Television Is Back On The Airwaves

Source: Billboard October 10, 1992

By Jim Bessman

Regrouped Band Plugs In At Capitol

New York - Legend has it Television ushered in the mid '70s punk era after its members convinced CBGB's owner Hilly Krystal that the band did indeed play "country, bluegrass, and blues," thereby representing three of the then fledgling lower Manhattan music club's four initials.

The Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, and many, many more acts followed, as did two landmark Television albums ("Marquee Moon" in 1977, "Adventure" in 1978); none of which had much to do with country, bluegrass, or blues. Television broke up in 1979, punk begat alternative and modern rock, and now, 13 years later, Television's original members - guitarist/vocalist Tom Verlaine, guitarist Richard Lloyd, bassist Fred Smith, and drummer Billy Ficca - have regrouped and released their third album, "Television," on Capitol.

"I hate history - please quote me," says Verlaine, whose surreal lyrics and dynamic guitar interplay with Lloyd created one of the decade's most distinctive sounds - not angry or aggressive like stereotypical punk, but equally fresh, original, and uncommercial.

Briefly, then, Verlaine cut a series of post-Television solo albums, Lloyd recorded solo and in support of John Doe and Matthew Sweet, Smith helped out on Verlaine's and Lloyd's projects as well as other artists, and Ficca joined the Waitresses and Washington Squares. Then "inertia" took over, according to Lloyd, and "a spirit said, 'Be a band, and they will listen.'"

Fanciful, perhaps, but "Television", which picks up where the band left off, has at least caught the ears of Capitol chieftain Hale Milgrim.

"[Director of A&R] Josh Deutsch brought the band to me a little over a year ago to see if I was interested, but I didn't know if they wanted to go out and work," says Milgrim. "I mean, was this real or a one-off?" (It's as real as us sitting here - 'til we go home!" asserts Lloyd.)

"So I decided to meet with them and find out," continues Milgrim. "We hit it off immediately and I was totally comfortable about their commitment to the project and touring behind it and sticking with it."

Indeed, after doing heavy advance press in July and August, Television has performed at UK festivals and has just completed a tour of Japan. A European swing is slated for October, followed by US dates in November.

The band has also finished a video for the first single, "Call Mr Lee", and plans to do clips for two more album tracks.

"It's like we never broke up—and never got back together, either," says Lloyd, setting up Verlaine.

"We're not really together, as you can see," Verlaine follows. "We just want to break the world record for longest time in between albums."

Be that as it may, "Television" retains the organic nature of its forebears. As before, Verlaine, who was then inspired by his distaste for '70s music, brought his song concepts to the others.

"A song sort of defines itself," says Lloyd. "Tom's like an editor: I might have a part, and he'll ask me to play inside-out or backward, or move two bars behind. Same with the drum beat: Billy will be just playing, and then Tom will come up with an idea, and a song falls into place. That's how it works. You'll have a part, find a sound, then the part isn't right anymore and the other part has to change."

"It's a system of filters," says Smith.

"I guess you might say Tom does a lot of composing in the studio," say Ficca.

"'Shane, She Wrote This' was "Hot Greasy Beaver' originally," says Verlaine. "Other songs, like 'Rocket', never change."

"I don't know why it works the way it works, but there's usually some form of interlocking part." says Lloyd. "Most bands with two guitarists strum the same thing. We just explore."

You kind of have to hear it, which is the basis of Capitol's game plan. "Television was always a great music band," says Milgrim. "We just need to get them heard by more people."

To this end, advance music went out to press and retail, as well as the CEMA branches. Further stoking CEMA, the band made a presentation tape for the sales staff. "Television", he adds, is a focal point for the company's fall season, with initial targeting at college/alternative.

"Call Mr Lee" went to radio at the end of September, just ahead of the album's Tuesday (6) release date. But Milgrim expects word-of-mouth to be a key factor.

"The best way is for the music to do the talking, rather than record company hyping," says Milgrim. "What's exciting is that Television are going forward - not just rehashing two incredible records. They were ahead of their time in the '70s, but fit perfectly today."