With two founding members trained visual artists, it’s perhaps no surprise TV On The Radio approaches noises like dabs of paint.
But bassist Gerard Smith said translating the band’s thick sound to a live setting was a huge challenge for the Brooklyn-based group. Smith, who once played flamenco guitar while busking in New York’s subways, said recreating the group’s sample-heavy, layered productions took getting used to.
“I’m the last person to listen to live recordings or go to a show,” said Smith, who’s made his living playing in bands for the past 10 years. “It was difficult to translate everything that happens on the record into a live show.”
Following the success of their latest recording, Return To Cookie Mountain, which topped many 2006 best-of’ lists, the experimental rockers have been playing to substantially bigger audiences, and therefore able to purchase more and better equipment. Smith said their live show now includes everything from a sampler to multiple guitar pedals — tools to fill out the band’s sound.
When practicing, the group’s members work to refine their individual parts, piling layers of sound like a sculptor molds clay. Each time they gather to write, the group has no idea of the final product, said Smith. Some songs start with a melody and build on it, while others are based on samples. For example, Let The Devil germinated from a sample of a cantilevered drum beat, while the sample of the tweaked horns in I Was A Lover, pulled from a recording of an old marching band, was an atmospheric flourish, added once the body of the song was composed.
“It’s odd the way (the sample) fits,” said Smith. “Not at an exact moment, but yet it somehow seems right.”