‘I’m fascinated by beautiful women & not in a (strictly) prurient sense’
TV Girl’s hushed, ethereal hymns aren’t as docile or playful as they may seem. Flecked with emotional carnage and fanged observations, the Los Angeles based band has carved out a living making heart-masticating songs that deal with the pangs of acceptance. Brad Petering, the figurehead behind TV Girl’s hazy malaise, has been recognized for his irascible lyrics and wave-breaking compositions. French Exit, the latest work by TV Girl, was released this year to acclaim.
Robert Patrick: You made French Exit available to buy, in multiple formats, but you also enabled listeners to download it for free. Why give listeners the choice?
Brad Petering: We gave our stuff away up until the Lonely Women EP. As an experiment we made that one only available to buy. I don’t think it did us any good. It’s not like we made a ton of money by restricting its access to paying customers, and it probably restricted the music’s reach some. It’s hard to tell because you have no control group for these experiments. But already way, way more people have bought “French Exit” under the pay-what-you-want model.
TV Girl’s lyrics have always been thoughtful and sentient without being cloying. There has always been an underlying, sort of barbed theme, to each one of your songs. Is it important for the lyrics to have sardonic teeth to you?
It is. I, like most people I imagine, have some latent irrational anger in me. Art is a constructive channel for negative emotions. For example. Let’s say you get the proverbial shoe from a romantic partner. You’ll probably feel bitter and angry towards them, but often their crime is nothing more than just not liking you enough. In real life, you couldn’t justifiably chew someone out for not liking you. You could, but it wouldn’t necessarily be fair and it probably wouldn’t make you look good. What I like about art is that it isn’t held to real life standards. I can tell my version of events no matter how biased or inaccurate they are and get away with it. Not only do I get away with it. People applaud me for it. I make money off it even.
In an era that is so dominated by mp3 singles, digital playlists and instant gratification by way of electronics, do you think that people have been desensitized to the practice of sitting down and listening to full albums as they were intended to be listened to?
Without a doubt people don’t listen to albums the way that they should. But they probably never did in the first place. It would be beautiful if people sat down in a chair and listened to music in silence like they would a movie. I think generally we treat music like an enhancement to other activities instead of an artistic piece in its’ own right.
I know this may seem somewhat fan-centric, but to me, next to George Harrison’s “Apple Scruffs,” “Lizzy Come Back to Life” is the most vulnerable and revealing love song I have ever heard. Lyrically, what sort of approach did the band want to take toward the subject, Lizzy Mercier Descloux, when writing the track?
It is a love song, but not a romantic love song. I obviously never met the Lizzy in question, but through her music and photos and videos I felt a deep love for her spirit. In your other question, you mentioned how a lot of the “love songs” are barbed. “Lizzy” is rare in the canon because it is so purely loving, because my relationship with her art is untainted by the reality of actually knowing someone and finding out about their real life problems.
The booklet that accompanies your newest album, French Exit, is meant to be empirically pleasing. You preface the stylized – and revealing – photographs of women by saying that they are for your “visual pleasure.” While fitting the look of the LP, do you think the the band’s aesthetic compass has ever been polarizing to audiences?
Yeah. Some people have called out the TV Girl visual aesthetic for being sexist or misogynistic but I don’t take it too seriously. Anyone who sees a naked woman merely as a cheap way to titillate is reacting in a shallow way. I’m fascinated by beautiful women and not in a (strictly) prurient sense. The way we treat beauty in our culture is grotesquely fascinating to me. No one is idolized and demonized more than a beautiful woman. That dichotomy is fertile ground for me as a writer. The TV Girl artwork definitely plays with the way we fetishize and idolize beautiful women, but not in a way that necessarily celebrates it. Nor does it necessarily condemn it either.
Trung Ngo left the band not too long ago. How has the songwriting process changed for you after he departed from TV Girl?
From the start I wrote most of the songs, even though Trung would sing some of them. As the project evolved, the songs I was writing became a lot more personal and idiosyncratic and I know that Trung felt increasingly uncomfortable singing my words. I don’t blame him. Trung is a talented song-writer and I hope he puts out music in the future. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Pitchfork.com: Friend or foe?
I may go on frequent Pitchfork –bashing rants on Twitter. But I still like them, generally. I’d say at this point, they are 60% friend and 40% foe. But that balance is getting worse all the time. They have the power to promote good underground artists and they use that power occasionally. But their coverage is so clearly becoming dictated by PR companies and the exchange of music biz favors. I mean, this is ostensibly a music publication that thrives on supposedly unbiased music reviews. But they probably make most of their money from a music festival that features the musicians they champion! The conflict of interest there is glaring. Their journalistic credibility is highly suspect.
I suppose this question is somewhat of a sidecar to the previous inquiry, but what, in your estimate, caused Pitchfork’s publicity and coverage of your band to taper off after their glowing review of “If You Want It“?
I can’t say why they do what they do for certain. But I think they stopped writing about us because we didn’t have the necessary momentum. People don’t realize that we got posted on Pitchfork literally a week after the band formed. We had a viral hit, which is a once in a lifetime thing. But we couldn’t really capitalize on it because we had no band. We’d never played a show before. No booking agent. No record ready to go. We weren’t ready to be put on the hype rollercoaster proper, which is what Pitchfork is designed to do. Look at How To Dress Well, who blew up at the same exact time that we did. He did everything he was supposed to do. Pitchfork supported him every step of the way and now he’s playing Pitchforkfest, helping them make the buku bucks.
If you had to pick one song for a new listener to hear, from the band’s catalog, which track would it be and why?
Maybe “Benny and the Jetts.” That’s probably our most popular song, so that’s a good an indicator as any I suppose.
Have you ever thought of scoring a film, and if so, what sort of movie would it be?
It would be rad to score a dark comedy. But not really “score” more like write a batch of songs inspired by the movie like Cat Stevens for Harold and Maude and then basically release it as a normal album.
For the next album, can I get just one photo of Chantal Goya somewhere?
I’d rather you do your own album of songs inspired by her life. I’d listen to it.
“Louise,” a song off of the new record, is fantastic. Talk a little bit about the origins of that song.
Louise was an incredibly beautiful French Exchange student I met who had just been jilted by a would-be lover. I tried to turn on the charm but she was much too busy crying to pay attention to me. At one point I tried to convince her that what she was feeling for this would-be paramour was nothing but Puppy Love. “What is zees puppy love?” she replied, confused. They don’t have a term for Puppy Love in France. I thought, that sounds like something that should be in a song! So I wrote one.
Finally, what taco shop has the best burrito in San Diego?
Pokez has good vegetarian options for people like me.