If you were around in the late ’90s and you weren’t busy stockpiling cans of tuna for Y2K, chances are you remember The Verve hit “Bitter Sweet Symphony.” Funny thing about that song: The Verve barely benefitted from it.
No, they didn’t spend all the proceeds on hookers and blow. You see, the symphonic skeleton of the song was taken from an orchestral recording of The Rolling Stones song “The Last Time.” Even though The Verve originally had permission to use the sample—not to mention that “Symphony” sounds almost nothing like “The Last Time”—once the song took off and the Stones’ lawyers caught wind of it, “Symphony” became not only the property of Richards and Jagger but it was credited solely to them, as well. The Verve had to sit back and watch as “Symphony” was licensed to ad campaigns for Nike and car companies.
The lesson here: Sampling can be tricky.
Trung Ngo and Brad Petering, the two guys behind the local band TV Girl, are both excited and concerned when it comes to their song “If You Want It.” The song’s been popping up all over the web: Pitchfork praised its “Champagne-sparkling drums and faraway piano drops,” and omnipresent Roots drummer Questlove recently proclaimed his love for the track on Twitter. They’re even getting overseas love from BBC and The Guardian.
The bad news is that the song heavily samples Todd Rundgren’s 1968 break-up anthem “Hello It’s Me.” And while Rundgren’s lawyers aren’t beating down the door with cease-and-desist letters, TV Girl are certainly aware that, like The Verve before them, any chance of cashing in on the song’s popularity will be difficult.
“I wonder if Todd’s even heard it,” Petering says. “I know we got added to his Wikipedia page, but because of the samples, we can’t even sell the song anyway.”
While “If You Want It” owes its hook to Rundgren, the two members of TV Girl composed the rest of the song, along with their other material. Even with Petering’s solid beats, it’s Ngo’s vocals and lyrics that really puts the poppy, hip-hop-influenced songs over the top. On a post on The Atlantic’s website, critic Brendan Hasenstab said Ngo’s lyrics on “If You Want It” put the song “in the running for defining track of its era.” Well, damn.
“Yeah, we peaked and it only took two months,” Ngo jokes, adding that the song has gotten big enough to where he’s seeing a backlash. “I read one yesterday where this guy was like, ‘I’ve never been a fan of sampling, and TV Girl are no exception.’”
Yet, both Ngo and Petering maintain that they’re musicians first. Both are multi-instrumentalists and have played in bands like Da Bears and Movers & Shakers before starting TV Girl. After those projects ended, the two high-school friends composed solo material before joining forces.
“I was more into hip-hop stuff for awhile, and [Ngo] was doing stuff that sounded more like our older stuff,” Petering says. “We mixed them together and it sounded cooler—more electronic.”
Now that they’re blowing up, they’re approaching their first live show at The Casbah carefully. They’ve recruited two new members to help round out the sounds on the EP. Once they have a few shows under their belt, they’ll record a full-length LP. They plan to give it away for free via the internet—as they did with their self-titled debut EP, which you can download on their Bandcamp page— and make money from touring and merch. The Verve’s heyday came well before any band could successfully market its music online, but Ngo and Petering know they don’t really have a choice.
“I like sampling, and it’s a different way to compose music,” Petering says. “We’re not done experimenting with sampling, and I think these days you don’t even really need to sell the music. I’m not worried. When I think of the bands I like, it’s always people that were willing to take risks and who aren’t afraid to do more than one thing.”
TV Girl play with Jamuel Saxon, Lesands and Dirty Gold at The Casbah on Thursday, Jan. 20. tvgirl.bandcamp.com