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Federal Prism: Inside the California Studio of TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek
To see more from Dave’s studio, check out @davesitek on Instagram. For more music stories, head to @music.
Drive up the right road in Glendale, California, and you can hear anything: the thrum of a dubbed-out bass guitar; a roving, reverbed electric piano; intergalactic synthesizers. The SoCal hills are alive with the sounds of Dave Sitek (@davesitek), musician, record producer and founding member of art rock legends TV on the Radio.
Dave spends most of his time up here, recording music and tending to his pets (three dogs, two cats). It’s an unexpected landing point for a man who helped steer the sound of New York’s downtown rock scene in the early 2000s. But once he made a trip to Los Angeles in 2010, he never looked back.
“Out here you can fail and fail again; it’s still kind of the Wild West,” says Dave, about life in California. It’s certainly a far cry from his humble New York beginnings, when he arrived in the city with only $65 in his pocket. “I was selling paintings in the street and I was just living like a lunatic,” he says. “I had no clothes and no furniture. I think I had two pairs of jeans and two shirts. And then I had a bunch of paint and drum machines. When Tunde saw that, he was like, ‘I’ve got to hang out with you, man.’”
Tunde is singer/partner in crime Tunde Adebimpe, who would go on to form TV on the Radio with Dave back in 2001. It was an exciting time for music in Brooklyn, and the group’s sound felt new and fresh — experimental yet accessible alt rock; something hip-hop heads, noise freaks and rock dweebs could all groove to together.
“With us it’s really different because we were never trying to be a band,” says Dave. “None of us wanted to make it, you know what I mean? Taking that out of the equation certainly helped because we didn’t have divided ambitions about sh–. We just wanted to make something. And we did it together. We were in varying degrees of denial about if it would ever work, but it did.”
The band has now been at it for 15 years and counting. Credit much of that longevity to their uniform approach to songwriting, where if one member has objections to something, then it gets scrapped. Also beneficial is the time the band takes off in between records to pursue other interests. For Dave, that means producing for other artists, running his own record label (named Federal Prism, after his studio) and making his own art.
“It’s sometimes cynical and sometimes just ridiculous,” he says, about his nonmusical creations – cartoons, glitch art, doctored movie stills — which can be found sprawled out on his dining room table. “I love making music, but the music business is just aggravating. It’s like, with visual art, it’s not a career. I don’t sell any of my paintings. I don’t sell any of my drawings. I don’t have a gallery show. It’s just like, ‘Oh, I feel like drawing a picture.’ So I will.”
In other words, the pressure is off. Even on the business end of things, he still manages to find the silver lining — but maybe it’s just that stereotypical California lifestyle talking.
“I’m not trying to sell a million of anything,” he says. “I just want to make something that 6,000 people like.”