2000. He quickly hit it off with Adebimpe, whose specialized art skills led to a job shaping ‘claymation’ characters for MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch. Together with producer Dave Sitek (guitar-keys-loops), the versatile and talented threesome decided to put their musical interests first and foremost.
Creating harrowing apocalyptic symphonies-of-the-damned, TV On The Radio first found firm footing with ‘04s evocative Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes. Its daringly prophetic doom and gloom brought about an abstruse caliginous rage fueled by murky African tribal rhythms, righteous spiritual marches, and densely hazed urban prog-funk. Majestic intoxication, “Staring At The Sun,” the glaring ritualistic threnody that put the band on the proverbial map, offered funereal post-911 prog-funk transcendence.
Upping the fuzzy sonic dissonance while broadening the scope of their brooding cavernous fugues, ‘06s Return To Cookie Mountain continued to expand outward, traversing a wider emotional landscape. Eerily creeping through perplexingly off-kilter beats, strobe-light electroclash jittering, and spastic contrapuntal cadences, this sanguine second set sought rejuvenation. Malone’s involvement and influence increased, as he helped refine and reshape Sitek and Adebimpe’s ‘piecemeal collaging’ by opening up the arrangements – which, at times, recalled the downbeat psych-pop of Brian Wilson’s Smile (whose echoed church harmonies get indulged).
On the precipice of worldwide indie-rock acclaim, the extended trio came back even stronger with ‘08s awe-inspiring Dear Science. Reaching ahead of euphonic post-millennial futurism, TV On The Radio proved the frothy underground hyperbole was completely palpable. Jazz-induced brass and string sequences adorn the fleshed-out harmonic interplay and luxurious textural flourishes of their best fully formed well-integrated tunes. Never mired in over-intellectualized avant experimentation, the heroic coterie, guided by Sitek’s scrupulous production, made soul-licked Gothic chamber pop transmutations that were surprisingly accessible and highly palatable. Polyrhythmic highlife communiqués by Fela Kuti-derived Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra distend the fierce symphonic dramatics. Brashly anthemic turnabout, “Shout Me Out,” stumbles into frenetic blissfulness.
A modicum of fame allowed Malone to step out in ’09 and properly promote Rain Machine’s fervently self-styled obsessions. Over a tribal percussion stomp, commanding opener, “Give Blood,” could be utilized as a commercial endorsement beseeching people to provide life-affirming crimson juice for necessitated transfusions. A bit of an up-front departure considering the more introspective fare that follow, this highly accessible epistle may divulge an overall thematic directive – united we stand, divided we fall.
The ghostly loneliness and profuse sorrow of “Love Can’t Save You” hearkens back to Syd Barrett and Nick Drake’s early ‘70s sobbing serenades, or perhaps, the beleaguered folk confessions of contemporary loner, Bon Iver. Inasmuch as that’s true, Malone nonetheless does what comes naturally, whistling in the dark on protracted discharge, “Desperate Bitch,” and draping forlorn mandolin across closing 11-minute mantra, “Winter Song.”
Soaring to penetrating operatic heights, Malone’s falsetto sweeps counteract intermittent husky baritone rasps and sporadic cackling yaks. Testing his highest vocal register during passionately riveting ballad, “New Last Name,” he then grasps angelic bliss on candlelit acoustic sentiment, “Driftwood Heart.” Another heavenly neo-soul grovel, “Hold You Holy,” adds church organ and flatulent horns to the tambourine-shaken guitar-dribbled sanctity. There’s always an air of despair guiding these outward expressions of inner pain and the struggle to retain faith in an oft-times cold-hearted world. As if to stress the point, his emphatic six-string strumming unleashes pervious pent-up frustration on slow-building caustic lamentation, “Love Won’t Save You.”
Malone believes TV On The Radio has the potential to expand their creative wizardry even further beyond conventional boundaries. And it seems imminent that the triumphing troupe will soon have another go-round in the studio. But he also admits to having a large back-load of ideas and material readied for another possible solo jaunt.
KYP: TV On The Radio is five people. All our ideas go back and forth between one another, going through different filters to end up being what it is. Most of it is pretty consistently reliant on lots of samplers, drum machines, and processors. The Rain Machine record is one voice with not nearly as much resources behind it. I feel it may have more reliance on traditional instruments.
If there is and you’re getting that, it’s fine. That wasn’t necessarily my intention. But I’m sure there’s some of that. I’ve experienced love loss, sadness. It’s a disparate collection since the songs are from different time periods. Some recent, others old. I hope they reflect where I was at different times.
Yeah. I find that no matter who does what in TV On The Radio, it reflects on all of us. The fact that I can write a song and people credit it to Tunde and some lady journalist will credit his songs to me… Beyond frustration, it also seemed like I wasn’t just speaking for myself. It’s like the band is saying it. By degrees, it tempers how you write things. But in the Rain Machine situation, I’m only speaking for myself.
I’d have to state overtly that I couldn’t feel more fortunate to be a part of TV On The Radio’s creative family. It’s afforded me a great deal of opportunity, creative growth being foremost. Often, I’m always so busy in past years touring for records in loud venues. And the idea of having to scream over the music is becoming less appealing. I like to scream sometimes, but I wanna do it for emphasis and not just ‘cause I can’t hear myself. The idea of doing something simpler and quieter was super-appealing.
Both of those songs I’ve been playing live for awhile, especially “Love Won’t Save You.” The lyrics were always improvised and they remain so. That’s just the version that’s on the record. I’ve stayed flexible with it since I wrote it. It’s still coming together by degrees. I was writing with a friend for another project and having a hard time getting anything done. After one writing session she went home and I had a show that night and I didn’t want to play all old songs so I had that as a new song. It didn’t take long to assemble – very quick.
(laughter) That’s an older song. I didn’t want to put that on there because I didn’t want to tilt the record too much towards negation. I also needed to get that one, which was in the live repertoire, on record. That came together well before I had an idea to do a record. That kind of vulnerability made it fit more now. Also, I was broke at the time, having a hard time paying rent. I had to leave my apartment, getting lunch bought by friends, and telling my daughter’s mother to please just be patient because it’s gonna turn around. That song was born out of that frustration.
I definitely listened to Prince a lot as a kid. It was a tie between him and the Smiths for time logged listening to records. I’m sure he’s in there both consciously and unconsciously.
I have not heard Antony’s most recent record. But I will say he’s an incredible talent. His voice I love. If I’m in any way in his company creatively, that’s a compliment.
He was fundamental in making it come into existence. Otherwise, I’d only be talking about making a record and dividing my time to do other things. I was performing in L.A. for some concert series. He was in the audience and heard me play two songs then found me through different channels and cold-called me about making a record. He booked studios, got me a plane ticket for California, and facilitated everything. He got all the instruments I’d requested and was super-patient and open-minded. No egoist.
Maybe I can’t answer that. In my mind, it’s not hard. At my best, I have a pretty good ability to concentrate on things. Considering how long it takes to read a book, make a kid, it’s beyond market consideration because they need two to three minute songs before going to commercials. But there’s a lot that could be done in that constrained time construct. Smokey & The Miracles, as far as the ability and brevity, Motown made tons of phenomenally inspirational songs. But I don’t know, I listen to John Coltrane’s Live In Seattle, Alice Coltrane’s Transfiguration, and Pharaoh Sanders’ Karma. I know all the parts to those recordings because I’ve listened to them a lot – 15 to 18-minute pieces. I feel I could be inside those songs in a way and become transported by them. I also find them compelling. I hope I’m succeeding at keeping people interested instead of moving the needle forward.