No need to bullshit about here: TV on the Radio are one of my favourite bands of all time. I’ve seen them live four times, I own and love all of their music and they have been with me for a very, very long time. Nearly ten years, in fact. I’ve grown to love them more and more with every album, reaching fever pitch around the time that 2008’s Dear Science came out. How fitting, then, that this was when I would interview Jaleel Bunton, formerly the band’s drummer and now their bass player following the loss of the late, great Gerard Smith. Jaleel was a very cool cat – he was talkative, engaging and smart. I was beyond stoked with how this one turned out – and even looking at it now, my work here isn’t too bad. Definitely one of the better features I put together around this time.
Smith actually gets a mention in this feature, and I nearly cried reading over it again. He was a remarkable musician, and is dearly missed. TVotR are here at the end of the month for Splendour in the Grass – infuriatingly, not doing any sideshows. Hopefully, we’ll hear some new stuff soon.
– DJY, July 2013
Jaleel Bunton has returned from his promise to be right back, apologising for the noise. “I just entered a very loud rehearsal space.” This is easily forgivable – Jaleel Bunton is a fairly busy guy, consistently on the move. He is one-fifth of Brooklyn-based avant-garde rockers TV on the Radio, who are headed to Australia in early 2009 on the back of their latest album, Dear Science.
Released in September, Science has topped Rolling Stone’s end-of-year list and earned high-ranking positions in many more. It was also the second record that Bunton was an official part of the band as its drummer. Certainly, one could see this as a cementing of the band as a five-piece; and Jaleel himself tends to agree.
“The band started as just Tunde [Adebimpe, lead vocalist] and Dave [Andrew Sitek, guitarist/producer]. From that, it’s now grown into a five-way collaboration – this is the first time where everyone wrote songs for the record. We’re still trying to journey to – œfind ourselves’ as a five-piece, and I think Dear Science was a big step in that direction.”
With tight, groovy jams like Dancing Choose and Golden Age, as well as full-band freakouts like DLZ andHalfway Home plentiful on the new record, Science sounds far more like a band-focused record than their last, 2006’s wildly successful Return to Cookie Mountain. Putting this to Bunton himself, however, reveals a little uncertainty to merit of such ideas.
“One thing I like about this band is that it doesn’t really adhere to the typical band script of – ‘we were best mates in high school, started playing in our garage, rented out a studio’ – we’re not like that,” he muses. “So it wasn’t really a focus to make it more of a band record; it was just a goal to make a record that all five of us that we were proud of. We wanted everyone to participate because we were all individual writers before we met.”
Having said that, there is still certainly lenience towards the core trio – Adebimpe, Sitek and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Kyp Malone. When asked which of the three Bunton personally connects with the most when it comes to songwriting, he notes that it really “depends on the song.”
“It’s pretty hard question to answer, y’know…” He pauses, then continues by stating that the band “all works together.” “It’s a little happy home… I mean, we definitely have our issues, but I’m impressed with the fact that everyone is able to keep their egos in check- that’s a part of art.
“Everyone has their different, particular talents,” he continues, focusing on particular examples. “Dave’s a really good producer, it’s something I watch and am really amazed by. And Tunde’s a fantastic melody writer. I work well with everybody with what they’re good at, to answer your question.”
If you have never experienced TVOTR live in any shape or form, you are most certainly in for a surprise. Perhaps the band’s most well-known performance is that of their appearance on Letterman a few years back, playing single Wolf Like Me. The already-dancey track was given a wild, rollicking renovation in the live environment – a credit, in particular, to Bunton’s Bonham-sized drums. Despite the impression that songs likeWolf were meant for the live environment, Jaleel explains that each song that this is simply not the case.
“I grew up studying how to play instruments; but I know a lot of people are limited by what their hands do and not what your mind is doing,” he says, elaborating on different degrees of musicianship. “When TV on the Radio writes or records, we write music to be recorded – as we want to hear it, not as we want to feel it.”
So what changes when it’s time to put the songs in front of a crowd? “It’s the exact opposite,” he states. “We’re more concerned with what it feels like than what it sounds like. This is the first time we’ve had quite a bit of live experience under our belt, making this record, so I think that’s slipped in subconsciously.”
Another staple of TV on the Radio live performances is bassist Gerard Smith’s near-obsessive refusal to face the audience whilst he plays. Jaleel laughs and describes Smith as “one of the single most puzzling enigmas on the planet.”
“There was no moment that made him the person that never turns around on stage – and if it did, it happened a long time before I met him. I will say this,” he continues as if giving an inside scoop, “I HAVE seen him,ONE time, turn around and wink at his girlfriend at the time in the audience. It lasted a matter of four seconds and it blew my mind!”
There is absolutely no doubt here – Jaleel Bunton is a charismatic, friendly and genuinely interesting man. If you missed out on tickets to any of their sideshows, and you are heading along to any of the Big Days Out, don’t miss your chance to catch Bunton in action with TV on the Radio. Hopefully, you’ll be excited as he is to be touring this festival. When asked if he was looking forward to the shows, he replies, “Are you kidding? I can’t believe I’m going to be travelling every day with Neil Young!”