The Music Man: Hotel Hopping with TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe
Is Tunde Adebimpe for real? Seriously, I'm not sure. Known mostly for his role as the iconic lead vocalist of Brooklyn-based band TV on the Radio, the 35-year-old is an ass-kicking, multi-tasking, multi-talented artist. He's an actor, animator, director, musician. But this charming renaissance man is certainly not one to brag.
I caught up with Adebimpe at the James Hotel in N.Y.C. as he was prepping to promote the band's fifth album, Nine Types of Light. In spite of TVotR's gazillion awards and accolades, he talks about their 10-year journey together as though the band was just signed yesterday—so appreciative of every moment. And so excited about what's to come.
After graduating from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts with a visual arts degree in the '90s, Adebimpe, an aspiring animator, directed a video for Yeah Yeah Yeahs' song "Pin" and created episodes of MTV's Celebrity Death Match. At the time, TVotR was just another casual art project on his plate. "That was before the band kind of took over my life," Adebimpe says, jokingly. Little did he know that a decade later TVotR would reach iconic indie status—receiving endless praise from critics and accumulating numerous awards. The band's 2nd full-length, Return to Cookie Mountain was named Spin Magazine's 2006 Album of the Year and 2008's Dear Science was named Best Album of 2008 by MTV, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, and Spin. After taking a year-long hiatus to explore other projects, TVotR is back on full-blast with Nine Types of Light. The album's first single, "Will Do," is a slight departure from the band's typical agitated art rock. It's almost…a ballad. Adebimpe's dreamy falsetto, mixed with hazy synths and sparse strings is trademark TVotR—epic and soulful, yet more mellow.
"It's about the feeling of waiting for someone," he says. "Sometimes you have a confidence that you're supposed to be with someone even though that person isn't responding." But don't assume that Adebimpe's getting a door slammed in his face by a lady. Hardly. "This is the first album where I'm writing songs that are absolutely NOT based on my life," he says.
When Adebimpe speaks about his wife, an illustrator, it's obvious that he has found his someone. "It's so attractive when someone is very wrapped up in their art," he says. "I knew I could be with [my wife] for a long time because we could sit down to make something together for a couple days and not drive each other crazy." Their artistic alliance is enviable. "She once said to me, 'I want to guard your solitude.' At that point? I said, 'We should get married because I want to guard your solitude.' I don't want anything messing with what she has to do. Whatever her higher purpose is, my job is to bat things away from it," he says, smiling. I'll say it again. Is Tunde Adebimpe for real?
And just because he had a year off between Dear Science and Nine Types of Light doesn't mean that Adebimpe was sitting around watching Seinfeld reruns. After playing the role of Sidney in 2008's "Rachel Getting Married," he's excited to pursue more acting. He also lent vocals for an upcoming Lee Scratch Perry album, as well as tracks with both Massive Attack and Beans. But wait, there's more! Adebimpe, along with several talented artist-friends, also directed one of the 10 videos to accompany each song on TVotR's new album. "I just can't focus on one thing," he says, shaking his head, laughing. "I'm always making something."
Another something on Adebimpe's agenda? Touring. After 10 years, the guys are getting used to being in close quarters. Sort of. "You do need your space. It isn't necessarily about anyone else," he explains. "On the last tour, all of us were like 'Man, it's driving me crazy'… Well, yea dude, you're a 34-year- old man hanging out with four other men in a bus that smells like an ashtray and a gym locker."
So, wait. Not only is he charming, modest, and talented. He has a sense of humor, too. Is Tunde Adebimpe for real? Yes. And the world is much better because of it.
images via BUST Magazine, Paper Magazine