Even over a hissing, intermittent cellphone, a half-hour conversation with Kyp Malone is nothing less than a mind-expanding experience. When the Georgia Straight reaches the hirsute singer and multi-instrumentalist, who’s best known for his work with TV on the Radio, he’s on a Los Angeles freeway, en route to a show—at the Getty Museum, no less—with his new project Rain Machine. And that’s what we’re nominally supposed to talk about, yet our chat ranges all the way from the nature of identity to the death throes of capitalism, taking in HIV rates in the black community and the writings of anarcho-primitivist philosopher Derrick Jensen along the way.
Yet all of these topics touch on Malone’s new band, too, for in Rain Machine’s self-titled debut he’s created an album that’s as expansive as his thoughts, as passionate as his beliefs, and as wild and woolly as the Karl Marx–size beard that’s become his visual trademark.
Rooted in banjo folk and bed-sit soul, Rain Machine also includes Princely falsetto singing, hints of TVOTR dance-pop, and a whole lot of swirling lo-fi psychedelia. And of the many high points, the track that stands out is the surging, almost anthemic “Smiling Black Faces”, which builds from a spare, downbeat opening—“I see a slow genocide,” Malone sings, over doomy, ringing chords—to a genuinely ecstatic finale.
It’s a song about transformation, and unsurprisingly, it stems from a transformative moment in Malone’s own life.
“I remember seeing this band play at a club in Brooklyn,” he explains, “and there was a dude from Mali playing talking drums. And he was so fast and so skilled—one of the most expressive players I’ve heard on a percussion instrument in my life. There was a bunch of middle-class white girls dancing, and everybody was having a good time—I’m just trying to describe the scene, not trying to be a dick—and he was smiling while he was playing, and his smile was embarrassing to me.
“I had to think about what that meant, for me to be conditioned to be embarrassed by someone expressing joy because of the racist caricatures that have been turned into archetypes that run through popular American culture, from minstrelsy into Hollywood into the present day”¦.The fact that his true expression of joy was embarrassing to me is totally fucked up. It’s totally fucked up that somebody can take something that’s important as joy, and make me, like, turn against myself. That’s a real picture of what racism does—and figuring out a way to shake it off, that’s what that song is about.”
By the time Malone hits the lines “Know we can conquer all this bullshit/If we know where we stand”, he’s obviously on his way to some kind of healing—and it’s all about balancing the honest rage that animates his music with an equal portion of ecstasy.
“I hope so,” he says. “I’m trying to get to that point—and that’s been an important function of music for millennia, as far as we can tell from people that haven’t had their prehistory completely destroyed by modern civilization. Music has always been a tool for that.”
Rain Machine plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Friday (October 2).