INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Juke JANUARY 2, 1982 - by Penny Harding
TALKING HEADS GET BACK TO BUSINESS
After a series of solo projects of varying interest and success, Talking Heads are getting back together in the studios.
In January they will be releasing a live LP, and at the same time start work on their first studio LP together since Remain In Light which was released in America in November 1980.
And according to keyboard player Jerry Harrison, it won't be with Brian Eno at the producer's desk.
The talk is that it was Eno who returned in February 1980 from a holiday in the Far East and Africa full of ethnic rhythms and instruments and put it in practice with Jon Hassell on Fourth World Vol.1: Possible Musics, with David Byrne on My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, with Edikanfo on the recent The Pace Setters, and the best known of all, with Talking Heads on the much-praised Remain In Light. It was Eno whose exuberance and passion for the new sound helped turn Byrne and Harrison from a neurotic New York pop-orientated outfit to an extended pan-continental funk esemblage.
It was Harrison who'd dragged bassist Busta Jones (the man secretly contacted by The Rolling Stones to do their just-finished US tour if Bill Wyman refused to go through with it, as he once suggested) and guitarist Adrian Belew into the fray.
Now, drummer Chris Frantz and bassist Tina Weymouth weren't too impressed with the way Brian Eno completely transformed Talking Heads, and have made enough noise so that the balding eagle doesn't get his name next to the producer's credits on the Heads' next collective project.
Harrison himself diplomatically puts it thus: three albums is a long time to work with one producer.
He says he's very interested in how the band will cut it after such a long vacation from each other.
It will be an interesting exercise because the band as it is has been both strengthened and weakened by this long stay from each other. It'll be a real test of our ability to find a common ground. It's exciting in that aspect because we have evolved from being apart. Now it's up to us to see how we can apply what we've learned to what we had before.
But we're quite happy where we are. It was interesting reading in the press how someone 'close to the band' had told a journalist that we weren't getting back together. It was certainly news to us. We were never what you'd call a 'normal' sort of band, and I don't see why people could apply the running of a 'normal' band.
Although, to be perfectly honest, I think it'd be nice if more people bought our records. Our record sales don't seem to match up to the things people say about us: the Talking Heads are in the strange position where we're more famous than we are successful.
Byrne's solo album The Catherine Wheel was issued just before Christmas. It contains eleven songs adapted from his score to the ballet The Catherine Wheel. The ballet score was the end product of a collaboration between Byrne and renowned New York choreographer Twyla Tharp whose dance troupe performed the ballet on Broadway in September. The LP, recorded in New York and London midway through the year, included Harrison and Belew helping out, as well as Steven Scales, Bernie Worrell, Dollette McDonald and Brian Eno.
Harrison worked on a solo LP called The Red And The Black which continues the same impressionist funk as Remain In Light, although Harrison says there were a number of ideas in it that he couldn't have worked into Talking Heads's music.
I think it'd be a misconception to suggest that Remain In Light and the band's turn to funk rhythms was only the work of David and Brian. At the time the entire band was in varying stages of finding Western rock and roll somewhat stultifying, and needed to turn to other cultures for rejuvenation.
We were certainly unanimous that it was the direction to go. David and Brian were more articulate about their direction and what they wanted to do in the interviews, but certainly Remain In Light was a collaboration between Eno and the entire Talking Heads.
The Red And The Black is possibly a bit more Western rock-orientated than Remain In Light but his songs bear a superficial similarity to Byrne's, and his lyrics have their cold alienation feel as well. Harrison says the album is a reflection of world affairs - uncertain and suspicious.
Despite the seal of approval from the rock press to the Heads' last LP and several solo projects, there has always been a section that has charged that Heads are no innovators, but merely plagiarisers of what mid-period Can were doing.
In fact, Byrne's Ghosts album had more than a passing resemblance to any solo album by Can's Holger Czukay. In fact, the temple musics, dance and chant rhythms and application of instrumentations on Catherine could easily be mistaken at a blindfold test to Czukay's Movies and On The Way To The Peak Of Normal albums.
All rock music is influenced, Harrison defends. My view is that I listen to things on a very general influence. I hardly take anything specific because then I'd have to really understand it completely. Brian Eno has the ability to pick up on things quickly, to even work out a sound that has only been verbally described to him. I can't, I'm afraid: I'd have to study it thoroughly before I can dare start imitating it.
There's really no such thing as innovation in music - occasionally they can hide their influences better than others, so they're acclaimed as coming up with something new. Talking Heads aren't musicians who feel they have to steal ideas. We'd rather learn from other musicians and adapt them. It's an important distinction.
In the meantime, Tina Weymouth and husband Chris Frantz were working on the Tom Tom Club album.
The name comes from a rehearsal room in Nassau where Talking Heads rehearsed before recording their More Songs About Buildings And Food. They started out with a quiet single called Wordy Rappinghood; and when they decided to do some shows with friends and relatives, it seemed the right name to choose.
It's kind of interesting seeing all these rumours about Talking Heads splitting up and, in a way, we kept news and interviews about the Tom Tom Club down to a minimum, says Weymouth, because we knew that it would start the rumours again.
What we were trying to do was make an album that was almost at a variance with what Talking Heads are - or rather what they were representing. There's this snob image about the Heads that everything we do is super-serious and heavy, and I think it's an image that annoys the others in the band too. We wanted it to be a musical but anti-snob album.
In a way, they try and aim at a level of spontaneity and naivety by getting in people who'd never played or recorded before.
Most of the vocals on the album, for instance, were done by Tina's sisters, Laura, Loric and Lani; the four together had never recorded together.
When we were kids we were hanging together, so when we decided to record a solo album, it was obvious we'd ask them in. We were working with Steve Stanley who helped us produce the LP. Steve's a twenty-three-year-old kid, very innocent but talented, and he works in Nassau as an engineer working under Sly (Dunbar) and Robbie (Shakespeare). He also played keyboards which he doesn't normally do.
So we'd got together a lot of people who work purely on a trial and error basis, lots of nervous ideas bouncing around. It was important too that we recorded in Nassau because that's a place where music is made purely for the love, unlike London or New York where no matter how experimental people claim to be, they've always got one eye on the charts.
What was fresh about the LP, the couple say, is that it was an utterly democratic effort, with every idea considered. And when the Tom Tom Club makes a second LP, it will be with more untried talent. And since they decided not to tour, TTC have made an animated cartoon (the illustrator James Razzi is a New Yorker who designed the LP's cover) which was edited by video technician Laura Weymouth on a small budget. Frantz and Weymouth have some parties interested in distributing the film; the delay is that they want to ensure everyone gets paid equally.
The biggest snobbery in rock music is that everything has to be categorised into small little boxes, particularly in that it's divided into what black people should play and what white people should play. The nice thing is that we had all manner of people working together as the Tom Tom Club and being successful.
When Genius Of Love started getting a lot of airplay on WBLS (New York's top black station) it was a triumph, much more so when the programme director of the station met us, stared and said, 'But I thought you were black.' And now Bernie Worrell, who's one of the best funk players, has gone to Jamaica and working with Sly and : they're both learning from each other.
The TTC was originally going to be a reggae experiment with Sly and Robbie playing, Tina singing and production handled by top reggae producer Lee Perry, better known as Scratch. But the latter at the time was trying to get away from making reggae records, so they opted for Steve Stanley, making a more spontaneous LP that went out on a limb.
No one could possibly say that the Tom Tom Club sounds like Talking Heads. Even when we brought Adrian in, we told him to experiment. After all, there are enough Talking Heads imitators around without us wanting to add to them!
Meantime, wait for the real product for the real thing.