Interview: Kyp Malone’s Rain Machine Tranquilizes TV On The Radio

Though he’s known for spreading surrealist sociopolitical surreptitiousness in Brooklyn’s praiseworthy TV On The Radio, bespectacled wooly-bearded natty-haired singer/guitarist Kyp Malone strove to delve deeper, mining tearful expressions of the heart under the stormy nom de plume, Rain Machine. But it took the urging, benevolence, and planning of respected producer, Ian Brennan, to get Malone’s solo project as Rain Machine off the ground instead of staying on the backburner forever.

As a youngster, Malone studied violin and viola, developing a liking for printmaking and drawing along the way. He initially encountered fellow Pittsburgh native (and future loop sampling partner) Tunde Adebimpe prior to heading Westward seeking artistic exposure in an unheralded ‘90s improv duo. Then, by sheer happenstance, the two were reacquainted at a now-notorious Brooklyn coffeeshop around 2000. He quickly hit it off with Adebimpe, whose specialized art skills led to a job shaping “claymation” characters for MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch. Together with producer Dave Sitek (guitar/keys/loops), the versatile and talented threesome decided to put their musical interests first and foremost.

Creating harrowing apocalyptic symphonies-of-the-damned, TV On The Radio first found firm footing with ‘04’s evocative Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes. Its daringly prophetic doom and gloom brought about an abstruse caliginous rage fueled by murky African tribal rhythms, righteous spiritual marches, and densely hazed urban prog-funk. Majestic intoxication, “Staring At The Sun,” the glaring ritualistic threnody that put the band on the proverbial map, offered funereal post-911 prog-funk transcendence.

Upping the fuzzy sonic dissonance while broadening the scope of their brooding cavernous fugues, ‘06’s Return To Cookie Mountain continued to expand outward, traversing a wider emotional landscape. Eerily creeping through perplexingly off-kilter beats, strobe-light electroclash jittering, and spastic contrapuntal cadences, this sanguine second set sought rejuvenation. Malone’s involvement and influence increased as he helped refine and reshape Sitek and Adebimpe’s “piecemeal collaging” by opening up the arrangements—which, at times, recalled the downbeat psych-pop of Brian Wilson’s Smile (whose echoed church harmonies get indulged).

On the precipice of worldwide indie-rock acclaim, the extended trio came back even stronger with ‘08’s awe-inspiring Dear Science. Reaching ahead of euphonic post-millennial futurism, TV On The Radio proved the frothy underground hyperbole was completely palpable. Jazz-induced brass and string sequences adorn the fleshed-out harmonic interplay and luxurious textural flourishes of their best fully-formed well-integrated tunes. Never mired in over-intellectualized avant experimentation, the heroic coterie, guided by Sitek’s scrupulous production, made soul-licked Gothic chamber pop transmutations that were surprisingly accessible and highly palatable. Polyrhythmic highlife communiqués by Fela Kuti-derived Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra distend the fierce symphonic dramatics. Brashly anthemic turnabout, “Shout Me Out,” stumbles into frenetic blissfulness.

A modicum of fame allowed Malone to step out in ’09 and properly promote Rain Machine’s fervently self-styled obsessions. Over a tribal percussion stomp, commanding opener, “Give Blood,” could be utilized as a commercial endorsement beseeching people to provide life-affirming crimson juice for necessitated transfusions. A bit of an up-front departure considering the more introspective fare that follow, this highly accessible epistle may divulge an overall thematic directive—united we stand, divided we fall.

The ghostly loneliness and profuse sorrow of “Love Can’t Save You” hearkens back to Syd Barrett and Nick Drake’s early ‘70s sobbing serenades, or perhaps, the beleaguered folk confessions of contemporary loner, Bon Iver. Inasmuch as that’s true, Malone nonetheless does what comes naturally, whistling in the dark on protracted discharge, “Desperate Bitch,” and draping forlorn mandolin across closing 11-minute mantra, “Winter Song.”

Soaring to penetrating operatic heights, Malone’s falsetto sweeps counteract intermittent husky baritone rasps and sporadic cackling yaks. Testing his highest vocal register during passionately riveting ballad, “New Last Name,” he then grasps angelic bliss on candlelit acoustic sentiment, “Driftwood Heart.” Another heavenly neo-soul grovel, “Hold You Holy,” adds church organ and flatulent horns to the tambourine-shaken guitar-dribbled sanctity. There’s always an air of despair guiding these outward expressions of inner pain and the struggle to retain faith in an oft-times cold-hearted world. As if to stress the point, his emphatic six-string strumming unleashes pervious pent-up frustration on slow-building caustic lamentation, “Love Won’t Save You.”

Malone believes TV On The Radio has the potential to expand their creative wizardry even further beyond conventional boundaries. And it seems imminent that the triumphing troupe will soon have another go-round in the studio. But he also admits to having a large back-load of ideas and material readied for another possible solo jaunt.

In your estimation, how does Rain Machine differ from TV On The Radio?

TV On The Radio is five people. All our ideas go back and forth between one another, going through different filters to end up being what it is. Most of it is pretty consistently reliant on lots of samplers, drum machines, and processors. The Rain Machine record is one voice with not nearly as much resources behind it. I feel it may have more reliance on traditional instruments.

It certainly is more organic. I also felt there was a threadbare theme of love loss or grief-stricken tension.

If there is and you’re getting that, it’s fine. That wasn’t necessarily my intention. But I’m sure there’s some of that. I’ve experienced love loss, sadness. It’s a disparate collection since the songs are from different time periods. Some recent, others old. I hope they reflect where I was at different times.