Photo: Nick Grazin

Tunde Adebimpe Talks New Projects, Comics, and TV on the Radio

Originally posted on Hi Wildflower

Calling TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe a vocalist is a good start. Turns out, he’s a bona fide polymath. Actor, director, artist behind some snazzy comics are a few of the things he does as unnervingly as he sings. His voice weaves in and out of lush, lovelorn tunes with a veracity rare among chanteurs in this age. We ran into each other in Williamsburg on a day too cold for words. He graced us with an interview and amazing drawings that reveal his radiant imagination.

Tanwi: How has having new musical projects like Higgins Black Magic Waterproof Band been important for you?

Tunde Adebimpe: Having musical projects outside of TVOTR is beneficial to the space I occupy in the band and I hope to the band itself. With Higgins we work quickly and don’t get too precious about anything. I definitely came to a point in TVOTR where I was poring over every word and melody to make sure that exactly the “right meaning” would be conveyed, and I got burned out on it, it wasn’t fun. I think that even if you’re writing sad songs, the act of music making, or creating any anything should be at least subliminally joyous. The feeling is becoming more important to me than the idea of crafting “a perfect song” which is an absurd idea anyway. Higgins reminds me that writing big, messy and ugly is vital, and you can pick meaning out of it later (if you decide to at all). I don’t know if the results will be noticeable to anyone outside of my head, but my attitude going into writing and recording with TVOTR is a lot more positive and much looser than it’s been for a few years now.

We’re digging Higgins Black Magic Waterproof Band! How did you all connect and make it happen?

We got together in November 2012. Gabe Fowler, owner of Desert Island (a great Brooklyn comics/art bookstore) asked if I wanted to perform for the opening night party of the Comic Art Brooklyn festival. The festival is curated yearly by Desert Island and brings in some amazing creators from all over the world. I thought of doing something with Josh, Alex, and Ryan because we’d all known each other for a long time in various capacities. Josh has played bass with Coco Rosie and Lee Scratch Perry. Alex and I met as cartoonists, he’s an incredible visual artist and guitar player. Ryan has played in over 900 bands/ensembles in New York, as he is the best everything-you-can-play-I-can-make-better drummer in the city. The four of us had never played together so I asked them if they wanted to go to this party and improvise a set, they did, so we did. It was fun, so we played a few more shows. We recorded and put out a vinyl EP last October and now we’re doing band things like a band. We have a small west coast tour coming up this year, during the last week of April.

“The Blast, The Bloom” is on some trippy psychedelic tip and of course, we love flowers. Did you write this song? What was the process of creating the animation?

We wrote and recorded the song as a band. It’s definitely the most poppy song on the record (oh the flower puns, they end now). I directed and animated the video, Alex did some drawing on it too. It’s all stop-motion, all hand done, and it moves from chalk drawings to paint to paper cut outs to rocks, to anything else I could find laying around. I bought a bunch of plastic flowers at the 99 cent store, plucked them off of their stems and had to danced 200 of them around for a big segment of the video. I’ll never do it again. Or not for a while, I guess. Or not without a crew. Or not without interns, at least. Interns, hit me up.

What are you listening to these days?

Pomegranates: a compilation of Persian psych folk and pop from the 60s and 70s, which is excellent. Harmonia and Eno ’76. Darkside. Shuffled on repeat.

Your Instagrams are full of cool drawings and comic sketches — are you interested in this as a longer narrative form? What are your favorite comics?

I absolutely am interested in comics as a longer narrative form. I used to be a more diligent and consistent cartoonist and comics artist, but you need a lot of time, and time alone to do that kind of work well. I haven’t let myself have that for a while, so my output is pretty scattered. The little doodles and drawings and sketches are compulsive scribbles that pop up whenever I have a second. A lot of the stuff that’s up on Instagram is from years ago, from as far back as 2000. I’d just never put them anywhere. I’ve ended up filling a lot of sketchbooks, but I’d really like to get to work on a longer, fleshed out piece. There are a few things that I’ve started that I’m going to try to finish and push into the real world, sooner than later.

So, we gotta nerd out a bit. What are your favorite comics?

That’s a tough question. My most recent favorites are… (super nerdy, here we go) I bought a copy of a Batman story, The Killing Joke, a little while ago. I’ve had a copy (somewhere) since I was a teenager (it came out in 1988), and I remembered it being incredible. There was a reprint of the latest edition, and with the aid of new computer technology, the artist [Brian Bolland] had recolored the story the way he’d originally wanted (which sounds like it could be awful but the results were actually great) so I got it to check it out, and I still think it’s amazing, which is significant (to me) since I haven’t really read or liked superhero comics since about that time, since about 1988. There are some good ones now, I’m sure… I’m just old, and I feel like, for the most part, I can’t look back. I started reading what were then called “Alternative” comics in high school and it pretty much shifted everything. (For a “full list” of Tunde’s fave comics, scroll down)

Where have you gone in the last year that’s been totally magical for your imagination and your work? Someplace that you’d never been before that has stayed with you.

A few of us (Kyp and Rain Machine), Ryan and I in our two piece improv group) were invited by the Turkish art magazine Bant to play a show in Istanbul last May and it was  great. It was a few weeks before the riots, and no one had any idea that things were about to get as hectic as they did. We visited the Princes’ islands, a group of islands south of the city in the Sea of Mamara and went to one called Burgazada where there are no motor vehicles allowed except municipal, naval, and police vehicles. There are otherwise no cars, motorcycles or scooters. People and goods are moved mostly by horse-drawn carriages and carts, although a few electric tricycles have begun to make an appearance. The islands are thus excellent places for walking or cycle hire, with the horse-drawn carriages the only frequent road hazard to be considered. The architecture of this description was cribbed from from Wikipedia, (I’m not as free with the word “thus”) but it’s watertight as far as facts go. It was nice to walk around an island that was considered less attractive than the others so it was fairly tourist free, and really beautiful. A quiet island forest that people go to to be alone for months at a time (and get a lot of thinking and making done) seems like a dream to me, but the reality is that by the end of the second month I would probably start asking myself some very hard questions about what I was hiding from, by the third I’d be answering myself at length and by the fourth I’d lose my mind completely and have to ask a horse to swim me back to Istanbul on his back. Spoiler: He will rebuff me.

Will TVOTR be coming out with new tunes soon? Do you collaborate with each other on your other musical projects?

We just put the finishing touches on a bunch of new songs and are hoping to put a record out in the fall. I’m really excited for it. So far we haven’t done much collaborating on each other’s stuff. I vocals did on a song Dave’s solo album, but really, I think that’s about it… Kyp and I have contributed to other people’s projects together… we did a song with the Kronos quartet for the compilation, RED+HOT and FELA, and we did a few songs on a Tinariwen album a few years ago. But mostly, I think that the mentality towards collaborating on each other’s stuff is: “Well if two of us are already here, we should just call the other two” and then it’s just a TV on the Radio record.

Tunde’s List of Favorite Comics and Comic Artists:

Raw Magazine. Fantagraphics Books, art comics. Gary Panter. Dan Clowes. Chester Brown. Julie Doucet. Maurice Vellekoop and… it’s really too many to mention. Oh, wait. Prince of Cats by Mary Fleener. Brian Chippendale, Matt Brinkman, Matt Furie, Ronald Wemberly. Robert Crumb. Chis Ware. Adrian Tomine. And elsewhere in the world: African Comics, Japanese Comics, there’s a huge art comic community in Helsinki, Finland. European comics, there are tons I’m leaving out, literally hundreds of creators from the last century of the comics. I could talk to you about it for hours, it’s pathetic.