The lyrics are usually contemplative and deeply personal instead of sociopolitical like some of TV On The Radio’s fare.
Yeah. I find that no matter who does what in TV On The Radio, it reflects on all of us. The fact that I can write a song and people credit it to Tunde and some lady journalist will credit his songs to me, beyond frustration. It also seemed like I wasn’t just speaking for myself. It’s like the band is saying it. By degrees, it tempers how you write things. But in the Rain Machine situation, I’m only speaking for myself.
The minimalist acoustic and mandolin settings show off your rangy voice.
I’d have to state overtly that I couldn’t feel more fortunate to be a part of TV On The Radio’s creative family. It’s afforded me a great deal of opportunity, creative growth being foremost. Often, I’m always so busy in past years touring for records in loud venues. And the idea of having to scream over the music is becoming less appealing. I like to scream sometimes, but I wanna do it for emphasis and not just ‘cause I can’t hear myself. The idea of doing something simpler and quieter was super-appealing.
‘Love Won’t Save You’ and ‘Winter Song’ are like melancholic requiems. Did it take awhile to get those long-form songs to gel or did they grow out of extemporaneous thoughts?
Both of those songs I’ve been playing live for awhile, especially ‘Love Won’t Save You.’ The lyrics were always improvised and they remain so. That’s just the version that’s on the record. I’ve stayed flexible with it since I wrote it. It’s still coming together by degrees. I was writing with a friend for another project and having a hard time getting anything done. After one writing session she went home and I had a show that night and I didn’t want to play all old songs so I had that as a new song. It didn’t take long to assemble—very quick.
‘Desperate Bitch’ seems to sum up some of the fears and hostilities bottled up inside since you versify ‘naked and blue in front of you with castration fears.’
(laughter) That’s an older song. I didn’t want to put that on there because I didn’t want to tilt the record too much towards negation. I also needed to get that one, which was in the live repertoire, on record. That came together well before I had an idea to do a record. That kind of vulnerability made it fit more now. Also, I was broke at the time, having a hard time paying rent. I had to leave my apartment, getting lunch bought by friends, and telling my daughter’s mother to please just be patient because it’s gonna turn around. That song was born out of that frustration.
Some of the record seems influenced by Prince’s mid-‘80s nocturnal sound.
I definitely listened to Prince a lot as a kid. It was a tie between him and the Smiths for time logged listening to records. I’m sure he’s in there both consciously and unconsciously.
Did you take any inspiration from Antony & The Johnsons? Antony’s latest work had a spare emotionality featuring his voice front and center in a similarly reserved manner.
I have not heard Antony’s most recent record. But I will say he’s an incredible talent. His voice I love. If I’m in any way in his company creatively, that’s a compliment.
What did Ian Brennan’s production add to Rain Machine?
He was fundamental in making it come into existence. Otherwise, I’d only be talking about making a record and dividing my time to do other things. I was performing in L.A. for some concert series. He was in the audience and heard me play two songs then found me through different channels and cold-called me about making a record. He booked studios, got me a plane ticket for California, and facilitated everything. He got all the instruments I’d requested and was super-patient and open-minded. No egoist.
How did you manage to keep your minimalist songs from going adrift when a few went over the eight-minute mark?
Maybe I can’t answer that. In my mind, it’s not hard. At my best, I have a pretty good ability to concentrate on things. Considering how long it takes to read a book, make a kid, it’s beyond market consideration because they need two to three-minute songs before going to commercials. But there’s a lot that could be done in that constrained time construct. Smokey & The Miracles, as far as the ability and brevity, Motown made tons of phenomenally inspirational songs. But I don’t know, I listen to John Coltrane’s Live In Seattle, Alice Coltrane’s Transfiguration, and Pharaoh Sanders’ Karma. I know all the parts to those recordings because I’ve listened to them a lot—15 to 18-minute pieces. I feel I could be inside those songs in a way and become transported by them. I also find them compelling. I hope I’m succeeding at keeping people interested instead of moving the needle forward.
Catch Rain Machine at the Bowery Ballroom on Oct. 24. myspace.com/rainmachinemusic.
Photo Credit: Eric Martin