Questlove and Black Thought of The Roots open up about the group's 'telepathy'

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Synesthesia: The Science Behind Seeing Sounds and Tasting Color

By: Chelsea Huang

If you've seen The Roots on "The Tonight Show," then you've likely wondered how the 11-member group can take one off-the-cuff remark from Jimmy Fallon or a guest -- and totally run with it.

The show's segments may be produced beforehand, but The Roots bring an additional layer of improvisation to the late-night talk show, but instead of quick quips, they hop off Fallon's live cues, bringing forth tone and mood-altering tunes. For the viewer, it can often feel like there's some form of "telepathy" at play onstage.

"The Roots -- we operate as one being onstage. There are so many inside jokes and cues and commands that the audience isn't any the wiser to. It can totally change the direction of the whole performance mid-way through," Black Thought, whose real name is Tariq Trotter, said in an exclusive interview with AOL at the Stella Artois Le Savoir opening night in NYC.

SEE ALSO: Questlove says Jimmy Fallon is the only man who could disarm The Roots

Working in "the world of comedy and sketch television" at 30 Rock has also been beneficial for the group's spontaneous musical ad libs, Trotter says.

"You always have to be on your toes," Questlove, whose real name is Ahmir Thompson, added. "Sometimes Jimmy might mention a song and instantly my right hand is searching for that song, and we've got mere minutes, mere seconds to learn it."

See photos of The Roots:

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Questlove and The Roots
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Questlove and The Roots
PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 26: Comedian, television host, actor, singer, writer, and producer, Jimmy Fallon looks on as The Roots pose with The Philadelphia Music Alliance 2015 Walk of Fame Award at Philadelphia Music Alliance 2015 Walk Of Fame Gala at the Fillmore Philadelphia on October 26, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images)
The Roots perform during the first-ever Lipton Be More Tea Festival in celebration of the iconic brandâs 125th anniversary at Riverfront Park at Naval Yard in North Charleston, S.C. on Oct. 24, 2015. (Mic Smith/AP Images for Lipton)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 26: Jimmy Fallon presents The Roots with a gift at The Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame Gala at The Fillmore Philadelphia October 26, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bill McCay/FilmMagic)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 26: The Roots are inducted into The Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame at The Fillmore Philadelphia October 26, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bill McCay/FilmMagic)
Drummer Questlove of the music group The Roots attends the (RED) Supper to benefit the Global Fund to fight AIDS at Pier 26 on Sunday, May 31, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Brad Barket/Invision/AP)
Questlove arrives at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Questlove arrives at the 2015 Vanity Fair Oscar Party on Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Questlove performs at the 2015 Coachella Music and Arts Festival on Saturday, April 11, 2015, in Indio, Calif. (Photo by Scott Roth/Invision/AP)
Questlove arrives at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Questlove attends the premiere of "Top Five" at the Ziegfeld Theatre on Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Musician Ahmir Khalib Thompson, right, also know as Questlove, the drumer for the Roots, entertains the crowd at a rally at Foley Square organized by Families for Excellent Schools (FES), Thursday Oct. 2, 201. in New York. Families for Excellent Schools, a grassroots movement of public school families, is calling "for bold, urgent change to ensure no child in New York City is forced to attend a failing school, according to a press release statement. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR MICROSOFT - Questlove DJs the #ReadyWhenYouAre party at the Microsoft Studio at SXSW in Austin, TX on Saturday, March 8, 2014. (Erich Schlegel/AP Images for Microsoft)
Recording artist Questlove appears onstage at the 2014 Webby Awards on Monday, May 19, 2014, in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)
Recording artists John Legend, left and Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson pose for a portrait in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010. (AP Photo/Jeff Christensen)
Drummer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter as The Roots perform during an Independence Day celibration in Philadelphia, Sunday, July 4, 2010. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
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In addition to working with Fallon on the "Tonight Show" daily, The Roots are known for musical collaborations with other major artists. Most recently, the group shifted gears and teamed up with Stella Artois for two songs inspired by the taste of the beer -- one bitter and one sweet.

The group has been interested in synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon in which a stimulation of one sensory experience (like sound) may affect another (like taste). Their eighth album, "Rising Down," was actually almost named "Synesthesia."

Musicians commonly express seeing color while listening to music -- but Dr. Charles Spence from the University of Oxford opened The Roots' eyes to the link between sound and taste.

"Half the time when I'm describing music and I'm DJ-ing and stuff, I'm seeing colors or it's a certain feeling," Thompson said. "Even when people describe music 'funky' or 'that's nasty' -- they're describing something that deals with the senses to convey how they feel about something."

After doing various taste tests, the group made two versions of their new song "Bittersweet." The "bitter" iteration makes heavy usage of minor notes and low tones, while the "sweet" tune utilizes a staccato rhythm and more brass for a "celebratory and happy" mood.

See photos from Stella Artois' multi-sensory dining experience in NYC:

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Stella Artois Le Savoir with The Roots
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Stella Artois Le Savoir with The Roots
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 17: The Roots join Stella Artois to close out an unforgettable season of hosting at 'Le Savoir,' a multi-sensorial dinner theater experience on August 17, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Stella Artois)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 17: Black Thought of The Roots, fashion detail, attends the Le Savoir multi-sensory dining experience at Skylight Clarkson SQ. on August 17, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 17: Questlove of The Roots performs during the Le Savoir multi-sensory dining experience at Skylight Clarkson SQ. on August 17, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 17: General view of atmosphere at the Le Savoir multi-sensory dining experience at Skylight Clarkson SQ. on August 17, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 17: Black Thought of The Roots at performs during 'Le Savoir' opening at Skylight Clarkson Sq on August 17, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Toth/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 17: Captain Kirk Douglas of The Roots performs during the Le Savoir multi-sensory dining experience at Skylight Clarkson SQ. on August 17, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 17: Performers from 45 DEGREES  Cirque du Soleil's events and special projects company  entertain guests at Stella Artois 'Le Savoir,' a multi-sensorial dinner theater experience open to New Yorkers through August 22, on August 17, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Stella Artois)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 17: Performers from 45 DEGREES  Cirque du Soleil's events and special projects company  entertain guests at Stella Artois 'Le Savoir,' a multi-sensorial dinner theater experience open to New Yorkers through August 22, on August 17, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Stella Artois)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 17: Stella Artois closes out its 'Host One to Remember' summer campaign with 'Le Savoir,' a multi-sensorial dinner theater experience open to New Yorkers through August 22, on August 17, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Stella Artois)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 17: Performers from 45 DEGREES  Cirque du Soleil's events and special projects company  entertain guests at Stella Artois 'Le Savoir,' a multi-sensorial dinner theater experience open to New Yorkers through August 22, on August 17, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Stella Artois)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 17: New Yorkers enjoyed the 'Your Call It Tomati, I Call It Tomato' Plant at Stella Artois 'Le Savoir,' a multi-sensorial dinner theater experience open to the public through August 22, on August 17, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Stella Artois)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 17: Stella Artois closes out its 'Host One to Remember' summer campaign with 'Le Savoir,' a multi-sensorial dinner theater experience open to New Yorkers through August 22, on August 17, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Stella Artois)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 17: Stella Artois closes out its 'Host One to Remember' summer campaign with 'Le Savoir,' a multi-sensorial dinner theater experience open to New Yorkers through August 22, on August 17, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Stella Artois)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 17: The Roots perform 'Bittersweet,' an original song you can taste, at 'Le Savoir,' a theatrical dinner experience hosted by Stella Artois on August 17, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Stella Artois)
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In their near-30-year tenure, The Roots have seen bandmembers come and go and reached highs and lows. But despite their long road, it's hard for co-founders Thompson and Trotter to pinpoint any "bitter" moments in their decades-long relationship

"Our situation is like the tortoise and the hare," Thompson said. "As you're going through the race, it might seem like a struggle. I'm not saying that we reached a finish line or a big victory or anything like that, but I definitely feel as though out of all of our contemporaries that first got record deals in 1992, that we've -- "

"Our brand has stood the test of time so to speak," Trotter said. "In retrospect, in the beginning, we didn't have much, and it was a lot of hard work -- but you could also see that as a sweet side. So it's all relative."

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