THE FIFTH ALBUM from TV on the Radio, Seeds, is a primed, ripened batch. Melodies spin inside of melodies, with layers opening into each other by trapdoor. The punctuation of TVOTR's Brooklyn-based funk sorcery is still taut and foreboding, but the songs seem more obtainable than before. It's their first album since the 2011 passing of bassist Gerard Smith, and themes of love run throughout. "Could You" drives and peels off with horns, 12-string Rickenbacker, and the tandem vermillion tenors of Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone. Guitarist/producer Dave Sitek yields sounds on Seeds that work together like cogs—spatial, yet wrapped tight. On "Careful You," Jaleel Bunton's scuzzy, pulsating bass tones climb up a scaffold of beats 50 stories high. Bunton spoke from his little brother's in-laws' house in Pennsylvania on Thanksgiving Day.
MERCURY: The songs on Seeds have melodies inside of melodies inside of melodies. It's like Inception: The Musical, with Prince playing John Lennon's songs.
JALEEL BUNTON: This album was a little more collaborative than others, as far as vocal melodies. But Tunde and Kyp are really gifted at that. This is sacrilegious, but growing up, I always sided with the Stones in the Beatles vs. Stones debate. I was never really a Beatles guy. All my elite music friends always told me how dumb I was. It wasn't until recently that I realized how precious what the Beatles had is. They've written so many great melodies that you take for granted because they're so simple and attainable. I didn't realize what a talent that was until I got older. I'm not saying Tunde and Kyp write like the Beatles, but they're similar in that they can write melodies that seem like they've always existed. Which is really, really hard. It's something you have to just have. You want to make a melody seem simple enough, but not annoyingly pedantic. Not so simple as to be condescending, but simple in a way that feels like it's always been there. That's a real challenge. I get impressed when I see them do it.
Seeds was recorded at Dave Sitek's home studio in LA. Does that show on the album?
I'd say it shows in the way "Careful You" was created. We had the luxury of digging around for hours without it being rushed at all. We had the ability to let things flow. Another thing no one really knows is that we wrote probably 50 songs for the record. They got whittled down from things we had started and played with and were able to write and ride for a while. You can't really do that in a big, expensive studio. Also, the way this band works—and I've played in a lot of bands before—we aren't so much a guitar, bass, and drums band. It's not guys in a garage just banging it out; we require a computer and electronic equipment. The idea of a band writing songs, rehearsing them, then going into a studio and recording them doesn't fit this format. We write on computers and drum machines to get ideas down. We need an environment that's conducive to that—that's not your mom's garage. Dave's place gave [us] the ability to create and move around that way. There are so few of those big recording studios left, and this is a reason why. The world changes.
TV on the Radio's music never loses anything after many listens. How do you do that?
It's all an attempt. I don't know how successful we are at achieving that, but my musical agenda is definitely to make things that last. When I was a kid, a lot of what I listened to was from 30 or 40 years before my time—albums that have everlasting relevance to the human condition. I'm always listening to Howlin' Wolf. It's always going to make sense. It sounds like an era in blues, but it has an emotive quality that's so sincere. In general, I think if music is sincere, it will always have a place. There's always going to be some kid between the ages of 14 and 17 who falls in love with classic rock. I love Jimi, the Stones, the Dead [laughs]. It doesn't matter if the music world turns into just bleeps and bloops, somebody at that age is going to be like, "I just found the Talking Heads, oh my God, they're incredible!" Hopefully, we can leave something that remains relevant like that, but I'm not arrogant enough to say we've achieved it.
The title Seeds. What does that encompass for you?
We had a list of names for the album. The song "Seeds" was one that got written and recorded pretty early on. The name started to stick. It might have been an unconscious thing. It seemed appropriate. Maybe it's a conversation about the future of our band, and what this album represents for the band's career. This album was a restart. We had taken a break and didn't know if we were going to continue. And the decision's been made to continue, so these are the seeds of the next decade of this band, I guess.