Never mind that Nevermen is a supergroup of men already assembled from side projects and supergroups. The triple-decker team of TV on the Radio frontman Tunde Adebimpe, experimental rapper Doseone (Adam Drucker), and Faith No More’s iconic Mike Patton perform prismatic leaps that dive into a brooding experimental cacophony. Together they go against all supergroup rules. Instead of choosing between Adebimpe’s indie, Patton’s alt rock, and Doseone’s hip-hop, the Rubik’s Cube approach to adventurous and unpredictable tones lets the seasoned and imaginative songwriters simultaneously shift into position within the same parameters. They each have their own color, but for one to move, they must all move. And, just like the greatest work of its members, the results showcase just enough kinetic chemistry to make Nevermen more than a mere novelty — it’s a rotating package of colorful dice, incapable of puzzling out their art together without moving as a unit.
“The idea was always to release this project as a piece of art,” says the always-sincere Adebimpe. “The best thing about it is how there was no space to think about our other projects whenever we got together. So, it’s just you, hanging out with your weird friends and thinking things are sounding great.” In order to chip away the concept of the archetypal “frontman” ego, the trio spent seven years building cohesive opinions about fame, creativity and collaboration.
It was a little over a year ago since we last chatted for our cover story about TV on the Radio’s last album, Seeds. Gosh, and if anything can give you perspective, that’s surely something.
[Laughs] I know, I know. I’m still doing it. I’m home right now working on some animation things I’m doing for Adult Swim, and I’m really excited about that. I gotta say I’m having fun talking about the record and glad it’s finally going to be out in the world so people can give it a listen.
From what I understand, it was a natural meeting of the minds, too, with the three Nevermen, you along with Doseone’s Adam Drucker and Faith No More’s Mike Patton. Was this after you released TVOTR’s Dear Science?
Let me see … let me see … It’s hard to tell. Oh no, it was definitely before! It was late 2007, and we had just started working on Dear Science. Another weird thing happened … Oh, I always forget about this, but years ago I found a CD in a café in Williamsburg. You know how they always have those free CDs and fliers near the counter? There was one that just had an image of this sort of emperor and this renaissance scene with a collage of black-and-white stripes covering the face, and the head was on fire. I took it home and listened to it, and it was amazing. I was like, “What the fuck is this, and what is going on?” Was there some sort of weird psychic tunnel somewhere? Because after hearing Adam’s sound, I knew it would be complimentary.
The only problem was that it didn’t have a name on it, but I knew the voice sounded a little familiar. Then, a few months later, I was in a record store and I saw that it was a band called Subtle, which was Adam’s band, and you know when things happen like that it’s special. I think it was the end of our Return to Cookie Mountain tour when we finally played a show with Subtle and we got to hang out for the first time. It was really like running into a friend from middle school. Then Adam came to New York after that, just before I had been kicked out of this loft that we were all living in. When I came back from tour, everyone had gone and I had to get my shit out, so it was completely empty. It was this whole floor of this old cheesecake factory that was falling apart. It was 2,600 feet, so Adam and I took the opportunity in the few weeks I had left to record things like beating down the drywall and breaking things, singing across an empty room with a bunch of gadgets and tape recorders. We just knew we’d figure out what to do with it eventually.
Is that also when you crossed paths with Mike Patton?
Well, Adam went back to the west coast and had done some stuff with Mike in the past. He was the one that got the idea that it would be great if the three of us did something together. Slowly we added a little bit more production. Adam tackled all the scalable stuff, but then the handover to Mike was like putting the music in surround sound, and it felt like spaceships were flying all over.
So, it took roughly seven or eight years to finish recording the full album. How did the project keep pulling you back in over all this time?
We had this unspoken agreement that any time we all have a little bit of time, we will work on stuff together if we happen to be in the same place or at least shoot [each other] emails. Then, last year, everything started getting tied up, and we chose the songs and knew which ones were good for the record. The whole project just had a great shape to it. Also, three years ago is when we brought along Keith Tyson, a British artist, to start doing our artwork, which turned into him becoming the “fourth member” as we like to call him. So the idea was always to release this project as a piece of art.
I couldn’t imagine you having an agenda, but art is often made as a reaction to or progression toward a concern. So what were you commenting on?
You know how you can get tripped up easily, especially if you follow your heart into a creative life? You can get tripped up about a lot of things, sometimes strange things like being in a shitty situation that everyone else thinks is great.
Are you speaking in terms of making music?
Or the idea of being in a band, where you make a record that can be a great experience. It can also be not such a great experience when you have different personalities to deal with and everyone’s got their own shit. Then you go on tour for a year, and if you’re lucky enough, [the shows are] well attended. Then, when you get back to whatever your home has become, you feel like a crazy person with having to constantly be doing something because you’re so used to that up and down of adrenaline, and get weird about so much changing in the place that you’re from, so you’re left feeling like a ghost.
Trying to explain that to someone who isn’t in it, or personally aware, makes you feel like an asshole for choosing this life because of how much shit there is to navigate.
It’s so easy to get caught up that I wonder if trying not to, and isolating yourself, can make you even more of an asshole?
A lot of the record is about what inspires someone to be an artist and in front of a band, whether that’s an arc to escape or just a big ego trip, and you’re like, “I’m great, so I’m gonna form Limp Bizkit, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Ha! That’s a name I haven’t heard for years. But the three of you have such distinct vocal approaches within your respective genres. Wasn’t it a challenge to write unified songs like these that are rhythmically quite challenging?
Well, the amount of time all three of us spent together working on the album was so minimal. The idea is definitely a trio, but as far as someone keeping everything together and driving the bus, that was definitely Adam. He was just a machine in the best possible way. We collaborated on the lyrics remotely, and we would try to do things in rounds, like the three of us singing one part of a multisyllabic line, which is difficult.
I think the most interesting thing is how unrecognizable your voices are, particularly on “Shellshot”, and you’re each primarily known for your vocals.
Oh, completely. And when we hit the point where we were finally mixing the record and getting things back, the same thing kept happening: Me asking, “Is that me?” So many times. “Honestly, is that me? Did I sing that line?” I had no fucking clue.
On top of that, the album drives through plenty of bold rhythmic choices, so it became a personal project for me to try to figure out who is singing what – an art project should I say!
It’s kind of that way listening to it for us as well. The amount of time it took to gain shape and get to a place of stepping back … wow. It’s got these crazy layers on it, which makes you think about the time we spent on it and all the experiences that we’ve gone through in seven years: stretches of touring, growing up, your voice actually changes. [Laughs] It’s not like puberty, but it’s definitely different over the course of seven years.
Like an aural simulation of your timelines merging? Is it strange revisiting music you wrote in your early 30s?
I’m pretty old, aren’t I? The funny thing is, it’s not strange revisiting it because we put a seal on it only three months ago. So, all the iterations to the songs haven’t had a chance to solidify yet. I feel like I’m only revisiting it now.
I think it’s healthy to let things digest naturally, at a slower pace.
I totally agree. I’ve been recording for so long, and to still have it feel fresh is so important.
Like Mike and Adam, you’ve been involved in so many projects throughout your career. Be it Higgins Waterproof Black Magic Band, Fake Male Voice, or TV on the Radio. As an artist, do you see each project charging from a different place within your creative self?
I feel like Adam and Mike and I, as soon as we’re done with something, we figure out how to mentally and emotionally close that door. I can go and easily put on a TVOTR song that I wrote when I was 27 — it’s crazy for me to even say, but the door to the initial feeling is closed. There’s a respect for it, but it’s shut. And I feel like that’s how every project works: You figure something out, and it just opens another step to something new.
Here you seem to be toying with these overarching concepts, though the actual connecting ideas are a little murky. Let’s start at the end with the closing track, “Fame II the Wreckoning”, where one of you sings, “One day might you get to the flame of what you are.”
Oh yeah, that song is more interesting when you consider the line that I sing first which is, [singing] “Were you caught lacing blankets.” And that was one of the first bits of singing that we actually recorded in 2007. We did that in the loft. For me, it’s about being inspired to go and do something greater than you. I think that sometimes musicians have a schematic and a goal in their head to be a pop singer and then a fashion line and this and that. Plans! That’s great, but the most important thing is to not lose feeling, no matter what presents itself to you. This sounds ridiculous maybe, but whatever your future self is telling you, you need to do now so that later you guys can high-five. [Laughs] You know? And not get there and be like, “Shit, fuck, where am I??
It’s true. In pop culture, it can sometimes seem the singer is on a pedestal, primed, packaged, and sure of everything. I guess it feels relatable that you’re still writing songs in order to figure out which direction you’re going, writing lines that suggest there’s a loose thread in your life. On “Non Babylon”, you address the frontman directly: “Hey Mr. Frontman, do you write?” You also mention “checking your personal truths.”
Yes, holding to a truth, something I was thinking about when I was 26. That song is equal parts “Am I a wax idol about myself?” or is it really just feeling super confused with a good heart? I was just thinking about even David Bowie jumping off into the sky the way he did, that calculation I had was so fueled by an atom that was firing off from my heart, I never questioned what people want. Who knows what the fuck people want? Like Bowie, you should remember to think about the mystery you want to explore.
How difficult was it to write while knowing you’re constantly being made aware of your “symbolic importance” by being in a supposed “supergroup?”
Yeah, it’s strange how natural this felt. The best thing about it is how there was no space to think about our other projects whenever we got together. So, it’s just you, hanging out with your weird friends and thinking things are sounding great.
Speaking about David Bowie, who you had the honor of working with, do you think it’s harder for young writers to write with that kind of primitivism because they’re so aware of what fame is and what creativity can become?
I definitely think so. I was talking to Nick Zinner from Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Daniel Kessler from Interpol, not to be like that, but we were all just hanging out, talking about if you could put your first demo up online when you were 14 and have it scrutinized by millions of strangers. We all agreed that we don’t think we would be doing this right now if this was the case. We made our demos and showed it to, like, the five friends. There’s so much editing you’d need to do now to diffuse out of being desperate for attention. But on the other hand, I have no idea. Like I was saying, I’m old!
You. Are. Not. Old!
Yeah, right. In Internet time, I’m like 98.
Don’t you find then that this is the perfect time to bring out this project? Not to say age has much to do with it, but experiencing so many years in the industry to now reach a point where you don’t give a fuck and you’re giving it the agency it deserves from a standpoint of realizing that this is simply what you need to do?
Whenever I started making music, there was nothing in my head that thought, “If I keep doing this, I’m going to be Bruce Springsteen, or I’m gonna be the next Puffy.” That is another planet in a universe I do not live in. Now, if someone in Cleveland goes on Instagram, they might feel like they can be all these things, an Ariana Grande. For every side that’s calculated and wanting to make pop music, which I’m not disparaging at all, there’s always a side for us weirdos. I feel like there’s space for everyone.