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Television Is Back in Focus : Band Reunites After a 14-Year Hiatus

October 24, 1992|STEVE APPLEFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The reunited members of the band Television seem ready to demystify their collective history--an era that ended 14 years ago, when this band of punk-era guitar heroes dissolved after just two well-regarded albums.

"We're quite uninterested in our past, I think it's fair to say," says bandleader Tom Verlaine. "I don't think anybody remembers."

That still hasn't stopped the New York quartet from reuniting after all these years to record a new Capitol album, "Television." Its guitar-rock experiments have changed little from the days when the band helped spark New York's alternative rock scene, where their intricate guitar interplay offered a dramatic counterpoint to the Ramones' three-chord minimalism.

It's a celebrated scene that the members of Television--guitarists Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, bassist Fred Smith and drummer Billy Ficca--now talk of with some ambivalence.

"Most of those bands, maybe they were exciting, but they weren't really good ," says Lloyd.

Verlaine adds, "I liked Patti (Smith) because she would do interesting things, and Blondie had some nice songs. But the Ramones, if you saw them once you saw them forever. And the Talking Heads were totally uninteresting to me. Who else was there?"

Television began flirting with the idea of reuniting in 1990, and by early this year the four musicians were finally back in a New York studio. Since completing the album, Television has toured Europe and Japan, and plans to pass through Los Angeles later this year.

All the activity--a near-constant grind of record company meetings, interviews and video shooting--seems to demonstrate a new commitment from a band that few expected to see again. "This isn't a shallow enterprise for anybody," Lloyd says.

All four members stayed busy with solo careers in the interim years. Smith played on the solo records of both Lloyd and Verlaine, while Ficca enjoyed some success with the short-lived Waitresses. Lloyd also worked as a "hired gun" behind other artists, including Matthew Sweet and John Doe.

But few of these other projects met with the kind of critical acclaim that had greeted Television's 1977 debut album, "Marquee Moon," whose influence is felt strongly today in such cutting-edge bands as Sonic Youth.

The reputation of Television's first records made it possible in 1992 for the band to demand a level of creative independence that its members only rarely experienced as solo artists. After several agonizing years of haggling with record companies over the direction of his music, Verlaine insisted that any interested labels would have to take the band on its own terms.

Lloyd laughs. "A lot of labels that were interested in signing us backed off when they heard we weren't going to play for them or give them any demo tapes.'

As for Capitol's acquiescence and the final product, he adds, "They're still in shock that it came out OK."

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