Benjamin Booker Talks TV on the Radio’s Seeds

With flair, aplomb and a dip into personal history, the New Orleans rocker overcomes his terror of writing about a band that has never disappointed.

As just about anybody who follows popular music knows, the SXSW music festival happened last week in Austin, Texas. SXSW features thousands of musicians, but every year, a few become generally acknowledged standouts, and careers are made or kicked up a notch or two. This week, the Talkhouse is running pieces about some of the most celebrated bands of SXSW 2015.
— The editors of the Talkhouse

I suppose I should begin by saying that, at one point in my life, TV on the Radio was, without question, my favorite band in the world.

In late 2006 I stumbled across a YouTube clip of their Letterman performance of “Wolf Like Me” and I was floored. Their combination of punk and soul seemed to come out of nowhere and I immediately felt like I had been introduced to a long-lost brother, like this band was created specifically for my enjoyment.

Cut to the summer of 2007. I’m living in Brooklyn, making some money after high school by “taking care” of two kids who thankfully didn’t die despite my “I don’t give a fuck about these two rich white kids” attitude. I’m hanging out at my favorite spot, Zebulon, a bar and music venue in Williamsburg that’s now defunct because of all the luxury condos in the neighborhood. (THANKS, MOTHERFUCKERS!) I’m flirting with one of the bartenders, who was a friend at the time and had no intention of ever hooking up with a man. (Side note: For years I was cursed with an attraction to lesbians, not because they were lesbians but because they always seemed cooler and more interesting than straight chicks, but ANYWAYS!)

Kyp Malone walks in. He’s a regular, thanks to the close proximity of the band’s studio a block or so away. And I lose my shit! Thankfully, the bartender knows I’m obsessed and introduces me to Kyp. From what I remember, this was one of the most awkward encounters of my life, thanks only to me. The only words I manage to get out are: “Never stop making music!” (Jesus!)

Kyp invites me to the show coming up at McCarren Park Pool, which I attended, maybe cried at, and is still the only time I’ve ever seen the band live. The concert cemented my love for the band. Live, the songs were even more ferocious, more delicate and just plain fun.

Cut to my freshman year of college. I’m going to school in Gainesville, Florida, and decide to make a trip to Tallanasty to see some friends who are throwing a huge party. I take acid for the first time and proceed to lock myself in the host’s room for three hours and listen to “A Day in the Life” on repeat. When I emerge I find myself sitting by the bonfire outside, alone, with a Solo cup in my hand. Why? Because fire looks cool as fuck on acid.

It’s late in the night and I’m starting to drift off. Then, through the smoke I see the hazy image of a girl on the other side of the fire… in a TV on the Radio t-shirt!

At this point the acid is really hitting me and I decide this girl is the girl of my dreams. My one true love. One of the few people I’d encountered at the time who listened to TVOTR, and definitely the only girl.

I spend the rest of the night asking around and checking with friends to find out who this girl is. With no success. Finally, towards the end of the party, after another girl fell off the roof onto the hood of a car, I go up to the TVOTR girl and say, “Hey, nice shirt. I love TV on the Radio. I saw them play in Brooklyn at McCarren Park Pool.”

She says, “I was there too!” I almost vomit due to the excessive amount of excitement (and acid).

I head back to Gainesville and tell all my friends about this girl, whom I affectionately called “TV on the Radio Girl” because I never got her name. This girl pops up in my head for three years until I finally see her in the last month of senior year, and we drunkenly make out at a party in a bed next to her best friend who’s sleeping, but also giggling.

When I tell my best friend about finally getting things going with my dream girl after all those years, he tells me, “That’s her? Oh yeah, I had sex with her last week….”


I’m mentioning all this to explain how deep my love for this band goes and how terrified I am to be writing about a band that, to me, has never disappointed.

So let’s talk about Seeds. “Careful You,” a song about trying to make a relationship that’s not working work, stands out as the best track on the record. Who can’t relate to that shit?! In my experience it’s best listened to at night on a New Orleans streetcar on your way to meet a girl whom you care about but aren’t sure it’s going to work out with.

“Lazerray” sounds like a lost Queens of the Stone Age track, a raging fist-pumper that is sure to kill at shows during the part of the set when the lighting designer really gets to shine.

No one sings love songs like Kyp Malone (check out one of my favorite TVOTR tracks, “Lover’s Day”) and he doesn’t let us down on “Love Stained,” a song propelled by breakbeats that’s bound to be the soundtrack to hipster babies being conceived all over the country this winter.

Is this TV on the Radio’s best record, as singer Tunde Adebimpe has suggested? No. That will always be Return to Cookie Mountain, a perfect record.

Seeds is the band’s least experimental record and the one with the most potential to be commercially viable. That said, it still has several moments of pure beauty and is better than 95 percent of the albums released this year. (Perfume Genius’ Too Bright is in the other five percent.) It’s the band’s most personal and sentimental record to date. It’s a record made by men who are getting older and have more important things to worry about than trying to reinvent the musical wheel. Even though that may be the case, it’s still solid and worth buying, or at least downloading illegally.

P.S.: If you’re a girl trying to holler at me after a show, just wear your TV on the Radio shirt and I’ll know what’s up.

Benjamin Booker is a New Orleans-based musician who has toured with Jack White and appeared on Letterman, Conan and Later… With Jools Holland. He just released his self-titled debut album this summer. Hear some of his music here.