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TAS Interview: Dave Sitek of Maximum Balloon

Dave Sitek of Maximum Balloon

Dave Sitek of Maximum Balloon


Dave Sitek, guitarist for TV on the Radio and producer for not only that band, but the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, Scarlett Johansson and many more, recently released his self-titled solo debut under the buoyant moniker Maximum Balloon.

However, "solo" might not quite be the correct word for Sitek's sun-splashed parade of luminous (and sometimes sexy) dance and funk confections. The project's impressive collection of guest vocalists bounces from David Byrne to Karen O to TVOTR's Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone. Local New York favorites like Holly Miranda, Aku of Dragons of Zynth and Theophilus London also appear. Not only did Sitek manage to recruit a charismatic lineup, but every song represents the rich expanse of Sitek's production palette.

The Alternate Side caught up with Sitek via email from Los Angeles and learned more about his Maximum Balloon alter-ego and why a real tour is so sadly improbable:

TAS: You have such wide-ranging diversity in your selection of collaborators, everyone from Holly Miranda to Theophilus London to Karen O. And mostly, aside from Little Dragon I think, very New York in vibe. Does it feel like a New York album to you?

Dave Sitek: I haven't listened to the album in New York yet, but when I do, hopefully it will sync up!

TAS: What made you match particular songs with a particular artist?

Dave: I let each artist pick the song.

TAS: How is this a real jumping off point, for you personally, when compared to the work you've done with TV On The Radio? I read that you used scores of synthesizers, true?

Dave: I would say it is necessarily a huge leap from TVOTR, more like a huge leap from warehouse-with-no-windows to non-stop-sun-exposure-canyon living ... and yes, I have a synth problem.


TAS: You still chose to take a back seat vocally on this record, aside from backing work. Do you prefer not singing?

Dave: I do enjoy singing quite a bit, though I don't feel like I need my raspy meanderings to be sandwiched between the best voices I know ... I am content singing "MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW " in this context.

TAS: The song "Communion," with Karen O is a surprising detour for both of you - very sultry, very atmospheric. How did you both work on that track? Did you present her with the song?

Dave: I have always had a soft spot for Karen's "gentle" voice since we did the vocal tracks for "Maps." We were having dinner and I was playing her some music I'd been working on and true to her intuition, she sang the exact right thing the exact right way. I turned on a mic and thanked my lucky stars. 

TAS:  "Apartment Wrestling" featuring David Byrne is a huge highlight for me on the album. You must have been so happy to work with him - how did you approach him?  I suspect he's been an influence ....

Dave: He is theeeee influence! We have a mutual friend who played him the track ... to my surprise he was into it. Then he "threw down." Amazing, that guy. 

TAS:  You're very much a producer in demand - how long was the gestation period for the record? 

Dave: I worked on and off for 8 months, between my other projects. 

TAS: There are so many glorious nods to different styles and moods galloping through the record - what dance music do you love? What other DJs or producers influence or intrigue you?

Dave: I was hoping to catch up with our collective universal taste in music.  The "shuffle" function on an iPod has opened me up when I was trying to be closed. There are so many different influences, it's hard to say any particular ones.  Everything from Altered Images to Massive Attack to Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam.   

TAS: You DJ a lot - what are some perfect segues that come to mind? The segue you've done in a club that you've thought was totally bad ass? Or, well, just simply bad, if you want to admit to it.

Dave: I love bad! Probably the most "bananas" was Radiohead's "National Anthem" to "Sweet Emotion" from Aerosmith.  


TAS: There seems to be a motif of "The Red Balloon" to your image of late. In the spirit of that beautiful French film, has there been a red balloon following you down the streets of Brooklyn lately?

Dave: I haven't been in Brooklyn for two years (I live in L.A.), but somewhere in Brooklyn, a balloon grows. 

TAS: You brought in both your TVOTR compadres Kyp and Tunde to contribute to this album. Although you guys are on hiatus as a band, what is it about the chemistry that you all have together that inspires you? Did you share early demos of the album with them?

Dave: We are truly great friends and our common bond is comedy, but we do agree on quite a bit of music as well. We are very honest ... and nobody said "this sucks!" So I am taking them at their word.  

TAS: While you are doing DJ gigs, you're not going to do a real Maximum Balloon tour.  Is there a reason why?

Dave: It would be wildly expensive to tour with all the singers and I can't imagine what the rider would look like.  

TAS: You used to sing in a barbershop quartet. If you were forced to sing something a cappella, right this very minute, what song would you sing and why?  

Dave: I don't really remember the barbershop arrangements, but if I were forced to sing a cappella right now, it would probably be something ridiculous ...  like "911 Is a Joke."  

TAS: Aside from your own album, what releases in 2010 - albums or singles - have made you happiest?

Dave: I will let you know in December, though I listen to Pink Noise all the time.