INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Spinner AUGUST 16, 2011 - by Chris Epting
DAVID BYRNE LEARNS TO ENJOY PERFORMING, LOOKS BACK ON HIS CBGB DAYS
In May, Eagle Rock Entertainment released the DVD of Ride, Rise, Roar, a documentary film detailing the unique creative process of David Byrne that was shot over the course of his 2008-9 Songs Of David Byrne And Brian Eno tour.
Combining exclusive behind-the-scenes footage with onstage action from Byrne's recent world tour (including band audition footage, rehearsals and interviews with Byrne and the key players in his group), the film explores the inner workings of a complex and theatrical live presentation along with the creation of the live show.
Featuring many of Byrne's best-known compositions (including Once In A Lifetime, I Zimbra and Burning Down the House), Ride, Rise, Roar has been lauded by critics and, as Byrne explained to Spinner, was a chance for him to stretch, even further, his already impressive creative tapestry.
What inspired you to allow such access and inside details "behind the curtain"?
I'd seen [director] David Hillman's series of video Web portraits that are mesmerising and beautiful, so I wondered if he brought some of that sensibility to the rehearsal stuff, what would that be? And I myself find the audition and rehearsal process exciting and fascinating - how does a music show get put together, how do the various decisions get made? [It was] kind of risky. As the whole band-plus-dance concept could have ended up very pretentious or corny, and how would I feel about the footage then? But it turned out fine.
Watching the film today, how do you feel you've evolved as a frontman since the early Talking Heads days at CBGB?
In the early days, I was driven to get on stage. It was a personal psychological need, a self-therapy, and it was cathartic and necessary - but not always pleasurable. I was also a bit more of a control freak then than I am now. When you've stripped everything down to zero and have begun building it back up step-by-step, the first baby steps are pretty critical and sort of determine where the road takes you. Now I realize I actually enjoy singing and performing, which I'm not sure I did at first.
Are there concerts you've seen in your life, perhaps growing up, that blended dance/music in a compelling way that perhaps influenced you? After seeing the film, we kept flashing back to David Bowie's Diamond Dogs-era stage shows.
I didn't see that show, though my friend Toni Basil, whom I worked with on some early videos, was very involved in staging that show, so I've heard about it. After a while, though [I] realised that all music shows are theatrical in one way or another; some are just more obvious about it. Iggy's shows since forever, Neil Young Rust Never Sleeps show, Tom Waits' Big Time tour, James Brown, Pet Shop Boys, R. Kelly - I could go on and on. Back in the day I was pretty inspired by a lot of downtown theater stuff as well, all done with an economy of means, super inventive and sometimes with music included.
How have you and Brian Eno influenced each other?
I think [his] big early influence was to encourage Talking Heads - and myself - to make the writing process explicit in a way that meant it could be done in the recording studio. Lots of folks do this now, but then it was a pretty big leap. I think I may have inspired him to occasionally be more funky.
Is it satisfying creatively to re-present Talking Heads material in this format?
Oh yeah. I hadn't performed some of those songs in a long time, so it was nice to explore that material again, to see how it linked to the more recent stuff. The connection is more obvious when you hear them juxtaposed live than on recordings.
Does dance play a big part in your personal life?
How we move - and some of that definitely includes dance - is endlessly fascinating. I just watched these Alan Lomax documentaries on choreometrics, an idea he had that dance movements around the world are informed by work gestures, sexual mores and social attitudes - kind of wacky in parts, but some amazing stuff and footage as well. I saw a video at PS1 by Francis Alys, a Belgian artist who lives in Mexico. He did a video using the royal guards in London that had them marching around the streets of the financial district there, also really nice, but not billed as a dance piece. So, I don't actually go see a whole lot of stuff that's formally billed as dance, but on the street or in other contexts I see a lot of stuff that makes me think about it. And, of course, there are so many music videos that have folks moving in odd and wonderful ways, and all the crazy YouTube links one gets sent all the time.