Had the chance to catch up with Brad Petering and Jason Wyman of America’s favorite indie band, TV Girl. Having released several records and garnering a cult following over the years, during the pandemic they were found by the TikTok crowd. The band tours frequently across the globe at sold out venues and last year I was lucky enough to accompany them as their opener on tour.
Their new gospel-inspired record, Grapes Upon The Vine, was released this summer.
Without further ado, Brad and Jason of TV Girl talk about their inspirations, music-making and more.
Synth History: What inspired you to start making music?
Brad: I’ve been in a band since I was in the 6th grade. I don’t know why I was drawn to that. My sister was really into music, she probably introduced me to real bands and stuff.
Synth History: What were some things you were listening to when you were growing up?
Brad: I really liked the Bee Gees when I was growing up. That was my favorite band as a kid. Then, when I was a little older, I had an aunt who took me CD shopping. I got Beck’s Odelay, the Sublime self-titled album, the Jamiroquai album that had “Virtual Insanity” on it [Traveling Without Moving], all on the same day. Those were pretty good, they hold up. It’s kind of cool, because a lot of people are pretty embarrassed by their first CDs, but I still love all those albums.
Synth History: What did you play in your first band and were you singing?
Brad: Yeah, I was the singer and I played guitar. It was me and Ian, my best friend back then. He lived down the street from this guy who was older who was in a band who gave us guitar lessons. Looking back on it, it was pretty cool because he was basically giving us songwriting lessons and “being in a band” lessons. It was me and Ian doing it together. He taught us chords and stuff and was like, “here’s how you construct a song, a song is like a verse, a chorus and a bridge and an outro and a solo…” So that’s kind of cool. I think I was lucky to have that guy. I don’t even remember his name… damn. I wonder what happened to him. I wish I could remember his name, I’d love to Google him.
Synth History: Tell me the transition between making music when you were younger to TV Girl.
Brad: I’ve been in bands in some form or another since I was in 6th grade. I’ve always been in a band since then. I had a bunch of different bands throughout highschool. I had a band in college and then when I was in college me and my friend [Trung], who I went to highschool with in San Diego, we both skateboarded, he wanted to form a band. So we formed another band called the Whale Tales, then we had a band called The Movers and Shakers. TV Girl started because there was this other band from San Diego called Cults - who are really big on TikTok now - but they were like an overnight sensation on the blogosphere.
Synth History: I remember!
Brad: They were from San Diego and we were sort of friends with them. We were like, “I wonder if we could do that? We could make Chillwave music.” I was starting to make hip hop beats at the time on the computer and the bands we were in before were like Beatles-influenced, rock throwback bands, so we tried to combine that hip hop production with girl group song structures. That was TV Girl. We recorded four songs and just put it out and it kind of worked. We sent it out to 50 blogs and then it was on Pitchfork in a week. It got Best New Track on Pitchfork, which was insane. It was insane that it used to be like that, [Best New Track] was a big deal back in the day. It’s so funny, that happened to a lot of bands, and we weren’t really even a band. We had just recorded those four songs. We had never played live, we didn’t have any other material or anything.
Synth History: What was it like going from Pitchfork featuring you to then performing live?
Brad: We had to… learn. We had to get our shit together and learn to play live. It probably wasn’t very good in the beginning. It was just the two of us, so we had to recruit our friends to just make a rock band and do like, rock band versions of the songs which probably wasn’t that great.
Synth History: So who was it right in the beginning?
Brad: It was me and Trung and that was pretty much like, “the band”, and then Jason came in a little later.
Synth History: Do you remember any of the original gear you were using, was it mainly sampling on the computer?
Brad: It was all on Logic. Sampling just opened up a whole new world but I’ve never been a gearhead.
Synth History: How do you know when you find a good sample?
Brad: Well, in the beginning I would listen to a lot of hip hop music and a lot of artists would sample the same stuff. Mostly it was soul or funk from the 70s. So you would find out what song they sampled and what album it was on and you would listen to that album. There was bound to be other good stuff on that same album. So, that’s how I did it a lot of the time. I used All Music Guide and I would just look up random bands. I still do this, they have like a rating system and if it was 5 stars, no matter what the genre was, I would always download it, back then illegally. That introduced me to a lot of new music. Even if I didn’t really like listening to it, I’d listen to it to look for samples or sounds or something.
I don’t know, sometimes there’s just a loop that you could imagine a hip hop beat under, this little four-bar section. But then other times if it sounds good you can just chop it up, there are endless possibilities. Usually I like very melodic, catchy things.
Synth History: You’re a great lyricist, are there any lyricists that you’re inspired by?
Brad: Definitely, Leonard Cohen is a big one and Bob Dylan. Elvis Costello is one of my favorites. I also like stuff that isn’t so overtly poetic like Carole King. I really liked Outkast back then, they were very inspiring.
Synth History: Do you write lyrics before the instrumental is made or after - does it all kind of depend?
Brad: For TV Girl, and if I’m writing any other kind of music, it always starts with the chords, or just the loop and usually as the loop is playing I can just start thinking of something, or start humming along to it and the words start to fit in.
Synth History: Are you ever in the shower or something and a phrase comes to you?
Brad: Definitely. Sometimes I’ll listen to a song and it’s really catchy and the melody is really catchy and I’ll just start singing my own words to an already existing song and that’s a really good way to come up with lyrics.
Synth History: What are you currently inspired by now? It doesn’t have to be music, it could be anything, films, books, TV.
Brad: Well, I’m reading this book about the life of Marcel Duchamp, the artist. He’s a very inspiring character. He was a very original thinker. I don’t know, they don’t make ‘em like him very often, a true original. Everyone said he had a very magnetic quality, a charm and that he lived life on his own terms and didn’t give a fuck about anyone other than himself. I play a lot of chess and I skateboard, those are my hobbies that I’m always thinking about a lot.
Synth History: And you’re really good at music trivia.
Brad: Yes, I do have an encyclopedic interest in music. It goes back to that All Music stuff. I would just always want to read about bands, even if I really didn’t like them.
Synth History: What is one album that you think everyone should listen to at least once in their lifetime?
Brad: The first thing that comes to my mind is Paul’s Boutique. It’s very special because you’re not even allowed to make albums like that anymore, because of legal issues, and also because there’s never going to be another Beastie Boys, ever. Just the combination of them, their personalities and the brand new technology of sampling. There’s no other album like it, it’s incredibly enjoyable and just rich. It can open a whole new world of music to somebody, like it did for me.
Synth History: What was it like when TV Girl blew up on TikTok?
Brad: Oh, I don’t know. I was just staying in New York in the middle of the pandemic. I don’t know how I found out this was happening, because I don’t use TikTok and it was probably pretty new back then, but I saw some things on Twitter and it was very apparent because everything on our Spotify started skyrocketing at the same time. And then when we eventually went on tour it was like… “woah”. It was completely different after that first tour, in good and bad ways.
Synth History: How was it different?
Brad: Our fan base is just a lot younger now. It used to be like college kids listening to TV Girl and now it’s high school kids or even younger. I mean, it’s nice to be liked by somebody. They’re probably the most intense audience, because nobody listens to music like a teenager, you don’t care about music as much in your life as you do when you’re a teenager.
Synth History: It’s true.
Brad Petering: But I don’t relate to them at the same time either.
Synth History: Well a part of you probably does?
Brad: I guess, but we're not a favorite of record nerds or anything. We used to be that, but maybe there’s still a holdover. When the TikTokers get a hold of it, it makes it not as special to some people. Overall though, I can’t complain, because we’re technically more successful, I mean way more successful and we make more money and we already had our period of being an underground band. We got to live that experience, too, and now this is something completely new.
Synth History: You know what the indie band struggle was like.
Brad: We definitely did.
Synth History: What were the early days of tour like?
Brad: I was so naive back then. I look back on it and it’s crazy that we… I don’t know, I was really excited to go on our first tour but at half the shows nobody was there. We played like dive bars. To me, looking back on it, if the prospect was going out knowing we were going to play to nobody in bumfuck bars, that would be so scary and I’d probably feel very depressed going into it, if I had to start doing that again. Back then it was super fun, though, just traveling around the country with my friends, I didn’t care. I felt lucky to be doing it.
Synth History: Can you tell me some memorable moments, when you were coming up with the biggest TV Girl songs, namely “Lovers Rock” and “Not Allowed”?
Brad: I remember making them, but there’s no real story. I would just sit in my apartment writing them. For “Lovers Rock”, I was staying at my sister's apartment while she was gone. I think I was supposed to go on a date that night and she canceled, that might have been what it was. I just sat at home and wrote the song instead. Things would have been a lot different if I went on that crappy date.
Synth History: TV Girl has a new album in the works. Can you tell me anything about it?
Brad: It’s our fourth major full length record. We haven’t put one out in like five years. Partly because we were so busy touring off the old songs that blew up and the pandemic and everything. It’s a gospel-themed concept, using a lot of gospel samples and gospel tropes. We got an actual gospel singer by the name of Makeda and she’s amazing. We found her because we looked at the liner notes of a Girls album. You remember that band? They had a gospel singer in one of their songs so we looked at the credits and tracked her down. She’s amazing and has so many fucking stories. She knows everyone. She was friends with Art Laboe and was the replacement singer for that band Rose Royce, they did the”Car Wash” song. She toured with Ziggy Marley for years and years and years. She’s so funny and so great.
Synth History: Will she go on tour with you?
Brad: We haven’t really started thinking about how we’re going to deal with the gospel singing, which is such an integral part of this new album. But maybe, she went on tour with Girls. They were just in an Econoline van and she assembled a whole trio of gospel singers to tour with them. She's definitely down but she’s very busy, too.
Synth History: Do you have a projected timeline for the release?
Brad: It’s still up in the air, we’re hoping to do it in July. We have to clear the samples which takes a long time. It’s our first time doing it the legitimate way which is a pain in the ass. I miss the old days.
Synth History: Do you have any advice for a band touring for the early days? Maybe advice you would tell your younger self?
Brad: I feel like I had the right attitude about it back then. Even if you go on a flop of a tour, you’re still doing something that most people don’t get to do and at the very least you’re getting to see the country and having adventures. I think everyone should do that at least once. It’s cool to see the country. I mean, you could go on a road trip, but when you’re in a band on tour you have a mission every day. It’s you and your friends against the world.
Synth History: How do you feel when you get back from a tour?
Brad: I’m happy to be home. They usually go on too long for my taste. I feel like two weeks would be the perfect amount, but it just doesn’t make sense logistically.
Synth History: Do you have any tips to get over writer’s block?
Brad: Luckily that’s never been a problem for me. I have the opposite problem. I come up with too much stuff and don’t get around to recording it all. I’ve always found it easy to come up with new stuff. Maybe a good tip would be: if you’ve already run your personal life dry you can always write from some other perspective. You don’t have to always write as yourself. You probably shouldn’t always write as yourself. Maybe from the perspective of someone from a movie or a book. If I really have nothing else that’s always a good backup. There’s only so much to mine your personal life for, especially if your life is going good.
Synth History: The better off you are, sometimes the less you have to say.
Brad: You gotta get your heart broken, you can utilize that. But if you’re not in that phase in your life, you can always make something up.
Synth History: I know you’re not a gear head, but if you had to pick, what are some of your favorite synthesizers?
Brad: Oh fuck. I guess old, cheap Casios are my favorites, like dinky-sounding things, especially if they have the preset chords. Those are always fun to mess around with. There’s this one old Casio that’s very sought after, it’s called the Rapman, with the fake turntable scratcher. You can scratch the notes and it has a very cool set up, drum tones that I’ve used in songs. Most of my experience with synths is downloading drum packs for various synths and drum machines.
Synth History: Any other gear that you’re particularly fond of?
Brad: I’m very into the old school Tascam 8-Tracks. I made my first music on digital Tascams, but now I’ve gotten into collecting and recording on the old tape ones. Which is very hard to do.
Synth History: Do you find that there is a difference between analog tape and digital?
Brad: Yeah, the limitation of only being able to record on four tracks is super interesting to me. I was making a record during the pandemic that never came out, it was piano, vibraphone, drum machine and singing, so only four elements. That was the idea. Just get it down to four, because you can only record four before you have to start mixing down tracks and balancing it, which kind of destroys the sound quality. You can do more than that, but it’s best to stick to four. For the old Guided By Voices albums, it’s funny, you can hear what they had to sacrifice if they wanted a double vocal take. They would have to have the guitar and the bass playing in the same room at the same time on one mic, or just have no bass take. So if you listen to those old records you can tell that there’s just four things going on in every single song. The way they creatively get around the limitations of that is very cool. I usually like to double track my voice, so I really have to record differently when I’m using that thing.
Synth History: Do you record at home and then go into a studio?
Brad: Mostly it’s just laboring on a computer. Everything is done here or at Jason’s house which is a home studio, too.
Synth History: How did you first get into being a musician?
Jason: I banged on pots and pans as a kid. I chipped my mom’s tile in the kitchen. I was always drumming. When I was 5, I begged my parents to take piano lessons. That’s where I got started. I took piano lessons for a bunch of years and somewhere around middle school I joined the school band and switched to drums. That’s when I was like, “oh, I really found my thing!” I’ve always been obsessed with music. I don’t think there was a moment I became a musician, it was just always there.
Synth History: Did you have a drum set in your house when you were a kid?
Jason: Yeah, I would say around 11 or 12 I got my first little cheap drum kit. I couldn’t believe it, but my parents pretty much let me drum at any hour. Which is insane because I can’t stand hearing other people drum.
Synth History: They never told you to keep it down?
Jason: No, it was a very cacophonous house. Two stories, with a very central area. So the drums would just boom through the house and I think the drums were right below their bedroom, so there was like no point in telling me to keep it down.
Synth History: Were there any drummers or musicians that you looked up to growing up?
Jason: As a kid, you know, the usual suspects that every drum student is supposed to look up to, like Ringo and John Bonham. At some point, I got turned on to all the different drummers of James Brown. That’s really when it started to click for me. I’ve never been a super showy drummer, I’ve always just sort of enjoyed the groove. I started learning about Clyde Stubblefield and my drum teacher started making me play a lot of those grooves, that’s when it finally clicked for me. I loved this band growing up called The Walkmen, they have a drummer named Matt Barrick who is amazing. I was really inspired by those kinds of drummers who just held it down.
Then, my dad. He was never a professional musician, but he plays piano. He has perfect pitch, which is amazing, but annoying as a kid, because he could be in the other room and I would play a wrong note on the piano and he would call out the note. He would be like, “B Flat!” So yeah, those were the people I looked up to.
Synth History: When did you start making music with other people?
Jason: I had a couple of bands in high school and college, you know. I was interested early on in recording them. I think that’s just like a normal path for a drummer who doesn’t get to write songs, you’re like, “Ok, what can I do?” You learn how to record. The story of TV Girl is, I met Brad when we were studying abroad in London together. Brad showed me some of his really early stuff - he was and still is a garage band boy. I thought it was so cool, like I had discovered these diamonds in the rough, these songs that were so good. Flash forward a few years and we were working together. After college, I went to recording school for nine months and learned how to do all the engineering side. That’s when it actually got serious. I had no job and thought, “well, what am I going to do with my life”. So, I went to work in a studio after recording school.
Synth History: What studio did you work at?
Jason: Capitol Studios. I got a job at Capitol Studios and I was the coffee boy. I was the intern first and then I got finally hired on as this like… they called it “setup assistant”. It was a very structured, big studio. I wanted to work there because they had pretty normal hours compared to other studios, right? With other studios in the area you can be there til 3 or 4 in the morning. I was like, “I do not want to be that guy!”.
Capitol is this big storied place where they have huge string sessions come in. It’s very structured and goes from 8AM to 10PM and I was like, “perfect”. I worked there and it was fantastic. Everyone was at the top of their game, but the moment I got hired, I would say a few months before I got hired on, this producer John Brion moved into studio B and is a vampire. He'd work from 6PM and leave at 8AM. They needed people to work that shift, so they were like, “Jason, congratulations you’re hired, you have the midnight to 8AM shift” and I lasted like a month. I was getting him quadruple espressos at 3 in the morning and just thought, “what am I doing with my life?”
I realized I still loved this world, but I wasn’t sure where I fit into it. I was still really young. Right around this time is when TV Girl just kind of popped off. I made that my main focus and we just kind of started touring and making music from there.
Synth History: Do you remember some of your first TV Girl shows? What were they like?
Jason: They were really small. You know, we paid our dues. We’re a sample-based indie pop band and I think the first few years we were really trying to figure out how to take this sound that's made in a bedroom, as you see from the photos, and turn it into something that translates live. That was a year-long journey for us. We started out with just a traditional rock band, and then added an SPDS that was triggering some background samples. After a few years of that and playing in small clubs to 50-100 people - I still remember the shows where like two people came - we switched it up and went fully electronic with Ableton and keyboards and drum pads and samplers and stuff like that. We really started developing our sound. It was years of grinding it out in small clubs and bars and we just did it because we loved it and didn’t know what else to do.
Synth History: TV Girl is pretty popular now! What was the transition like from smaller shows to a bigger audience?
Jason: Well, I mean, we were lucky that we had a cult following for pretty much the whole of the band’s career that started with the blog era, all the way back in 2012. So the fans that were with us for several years were like these hipster kids who were our age, who were really into music and discovering us that way and that was cool. We just slowly grew our audience over the years. And then, obviously, something happened over covid. TikTok discovered us. Sitting at home over the pandemic and watching these songs blow up was pretty surreal. To just literally be sitting in my apartment and watching these numbers go up and just wondering what’s going to happen when we go on tour, because, by the metrics our band is like 5 times as popular as it was before the pandemic. Sure enough, it was a totally different feeling to be on tour in much larger rooms and much younger crowds. We love our TikTok kids, it’s just so cool to play, as you know now, for these people who are really into music in a different way. It’s part of their formative experience and that’s really really fun. So that’s what it was like. It’s still kind of surreal, knowing that we’ve just been doing it for so many years and then all of the sudden it just exploded.
Synth History: Do you remember when you were a teenager, the bands that were forming you?
Jason: 100%. Like I said, The Walkmen, I was a superfan. They just reunited, by the way. I just saw them and it was amazing! I remember being in high school and very much laying claim to liking the indie rock world. I grew up in San Diego. There were the emo kids, there were the metal kids, there were the classic rock kids, there were the reggae kids. I was an indie rock kid. So that meant, The Strokes, the Velvet Underground, Neutral Milk Hotel, The New Pornographers, Modest Mouse, Belle & Sebastian, Yo La Tengo. Stuff like that really informed me for my formative years. I remember that feeling of music just being so important and being a part of your identity back then.
Synth History: It must be cool performing for a younger crowd knowing that they’ll probably remember your shows forever, in a different way than say an older person might?
Jason: I think you’re exactly right. It does feel good but it also feels kind of daunting. I remember this one experience in Tacoma, Washington. We played this tiny little place called Joe’s Java Jive, it was shaped like a teapot. I had slept in the van the night before and my back hurt. I was just kind of over touring at that point. The sound was shitty and we had two paying customers. I was just so fed up, I think, that I called the show after five songs, “Let’s get the fuck out of here”.
After the show we packed up, hung around and those two people came up to us and they were so happy to meet us. It was a couple and they had driven down from Bellevue, Washington, which was like a four hour drive. They had gotten a hotel, specifically to see us play. I felt so terrible that I was in a bad mood that night, because it dawned on me, that was the moment when I realized you never know who is out there and what it means to them. So I’ve tried to remember that. As we get older and more jaded and it becomes bigger and you connect less with each individual person, I just try to remember for those kids, this could be the most important event of their year. So I feel like there’s some responsibility there, to put on the best show.
Synth History: Let's talk about gear a little bit. I don’t get to interview too many drummers. For other drummers out there, is there a specific brand of kit you would recommend?
Jason: There is no right answer. I play Zildjian. I have a Gretsch Catalina drum kit. I’ve been tinkering with snare drums and trying to find “that snare”, the one that gives me the most flexibility for breakbeat stuff. I was using a Ludwig Supraphonic for a while, then I switched over to this cool snare called a ZIKIT that lets me switch the diameter of the drum between 10, 12 and 14, so I can get that tight-pop sound for the breakbeat thing and some fatter sounds. Then, I have my Roland SPDS for triggering samples and stuff like that.
Synth History: What do you think about drum machines?
Jason: We do almost everything in the box. We’ll use drum machine plug-ins and pull samples, we like to layer. I have been messing around with the Behringer RD-8 Rhythm Designer Analog Drum Machine, an 808 clone. It’s super awesome and I love to mess around with it. I don’t know if it’s actually made its debut on a TV Girl record yet.
Synth History: Do you think it will?
Jason: I think it’s possible. Brad has one as well. We’ve used the Boutique 808 on some side projects. We love to use that as the metronome and build stuff off of that.
Synth History: As someone who went to school for recording music, do you have any tips for people producing or engineering that you want to share?
Jason: Yeah! One thing they told me in school - that I was just too young to understand and didn’t want to believe - was that it takes time. I would impress that upon anyone. We all know what a good mix sounds like, but being able to make one takes years and I still don’t feel like I can do it. It’s just this process that is simply trial by error. Just give yourself time, make a lot of music and try to get your hands on everybody’s friend’s projects and just mix and make bad music until you make good music. And then the same thing goes for gear. TV Girl’s whole ethos, our whole career, just do what you can with what you have, you know?
So that means we’ve been using the same vocal microphone the whole time, that means we were using a two channel USB audio interface forever, and only recently we started upgrading. And yeah, you can hear a little bit of a difference but that’s not what matters. At the end of the day, it’s just making music with what you have. That’s what I’m most proud of for our band.
Synth History exclusive.
Photos & interview conducted by Danz.