Interview: TV Girl Give It Up For Free

    In The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon coined it the “aetataureate delusion;” though in Midnight In Paris, Woody Allen wrote it more simply as “golden-age thinking.” It’s the fallacy that makes us romanticize the past, despite the reality that every era has its own set of shortcomings. So while a good majority of us may prefer certain songwriting nuances of a bygone era, it’s hard to argue how contemporary production technology may have bolstered the hits.

    If there is a solution for this, it’s manifest in TV Girl. Our introduction to the California group came with a Todd Rundgren sample that lives and breathes the wide-eyed shine of 1972. But instead of letting the catchy hook play out in its antiquated production, Trung Ngo and Brad Petering inflated the classic with a muscular rhythm section and polished it to a sparkle. They updated the themes into a tighter lyrical package, and took something we might once have revisited as a flattened disappointment and made it into a track of our grandest delusions.

    Since then, TV Girl have continued to fuse original songcraft with creative samples. Although last year’s “Girls Like Me” 7” single featured none, they estimate their forthcoming mixtape—The Wild, The Innocent, The TV Shuffle—has somewhere around 86. The Wild, The Innocent, The TV Shuffle is due to be released this April by Greedhead Music. Throughout our interview, they spoke candidly about making money, performing live, and writing from a female perspective.

    Can you talk about your songwriting process? Do you consider yourselves more sample-based or instrumental-based?

    Trung Ngo: Both Brad and I write the songs. I can write two ways—I can start with the guitar and try to find samples to work around it, or I can start from a cool sample and try to write a song to it. There’s no hard-and-fast way, really.

    Brad Petering: I do the same thing, but these days I’ve been starting with a sample and writing a song around that. But I also do it both ways.

    How does that work out for your live shows? I could see how your songs could pretty easily devolve into a glorified DJ set.

    TN: Right, no. We started playing a live show that wasn’t so dependent on samples. We still incorporate samples, too, if that’s what the songs are. But we have live drums, live guitar, live bass, and live keys, so…

    BP: It’s more like a rock band sort of deal. Because we were very conscious not to fall into that trap where a lot of people just do karaoke sets over their recordings. We were very conscious about doing something different, even if it makes the songs sound a little different. 

    Something that struck me when I was coming up with questions for this interview is that I really don’t know anything about you because most of your lyrics are written from the perspective of a female.

    BP: I wrote from the perspective of a female on “Girls Like Me,” and I do that from time to time because I guess I’m just really into old singer-songwriters like Carole King. Or sort of the idea of songwriting as not autobiographical and more like a fictional craft. So I like inhabiting that character and getting out of my own perspective sometimes. Also, I was trying to write songs like pop stars for a while there, so I wrote a lot of songs for girls. And I guess I kind of got in that groove, and it can be embarrassing.

    TN: Oppositely, we also would write from our perspective some days. It’s just all about how you feel that day. There’s a certain lyrical style, but I don’t think we have any rules about it. 

    You’ve been fairly outspoken about musicians giving away things for free on your Twitter feed and elsewhere. Do you have anything else to add, or do you have any ideas for musicians moving forward and trying to make money?

    TN: I think it’s such a changing—well, the old model just doesn’t really work anymore. And ultimately, do you want people to just listen to your music, and tour as a career? So from our perspective it makes the most sense to just give it away and have people listen to it. And it’s so easy to download stuff that we figure they’re going to get it anyways, so we might as well just give it to them. 

    We also have to deal with the sample issues, where we might not really be able to sell things legally. Ultimately, it’s so much to ask for someone to listen to your music, let alone try to get them to pay for it. 

    BP: If we sold a record, we could probably make, like, a couple thousand dollars; but we’d rather just put more value in building a strong fan base.

    TN: The long-term benefit of having fans really outweighs the short-term benefit of a few thousand dollars.

    So are you advocating more of a meritocratic model for musicians?

    TN: We just kind of figure, like, we started from a place where we couldn’t really sell our music because we use samples in it. And then it grew into us thinking that there’s so much music out there, and people don’t need more music. For someone to listen to you is a pretty interesting situation, because there’s so much out there that it’s hard to ask anyone to listen. Giving it away for free hopefully lowers that barrier.

    BP: One of the interesting things about, sort of, changing the business model is like what Louis C.K. did. He sold his own special through his website. I think the only reason he was able to make it so successful was just because he had such goodwill from his fan base. So when he asked for them to legitimately pay for it they were happy to.

    TN: There’s that and there’s also that if you sign to a label and they’re releasing it, fans of the music don’t necessarily feel like they’re supporting the artist fully. There’s something less personal about it where maybe people don’t feel so inclined to help unless they’re more directly helping out the artist.

    Last question: Which of the Disney princesses is best embodied by the song “Girls Like Me”?

    BP: Aren’t they all pretty full of themselves?

    TN: They’re all nice, but they’re all full of themselves because they’re just waiting for someone to come and take care of them.

    BP: Yeah, why can’t they do anything for themselves?

    TN: Why don’t they get a goddamn job?