INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Mojo JULY 2020 - by Tom Doyle
SAME AS IT EVER WAS
Forty years since its emergence, Talking Heads' Remain In Light stands on a pinnacle of art-pop perfection. Sadly, the fault lines between its creators are just as lasting. As drummer Chris Frantz unleashes his memoir, he pulls no punches on his differences with David Byrne, while bandmates tell the tale of twenty-first century music's biggest influence through its rifts and its gifts. "It was such a great, groovy, funky, joyful band," discovers Tom Doyle.
Rome, December 17, 1980. Like a cinema screen slowly stretching out ahead of the main feature, Talking Heads are expanding in real time. In front of 11,500 fans at the PalaEUR arena, the core four-piece band are adding members as their set progresses, until their number swells to nine. By the climax of the show, they have morphed into a multi-legged groove machine pummelling the fervent Italian crowd with manic, polyrhythmic art-funk.
Two months earlier, the group had released their groundbreaking fourth studio album, Remain In Light, with its dense, headspinning layers of looping Afrobeat, and so the subsequent tour had required a grand gesture. "We started listening to the songs," says Talking Heads multi-instrumentalist Jerry Harrison today, "and we realised, 'Well, this song needs an extra guitar player... this song needs an extra keyboard player... this song needs an extra bass player. We need percussion, we need background vocals...'"
It's a group-inflating trick that Talking Heads will be seen to repeat four years later in their landmark concert movie, Stop Making Sense. But on this night of the Remain In Light tour, captured on celluloid by Italian state broadcaster RAI and uploaded to YouTube in 2011, it is presented in thrilling prototype.
"It was such a great, groovy, funky, joyful band," remembers Adrian Below, then fresh into Talking Heads, having been guitarist on David Bowie's Low/"Heroes" 1978 world tour. "You can tell that I enjoyed every second on-stage playing. I'm so happy being there, I'm just bouncing around.
For Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz, watching the him moved him to open his forthcoming memoir, Remain In Love, with his recollections of the Rome gig. "I mean, there were so many peaks to choose from," he says. "But I began the book with that particular gig because I had watched the video on YouTube and I thought, Damn, man, ain't that some shit?"
In 1980, Talking Heads' position as the world's preeminent art rock band was already well-established. The foursome - geeky, arresting singer David Bvrne, elastically inventive bassist Tina Weymouth, relentlessly driving beatsmaster Chris Frantz, and fluidly guitar-to-keys-hopping Jerry Harrison - had travelled far from their jerky, melodic debut, Talking Heads: 77, while maintaining a utilitarian look and attitude that suggested a blithe ignorance of traditional rock cliché. Dabbling in African influences on I Zimbra, the hypnotically funky opener of their third album, 1979's Fear Of Music, had led the band to Remain In Light, with its harmonically minimalist songs built, layer by layer, like abstract expressionist paintings. Rightly lauded as truly original upon its release, it sounds as thrillingly unique today, forty years on.
At the dawn of the '80s, however, Talking Heads' seemingly united front was misleading. Ahead of Remain In Light, singer David Byrne - compellingly edgy on-stage; similarly awkward, allege his bandmates, in day-to-day life - had threatened to quit the group. Friction was particularly marked between himself and Tina Weymouth.
Belew claims that on the Italian leg of the Remain In Light tour, "Tina was so upset that she actually approached me and said, 'Would you take David's place in the hand?' I said, 'No.' Because I knew that was the wrong thing to do. And I knew that she was just angry. It wasn't a thing that she really meant."
Today, Weymouth refutes that story, insisting she'd been sounding Belew out about joining Weymouth and Frantz's gestating spin-off band, Tom Tom Club. "Y'know, it's very easy for people to misunderstand things," she reasons to Mojo. "He could see that David was mistreating me a lot. But who gave me the power to replace David Byrne? I had zero power to do that. And why would I?"
Moreover, she says, the expanded on-stage group had been designed to sustain Byrne's interest in Talking Heads: "A lot of it had to do with, 'Let's see how we can tempt David back into the hand.' David was always leaving the band."
"It seemed like if we kept the band together, we were gonna really make our mark in music history," agrees Frantz. "That was a good reason to keep going, despite some of David's, shall we say, lack of humanity (laughs). We carried on nevertheless because we knew we had a fucking good band."
Seven years before, in 1973, at the Rhode Island School of Design, the original seeding and growth of the band that would become Talking Heads had happened slowly. As related in Frantz's book, he and Weymouth had become a couple a full two years after he'd first spotted her riding past him on a bicycle ("As in a scene from a Truffaut movie," he writes). An early date involved the two, as Weymouth remembers, indulging together in "a matchhead of crystal cocaine, uncut".
The subsequently super-chatty Frantz, a drummer since his Pittsburgh youth, asked Weymouth if she would consider starting a hand with him. Her reply: "No." "I think she felt that rock'n'roll was sort of a guy's thing," says Frantz, "that it was a boys' club."
"Rock'n'roll was all about decadence and men," Weymouth agrees. "Men getting really sloppy and dirty and drinking and drugging too much. It was impossible that I could fit into that. I was a tomboy, but I wasn't a man."
Frantz and Weymouth were both from military families (Frantz's was a two-star army general, Weymouth's a Vice Admiral) and found themselves in an unusual position on the antiwar student scene of the early '70s.
"Tina and I went to anti-Vietnam War protest marches, which my parents were not too crazy about," says the drummer. "Y'know, my parents were very conservative. Tina's, on the other hand, were very progressive, despite being in the military. We were opposed to the war in Vietnam. We just weren't opposed to every single soldier."
Bucking his family's hopes for a lawyer or doctor, Frantz was instead drawn to art, music and the counterculture. Showing true (if slightly demented) dedication to drug experimentation, he'd sometimes set his alarm clock in the mornings so that he could drop acid, go back to sleep and then wake up tripping for class. "The challenge in a situation like that," he recalls with a chuckle, "was maintaining your composure and not acting like you were tripping."
"Chris was really an anomaly," says Weymouth. "I mean, he was completely at ease with homosexuals at a time when this was still very new in society. But at the same time, he was completely a prototypical rock'n'roller"
Some tolerance and understanding would apparently be required when, in '73, Frantz hooked up through a mutual friend with David Byrne, a RISD dropout still hanging around campus. Nicknamed 'Mad Dave', Byrne had, Frantz recalls, worn a "full Rasputin beard" and "what appeared to be hand-me-down clothes" in his freshman year, before disappearing from school to travel around the States. On his return, he looked completely different: bleached-white James Dean quiff, black shirts, leather trousers. He cut an odd but charismatic figure: hugely talented, determined and stage-ready.
The two joined forces in a group, The Artistics. "David was always, let's just say, eccentric," says Frantz. "All around RISD," says Weymouth, "they were known as The Autistics."
Not until 2012, in the pages of his How Music Works book, would Byrne diagnose himself with mild Asperger's syndrome. "We all knew," says Weymouth. "I mean, all of David's friends knew. He didn't always have the full shilling, you might say, in terms of emotional intelligence or that sort of thing. But we loved him."
The Artistic' standout song, Psycho Killer, had been written by Byrne, Frantz and Weymouth during a brainstorming session. "David had begun the song," the drummer remembers. "He had the first verse and the chorus, but he wanted Tina to write the bridge in French. You need more than one verse, so he asked me would I write some and I happily did. All of that happened within the course of about an hour-and-a-half."
In what was a portent of things to come, Frantz says that Byrne claimed more credit than the others. "I came up with Psycho Killer," Byrne maintained to Mojos David Fricke in 2018. "Chris and Tina helped me with some of the French stuff."
Another early composition, Warning Sign, was, Byrne told Fricke, a creative leap forward; moreover, "It felt more completely me." Initial copies of Talking Heads' 1978 album More Songs About Buildings And Food credited the song to Byrne alone, yet in Remain In Love, Frantz claims to have penned the entirety of its lyric, and insisted the song be identified, on the album's second pressing, as a Byrne/Frantz co-write.
"Particularly later on I realised, 'Oh, David was just making a move to get a bigger piece of the pie,'" says Frantz. "Which he was always doing. It was always like that with David. It was as if he couldn't help himself."
Camaraderie and shared ambition nonetheless held the trio together in their early days after moving to New York in 1974, where Tina Weymouth finally relented and slipped into her bass-playing role. The three were sharing a ninth-floor loft space at 195 Chrystie Street on the Lower Fast Side of Manhattan at a time when the area remained grim and impoverished.
One morning, they found themselves having to push hard at the street level exit door to leave the building. "There was a poor dead guy frozen lying there," Frantz recalls. "He was not that old, either. It made you think, Please, don't let this happen to me."
Regularly performing at CBGB on the Bowery, Talking Heads were, as Frantz remembers, insulated by innocence from the smacky excesses of the nascent punk scene. "I had no experience with heroin," he says. "I knew that Johnny Thunders was a heroin addict, I knew that Richard Hell was supposedly dabbling in heroin. But, those guys, I didn't have anything to do with them socially. The people I hung out with were trying to do something interesting, new and exciting."
After signing to Seymour Stein's Sire Records, Talking Heads: 77 was quickly committed to tape. For its successor, More Songs About Buildings And Food, they were keen to employ the co-production skills of Brian Eno, who'd become a fan after seeing the group play live in London at the Rock garden. Eno encouraged Talking Heads to become bolder in the studio. "He taught us that you can just go up to the console and push that fader up or twist the EQ knob until it sounds really weird," Frantz laughs.
It was a collaborative arrangement that continued successfully through 1979's Fear Of Music. But in the wake of that record, Eno and Byrne peeled off to begin their extraordinary found-sound project, My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts (released in 1981). The pair's growing creative alignment was to have a detrimental effect on band relations when they regrouped for the recording of Remain In Light. "When we tried to establish boundaries, which began to happen because of Brian Eno," says Weymouth, "that's when the problems began."
Yet album sessions began in a spirit of healthy competition. In the sunshine setting of Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas, Eno and Talking Heads' self-imposed remit was a simple but effective one: repetitive beats and musical motifs multitracked while paying no mind to conventional verse/chorus song structures.
"Because so much was recorded as one track at a time and written in the studio, anybody could do anything," says Jerry Harrison. "Our role also sort of expanded into knowing enough about the studio that we could be making suggestions that had traditionally been ones that Brian made alone."
"It worked well up and to the point where Brian just started overreaching all the time," says Frantz. "Sometimes it was just... his own kind of feeling of importance. And other times it was sort of in collaboration with David. They kinda backed each other up."
According to Frantz's memoir, by the time the project moved to Sigma Sound's New York studio, Eno and Byrne had commandeered it, the former at one point complaining that there were "too many people in the control room". Harrison reckons the situation was more nuanced: Weymouth and Frantz were unhappy with some of the embellishments the tracks were acquiring under Eno's direction, while Byrne himself struggled to write melodies over one-chord songs.
"It was hard work at times," says Harrison. "It presented a real challenge for David. There was a certain joie de vivre in the Bahamas. That became a little changed in New York." Harrison cites unfinished outtakes such as Fela's Riff and Right Start (an early version of Once In A Lifetime), released as extras on the 2006 reissue of Remain In Light, as evidence of where they stood as they left Compass Point. "If you listen to those rough mixes," he says, "you can see how if you really had bought into them... [the embellishments] could be frustrating to you."
Into this tense creative scene stepped Adrian Belew, who happened to be in New York performing showcases for record labels as he tried to get a deal for his band, GaGa. Belew had worked with Eno the year I before on Bowie's Lodger. After a GaGa show at Irving Plaza, Eno, along with Byrne and Harrison, approached him with an offer.
"They kinda cornered me and said, 'Hey we're making a record. Could you possibly play on it?'" recalls the guitarist. "Jerry later told me that at the time I came into the process, they were kinda stumped as to how to go further. They were almost ready to give up on it. Then I walked in and I guess what I did excited them enough to continue. So, the world can thank me for that (laughs)."
At Sigma Sound, Belew overdubbed fractured or feedbacking solos onto Crosseyed And Painless and The Great Curve, greatly enlivening both the tracks and the vibe. "It seemed to me like every time I tried to get a note to do a certain thing, it just worked," Belew enthuses. "It was almost a magical kind of thing. I looked in the studio control room through the glass and I saw Jerry, David and Brian all kind of jumping up and down."
Carving up the songwriting credits for Remain In Light, however, brought aggro, Eno suggested a controversial and provocative method: each member was to write down what they considered to be their percentage contribution to each track. "Then we could average those out," Frantz remembers, "and arrive at a fair conclusion. Before we began recording, knowing that all five of us would be involved in the composition of the music, we agreed that the music writing share would be split equally among us. But Brian and David reneged on that agreement."
"I would write down things like, 'Oh my share was three per cent,'" Weymouth laughs, darkly. "And Eno was still mad about that and threw it in our faces. I think he wanted fifty per cent of everything. I don't know. I have no idea. I mean, how can you be that greedy?"
Additionally, Harrison remembers the co-producer pushing for the banner credit of the LP to be: Remain In Light by Talking Heads and Brian Eno: "That was, I think, put to rest when our manager said, 'Well, Brian, you are ready to do the tour, aren't you?' And he said, 'Oh, I can't do that.' I think he has really terrible stage fright. And our manager goes, 'Well, there's no way that we can do it. It'd be a rip-off to the audience.'" "His demands became unreasonable," says Frantz. "To the point where we had to say, 'Sorry Brian, you carry on. We're gonna do our thing.'"
Summer, 1985, the Montcalm Hotel near Marble Arch. Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz were in London, promoting Talking Heads' sixth LP, Little Creatures. Arriving to interview them as a wide-eyed eighteen-year-old fan-turned-writer, I was both amazed and slightly dispirited to hear the couple talk about the difficulties of being in a band with David Byrne. "He keeps us on our toes, because he thrives on rejection," a friendly but intense Weymouth told me, as she maintained eye contact and - as we all did - chain-smoked. "If you're a person who's constantly praising him, he doesn't respect you at all. The only form of love that he can really accept is fame for his work."
"He's a really driven person... like a workaholic," added Frantz, breezily. "His work is the most important thing in his life. Sometime's that makes personal relationships a little bit difficult. However, we've worked with him for so long now we can kinda predict the way he's gonna act. One thing we've had to learn is how to surprise him by being unpredictable.
"In other words," the drummer added with a laugh, "it's a constant battle working with him."
Stop Making Sense, the album and film, had been released the previous autumn and was already a phenomenon. Captured over four nights at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles by director Jonathan Demme, and subsequently immortalised, the group had seemed almost freakishly energised. As Weymouth concedes, they may have had a little help.
"The band were doing too much [coke] in the December of 1983," she tells Mojo. "The second night they were all racing to get to the end. I was ridiculously trying to keep the tempo down and that was against two drummers (laughs). Part of the ethos at that point was faster, faster, faster."
As it would transpire, by the time Stop Making Sense reached cinemas, Talking Heads were already over as a live touring band. "David said, 'Oh, this will tour for us,'" Weymouth remembers. "And we said, 'Are you serious?!'"
The breaking point had been the Sweetwaters South Festival in Christchurch, New Zealand on February 6, 1984, where Talking Heads were headlining a bill featuring Simple Minds and The Pretenders. Ahead of their set, says Weymouth, Byrne had agreed to allow a couple of campaigners on-stage to talk about Maori rights. By the time Talking Heads walked on, the air was filled with boos and projectiles were being lobbed stagewards. Byrne stomped off after five songs. "That's when the shit really hit the fan," she says.
After Talking Heads' demise as a live band, cocaine got a grip on Chris Frantz. "Tina was concerned that I might die," he writes in Remain In Love - a view she maintains. "Yeah," Weymouth tells Mojo, quietly. "It was a constant fear."
"First of all, I should say there's good cocaine and then there's bad cocaine," says Frantz. "All cocaine is not equal (laughs). I was fortunate enough to be in a position where I could get some good cocaine. The good cocaine you can survive on and deal with for a much longer period of time.
"When we stopped touring, that's when it really snowballed. Y'know, I could go into a nightclub in New York like The Mudd Club and people would turn me onto cocaine for free. And it just got to the point where I was doing it, like, all the time, every day.
"I was also in a sense grieving the loss of what Talking Heads had been," he reflects. "I was depressed, I think, about that. But thanks to Tina and our manager and a few friends of mine, I got into a treatment programme and I got over it. And I came out the other side in better shape than I had been."
2003, a tapas restaurant on the Lower East side of Manhattan. Chris Frantz and David Byrne had met up in their old, rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood to talk about a lucrative offer the drummer had received for Talking Heads to reform and headline the 2004 Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee.
It had been twelve years since the hand officially split. In 1991, Byrne told an LA Times journalist he'd quit Talking Heads. This prompted an urgent group meeting in New York where, according to the drummer, the singer was in a combative mood.
"He screamed at us, "You should be calling me an asshole!"' Frantz remembers. "And we said nothing because we were like, 'Woah, David. Is that how you really feel?' He knew he was being an asshole and he was upset with us for not getting mad about it."
"Hey y'know; Picasso was an asshole too," Weymouth offers brightly. "But he also painted some great paintings."
In 2002, surprising everyone, Talking Heads had briefly reformed to play a short, three-song set at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. Hence the Bonnaroo offer and Frantz and Byrne's détente over patatas bravas.
Frantz says he told Byrne, "They've offered us a lot of money. Basically, we would own the rights to any sound recording and we would own the rights to any video recording. And it would really be smashing if we did this show."
Byrne, says the drummer, responded by asking to think about it over the weekend. "David said, 'I'll call you.' Well, he never did call, but he sent me an e-mail and he said, 'I told you once and I'll tell you again. I am never going to reunite with Talking Heads under any circumstances. Please don't ever ask me to do this again.'
"That w s the extent of it, OK?" Frantz adds. "That was, like, on a Tuesday. On a Wednesday, I got a call from our management offices. 'Guess what? David Byrne is headlining the Bonnaroo Festival, solo.' Solo."
Jerry Harrison reveals that a subsequent attempt by U2 manager Paul McGiuinness and Live Nation's Arthur Fogel to revive Talking Heads as a touring act was similarly rebuffed by the singer. Harrison would still like to see their music on-stage again - it's the motive, he says, behind a group he's formed with Adrian Belew and Brooklyn funk band Turkuaz to tour the songs on Remain In Light.
"I mean, it's not just about greed," he says. "There is a whole audience that you're gonna make really happy. New fans that never got to see the band perform, but also people that saw it back then and want to have another memory of it. I think it would've been an exciting challenge for David."
In 2018, Byrne explained his reticence to Mojo. "I could see where things were going, towards being more of an arena act. It didn't seem like a lot of fun."
"It's very unfortunate," Harrison resumes, admitting he's acted as peacemaker between the Byrne and Frantz/Weymouth factions. "I sort of understand everybody's position. I do think that, for a few years, me being in the middle of it helped hold it together longer than it might have if I had not been there. It couldn't go on forever."
And so, ultimately, Talking Heads contracted, retreating back into the wings and disappearing, while leaving behind an indelible mark on music. In the twenty-first century, their tangential approach to groove-based songwriting echoes on through Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend, Black MIDI and, most acutely of all, LCD Soundsystem, whose leader James Murphy told NPR in 2011 that he regarded Talking Heads as "a perfect band".
Nonetheless, Tina Weymouth admits that the divisions between its members have in some ways tainted memories of Talking Heads.
"Y'know, with a band there's a lot of damage control that goes on," she points out. "You don't want people to look had. It was a wonderful band."
"When I balance it out," Chris Frantz ponders in summation, "I think, God, I would do it all again. It was so good."
ALL THE TALKING HEADS ALBUMS, BY KEITH CAMERON
TALKING HEADS: 77 - Preppy clothes, clean sonics, blank expressions: early Talking Heads' affected banality was key to the intrigue surrounding songs like Pulled Up or Don't Worry About The Government, and the extent to which they were celebrating or satirising the American dream. TH: 77 played with that tension, most effectively on Psycho Killer, while offering clues to contrasting future directions the still-formative band might take: from Uh-Oh, Love Comes To Town's unctuous steel drum jollity, to No Compassion's churning psychedelic currents, the latter song highlighting the sinister aspects of David Byrne's preoccupations ("Be a little more selfish, it might do you some good").
MORE SONGS ABOUT BUILDINGS AND FOOD - Enter producer Brian Eno, but - just as importantly - Jerry Harrison's keyboards and guitar were now embedded in a warm tonal armoury. Notwithstanding the lyrics' nervous shade, the notion of Talking Heads as avant-punk-funkadelicists was seeded here: guitars chattering in unison and Tina Weymouth's pliant bass leads in control, as the brittle desiccation of 77 was doused in giddy groove-outs like Found A Job and I'm Not In Love. The stately cover of Al Green's Take Me To The River, as well as affording Byrne a neurosis-free emotional platform, proved these Harvard and Rhode Island art school alumni had hips.
FEAR OF MUSIC - As the partnership with Eno gelled, Talking Heads elevated their music's joust between disquiet and euphoria into stellar material, rehearsed and recorded at Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth's Queens loft. An internationalist scope permeated the tense funkscapes: Cities journeyed from London to Memphis, opener I Zimbra tranced on Egyptian and West African percussion (plus serpentine guitar from Robert Fripp), while the paranoid global political climate lent apocalyptic currency to Life During Wartime and Heaven's yearning for "a place where nothing ever happens". The stunning dub oceania of Drugs saw Byrne and Eno literally - and, for some, contentiously - dismantling the band.
THE NAME OF THE BAND IS TALKING HEADS - When confronted by the ten piece new-wave-goes-P-Funk Talking Heads live carnival in 1980-81 (no less than Bernie Worrell joined on keys), reviewers foamed with superlatives. Yet the album fifty percent comprised of material from that tour is bewilderingly unexciting. The original double LP format didn't help: disc one's 1977-79 performances literally portray a different group, occupying needle space that the expanded group's lengthy improvs could have used. Rhino's 2004 CD version was a huge corrective, adding sixteen tracks across the two eras, but even that remains flat, ill serving either version of the band.
SPEAKING IN TONGUES - After a side project hiatus revealed Frantz and Weymouth's Tom Tom Club to be a far stronger commercial proposition than Byrne and Eno's My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, came this pragmatic accommodation between art and pop. Speaking In Tongues muted the scholarly abstractions, proving Talking Heads' aptitude for pan-generic beat fusion could deliver surface thrills, like booty-full romps Making Flippy Floppy and Girlfriend Is Better. Although heavily dated by its sonic thumbprint - Alex Sadkin mixed, à la Grace Jones, at Compass Point - closing uneasy love song This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) still enjoys an afterlife in film soundtracks.
STOP MAKING SENSE - The soundtrack to Jonathan Demme's groundbreaking film doubles as the superior-by-far Talking Heads live album. Recorded at Hollywood's Pantages Theatre in December 1983, Stop Making Sense freed the Speaking In Tongues material from its studio confines, as another expanded line-up - only Worrell and percussionist Steve Scales survived from 1980/81 - delivers the joyous mania of a band peaking just before they collapsed (the last ever full concert was only six weeks later). The heavily abridged original nine-song single disc proved commercially expedient as a beginner's guide to the band; 1999's reissue belatedly offered the complete big-suit extravaganza.
LITTLE CREATURES - As Byrne happily settled into a relationship (marriage and parenthood would follow), sentiment smoothed away the edges of Talking Heads' design. Little Creatures was a case of Love Comes To Town but without the 'Uh-Oh' caveat. For all his procreational over-sharing Stay Up Late's icky baby talk: the title track's "Well I've seen sex and I think it's all right" - Byrne's focus on homespun virtues suited the reversion to simple arrangements, and although mostly lacking depth, the material restores the primacy of the core group. Road To Nowhere is no less profound a statement of hallmark Heads ambivalence than more celebrated predecessors.
TRUE STORIES - A remake of the soundtrack to Byrne's directorial debut recorded at the behest of his movie backers at Warners, True Stories is a better record than it might have been, but that doesn't make it a great Talking Heads album. The film at least had its central premise - ain't regular folks weird - with which to bind these mostly whimsical vignettes. The album, though, is stylistically schizoid, and the band's best efforts on the likes of ska hustle Puzzlin' Evidence feel like overcompensation. Only the closing City Of Dreams hits the transcendent notes Byrne had presumably intended when plotting his heartland elegy.
NAKED - David Byrne brings thirty international musicians - Mory Kanté (kora), Abdou Mboup (Mbalax drums), Latin trumpeter Angel Fernandez, ex-Smith Johnny Marr - to Paris's storied Studio Davout, with Steve Lillywhite producing. Et voilà! Grand cru global big band vibes, strongest on city primeval Blind, highlife Americana eco satire (Nothing But) Flowers, or political drama The Democratic Circus. Frantz, Harrison and Weymouth are in there too, but you can't hear them per se. Remain In Light rearranged Talking Heads' DNA by utilising accrued history. Naked, however, was a David Byrne album made on a Talking Heads budget: a class act under a convenient flag.
"HE'S MR GEEKY, I'M MR EGGHEAD"
On May 13, 1977, art-punk icons John Cale and Brian Eno went to London's Rock Garden to catch the local debut of Talking Heads. Eno was so smitten that he taped the performance, then invited singer-leader David Byrne to his flat to listen to records. An early convert to New York punk who produced demos for Television in late 1974, Eno was back in that city by spring 1978, to record the underground compilation No New York and co-produce Talking Heads' More Songs About Buildings And Food. The latter marked the start of an enduring creative relationship with Byrne, most recently heard on the latter's 2018 album, American Utopia.
"We were fans of Roxy Music but had no aspirations to dress like that," Byrne told Mojo that year, referring to Eno's glam-age band. "It was his interest in what was special about us and DNA and these other [No Wave] bands: 'What is their essence? Is there some way to bring out that essence?' When he started working with Talking Heads, his thing was to faithfully record what we were doing rather than shift us to something more commercial."
"They came out of funk which was something I didn't connect with at the time," Eno said in 2008. "In fact, I had a little badge that said 'Fight Against Funk'. But Talking Heads connected it for me with the things I liked in West African music" - such as Fela Kuti's 1973 LP, Afrodisiac, one of the records he played for Byrne that night in London. When Eno produced Remain In Light, "you had those interests converging from all of us."
"It worked in different ways," Byrne explained, noting that Remain In Light's Once In A Lifetime had "a melody and chorus that came from Brian. He did a scat thing, without words. Then I found some words that fit, which sounded like a Greek chorus to the verses. There was no set procedure. It was whoever was game and whatever worked."
"I'm not sitting at the back of a room, cracking a whip - I'm in there, trying to do it with them," confirmed Eno, credited with keyboards, electronics and even guitar on the three albums he produced with Talking Heads. At the same time, he and Byrne were collaborating on My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. Their next record as a duo, 2008's Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, was an acclaimed melding of electronics and folk-gospel roots, co-written by e-mail.
"Part of the warmth," Eno said of that album, "is that I'm not interested in ironic music. At least I'm not interested in making it myself." He and Byrne "were trying to make a music that supported a set of feelings not necessarily associated with us. He's MrGeeky, I'm Mr Egghead," Eno laughed. "We're supposed to be more sophisticated and removed. But it's nice to make music that is like the music you enjoy listening to-which I often haven't done."
Even when not working together, the pair try to stay in touch. "Not continually," said Byrne, "but I put it down to the reason we started working together in the first place. We started talking. We'd get together and talk about all sorts of things - art, politics. It didn't begin as a professional music relationship. And it's still like that. We exchange e-mails and talk. Making music together - that's one thing we do. But it's not all of it."
THE NAKED GUITARIST
In 1987, Johnny Marr, fresh from The Smiths, joined Talking Heads for four songs. Even on their finale, he found that "it was about experimentation, discovery..."
records from the first one on. I had Psycho Killer on 12-inch. And when Remain In Light came out it was clear that it influenced so many groups: Japan and the Bunnymen, but also the major art rock figures. Bowie and Peter Gabriel were picking up on David Byrne, the modern thinking person's front man.
Playing on Naked [at Studio Davout] in Paris was the very first thing I did after The Smiths. But I was such a fan that I almost psyched myself out. We started with (Nothing But) Flowers. [Naked producer] Steve Lillywhite put the track up and I just couldn't hear anything to do. I thought to myself, You've lost it! At the grand old age of twenty-four! So I excused myself and went for a walk. I realised I was being too reverential. So I went back, plugged in the twelve-string, turned up really loud and played that kind of hillbilly punk riff you hear in the chorus. Not very Talking Heads-y, but David really liked it.
I played on three more tracks on the record - Ruby Dear, Mommy Daddy You And I and Cool Water. Ruby Dear was recorded from scratch, the five of us, as a band. That was a big thrill for me. I was privy to and part of this process that was so different from The Smiths. It was about experimentation, discovery. I've been asked a lot about the atmosphere. It being the last record they made together, but I didn't sense any ennui. It was quite relaxed, but there was a real sense of purpose. The art school sensibility was still intact.
Talking Heads were always different. A lot of their early songs are in major keys. It's hard to write cool things in a major key but it gives the music drive and takes it away from introspection - like Don't Worry About The Government on Talking Heads: 77. These songs are snappy, make you want to move. You're in a world of the Velvets and Jonathan Richman and also Al Green. The early stuff sounds like 'daytime music' to me. That's brave music to make.
I think their groove goes back to the start, too. The key to it is in David's rhythm guitar style - that's where you hear that guy's soul. And the metre of his singing is so important. I first heard it in Pulled Up - he pulls everyone along with that swing he has. It's in him and all of them as a band. It's infectious and intoxicating, with great words on top.
Talking Heads are so often identified with being cerebral and intellectual, it's quite easy to forget that the people making the music love music on an emotional and spiritual level. And that's really laid bare in Stop Making Sense. You actually see the players loving the music, and for all David's astonishing and unique performance, he's really feeling it.
That's a really heavy combination. Like, I love that moment in The Great Curve off Remain In Light: "The world moves on a woman's hips". It's such a beautiful and evocative moment. The music is really stirring and super-African. It describes music, it describes dancing. it describes humanity. And it's funky as fuck.
As told to Danny Eccleston