Some weeks back, I found myself at & Lovers in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The show’s line-up consisted of two openers (Lips and James Tillman) followed by the band Throw Vision. I made my way down there to chat with Throw Vision – a band that hails from Brooklyn and consists of four players: Tiff O who is lead vox and guitar; Taja Cheek on keys, vox, bass, synth, and guitar; Dan Kleederman on lead guitar, bass, and vox,; and Alex Goldberg on drums/percussion.
Throw Vision’s name was derived in part from slang used in gay communities of color. Their sound can best be described as an eclectic mix of rock, jazz, R&B, soul, and soft classical. It’s very hard to pinpoint what this band’s (or any band’s) particular “sound” is, but, after the intimate show, I sat down with them, hoping to learn more about their identities, and how those identities help them create a unique sound that transcends all Pitchforkian terms or references to other musicians. They immersed me in a conversation which really points out the racial and gender dynamics of genres, as well as how these identities look to listeners and what they convey. Read the conversation below and comment what you think!
Tiff: There aren’t that many women in “rock”. Not to say that we are just rock, we are a lot of different things. Part of the challenge is describing our sound to other people. The other challenge is being women of color. I’m Dominican and Puerto Rican, [Taja] is black. But we’re playing rock music, we are in a band, we are playing soul – all for mixed audiences. On one side, there are some people that are super intrigued by it, and listen to the music in a different way. But, there are some people that just don’t know how to box it.
Taja:. We try really hard not to be tokenized. But I think that we feel the pressures of [our identity] a lot. For example, so many times when I go into an instrument shop to buy things, people will automatically say things like, “Oh, the beginner basses are over here.” Like YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW ME! I could be Victor Wooten. I’m not, but - I could be!
Dan: I can definitely speak to it being a very typical experience for me as a white dude – almost like an opposite baggage. Like, I am the rock musician… I grew up feeling very weary of being that because it was a stereotypical position for me to be in.
Taja: It’s the opposite for us. I feel weird playing soul or R&B because that’s what I grew up around. People expect me to be an R&B singer and I’m like, “No. That’s Tiffany.”
Tiff: It’s funny because a friend of Dan’s at our first album release show said to me, “You sing like a black woman, and not like a Latina.” I’ve actually had that reaction before. I’ve even gotten, “You sound like a black man singing.” It just kind of put me in this weird position because I’m just singing what I feel and I don’t know – it’s hard to describe how you are gravitated to sing a certain way.
Taja: And then these guys…
Dan: Yeah a bunch of white dudes come in….
Tiff: No ‘cause Taja and I were trying to find new people to play with. And, to be honest, part of our thinking was: It would be nice to play with guys. There is just something about trying to be on an equal playing field. [Dan] and Alex have been playing together, and in our eyes you guys are good musicians that had a background in jazz and soul and rock and all these different things. We just didn’t happen to stumble across girls doing that.
Alex: [Jazz] is just a really male dominated place. There’s a lot of testosterone in the room when you’re at jazz camp. I ended up doing drum battles while I was there – so that’s like – what’s going on? It was kind of weird. So, if you wanted a jazz player, someone who could do this – you’re going to find a guy. I’m just talking numbers.
The band continues to talk about the the press's gendered way of looking at bands:
Tiff: We’ve seen girl bands that we like but media tends to see girl bands and solely focus on the fact that they’re girls rather than the fact that they are good musicians. Or have great musicianship. And that was a fear of mine.
Taja: Like Marnie Stern, who we all really like. How many articles have I read about how, “She’s so cute! She’s blonde!” and it’s like no: she shreds! That’s why I like her.
Tiff: We didn’t want to be thrown into that. We want people to focus on our music. Obviously there are going to be people that are just fascinated by the fact that we are from different walks of life and it confuses people and we struggle with that a lot. But, going into it – we thought that it would help people focus on the music.
Alex: I think what’s interesting is the dynamic between bands that are fronted by one women where the rest of the band is male. In this band, there are two women. Just like in any band where there is a front person versus a more democratic group, we don’t make decisions with a front person. It’s a democratic thing, it’s a band.
Dan: That is part of the confusing thing, too, in terms of how people see us in terms of the front person thing. Because as much as Tiff is the singer and the front person in that sense, it’s also clear that the other members have this attention grabbing-ness and it’s clear that we are interacting in a lead way.
Alex: We’re all lead singers!
Taja: Dan is a lead singer for one song! For a lil bit…
Dan: You can see it with a lot of these bands too in how they handle their press. They display it in a single – like they are the lead singer.
Taja: It’s also the thing about the singer. So often, there is a singer, who is a female, who is sort of just there. Unclear if she writes the material or what her real role is; just a hollow voice.
Tiff: You don’t want to be type-casted as just the singer. There is this weird intrinsic fear that that’s not good enough to demonstrate yourself as a good musician. As a woman, you have to showcase more – you have to show that you have more than this or that. There are plenty of women who play other instruments who don’t sing.
Tiff: Yeah, and we both don’t want to be the face of the band. *points to everyone* This is the face of the band; everyone. I would never want to be represented as a sole figure to represent the whole group; it just doesn’t feel right in our eyes. But, it happens all the time.
(Just so we are clear – BUST is aware that everyone in Throw Vision is the face of Throw Vision.)
The conversation then deviated to the mixing of genres that creates TV’s particular sound.
Dan: One thing that strikes me about our decision making in terms of musical choices when we write new material especially, we really ride fine lines in terms of bringing in certain influences. There is a lot of thoughtfulness in terms of not going not too far in the R&B direction, not too far in the rock direction, not too far in any of the directions – it’s really balanced-oriented actually. The decisions are affected by where everyone is coming from, which can be directly related to how our sound can be hard to put a finger on.
Taja: Debussy is my biggest influence. He’s probably my most favorite composer, and my contributions [to the band] probably came from playing his music wrong. He’s interesting to me as a figure because of how he relates to jazz music as a French man. And all of my knowledge of jazz comes from this distorted white male appropriation of the form that I then interpret as a historically black form.
Tiff: At home, my parents don’t listen to that much music. If my dad ever listened to music it was mainly some Motown, And my mom was listening to really – you know the station 93.1 Amor? Spanish romantic song. But then my older sister in the 90s was listening to a lot of alternative rock.
Where we come from influences these moments we all have of, “Let’s try to add something like this.” We have all of these stories in our head that we want to build upon. One of the songs we played tonight, “Water Basket,” was technically about my mom’s experience in the Dominican Republic. It’s not merengue or anything like that, but there are certain personal stories that come from our respective cultures.
Dan: TV is made up of different racial and gender identities and how they meet in the middle in such an interesting way. It exposes how so many genres of music are so racialized and there are so many assumptions about masculine and feminine expression.
Throw Vision’s first album, In I, came out in February of 2013. It was independently released and recorded at Soundmachine. The video for their latest single off the album, Hippocampus, is below. The video was directed by Noah Hutton.
Before parting ways from the amazing group of talented musicians, I asked them a very busty question. If you were a bra, what would you look like?
Tiff: Actually, I had a dream the other day – I don’t really remember it, but I happened to be a bra…It was a like a flower but the petals were kind of like the bra.
Taja: Wait, you WERE a bra?
Tiff: I think I was?
Taja: Are you kidding?! Well, I would be grey with like, lots of words written on it. A, demi-cup …
Tiff: Why demi-cup? What are you trying to hide, what are you trying to reveal?
Taja: That’s the point! And strapless! Or maybe just a bra with Kathleen Hanna on it....
Alex: I think I’d be a sweatshirt bra, a little worn out. It would have a hole in it --- I’m just thinking of my underwear; it’s kind of just worn out underwear. I should really get some new ones…
Dan: I’ve been thinking a lot about this… I think Earth-toned, like a nut-shell… that’s what I would do.
Taja: Like a coconut shell!
Dan: I don’t think I would be a coconut shell, more like a walnut…
Tiff: That’s a really small bra...
Dan: No, it would be an enlarged one. That’s my bra.
Alex: Walnuts, are like, my favorite nuts.
You can read more about Throw Vision on their site. Their debut album, In I, is available for free on Bandcamp or you can stream it on Spotify. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook. They have a show on Aug. 27th at Grasslands in Williamsburg.
Photo c/o TV's Facebook and throwvision.org.