INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Uncut AUGUST 2015 - by Andy Gill
DAVID BYRNE: TAKE ME TO THE RIVER
A once-in-a-lifetime interview with the great David Byrne, as the intrepid musical explorer prepares to curate this year's Meltdown festival in London. To be discussed: Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Imelda Marcos, "fake Mormon hymns", St Vincent and how Byrne invented hip-hop by accident...
David Byrne has always had a striking sense of appearance, from the proto-preppy understatement of his early Talking heads persona to the legendary Big Suit of Stop Making Sense. Today, his hair now strikingly silver, he's dressed in a cool seersucker suit, a sort of cross between upscale country cowpoke and intrepid safari-suited explorer. it's an apt look that hints at his exploratory cultural attitude, always searching out the unexpected and unusual.
We're in a room at the Royal Festival hall, adjacent to an elevator programmed by Byrne's friend and frequent collaborator Brian Eno to produce keening choral glissandos depending on whether you're ascending or descending. Today, we're at the very upper limit of Eno's register, in a penthouse boardroom affording a marvellous widescreen vista of the Thames and across to the dome of St Paul's. Not that Byrne's paying the view too much attention. Like the untouched food on the table, it's ignored in favour of a preoccupation with the work at hand, which concerns his curating of this year's Meltdown, the scheduling of which he likens to Tetris, trying to get all these different acts in different venues at different times to fit in a harmonious sequence.
It is, you suspect, something Byrne enjoys: a tricky puzzle as much to be savoured as it is solved. Much of Byrne's remarkable career has similarly involved projects that enable him to push his own boundaries, taking him out of his comfort zone to work alongside musicians from different disciplines and corners of the world. In Talking Heads, he moved from art rock, through funk and African rhythms, while his solo career includes excursions into Latin pop, film soundtracks and a musical about Imelda Marcos. His Luaka Bop label, meanwhile, unearthed interdisciplinary world music like Indian psych, Brazilian tropicalismo and Southern gothic. All told, it is a remarkable, wide-ranging body of work - one that continues to evolve as Byrne's restless spirit brings him into contact with a new generation of collaborators such as St Vincent, Dirty Projectors and David Sitek. Above all, it underscores his continuing importance in an ever-changing musical landscape.
His cultural journeys often take Byrne into areas outside the purely musical: he has an impressive CV of dance and theatre work and art installations, and was miraculously able to get funding to co-write, direct and star in his own film, True Stories, whose quirky narrative was inspired by outlandish newspaper stories he had collected on tour with Talking Heads. "I was only able to raise the money for True Stories because Talking Heads were having pop hits," he admits. Times, though, are significantly tougher for the inspired independent auteur. "Nobody lost money on True Stories," he says. "But it would be harder for me to do that now. I did a documentary in Brazil, but even the financing for that had to come from several different countries, just to do something as small as a one-hour documentary."
An avid proponent of cycling, Byrne designed a series of location-specific bicycle-racks for various parts of New York, and has written widely on the subject, not least in his 2009 book, Bicycle Diaries. His other publications have included an anthology of his tree drawings, Arboretum, and most pertinently, How Music Works, a fascinating reflection upon his core business which discusses the social uses of music, the modes of performance, the history of recording, and the thorny relationship between music and emotion: "Making music," he claims, "is like constructing a machine whose function is to dredge up emotions in performer and listener alike."
Which leads one to wonder at the variety of emotions that might be dredged up by Byrne's lineup for Meltdown Festival, which ranges from flamenco singer Estrella Morente to miasmic metal dronists Sunn O))), and from confessional songwriter Benjamin Clementine to Tibetan throat-musicians Phurpa; with performances as varied as Young Jean Lee's song-cycle about pain and death, We're Gonna Die, John Luther Adams' contemporary classical work, Across A Distance, and Atomic Bomb!'s presentation of the rediscovered electro-funk of William Onyeabor.
As with his record label, it tries to re-focus attention on artists and performers, particularly those operating outside a mainstream increasingly colonised by corporate forces - an impulse which also recently led to Byrne joining the board of SoundExchange, an independent digital income collection organisation. "At the moment it's almost impossible for an artist to find out how many streams were sold, to calculate how much they're owed," he explains. "Consumers have no problem with paying Apple, or having their stuff watched over by Google; but to actually pay for the content...? The creator, in many cases, has been left behind, and other people are just cashing in. There needs to be some corrective."
UNCUT: You've become a serial collaborator...
DAVID BYRNE: I have! I was surprised to read some interviews with younger musicians about collaboration, and quite a few just didn't like the idea at all. There was a sense that collaboration is compromising your vision, your unique sense of what makes you, as an artist or writer, special. That to collaborate is to compromise. And to some extent it is; but sometimes you get something from the other side that goes beyond what you'd have come up with. It's a kind of mutual gain.
Are you ever overwhelmed by the prospect of a particular partner? Does it ever restrict or place a brake on the freedom?
No, just sometimes in a technical way. Sometimes the brake is helpful: all right, this is what they do, this is what I do, we have to work within these parameters. It's helpful in defining the area we're working within. I did one recently that hasn't come out yet, with the hip-hop group De La Soul: they asked if I could do something on one of their tracks that had some sections at one speed and others in a different tempo. I did something, and told them, I don't know whether this works with what you're doing, I have no idea how you're going to get these tempo-changes to work - you guys might be able to pull this off, but it's pretty tricky!
I read your introductory explanation for your choice of Meltdown performers, and was struck by your acknowledgement that it was financially impossible to have too many American acts.
Oh yeah. No surprise, there's a budget consideration. Thankfully, I'm not the one that has to juggle those figures - but we're in constant communication with the people at the Southbank. If I recommend someone, and they want to bring other players along with them, it could add to the budget to the point where, even if we sell out their night at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, it's not going to pay for the plane fares. I completely get that. If you have to take a bit of the profit from one act to cover the loss on another, that can be done. It's a whole Tetris thing, of shuffling blocks around until they fit.
I get the impression at a lot of live shows nowadays that it's all in the computer, that everything has to follow the lighting cues. There's very little room for the music to explore. I imagine your performances are a bit looser?
I've done both. Usually I'm a little bit looser, like with the Atomic Bomb! stuff, that's just get a groove going and don't let go. But the tour I did with St Vincent a year or two ago, we worked with a large brass section, and some of the songs, she wanted them to be on a click track - which I don't think people would have noticed, as the brass was live. She has a set-up where, when she's doing things with her guitar pedals, the computer triggers all the effects changes. She's an amazing guitar player, and this way [snaps fingers], right on cue, the sound of the guitar changes completely. But so much of the rest of it was live - the guitar playing, the drums, eight brass players. It was the poor drummer who suffered, having to play with a click.
Whose idea was the brass on that collaboration?
It was her idea. I thought it was brilliant. Not only because we both like that sound, but it took us to places that sounded like neither of our bands - although there are elements in both our works. It didn't sound like any band that I'd worked with, it meant it would sound like some third thing. Plus, with a group like that playing, it kind of mixes itself: if the arrangement is good, if you have the right numbers of people playing trombones and whatever, if the balance is right, it'll just acoustically come off the stage the way it's supposed to sound, as opposed to being created in the mix.
What, for you, was the essential difference between the two album collaborations you did with Brian Eno?
The process was quite different. On the Bush Of Ghosts record it was like playing ping-pong: one person would create a track, then the other would respond to it, back and forth, back and forth, until we had enough stuff built up to say, "Oh, we can construct an arrangement out of this." And at some point, after working on it for a bit, we both decided that if either one of us sang on a song, people would assume that song was written by them, as people tend to do: they assume the voice is the authorial voice, and it's not always that way. So we thought, 'OK, let's make it neutral, let's use found voices, recordings or whatever - let's make that the theme, that neither of us sings, we use the voices as the vocals.'
Public Enemy's Hank Shocklee cited Bush Of Ghosts as one of the roots of hip-hop.
I know! Isn't that amazing!?
It also struck me, listening to the reissue recently, how much more difficult it must have been to do an album like that in the pre-sampler era.
Oh Jeez, yeah! There was a lot of trial and error! You sometimes had to play an instrument as if you were a loop, the same part over and over. Which is fine - but as it's a little inaccurate, you get this kind of slipperiness, which you don't get when everything is rigid perfection.
So if you had tapes of the vocal sources, were you editing them in as you went along?
Sometimes editing, sometimes flying them in, almost like a performance in the studio, where you press record, play them, stop it and see what you've got, and whether you can fix the ones that don't work so well.
It was very different. Brian said, "I have these tracks that I haven't been able to turn into songs." I said, "Pass a few to me, I'll try, and if you don't like it, no-one has to know; if you do like it, we keep going, and no-one has to know until we reach something that we like." That was more of a clean division of labour: he had these tracks, and I added words and melodies, and ended up singing them. But we seem to have escaped the authorial voice issue on that, too. It was plain that it was a collaboration, and that we were both writing the material, you could hear that. But it was different from the other record. Some of it was electronic, parts of it were kinda folky - they don't sound like folk songs, but when you look at the melody, or some of the words I wrote, they're like old-fashioned folk songs, in a way.
Thematically, there seemed to be an apprehension about ageing: a lot of the songs were about dealing sympathetically with the ageing process.
Wow!? I wasn't aware of that! My parents have both passed on, and they were getting very old, and showing it, by that point, and that might have been on my mind. I don't know.
Were you a natural performer as a kid?
No, I don't think so. I started performing in high school when I was sixteen or so, in pop bands with friends, or at folk clubs. I took to it, but at that point I was more driven to do it: it was almost like I felt so socially inept that this was the only way I could express myself, by getting up on a stage and doing something, often somebody else's song, but getting up onstage and asserting myself. And then retreating back into my shell the minute I'd step off stage. It was a curious kind of schizophrenic relationship. But if you don't feel comfortable communicating any other way, if there's an avenue open to you, you'll take it. Then over the years, that whole thing lessened. And now, it's a pleasure to step on stage. There's no desperation. So there was some kind of weird edginess that got lost in that process, but something else was gained.
I understand you were rejected from your school choir because you were "off key and too withdrawn"?
That's true. Most encouraging!
"Off key and too withdrawn" could be a definition for a certain kind of performer. Bob Dylan, for instance.
I guess that that kind of rejection pushes you into "I'm gonna show you!" territory.
When you ran a record label, was it a difficult gear-change from thinking as an artist - having to think more like a businessman, while looking out for other artists' interests?
Some of it is really different, but some of it is really familiar - because as an artist you understand what another artist's hopes and aspirations might be, and what they expect from a record label, how they'd like to be treated. You kind of get all that, sometimes in a way that other labels don't. The rest of it, some of the bumping up against the business contingencies, I would like to say that I can do it, it's not like I'm incompetent at it, but it's not where most of my skills lie. I love the part of introducing the artist, and being an advocate for their music, but spending hours untangling knotty business problems - it's not much fun for me. I think my time might be more wisely spent writing some songs.
And at least you did some great archival work: the Os Mutantes record, for example.
Oh yes, they're amazing.
I've been re-reading your book How Music Works, and in parts of it you deal with the differences between performing live and working in the studio. Do you have a preference?
No. It used to be, in the early days, that I didn't like being in the studio at all. Talking Heads started as a live band, and I felt that what I heard on the recordings didn't sound like what I heard onstage. But later it was more balanced, and I realised there was a different type of creativity involved in each world. Then for a while there was a more typical record-business kind of thing, where you make a record, then tour behind it, which I would try and mix up as much as possible, for my own excitement and inspiration. That's been fun, but now I don't know if that cycle has as much meaning as before. For certain big pop artists, it does: when they release a record that they hope is going to sell tons of copies, the whole machine cranks up, the videos and the TV and the events and the tour; but for the rest, it's turning into something else, where it's an ongoing sense of work and performance, and I think some of my audience comes to my shows with almost no expectations! God bless them!
Pete Townshend once complained about how, following a year's touring, the other band members went off on holiday while he had to stay home and write the next album. Did you ever feel that way in Talking Heads?
Yeah, a little. I sometimes felt, like, they're all going out there partying, they're going to the beach, while I have to get my little pencil out and my Walkman recorder, recording ideas and working on stuff for our next record. But then, that's the work I love, it's not a horrible job by any means, so I can't complain. And as a songwriter, you're getting all the publishing money.
Did expectations change when things like Burning Down The House and Road To Nowhere were becoming popular?
Ah, yeah, but I didn't respond to all of them. The good side was that I could be more ambitious with the stage shows, and so there was a certain level of indulgence: people would say, "Oh, you want to try that? OK, let's try it." Whereas before it might have been either "No, that costs too much" or "What gives you the right to think you can try that?" There was a bit more acceptance, and I could do other things, like directing the music videos. But there was also this temptation to really get into the pop machine and take it to the next level of pop arenas - and you start building up this huge infrastructure which you then have to write and record to support. I sensed losing some freedom there, as regards what I can do; and I like too much being able to do all of these different sorts of things.
You were part of the initial MTV roster, through those videos. Presumably that played a major part in disseminating your work?
Yes. Though there were some songs that were perceived to be hits that weren't getting played on the radio, because people were seeing the videos. It was a time when MTV was desperate for material, and they played videos 24/7, so they needed stuff to fill up the time. So as fast as you could make stuff, they'd put it on.
You changed tack completely with Remain In Light, particularly in having no chord changes. Where did the idea come from?
From Bush Of Ghosts. They came out in reverse order, as we had to clear a lot of voice recordings on that: it was done before Remain In Light, but came out after. So Brian and I learned that technique, and had a practice run with Bush Of Ghosts, then we realised, "Oh look, we can do songs this way, why not bring the rest of the band into the process and use it to do actual songs?" Not that the Bush Of Ghosts things weren't songs...
There was a fairly heavy Afrobeat flavour to parts of Remain In Light. Was that one of your first non-western influences?
Yeah, I was hearing some of that material, whether from Kenya, Nigeria or South Africa - Fela, and some pop groups - although there was no way to find out that much about them. But there was a sense that here were people taking elements - guitars, bass, drums, whatever - that you were totally familiar with, the vocabulary being used, but they were organising it in a different way, so that it seemed like, 'Wow, we don't have to imitate them, but there's more than one way to skin a cat.'
The Big Love: Hymnal album, with its "fake Mormon hymns", was like a different, homegrown kind of Ethnological Forgery.
In a way, yeah. I was asked to do a score for this HBO series, and I had this odd idea to give these characters spiritual underpinning, because the odd stuff you're seeing - the polygamy, and this guy jumping from house to house because he has a wife in each - to them has a spiritual justification. I thought that by having the music reflect that underpinning, as odd as what you're seeing is, to them it all makes sense, there's something holding it all together. It didn't entirely work, but I managed to get some of that in there.
I thought it was interesting in offering almost an overview of American classical music, with elements of Ives and Copland and minimalism in there.
Why, thank you.
You've done a lot of theatre work, with the likes of Robert Wilson. How do those kinds of collaborations work? Is it their theatrical ideas that you have to align with?
It depends. They're very different. With Bob Wilson there was one piece called The Knee Plays, a series of short things, where - unusual for Bob - he had a kind of story; so my wife at the time and I made a kind of structure and imagined a way to tell the story silently, then I wrote this music with a narration to run parallel with it. Another one I did with Bob was called The Forest: Bob said, "There's money to be made in Germany for something theatrical." I said, "What if we do the Gilgamesh story, which is the oldest story known to man, and re-set it during the Industrial Revolution in Germany, because during that period the same questions - man versus nature, the city versus the country, all those questions get raised anew, and we can re-set it that way." He agreed, but of course Bob being Bob, a story is just an inspiration for him, he doesn't feel like he has to adhere to a narrative or anything. He'll stick with it, but it's more of an underpinning than something in the forefront for the audience. Which is a fun way to work.
How did Here Lies Love, the musical collaboration with Norman Cook about Imelda Marcos, come about? What was the attraction of Imelda?
At first, it might have just been this outrageous person who lives in this bubble-world, and loves going to clubs - there's a connection between the hedonistic dance-club vibe and someone being as powerful as she and her husband were. That was a nice start to get you into that world, then I discovered there was a lot more going on - a relationship that just fell into my lap, the main opposition to her husband, Aquino, who was assassinated when he returned to the Philippines, she dated him when they were young, so there was this other parallel thread going with him: she got him out of prison, and he was sent into exile. And it all ended with this peaceful revolution, the precursor of those in Egypt and other places; though none of them end up quite as hoped.
How do you go about developing a musical like that?
It evolved in stages: I had the songs written, but I could never get support to do it theatrically - I always wanted it be done in a disco. And I wanted it to be all songs and no dialogue, so you couldn't have someone come on and say, "I'm such-and-such." The director Alex Timbers is great at the nonverbal narrative, where you understand the relationships between characters by their positions onstage, or clothing. It ran at the National last year, and now I've written another one. It'll take time, but I'm onto a second draft.
Any clues about a theme?
It's another historical woman, where there's a lot of information in the historical record. Which is good for me: I'm not making this story up, it's exactly what was said, on the record.
You realise that Eva Peron's been done?
Yes, that's been done, that's been done. The Imelda thing was compared to that, but the feeling was very different.
You've worked on a lot of narratives, notably your film, True Stories. What's the main difference between working on an album and a film - it's a much more collaborative process, presumably?
Yes, it is. As a musician, I started to become more comfortable... not being bossy as such, but in making my intentions clear. Rather than ordering people to "Do this!", I'd talk with them about it so they'd understand - and they end up helping you achieve what you want. It's vastly more complicated, but super fun to do.
I was intrigued to learn that Windows used a sample of yours as part of their operating system.
Oh yeah! One year their new operating system included an audio/video player, and they used a song I'd done [Like Humans Do, from 2001's Look Into The Eyeball] as a demo of how their audio player worked - so that when you opened up the player, there was something in there already. I thought, 'This will be a clever way to get a song from my new record to millions of people, to create awareness of the new recording.' It didn't really have that effect!
New York seems very amenable to creativity. Do you think you might have developed in a totally different way if you'd lived in Los Angeles?
I did try living in Los Angeles for a time in the mid- to late-'80s, at the time I was making that film, and obviously a lot of the producers and technical people are based in LA, and they're the best in their field. But I found that when you weren't actively involved in something there, you spent so many hours in your car, just going from place to place, and you think, 'Where are the years going here?'
I remember that line you wrote about London being "a small city", and I thought, Jesus, has he ever tried to get across it in rush hour?
Oh yeah, I get that! I think I meant that it was made up of lots of small villages, and people sometimes never ventured out of their little village.
David Byrne's Meltdown runs at London's Southbank Centre from August 17-30
"THEY DIDN'T NEED ANY ADVICE..."
Ed Stasium recalls engineering Talking Heads' earliest recordings
"I got the chance to work with them through my old friend Tony Bongiovi, who produced their early recordings. I bumped into him for the first time in years at a gig in NY, and he told me he was going to build a new studio, Sundragon, and would I like to be chief engineer? The first band I worked with there was The Ramones on Leave Home; but it was Spring 1977 when I first worked with Talking Heads, at the Power Station, when Seymour Stein asked Tommy Erdelyi and Tony to produce Love→Building On Fire. Then later, we cut the basic tracks for 77 at Sundragon.
"The band were very sparse. When we started doing the album, Jerry Harrison was not even in the band, he was still one of The Modern Lovers. He came in later and overdubbed his parts. There were no particular instructions, and they didn't need any advice: they all had their parts down, and they didn't get any guidance from Tony Bongiovi, who was mostly just sat in the corner of the booth with his nose in an airplane magazine! It all came from the band, there was no producer telling these guys what to do. The sparseness was a reflection of their minimal style - we did just a few overdubs, mostly on vocals. It was all done live - Chris is a fantastic drummer, a real human metronome. The only edit I made in mixing was in the intro to Psycho Killer, which Tina suggested I should elongate. And the only time Tony gave his opinion was about David's singing - so David refused to do vocals with Tony in the room, just me! David is David, and like any great artist, needs free rein.
"I wasn't that familiar with the New York scene at that time. I'd been in Canada for a few years, and when I moved back, the first time I heard The Ramones was in the studio. And the first I heard of Talking Heads was a demo tape, though I did go and see them live before recording them. They're totally different bands: the biggest difference in their cases was attitude. The Ramones were truly a bunch of punk guys from Queens, while Talking Heads were more intellectual - which is not to disparage The Ramones, but their approaches were dissimilar.
"The band's sound started to change when Eno got involved on More Songs About Buildings And Food. Chris was in awe of him, the way he designed the sound differently. His new textures provided a stimulant, broadened their musical spectrum. I love the way they go from that sparse first album to the bigger, more complex sound they developed later.
"I know they had their differences later on, but when I was working with them everybody was getting along just fine. They were truly a band. My only mediation was in booting out Tony Bongiovi when David wanted to do his vocals!"
TALKING HEADS 77 (1977) - Stark, skeletal and melodic, a debut a world away from punk mores, with its own odd take on emotions, books, the government and psycho killers.
TALKING HEADS More Songs About Buildings And Food (1978) - Enter the Eno: with a warmer, more muscular variant of their distinctive staccato sound, the band were able to explore various tributary strains feeding into their music, such as country, funk and plastic pop.
TALKING HEADS Fear Of Music (1979) - The consummation of the band's first chapter, with wiry disco rhythms laced through punchy rock grooves, and songs built around dystopian anxieties: the oppressiveness of air, urban guerrilla paranoia, the boredom of heaven.
TALKING HEADS Remain In Light (1980)- The innovative groove breakthrough, with the usual musical "narrative" of melody and chord progressions downgraded in favour of cyclical funk and Afrobeat figures, realised through a larger cast of helpers.
DAVID BYRNE & BRIAN ENO My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts (1981) - Byrne and Eno's innovatory collaging techniques here effectively invented sampling. Harnessed to lock-tight rhythms, the densely layered montages of sonic bric-à-brac reflect the audio-social hubbub of a world shrinking through communications tech.
DAVID BYRNE The Catherine Wheel (1981) - Byrne's score for a dance piece choreographed by Twyla Tharp, typically blending elements of funk, Afrobeat and collaged vocal samples. Musically interesting, let down by drab lyrics.
TALKING HEADS The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads (1982) - Designed to track their progress from new-wave combo to Afro-funk big band, a live album with a difference.
TALKING HEADS Speaking In Tongues (1983) - Harnessing the broader musical palette of their expanded live band, this effected Talking Heads' breakthrough through the Top 10 success of Burning Down The House.
TALKING HEADS Stop Making Sense (1984) - Soundtrack to the definitive pop performance film, building from Byrne's solo boombox version of Psycho Killer to the irresistible closing funk-pop sequence.
TALKING HEADS Little Creatures (1985) - A return to charming pop songcraft, this became the band's most successful LP, with two million US sales on the back of the deliriously inventive video for Road To Nowhere.
DAVID BYRNE Music For 'The Knee Plays' (1985) - Composed to accompany Robert Wilson's theatrical production, The Civil Wars, these jaunty and drifting brass and percussion pieces were inspired by The Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
TALKING HEADS True Stories (1986) - The power of a proper band: Talking Heads brought a heft and propulsive conviction to these songs from David Byrne's engagingly quirky movie. Often underrated. Provided Radiohead with a band name, too.
DAVID BYRNE Sounds From True Stories (1986) - Incidental music from Byrne's movie, performed by eclectic talents including Terry Allen and the Kronos Quartet. Sadly, a planned album of songs by the actors never materialised.
DAVID BYRNE, RYUICHI SAKAMOTO & CONG SU The Last Emperor (1987) - Byrne's contributions to the OST of Bertolucci's acclaimed film - scrupulous creations of Chinese instrumentation and scales - netted him an Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe.
TALKING HEADS Naked (1988) - Disappointing swansong cut with dozens of extra musicians in Paris, based on earlier improvisations. Lyrics and melodies added later, and various elements don't combine with their usual panache.
DAVID BYRNE Rei Momo (1989) - A guided tour of Latin American and Afro-Cuban forms, from cumbia to samba, with Kirsty MacColl joining a host of Latino legends alongside the gringo groover.
DAVID BYRNE The Forest (1991) - Orchestral ethnological forgeries for an archaeo-mythical theatre piece based on The Epic Of Gilgamesh, but set in the industrial revolution: imagine Sun Ra relaxing at the Penguin Café.
DAVID BYRNE Uh-Oh (1992) - A less "worthy" world-music hybrid, in which the Latin influence subsists more as a fount of energy, adding spring in the singalong songs' steps and spice in their arrangements.
DAVID BYRNE David Byrne (1994) - The more stripped-down approach here didn't work to the LP's advantage: stripped of froth and fripperies, the songs struggled to engage.
DAVID BYRNE Feelings (1997) - Byrne gets his groove back, aided by Morcheeba: their laid-back style mellows out his jerky rhythms to produce slinky grooves reflecting the undertow of playful hedonism.
DAVID BYRNE Look Into The Eyeball (2001) - Despite including Byrne's first Spanish-language song, Latin-American influences are assimilated here into a more eclectic, mature style with elegant string and wind arrangements.
DAVID BYRNE Lead us Not Into Temptation (2003) - Byrne's soundtrack to the Young Adam film was made in collaboration with members of Belle & Sebastian and Mogwai, whose improv skills lend themselves to the LP's sombre charms.
DAVID BYRNE Grown Backwards (2004) - Even by Byrne's eclectic standards, this is all over the map: country music, gamelan percussion, Gallic accordion, even a couple of arias from Bizet and Verdi, which test his upper register.
DAVID BYRNE & BRIAN ENO Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (2008) - A more demarcated collaboration, with Eno's unfinished grooves developed and sung by Byrne, whose lyrics treat decrepitude and death with maturity and warmth. A beguiling, consolatory work.
DAVID BYRNE Big Love: Hymnal (2008) - Music for a drama series on Mormon polygamists, ingeniously evoking the wistful flavour of old pioneer hymns in an upscale Americana palette of brass-band horns, genteel strings and minimalist repetitions. Think teatime with Van Dyke Parks and Sufjan Stevens.
DAVID BYRNE & FATBOY SLIM Here Lies Love (2010) - A twenty-two-track disco opera about Imelda Marcos which doesn't mention shoes once. Despite sterling work from vocal talent (Florence, St Vincent, Tori Amos and others), it's simply too long to spend at the disco with a dictator's wife.
CAETANO VELOSO & DAVID BYRNE Live At Carnegie Hall (2012) - Veloso returns the favour for Byrne's earlier patronage by having him share a 2004 acoustic showcase. A joyous show, including Road To Nowhere filtered through a bossa nova temperament.
DAVID BYRNE & ST VINCENT Love This Giant (2012) - A harmonious union of cerebral talents, their more icily artful tendencies thawed by using brass as lead instrument. Ebullient, infectious, touching and intelligent.
"THERE WAS SO MUCH EXCITEMENT AND ENERGY..."
Director Jonathan Demme on Stop Making Sense...
"It was actually me who approached the band with the suggestion to film their performance, rather than the other way round. I'd seen their show at the Hollywood Bowl, and thought, 'There's a movie in this, this should be captured on film.' When I saw the Big Suit, I just went, 'Woooww!' We met and discussed the project, and Warners came up with the money. David was pleased as it was an opportunity to record the performance in virtual monochrome. Usually, there's a lot of ambient light sources - exit signs, people opening and shutting doors - but we were able to control the environment to a high degree.
"Everything about the show, the sequencing, the way it builds, the staging, is entirely David's. Byrne was the auteur of that show, and deserves huge credit for it. I loved the way it built up gradually, especially the bits where the stage crew wheels on equipment as the band grows. We opted to ignore the audience - usually there are cutaways to audience reactions, but I thought, who wants to look at the audience when you could be looking at these beautiful performers onstage? And we didn't worry about the crew being in shot - they're an integral part of the show, after all.
"My director of photography, Jordan Cronenworth, also deserves credit - he did a brilliant job of lighting and filming it. Some of the sequences were planned ahead of time and worked out beautifully, but some of the best stuff was just things we'd caught in passing - there was so much happening onstage, such excitement and energy; we were very fortunate the way it worked out.
"When it came time to edit the movie, I wanted to get away from all that quick-cut editing prevalent at the time. I used long-held shots that focused on the performers' faces - which is what you want to see at a concert. As a result, it still looks great today, it hasn't aged. One thing that often gets overlooked is that these were the last shows Talking Heads ever did: they never toured together again after that, so we were fortunate enough to capture the band's final performances on film.
"I wasn't at all surprised when David made his own film, True Stories. He has so much inspiration, in so many different media: he truly is the modern Renaissance Man!"