Before co-founding TV on the Radio with David Sitek, Tunde Adebimpe dabbled in filmmaking.
His cinematic sensibilities coupled with Sitek’s atmospheric production skills birthed one of America’s most consistently fascinating and critically beloved bands. The Brooklyn quintet’s latest record, “Dear Science,” is one of the year’s best: a genre-bending mash-up that moves from glitchy electro to swoony, string-laden balladry.
It’s a band that is building a reputation for high-wire experimentation at a time when the crumbling music industry is leaving little to chance.
“One of the reasons I started writing songs was sometimes you have a mood you would love to film but it would take too long,” Adebimpe says by phone from New York. “It would be, like, a long take of a boat coming into shore on fire, it would dock and that would be the end. No one would get it, but with a song, you might get someone to hang around.”
There aren’t any references to flaming watercraft evident on “Dear Science,” a far lighter disc than the band’s previous effort, 2006’s grim, proggy “Return to Cookie Mountain,” but there are plenty of vivid, evocative songs spanning a range of emotions, not the least of which is relative happiness.
“We wanted to make a record that just moved differently than the last record,” Adebimpe says. “We loosely talked about making a dance record—it’s definitely more upbeat. I guess we’re all out of bad feelings.”
Along with Sitek (who has grown in his own right as a producer, working with everyone from Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Scarlett Johansson), Adebimpe is joined in TV on the Radio by Kyp Malone, Jaleel Bunton and Gerard Smith. Each member brings something different to the table, lending the finished product an air of remarkably cohesive collaboration.
“We’ll bring everything for a show-and-tell at the beginning of a record, pick what everyone seems to gravitate towards and start working on those,” Adebimpe says. “Sometimes, I’ll leave something with very loose guidelines ... I’ll be able to tell Gerard about a bass line or a piano part ... because I know he will occupy that space in a way that is not only exactly what I was thinking, it will improve on it.”
And it has helped that Interscope, the band’s label, has stayed out of the way, content to let the group make music on its own terms, unfettered by commercial expectations.
“Our deal with them has pretty explicit language about them not being anywhere near the studio when we’re recording, and that’s one of the only reasons we were like, ‘OK, this seems like the place to go,’” Adebimpe says. “Interscope said, ‘It’s not like we’re trying to develop you guys—we like what you’re doing.’ I feel like they’ve been really cool with us.”
Lately, Adebimpe has drifted back into the film world with a role as Sidney, the groom, in director Jonathan Demme’s much-buzzed-about “Rachel Getting Married.”
“I act when I have time, and I really like doing it, but my day job is inside a bus going around the country,” Adebimpe says, laughing. “When we got off tour last year, I got a call that there was a script Jenny Lumet had written and ... Jonathan Demme was set to direct it. I said, ‘That would be awesome to be around someone whose work I admire so much, to see how they work.’”
But it is TV on the Radio that will command Adebimpe’s attention for the foreseeable future.
“I feel like the most you can hope for is that, on the side of the band ... everything internally stays OK enough that you’ll want to keep making music together,” Adebimpe says. “1/8On3/8 the other side, someone wants to hear it and you’re not compromising things. You’re not trying to pander to stay relevant or be in the public eye. Any band that’s been fortunate enough to keep doing what they do and not compromise—that would be a nice deal.”