Source: Creem (date unavailable)
by Peter Mengaziol
Television's first incarnation left one of the most flattering paper trails
in rock'n'roll history. Often predicted to be the future of rock, TV was the
first band to emerge from the now mythic '70s New York /CBGB's scene armed with
more musical prowess and invention than attitude. Vocalist Tom Verlaine and
Richard Lloyd on guitars, Fred Smith on bass, and Billy Ficca on drums redefined
the state of the art of rock'n'roll. The novel guitar concepts and
improvisational duels (then most often compared to the Grateful Dead!) left an
indelible mark on other musicians, The Edge (U2) being the most famous fan of
In their first three-year career they generated more musical acclaim than mass enthusiasm. In 1978, they broke up, disillusioned by the reality of the "business" that kept them from reaching the mainstream. Fourteen years later, perhaps due to an unseen harmonic convergence, Television is playing again and sitting in Capitol Record's New York office. Well, most of them, since front man Tom Verlaine, in his infinite wisdom, had decided that boycotting Creem was a great career move, leaving the rest of the very articulate bunch to carry on.
"For six years people were asking why we broke up, then they asked when we'd get back together. For the next six they'll ask 'why did we reform?'" shrugs Fred. "You don't really know, time goes by," Billy chimed in a Niew Yauk lilt, "but it's nice that people want to know. We're here, older and wiser but still crazy." "Nah, younger and more naive," interrupted Richard. No definitive answers offered...
During the 14-year hiatus, Verlaine kept busy with a series of well received solo albums. Richard spoke for the rest: "We didn't go and open coffee shops. We've never been anywhere else but the 'business', it's just not a very successful business. I've made three records of my own twiddling. Fred played with Tom and me and on the Peregrines' record. Billy was in the Waitresses."
"From a really large time scale you can say that we really never did leave," said Billy. Still, Television faces a different world than the first time around, although perhaps a more accommodating one. "There were so many bands that went from what we were doing and developed that alternative side of the industry that now there's a road map to it," Richard pointed out. This "alternative side" will give Television the most natural fit. "We're so unique that categorizations elude us," he continued.
Billy added: "Alternative music doesn't have to be "alternative" (mock wincing facial gesture), I mean, we COULD be weird and avant-garde if we wanted, but really, at our core is a pop band. When people hear the album for the first time they'll say that there's a different approach. There's a lot to be curious about." Billy confidently predicted, "Our audience will snowball like Dylan's did, the old folkies and new ones you pick up along the way."
Lloyd described the creative process: "WE produced the album. The record company wanted a TELEVISION record!" When the parallel to the wonderful two-guitar interplay of the early (12X5) Stones was brought up, Lloyd snapped back, "No, more like Aftermath. But regardless, our record is the way it is not by any design. Songs come out of the ozone, where else is it going to come from? Tom writes the melodies and basic chord structure. The rest of us throw in our lot and the songs become what they are." "You listen, play, feel, and something comes out," added Billy.
"Television is something else other then Tom Verlaine with three people. It's also Billy with three people, Richard with three people, and Fred with three people. Television speaks to us rather than we to it," Richard continued.
The there's the Zen tension between the recording and those legendary, ever-changing live Television performances. "The record is not our 'thing' anymore. You 'make' it and then you 'release' it, meaning 'let go' of it," explained Richard. Billy jumped in: "We've stretched the songs from the album into the live format in just three gigs!" "Having the record gives you a map, but live the songs will start to go someplace and we will chase them," Richard said.
One listen to the new album will confirm the simultaneous new/old quality, rootsy yet abstract guitars, deadpan vocals, and off-kilter lyrics. "Rocket" could be William Burroughs doing '60s surf/car music after having heard The Normals' original "Warm Leatherette".
Without a sample, synth or sequence, the new album sounds crisp and real. "You can't yell and encourage an electronic drum track," laughed Billy. As for those cool guitar sounds: "Absolutely no digital technology. Those sounds come from little old boxes that are from the '60s and some no-name amps that have real vibrato, the lumpy stuff sitting around that nobody wants anymore," confessed Richard.
The guitars in Television, as daring as they are, have bypassed the pyrotechnic excesses of the Van Halen '80s. Richard asserted "Thanks to MTV, half the population of the western world thinks they're going to be rock musicians. In Hollywood at 8.30 AM you literally see all these long-haired rock and rollers with guitars, like businessmen with briefcases, going to this guitar college where they all learn speed and thrash and tapping. And it's like, 'oeyyyyy'! All the 64th notes make you king. You wonder where all those guys are headed, since 99.9999 percent of those guitars are eventually going into the closet!"
"I purposely didn't learn any of those hip licks. There's a million guys technically better than us but there's something else that makes you a musician rather than just a guy who plays an instrument. The real criteria for success is inexpressible!"