Dave Sitek is a busy dude. He launched his own label (Federal Prism) last year, even though he was still busy producing other band’s records, working on his constantly evolving solo project (Maximum Balloon), and tending to his day job with indie rock stalwarts TV On the Radio. When we called him at his Los Angeles home yesterday, he said it was a good day because he hadn’t “screwed anything up yet.” Federal Prism announced a slate of new releases last week and Sitek carved some time out of his hectic schedule to chat with us about running his own label, TV On the Radio’s future, and Scarlett Johansson’s forthcoming single.
You launched the label last year. Why are all the releases finally rolling out now?
I had started this when I still had a lot of stuff on the books production-wise for other projects. I cleared my schedule so I could get a few things done for the label. Then I was just really happy with how things were going and word got around that I was doing it. So rather than fill my schedule up with other stuff — because the Telepathe and CSS stuff was so rewarding — I was like, “I’d rather just do this.” So I kind of fucked up my professional career of doing other people’s shit and just decided to do my own.
Why did you decide to start a label in the first place?
I still don’t have the time! I’m going to make the time. I think that it’s always been a dream of mine. And not an intellectual dream. It’s just a gut instinct. I work with bands all the time. And we’re working on something until seven in the morning and everyone in the room at eight in the morning says, “Let’s put it online right now. Let’s put it out right now!” Having that momentum and that kind of hunger is a valuable thing. I think it’s the most valuable thing. That feeling of I know that the time is now. I know I wrote the song right now about right now and if an artist’s true responsibility is to accurately reflect the times, then why wait until the time has passed to put it out? And I noticed that you can make something that’s really hot at the moment and watch it go through the fucking meeting process and calculating process and organizing process. I just figured, well if anyone is willing to take the idiot route, it’s me! I’m willing to make giant mistakes, if they’re new mistakes. But making old mistakes and waiting until a song’s time has passed for it to come out, that just gets really frustrating.
Do you feel more liberated with Federal Prism? You’re the only guy you have to answer to. There must be a lot less red tape.
I think with it comes a lot more work. But the only time success comes before work is in the dictionary. Look, everything comes with a lot of work, but this is the kind of work I’m built for. It’s the idea that TV on the Radio can come to my house on Thursday and by Monday we have two singles done — to me that kind of velocity and momentum doesn’t need to stop there. Let’s get it mastered. Let’s just send it to a plant. No meetings. No nothing. Let’s just do this shit.
So what’s up with TV On the Radio right now? Is this rumored new single for real? What’s the band’s status?
We are making shit. I wish it were a simple status, you know, check this box. We just decided that, “Hey maybe we should start working on some stuff?” And it just exploded. Lo and behold, literally yesterday [Tuesday, March 19] they left my house and we finished two songs. There’s a lot going on with us. There’s two singles.
And when should we expect to hear those?
Any minute now! [Laughs.] I would say probably May. We still have to finish the minutia of mixing and all that kind of stuff. But they’ve been written and recorded.
Is it hard to convince all the guys to come out to L.A. for the weekend?
It’s so easy to do. All I do is just send them a weather report — one side is New York, the other side is L.A. So they flew out and we were all like, “Let’s see what happens!” We are shitty psychics, to say the least. No one really knew what was going to happen, because everyone’s kind of juiced up right now about making something. Even for us — who know each other really well — we still shocked ourselves at how fast it came together.
Once they skip town, you’re right back to the drawing board with all these other artists?
Are you working with Scarlett Johansson again, or was that just a one-off type deal?
We did another single that’ll be out as soon as possible. We’re in the mixing process. Spike Stent is the Obi-Wan Kenobi of mixing and he’s doing the mix for me.
How does it compare to the last record you did with her [2008’s Anywhere I Lay My Head]?
It has nothing to do with it at all. That was a different time. Everyone I’ve played this for has said, “Who’s that singing?” And after I tell them they just say, “No fucking way!” It’s a dance track. Straight up. In the same vein as “I Wonder If I Take You Home” by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam.
Are there any young acts that you’ve got your eyes on?
Man, if I tell you that then all these squares are gonna figure it out and start chasing things down and messing people’s minds up!