Although it’s obvious, we’ll state it again- TV on the Radio (TVOR) and Higgins Waterproof Black Magic Band’s (HWBMB) Tunde Adebimpe is fascinating. Not one to stay in any artistic medium lane, he’s acted alongside Anne Hathaway and Kristen Wiig, animated claymation celebrities in wrestling rings and mastered the art of vocal loop pedals. Conversing with a multi-faceted individual did not disappoint. With a full plate of writing new music (as TVOR’s “Mercy” and “Million Miles” indicate), recording (dropping a new HWBMB EP at the beginning of the month) and acting, there was plenty to talk about. Before boarding a plane to Los Angeles to continue writing new music with TV on the Radio, mxdwn caught up with Adebimpe to chat about his multiple projects, new movie, The Jets (yes, THAT random ’80s band, not Gang Green), Young MC Taco Bell commercials and more. Read his funny creative genius (he definitely classifies as one) answers below.
I know you’ve just released your first self-titled Higgins Waterproof EP recently. What’s the creative process like with Higgins compared to TV on the Radio?
Yes, it [the Higgins EP] came out on October 1st. It’s out and around and if anyone likes vinyl, we have a lot of it and you can get one. The drummer and I, Ryan Sawyer, had a duo we called Stabbing Eastward where I was using my voice and processing it through vocal pedals and loops and he was playing the drums. He’s an excellent jazz drummer. Higgins formed last November when I got asked to play a show and invited Ryan, Josh and Alex who I’d known from the neighborhood and we’d been friends but we’d never played together, to do that.
The first show we played was the first time we played together and we were in front of people and trying to figure it out. We had 45 minutes to fill and it went really well because people after the show asked “Oh, how long have you been together?” I said, “We got together yesterday,” [laughing]. The idea behind this band is to write very quickly and once the song sketch was down and had a form, that we wouldn’t labor over it too much, maybe do two more passes and then deconstruct it and blow it apart when we recorded or played it live. With TV on the Radio, we spend a lot of time refining things and that’s just the nature of that band and that family of people. With Higgins, it’s nice to not be as exacting with things and to leave a lot of mistakes and have them dictate the character of the song.
How are you juggling being in both bands right now?
With Higgins, we’re finishing up a residency in Brooklyn so we’re pretty local. TV on the Radio, we’re doing some writing. It might be four singles and I don’t know if it’s a record yet. This past few weeks have been a little bit crazy because it’s been a good time for TV on the Radio to write so everyone’s in LA and I’m out here ’cause I’m doing the residency every Sunday. So basically every week this month, I go to LA from Monday to Saturday and then fly to New York to play the show on Sunday. It’s a lot, but it’s a lot of good things I want to be doing.
Speaking of the new material for TV on the Radio, you’ve released a few singles over the past few months– so when can we expect a new album?
I have no idea. I really don’t. We’re just getting a lot of ideas together and things are going in a nice direction. No one has said “album” yet and I don’t think anyone’s thinking that quite yet. If there is a set of songs that make sense for us to make a solid record out of then that will happen. I would say there’s going to be some new music next year. I don’t know if it’s going to be a whole record. It’s going to be a lot of fun things. The songs are super nebulous right now.
If you could use a few words to describe each member of the Higgins Waterproof band, what would they be?
The band is medium rare. Ryan is like a cloud of rolling thunder everyone rides on. Josh is like an oar that is pushing the entire cloud along. Alex is a hawk cutting through the cloud as we roll on in the sky. I am the pigeon who is sitting in the front of the cloud screaming at the top of his lungs to look out and is asking everyone, “What is going on?”
Can you remember your first musical memory?
My dad played piano really well and so did my older brother and my dad was always playing classical music and jazz in the house. But he was also the person who introduced my brother and I to The Beatles, The Beach Boys, psychedelic African rock that was happening and Bollywood soundtracks. I remember explaining to my younger sister about what a band was because she was really in love with the band The Jets. She was really into them and she kept asking me, “So they’re just a family and they sing? How did they get to sing together?” I remember telling her, “No, they’re a band. A band is a bunch of people who get together, write songs and have instruments,” and as I was explaining it to her (and myself), I think it was the first time I’d ever voiced that. I was breaking The Jets down to her.
If you could go back and throw a festival at 12 years old, who would have played?
You know that horrible song, the heavy breathing thing by Enigma called “Sadness Part 1”? I was listening to that, the tail end of Bon Jovi, “Funky Cold Medina” and “Wild Thing” by Tone Lōc and “Bust A Move” by Young MC. I memorized the entire Young MC Taco Bell cup commercial back when you couldn’t record anything [laughing]. I still know the whole thing. It’s sad. Remember those Record of the Month club things when you send in a penny, you get 48 tapes and when your parents got the bill, they’re like “What are you doing?” I think I was listening to some Enya tape and drawing and suddenly the tape player stopped and I looked up and my other brother said “You can’t listen to this!” Then he gave me a bunch of albums and said “Don’t tell anyone at school that you were listening to Enya.” I didn’t get it at the time but I think he spared me a little bit of heartache… No one would have attended this festival [laughing].
How long have you been animating?
I’ve been animating professionally for 16 years, but when I was in high school and college, I did a few things. It doesn’t seem that long. I’ve gotten to do it sporadically since TV on the Radio started taking up most of my time. I did a video for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs called ”Pin” in 2003 and that was the last time I’ve hands-on animated and directed until this current video. It’s been a while, but it feels really good and I’m pretty proud of it. I worked for MTV at “Celebrity Death Match” doing frame by frame animation moving puppets or models around. I just finished animating and directing a video for a Higgins single called “The Blast the Bloom.” That’s all hand animated by me and Alex. The new video now is mostly painted or drawn, paper cutouts and chalk, shooting a flat surface from above.
Who is your favorite animated cartoon character?
It might be Daffy Duck because he’s a psychopath and everyone seems to be fine with it. [laughing]. He’s petty, jealous, greedy and self-absorbed. He can get his face blown and all he has to do is stick his beak back on and he’s all good. And he’s black which I love.
Between Higgins and TV on the Radio, you also have an acting career going and you’re starring in a movie with Kristen Wiig.
Yeah, I think it’s coming out next year. It was really, really fun. It’s called “Nasty Baby.” That’s the title right now. It was an insanely fun experience to work with someone that you admire that much and you have that much respect for as an actor and writer. It’s all been really good and I feel lucky to have worked on the projects I’ve done and would love to do more in the future. I would love to work on things that are smart, funny, high quality and smaller things are always interesting to me but if someone asked me to be The Joker’s henchman in the new Batman movie, I’d be like “Yeah, for 4 weeks? Of course. I’d totally be Dude #3.”
What are your plans for the rest of 2013, into 2014?
I think Higgins is going to record probably in November. TV on the Radio will be writing and dedicated to that. There’s a project that I started with Adam Drucker who goes by the name Doseone who’s a rapper, singer and producer and Mike Patton from Mr. Bungle and Faith No More; we started this in 2007, 2008. We’ve been working on it really slowly in between everyone’s other projects. This is exciting because it’s a funny thing to get two songs for a few months every 5 years. It sounds so fresh and bizarre. It’s called “Nevermen.” So yeah, theoretically I could have three projects out at the same time which is fun and exciting.