L.A. indie-pop darling TV Girl brings new album to Crowbar in Tampa's Ybor City

'Death of a Party Girl' is a melancholic meditation, and it’s the band’s best yet.

click to enlarge DIY NOT?: TV Girl still books its own national tours. - Brian Mahar
Brian Mahar
DIY NOT?: TV Girl still books its own national tours.

TV Girl’s debut full-length didn’t arrive until 2014, but the Los Angeles band made its first impression four years earlier when it released a self-titled EP that included a single which lifted a sample from Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me.” Rundgren’s 1972 hit is driven by cheerful piano, but it’s one of the saddest one-sided telephone conversations in pop history. TV Girl’s “If You Want It” is also a telephone song, except the protagonist gets their number deleted off of a romantic interest’s phone after one last dance; the ridiculously-catchy tune hit the internet upside its collective head upon release and left members of the music-blog Illuminati enamored — Pitchfork lauded the “champagne-sparkling drums and far-away piano drops,” and The Atlantic suggested that the song’s lyrics “put it in the running for defining track of its era.”

Everyone loved it. Everyone except Rundgren, that is, whose camp issued a takedown notice, effectively wiping “If You Want It” off the very webspace that made it instantly infamous. The fracas found one copyright holder asking TV Girl for 100 percent of all proceeds in addition to a $5,000 clearance fee. The situation was a harbinger of the way websites would start to make and break bands in what’s become an online ecosystem dictated by stream counts and playlist placement.

“It’s a bummer that our particular song is being silenced in this way. We feel that this is representative of a larger issue that will only get worse as blogs continue to gain influence over an increasingly desperate music industry,” band members Trung Ngo and Brad Petering wrote in an email after that 2011 takedown. “The fact is, because of the amazing independent promotional capacities of music blogs and sites like Bandcamp, it’s increasingly unnecessary for bands like us to align ourselves with major labels or music companies.”

Fast forward to 2018, and TV Girl no longer has Ngo in the lineup, although Petering contends that the two remain pals.

“I don’t see [Trung] as much these days. Only occasionally when I can convince him to go skate or sometimes when visiting old friends in San Diego. But he’ll always be a friend of mine,” Petering said in a recent Q&A. “I’ve always tried to convince him to try a solo music project but he seems pretty over it.”

TV Girl, which still creates its own album art by borrowing designs from old photographs, remains a fiercely independent outfit that books its own tours not out of principle, but because it doesn’t have a booking agent.

“It’s tedious but relatively easier for us because we’ve gone through a lot of these cities before and they’re happy to have us back,” Petering said. That doesn’t mean that he isn’t ready to take a break. In fact, this is the first time he’s never had new music in the works. He even plans on taking time off from the writing process when TV Girl’s current tour — which hits Ybor City on June 17 — wraps.

“I’ve been thinking about moving to New York for four months just to skate and hang out before I’m too old to enjoy such things,” he said. He’ll get back to music after that, but TV Girl has left fans with a fine parting shot before the short hiatus. A new album, Death of a Party Girl, was released last month. The 10-track effort is the follow-up to a 2016 album, Who Really Cares, and Maddie Acid’s Purple Hearts Club Band, a random February 2018 album of oddball hip-hop released under the Madison Acid moniker. Mostly unidentifiable samples from obscure, old music Petering is obsessed with are all over Death of a Party Girl, but the songwriter who sheds very little light on the meaning behind songs did share some insight to the sounds on the record.

“Drift Down” — an upbeat song about abandonment — incorporates elements of a song of the same name by an Ontario group called Snow Mantled Love (“A great band that never got their fair due,” Petering explained). “Cynical One” — ironically the album’s most hopeful track — is built around an old loop Petering has had from a decade ago. The title track even has a sample from “New Tomorrow,” which was released by undersung, underground UK post-punk band The Legendary Pink Dots. The sample was used “with the generous permission of lead dot Edward Ka-Spel,” according to Petering. The cut is a five-minute heartbreaker that chronicles the demise of a girl abusing pills.

“It used to kill the feeling but now the feeling lingers/and she did the drugs for fun/but now she does them just to stay up,” is how one lyric goes. It’s one of the best songs that TV Girl has ever recorded. If Lou Reed had written it, lines from “Death of a Party Girl” might be tattooed on people’s bodies. Instead it samples one of the most unknown, yet influential bands of the early '80s and unfortunately won’t ever be heard by the masses the way that Rundgren-sampling song from 2010 was way back when it was released. Still, Petering seems OK with that.

“I don’t think I’m a very talented musician naturally. In fact I know this because I know truly talented musicians and I’m not like them,” he said. Judging popularity is a tricky thing in indie music, according to Petering, and he knows his band has had much better luck than most. “I’m thankful… [but] I still feel dejected when I see other bands get the kind of opportunities and acclaim that we just don’t.

“But the one advantage that I do have is that I never get tired of seeking out old and obscure music,” he said. That and the ability to get it down on tape the same way so many of his favorites did before him. He writes music, even when it’s negative, to follow his inspiration and serve the song.

“Love, death, all the big things that people like to write about. Like I need to get them out on paper so they don’t weigh down my spirit.”

TV Girl w/Sam E Hues/Hello Joyce
Sun. June 17, 7 p.m. $9-$13.
Crowbar, 1812 N. 17th St., Ybor City.