Tunde Adebimpe Considered Ending TV On the Radio Prior to New Album 'Seeds'

Ben Clark

TV on the Radio performs at the FYF Festival in Los Angeles, CA

In April of 2011, New York alternative heroes TV On The Radio released their fourth studio album, Nine Types Of Light. Just nine days later, bassist Gerard Smith passed away from lung cancer.

Despite the tragedy, the band went out and completed a worldwide tour for the critically acclaimed album. Although TVOTR frontman Tunde Adebimpe never mentions Smith or what other factors were influencing the band as that tour wound down, he admits he was considering moving on.

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"At the end of the last album and tour cycle I was on the page of, 'We could put this down right now and I'd feel really good about what we've done.' We're going out on maybe not the highest note possible, but a really respectable note. I really felt like we could knock it off," he tells Billboard.

That was then. Today, he is in a very different space. "I'm really glad that we didn't, and that we decided to get it together to do this, 'cause it feels really good. It feels like a natural cycling back to something and having it feel really fresh."

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Much of what's rejuvenated him is the band's superb new album, Seeds, which he calls the best thing they've ever done. While that is normal rock star bravado -- as cliché in the promo world of music as "We're gonna give it our all" is in sports -- Adebimpe is far from your normal rock star.

In fact, when talking about revisiting the TV On The Radio back catalog in prepartion for upcoming live dates, Adebimpe admits he had to purchase his own music. "I actually went onto iTunes and I bought everything we've ever made because I don't have it lying around."

That's how much Adebimpe hates listening to his own music. But in testament to how proud he is of Seeds, the singer says he's been listening to it regularly since the band finished it this past spring.

Adebimpe took Billboard through how the album came to be, the TVOTR songs that have aged gracefully for him and the entertaining video for "Happy Idiot," starring Paul Reubens (also known as Pee-wee Herman).

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You've said Seeds is the best thing you've ever done. When did you know in the recording process it was special?

After the last album cycle and tour we suddenly had a little time off to recalibrate and everybody could be themselves for a while. So we all just took a break and then some time had passed and we were just talking, Dave [Sitek], Kyp [Malone] and I, about how maybe we should just make a song or two songs. Nobody wanted to make a record at that point because it just seemed so involved and no one was ready to do it quite yet. So we did the "Mercy" and "Million Miles" singles that came out last summer and it was completely painless for whatever reason. I think everyone's just out of bullshit at this point in their lives. We just all realize that we're incredibly lucky to be able to do this thing that ultimately only has as much importance as anyone is willing to give it. It's not gonna cure any diseases or save the world -- it's a reassuring thing at the very best. And at the worst it's just another distraction.

When we started working on more songs, and people started bringing in their demos from the year and a half where we hadn't done anything, we had almost 60 songs in demo form between everyone. We started picking out the ones that are our favorites, and after picking out six of those, we realized we're basically making a record -- we might be making two records. So about two songs in it just felt special for that reason. It felt like no matter what happened in the course of recording, it just felt so good and so inspiring right from the start. It hadn't felt like that in a long time. It actually hadn't felt like that way, for me, since we started the band.

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Have you listened to this album often since it's been done?

I've listened to it way more than anything we've ever done, absolutely. I listen to it at least once or twice a week. It's great when you can listen to something and it feels like you didn't make it. You're like, "I don't know where this came from, but I'm really glad that it's here." I realized we were going on this big tour coming up and we decided to realize the songs as much as we could in a live setting -- that meant switching up the way we'd done some of the old songs on stage. So I actually went onto iTunes and I bought everything we've ever made because I don't have it lying around. I put everything in a huge play list and I can't listen to all of it. The other thing that I've listened to as much as this record was the Young Liars EP. And that was just because Dave and I just made that thing. But now I really can't listen to a lot of the old recordings and it's my own shit. They probably sound fine, but the process gets attached to it. You remember the process and there are a lot of things that you put away in yourself and you don't really recognize them as you anymore.

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Are there older songs that still strike you as really cool?

A couple of them, yeah. What it is more is that the live versions of those songs become the versions that I've got in my head, because that's sort of what those turned into for me. But listening to a few of the recordings made me think there are some songs that are just like, "That was a mistake." And I went back, "Oh, pretty good. That wasn't a mistake, I understand why people tell me they like that song now." And I won't make the face that apparently I make when someone tells me that and I don't like the song -- which is incredibly rude, because I should be grateful that anyone gives a shit about anything that I've written.

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What were a couple of the older ones that stood out to you?

The recorded version of the song "Young Liars" I had stepped away from cause it was such a weird headspace recording it, but I think it sounds really good. I really appreciate it the way it is. There's a song called "Shout Me Out" on Dear Science I kind of mentally dismissed but now I like it. I think it's really good. Generally song by song I couldn't go through and listen to anything, 'cause you don't go back and look at everything you've done. Overall, I was really proud we had kicked through all of that and kept making what we wanted to make without bending to what anyone whose label we were on wanted us to make.

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Do you feel like there was a point the BS went away? Is that also because as you get older you get more confident?

Oh, completely, and it's one of the most important things. At this point, we're realizing what's important about being in a band and what isn't, like any sort of insecurities about relevance. I really feel like everyone just realized that anything's that's not us making a decision about what sounds good and what looks good and what feels good to us is just pointless. I don't want to malign any sort of pop star or legendary performer by saying a name, but if someone said, "This person really wants to meet you," the point we're at now, unless it's Neil deGrasse Tyson, we're probably like, "That's cool, I don't know why we need to talk to that person. We should just keep it cool. That's great, Barry Manilow is rad, I don't have to meet him."

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But everyone still has that fandom. Who was the last person you geeked out over meeting?

The absolute last one was Paul Reubens because he's in our video and I'm glad I could point to that so directly because it was my idea. I went to the people at Funny Or Die and I had this idea of Paul Reubens as a race car driver, sort of in a 1950's-ish Russ Meyer sort of situation. Then it didn't seem like it was gonna go for a while. I got an email literally a week before we started from my manager and some other people at the label who just said, "Paul wants to talk to you, call him at this number right now." Someone had been texting me and I didn't recognize the number so I was like, "I'm not gonna deal with that." So I got this email and it said he wants to talk to you, so I called, left a message, he wasn't there and I was like, "Okay, I fucked that up, I guess." And then the phone rings, I pick up and he goes, "Hey, Tunde, it's Paul Reubens." He was just the coolest, most down to earth person ever. But Paul was the most recent one, where I was freaked out. I also met Little Richard in an airport, which definitely I fanned out like crazy.


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