Gerard Smith, the keyboard and bass player for Brooklyn’s TV On The Radio, died yesterday morning at the age of 36 from lung cancer. The announcement that the experimental art-rock band’s “beloved friend and bandmate” had passed “following a courageous fight against lung cancer” came from the group’s website. Only one month prior, the site had also served as the news bearer that Smith had taken ill and would be unable to participate in the band’s tour for its recently released album, Nine Types of Light. Smith was receiving treatment, and, as the statement suggested at the time, “Combine that with Gerard’s legendarily willful disposition and it might just be cancer that has the problem.”
According to a 2007 story in Spin, Smith was a visual artist who sometimes played “flamenco-style guitar” in the subway. The Led Zeppelin fan joined the band in 2003 prior to the release of TVOTR’s 2004 LP, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes. Spin’s music editor, Charles Aaron, recalled yesterday that Smith was a “classy, thoughtful guy,” who “was adamant about not letting people define [the group] as ‘black rock’ or concede that ‘blackness’ was the essential quality of the band.”
Smith, a soft-spoken artist who sometimes played with his back to the crowds, had a strong bond with his TVOTR bandmates. “To travel around the world with someone making music is an experience, you know, a relationship,” he once said in a 2006 interview with Australia’s The Age. “For five grown men in their 30s to make this sort of decision at this time in their lives and to actually see this thing through, it takes a lot of compromise and understanding.”
TVOTR was Smith’s primary project, but between the 2008 release of Dear Science and this year’s Nine Types Of Light, he and the band took a vacation of sorts. “It allows us to do the other things we want to do, or to just decompress, and then come back to the band with some focus,” he said on the band’s bio page. “We don’t ever want to feel like we have to do this, that it’s a job, necessarily.” He spent the time off collaborating with the band’s lead vocalist, Tunde Adebimpe, on the music for The Lottery—a documentary on public education and children competing in Harlem Success Academy’s annual intake lottery—in addition to making his own music and producing new material from the New York band Midnight Masses.
Smith was diagnosed with lung cancer at the end of the recording for Nine Types of Light in 2010. In light of the band’s tragic loss, TVOTR has canceled its shows in support of this album through April 26 and are scheduled to resume April 29 at the Independent in San Francisco, CA. The band will need some supportive crowds at its upcoming shows, as the remaining members try to continue the tour despite the fact that they “will miss [Smith] terribly.”