With a lion's mane of hair concealing his head and face, Kyp Malone is easily the most recognizable unrecognizable member of TV on the Radio. He also comes across as the most reserved of the five-piece, which isn't to imply that Malone has nothing to say. Quite the contrary.
"I'm talking about things I normally talk about, just a little differently," says Malone of his new project Rain Machine.
On Rain Machine, his debut album, the TVotR guitarist/vocalist peels back the layers and places the focus on what's being said. "Smiling Black Faces" places several decades'-worth of heady political commentary into six minutes, under a spare guitar line and Malone's restless bellow.
"Part of the impetus of that song is American race history and racism in popular entertainment with minstrelsy and clowning—they're negative characterizations of joy and excitement."
It's the reason you'll never see him smile in front of a camera ("a fucked-up side effect to a fucked-up system"). And the beard? Malone says it's a byproduct of his Christian upbringing, where facial hair was typically associated with '60s radicalism.
Rain Machine became a way for Malone to push beyond the comfort of being in a band that seemingly can do no wrong in the eyes of critics and bloggers. Most telling might be the album's cover, a drawing by Malone who—despite his own hang-ups about his artistic ability—decided to put it out there for all to see.
"With TV on the Radio I learned a lot about music and people," he says. "But there's something to be said about making your own mistakes and making your own victories."
Rain Machine exudes the raw political spirit of old Woody Guthrie records, while Malone still manages to show his proclivity for modern studio gadgetry. The album clocks in at just over an hour, with three of the 11 songs pushing well past the seven-minute mark. It was Malone's purpose to produce a modern record that hearkens back to another time.
"I know it's a long record, and the age of the album is long dead, " Malone says. "I'm not a purist, but I prefer [records]. If you're listening to vinyl you're making the time."