INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Creem OCTOBER 1979 - by Barbara Charone
MORE SONGS ABOUT TYPING AND VACUUMING
Blame the Australians for putting them at the top of the charts. Hold all of New Zealand responsible for making More Songs About Buildings And Food an unqualified platinum success. Let America take credit for establishing the Talking Heads as a bona fide singles band with Take Me To The River. Blame the trendy jet set of Paris for a causing a near riot at the ultra chic Palace Theatre tonight.
"We broke the ice for a lot of bands," drummer Chris Frantz commented in a Paris hotel room the day after. "We were the first of the new wave bands to make the charts. It meant we had a bigger hit single than even Elvis Costello!"
Across the room his wife of two years was packing bulging suitcases for the next day's jaunt to Japan for a ten-day tour. She's Tina Weymouth, bassist with Talking Heads and a certified teen dream for infinite adolescent boys. Right now she looked more like a waif than a rock star, wearing a white T-shirt appropriately decorated with a world map, and tight black pants.
"Some kids really like the media concept of us as clones, as if we were gymnasts on parallel bars," she laughed. "We were playing a club in Boston which was sold out. A kid standing at the door when Chris' mother arrived demanded to know why she could get in.
"'But I'm the drummer's mother,' Mom explained. And the kid said, 'Why shit - they have parents? I thought they were clones.' They like that image even though some of them believe we are human. They find a conflict between the real and the unreal."
Chris and Tina, while very much human, have been experiencing similar conflicts largely due to overseas travel, jet lag and continual time changes. After returning to London from a twenty-six-hour Australian flight, they went directly to a Dire Straits gig and jammed on an encore of Gloria. The next night they were found enjoying the delights of Peter Tosh and band. Seemingly tireless, the dynamic duo bristled over with a musical confidence and enthusiasm.
Not only their ever-increasing audience has trouble with their bizarre yet attractive blend of repeated rhythms, disoriented vocals and whirling synthesized effects. Recently an L.A. accountant friend of their manager joined the band for several concerts. He too had difficulty dealing with preconceived images and the music.
"Every time we'd play something like Electric Guitar, he'd run out of the club," Tina giggled. "He told us the problem was he was beginning to understand us. He'd made a list of bands called Wavestock rather than Woodstock. He put innovative bands on one side and bands businessmen promote a new wave on the other side. We were in a category all our own."
Although they admit to feeling pressure while making their third album, Fear Of Music, with wizard Brian Eno at the control board, they insist they have always been an album band rather than a singles machine. With the recent success of groups like The Police, The Cars, and Cheap Trick, several record company and music business individuals have suggested Talking Heads follow the same path.
"Sometimes people from radio stations tell us we should sound more like the Cars," Chris laughed. "These dumb FM radio people say, 'You guys are great, but you should get smart like The Cars and use Roy Thomas Baker.' At that point we get up and leave."
"It would be too easy for us to do something like Do Ya Think I'm Sexy," Tina declared. "If the material doesn't sustain our interest, it's no good. We have no choice. It's hard for us because we consistently try to be better."
They've succeeded admirably on their third album. Despite continued innovations, all the music is listenable, some even commercially digestible as they incorporate everything from disco to surreal cinema music to hardcore rock'n'roll. Things weren't always that easy.
"We started at grass roots level and never set our expectations too high," Tina recalled. "We were quite naive. We used to do interviews and say, 'We want to be commercial like The Carpenters!' So people thought we'd become that; but we don't delude anybody anymore. When they ask about the new album we tell them, 'Don't worry, it's less commercial than the others.'"
One major instigator in the Talking Heads fight against commercialism is chief songwriter, singer and guitarist David Byrne. Responsible for the majority of Heads classics like Big Country and Psycho Killer, Byrne possesses an unorthodox sense of rhythm which, despite the novelty, remains extremely attractive.
"Eno is the only person who understands David's guitar playing," Tina said. "David's sense of rhythm is insane but fantastic. A song will start off a mess but become like a baby koala bear. It's difficult to turn a really stupid idea into something brilliant. David turns a sketch into a painting. He's great at convincing us that a crazy idea will end up brilliantly."
Talking Heads is the only band Eno will produce and they take great pride in this. They're equally thrilled that Bowie counts them among his very select favorites. Yet despite the acclaim, success and foreign glamour, the Talking Heads remain refreshingly pure in their approach to music. Who else would call an album Fear Of Music except perhaps David Bowie?
"When we were making this album I remembered this stupid discussion we had about titles for the last album," Tina smirked. "At that time I said, 'What are we gonna call an album that's just about buildings and food?' And Chris said, 'You call it more songs about buildings and food.' Jerry suggested Fear Of Music. Everyone laughed hilariously and forgot about it. Although it was a ludicrous title, it seemed to fit this album.
"We were under a lot of stress and pressure so Fear Of Music seemed perfect," Tina continued, amused at the irony. "It goes along with fear of everything. It's funny too, because the music business is so hype-oriented. To call an album fear is completely superficial. It's absurd because record companies go to their conventions proclaiming they've sold more records than anybody, despite the recession! I like the title because everyone has a fear of the record industry. It's just like what Thomas Jefferson said about the revolution: You just change power from one pair of hands to another."
One pair of hands that have tremendously aided Talking Heads in their never-ending search for the territory which lies beyond the clone zone are those belonging to Brian Eno. He has been instrumental in helping the band shape their slightly complicated sound and paint their many colored musical abstract designs.
"What makes Eno a great leader is that he's willing to share everything he knows. Eno thinks our albums are hoovering music, which was suggested by David's manner of moving around in the studio," Tina said, imitating quirky gestures. "David moves around the studio as if he were a janitor cleaning up and vacuuming while whistling an idiotic tune. His second description of our music is 'music to do your housework by.'
"Even though we had confidence in ourselves, Eno knows how to make people do things they would think impossible. He's very disciplined.
"On the last album he turned us from complete novices to naturals in the studio. He had all the black bohemian receptionists and typing people in the studio 'cause he had a crush on one. David said we should call the album Tina And The Typing Pool!"
Talking Heads have always used less than normally established studio techniques. One song on Fear Of Music features Tina's two sisters, the band alternatively called The Sweet Breaths or The Sweet Breads. They even acquired the services of a female tape operator to back David Byrne on one song.
As the band's popularity accelerates, Tina Weymouth finds more and more young men's heads bowed in tribute at the foot of the stage, screaming her name out in tones of romantic euphoria. Husband Chris finds this amusing, while Tina finds it complimentary but slightly ridiculous.
"If people thought of me like David Bowie, that would be fantastic," she said, dropping her sophisticated demeanor for that of a pop fan. "However, I don't want to go beyond what I do well, which is play music. I haven't exploited being female 'cause it's better to save those things.
"In the French advertisements for bras they say, 'Hide it subtly 'cause a man doesn't like to discover something on the outside.' It's sexier not to reveal everything, to add a degree of discovery."
Sometimes Tina doesn't hide enough. One night after playing in Washington, D.C., she and Chris couldn't get a taxi, so they decided to hitchhike. Although the men in the cars were keen to give the couple a ride, their girlfriends nixed the idea. Ever since then Tina has been in love with a pair of tight black pants with a tag which says "BJs" which she believes stands for blow-jobs.
One night at Hurrah's, Tina was proudly flaunting her BJs, standing next to Debbie Harry, dressed in a chic wool knit outfit. Friendly but firm, Debbie advised Tina to change immediately because the BJs didn't suit her image.
"As if I had to be protected," Tina sighed. It's crazy; people form an idea in their heads of what they think you are. Once this eighteen-year-old boy in England who was quite beautiful came up to me after the show and said, 'Forgive me, this isn't meant to be an insult, but throughout the entire show I thought you were a twelve-year-old boy. It's only now I've discovered you're a girl.' So I don't know what to think!"
Unsure of what stage apparel or image to adopt, Tina bought an attractive pink blouse for the recent Paris concert. Despite good intentions, this too involved a Catch-22.
"I don't want to bore the audience by constantly wearing the same clothes onstage but I don't want to distract the music with designer clothes," she said. "This pink top covers everything without showing too much. It's the female Steven Tyler look; strings hanging down. But it was so hot at the gig that suddenly I was drenched in sweat, completely soaking wet. Little by little the shirt got wet and started to stretch out, peeling off like a layer of skin," she laughed hysterically. "What a side-show! What an encore!"
Talking Heads continue to learn from their own mistakes in addition to the many traps and pitfalls which plague other bands. Tina now knows never to wear the pink blouse on hot occasions, while the band has an inherent sense of what they should and shouldn't do musically.
"We learn a lot by other people's failures as well as our own," Tina admitted. "We learned a lot by touring with the Ramones very early on. Dee Dee would have all these great ideas and he'd get Joey all excited with them. But then Johnny would say, 'That's not a Ramones thing to do.' Eventually that happened to Devo as well. I hope that never happens to us because it's so limiting."
After spending the summer months touring Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Hawaii, Talking Heads return home to America to spread Fear Of Music throughout auditoriums everywhere. Forget your paranoia and indulge yourself. Talking Heads are not dangerous to your health, but they are addicting.
"We always hoped it would happen," Tina Weymouth said of their worldwide success as she attempted to close a tightly packed suitcase for the journey to Japan. "Too many people are waiting for us to get big-headed as if we're a little bacteria under a microscope. Who knows if we'll change? Something could snap; it's like air traffic controllers. We could just flip out from the responsibility of it all!"