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David Sitek of TV on the Radio

Tune in at Treasure Island

The Treasure Island Music Festival returns September 21st and 22nd to mark the official end of the summer concert season with two days of music featuring Justice, The Raconteurs, Tegan & Sara, TV on the Radio, and several others. TV on the Radio keyboardist and producer David Sitek spoke with SF Station about Dear Science, the follow-up to the band’s breakthrough Return to Cookie Mountain, along with his role with Scarlett Johansson’s recent album of Tom Waits covers, and his affinity for Ferris wheels.

SF Station (SFS): How much time do you spend in the studio?

David Sitek (DS): For the last year, I’ve probably spent 16 to 18 hours in the studio every day. I took four days off in the last year.

SFS: Do you consider yourself a workaholic?

DS: Yeah, by default. There is just a lot to be done. I’m a workaholic, or maybe I’m just greedy for more hours in the day.

SFS: Would you do another high-profile gig like the Scarlett Johansson project?

DS: Yeah, if it had the same interest level for me. That project fell under Serge Gainsbourg or Lee Hazlewood/Nancy Sinatra territory. It would do something very unusual and highly unlikely, like a Black Sabbath record with Lee Arthur -- just something totally bananas. I’m more interested in doing things that are far out for me on a personal level than recording with more hot bands with more hot riffs.

SFS: When did you first start getting into music?

DS: I was really into Cat Stevens and my father was into Brazilian jazz and Simon & Garfunkel. We had an acoustic guitar around the house, but I think the first interest I had in actually creating something was in the 80s.

I grew up in Columbia, MD, and I was right in between D.C. and Baltimore. I grew up in probably my favorite period of American music, which is D.C. hardcore. I played bass in a punk band in my first band and once I got bored of power chords, I started listening to Jamaican music, then psychedelic music and all of the English pop-synth stuff. From there I went to drum machines and whatever the hell you call what I do now.

SFS: When did you start getting into creating strange music arrangements?

DS: I never really set out to do strange arrangements. In my mind I was working on “Purple Rain", but it turned out that it sounded nothing like it. Once I heard Massive Attack that was the first time I decide to explore this other world. That is the point when I started thinking less conceptually about a band being in a studio recording at the same time. I got a greater understanding about the flexibility of the medium, especially with electronic music.

I started buying samplers and drum machines. It was really more about exploring the nature of sampling. I didn’t really have a goal in mind; I was just fascinated by the idea that anything I could hear could be tuned. As Mr. T calls it, that was my "jibber-jabber" phase.

SFS: What gets you excited now?

DS: I think I’m just perpetually excited by the same thing -- peoples’ will to express their inside self outside. I generally gravitate to pretty courageous people and I think there is always going to be those people in the world. There is no shortage of them.

Wildly inventive people combined with the breakdown of the traditional structure of music -- in terms of how music gets to people -- is generally an exciting thing for me.

SFS: Are you excited about playing at a gig with a Ferris wheel?

DS: That will be fun. I love Ferris wheels, actually. I like getting high.

SFS: I read about that somewhere. . . Was Dear Science another weed-induced album?

DK: Of course, it’s a weed-induced life.

SFS: The stat I read was that you smoke 3/4 of a pound a month.

DK: That was a while ago. I’ve slowed down considerably. I don’t have the lung power I used to have. That’s why I started playing saxophone.

The Treasure Island Music Festival is September 21st and 22nd at Treasure Island. For more information, visit www.treasureislandfestival.com.