Hunched around a huge table which dominates the fancily decorated room that their new record company, Capitol, has allocated to them for interviews, the four members of the reunited Television wait patiently for my first question and their promised sandwiches.|
This is just the kind of head-on press/rock band encounter that has been grinding on since the early '60s. An exclusive exchange of ideas and arguments between rock journalist and rock artist over a silver salver of roast beef sarnies and a pot of coffee. It's such a classic cliche that I find myself close to laughing, especially when I have to struggle to extract a seat from beneath the dead weight of the mahogany table. But that's cool. Television know all the tricks of this particular trade, they've been through all these hoops before and have learned by experience how to coast through the craziness and boredom and still come out smiling.
It has been 15 years since guitarists Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd joined forces with bass player Fred Smith and drummer Billy Ficca to record 'Marquee Moon', their still astonishing debut LP which won the band rave reviews worldwide when first released in 1977.
"Of course, we deserved everything we got," laughs Richard Lloyd. "But we didn't get it," adds Tom Verlaine. "I knew it would turn around, though. I remember coming over here after 'Marquee Moon' was done, and on the day I was leaving I went to Pembridge Road and saw the band's picture on the front of a magazine. No offence to the practise of journalism, but it's all very come and go."
Despite Tom's understandable cynicism, Television have always touched the soft spot in the gnarled and world-weary heart of the rock press, even though their second LP 'Adventure' failed (unfairly, it is now widely felt) to cause the same flare of excitement as 'Marquee Moon'.
But what was really behind Television's sudden implosion?
"We don't really remember," giggles Tom, reaching for a sandwich. "It was a general displeasure with the business world. We had no money, we'd done the huge tour, our manager told us that our money was in this band in Germany, we had to borrow $30,000 to get us out of the management deal and we had absolutely no relationship with our record company in the States, not even a person to call there. We couldn't afford to stay together."
Tom's is a sad, but all too familiar, story that resulted in the demise of one of rock's most important bands. Verlaine and Lloyd signed up to Elektra to record solo projects, Smith joined up with Lloyd to play on his debut solo LP 'Alchemy', while Ficca decided to slap skins for The Waitresses, an oddball New York pop band who were fronted by one Chris Butler and produced a minor hit in 'Christmas Wrapping' for $ Records.
Despite all this extra creativity since Television decided to call it a day, however, they have remained in touch, even if it's just to wave to each other across the street. Television had a secret plan to reform and record in 1992 and, as good as their word, that's exactly what they've done.
Listening to their new album, 'Television', it's almost like they've never been away. Those expecting a record to eclipse 'Marquee Moon' may well be disappointed as 'Television' is more of a natural progression down the road 'Adventure' was travelling. Tom, for one, is sceptical about the amount of praise 'Marquee Moon' continues to enjoy.
"I really question that," he smiles knowingly. "I really think that people only drag it out and put it on about every three-and-a-half years and say, 'That stuff sounds OK!', Or else they put it on and go, 'God! That doesn't sound like anything I remember'."
And yet the magic and mystique of that first record continues to drag in new generations of intrigued and impressed listeners.
"You know where I heard it last?" exclaims Tom, "In Nashville, on a college radio station. The kid that introduced it was saying, 'Hey! I just found this new CD and I wanna play you all this song called 'Marquee Moon' that's really long!"
"It was one take, remember?" reminisces Richard. "Billy didn't know that the 'RECORD' light was on."
"There we were," laughs Billy, "playing along with the bass drum sliding across the floor."
"They couldn't nail it down and it went scooting forward," Richard explains.
Even though Tom denies that the past was of little consequence ("I don't think anybody thinks about their past much, unless they're in a mental institution") a fine time is being had by all as the memories surface.
"Do you remember when we were picking the name and we all went away for a couple of weeks?" says Richard. "We were looking for something that sounded so common it was everywhere, but something that sounded modern too so that it cut through. Television was exactly that."
The name also fit the way Television tried to sound on stage and in the studio. A modern powerglide '70s band who, if you stuck your ear really close to the speaker, echoed the same sonic static which throbbed from the late '60s garage punk records, old TV show soundtracks and the hum of something glowing brightly in the dusty darkness.
"We're an analog band, we're not digital," announces Richard. Uhhh... Could you elaborate on that a little Rich?
"When things come out on CD they have to be digitalised. There's a good engineer I know who says that analog is like film and digital is like video. If you put something you've filmed on video then it will retain all of its beauty and sheen on film. If you record something on video it will be grainy, and if you put that on film it will retain its graininess. We're analog... valve. We're valve people, not solid-state people."
Talk turns to the songs on the new LP that Tom describes as "the flowering" of the band's skill. "In these songs, there is, perhaps, a relaxation of personal will to evaluate ourselves... I'm trying to be as pretentious as possible HAHA!"
Richard, meanwhile, has a more earthy vision of how Television's latest tunes come across.
"The guitar part at the end of 'Mr Lee' is kinda like a flower. But it was more like a rotten potato that's just burst! HAHA! Or like a bloated old melon that's just laid in a field and gone PLUGHHHH!!! Like the pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, did you see that movie? Where the pod cracks open and inside there's this half-formed person that becomes YOU... only without any feelings?"
It turns out that such psychotronic monster movie epics are an important part of what turns Television on creatively. All cite films such as Invaders From Mars, The Brain Eaters and Fiend Without A Face as an influence, while Tom eagerly explains how a childhood model of the red planet influenced his 'Mars' song and that '50s novelty records could be responsible for the fractured atmosphere on 'The Rocket'.
"I have a real warm spot for flying saucer songs and Frankenstein songs. When I was a kid the first record I ever really liked was called 'The Mummy', and the flip-side was called 'The Beat Generation' which Richard Hell later re-wrote as 'The Blank Generation'. I thought it was the greatest thing I had ever heard. I didn't like Elvis much then, but I was very young. When I was a kid I used to play that monster all the time!"
Suddenly, Tom remembers something else from his youth that could easily apply to Television's current revitalisation.
"That was another thing about the horror films, they had these trailers which said something like, 'They're back! They're big! And they kill!"
Television. They're back! They're big! They're hungry and they've escaped from the basement!